It’s safe to say the Public Service Broadcasting aren’t your average band. Live, they bombard your senses while dressing in English gentleman meets college nerd chic – as witnessed by State recently in New York. Their music (as heard on fine debut album Inform Educate Entertain) is a combination of vintage film and TV samples mixed with a hotch potch of musical styles. With three Irish dates this weekend, we asked J. Willgoose Esq if he thought his music would ever appeal to such an international audience…
“I didn’t really think it would travel beyond the end of my road, to be honest. I’m continually surprised where it’s taking us. I thought we’d be far too niche to get anywhere, it was mainly for my own entertainment really. It’s not a normal proposition, it’s an odd beast on so many levels. In a funny way maybe that’s what’s helped it stand out”.
How did the idea come about?
“I’ve been using speech samples in my music for ages, since 2000, dropping in bits here and there. If I was watching something and it reached out and grabbed me I’d get it, but it was hearing about the release of some BFI films on Radio 4. I went online and had a look and the voices and character in them, the weight of history behind it – even if it is a slight novelty – all worked well with the music I was writing”.
The name of the band, the album – it all suggests that this is going to be a weighty experience…
“Maybe, but the emphasis is very much on the entertain part as opposed to educate and inform. I like to think that if there’s any danger of becoming pretentious that the levity that we introduce to the live set offsets that. When we need to be respectful and sympathetic to the material, especially with the World War II stuff, then we are. At the same time hopefully the fact that we don’t take ourselves too seriously stands us in good stead”.
Listening to the record, it sounds as if the voices fit completely naturally…
“It’s good that you think that but in many cases – ‘Night Mail’ for instance – it’s quite a torturous process mangling the material to make it fit. A lot of it had music in the background in the first place so it’s tricky to work out how to put it to mask that and make sure the words are clear. On the other hand there are some soundbites that just stand out as soon as you hear them, they’re like poetry. It’s a combination of a lot of hard work and getting very lucky”.
Do you think it’s a nostalgic record?
“Perhaps for other people but when we play it nostalgia isn’t the defining emotion. It could be interpreted that way because we’re using material from the past but someone once said we’re re-contextualising it and that’s the key. It’s a combination of the old and the new and not just a pure ‘keep calm and carry on’ feel. For me the strongest emotion is the character of these voices and it’s not something you can get by just re-creating the samples or getting someone else to record them. You can tell when it’s not the real thing”.
Is it important to keep the music varied?
“Using clips from different types of film is a good writing tool. For something like ‘Signal 30’ it’s a nice ironic twist that it’s a really fast, aggressive song about driver safety. At the same time I wanted ‘Night Mail’ to have the rhythm of a train. You don’t just fall into the same old traps”.
Would you say that live was the ultimate PSB experience?
“Yes, but it does stand on its own musically.. The reaction we’ve had to radio play shows that but at the same time any good band should show you what they’re about live. Obviously we have a very strong visual element and it’s quite an immersive experience. That does have a down side, people sometimes get zoned out and forget they’re at a concert. They stop moving. We always like a bit of movement”.
Public Service Broadcasting play Stiff Kitten, Belfast (15th), Button Factory, Dublin (16th) and Glassworks, Derry (17th)