How do you describe a band like Tunng? Do you even attempt such a thing, or just sit back and marvel at the trio’s capacity for imagination and experimentation? Previously bracketed in with the folk crowd, it seems Tunng are capable of spreading their wings to fly to more poppy climbs. Right at the front is their rejuvenated singer/songwriter Sam Genders, who was only too happy to spend some time with musicOMH to talk about his band.
Most recent album Good Arrows reveals an uncanny talent for word painting, conscious or otherwise. The enthusiastic Genders takes up the baton. “When me and Mike first started experimenting together in music I let myself be freestyle, and started writing in a stream of consciousness sort of way, so I stopped thinking too much about the lines that were coming and got into the habit of writing loads of stuff, going back through it and picking out bits that I like.”
He warms to his task. “I also like that thing of using words that could mean several different things, or things that seem unconnected but in my head are connected. It’s just developed really, it’s not a very conscious thing, it just happens and I like it! I love it when you get songs where there are lines which could mean more than one thing depending on what perspective you’re coming to it from, and I like the fact that if the meaning’s not very clear a lot of images come into your head and you use your imagination.”
Genders talks the talk as Tunng make the music, full of amusing mini contradictions, quirks and foibles. All qualities that are present in the poignant Hands, which talks of a surgeon and his art – or does it? “That’s a poignant one. I think that song, when you’re listening to it, comes across initially as pretty depressing and dark, whereas I like to think it’s quite a positive song really, more kind of saying “make the most of life because we’re only here once”.
“It was born out of a discussion I was having in this pub garden with a mate. We’d both had a couple of pints and were feeling a bit kind of deep, you know how it is. We ended up coming to the conclusion that you know what, we’re gonna be dead soon anyway, we shouldn’t worry too much about all this and just bloody get on with it! So it was a couple of pints of black sheep at a pub in Matlock that led to that song. And again it wasn’t one where I spent hours agonising over the lyrics, I probably wrote out five verses at once.”
Sometimes Tunng reach for the guitars, nowhere more so on the new record than Soup, with a thrashy interlude that comes out of nowhere. “That track is pretty much all Mike, he wrote it and put it together. You see Mike used to be in metal bands when he was younger, and actually Ashley’s been into some heavier stuff. We were all into rock or listening to rock of some kind when we were younger, and I think it was initially just a bit of fun. That’s one of my favourite tracks actually, and I like the way it does something you don’t expect.”
I suggest it’s a way of saying they’re not folk-tronica, as many would have us believe. “I think we see it a bit like that as well, and again it wasn’t so much a conscious thing, but we’ve always liked to muck about and try different things and experiment.”
Has it made anybody jump? “On stage Mike gets his guitar out and kicks the old distortion pedal out. People who listen to the records a lot aren’t that surprised, but in Central Europe for instance, where they don’t know the music that well, there is a look of surprise which is quite gratifying!”
Reflecting on a summer of festivals, Genders is pleased with the band’s achievements. “It’s been non-stop, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to relax a little bit and it’s really nice. We’ve had some really good experiences, got very wet and muddy at times, but it was really good and we love traveling to different places.”
“We’ve always liked to muck about and try different things and experiment.”– Tunng’s philosophy of making good music appears to be a simple one.
Even the Green Man festival saw them overcome some technical problems. “We did have a few problems on stage, it didn’t sound very good to us. Actually it went really well from the audience’s point of view, and the end of the gig was brilliant as we had a hundred beach balls, on stage, and we threw them out in the audience and everyone went bonkers. It was great fun, well actually quite dangerous! That was a gig that I only just made as I was asleep in my tent really close to going on!”
Genders is a late bloomer on stage, and when Tunng were in their initial ascendancy he was something of a recluse in the live environment. Now, though, he states that “I’ve never been uncomfortable with the actual idea of playing live as such, but it was more that just around the time that the band were starting to get offered more things I had a job, doing care work and things. There did come a point where a few months later I realised that the things happening in the band were not going to happen in the future, and it was a chance to try some stuff out and have some adventures. I realised with the job that I could quite easily come back in a year or six months and pick it up again, so I changed my mind and decided to give it a go.”
And does he think Tunng are embracing pop music more fully? “I do. I think you’d have to call it experimental pop, as we’re obviously not quite mainstream, but I definitely think there’s always been a lot of melodic things going on in Tunng stuff which you could say is poppy. I was a big Beatles fan when I was a kid, and still am actually, in the writing and the melodies.”
Finally. I can’t let him go without mentioning the striking artwork, not only of the Good Arrows album but Tunng’s other releases. “It’s awesome, I love it. It’s a designer called Vanessa Da Silva, who does a lot of clothes designing as well, and she’s done absolutely all our artwork ever, and I just think she’s brilliant. I think it’s related to the way all the images and things are jumbled up. It relates to how the lyrics are, and Mike’s production’s a bit like that as well. All the different sounds it sounds have been brought together and shook about, and I think the artwork reflects that pretty well.”