Birdeatsbaby – as the name might suggest – know how to grab the attention. From their first video, which in a comparatively short space of time has racked up an impressive number of hits on-line, to their wildly dramatic miniature epic pop tunes, everything about the Brighton quartet screams striking. It’s no surprise that they’ve not only established themselves a substantial cult following – and not just at home – but have recently begun to draw media attention and plaudits, with The Independent’s Simon Price featuring the band on his BBC Introducing show 6 Music new music champion Tom Robinson also giving them airplay.
Receiving an endless deluge of new releases as I do, I often think I’ve heard it all. Yep, I’m pretty jaded and even harder to impress, but when I received an advance copy of ‘Incitatus’, the lead single from the band’s second album ‘Feast of Hammers’, I was genuinely stunned. While I’m normally able to make some kind of judgement inside 30 seconds, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of what I was hearing. This alone told me that this was something special. I was intrigued, and wanted to know more. What better way of getting my questions answered than asking the band, I thought. So I did....
W&H: The first time I heard your music I had a weird moment where I had to pause and readjust my brain. It’s fair to say that there isn’t another act around – or possibly ever – that sounds quite like Birdeatsbaby. That’s something that’s going to cause music writers, record shop owners and genre obsessives a bit of a problem. How would you describe what you do?
BEB: Yes I would definitely agree we’re a little bit different from your average rock band…which was a bit of a happy accident, when we first started, it was actually a guitar band, but Mishkin can’t play guitar… so piano it was!-
We’ve tried to describe the combination of genres as ‘alt-classical prog-punk’… which may sound slightly pretentious, but I think it’s the closest we’ve got to a sub-sub-genre. When all four members of the band come from completely different musical backgrounds this is what happens.
W&H: Has being so very different from the conventional rock, pop, folk or indie act meant that it’s been difficult for you to get exposure?
BEB: Yes and no. It’s easy for us to stand out at gigs, and getting people to notice us online isn’t too hard because we do sound very different. However, trying to get to the next level is hard. Labels don’t want to touch us because they don’t know where to put us or how to promote us, and it’s hard to get shows with similar artists…because there aren’t any!
It is starting to get easier now though…we’ve almost created our own ‘scene’ so we don’t really mind being the weirdos. We’re finding new fans every day so we must be doing something right!
W&H: The sound on ‘Feast of Hammers’ is immense, and it sounds at times as though there’s a full orchestra and chorus line. How did you achieve it, and how do you replicate it live with only four of you?
BEB: Immense is definitely what we were going for! There really isn’t that much extra on the record that we don’t play live. We sometimes use a distortion pedal on Garry’s bass guitar, and on the ‘Feast of Hammers’ track he plays guitar to fatten up the sound. We’ve also layered up the strings on the record but live Keely is on an electric violin which is a lot beefier so it’s easier to re-create this. We also stamp a lot.
W&H: The album was produced by Jason Rubal. How did that collaboration come about, and what was his input in the direction of the end product?
BEB: The collaboration came about through another Brighton band, Bitter Ruin who we toured with in 2010. They had recorded with him and Jason seemed to really like our sound too. After meeting him, we knew he was the right person to record with. He gave us new ways to look at our songs and help get our point across better without hammering it all the time. The new sound is a lot more defined because of his input.
W&H: Every band has some fundamental raison d’etre: what’s yours?
BEB: To fight back against the powers of darkness! Mainly X factor that is.
In all seriousness though, I don’t know what else we’d be doing if it wasn’t music, the band exists because it’s all we’ve ever wanted to do.
W&H: I can’t think of a better reason than that! I think a lot of what’s wrong with contemporary culture is down to that homogenised slop that people get fed and accept unquestioningly. Sure, the campaign to get Rage Against the Machine to number 1 for Christmas in 2010 was fun and all, but there’s no serious challenge to the monopoly of mainstream pap, and I think a lot of it’s because the mainsteam media push it so hard and most people are inherently lazy, so won’t consider exploring beyond what they get served up on MTV or by Chris Moyles. It’s a sad state of affairs, but simply by existing and offering an alternative, the world can only be a better place for a band like Birdeatsbaby.
There’s a strong theatrical element to your music, and this is accentuated in the videos. Do you have theatrical backgrounds?
BEB: Garry once worked in a theatre! But I think he was a technician rather than a performer! No, none of us have theatrical backgrounds but we are all big fans of musical theatre… I think Mish has seen Phantom of the Opera about 6 times, can’t you tell?
W&H: Well, now you mention it....
In keeping with the music, you’ve also produced a number of dramatic and visually striking videos in the time you’ve been together: if anything they’re more like mini films than pop videos (and the one for ‘Feast of Hammers’ is also rather gruesome!). The number of hits they’ve achieved show that imagination counts for far more than big budget. How did you conceive these, and how did you manage to make them work without looking naff?
