Interview: Tindersticks

Photos: Neil Frazer
Interview: Mike Atkinson
Thursday 10 October 2013
reading time: min, words

One of the three founding members lives in Prague, another in Antwerp, another in France, and they collectively left town over twenty years ago. Yet to many, Tindersticks are still seen as a Nottingham band. Ahead of the release of their tenth studio album, Across Six Leap Years, keyboardist Dave Boulter talks to us about the band’s roots, and about their recent re-invigoration of some old favourites...


Hometowns have a habit of claiming kinship. Do we have any legitimate claim to seeing you as a Nottingham band, over twenty years after you left?

I suppose so, in some ways. By the time we became Tindersticks we’d left Nottingham, but the media still refer to us as a Nottingham band, and it’s kind of stuck. Everybody comes from somewhere, and I think Nottingham’s as good a place as any.

When you were working here as Asphalt Ribbons in the late eighties, how did you find the city in terms of what it had to offer musicians? Was it a stimulating and supportive creative environment?
It was the opposite in some ways. Nottingham just didn’t have the kind of infrastructure that places like Manchester and Liverpool had, and there wasn’t anyone to help you. There were a lot of really interesting bands around, and a lot of really great music being made. It’s a shame that a lot of it never broke out and got anywhere else. A radio session for Radio Trent was about as much help as you got. Everyone tended to get to a level where they filled a pub, they did that three or four times, and then they just split up or moved on...

We’re told told that the Nottingham music scene in the nineties could be quite a bitchy and competitive place. What was it like in the late-eighties?
Probably very similar. Quite often we’d play some venue and most of the audience would be people from other bands. They would stand there with their arms folded, looking at you and not really wanting to be impressed, not wanting to clap. But it’s what you expected. We didn’t really know anything else, and it didn’t bother us. We kind of hated our vocalist Stuart’s other band, The Desert Birds. They were one of the better bands, but even though we liked the music, we would never let them know that. We always used to stand there looking unimpressed.

You had Craig Chettle in your band for a while. He went on to set up Confetti and became a major player in Nottingham’s creative community - what was he like as a guitarist?
As a musician in general, he was great. He started very young, and he was a great all-rounder. We did a lot of demos at his house; he had a little 4-track or 8-track recorder in his bedroom. It’s interesting to see what he’s become since. He became our sound engineer as well, we’ve had lots of different involvements with Craig.

The opening track, Chocolate, on your album The Something Rain, is an extended monologue which you wrote and delivered, describing a Friday night out in town...
It was a night out in Nottingham. It’s 99% true, except for the punchline. It wasn’t a cross-dressing man in the end, but she could have been either way for a while.

There are three locations in the monologue: you start off in a bar with a pool table, then you go to a place which has something of a reputation as a gay pub, then you end up in a club which sells onion bhajis. Can these be specifically mapped to locations?
Yeah, the pub that we always used to go to was called Jaceys, so that’s where we started. Then to have a quieter drink on a Friday night, we’d go round the corner to the Lord Roberts. And then up to The Garage. On the top floor, they used to have a little food place, which basically only did two things: chips and onion bhajis. They had a weird system where you paid for your food and got a cloakroom ticket, and then they’d call out the number. I think a lot of people tried to rip them off, so it didn’t last long.

Do you ever return to Nottingham?
I was born in St Ann’s and my family still live there, so I go back and see them probably four or five times a year, depending on what’s happening.

You’ve only played Nottingham twice as Tindersticks: at The Old Vic in 1993, and at the Albert Hall in 2003. You’ve been visiting us at ten year intervals, are we due another one?
I definitely always want to play there, but it’s all down to offers and what you can actually do. We’d want it to be something special, we don’t feel like just going to the Rescue Rooms. We’re not quite big enough to do Rock City, although I’ve always wanted to play there. We recently did a film soundtrack tour in the UK, and we were hoping to play the Royal Concert Hall. It was the only chance we would get to play there, because it was a sponsored tour of lots of theatres like that. It’s somewhere that we’d definitely say yes to. On the last tour, we were also hoping to play at St Mary’s Church in The Lace Market, but it didn’t work out logistically.

Your new album, Across Six Leap Years, is a collection of re-recordings of previously released tracks. Is this in lieu of doing a Best Of, or a Greatest Hits?
We got to a point where we wanted to celebrate twenty years of Tindersticks, and it felt more exciting to re-record some of the songs that we were either playing better, or that we wanted to reintroduce to people. It felt like something nicer to do, to make it more special. It was also easier in terms of licensing, because we’ve had three different record labels over the years.

Did you consciously have to blot out your memory of how they were originally recorded and re-imagine them from the ground up?
The process started from the songs that we were playing on tour, and they grew in a way of their own. With some songs, we had a feeling that we’d gone beyond the original recordings. We didn’t need to think about how they worked, because we knew we could play them better. With others, it was more about showing our personality as it is now, and forgetting about the way it was.

Your music is known for having a kind of lugubrious, melancholy quality, and it tends to be quite downtempo. Are you ever tempted to rock out? Do you ever bash through a Pixies song in rehearsals?
In our minds, half of our songs do sound like The Pixies! People generalise a lot, and I can understand that, but I think we’ve had our moments, especially recently. That’s another thing about the re-invigoration of the band. We have become something different. People who perhaps discounted us in that way are shocked when they come to see us live, with the way that we actually are these days. I suppose it’s the music that has always motivated us; we grew up in the seventies, and even with punk, the only fast punk band for us was probably The Damned. You grew up in a certain way, and the music naturally comes out in a certain way.

Tindersticks’ new album Across Six Leap Years is released on 14 October 2013 on Lucky Dog/City Slang Records.

Tindersticks official website

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