Belfast trio Not Squares released their debut album Yeah OK last week (stream it). Produced by Richter Collective labelmate Vinny McCreith (Adebisi Shank, The Vinny Club), the record is an orgiastic mix of electronic wizardry, thumping live drums and strong melodic instincts. State caught up with Keith (Drums), Riki (Bass) and Michael (Keyboard) ahead of their gig at The Button Factory in Dublin on December 22nd.
The story goes that you guys formed after a drunken conversation, deciding that ‘Belfast needs a party band’ – can you elaborate a bit on the content of that conversation?
Keith: There was a couple of us outside Botanic Gardens in Belfast, and I guess we were just thinking it would be nice to be in a real upbeat, high energy kind of band. We’d been in other more moody and epic bands, but this felt like the right time to get dance beats. It was always with nothing to lose and keeping it fun so it had to be enjoyable.
Did you feel like there was something lacking in the music scene at the time?
Riki: There’s always been really good dance music and crossover bands, but in Belfast at that time specifically, there seemed to be a dearth of upbeat, party bands. And when I say party bands, we literally just mean a band that if you were having a party you’d want them to play. It wasn’t like a grand masterplan where we said ‘something needs to change’.
From day one, it’s been about ‘jamming’ for you guys. What’s the process there with songwriting?
Keith: Well it has evolved a bit, but mostly we would get in (to a rehearsal space) and very naturally I would start drumming, these guys would start playing around with their synths and bass guitars. We’d record a lot of stuff that we do with a voice recorder, and okay 90 percent of it is dross, but the 10 percent that’s workable, we usually end up trying to jam that again at the next session. You kind of have that unspoken 10 or 15 minutes at the start of a practice where it’s just a mess around and you see what could come out of it.
Riki:: We’ve always been fairly free. It’s not really a matter of warming up and we keep it fairly loose. It always has been fairly loose and that’s the good thing about it.
Michael: The songs are always about 12 minutes long when they start (laughs), so we have to cut them up and take the best bits. Sometimes something happens by mistake, you know like I’ve hit the wrong note or gone into a weird rhythm trying to get to the other part of the keyboard, but you haven’t done it consciously and can’t get the muscle memory back again.
What about in the studio, are you guys perfectionists? Just listening to the mix on the album it seemed like you had a really clear idea of the sound you wanted to achieve?
Keith: I think it’s getting that way. This first record is a real conglomeration of 10 songs, which represent the last two years. It couldn’t have been done, it must be said, without Vinny from Adebisi who produced and mixed it. He really took what were our poor, rough mixes and source sounds, and really found space for them in a stereo mix. The relationship with Vinny, going back and forth to make the album is where the gloss and shine emerged. It sounds more expensive than it cost to make (laughs).
Riki: He was quite sensitive to the serendipity of our recording process as well. He was always very keen to leave in little whispers or screeches of the drum pedal.
Michael: The first track on the album, ‘Release The Bees’, it’s this big electro-dance song and it sounds for all intents and purposes like its programmed, but it surprises you actually – in the break during a bar of silence you can hear Keith breathing at the drum kit and his foot on the hi-hat. It’s real people and I hope that it come across that the record is played…mostly. We started to get into programming towards the end of making the record and a lot of the songs took on a different edge, so it was a learning process as well.
What do you mean a different edge? Is this in terms of texture, or simply not knowing where you were going with it?
Michael: Yeah, there was a bit of that – happy accidents.
Keith: One process was I had a voice recorder and I was walking, funnily enough in Dublin, on Grafton Street and just thought of a beat. I’ve got a bad memory, so I put it on the voice recorder. Somehow it ended up on one of these two lads computers, and after they’d had a laugh at it turned it into the start of a song, which then got jammed on in the practice room – so there’s that whole overlap of where ideas came from.
Obviously Vinny from Adebisi produced your album, but what makes a label like the Richter Collective so special? Is there a community feeling?
Michael: I think it’s like a mindset really. It’s kind of that everyone has the same ethos. I know there are a lot of different types of music on the label, but I think everyone has the same kind of spirit.
Riki: When you’re with the people (on the label) it doesn’t feel like the bands are so different – everyone seems to be into what everyone else is doing.
You’re going to be touring with Two Door Cinema Club at the start of December, are you prepared for playing to the teeny-bopper audience?
Keith: I was talking recently to Paddy Baird from Kowalski. He was telling me when they were supporting Two Door, half the guys in the crowd have their shirts off (laughs) and it’s just manic – almost like a fanatical cult. It’ll be fun to see it, because we’ve played with those guys in various guises since they began and I’m really excited and pleased for them and the success.
What about starting out in Belfast, is there many support systems for new bands there?
Keith: I suppose to draw a parallel, it’s a good place to start if you want to start being an artist – it’s the perfect place to start trying to get a show together, it’s cheap to live and show your work. In the same way, I think if you’re starting a band there’s a lot of good venues, ATL on BBC radio, AU magazine. It’s a small city but it’s a close system, where you can get a review and it’s quick to get things off the ground.
Are you the kind of band that plots and makes plans? Did you have a six-month outline at any time?
Riki: Well we wanted to make an album as soon as it became clear it was going to work as a band. We really wanted to make an album to get more gigs and play further a field. Now we’ve got the album done, and we’re really happy with it, we want to see if we can get it out there and make people listen to it.
For Not Squares, making people listen won’t be a problem. With Yeah OK a late tip for album of the year, the trio looks set to turn heads in 2011. And with supports with Two Door Cinema Club lined up this month, the party starts here.
Not Squares debut album Yeah Ok is out now on the Richter Collective. The band will be supporting Two Door Cinema Club in Belfast (Mandella Hall), Dublin (Olympia) and Galway (The Black Box), on the 7th, 8th and 9th of December before the Richter Christmas Party on December 22nd in The Button Factory.