BEB: For us, the music video is one of the most important things we do…as we reach most of our fans through the Internet I think an entertaining and memorable music video is SO important to getting people to notice you for the first time. Our first music video has about 120,000 views now which is awesome!
W&H: There’s no two ways about it, that’s impressive, especially for a band with no budget to speak of. It definitely evidences the power of word of mouth recommendation, or the virtual equivalent thereof and being Internet-savvy is essential for any band in terms of building a fanbase now. With so much media out there and attention spans being shorter than ever, it’s perhaps hard to overestimate the importance of strong visuals.
BEB: Many of them each were conceived and directed by Philippa Bloomfield (our first drummer). She’s now gone on to create and direct several more incredible videos for some big bands! I think she had the right idea of making something stunningly visual, but also making it fun to watch. I think you can tell how much fun we’re having during the videos and that makes it look less naff?
‘Rosary’, ‘Through Ten Walls’ and ‘Feast of Hammers’ was directed by Dominic Stoate and Tom Marcham and we worked together on a lot of the ideas which has been really fun…and gruesome, yes! The next one, ‘Incitatus’ is out on Monday too so expect madness as usual!
W&H: With so many changes of key and tempo, not to mention the contrasting loud and soft passages, your music is complex and nuanced, yet at the same time extremely bold. Can you talk me through the writing process? How do you assemble all of the different movements forge a single song?
BEB: Mishkin usually comes up with the first verse and chorus with basic chords on the piano, and an idea of how it goes from there, but as soon as we add drums it becomes a song. That’s the moment where we figure out what works and what doesn’t. We add bass next and then usually finish with violin once the structure has come about and we can hear the melody.
I think we always aim for the song to be exciting, and never still for too long but remaining catchy too. Little explosions of madness with a steady progression seems to work quite well for us… we’re kind of perfectionists so a lot of songs have been scrapped as they just didn’t feel right!
I think the ‘Feast of Hammers’ songs are quite different from our first record though, as we were working much more as a group, where as ‘Here She Comes-a-Tumblin’’ was mostly written and already scored by Mish.
W&H: Your musical influences have been covered in a number of previous interviews: I’m curious to know, what are your lyrical sources of inspiration?
BEB: Good question! I (Mishkin) get most of my inspiration from things that influenced me as a child…I read the Bible a lot as a kid as my parents were quite religious and I think sometimes the apocalyptic themes often sneak into the lyrics without me even noticing. There is a lot of violence in the Bible!
W&H: So, so true. The Bible – arguably the greatest work of fiction ever written – is also one of the most disturbing, brutal publications known to man. It’s certainly far scarier than anything Stephen King’s ever produced, and I say that as someone who was an avid reader of his works in my early teens. Then I picked up ‘The Manitu’ by Graham Masterton and I thought that took the fear to a whole other level, before I progressed to William Burroughs, who writes of a different kind of horror, but I digress....
BEB: Now I read horror fiction and I’ve always had a very over-active imagination. I try to combine this with real experiences to make it more personal but still dramatic. I think Nick Cave’s lyrics are incredible too.
W&H: How would you describe the progression from the debut album, ‘Here She Comes-a-Tumblin’’ to ‘Feast of Hammers’?
BEB: There is a big change in the song-writing, it’s definitely executed a lot better but you still have all the crazy from the first album. It’s been 3 years since ‘HSCAT’ so you can hear that we’ve grown a lot as a band and our sound is quite different. However there is still the Birdeatsbaby theme going through it, it’s just more epic.
W&H: In my review of the album, I described your work as ‘extrovert music for introverts’. What sort of people make up Birdeatsbaby’s fan-base?
BEB: All sorts. We seem to draw in a complete variety of people from all ages and musical tastes, which I think is great. They only share one thing, they’re all as weird as us! We also seem to be popular with people’s mums…I think that makes us drastically un-cool but oh well!
W&H: ‘Feast of Hammers’ strikes me as being a hugely ambitious album: what are your ambitions for the band?
BEB: Wembley. With Muse. Supporting us.
W&H: That would be one helluva show. And why not aim high? In a world full or ordinary bands with ordinary goals, it’s refreshing to see a band willing to take on the world – and without being Oasis about it (and if ever there was an ordinary band, it’s surely Oasis). Given the crazy, gruesome imagery in some of our videos, how do you think you’d react if you actually saw a bird eat a baby?
BEB: We would start a new band. And call it ‘baby-fights-back’.
...and failing that, perhaps Babyfightsback could be the first Birdeatsbaby tribute act. It’s surely only a matter of time.
‘Feast of Hammers’ is out on 20th February on Dead Round Eyes Records.