‘I really like pop music and great craftsmanship, but you have to balance that with something that feels a bit dangerous or slightly out of control in some way,’ says Andy Hunt, songwriter, guitarist and vocalist with experimental indie quintet Outfit.
So far they’ve only released their debut album Performance, but Andy is feeling reflective as he starts work on the follow-up.
Their first set was a heady post-party parable that picked up plaudits from the likes of Pitchfork, Q, NME and The Guardian for its shades of Hot Chip and Talking Heads.
Ensconced in a 20 bedroom Merseyside mansion known as The Lodge, which is owned by an eccentric music lawyer and inhabited by a clutch of artists and musicians, the band’s live instrumentation, heavily processed samples and field recordings captured the edgy atmosphere of their surroundings.
Andy’s melodies and lyrics were ambitious and crisp, striking through the band’s murky electronic pop with purpose.
‘For a while I got so into songwriting as a craft and was trying to write the perfect pop song – I was fascinated by the science of it,’ Andy explains. ‘But recently I’ve really been trying to inject some sense of spontaneity and roughness into it so that the songs aren’t these overly clinical things.’
Now, as the band find themselves nearly halfway through a self-imposed three month recording deadline for the new album, Andy is looking for something less tangible.
He’s been absorbing the grimy off-kilter electronica of Opal Tapes, a progressive UK label which has released the likes of Patricia, Huerco S, Tuff Sherm and Wanda Group. Combined with an early passion for Devo, Talking Heads and post-punk, it looks like the next album could seriously unravel Outfit’s musical threads.
We caught up with him to find out how it’s all going and figure out what he’s been learning about songwriting along the way…
My first memories are of music class in primary school. You just get thrown into a room with loads of instruments and I naturally gravitated towards the drums. It seemed instinctive – something you could do that you didn’t have to think about too consciously. That’s what got me thinking it was a cool thing to do.
Then from there you meet people that have similar ideas about music and life and you realise it’s a good way of extending your friendships.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yep, I can still play it actually. It was four strings on my guitar and I was playing it in my primary school class. Everyone was like, ‘Woooooooh, that’s crazy’!
Then I briefly played in a band when I was 10 or 11 called Jinx. We were a kind of proto Busted. We were a boy band but we had guitars and a drum kit. It was pretty lame. We had a song called Hold Me. We had these girls from school come along and go backing vocals – well that was the idea, but they were all so painfully shy we couldn’t even get them to talk. It added a very strange dynamic, I can tell you.
How does the music you listen to influence the music you make?
When I first left home I got really into post-punk stuff like Talking Heads and Devo, and the artier end of post-punk has stayed with me ever since. It’s not necessarily the kind of thing I actively pursue now but that style of songwriting is still very much in my musical DNA.
Since then, I think the stuff I listen to tends to have an interesting texture – where the sounds in the music are really weird. In a way I feel like I know what kind of songwriting I like – it’s just kind of there. And now when I’m looking for new music I’m listening out for new textures and new ways of putting together new musical or cultural ideas. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from this label called Opal Tapes and lots of lo-fi, but vaguely dance music orientated stuff.
That’s true actually. For a while I got so into songwriting as a craft and was trying to write the perfect pop song – I was fascinated by the science of it. But recently I’ve really been trying to inject some sense of spontaneity and roughness into it so that they’re not these overly clinical things. I still really like pop music and great craftsmanship but you have to balance that with something that feels a bit dangerous or slightly out of control in some way. That’s been something I’ve been trying to work on.
So what does the perfect pop song sound like to you?
Maybe like Scritti Politti? They’ve got some perfect pop songs, very much in that eighties idiom I guess. Anything which has that intangible something that just gets under your skin. You can say it’s got a great melody or you really like the lyrics but there’s always that other thing that gets you. That’s always present in a perfect pop song, an otherness that you can’t describe.
You could write a great melody and team it up with some special lyrics but there’s just something that the song doesn’t have – and that can be really frustrating sometimes. It’s something you’re constantly looking for…
I suppose sometimes a song doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. But it’s the uncertainty about how it will turn out that gets people hooked on making music, isn’t it?
I think there are two stages when you’re making music which feel addictive. There’s the bit where you’ve finished a project like an album and it feels great to have done all this work. It’s been reduced to this absolute thing and it feels like a real achievement.
The other thing that’s really addictive is the early stage when there’s the seed of an idea. Maybe you’re working on some music in your room and it’s just a loop at the moment. You’ve got it going round and round and you stumble upon a vocal idea for it. It’s the sense of potential that you find yourself in. All of a sudden you’re so excited and you feel this song could do anything or go anywhere, and take you with it. That moment is the most exciting because it’s everything and nothing all at once. You can never really get back to that. It’s the purest moment you can have with an idea. Everything after that is about fixing things down or making decisions that make it less magical – more tangible but less exciting.
Your debut album Performance was out last year and got some great reviews. How do you feel about that record now?
We’ve been listening to it lately as we start again on another record. Generally speaking I feel really proud of it. It’s an accurate document of where we were all at, what we were interested in and the band we wanted to be. But there are also things we can be critical about and there are things we’d like to do differently next time round.
How do you mean?
The sort of things we were focusing on for the first record are not necessarily going to be the things we’ll focus on for the next record. On the first album we were really looking at pop song structures and the fascination with the verse-chorus idea. Sonically we could do whatever we wanted because we had access to a lot of software and we used a lot of samples and found sound. When we started the album we didn’t know what we wanted it to be and had to discover it over the process of making the record.
How will you do it differently next time?
We’ve given ourselves lots of limitations and rules to begin with, just so we don’t have that ultimate free reign and we can be more focused.
How’s that working out? Have you written everything in advance of recording?
I’ve been writing on the piano but I’ve purposely not put the songs into final form. I have lots of fragments that we are going to try to assemble as a band. Last time, myself and Tom took demos to the band and we played them and rerecorded them and it all went back and forth. In a way you end up being a slave to these demo ideas you had six months before and not everyone gets to be really creative.
This time round there’s a desire for the songs to take shape in front of us all rather than having any preconceived ideas. It’s what we were talking about before – trying to hold onto that moment of potential and have it unravel in front of all of us.
When can we hear the new stuff?
We’ve got quite a strict self imposed timeline. We’ve given ourselves three months. Then we’ve got to sit around and wait for it to be released for six months.