It’s six o’ clock on a cold November night in a basement venue in Soho. Broken Records have just finished their sound check. And in the space of a few hours they’ve already travelled down from the midlands, and played a live morning slot on BBC Radio 6.
Now they have to pack up all their own gear, go get something to eat, and be back on stage for half eight. While the other band members act as roadies, the press duties are left to lead singer Jamie Sutherland, and his older brother (violinist) Rory.
Brotherly love in the history of British rock music has usually been a cause for a referee for most interviews and performances. The Sutherlands however, don’t even pretend to have the swagger or the arrogance of the Gallagher, Reid, or Davis brothers. In fact they are nothing but polite, and belong perhaps to the more working man’s approach to rock ‘n’ roll, than the bravado type that most music journalists dread in an interview. Hard work and honesty won its way over pretentiousness in the making of their latest record, Let Me Come Home, says lead singer Jamie Sutherland.
“I think the new record is a big step forward. We’ve learned to play better. The first record was the sign of us being a bit frustrated with deals and things we’d been trying to negotiate the year before, there had been a lot of hype, probably a bit too much. But I think on this record we’ve just tried to make honest rock music with a bunch of pop songs, just something that was direct and accessible, and immediate and exciting. You know we could have layered the album with fucking 40 tracks worth of feedback and shoe gazing guitars, and buried the vocals happily in the mix and been all indie, but it wasn’t what we wanted to do, it wasn’t us. There are times when you might want to make a more obtuse record and do something a bit artier, but I think with this record we just focused on writing as good songs as we could and not bury them under magnets of instrumentation.”
While the record may not be steeped with feedback guitars and layers and layers of vocals, it certainly has an aura of grandeur to it, something Jamie says the band tried to tone back a little perhaps in comparison to their debut, Until the Earth Begins to Part, which they released in 2009.
“We’ve always wanted to be as cinematic as possible, and I think with the last record we were probably trying to make Apocalypse Now! This record is a little less layered, it’s still wide screened, but just more nuanced I guess.”
This almost apocalyptic sound has made many in the music press make similar comparisons to Arcade Fire, something which although maybe a little flattering, Jamie disagrees with.
“I think it’s an in joke now that every band sort of sounds like Arcade Fire, you know, they’re in an odd position, don’t get me wrong they’re a great band and all, but I think anyone nowadays trying to make a big epic sound, which is what we are trying to do, is going to get the Arcade Fire references. Arcade Fire came along what, six years ago, and I’ve been writing songs for like 15 years, so I don’t know how much of an influence they would be on me really.”
While its hardly plausible that the songs Sutherland was writing when he was 13 bear resemblance to Broken Records current catalogue, from that adolescent route of hiding in ones bedroom and listening to Kurt Cobain, came a real love for what Jamie Sutherland hoped one day would materialise into forming a group. The route wasn’t so straightforward however.
After dropping out of college studying English and Philosophy, Jamie played the singer songwriter circuit in small pubs in Edinburgh for a couple of years before his brother Rory also decided to jump ship from education and try and make a go at making the band work.
The band name, Broken Records, was actually originally set up as a record label says Jamie.
“I was working in a record store at home, and they couldn’t even afford to pay me at the time. I was at home and broke, and you’re just sort of thinking, where do you go from here? So I started the label Broken Records. Originally it was just myself playing open mic singer songwriter nights, and I had some cheap home recording equipment. The idea was that we would put out my songs, other people songs and maybe get a band together out of it. Well, the label didn’t really last long and the band sort of grew, so I suppose it worked.”
From their own make shift record company, Broken Records have since moved on to indie label 4AD, which as luck would have it, meant they got to support The National all around Europe last summer. They speak highly of their record label, who allow them the luxury to grow and experiment, something a major label in the current climate would not do says Rory.
“They (4AD) basically said our record deal is a building exercise, record an album, tour it, get a new bunch of songs together and record another one, it’s a three album project. I mean we’re still relatively a young band; we’ve been together since only 2007.”
Despite this outward optimism, there seems to be a fear among the band that despite the record label’s assurance they have time to build on their success, the lack of sales might just put an end to the career they have for so long dreamed of.
As the brothers get ready to go for their tea, Jamie has the last word on the declining record industry, trying to be as diplomatic as possible.
“I mean I don’t really have any hard or fast opinions on what the future of the record industry should be, but it makes your position as a band really untenable because, nobody is doing this for fun or for free to a certain extent, because we all have lives to live. And for our fans to go, we downloaded your record, that’s great, but if you don’t buy the record, then 4AD are less likely to let us to make another one, because they’re not getting money back for it. By not following through that old system it becomes very difficult for you to control it, because eventually, if you don’t sell records, you can’t make another one.”
Photo by Monika Gorka.