From the hills in Leicestershire to the smoky streets in London: the musical path of The Wave Pictures, an English rock band formed by David Tattersall, Franic Rozycki and Jonny H. Helm, starts here. Through a long series of self-produced albums and official releases, various side projects and numerous collaborations (Herman Düne, Darren Hayman, Jeffrey Lewis, Stanley Brinks, just to name a few) the band, whose music is based on features such as spontaneity and immediacy of sounds, gained critics attention and a growing audience consent. A few weeks ago the latest Wave Pictures album, "Susan Rode The Cyclone", was released in Italy, and recently the prolific Tattersall also released his solo debut, "Happy For A While". In this interview the British songwriter retraces The Wave Pictures history, talks about his relationship with music and discloses the small foundations of his happiness.
You are quite young but you already have many years of artistic career behind you and it is almost hard to count your numerous albums and collaborations. So let's start this interview with a classic: when and how did you first feel the urgency to write music?
I was young when it happened, but I don't remember any feelings of urgency. I remember only wanting to play at a new game of pretending I was a rock and roller. I guess I was about eight years old and I wrote a song called ''Rocking All Around The Clock'', more than slightly influenced by Bill Haley's ''Rock Around The Clock''. My song was very literal and non-poetic. It went: ''It's one o' clock: rock! It's two o' clock: rock!...'' and so on and so forth all the way around the clock. And the chorus went: ''We're rocking all around the clock''. I remember liking all the rock and rollers, they would be on television sometimes in England, particularly Elvis Presley. I must have seen Bill Haley. That was the first song I remember ''writing'', though I doubt that a pen or sheet of paper were involved in its creation. I went from pretending to be Spiderman to pretending to be Bill Haley. I probably went back again the next day. I'm not sure that it has anything to do with what has happened since then. I was always playing the guitar and writing songs, and what happened at one point, when I was about 16 years old, was I started writing songs that you would recognise as Wave Pictures songs, and then a sense of urgency came into it, and I still feel that sense of urgency now.
To retrace your story we have to go back to 1998 at Wymeswold, in Leicestershire, when you and Franic Rozycki together with drummer Hugh J. Noble gave life to Blind Summit, a band that covered Jonathan Richman and Dire Straits songs. Would you tell me something about those early days? What are your memories and feelings about that period?
Hugh Noble was my best friend in the world and his parents got him a cheap drum kit and a bass guitar. I mean really cheap. Battered second hand things. We started playing music and we knew we needed someone to play the bass, so Franic joined because he was my other best friend. He was a friend first and a bass player second. He had never played the bass in his life! But he joined and then learned how to play it afterwards. It turned out brilliantly, because I think Franic is the best bass guitarist I have ever played with or heard now. But at the start he had no clue. I remember making a racket upstairs in my parents' house. I remember it as a very happy time. We would spend a lot of time together, us three, listening to music and watching films. We covered lots of other bands, not just the two you mentioned but also Bob Dylan, and we did some things like ''Touch Me I'm Sick'' by Mudhoney, just noisy riffs that teenage boys have fun jamming on. And I also started writing songs around this time. My memories of being a teenager are all about that band and those two guys and the songs starting to come through. It was a very creative and exciting time for me. But that was a band that anyone else would have thought was terrible! It was not a band that faired well in the outside world! We would play battle of the band competitions and pub gigs and so forth and almost no one liked us. It was a band that played maybe ten or twenty gigs in total over a period of about two years and all the gigs were bad! Once, the landlady of a pub we played at came onstage after the show and said into the microphone to the audience: ''I don't know how you could applaud that... it was terrible!'' It was a band that sort of had to happen to lead to the band that came afterwards. Hugh left, and me and Franic got tighter and figured out what we wanted to do and became The Wave Pictures. Blind Summit was fun in its way while it lasted though. Blind Summit did a ten minute version of ''I'm A Believer'' by the Monkees, with extended solos, sometimes we would all solo at once. It was a blast!
At a certain point Hugh left the band to go to Exeter to study philosophy and the band changed its name into The Wave Pictures. How did this name originate and what does it mean?
It just sounded right; it was the name we were looking for. I picked it out of an art book. Zoe Leonard did a series of pictures of the sea and called the exhibition ''Wave Pictures''. I said to Franic: how about the name 'The Wave Pictures' and he liked it, so it stuck. We needed to change the name because Blind Summit couldn't get any gigs anywhere! We had to change the name to get some shows. ''No, we're not that awful band Blind Summit, we're a completely different band called The Wave Pictures, honestly''!
After a relentless succession of musicians on drums, The Wave Pictures finally reached their final line-up in 2003, when Jonny ‘Huddersfield' Helm joined the band. How did your collaboration start?
He was at university with Franic. We would use different drummers every time we played for a while. We had a few who were permanent and they all left. Me and Franic drove them away! Anyway, we had a gig and Franic asked around and found this guy Jonny and asked him to stand in on drums with us. I met him on stage, he just came up and played drums. That was how it started. Then the next time we had a gig, Franic asked around and found Jonny again! Then we did some recording and we asked Jonny over for some of it. It was always like that at first, just one thing at a time. Jonny was in a different band at the same time. Eventually the issue came up of The Big Move To London. And we invited Jonny to move with us and he said yes. So we all moved to London together and that's when the band really started.
