Interview with Reuben from Port Erin

port erin

Hello, hello! The introduction to this post is quite simple. There is a pretty awesome band, called Port Erin, which I am desperately trying export in the Italian boot, so I decided to start with doing what I usually do best: writing about it! So, here we are, with the original English interview with Reuben, the manager, singer and guitarist of the band. As UK-imported columnist for Goldsoundz webzine, I always try to find la creme de la creme (Italian Version CLICK). And here we go.

F: You actually started in 2007. How did it start, how did you meet the others?

R: Well we all grew up together, Cerys the drummer, we’re all from a small village, and the year before that [2006], Port Erin with a different lineup including my brother and myself, did a tour. We asked a band called Coaster to come and support us for the tour, and their drummer was Cerys. We were in Cambridge early, we’d set up for an afternoon, and all three of us just had a jam. And then after the tour we just got together. But we did go to primary/secondary school together, so there’s a lot of history. There’s videos of Jacob and Cerys jamming when they’re, like, 10.

F: Is it online?
R: No, no it’s not unfortunately it wasn’t still the time (laughs).

F: I guess it wasn’t the time [technologically] to put everything online.  But still, it seems music was in the family. As I wrote in the review, the album has so many different references and layers, so I was wondering, do you share the same influences or similar music tastes? Or is it a combination of different tastes?

R: I’d say we all recognize when a good song’s a good song. If we know a tune, then collectively we love it, but we do have quite different tastes. Cerys is the “beats man”, obviously being the drummer, so he’s into hip-hop, drum n’ bass, anything rhythm-based. Jacob’s the “jazz man”, he plays in quite a few other bands in town, he does lots of session work as a bassist. And I guess I’m coming from the “singer/songwriter” and “band band” kind of place.

F: Well, that makes sense, as it’s a difficult album to label. Moving to discussing your début album, which came out a while ago, from “I’ll Be on The Common” to “Wheel Inside A Wheel”, did your sound change or evolve in a way, either you as a band grew up or even the sound itself?

R: Definitely, I think leading up to I’ll be on The Common, we’d just kind of survived on the youthful exuberance and you don’t really give yourself a second thought, you’re just doing it. After the album we just hit a strange place where we doubted ourselves as a band musically, because we’d done so many live shows, and you don’t really know what you’re doing in a live show unless you record it. So although we’d built up quite a good reputation as a live band, I think it was finally after that album that we decided to question ourselves rather than listen to what everybody else was saying. So that got us to that point, and then to get out of that point, we started jamming properly. As a regime, we’d jam two nights a week and record everything, and from that we started piecing together a new set. That took us 2 1/2 – 3 years to get us to the final point. So yeah, we knew that whatever way about it, the second album was going to be hard. The 3 years leading up to it, definitely changed, we went through so many different styles, just trying to find what kind of band we are. We still don’t really know! But I think we got a bit more to the point on this album than the one before. If you think this one’s weird, you don’t want to hear the first one!

F: Well I wouldn’t call that a bad thing, because you can get that there is something, like a trend in this album even if I wouldn’t call it a concept. If there is, I didn’t get it, and it’s my fault. You can get a trend, but then there are lots of bits inside it to try and find the one that sounds best. And also I mean labels sometimes are really too tight about what is “folk” or “rock”. And there are some bands, like this Italian band with the genre-tag as “Mexican pirate porn-rock”, creating their own genre. So it doesn’t really matter so long as it works for you.

R: Yeah. I think in the long-term, it’s probably a good thing. Even Radiohead, when they were into their 7th year, were still a band that people didn’t understand. The audience liked it, but they didn’t rave and cheer, they just stood there song after song, going “what the hell was all that about?”. But yeah, getting that kind of reaction is as good to me from an artistic point of view, completely stunning somebody or make them not understand what’s going on.

F: Well I think, because you’ve played so often, both onstage and in radio stations, and I read about Glastonbury as well, you’ve been playing a lot. And I think that there’s something attractive about your style. Is there an aspect that you like about playing live?
R: The instant reaction to all this. You just know that people like you, so you know that in that moment, half an hour onstage, is right and people are enjoying it. And just the spontaneity of it. Every gig is a little bit different with us, we’ve tried to keep to the record but we’re not like that, just somehow something has to happen.

F: Also if there are different sets and venues etc., given I know you also played in London, which has a very different mentality from Salisbury or Frome. How did you end up in Glastonbury then?
R: Well we played there first time in 2010, and that was just done up via e-mail. I think it was a friend, who was booked to play, recommended us, so we just followed up via e-mail. The following year, we were asked to play. Unless you’re playing one of the big stages, it’s not much like any other gig. I think the most people we had was 250-300 people, which is not loads of people, we’ve done that kind of crowd before.

F: But I suppose it’s more the festival set.

R: Yeah, just being there, and seeing your name in the program, even if it is page 400, size 6 font. We did it! So that side of things is always very cool.

F: You’ve also played as support for other bands, what’s that like instead of headlining?

R: Well we always like supporting bands, especially main support because you get the crowd, and you get a chance to show people what you’re about, and they’re not expecting us.

F: Given that you brought it up, the topic of being independent. Which are the pros and cons of being completely independent?

