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Something Traditional + Something Modern = Saloon:
An interview with Saloon

by dougie robb

Five art school types with a penchant for writing whimsy-folky-post rock and swapping instruments mid-set make up the finest band ever to come forth from the Thames valley. We like to call them Saloon. Their debut album (this is what) we call progress was hailed as one of the best albums of 2002 by many, the single "Girls are the new boys" was even voted as single of the year in John Peel's Festive 50. Not bad eh? So with a new album, If we meet in the future (Darla/Track & Field) just released and worldwide dominance on the horizon (maybe) I sat down with the band in the sun-shine basked beer-garden/carpark of that most illustrious of venues the Jug of Ale in Mosley, and had a little chat...

Am I doing you a horrendous injustice and mucho offence by calling your music 'folky post-rock'?

Matt: Not at all, I quite like that. Not too many people pick up on the whole folk thing but it's fair to say there is a folk influence.

Adam: Yeah, definitely.

Mike: We didn't consciously go out and say 'look we want to get all folky' we just gravitated towards it...

Amanda: And I think my voice is quite folky naturally...

Mike: Yeah, and having a viola in there to, that helps. But I don't think it was a sound we bought out in our music until we'd been going for a couple of years really. But I think we do tape into the 80's and 90's Thames valley sound as well, the real sort of shoe gazing stuff, I think there's an element of that in there as well.

So is this the way for folk to survive, by encompassing and embracing other genres? Cos lets face it, not many kids are going out and buying Bert Jansch or Steeleye Span records at the moment, and folk does suffer from a debilitating beardy pewter tankard image...

Matt: That's the general image but I'd like to think people see folk as more modern than that. I for one am lookin' forward to the 'Fairport' revival!

Adam: I think its fair to say that folk is the British soul music. We're just bringing something traditional into something modern.

Are there any bands that you all share a passion for, really love and inspire you to make music?

Amanda: Very few I'd say, the Velvet underground, Spiritualized...

Mike: The Stones, we must all like the Stones.

Matt: I don't own any Stones records.

Amanda: The Beatles?

Matt: No! I don't like 'em, sorry...

Mike: (laughing) Very few.

How did the band come together under its present guise?

Mike: We got together in Reading about five years ago, some of us already knew each other, some of us didn't. Some well placed adverts and mutual friends wanting to do something more 'Velvet underground' than perhaps Reading was ready for helped as well. From the off we wanted to do something that was quite intense but also quite basic I suppose.

Adam: Yeah, its always been lo-fi at heart and a bit punk because we can't actually play that well, we're never gonna be session musicians. Its good when we con people into thinking we can play.

Matt: Though when we're all together we can play and I think that's the point of the band...

Your constantly lumped into the same bracket as Belle and Sebastian, with the whole twee pop thing. Is it complementary or are the comparisons beginning to grate?

Amanda: There certainly is that element to our music, we can't deny it, but it gets annoying when that's all people see. With the first album especially because it wasn't immediately heavy a few guitar mags just labelled us as 'twee pop'...

Adam: We're a melodic pop band

Matt: I think the comparisons are more because we look back at the same things that those bands like Belle and Seb do, maybe the soul stuff and the folk stuff.

When writing do you sit down with the aim of coming up with a song that's instantly recognisable as Saloon, something that'll set you apart from others, or do you just write for yourselves and if others like it that's a bonus?

Amanda: I think we've always wanted to get our own sound, and we've always been open to a bit of experimentation to get it...

Adam: I know it sounds stupid, but we've used the same equipment and a similar blend of pop and noises in the time we've been together and that's kinda defined our sound over the years.

Mike: Also we're geared to playing live, we want to give quite a dynamic performance and so as we're writing material there is an element of, 'right, this will go into the set as the new song and replace something else', so when we're writing we do refer to our own stuff and rework ideas.

Adam: Especially when you've been doin' stuff together for five years, you find you can steal spare parts from old songs and work them until they become something new...

Mike: Like 'Absence' on the new album. We must have had that riff for about one-and-a-half years and tried it three different ways or something like that before we could get it to fit in a song that was recognisably Saloon.

How do you decide which songs are going to be in English/French/Spanish? Is it easier to express yourself if your singing in um, not English, or am I making too much out of it?

