Tue, 06 Nov 2007 10:53:35
Hard-Fi burst onto the British rock scene in 2005, winning critical
acclaim and a Mercury Prize nomination with the punchy riffs and tales
of suburban frustration of their debut album, Stars of CCTV.
Returning with a darker sound on their new release, Once Upon a Time in the
West, the band look set to repeat that success. Frontman Richard
Archer took time out from their promotional tour to chat with
ARTISTdirect about new pressures, causing controversy and their hopes
for an American breakthrough.
Stars of CCTV opened a lot of doors for you in the UK—both critically and commercially. Was there a lot of pressure going into record this album?
The pressure this time around was huge. Last time, the pressure was that we had to pay rent, we had to eat, but this time it was a different situation. The first album did alright, and so we had the record label needing to plan when it was going to come out, how many units it was going to sell, when they can get their bonus and go skiing. If you make too many changes they start freaking out.
Did you approach recording Once Upon a Time in the West in the same way, to try and recreate things?
For the first record, it came together in stages: we originally recorded a single, and that became an EP, and finally we did a deal with Atlantic Records in the UK. But with this one, it was start to finish in one whole entity. We had the same producers and used the same studio as last time—we just knocked through to make it bigger.
The production sounds more complex…
Yeah. The last time, we had to put sounds in to cover the noise outside; I learned how to set up a studio from the internet. We thought "how hard can it be?" and just built everything as we went along. Before we knew it, we were up to our eyeballs in dirt and dust. This time, we got to introduce real strings onto this record and try things out. I wanted it to sound fuller.
You've talked about the influences this time around being different, lots of Massive Attack. Did you consciously set out to write a new sound?
I saw it more as a progression. The first album was very brash—which I think it had to be. It was a debut, we wanted people to take notice of us. So I always had it that this one would be different. If the first was a house track, then this one is more like a hip-hop track, you know what I mean? A bit moodier, a bit darker, and lyrically, it's a lot more personal. It's been a long two years, and it's harder to get your head together after that, and work out where you are, so this is almost trying to deal with that somehow. I lost my mother when it all started, and I never had time to deal with that. All the people who support you and stand by you—you want them to see the good times and share in the reward, but they're not around anymore. I tried to deal with that, but I knew I couldn't just stop and take the time out.
It seems like so much of creating a debut is about achieving that symbolic goal: getting a deal, making the charts. And afterwards, the goals aren't so clear…
Right. It always felt like we were on a road, trying to catch up with everyone. But now, you don't know what to expect at all. You have to learn how to give interviews; you have to learn how to go on TV; you have to learn how to pace yourself, so you don't sing so hard one night you can't talk.
You've caused some controversy in the UK with the artwork for the new record (record sleeves read simply, "no cover art"). What was your thinking behind that?
The thing with the artwork was this: we were a long time making this record. I'm not going to lie to you and say it was easy, it was hard. We poured a lot of ourselves into it: a lot of effort, and love, and everything we had. And then we came to talk about the album sleeve with the record label, they said "look, we want to put a picture of the band on the front," because that's easy, it's cheap, and it markets well—and that's the most important thing. And I was like, where's the creativity gone? After we put all that work in, they just wanted to cop out on the artwork. So we worked with the people who did our first sleeve, and we came up with this idea and loved it. And, to be fair to the label, once we came to them with the idea, they got behind it.
Did you expect people to make such a big deal?
What surprised me about all this controversy was that, well, I fully expect some people not to like what we do—you just can't expect everyone to be into what you do. But some people have their knickers seriously in a twist. The bands I love try things, they stick their heads above the parapet. But people want you to just play it safe.
Your music is rooted in a particular kind of British cultural experience: the wage grind, life in a small town. Now that you're looking to make an impact in the States, do you think this kind of material will translate?
The first time I thought it could work, we were playing St. Louis and Kansas supporting The Bravery, and there was nothing going on with us. We were playing to their crowd, and yet we were selling out of CDs every night. People were obviously getting something from our music. This second album, it's about basic human emotions, and those surely have to be universal.
How has it been, touring out in the U.S.?
We've toured in the States three or four times, and the thing is, it's just so vast. Each state is almost like a separate country in some ways. It is hard, even when you're used to touring, but then again, you get those moments that you don't get anywhere else: going to the Motown music museum and driving across the desert. You know, it's kind of like a fairytale for any band.