Inform. Educate. Entertain. A mantra to set your store by, and PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING deemed it a fitting enough message that they appropriated it from a set of public service films to use it as the name for their debut album, which is due out on Test Card Recordings on 6th May. That the duo, J. Willgoose Esq. and drummer Wrigglesworth, use samples of archive films plundered from the vaults of the BFI and StudioCanal, it seems a perfect fit. These are then melded in to the full Public Service Broadcasting canvas alongside drums, banjo, percussion, sampled electronics, theremin wafts, and all manner of other instrumental interludes to make their live audio-visual transmissions something quite arresting. Witness the sampling of a brutal US driving safety public service film on new single Signal 30 as case in point.
The duo are in the middle of a long tour, which will see them head to the Highlands for six shows in early May. Before they got out of transmission range we tasked Laurie Cheeseman to get in touch with them and fire over some questions. This is what J. had to say.
Bido Lito!: Hello folks. You’re in the middle of this mammoth 46 date tour at the moment, what’s been the highlight so far?
J. Willgoose Esq.: I think the two best shows have been Exeter and Cambridge – both really good venues and really good crowds. We played OK, too! Besides those two though the highlight has been spending so many hours in each other’s company. You really get to know someone when you share a Transit van and an unending stream of budget hotel rooms.
BL!: Your Twitter page says you are proud wearers of corduroy, and the samples themselves that you use are rather… tweedy. In my opinion there is something almost Kraftwerk-esque in the use of history combined with very ‘now’ sounds to inform and entertain, was this intentional?
JW: To tell the truth (and I’ll probably upset a few people with this) I’ve never been a massive fan of Kraftwerk. I like a few songs but I tend to find that they go on a bit, really. I recognise the pioneering use of electronics and have a great respect for them, but they’re not an act that we’ve consciously modelled ourselves on at all. In fact seeing them live made me really angry. I know the ‘act’ is that they just stand there, but it drove me mad. ‘What are they doing?! What are they doing up there though?! Are they just pressing play and then just standing there? What are they ACTUALLY DOING?!?!?’ I found it totally exasperating and devoid of any musical engagement whatsoever. We have a much more live feel to our shows and I think it really helps that people can see what you’re doing and have an understanding of it. And watching someone play the drums is always good fun.
BL!: Single Roygbiv shares its title with a song by Boards Of Canada, whose take their name from a very similar source to your own. Do you feel that your music fits into the wider electronic music spectrum, and if so how?
JW: That’s another divisive one actually – I didn’t realise they had a song called that until ours was already out! And although I was aware of them, I didn’t know what their name referred to. I’ve been accused on YouTube comments (hardly the highest form of intelligence the world has to offer – in fact almost exactly the opposite) of directly plagiarising them, but I think our sound and our ethos is fairly obviously different to theirs. And in all honesty they’re another group I find quite boring! Not a lot seems to happen. I do love a great deal of electronic music though – particular modern favourites would be Datassette and Luke Abbott – but a lot of that world tends to be quite po-faced and serious, and I think we don’t fit into that bracket as we wear our ‘humour’ quite proudly. A lot of people won’t like us for that, but I don’t really care!
BL!: We all remember those frankly scary public service broadcast films from when we were kids. Did the band’s name inspire the use of the samples, or vice versa?
JW: Very much vice versa. Otherwise that would’ve been an incredible stroke of luck!
BL!: Singles New Dimensions In Sound and Spitfire essentially sound like the very definition of postmodernism – re-appropriating the sounds of the past and placing them in an entirely new context. In the bands case, that is vintage PSB samples mixed seamlessly into rock rhythms in a way Disco Inferno would be proud of, what inspired you to bring together two such disparate sounds?