Amanda: Sometimes If we've written a song but not the lyrics I listen to it and I might think 'I wanna sing this one in French', its not something I can do easily so we don't do it that often, but we like to make an effort and so its part of our identity now.

Recently (well relatively) Kim Howells laid the blame for the increase in gang culture and gun related crime firmly at the feet of Hip-hop and UK Garage. Saying that it glamorised the gangsta lifestyle and made kids aspire to get the cars, hos, jewellery and ting no matter what. What would you like saloon's music inspire the kids to get up and do, or what do you wanna be blamed for?

Adam: I'd like to think our music would turn everyone into radical freethinking activists, something like that...

Mike: I think it's about finding your voice in whatever. Trying things and sticking with stuff for as long as it suits you.

Amanda: I think if we could be blamed for all the new technology all the old bands complain about, being blamed for everyone going analogue, that'd be quite good.

You wrote and performed live a soundtrack to Chris Marker's 1962 film La Jetée at the ICA in London. How did the project come about?

Mike: I was introduced to the chap who runs 'Halloween' at the ICA at one of our shows and got talking to him. I went along to their nights and just as a punter I really enjoyed the experience. I went to a couple a couple of different things, British Sea Power did something and DJ Spoony did something y'know, and I decided that I really wanted to play at the ICA. And I was reading Paul McCartney's biography and there's a chapter in there about avant-garde London where he explains how important the ICA was before the whole Carnegie street thing. All this was around the time we were an underground band and I remembered La Jetée from college and thought it'd be perfect for what we were doing at the time because it's a very timeless film, it's still images and you have to use your imagination a lot when you're watching it and I thought we could do something really good with it and fortunately everybody involved was really keen on the idea.

How did you go about scoring the music?

Mike: There was an element of dusting down things we weren't gonna use in songs and realising that they could have a place in a soundtrack.

Adam: We cut the songs up into little pieces and ran it along with the film, once we were used to do doing that and were happy with it; we just kinda filled in the gaps with new stuff that we thought suited. I'm really proud of it actually I think it's the best thing we've ever done.

Isn't it all a bit pretentious? An underground post-rock band accompanying a cult 60's film in an art gallery?

Mike: Well, that kinda work is what motivates us to do things and I think the overall effect was really moving.

Adam: I'd rather be perceived as pretentious than perceived as stupid, so fuck It, I don't care. As far as we're concerned we've always been an art rock band. Its what we do.

After our appalling showing in this year's Eurovision song contest and given your knack for writing fantastic pop songs would you ever consider entering the Eurovision song contest?

Matt: If we could sing in Spanish then yeah! Apparently Radiohead want to do it too, so we'd have to go head to head with them...

Mike: 'A Song For Europe' is gonna be great this year!

Matt: We're all Wogan fans anyway.

Adam: We were all moaning earlier because we thought we weren't gonna be up in time for Wogan tomorrow..

Matt- We will, Mike's gonna set the alarm!

What's all this about stage invasions, and assaults with analogue synths, eh?

Matt: Aaahhh, the over excited member of the audience. It was in London, he was just dancing at the front of the stage in pretty anti-social way, but he was also knocking into the mic stand and generally getting on peoples nerves...

Adam: And I thought he was gonna hit Amanda with the microphone and knock her front teeth out, and I just wanted to get him away from the stage, and I was playing the moog at the time and I didn't have anything to get him away from the stage with other than the moog. So I pegged it across stage and kinda hit him with the moog kinda thing, it wasn't violent.

Amanda: It was impulsive.

Adam: I just thought he was gonna take our singer's front teeth out.

Mike: But we're professional and so the song carried on.

Adam: I was on the floor though...

Matt: We even made friends with him afterwards.

Mike: He turned up to a different gig though, did his dance and took his t-shirt off on stage...

Amanda: (looking at Adam) And you really humiliated him, you said something down the mic and everyone went 'aaawwww!'

Which is most important to bring to a Saloon gig. Your dancing shoes or your 'chin-stroking-quiet-appreciation-hat'?

All: Dancing shoes!

Adam: We just don't want anyone to get hurt.

Matt: Maybe take your shoes off, like in P.E if you want to.

Mike: Dancing in the crowd just gee's us on that little bit more...

{Note: Band photo above taken from Saloon's web site,}

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