Up and coming East London outfit Autoheart remain wonderfully difficult to pigeon-hole. Their debut single The Sailor Song was a trembling, tender piece of string-soaked balladry, and accompanied by a charming animated video went on to become a cult favourite – courting over 150,000 views on YouTube. January saw the release of follow-up Control, production from sometime Coldplay collaborator Danton Supple lending a new-found strength to Autoheart’s wistful refrains.
New single Lent however sees the four-piece taking off on a deliciously crooked tangent, all jaunty piano lines and a sense of definitively British quirk. Riding a fizzy synth hook, the track harks back to the DIY humour of Jona Lewie, whilst maintaining an inimitable sense of cool that has seen them remixed by the likes of Bright Light Bright Light.
We caught up with singer Jody Gadsden to discuss Autoheart’s musical direction, what one might expect at the band’s popular ‘Punch’ shows at the Lexington Kings Cross, oh, and the fruits of a writing session with a certain Charlotte Church…
musicOMH: Control and Lent feel like very different records, musically speaking – which lies closer to the heart of what Autoheart, as a band, is about? Or was the intention always to offer that real versatility?
Jody Gadsden: The songs span a period of two or three years so within that time so much is written and loved and discarded; the best stuff remains and that’s what’s on this album. No matter how ‘different’ our songs sound like, at their core, they share an identity. We do tire of repeating ourselves sonically and so often we’ll be trying to push for something we’ve not done before with an arrangement. I think if we’d had A&R guys and record companies telling us what to do it’d be more slick and monotone; all of a genre, but we didn’t – this record is just us and what we think works.
OMH: For us, part of the charm of Lent is the retro visuals in the video; it’s all very halcyon-tinged 50s domesticity – what was the inspiration behind accompanying the song with them, and is it an important element of the band to be able to indulge that artistic side?
JG: We are lucky that Simon [the band’s keyboardist] not only tinkles the ivories with the utmost skill but also has a flair for the visual. He has directed both our Control and Lent videos. For Lent, the footage found was from an archive of infomercials and public announcements, giving it a new twist to the relationship drudgery theme. Lent has an incessant yet hectic pace so Simon sped up the 50s footage and let it match the song’s frantic pacing. I think he did a marvellous job.
We have always been keen on creating a strong visual image to our music, Control felt really sad and nostalgic so we used old super 8 footage loaned to us by a friend from one of his yesteryear summer holidays. We hope to always have a strong hand in our visual side even when the budgets increase and we delegate directing and editing to others outside of the band.
OMH: Already this year we’ve seen bands like Everything Everything being able to court both critical and commercial success – do you think mainstream radio is becoming more open to the quirkier/more alternative end of the musical spectrum?
JG: ‘Mainstream radio’ as a concept is becoming more and more meaningless as the way people listen to (and find) music has changed, and is changing, so much. I suppose the big radio stations may feel a need to broaden their horizons given that they’re now competing with internet radio and things like Spotify. Because it’s never been so easy to listen to what you want to listen to, many people who listen to the radio will fall into two camps – those who just want an entertaining listen and some songs they know, and those who listen to a station or a DJ they trust in the hope of finding something new.
If you look at the airplay charts they’re still clearly dominated by the big mainstream acts. The people who want to find more obscure, more interesting music are going to make the effort to do it just as they always have. It’s just that now it’s easier to do that – you don’t have to go down your local indie record shop and flick through vinyl or CD’s for hours (though clearly that still holds a certain power and romance). All you can really do is try and put your work out there as much as possible, with the old-fashioned route of gigging still being key.
OMH: We suppose the obvious question is – how did the songwriting session with Charlotte Church go? Does new material generate itself pretty organically from moments like that, or is there a kind of pressure to aim for that one killer song?
JG: We really didn’t know what to expect but after the two day writing session I think we all fell a bit in love with her. We sat in her living room and she played us artists that were inspiring her such as Bon Iver, Sigur Rós and Björk. She then played us a chord on a ukulele and we went from there. What I really noticed and admired about Charlotte’s approach to songwriting was that she really thought about each and every note and lyric and how it related to the next one – everything had to have its role and purpose within the song – there were no flippant or flyaway moments.
We wrote a song called Bleeding Hearts Beneath The Sun and I hope she develops it with her band as I’d love to hear a finished version of it. I think what I learnt from the experience was that every person works in a completely different way and as a songwriter collaborating with other singers you have to adapt quick for it to work.
OMH: You’ve worked with Danton Supple on the album, who’s produced some incredible acts in the past – what do you feel his input added to the record?
JG: Danton is a very flexible producer and caters to the artist he is working with rather than the other way round. I think we could have been put through a blender and come out sounding like whatever the latest trend is but he let us be odd and ourselves and although it was the first time we’d done a record, he completely gave us free reign to make it sound the way we wanted. He did tell us off sometimes too.
We all lived together for two weeks in Stockport, in the snow. It was in this crazy old converted vicarage filled with old analogue keyboards and the wiring kept breaking down. Danton almost left on the first night when the mixing desk completely went kaput – we kept going in to the control room in the basement and finding him submerged in wires… eventually, we got him so drunk he couldn’t leave. He was pleased he didn’t in the end. I spoke to him last night at our Lent single launch gig and he said that our album is still the most played album in his car and that his children are big fans, which is nice to hear.
OMH: And for those that haven’t already been, give us a little taste of what people can expect at your Punch shows in Kings Cross?
JG: We love pop music in its broadest sense, and Britain makes the best pop music in the world and has done for decades. With ‘Punch’ we wanted to present acts that we love – these bands are the next generation, and we wanted to create a night that was all about them, that we could be proud to play at. There is no headliner, we are all in the gutter looking up at the stars, and sharing the stage together. Thus far we’ve been fortunate enough to have Black Gold Buffalo, Fiona Bevan and The Spiels play with us and we hope to share the stage with more inspiring acts in 2013.
Autoheart’s single Lent is released on 11 February 2013 through O/R Records, followed by their debut album Punch in April.