I have always been a sucker for a bit of Byron, I think initially it was the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” comment that drew me to his poetry, but then it was the sheer scope of it that hit the mark. I was therefore drawn to a band that presents “sweeping melancholy and doomed romanticism,” and I was also drawn to them because they create infectious melodies and damn good music.
Christopher Eatough (vocals, guitar),
Toby Cryne (guitar, keys),
Laura Morley (violin)
and Jay Fearon (drums)
Chris, Toby, and Jay joined us for the interview at the magazine, and we had a great conversation about their music, album artwork, and future plans. If you want to check it out, we also reviewed their new single “Stranger Things” recently here.
They deliver uplifting music that makes you feel better about the world. When Lorraine reviewed this for us, she described it as “country music with a swing” and commented that it was “a whole lot of fun, it was lyrically enjoyable, and the music swayed between this little melodic, cherry rhythm and a bit of honky tonk piano.” “It is a song about paralysis. “Paralysis through indecision: waiting around for a change to come, and being unwilling or unable to make that change yourself. Nights spent staring into the sky, waiting for an answer that will never arrive. Realising your own faults and that there is no way to overcome them.”
So we thought it was a great place to start asking about this one.
Chris- I think “Stranger Things” is a really good encapsulation of how we sound these days and what we are trying to do. In terms of where it came from, it’s hard to know with the songs I feel. Sometimes they just come to you, and I’m working on material all the time. Then I take it to the band, and we all work on it. We are all songwriters individually, but how we tend to work in Tragicomics, is that I come in with the bones, and then the others put the flesh on it and create something much bigger than I would on my own. “Stranger Things” would represent that process as it started off as an acoustic demo, a simple country song, then when we got in the room collectively, the guitar lines went in and Laura would add to them, as would Jay. Ultimately, it appears to be a bigger, brighter, and more ambitious song than it originally was.
We directed a question next to Jay, as Mark’s son (Mark’s doing this interview and I, – Benny- am writing it up) has just bought an electronic drum kit. We wanted to ask about the electronic drum kits and how Jay saw them. We also wanted to ask about the drum sound for Tragicomics.
Jay- I’ve never really been a fan of electronic kits. I remember when I was learning on an acoustic kit at my parents’ house. Now they may have a different opinion of the electronic kits than me! For me, it was always about the sound, the response, and the feel, and who taught you also has an impact. My drum teacher would always advocate the acoustic kits, and that rubbed off on me. But then, as I have gone on, I have incorporated a hybrid setup where I have used electronic setups as well and found it useful. You can combine both for practical reasons. Right now, I am using a different kit than what we used to use in the earlier material. I used a “Pearl” kit for that, and I will defend “Pearl” to the hilt, but I’m actually using a “PDP” kit now; I’ve moved on in the world a bit.
We had to ask about the album artwork. The little hut on “Stranger Things” reminded us of the “Abandoned Places” pictures that pop up sometimes on “Instagram,” and the man pushing the rock on “Book of Want” was reminiscent of the art work of Escher.
Toby- The man pushing the rock was an idea from Chris. But we work with an artist called Jude Wainwright. She is just fantastic; she knows our music quite well and came up with a theme that fits the cover. She also did our previous single “Hopeless Romantic,” which, for me, has a kind of Van Gogh thing going on. But that might just be the flowers. Again, she painted that, and she is an esteemed artist.
Chris- She was on Sky Arts a lot. She’s great, because, for both “Stranger Things” and “Hopeless Romantics,” we gave no specific brief. We just played the song to her and told her a little about what it’s about.
Even though we live in a digital age, the vinyl record allowed the buyer to look at the album covers and appreciate some of them as works of art. We actually did a piece in the magazine on what makes a great album cover (link here), and it was part of the whole consumption of an album as a body of work. The cover projects that. The “Book of Want” fits that model of works of art on album covers.
Tony- Although we are in the digital age, we are all romantics when it comes to music. Jay, in particular, has a large vinyl collection. We all came of age at a time when digital was taking off, but a lot of us still had physical albums, whether on CD or vinyl. So there are two worlds, and it is a struggle for us, knowing we release in the digital world. We can release the physical CD, but we all know that the majority will just hit the download button on Amazon, Spotify, or whatever. But we still want to retain the product—the whole sense of the physical product. In “The Book of Want,” CD, I have my CD, and it gives me more pleasure to hold it and look at it—all the pleasure that comes from the physical item. With Spotify, it is your music, but it does feel more disposable in a way. We pay attention to that as we are still fighting the fight in a digital world.
Jay- I feel the illustration and artwork should go alongside the music, but it can be hard to marry the two. They are two different art forms, but if you can find artwork that captures the essence of the song, then you are really lucky. If I go looking for something, I may buy it based on what it looks like and how it sounds. I think it is important to capture that aspect, and I do feel it has captured the meaning of us well.