JW: I suppose it was partly inspired by people like DJ Shadow (Endtroducing is still an all-time favourite), but really it was probably one of the least deliberate aspects to this whole thing. The music just tends to come out on its own really, and then it’s a case of either finding suitable samples to fit to it or maybe having already seen a film I’d like to use and writing something with that in mind… It does tend to reflect the subject matter, in that Signal 30 is a driving safety song that goes at a breakneck pace, and Everest is more ethereal and ultimately triumphant, but the kind of music we make is the kind of music I’d like to make even without the whole samples aspect to it. But I suppose what gives it its strength is the way the two come together to make something new from something old – I like to think of it as ‘retrofitting’ in a way, being a big fan of Blade Runner; taking something old and bolting something new onto it in a way that may seem incongruous but that ultimately, hopefully, works, and even makes you re-evaluate the original.
BL!: ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ was Lord Reith’s mission for public service broadcasts. Does the same mantra creep in to your own ideals for songwriting too?
JW: Ha – well it’s definitely our mission statement and it does come from the good Lord Reith, yes, but really when I’m writing it’s all about the song. I try to leave anything else – especially ego – at the door. I can be fairly brutal with my own songs in terms of chopping bits out and stripping them down, but I don’t necessarily sit there thinking ‘this song isn’t quite educational enough’. I always come at it from a musical angle, i.e. does it work as a piece of music, is it a good song, does it get where it needs to and so forth.
BL!: How important to you is developing a unique outward image for press and music listeners to attach to?
JW: I think it helps to undermine some of the potential pretentiousness which could come from being in a band like this – if we went about things in a very humourless way I think it’d be a mistake. As it is, the fact that we look like idiots and plainly don’t take ourselves too seriously (although we do take the material we use absolutely seriously) helps to give us a more human side, and a slight air of mischief which might otherwise be missing.
BL!: You’ve had some excellent media and radio coverage, most notably from 6Music and Janice Long: is that media coverage vital to bands/artists who haven’t got the luxury of major label backing? Does it relate directly to record sales?
JW: Absolutely, and yes. I remember going in to speak to Mark Radcliffe on 6 in the days before we had a physical distributor, so all the sales came through to me directly, and checking my emails on the train home there were about 90 new orders. With radio it’s instant, if people like it, they’ll either find out more and buy it or possibly make a mental note and investigate later. But you can always tell when you’ve been played on the radio. With press (which we haven’t had much of, prior to this album – I tend to find music press these days doesn’t have the resources to go out and find new bands, they seem to wait for bands to reach a level or a threshold before they touch them) it’s a much slower process, a bit more like building up the name slowly so that if people see you on a festival line-up they might think ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them, I’ll give them a listen’. But without the radio play we’ve had we would be absolutely nowhere right now.
BL!: This will be your first time playing Liverpool as far as we could find out… what are your experiences (if any) of Liverpool as a city?
JW: We actually played at the Capstone Theatre on the Hope campus in October last year, and it was a great, warm crowd, as you’d expect. We hung around in the city the next day too and there was a really nice atmosphere – I got shown around the Bombed Out Church [St. Luke’s], which was fascinating, and I really enjoyed spending time in Liverpool. Very much looking forward to going back, actually. It’s very obviously a place with a lot of musical heritage and somewhere that deeply cares about music, and anywhere like that is alright in my book.
BL!: Your sets include lots of old news and propaganda footage in what we would say a visual mash-up. This Liverpool show will be taking place at the Kazimier, which is not only a fantastic backdrop for performance but is a venue with a rich (recent) history of hosting quirky events. Firstly, are you aware of the Kazimier? And secondly, how appropriate do you feel the venue choice is for you, in a general live show sense?
JW: I’ve spoken to quite a few people about it actually and they all agree that it’s a great space and will be a really great place for us to do a show, so we’re really looking forward to it. We got a great reception in Liverpool last time and are hoping for more of the same. And this time we’ve got one of my favourite new bands, Baltic Fleet, in tow, so it’ll again be a privilege to be sharing a stage with them. It’s definitely one of our most-anticipated, anyway!