Field Music are turning out to be one of the most consistently rewarding bands of the 21st century. Their new album Flat White Moon is the latest in a string of fascinating genre-hopping releases that defy to be stuffed in any pigeonhole, anywhere. Their last record, Making a New World, was a project commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, but the new album turns their attention back to relationships, memories, and the nation’s state in 2021. Speaking from their new studio in the northeast of the UK, David and Peter Brewis talk about the recording process, touring without a road crew and pasta sauce. And why they love Metallica.
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When I spoke to you at the time of Open Here, I asked you about the artists that you were listening to at the time, which included Hall and Oates, David Bowie, Prince, and Paul Simon. According to the press release for Flat White Moon, recently, you’ve been listening to Free, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles, with Beck’s Odelay and Three Feet High and Rising by De La Soul thrown in for good measure.
Peter Brewis: I missed one out from the press release – Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell – that’s another big one for me. I feel I should mention that one. And Dylan too, especially Blonde on Blonde.
David Brewis: I’ve been hammering Parliament records: Mothership Connection, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein… There is an influence from those records on Flat White Moon, but it might not be immediately apparent. We always listen to a disparate bunch of things and we just have to choose which ones we’re going to put in the press release.
An album that combines all those influences would be quite a thing.
David: That’s what we try to do every time we make a record, it’s just that it gets filtered through who we are anyway, so it all ends up sounding like Field Music. We might think that we’ve finally made an album that sounds like Free, but actually, it just sounds like the way we always sound. It’s just a tiny bit more Free.
Peter: It’s all cumulative, isn’t it, really? You keep adding the things that are really interesting to you and a part of who you are musically and lyrically. Initially, we started by saying, “remember when we used to love Free when we were 16 years old? Let’s be Free.”
David: It’s like the way I make pasta sauce. Every time I make it, I do it slightly differently, but actually, all of my pasta sauces taste the same. You might add some extra fenugreek, but in the end, it still tastes the same.
Making a New World seemed to be from the third-person perspective. This one is a lot more personal. Is this due to lockdown making you more self-absorbed?
Peter: No, I think that Making a New World was a project with a brief which we gave ourselves. We wanted to write narratives about people, imagining that we were those people, telling their stories, really. That’s not a normal thing for us to do, and now we’ve gone back to writing about our everyday existence rather than imagining we were a photographer in Beijing in 1989 or whatever.
David: I don’t think it was particularly informed by the lockdown. We’d already started recording at least half the songs before the lockdown started last March.
This record feels like it’s more of a band record than the last two.
David: Yeah – it’s weird because most of this record is mainly the two of us. Making a New World was conceptually a grand construction; three-quarters of that record was recorded live. It was the most practical way to do it as it was written for a live performance. A week after the second performance, we came into the studio and did two full takes of it and made most of the record from those two full takes we’d done. It was a complicated thing to do, as we were doing it to a sequenced percussion and synth track because everything had to be synced to visuals. When we started Flat White Moon, it was just me, Peter and Andrew, the bass player from the live band. We were all in the room together having fun, rocking out, pretending that we were…
David: Pretending that we were Free! Or Peters Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Or Led Zeppelin. As kids, we were just obsessed with those bands. The first thing I ever played on stage at junior (elementary) school was a solo version of “Whole Lotta Love”, followed by “All Right Now” in fourth year (fourth grade) juniors. What a terrible idea! Luckily the audience were all parents, who must have been thinking, “how cute – but how terrible to listen to!”
The last tour that you did was a multi-media extravaganza. Is your next set of performances going to be a bit more stripped back or are you going to go the full Madonna?
David: We want to do performances where the personality of the band comes across and you get the most out of the players in the band. With Making a New World, there was such a lot going on.
Peter: The tour for Open Here and the tour for Making a New World became logistical exercises as opposed to me and Dave playing music. I’m surprised that we did OK at that as there were so many other things to worry about. We don’t have a tour manager or crew – whatever you see happening is a result of me and Dave and the band all rolling our sleeves up and getting on with it. But that means that there’s a lot to do. This time we thought, “let’s make an album that we can rock out.” We very rarely consider what we’re going to do live when we make a record. I’m looking forward to just the band and our sound engineer getting in the van and turning up at a gig and just playing really loud.
David: And without having to have two months’ worth of discussions about what kind of AV connections we need before we get there. The balance of our attention can be on playing.
Peter: All we’ll need is a roll of gaffa tape!
The feel of this record is very upbeat even when the lyrical themes are quite dark – is that juxtaposition a conscious thing?
Peter: I think it becomes conscious. When we’re writing about sad or difficult things, we tend to shy away from just playing something slow with minor chords. It doesn’t suit our personalities, really. At heart, we try to be optimistic and playful, even with difficult subjects. We try and have a sense of humor about it.