Judging by its dusty clipped beat and bells introduction, you would be forgiven for thinking Nothing Big was the first track of a hip hop album. But give it another ten seconds and you’re in for a nasty case of genre whiplash as the tune unravels to see the five lads from Liverpool channel Brian Eno’s Another Green Mountain, complete with obliquely icy lyrics and backwards guitar solo. Welcome to the world of Outfit. Performance is their superb debut album, out through Double Denim. And according to lead singer/guitarist/synths master Andrew Hunt, they’re all pretty damn happy with the results.
Cheap lager in hand, meat on the grill and plenty of sun shining, the twenty-somethings are blowing off steam after one long afternoon of rehearsing. Fetching a bottle opener, Andrew kicks back and paints the picture of the album’s lengthy gestation. “It did take two years to make. But we were in a very fortunate position as we did whatever we wanted and the label gave us no hassle. We were given time to do our own thing. And as a result, we were confident about it when we finished.”
Who could begrudge them some R&R? After all, they were deep in the trenches for those two long years as they built a studio and wrote, recorded and produced the entire album. The result is a flawless take on dark psychedelic rock with a chilly electronic swagger that blurs the line between human and machine. Accomplished with a painstaking degree of attention to detail in the studio, the process of making Performance proves an essential part of the young band’s story.
“Am I really doing this? Does this make any sense? How would I explain this to my mum?”
– Andrew Hunt of Outfit
Formed in January 2011, the group of Andrew and his brother Nick (guitar), Thomas Gorton (vocals/synth), Chris Hutchinson (bass) and David Berger (drums) met during their time living together in The Lodge, an unruly collective full of like-minded artists and musicians. After a move to London before returning to Merseyside, the band took up residence in a large mansion block of abandoned flats and set to work. “Initially, we held off from recording any new music in London because we wanted to set up our own space and have a studio of our own,” Andrew, 24, says.
“We waited. And then we were delayed buying equipment. But once we got underway it was really exciting. It took about six months to really hone down our sound. We wanted to avoid the classic indie band studio sound of totally over-compressed drums – we wanted to get away from that type of thing. So we spent a long time trying to make our percussion tracks sound unique. We sampled various things such as a barn door creaking or the sound of people walking through long grass and layered it up with a percussion track. Which meant it took a long time.”
Listening to squeaking doors and swishy grass for days on end did take its psychological toll, Andrew admits quietly. “It was quite difficult to keep our heads screwed on and keep some perspective. You find yourself saying: is this sound any good? I’ve been listening to it for five hours and it sounds like a mess. There’s a lot of checking up on yourself to make sure that you aren’t making too many mad decisions – which we often did. It was quite a surreal moment when we were arranging the creaky door noise that appears at the end of Phone Ghost as we were trying to combine the best bits of the door sound – I kept wondering, am I really doing this? Does this make any sense? How would I explain this to my mum? But it worked out in the end.”
While he compares their method of working to that of electronic artists such as Gold Panda or Four Tet, it’s hard not to compare their relentless refining of sounds to that of These New Puritans, who also devoted some serious time to sonic refinement – including an army of brass and woodwinds and even a harrier hawk that they tempted into the recording studio. And Outfit’s 10-track album has succeeded in opening doors for them; they’ve just been signed up for a winter European and UK tour with Dutch Uncles and Everything Everything. While they are yet to headline their own tour, the positive headlines from the music press are stacking up nicely. Then again, they deserve credit for crafting an album of strikingly powerful music, complete with genuinely interesting lyrics. But that’s no accident, Andrew says: “We spent a lot of time on the lyrics.”
Cut out your eye holes and be still
I wanna see you look like you’re ill
Maybe if I spray paint the walls
I’ll see a bigger picture of it all
– Spray Paint
“Generally, the lyrics come after the music. Tom and I would work on the vocal melodies and the lyrics after that,” Andrew explains. “Sometimes there is a word or a title that you we wanted to use. We’re not the most transparent lyricists but if you want to find something to hold on to, it is full of allusions to quite universal feelings. It describes an uncertainty that is quite common to people our age and in our situation. We’re trying to write about these moments of change or dissatisfaction in our lives where you are prompted to make a change – these moments can be sad but also very empowering. Those types of ideas are the most central to our lyrics.
“I think we have room to develop lyrically,” he adds. “But on the album we have been very consistent in trying to describe a relationship with the self. It’s kind of overbearing to consider. When I was younger I was always thinking that identity was fluid concept and one could always rewrite your history. But when it comes to making the album it became more important for us as a band to have our own sound and identity – and the songs are about that search and coming to terms with having to make choices in life.
“This is the sound of our twenties.”
Outfit’s album Performance is out now through Double Denim. They headline London’s Electrowerkz on 12 September and support Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles on tour later this year. More at everynightidressupasyou.com