Silver Columns, in common with fellow debutant duo Monarchy, began 2010 incognito. By not revealing their component identities they set speculation rife as to who they were. They’d be reasonably well known, at least in music circles, else there’d be no need for the secrecy. But getting tongues wagging is always promotionally helpful.
A free download of the wildly infectious Bronski Beat homage Brow Beaten had surfaced by the end of 2009, backed with a remix by Hot Chip‘s Joe Goddard. Its hip-swinging disco beat belied a decidedly analogue production; this was no producer-led powerhouse of major label proportions, but a study in making intelligent music to dance to. Rather like the kind of music Hot Chip themselves have built a career out of.
Soon, and again in common with Monarchy, Silver Columns’ veil was drawn back. Revealed were the unlikely faces; Fence Collective participants Pictish Trail, known to his mother as Johnny Lynch, and Adem Ilhan, the latter the founder of the folkcentric Homefires festival. This is a man we’d seen on stage sporting an acoustic guitar and a music box. Whither the volte face?
“Many moons ago I was an electric bassist in a post-rock band,” says Adem by way of explanation, refusing to be pigeonholed as a folkie. “It’s the sort of music I’ve been listening to for a long time and it’s something I’ve been wanting to make. I’ve always made lots of different sorts of music.”
- Silver Columns – Cavalier
His track record bears this out. He’s collaborated with Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden in a previous guise, for instance. “When I was in Fridge I was playing about with Garage. It’s what you make public, I think, is the question. A lot of people may be surprised by what artists they think they may know are doing behind closed doors. There was no ‘decision’ to go in that direction – I still sing melancholy ballads on an acoustic guitar from time to time – but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. I thought, let’s just do it. I’m so pleased with the results that I wanted to see if anyone else liked it.”
He found a like mind in Lynch. “Over the years we’ve got to know each other really well,” he says. “Whenever we’ve had conversations about what we’ve heard lately it’s always something in this sort of world; electronic, pop, uplifting, melodic. So I thought who better to work with? I wouldn’t want to work on my own again. So I thought I’d phone up Johnny – he understands this music and he’s always up for a laugh. Let’s get on with it.” He gives Lynch credit for coming up with the Silver Columns name. “It sounds current, but not too throwaway. The hardest thing is naming things – tracks, band names.”
Concealing their identity, at least initially, was more about allowing the music to be heard than trying to cultivate publicity. “We didn’t want people to think this was a side project from a couple of acousticy guys,” he says. “So I thought, let’s just put it out and let the music decide. This mystery of ‘who are they’ happened accidentally out the back of that. It kind of threw me when people started saying ‘There’re definitely household names behind it’.”
Hot Chip, if not quite a household name, are at least pretty well known. Having one of their number remix their first track didn’t hurt. “I’ve known Joe Goddard since I was about 14,” recalls Adem. “We went to the same school, we get on really well and I love the stuff he does on his own. He was in my band for a while. I love what he did with that track.” Hot Chip began their career on Moshi Moshi, the label releasing Silver Columns’ debut album Yes And Dance.
Household names aside, it’s a record produced and mixed by Adem, and the duo do all the vocals between them; even the bits that sound like Donna Summer demoing for Giorgio Moroder. “People frontload albums nowadays with three or four really good songs. I think with ours, when you get to tracks nine and 10, it’s still kind of killer. I’m surprised how well it came together and how naturally Johnny and I fitted,” he says, justifiably proudly.
The record feels like the culmination of a learning curve for him. “I’ve been doing a lot of production, which has been my focus in the last year or two. I’ve been producing bands and tracks and mixing tracks for other people, just getting better and better at it. By the time I started producing this record I was really confident and willing to try stuff out.”
The prevalent feel of much of Yes And Dance is blissful beats verging on the narcotic, for which Adem has a ready explanation. “I’m one of the least druggie people you’re likely to meet,” he laughs. “One of the criticisms of the early Silver Columns stuff was that it sounds like druggie music that’s not quite druggie enough. But the music I listen to and am influenced by, whether it’s early ’90s rave or ’70s cosmic jazz, it’s all drug influenced, so that will influence my style. People have their own ideas of what druggie music sounds like, whether it’s swirling psychedelic music or very minimal, beat-centric stuff. To me, I’m trying to make pop music that’s slighty on the edge. We want to try stuff out and experiment a bit – if that means it sounds a bit druggie then so be it.”
As befits a man with huge experience of making music, his influences extend well beyond the obvious. “I’m as happy listening to Squarepusher as I am to Joni Mitchell as I am to Steve Reich. There are all these points that come together in our music; it’s meant to be melodic, song-based, which I think a lot of pop and electronic music isn’t. There’s a really nice energy at the moment for this music. It’s fresh but it’s also informed; interesting music with a bit of depth that you respond to immediately but can listen to 10 times and get more out of.”
Beyond his own work he considers 2010 to be an exciting time for music generally. “It’s quite an interesting year; there’s lots of good stuff coming out,” he says, citing Four Tet and Hot Chip’s new projects. “The Caribou album, and the new Chemical Brothers stuff, and I think Underworld are working on something; a lot of established people are coming out with good records.”
With Yes And Dance, Silver Columns have assuredly added themselves to that list.
Silver Columns’ debut album Yes And Dance is out on 31 May 2010 through Moshi Moshi. They play several UK festivals over the summer including Isle Of Wight, Glastonbury, Lovebox, Standon Calling, Green Man and Bestival.