Indietracks interview #16: The Wave Pictures

Wave Pictures

Interview by Claire Walker. 

The Wave Pictures are David Tattersall, Franic Rozycki and Jonny ”Huddersfield” Helm. The band, who are based in London, formed in 1998 and have released 14 studio albums. Their newest album, Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon, was written and recorded with seminal punk singer Billy Childish. It was released in February this year on Moshi Moshi, to widespread critical acclaim. Earlier this year they layed the BBC6 Music Festival in Manchester and also appeared on BBC6 Music DJ Marc Riley’s new “All Shook Up” music television show. The Guardian has described their work as “charming, witty songs shot through with Jonathan Richman’s gawky glee and Suede’s doomed provincial romanticism.”

Hi Dave! How excited are you and the rest of The Wave Pictures for your third visit to Indietracks?

We’re really looking forward to it! It’s such a nice festival. There’s always a very lovely atmosphere and we always seem to run into a lot of friends.

Any standout memories from your previous two?

There was one trip where I played a solo show in the church. I had flown from Spain where The Wave Pictures played a festival the night before. I got food poisoning or something. I was extremely ill on the journey. I had to make this epic journey from the south of Spain, two flights, throwing up the whole time. At one point I remember I was lying on the floor of the airport heaving into a plastic bag. I even got wheeled through security on a wheelchair. I was surprised that they let me fly, I was so sick. But I made it to the desk and explained myself to the staff and they just stuck me in a wheelchair; it was nice of them, they really took care of me actually. That was a very extreme day, though. At the end of it all I played this solo show in the church. I sort of felt alright by the point I actually went on stage. That’s not exactly a happy memory though!

A much happier memory was the last time we played. We went on before the Pastels, which I enjoyed doing very much. I used to know John who plays guitar in the Pastels, when I lived in Glasgow. It was nice to run into him again. We had a bit of a chat at some point. I really enjoyed that whole visit to Indietracks.

I remember The Pastels went on and did this long, very dark, Ennio Morricone kind of instrumental, it was very beautiful and heavy, and the clouds burst open and it was a very heavy, very wet rain storm. That was a striking thing. Stephen strumming these minor chords on his Gibson guitar and the rain.

The first time we played is a striking enough memory in itself, just how nice the atmosphere was, how uncommercial the whole festival was. I don’t usually like festivals to be honest, but this one still has that nice village fete feeling. I like it.

The Wave Pictures have been together for such a long time, how do you feel your band has changed over the last 17 years and how have you all managed to stay friends?

We’ve changed quite a lot, even the sound of my voice seems to have changed about a bit over the years. It’s all quite unconscious, but there are changes. You do just change over time, but you don’t realise it as it is happening. On the odd occasion when I hear an old recording of ours I am surprised how different we sound at different points. It’s a bit like looking through a photograph album. I find my voice a bit embarrassing on old recordings to be honest. That’s hopefully changed for the better a bit. I think we’re a bit more confident about doing what we like these days than we used to be. I’m not sure, though, to be honest I’m trying to come up with differences but we’ve probably stayed the same more than that we’ve changed! Certainly we can do very old songs in the set mixed up with the new ones, and they all seem to go together.

How have we managed to stay friends?

I don’t know. Jonny Helm is a pretty easy-going fellow, which helps. Franic and I have a long running pool and darts rivalry. We all really like playing music together, that’s probably the main thing. We still enjoy ourselves. We love music.

To be honest, it seems to me like we went from being a very new band to being thought of as old hats in nought seconds flat. The shelf life of a band isn’t supposed to be very long I suppose. But time flies when you’re having fun. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been going all that long, to me. I can’t really imagine not doing it. I don’t know what else I would do. On my birthday this year, I booked a studio and went to do some recording with Jonny and Franic. I couldn’t think of anything more fun than that! That was my birthday treat to myself, a bit of recording with the band. That’s the most fun thing in the world to do.

After 14 albums, Where do you find the inspiration to write?

The main thing is that it’s just very exciting to write a song. I write far more than that we can use. It’s a kind of madness I suppose, you just start processing the world into songs. It’s not madness really, though, it’s just a fun thing to do. Making up songs is probably the most fun part of being in a band. I always think – just do it, you can worry about if it’s any good later. Or don’t worry about it at all. Don’t let anything stop you just getting them all out of your head.

How do you decide what songs to play at gigs? And just how do you remember them all?

We can’t remember them all! Well – I can’t remember all those words. I can remember quite a large number of them, though. We decided at a certain point to not use set-lists. We just go onstage and start playing. I usually choose which ones we play. At the end of the first song, I choose what to do next, and we just go through the whole set like that. It’s not pre-determined. It’s good to be spontaneous I think, it suits us better. Sometimes I start a song and Jonny and Franic can’t remember which one it is, or Franic can’t remember what key it is in, but that doesn’t happen too often. It’s pretty funny when it does happen, though.

The Wave Pictures often get the title of the ‘one of the best live bands’, why do you think this is?

Well it’s because we are really wonderful! I’m happy if people think that. We certainly enjoy ourselves playing live.

You got to work with Billy Childish on your latest album ‘Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon’, how did that come about? What was it like with working with one of your heroes?

Marc Riley brought us together. He’s such a star, he’s done us so many good turns. He put us in touch with Billy, and Billy agreed to make a record with us.

Billy wanted to co-write the whole thing with me, he thought it would be more fun that way. I said – OK! It was a total blast. Right off the bat, we found we could write songs together very easily. It all just came together very easily and pleasantly. We got on well and we had fun. Billy and The Wave Pictures like a lot of the same things – we talked about John Lee Hooker a lot, early Rolling Stones, Link Wray, and Billie Holliday. Of course, he had never heard our music, but he liked it, he got where we were coming from straight away. It was plain sailing and I like the record we made together. Billy is a wonderful bloke – he’s a genius, and a very nice person too.

Have you heard the stuff Billy has done with The Spartan Dreggs? It seems that this particular project has gone completely under the radar. It’s so good! It’s such a shame that so few people have had a chance to hear them. The album ”Forensic RnB” is an absolute masterpiece. Everything The Spartan Dreggs have done is great! Billy plays the bass and there’s this guy Neil on lead vocals. Neil has a very strange, totally compelling voice. It’s completely sincere stuff, very real and just beautiful. It’s extremely refreshing to listen to, like a strong sea breeze! It’s the best new music I’ve heard in ages and ages from anyone. It reminds me of when I first heard The Who’s debut album – that’s how good it is, that’s how fresh and alive it sounds.

That would be my main recommendation for you, but also I want to give a shout out on behalf of my mate Sam James, the greatest songwriter in the world at the moment. He’s just completely ignored by everyone. I don’t know why. I can’t figure out how someone can be so talented and so completely ignored, but that’s how it is. Sam James is a New Yorker and he’s a school teacher who makes records in his spare time. He puts them up on line, you can find them. Listen to a song like Manuel for instance. I hope you can find it! He’s a total genius.

Is there any bands or sights in particular you are looking forward to seeing at Indietracks?

I’m looking forward to seeing my friends, there’s going to be a lot of people hanging around. And I’m looking forward to eating a hotdog in the sunshine. And Tigercats are always rocking – especially now they have Paul Rains on guitar. I always enjoy watching them. We’ve done a fair amount of gigs with them. It is always a pleasure. I love playing shows with Tigercats – they are a really great band and very nice people as well. And Paul is one of the best guitar players around.

Thank you so much Dave, cannot wait to see you and the band at the festival.