Fingers Crossed: An Interview With Field Music

Field Music
Tones of Town
Memphis Industries

Field Music will be right back. After unloading their gear and briefly saying hello, two of the band’s three members, brothers Peter and David Brewis, have to find parking for the van they’ve been driving through the US and Canada for the last two weeks. I figure I’ll be waiting a while as they roam New York’s Lower East Side, knowing that street parking doesn’t come easy here, least of all for a huge, equipment-carrying van. By some miracle, they return in a few minutes, ready to join keyboardist Andrew Moore, who is already assembling their gear inside the Bowery Ballroom. I feel bad that I’ll be taking precious time away from their setting up — the band only just arrived after driving the four hours down from Boston, where they played the night before. And they are their own drivers and roadies, so they have been going nonstop since March 17, when they kicked off their tour with a gig at SXSW in Austin.

Field Music hail from Sunderland, England, which is also home to the Futureheads and Maximo Park. With so much talent emerging from one city at one time, I assume that the industrial city is now enjoying its newfound place on the musical map, but David Brewis says that, despite growing up with people who would eventually form successful bands, “It’s weird when people say Sunderland must have a really great scene, because there’s really a limited number of good musicians and people with good ideas. I mean, really limited. It’s just like weird, personal luck of me, Pete, and Andy meeting someone like Barry [Hyde] from the Futureheads and what we gave to each other. Like, Barry hadn’t been in a band before, and me and Peter, our listening was really limited — we started being in a band before we started listening to music. We needed to open our ears a little bit.

“Barry’s dad was a big music fan and was really studious of music, so Barry, without realizing it, just had loads and loads of records. He didn’t realize they were obscure — he was just, like, it never would have occurred to him that most kids have never heard of the Velvet Underground. He was just like, ‘That’s one of the records that gets played all the time in our house.’ Whereas in our house, we had the Police’s greatest hits, which is brilliant, but our parents, mine and Peter’s, followed what was popular. They were in their teens when the Beatles came along, and then they wanted to be rebellious when the Rolling Stones came along, and in the ’80s they were into the Eurythmics and the Police.”

Barry and his fellow Futureheads and the Field Musicians diverged, Field Music taking its current trio form and working to develop its own brand of ambitious, pretty pop. The band defines itself not by its members or skills but by the particular sound they want Field Music to be known for. David explains that, in his opinion, their sound has evolved for the better since releasing their self-titled first album.

“You can’t actually hear us on the first record — we were so concerned with getting it right, and we spent so long on it, that there’s very little spontaneity. Maybe on “Shorter Shorter” and “Luck is a Fine Thing” — they’ve got a bit more performance in them. But I hope we’ve developed our sound from that album to this new one. Other than knowing that whatever we write, we’re going to have to present to the rest of the band, there’s very little songwriting collaboration. I suppose without thinking about it, we have written songs affected by what we feel Field Music to be.”

The concern the band has for precision can be heard on their second album, Tones of Town, and it comes into effect during their live show as well. Their banter with the crowd is witty and sweet, but they still manage to be incredibly meticulous: halfway through their first song of the night at Bowery, without missing a beat, Peter and David trade places, swapping drums and guitars. Whether it was for show or because one could play the second half of the song better on the other’s instrument, I have no idea. It was just fun to watch. Certainly they aren’t lacking performance value any more.

New York was the last stop for the band in America before heading back to England, first to shoot a spot on BBC’s The Culture Show in London, and then back to Sunderland to make some more music with each other — though whether or not they plan to do it under the Field Music moniker is uncertain. To them, it seems like being Field Music is a routine, one that they love and are grateful for but that keeps their creativity at bay because they are too busy touring to sit down for any length of time to do what they love — write songs.

“We could go back and say we’re gonna do another Field Music album straightaway, but that would be more pressure,” David says. The money from their latest album is starting to run out, and while an album advance would be nice, “we’re all desperate to make more music than being in a band allows us to make. We haven’t recorded anything since we finished our album in May, and I haven’t written anything since … well, we canceled a tour in December and had a few months off, and I haven’t written anything since then. It’s a really depressing situation. That’s why if we run out of money, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing: right now, all our time goes into being in a band and not being creative. Fingers crossed, whether we make any money or not, we’re going to spend all our time making music.”