Public Service Broadcasting
Adventure! Endeavour! Tweed! For the first time in history Exposed In Session is going on the road – and based on this month’s sepia-tinged stars Public Service Broadcasting’s love of (footage of) climbing Everest, flying airplanes and almost falling off battleships, we’ve packed plenty of Kendal Mint Cake and an extra pair of mittens.
We’ve barely started on the Dunkirk spirit tho before PSB’s duo J. Willgoose, Esq and Wrigglesworth appear, fresh from their basecamp/tour bus. Suitably for a beat combo that’s just caused an avalanche at Sheffield’s railroaded fest Tramlines , we find ourselves at the beautiful Victorian railway station at Hebden Bridge for photos by Exposed In Session photographer Timm Cleasby from The Picture Foundry .
The duo, who match up archive British Film Institute audio with guitar, banjo and more for an atmospheric mix that’s as heady as a wander up Everest, are dressed for the part. Shooting frontman J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth in the amberised Hebden Bridge station, Willgoose’s vintage corduroy jacket almost seems likely to elope with the Victorian brickwork and hand painted signage – and suddenly we’re checking our watches, Marty McFly style…
We’re transported, then, but not quite in the way we were expecting. Public Service Broadcasting might be an unassuming pair of chaps (Willgoose normally prefers to address gig audiences via a Mac speech synthesis program!) but their spine-tingling tunes speak with more force than a force nine gale. Check your oxygen, cut the rope and join us for a summit with the gentlemen explorers of indie!
Exposed: What year is it?
J. Willgoose, Esq: 2013?
I guess the reason I ask is that PSB seem to have an interesting relationship with time. Why does that post war austerity particularly appeal?
Well, when we started, we weren’t particularly coming at it from a point where we could reel off the names of all the directors of the British Documentary Movement or anything like that. It was much more about liking the character and the sound and the voices and the authenticity of the material.
Can we talk fashion? Public Service Broadcasting have a very unique look people are calling ‘Unhappy Physics Teacher’. You were talking earlier about how distressed you were at losing one of Willgoose’s shirts…
Yeah. Very distressed. I actually lost my first two Public Service Broadcasting shirts, which were incredible. They were both hideous shades of brown with other shades of brown as stripes as well. An intrinsic part of the fabric of the band as far as I’m concerned. It’s not like I’m the Thin White Duke or anything, it’s more using my limitations as a frontman and trying to turn them into strengths.
Is that where the use of the synthesised voice for live gig banter and chat comes in?
Yes. First of all it works well with the concept and helps with the way it all falls together live. There’s not much ego to what we do onstage. Not a great deal of preening. If you watch bloody Biffy Clyro on Jools Holland they’re all leaping around and doing the splits and stuff. Bands get coached in that. They fly to America and people teach them how to do rock star moves.
Can we talk about Dig for Victory? Ostensibly you’ve gone, ‘How about we place this dark, rhythmic, slightly seductive synth line alongside a speech about allotments?’ But the result is a very, very interesting mixture of things that are very large and very, very small. And it’s a good example of how Public Service Broadcasting use music to rephrase dialogue.
That’s where I think the most interesting stuff happens. It’s not my line so I can’t claim it but someone has said that we’re ‘recontextualising the past by framing it in more modern sounding music.’ ‘ London Can Take It ’ is the one that works best in that respect because you can’t help but draw parallels with the modern day. It’s different from watching the original film because there’s always going to be a distance between you and the original film which is time. But if you’re bridging that distance with music that fills the gap then that’s where you can re-evaluate the original material in a way.
Are there songs you like more than others?
I do like ‘ Dig For Victory’ . It was a very easy one to do whereas ‘Spitfire’ was a process of banging my head against a brick wall for two months.
Do you sometimes just stick on The History Channel and jam?
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever watched The History Channel properly! People are interested in whether I spend hours sifting through archive material but the process tends to be very focussed. I generally have a rough idea of what I’m after and then either I’m lucky or searching is relatively easy but it’s not usually a case of hours and hours of source material distilling into one. I’ve just treated a funny question seriously there, haven’t I? But The History Channel has a fairly heavy emphasis on World War II, and we’re moving away from that, so we don’t get stuck in a pigeon hole.
You alluded to that earlier. Does that mean you’re already starting to look at another time and place? You were doing some very nice calypso funk in your soundcheck earlier…
[Laughs] I know the next couple of things we’re gonna do, hopefully – if we can get the rights for them. I’m keeping a lid on that right now. I’ve got a vague idea of the musical direction for it. Calypso funk, maybe not so much!
You’re not ruling it out though, I can tell.
There’s quite a few things I’d like to try and see if they’d work.
Are there any examples of crazy Frankenstein-like experiments that have worked?
The instrumental track on the album – ‘ Qomolangma ’ – with that one I wanted to create a more ambient, atmospheric instrumental instead of having every track be speech driven. We adapted the more ethereal elements of ‘ Everest ’, took the horns section out of that and placed it on its own with a bit more of an ambient wash. It’s a slightly more unusual song that we’ve done but I was very happy with how it came together. I think people tend to take the songs quite literally. Especially using the source material live at the same time. There are other things to tease out though – usually mildly humorous or interesting.
Do you mean like Easter Eggs?
Well, if you think of the way hip-hop tracks utilise self-promotion and self-hype, we do that, but in an understated Public Service Broadcasting way! ROYGBIV for example is touting this amazing new invention – and I like to think that people would draw parallels between that and us! Theme from PSB talks about ‘these dreamers were pioneers of great institutions…’ and it’s talking about actual Public Service Broadcasting – but also about us. Hopefully nobody would believe that’s what we think about ourselves.
It’d be nice if someone repeated that description back to you wouldn’t it? It would confirm that particular piece of dark propaganda had worked…
In ‘ Everest ’, the line ‘Two very small men cutting steps in the roof of the world…’ feels relevant. We’re very much hanging onto that song – and ‘ Spitfire ’ in particular’s coattails and enjoying this great year that we’re having. I like the fact it’s a statement that could be turned on us if you were so inclined…