Oxford is subtly nestled in Britain’s music scene, yet its homegrown acts include Radiohead, Foals and more recently, BBC Introducing act Zurich. I chatted to Chris and Adrian about the group’s influences, favourite fellow Oxford groups and how they added mental health into their song topics.
I’ve read on your website that you describe your music as ‘widescreen post-punk rock with a nod to the darker side of 80s electronic pop’, who would you say are your key influences?
There are loads! Me and Adrian grew up listening to bands like Coldplay, Travis, Franz Ferdinand and The Bravery, so I think there will always subconsciously be elements of those bands in our sound. For Leigh, Led Zeppelin were huge for him growing up, as well as Wild Beasts in recent years. There are tonnes of acts too long to list, but we are influenced by classical music, films, soundtracks and politics quite heavily as well.
these songs feel like we’re pushing our own boundaries even more
How did you end up working with Gary Stevenson? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had from him?
We met him back in 2007, just through finding his number in the Yellow Pages! So we’ve worked with him a lot over the years, and have learnt so much from him as a producer. He has given us so much advice over the years it’s hard to keep track, but when we were working on our Small Wars EP, we spent months putting it together, and on one track we were labouring over, he told us to just ignore the computer screen, and just listen to the track, and tell if something sounds good or not. It’s a simple thing, but when you get deeper into making music, it’s easy to forget that if it sounds good, then it is good. It doesn’t matter whether it ‘looks right’ on Logic or Pro-tools.
Oxford is home to an incredible roster of artists – which of your fellow home-grown artists do you admire the most?
Radiohead is the obvious one, and funnily enough while we were shooting the video for ‘Where You’ve Been’, Thom Yorke happened to walk past us, so that was a very surreal experience. Hail To The Thief was the first album of theirs I listened to, and made such an impact on how I thought about writing songs. It probably remains my favourite album of theirs to this day.
Foals have also led an inspiring career path. I feel with each album they’ve really matured as songwriters, and when you compare What Went Down to Antidotes, they are just worlds apart in quality, style, consistency, dynamic range and production. I would never have thought back in 2008 that they would headline Reading and Leeds festival later down the line, but that’s testament to their work ethic. I actually met Yannis once, and we spoke about music, and the Oxford scene. He was a cool guy!
Compared to your debut EP Small Wars, is your upcoming second one similar sonically, or does it differ?
There are a few subtle differences. We have the same instrumental elements as Small Wars, but there’s definitely more prominence on synth this time round, as well as loops. Both ‘Where You’ve Been’ and our next single ‘My Protocol’ stemmed from a looped idea that just built in layers. On these new songs we’ve definitely stretched our lyrical themes too. Small Wars was exploring a lot of variations within a relationship, and that definitely continues with these new songs, but ‘Where You’ve Been’ for instance pairs that with mental health. We felt Small Wars was us pushing in different directions, and these songs feel like we’re pushing our own boundaries even more.
What’s the inspiration behind the group name? It seems to evoke a lot of 80s connections like Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ or the group Berlin even!
We just wanted a single word name, and we wanted it to begin with ‘Z’ as (apart from ZZ Top, Zebrahead and Frank Zappa) there aren’t that many. Adrian had been making lists of names, and when he suggested Zurich, I could picture it on a t-shirt, or a poster, and we all agreed that it sounded ‘genreless’ – so we could make almost any style of music, and the name would still fit. It’s easy to get pigeonholed by a name, or a sound, and we didn’t want either to happen to us.
People are always fighting battles, you just have to be there to help when you can
I’ve read that your latest single ‘Where You’ve Been’ deals with the subject of mental health, which is a topic finally increasingly being more widely discussed in music – can you tell us a bit more about that?
Adrian: It’s so great that mental health is being talked about more as it’s such an important topic to bring up. The song was written in mind of many friends who have mental health issues, how they deal with it, and the idea of being there to help people. Although the song doesn’t preach or be too obvious in it’s message, the idea of helping people in a dark place is essential to the story telling. People are always fighting battles, you just have to be there to help when you can.
Aside from gearing up to release your second EP, what artists or music have you been enjoying currently?
The new Rae Morris album is brilliant. We saw her a couple of weeks back, and her voice is truly stunning, while having a knack for really catchy melodies. And although I’ve never been a big fan, the new MGMT album is great too. Otherwise, we’re really enjoying Angus & Julia Stone, Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and co, and Marlon Williams new album is pretty heavy-going, but worth a listen.
How did it feel when you discovered the group was becoming an BBC Introducing act?
I think we were quite lucky, that in our old band we managed to get airplay through BBC Oxford, BBC West Midlands and BBC6 before the whole BBC Introducing platform became as popular and competitive as it is now. We’re also lucky that Dave Gilyeat from BBC Oxford likes our music, because if we were based somewhere else, we might not have been so fortunate, and so consistently supported. I think competition for new bands to get radio airplay is getting fiercer, but that sense of competition makes you work on your song-writing to try and create the best thing you can.