R: I’d say obviously the cons of not being signed is that you don’t have the support behind you, in terms of radio play and tour agent booking, all that kind of stuff. The pros at the moment, considering that not many bands are getting record deals, or that most bands given deals are expected to break on their first album. It used to be that the band would get a 4- or 5-album deal, and the label wouldn’t put so much pressure on the first album, you’d wait and it would be the 3rd or 4th where you’d start getting somewhere. I dunno, in a way it’s kind of helpful with the recent BBC6 plays, it was kind of highlighted that sonically we sound as good as a signed band, but we’re not. So that’s cooler for us, and obviously we got a heck of a lot more money in returns from album sales, we keep the whole £10, whereas Mumford & Sons probably get 50p between them. But at the same time it’s hard to manage as well, there’s all the admin, royalties to collect. And some people don’t take you seriously, because you’re not signed.

F: You just said about how it was being on BBC6 Mixtape, how was it?

R: It was great! We first got played on BBC6 in 2009, but this time round we got played on the Mixtape, which is 20 unsigned bands, and then Tom Robinson picks two or three of them to play on his live show. And we didn’t even know he was going to play it. So yeah, to get a play at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night on national radio for us felt like a job done. Obvious we’re going to continue selling it and sell more copies, but in terms of profile we’re well happy! We were listed alongside Elbow and The Sex Pistols! Rather than being in an unsigned show, we were on an official show. Therefore an unsigned band can do everything a signed one can do, on a small degree.

F: One step at a time, just getting the word out, on the Internet etc. And also I think you decided to work with somebody outside of the band, engineer Marco Migliari. How was working with him?

R: The whole process was a massive eye-opener. I mean, before we’d recorded with some locally fairly respected guys, but going through the whole process of demoing songs, pre-producing, recording them, then doing everything afterwards…and I think Marco was the backbone of the record. His emotions didn’t change once, he was just upbeat and happy, and throughout that whole year we went through so many vibes as a band, it’s mad to think one guy was there the whole way to just plough on. I think that comes through on the record as well, that’s what helped bring the whole sound together. Working with him was amazing!

F: And how is the reception of the album going at the moment? It came out in October, didn’t it?

R: Good, so far! It’s slowly building. We didn’t have any money to a promotional campaign because we spent all the money making the record. So considering that we just did a local launch and toured a bit, good stuff’s come from it. But I think in the band, when we get the right sort of exposure will be when we feel right as a band. And we’ve come a long way, we know it is essentially about writing good songs. So if we get a good review, it’s great, even with the radio play, it’s great, but that song to us wasn’t that great. It was alright, but it wasn’t the best song on the album, and we know we can write better.

F: Do you have a favorite one?
R: Probably the third one, “Let It Go”. It was such an interesting way to record a song, the hardest song to record. We’d only written it two weeks before we started recording, it just came out of nowhere with the groove and the vibe, and I couldn’t find lyrics or a melody and the violin came in, it took on lots of different forms. It was the last thing that was recorded vocally, and singing backing vocals down a cardboard tube at 3 in the morning was quite cool. It’s got all these little bits, like the guitar overdubs. It was probably the most produced song, to get it where it had to be. We didn’t know where it was going.

F: You just “let it go”!

R: Wahey! Yeah, definitely. And lyrically, it was killing me trying to write the second verse in that song. And then on the last night, literally just before I had to sing, Marco’s like “OK, getting ready then?” and I’m like “Ehhhhh almost…maybe…”. It was the only time he complimented me on my lyrics or anything else throughout recording, he was good as a producer with not getting our hopes up. Just kept it simple, not let your emotions take over.

F: So how is the writing process for you guys?

R: Completely differs. The songs I write on guitar with the lyrics are done just like that, and I have them in my head pretty much how it needs to be. And the other guys don’t like those kind of songs, so I try not to do that too often. But there are songs that are natural, they need that drum beat and that bass line and it’s going to be a nice song. And the jams, we’ll be going around an idea for 1/2hr, and in that 1/2 hr 30 seconds of it will be good, so we pick that up and jam that to create something else. Jacob has written bass lines like “Hold On”, the track that got played on the radio, that was J’s bass line and I wrote the riff over the top, and it slowly came together. There’s no order, whenever, wherever. The lyrics aren’t “floaty” however, every song has its own little story.

F: And where do the stories come from? Other music, literature, personal experience…

R: Mainly from personal experience but not too intense. The ones I don’t like are the ones which are ten tracks of “she left me!”. Everybody has that emotion, there’s no depth to that.

F: Another topic to ask about because I’m nosy. Is there any artist, band or record that made you think “that’s what I’d like to do for the rest of my life”.

R: Yes. After the first album, when we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, there were serious talks of quitting the band because we’d done around 200 shows, and the album etc. So it was Talking Heads – “Stop Making Sense” live DVD, I watched that, and I know others have said it before, but that night my life changed and I was like “I have to do this”, and since then looking on that night, that keeps me sane. And that’s why the album is called “Wheel Inside A Wheel”, it’s taken from a Talking Heads lyric. So it’s kind of based on that, but also we’re just many musicians within a group of musicians and lots of songs within songs. That lyric, I don’t know what it means when he sings it! It just seemed the right thing, we didn’t know what we were going to call it until the very minute, the final mixdown. We liked it, it’s a nod to other musicians. Sounds a bit hippie-ish, doesn’t it?

F: So, final question, what is the thing you’re most proud of with regards to Port Erin the last 12 months?

R: I’d say I’m most proud of us now, this month, because we had to come up with a lot of money. Most of all, I’m proud that we’ve demo’d 24 tracks and we’re getting ready to start recording album number 3.


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