Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview: Ornament Tournaments: Christmas Trees, Omnichords, & Scandinavian Math

Not too far in the recent past, Musical Mathematics released Ornament Tournaments's Flower as a free download. Tacheles, of which Flower is a part of, is Ornament Tournaments's debut album, released last month. It's an excellent first effort, with math and pop rock influences driving the whole record (review coming soon). A recommended buy, and at a mere ₤3, it's a bargain.

Ornament Tournaments have kindly granted us an exclusive interview, in which we discuss the album, future plans, and the origin of names.

I: First of all, what is an ornament tournament? Is it like some kind of Antique Roadshow deathmatch? If it’s not, what’s the story behind the name?

Joe: An antique roadshow deathmatch would almost be more easy to explain than the real story, but sadly that is not the case. In fact, on Boxing Day about 3 years ago, two of us were sitting round the Christmas tree and drinking brandy. Inevitably, someone got out a guitar and the improv which ensued was heavily influenced by the array of Christmas decorations (ornaments) and how they should have a fight (tournaments). It was stupid, but it's kind of poignant because it's the first time we were together and thought 'hell yeah, let's start a band'.

I: Do the three of you share the same tastes, or do you all listen to different types of music?

Joe: Musically, we've all come from pretty much the same place and grew up with the same kind of bands in our stereos.

John: Joe's into a lot of growly American bands like Bear vs Shark which is definitely an influence from his part. I'm quite into dance/electro artists which can only be a good thing for bass I guess. Dec's into The Saturdays, apparently.

I: How does that affect the way you write your music? Does it make easier or harder?

Joe:There's obviously loads of emo, math and trendy things like that which affect our sound, but I think we've ended up sounding up a lot more like the bands we were all in to a few years ago when we first started really listening to music. Reuben, Hundred Reason, old Biffy Clyro, etc. I think the fact we were all in to the same stuff makes it a lot easier to understand what the other one's thinking when we write now.

John: Yeah, definitely. We can give the most obscure explanations of an idea, something like 'nah that intro should have a wide sound but like actually quite narrow sounding', and we'll know exactly what each other's saying.

I: I see there’s been some controversy over a blog making your music available to download for free without your permission. Would you mind elaborating?

Joe: Basically, we came across a blog from the USA which had posted a few words about the album and we were really flattered that our music had met the ears of someone so far away. But we realised they'd pirated the record and had been hosting it for free. I kind of overreacted and sent them an email because we weren't the only band who they were doing this to, and the labels of the other bands would probably be even less pleased than we were. They chose to post the email we'd sent to them on their message board and lots of people said very mean things about us. We retaliated via social media, and the whole thing just got kind of out of hand and childish. We did some damage control and made our apologies for dealing with the situtation so badly.

John: What was most frustrating was that we were obviously happy to get mention from a blog across the pond, and so wanted to reblog it etc, but how could we give a link that gave our release for free when we'd been advertising it for a small price to the same people. It was went about in the wrong way for sure, but from the way the blog's reacted, they seem to have the wrong idea about the whole free music thing.

I: Carrying on from that, the internet has been both a blessing and a curse for bands. Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa?

Joe: I think it's an argument that I'll never be able to figure out on a personal level, but I think its helped us as a band particularly beyond measure. We live seperately in Plymouth, Sussex and Nottingham for most of the year and that makes the immediacy of that internet vital in keeping the band going. When the album was being recorded, I finished the lead vocals then left the country for a couple of months whilst Declan was already halfway through a 4-month round the world trip. Meanwhile, poor John and our wonderful producer Sam Hanlan were sat in a basement in Surrey playing harmonium and omnichord for days on end trying to get everything finished. I remember being sat on an island in Asia and sending feedback on the mixes back home, and this album most probably wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the internet.

I: You’re a relatively new band (unless I’ve missed something). What’s been the hardest part of starting out in the business?

John: Well really we've been together for nearly 2 years, but this answers your question really; the hardest part is being together for long enough to progress. We've been separated by university and travels etc so that hindered the possibility of a proper release for a good while, and also it meant our gigs were spread far apart, meaning we werent nearly as tight as we should be and could be quite embarassing, really. We had a good run this summer though what with Tacheles and a few great gigs in a row.

I: What’s your view on the importance of record labels nowadays? Is there anyone in particular who you would love to sign for?

Joe: It certainly helps having people to promote stuff on your behalf to a bigger audience, but I think we're just as keen to get management or booking agency representation. The music business is so much bigger than pushing records, and it'd be awesome to get our name out there in other, more creative ways, so we'll probably be doing bolder things with our next release.

I: What’s the music scene like in Horsham? Do bands stop by there to play often?

Joe: It's strong but is very cyclical. When we were about 13, there were local gigs every weekend that were completely full of people of all ages just dancing like mad. It was an awesome time. I remember a show at the legendary Extra Time Bar of the local leisure centre which was headlined by Enter Shikari with Exit Ten as main support. Floors and Walls, Devil Sold His Soul and, more recently, People in Planes played pretty grotty venues to a couple of hundred local kids. At the moment, it's a lot more a 'family' scene with local music festivals and battle of the bands. It's all ridiculously well organised and the sound and crowd is usually great. We haven't had many biggers bands pop-in recently, but with local bands like Tied To The Mast getting signed and moving up, hopefully the town's time will come again!

I: What in the world is a Tacheles?

Joe: This is gonna sound outrageously pretentious, but when me and John were in Berlin, we stumbled across this department store which had been abandonded about 40 years ago. Squatters moved in and it became this international art house. There was a bunch of South American guys who lived in there and they let us play their instruments. Sam Hanlan (our good friend/producer/engineer) played drums and about 30 people stopped by in this room and listened to us jam for about half an hour. It was the most fun I've ever had with music and everything we do is now is sort of based around that kind of jam format, but in a very contrived kind of way. The arthouse at some point acquired the name 'Tacheles' which is a yiddish word meaning straight-talking. It seemed like an apt tribute to the venue which has now been taken over by commercial developers and a really great and pure thing has been lost (fuck the system and such).

John: There's that enigma gone. Hah, nah adding to what Joe said, a lot of things happened around that time that probably influenced the songs on the release. Tacheles just fitted well.

I: If there’s any band you could tour with, who would it be and why?

John: Some sort of Scandanavian math band who can drink you under the table and introduce you to the most beautiful women in the world. If not, maybe

I: What are your plans with regards to future releases? Any plans to re-release Tacheles on vinyl/CD?

Joe: We're thinking about recording an EP for release some point early next year, but that's still up in the air and dependent on when we can get in the same town for long enough to write and record a few songs. Perhaps release a split, but that's all pipe dreams right now. Tacheles will probably live as a digital release for the rest of time.

I: Favourite venue to play in/watch a band?

John: The Prince Albert, Brighton, hands down. We opened the Big Scary Monsters Xmas tour last year and although most people had come to see Tangled Hair and Tall Ships, everyone watched us openers, so we played to pretty much a full house. We're playing there in December supporting Look Mexico which we're so excited for. It has a great vibe. Spanky Van Dykes in Nottingham is probably the most aesthetically pleasing venue we've played, though. Seriously cool.

I: What’s been the best thing so far about being in a band?

John: Free beer and good times.

I: Describe Ornament Tournaments in three words.

OT: Choice, bonza, scramscram.

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