Sometimes you find good music just by chance. When I first listened to “Abandoned Love” I was overwhelmed and thrilled by the various influences and aspects from Folk to Traditionals to 60’s Psychedelic Rock and Blues to Lee Hazelwood. The band who released that album are Trembling Bells from Scottland and I had never heard of them before. Now “Abandoned Love” slowly but surely is becoming one of my favourite records in 2010 so far. It’s time for a closer look. Mastermind and Drummer Alex Neilson happened to be a really eloquent partner for an email conversation.
Buzz: How do you come up with such a wide variety? What inspired the songwrititng?
Alex Neilson: I am very flattered by your attentive appreciation of our music. Everyone in the band has quite an obsessive relationship to music and therefore a very catholic interest with no real discrimination between styles/ genres etc. I listened to traditional folk music quite exclusively from the age of 18 to 25 (before I ever started to try to write my own songs), so I appreciate that strains of that form bleed heavily into my conception of music making in terms of melody/ imagery etc, but it is just one God-head in a vast pantheism of influences. I am really into (so called) easy listening music, rural/ electric blues, early rock and roll, early/ medieval music, classic song writer stuff, doo wop…. and the rest of my band mates (Mike Hastings, Lavinia Blackwall and Simon Shaw) all have a similarly schizophrenic interest (though they maybe focus a little more on 60s music than I do. All of these things, plus a whole raft of other more personal experiences and enthusiams, inform the music we make.
Buzz: Would you describe yourself as Folk fans?
Alex: I would make a distinction between ‘traditional music’ and ‘folk music’ and I would definitely describe myself as a fan of traditional music. Over recent years I have mainly focused on that of Britain though I am starting to rekindle my interest in traditional music from all over the world and Honest Jon’s records is a great label to be in if you are interested in quality music from around the world. I have been listening to Bristish trad. music less and less over the years but I was so heavily immersed in it for so long that I think I reached a kind of saturation-point and now it feels like such a natural part of my appreciation of music that I don’t have to revisit the records as frequently.
Buzz: Do you think about things like wether your music is “old-fashioned” or “timeless”?
Alex: I guess one of my definitions of succesful art would be the quality of evoking a sense of ‘eternity’ and simplicity, so if our music inspires a feeling of ‘timelessness’ then that would be a nice thing to hear. I do gravitate much more to music of the past (be it Elvis or Duke Ellington or Rolling Stones or 15th centuary composers like John Dunstable) as I really like the fidelity of analogue recording equipment (particularly in Doo Wop music or Sun Records era rock ‘n roll) and am left cold by what I consider to be the shallowness of alot of contemporary music, interms of subject matter, sense of melody, production etc etc. I just doesn’t interest me. I have been really interested in very canonical forms of music, like that of Bob Dylan, titans of Country music, Hoagy Carmichael and other classic song writers in a way which I find very educational and straightforwardly beautiful. I guess, generally speaking, these people will seem like anathema to the majority of Generation-i but I find them very compelling and increasingly vital.
Buzz: When you read the track list you will soon consider “Love” in it’s two-faced character the main toppic. Was there a specific cause for this toppic?
Alex: I guess Love seems to be the major preoccupation for most songwriters that one generally hears, and there is nothing that I like more than an achingly sentimental song. I guess there does come a point when you wonder; ‘does anyone give a brown-smelly-one about my triffling pangs of self recrimination in trying to recount my own calamatous love life into a song?!… do I really need to contribute to the deluge?!’, but I guess I am quite consciously trying to key into that old time tradition, filtered through a lot of my other more wayward interests in the hope of offering a slight variation on The theme. And there are certainly other topics which hold facination for me. I guess I really feel like I am only just starting out in fumbling with this process (song writing) and am learning more and more about the possibilities all the time.
Buzz: I played “Abandoned Love” to my girl friend and commented something like “I think this is seriously the best record in 2010 so far”. She reacted nearly shocked and told me later that she couldn’t understand it at all. She (I’m sorry to say that) thinks the album is horrible. Do you think your music is a “love it or hate it” - thing?
Alex: I have heard it said that there is definitely a ‘Marmite-effect’ to our music (people love it or hate it), so am not entirely sure why that is. Some people have a problem with Lavinia’s voice as being too refined (though I consider her incredible vocal ability to be a real strength). Some people think we are too much like Fairport Convention (again, a band that I have never really listened much to). Some people complain when we aren’t enough like Fairport Convention and step outside of their paradigm for what ‘folk-rock music should be’ (though we have never claimed to be a folk-rock band and excercise all manner of interests). Ultimately you try to create the best music you can and don’t have any control over how people will respond to it.
Buzz: How does the stereo-type of a Trembling Bells - listener look like?
Alex: We seem to generally attact an older audience at our gigs and we have taken to calling our appeal to this corner of the market ‘The Grey Pound’. So an average listener might be hovering around middle age, balding, bespectacled and with a whispy grey beard…. and the male audience members tend to look similar too. It doesn’t seem like girls like our music too much, which is kind of frustrating to me (as I am the only single member of the band), but maybe I will just have to try to write better songs (ala The Jonas Brothers) to attract a stronger female following?
Buzz: What are your plans for the next year? Is there a chance that you tour Europe?
Alex: We hope to record a third album over the summer and then play a smattering of dates around then. We are supporting Bonnie Prince Billy and the Cairo Gang in Ireland and England in July and Lavinia and I are going to sit in with the band, so I am excited about that. We are due to play at the Jazzjuice festival in Aarhus, Denmark ni Auguest and there is talk of us playing at a Wyrd Glasgow event in Utrecht, Holland and maybe building some dates in Europe around that…. might be best to consult our myspace about possible future dates.