Interview: Public Service Broadcasting

In the frantic, ever changing world of musical journalism, it can be very easy to find a figurative ‘diamond in the rough’ one day and lose sight of it the next. One of the down sides to the ever expanding music world is that you very rarely get time to revisit personal favourites. If you are lucky, one of these ‘diamonds’ may come back across your path in the subsequent months with another single or maybe an extended or long play release but more often than not, you lose them in the abyss of sounds and saved Microsoft files. With this in mind, the opportunity to not only a ‘diamond’ who not comes back with an extended play but also the offer of a few moments of conversation is something to be treasured. So having covered the single release for R.O.Y.G.B.I.V, from the excellent EP The War Room, Spindle jumped at the opportunity to grab chat with J. Willgoose, Esq from the duo.

To begin with, how did the pairing of Public Service Broadcasting come
about?

I’d been doing PSB as an entirely solo entity for about a year and a half, including a week at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, when I was offered my first festival slot. The stage seemed too big for one man to fill – no matter how much corduroy he wore – so, as luck would have it, whilst on a walking holiday in the Dordognes I chanced upon Wrigglesworth sleeping rough. He was pretty down on his luck and subsisting entirely on a diet of long-past-its-prime brie. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He said yes.

There has been a distinct conceptual focus within The War Room from
previous stand-alone releases such as R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. Was that a conscious
decision from you both or was this spurred on by the opportunity of
finding sampling opportunities within the BFI libraries?

Let’s be clear – I’m the brains of this operation. Wrigglesworth only really speaks through the medium of hitting things. Also, insulting me. But anyway, he wouldn’t have a clue if you asked him the above. I’m not sure I do, either, but I’ll try and answer you..

I wanted to write a sequence of music as much as a series of songs, and give them each a role to fill within it. I knew I wanted to write about WWII as I already had the title in my head (‘The War Room’ is from Dr Strangelove rather than Churchill) and set about scouring the archives of the BFI, with their kind permission.

It soon became clear that there was a narrative thread to weave (or hammer home crudely, depending on your opinion of our music) – starting with foreboding and a sense of menace, moving through taking something of a pounding during the Blitz, into a sense of optimism in Spitfire and then ending on a suitably sombre note to close. Dig For Victory kind of snuck in there unawares, but I think it helps bridge the gap between the uplifting Spitfire and the more elegiac Waltz For George. And at all times I was extremely keen to avoid hitting any off-key, nationalist, tub-thumping notes. It’s hard to write anything about the second World War without hitting any unintentional, political notes – but I hope it speaks for itself as a comment on the propaganda of the time, refocused through today’s lens (that lens being music). I am also taking bets on my first entry into Pseuds’ Corner, by the way.

On the topic of sampling, how does the live arrangement work out with
such a high level of acoustic and digital sounds? Do you find that the set
up and sound check can be as lengthy as the live set itself?

In terms of what I actually give the sound engineer at each live venue, it’s really pretty simple (although that doesn’t stop them occasionally ‘ballsing it right up’ [technical term, excuse me]).. but yes, what’s going on behind the scenes is quite mind-bogglingly complicated at times. I couldn’t have done it on this budget five or six years ago – I really am quite lucky with the timing of it and what you can do with a computer these days.

Wrigglesworth, on the other hand, just has to hit stuff. It’s the easy life for him, I tell you.

Veering away from the more technical side of things, how have you found
touring so far and the general reception to what you’ve been doing
throughout 2012?

We’ve not really done any big tours yet, so these runs of dates we’ve been doing are the first proper chunks of touring for us. It’s a strange existence, even only in small bites, I’ll say that, and it certainly alters your perception of what you’re doing and the music you’re making. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as I think it’s a useful process to be examining what you’re doing (and why).. But on a more basic level, it’s been going down really well all over the UK and we’ve been getting a great reaction. We’ve only really played in the south-east before this year, so it’s nice to get out and about and see how crowds across the country differ.

Have there been any interesting events on tour so far that have stuck
in the memory [Highs and lows, weird and wonderful incidents included.]?

We went through a period of total hedonism when we started getting our rider. We’d asked for 4 limes (no one could remember why) and we were suddenly starting to get given 4 whole, juicy limes every day. Things got pretty ugly. Wrigglesworth was a bit out of control, to be honest. We’ve taken them off the rider now, though, so I think we’ll be ok. Also, I don’t want to sound like I’m a walking advert for them, but most of my personal tour highlights have centred around stopping at Tebay services for lunch. Fine, fine scones. Good ducks too (outside – I haven’t eaten any of them).

What are the plans for the current tour? Does the recently announced
release for Everest precede more new live tracks?

We do try to mix it up a bit and not play the same set every night. Because Liverpool was more of a seated affair and my family were there, we played ‘Waltz For George’, which was nice, and we’ve dropped a couple of other rarities in here and there. Because the album’s not out yet (or finished, I should say), we’re playing a few tracks that’ll probably make it on there but that we haven’t actually released yet…so there’s lots of new material in amongst the more familiar stuff.

Running toward a completely different note, if you could have written
any other song, what would it be?

One of the classics, I think. Something like ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head‘, or ‘Lean On Me’. Something timeless, that you know is going to be passed down the ages. Another big personal favourite is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Never Going Back Again‘ – such a beautiful, simple song but played and sung so well.

What drives the ethereal nature of your music? If indeed you would
describe it as such.

Hmmm. Can something ethereal be driven? I’m not sure. If you tried to drive it, it’d probably float off, vaguely, annoyingly. I suppose the music sounds a bit ethereal because it’s kind of like soundtrack music, but in reverse (in terms of writing the music and then editing old footage to fit it). But it’s definitely got a bit of bite to it, too. Especially live.

And finally, what are the high points looking forward to 2013 for
Public Service Broadcasting?

We’re looking forward to finishing the album and getting it out there, then touring it and seeing where it takes us. It’s funny, once you’ve written a song and put it out, it’s not like it’s even yours, or anything you had any involvement with, any more; it just seems to float off, and you have to hold on to it and see where it takes you. I suppose we’ll see where the album takes us. Hopefully to New York at some stage, though. That’d be ace. Oh – and Tebay again, naturally.

You can catch Public Service Broadcasting at a number of dates in the U.K up until 5th of December with all details of the dates and future releases available at publicservicebroadcasting.net.

Words: Ben Clark