What are the elements of the chemistry that established among you three guys and that allowed the band to harmonize and consolidate over time?
I don't know what we have naturally that makes it work. I know what we do to make it work. It takes a lot of arguments and confrontation for me. It takes a lot of playing music together, for all of us. It isn't finished, we're still a work in progress. It never ends, you never finish learning, that's the joy of it all.
How would you describe your music?
It's a rock and roll band that writes it's own songs and has guitar solos.
Your first albums were self-released CD-Rs made up of home recordings and usually sold at concerts. They are characterized by a very direct and spontaneous approach, free from constraints and overstructures. That same approach can also be found, to some degree, in your most recent works and it seems to be more generally at the basis of your way of conceiving and living music. Is it right? How do you personally relate to music?
Yes, to us that's important and you've described it very well. I don't respond to produced music. I like a live sound, I like to hear all the different players. I like spontaneity. I like older music so much more often. Hank Williams, Bob Dylan in the 60s, Big Bill Broonzy.... I like mistakes. I like John Lee Hooker, he doesn't change chord when the rest of the band does, he never changes chord! I can't listen to modern recordings for pleasure because they've produced all the music out of it. It's not to my taste. I like folk music, field recordings, something natural to my ears. And when we play it's the same, it has to have that quality of looseness and responsiveness to one another. I hate bands these days! They rehearse until they can play a song ''perfectly'' and then they play it the same way every night, they play the same set every night and each song the same exact way, a replica of some recording they spent twenty years making. They are NOT musicians. They are technicians. They have no love for what they do. This is a living, breathing thing, this music, or at least it is for me, and you have to keep that liveliness in everything you do. Even with us it is a struggle. People come over after shows and they say ''why didn't you play such-and-such a song''. They don't realise I'm just trying to keep everything alive and interesting for us. I won't ever sing a song just for the sake of it. I'm a person not a machine. I don't understand when people started aspiring to the condition of a machine. That's what these technicians do to themselves. Every thing on the pop radio, it just sounds like a bunch of robots to me. And bands have done the same thing to themselves, out of a fear of trusting their own judgement.
"Sophie" was the first album that you guys released under a label (two, actually!), in 2006. From "Sophie" onwards the Wave Pictures' distinctive sound has become more mature and full of awareness. When looking back to those times, what do you see? How did you guys change since then?
I generally look back with fondness. That's just my nature. Sophie is a very peculiar dark little memento for me. A letter from a different time. I wish I made an album every month. I really could. I would be happy to do that. Sophie is one of a hundred different albums that we could have made. That's the one that happened and came through the record business system and poked its head out a little bit. It doesn't register with me more strongly than the things that didn't get released.
As for how we've changed, it's impossible to tell. We don't conceptualise what we do, we don't make plans. We concentrate on what we're doing. We've changed I'm sure. But I don't know how exactly. I'm pretty sure we've got better! But not entirely sure.
Your latest albums were recorded in Simon Trout's Soup Studio. What do you mainly appreciate in that studio?
What I mainly appreciate in that studio is Simon. He's a talented man. A good friend. It's also accessible and affordable.
Some of your songs can be found as alternate versions in more than one album, sometimes belonging to different projects you belong to. It is very interesting to see you disassembling and reassembling your songs. How do you approach to this work?
Without nearly as much thought as your question suggests. To me, a song is a song. It exists separately from the performance of the song and the recording of the song. Now, for a lot of people, when they say ''song'' they actually mean ''recording'' or ''performance''. The two are completely linked with some acts. There is no song separate from the exact specific recording/performance. That's where you get into bands who play the exact same things every night. That's pop music to me. It is not my approach to things. I think a song is a song. The performance of it, the recording of it, those things come afterwards. The Wave Pictures always play the song. There are little arrangements and things we always do the same, but also little variations. It's much more like the approach of folk musicians. We don't completely tear things apart like jazz musicians, we don't have the skills or the inclination to do that, though I love the attitude of jazz musicians. It's much more like folk musicians or the way rock musicians used to be before the 80s. It's the way Bob Dylan or Neil Young were. They played a song lots of different ways. So sometimes, anyway, we re-do a song in a new recording session because we want people to hear it, and they didn't get a chance to hear it on the old version and also because we want to play it that day.
Since long you've been having a prolific collaboration with Herman Düne, and together you gave birth to many projects and albums. You also have an equally vital and intense collaboration with Darren Hayman, Hefner's frontman, who is moreover involved in the latest Wave Pictures album. Do you feel part of a music "movement"? Also taking these and other collaborations into account, where or how would you place yourself in today's music scene?
I feel baffled and bewildered by the music of today. It is all shit. Everywhere we go, a new rubbish band plays or new rubbish fills the air from a DJ. If I turn on the radio, or music television, it is all rubbish. That's how it seems to me anyway. The general quality is very low. The heart and soul has been sold, now we get a copy of something which had heart and soul: a simulacrum; an image of an image but not the image itself.