We completely agree. The visuals worked so well on some classic albums and even on a stripped down “White Album,” then the cover drives the identification and mood. The same could be said for video, and the video for “Hopeless Romantic,” complete with Dracula, was an interesting example of storytelling matched to the sound.
Chris- We are lucky, as artists, in that we get to work with talented people. We did “Hopeless Romantic” ourselves with cut footage, and the “Stranger Things” video was done with Maria Norris. But it’s a similar thing with manipulated archive footage. It’s putting a package together, the artistic piece. For me, “Hopeless Romantic” made me immediately think of vampires, which might say something about me! But what is a vampire if not a hopeless romantic?
Jay- They are just misunderstood.
On the website, Tragicomics are described as an “alternative country collective.” Now, we cover country here at the magazine, and have had country pop artists and Americana, but alternative country?
Chris- I guess country is unique among other genres with its connotations—some loaded connotations, and country brings the assumptions with it. We wanted a sincere way in without chewing straws. We wanted the country elements, but we also wanted the north England elements to represent us.
We do find that speaking to UK blues artists that they feel they have more freedom to experiment with the blues than the American blues artists who are more held to home market expectation. Possibly the same with the country scene?
Toby- I think, as a band, we would struggle to play on an out-and-out country bill. A lot of people listening to that music have a strong expectation of what that is going to be; it’s quite simple, with broad structures, patterns, and cliches. We do tip our hats toward that, and “Stranger Things” would be an example, as elements are country. But then there is a breakdown section, which goes crazy. There is some “Queen” in the music, and we nod to the country. It’s a blessing and a curse. There are shows we could play, but the audience wouldn’t get us, I think. We can shift genres. We have the two singles out that you have heard, and another two are in the pipeline. They have some similarities, but you can’t pin them down as a country. The four songs we have are the best of us as a band now; they tip a nod to country, but we are pushing the envelope as far as it goes. I have been in this band for five years now, and this is the best we have ever been.
One thing of interest is how Tragicomics is releasing a series of singles at the moment. However, the concept of an album is assisted by the order in which it is presented (try to imagine “Abbey Road” without “Come Together” opening it, for example). Has the same consideration gone into the release pattern of the singles? And, are they part of a whole, like an album?
Chris- Historically, when I wrote stuff and we worked with material, it was the concept of the album, as that is how I conceive music. So in the past, we thought of the music as a whole. These singles are part of the awareness that fewer and fewer people now consider the album a cohesive piece. They select pieces from here and there and make their own playlists. So we wanted to explore that. But as Toby alluded to, the four tracks are from the same body of work; they do sit together naturally.
Jay- The benefit of doing it this way, I feel, is that we are moving quicker. The music is fresh. When we did “The Book of Want,” by the time we put that out, I felt we were already moving on to other things. We all focus on and collaborate on this one thing, then we all move on to the next one. But it is closer to doing it in real time.
Toby- Just to echo some of that. The first thing is that people don’t consume music now in the way they used to. I am more of a singles person than Chris or Jay. I do like albums, but I like to create my own playlists. At a certain point, you ask, “If Tragicomics music is just for us to enjoy, then an album makes a lot of sense, but if we want people to pay attention, then spending all that time, effort, and energy on ten to twelve songs in an album is just not the way to go.” People are not consuming music like that. Also, creating those twelve songs takes so much time and money, and we self-fund. You need them mixed and mastered. If you are creating singles, then you need to promote them and get the artwork for them. We decided we wanted to be more nimble. While it feels like a lot of work when you do it this way, the ability to reach your audience every couple of months is valuable. Why post endlessly on social media about some grand plan that is maybe still a year away. This way, you can constantly engage and have something new for fans. A lot goes into the decision, but at some point there may be a collection of these songs, but no decision has been made.
And a chance to look at the year ahead. What is on the radar for the band?
Chris- World dominance” has to be at the top and bottom of it. It is a contradiction, as we do this to make ourselves happy, and then once you create, you want other people to listen. Essentially, we are looking to get out and do more shows, and as we said, we have another song that we hope to release in the coming months, and once for certain after that. We feel this is the best we have done and are excited about the year ahead.
Toby- It is so important to share the music of bands that you like. If you go on Spotify, people like us struggle to get our music shared by the algorithms, but that is fine. We rely on people who like the music to share it. So my message to anyone reading this is that if you love a band, tell everyone about it because, in this day and age, we need to share.
That is really what we are trying to do here—pass on and recommend. We are not here to tell our readers what is good or what isn’t. Anyone we feature, and any review we do, is because we like the artist and they fit under our umbrella. We also work about 75% of the time with independent artists. And we echo the sentiment and pass on those recommendations: listen to Tragicomics (we have the downloads links built into the feature), read our piece on Nushka and her music, listen to Dan Patlansky, check out his UK/Europe tour. That is what it is about now, with over 100,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every day, any song can be lost, so do your bit and pass around the best, support new artists, and read this magazine!
By Benny (the Ball) Benson
Mark C. Chambers
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