However, The Wave Pictures have been really lucky and made friends with some talented, fun, honest musicians: Stanley Brinks, Herman Dune, Darren Hayman, Jeff Lewis, The Wowz, Howard Hughes and Adam Cotton, Turner Cody, The Fishermen Three, Freschard. When we can, we will play music with these people, and it is always rewarding and fun to do.
Your lyrics are absolutely brilliant and ingenious, able to "marry the ridiculous and the sublime" with no lapses of style. How do they originate? Where do you usually draw your inspiration from?
It just inspires itself. It's a fun thing to do. To follow the writing along. All kinds of things can feed into it, you write lots down, as much as you feel like, and then it takes some editing afterwards. Sometimes I write one in one sitting, a more specific kind of song, which doesn't require any editing. All the songs from my solo album were done that way. And then others come about over a longer period of time. But there's more than one way to get a song. You learn more and more different ways to get one. I don't have time to wait around for inspiration. I don't really believe in inspiration. It's more a question of whether what you want to do at a certain time is write a song. If I want to write one, I can. It's more a matter of work and practise than of inspiration.
In your songs several references to Italy (places, situations, characters ...) can be found and you even dedicated one of your old albums to an Italian city. What is your relationship with this country?
What do you think of the Italian music scene? Is there any band or artist you especially appreciate?
I don't know anything about the Italian music scene. I don't know any bands from Italy. I also don't know the country well, but I would love to see more of it.
The Wave Pictures' latest album, "Susan Rode The Cyclone", has been recently released in Germany, Spain and Italy in a LP limited edition. Why did you choose these countries?
We didn't choose them. They chose us! And we were very pleased to have it made up on vinyl by the record labels in those three countries.
"Susan Rode The Cyclone" seems to have many features in common with the latest works by the Wave Pictures, sharing with them the same choral approach and the careful arrangements. In this album, however, music seems to go more "straight to the point", to "impact" in a more direct way than the previous "If You Leave It Alone", for instance. Do you agree with this? What are, in your opinion, the main peculiar features of this album?
I really love ''Susan Rode The Cyclone''. I'm so pleased with it and proud of the band for it. I listened to it the other day and thought it was a great collection of songs and in a great order. It has a good variety of different styles on it that we like to do, whereas perhaps the two albums before it were each in their way a little one-sided. I don't think it is better than the other albums we've done but I feel ''Susan Rode The Cyclone'' is a bit more representative of The Wave Pictures. I have to take my hat off to everyone involved in making that album. I heard it for the first time the other day and I was thrilled by it!
It's pretty great how much of it is just the three of us playing. It's really good to listen to that. It has less overdubs than the two albums before. It's very good for me!
Yeah, s that's my feeling really. Very pleased! I think everyone did a good job. I thought the vinyl looked and sounded great too.
You are currently touring Europe to promote "Susan Rode The Cyclone" and very soon you will be in Italy. How is the tour going? Are you having fun with it?
The gathering of followers taking part to your exciting concerts is getting wider and wider. How do you live the connection with the audience when you are on stage?
It varies. It's always interesting. I like trying to connect with the crowd, but it isn't always possible. Sometimes the crowd pisses me off! Sometimes I like them. It varies from show to show, venue to venue. It varies a lot. The band is just one part of it, there's all these different elements that contribute to an evening.
In conjunction with "Susan Rode The Cyclone" you released your first solo album, "Happy For A While" (definitely on the quiet... why?). This album makes us (re)discover David Tattersall in an acoustic version, which is certainly less known to people. How was it born? How did you choose the songs? Do you think that this album is representative of your most "intimate" side?
I wrote the songs in a short space of time specifically for the album and recorded them with Stanley Brinks and Clemence Freschard in Berlin. I was just in the mood to make something like that. That album has a sweet, melancholy feel which I like. I remember recording it though, and that was a party! I remember Stanley doing his saxophone and making a racket and jamming with him on the electric guitar. I'm pleased with that album. It's definitely not a Wave Pictures album, but it is me and my songs.
I would like it obviously if all these things I made got heard by everyone, but I don't get to decide what gets focussed on and what doesn't. That's down to the labels. I make them and decide what they are like, and decide what to play live in concert. But apart from that, it's not down to me. You just have to keep going and keep making things. Hopefully, over time they will find their place, but it would be very sad for me if I had to stop making music in order that there was enough time to promote everything to an equal degree. I'm not sure I have the right attitude, but I try to not worry at all about what happens to these recordings I've done after I have done them.
Both "Susan Rode The Cyclone" and "Happy For A While" were released only on vinyl (except for the German release of "Susan Rode The Cyclone", which includes both LP and CD copies). Why did you make such a "niche" choice?
For the last question, I draw inspiration from a quote. The Scottish writer Allan K. Chalmers said: "The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." So paraphrasing this statement I ask you: what are the "Tiny essentials", to be "Happy For A While"?
I like to smoke and drink beer. I like cups of tea in the daytime. I like to have a good novel on the go, usually a crime thriller. I like to read a little philosophy and a little poetry too. My favourite writer is Charles Bukowski. I like to play pool and darts. Travel is good, too.