Interview with Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music’s David Brewis.

I’m absolutely BUZZING with this interview – as someone who was once a bit of an indie kid, back in the day (before that I had an emo phase, before that a goth phase, before that a chav phase….); think Stonelove at Digital and Bulletproof at The Academy, obsessed with boys in skinny jeans and big hair, going to gigs every week, firmly in love with the North East music scene and listening constantly to bands like Mercury Prize nominated Sunderland band Field Music. I think about that period of my life, with such nostalgia!

I LOVE Sunderland band Field Music. Listening to them makes me think of a time in my life, that I was really super happy and was having a lot of fun! It is great to see how they’ve gone from strength to strength, continuing to release music, such a valuable asset to the music scene and I just love their twitter account.

Field Music – photography credit: Andy Martin

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with Field Music a bit recently. I’ve been supporting Paint The Town In Sound, Sunderland Culture’s online exhibition exploring the timeless relationship between art and music and the direct links forged between musicians and artists. The exhibition is curated in collaboration with Field Music, takes their own collaborations as a starting point to explore wider themes. The artworks in Paint the Town in Sound, are drawn from the Arts Council Collection and offer a fascinating insight into the musical heritage of our region providing a route to examine our own cultural identity and its relationship to class, politics and place. You can visit the exhibition here and experience the virtual walk through here.

Paint The Town In Sound exhibition

Like the little hustler that I am, I took the opportunity of working with and connecting with Field Music and nabbed a weee Culture Vulture interview with Field Music member David Brewis. They’ve got a new album coming out and a tour in the works….we chat live music in a pod COVID world, their new album, Paint the Town in Sound, art and other musicians to check out….

Well hello David, let’s do this, let’s start with an intro!

I’m David Brewis. My brother Peter and I have been making records as Field Music since 2004 from our own studio in Sunderland. I’ve also made a much of records on my own as School of Language.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t listened to it?

I tend to avoid doing that but essentially, it’s weird pop music which doesn’t sound much like contemporary pop music but also doesn’t sound much like the pop music of any other era either.

Field Music – Photography credit: Chris Owens

Tell my fellow Culture Vultures about your journey into music? Why music?

The idea of playing music took hold of us when we were 10/11 and that was it. Mostly we were just pinching things from our parents’ record collection – Led Zeppelin, Free, Fleetwood Mac. We started playing covers in pubs in 1994 which was a great way to really learn. And we were “peer educators” helping to run the music workshops for Dave Murray’s youth project at the Bunker in Sunderland around the same time. It was there that we met Barry Hyde (later of The Futureheads), who was clearly really talented but also, because of his dad, had a knowledge of music beyond what we knew, – Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, Wire, John Coltrane. It became a kind of trade – we showed Barry how to be in a band and he showed us how to listen to music! If anything, we became even more obsessive about music then and even more determined to make something unique.

We had applied for the very first round of National Lottery arts funding in 1997 to help set up a short-term community recording studio and after that, it felt essential to have our own studio space. That – and the fact that we could never really explain to anyone what we were trying to do – is how we ended up self-producing music right from the very beginning.

Field Music. Photography Credit: Andy Martin

You’re releasing a new album soon….tell us more! What was it inspired by?

The next Field Music album is called Flat White Moon and it’s due out in April. A lot of it was inspired by our mam passing away in 2018. I think we both felt we needed to write about it and about her and our memories of her; but we weren’t really ready until now. Our last album, Making A New World, which came out last year turned out to be a good way to use the creative parts of our brain without getting stuck in the mental fug we were in when we wrote it, because that was all based on stories and research related to the first world war. We didn’t have to deal with ourselves and I don’t think we could have at that time. The new record isn’t overly gloomy though – we were keen to make music, which was freeing and fun to play, after a couple of albums which were quite tricky to play live.

Field Music new album

And you’re touring later in the year…..are you excited to be on the road playing to actual people in real life?

Excited and anxious, but I think that’s how the audience will feel as well. Whenever live music starts happening again, I think it’s going to be a very emotional, cathartic experience all round.

Absolutely agree – speaking of live music, can you tell us about your favourite gig or festival you’ve ever played?

We played a lot of festivals in 2016 and quite a few of them were not a lot of fun. Winning over ambling crowds of people drinking Pimms is not really our forte – our music is too knotty and our sense of humour is too dry to work in that situation. But then the last festival of that summer was in the big tent at Green Man Festival. I’m not sure what I was expecting but we came out and the tent was packed and the atmosphere was really special. It was wonderful.

I truly hope so. On the plus side, the people who run and book small independent venues are some of the most resourceful, creative and bloody-minded people I know. They will find a way to make things work. But small-scale live music has never been a money-spinner so if there are restrictions on gatherings for another whole year or more, it’ll be extremely difficult for small venues to survive. As with everything else, we’re dependent on how the health crisis is handled first and after that on how businesses are supported. Also, because the whole industry is basically run by freelancers, who’ve been among the least-well-supported financially through all this, there’s an awful chance we’ll have lost thousands of skilled people who’ve been forced to find work in other sectors.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What do you think of the music scene in Sunderland/North East? And any suggestions of folx to check out/ones to watch?

Honestly, I find it difficult to keep up. And I’m now old enough where I don’t feel guilty about it! It has been pleasing to see how active Independent have been in putting on shows that aren’t just lads in bands (though Roxy Girls are an outstanding band made up of lads). It has been interesting and exciting to do a little bit of studio work with Sunderland Young Musicians Project, who seem to have a whole production line of talented, outrageously-young songwriters, some of whom are already getting out there in a serious way like Faye Fantarrow and some of whom, like Ami McGuinness, Lottie Willis and Eve Cole, are just a step or two away from that too. There’s greatness to be mined if young people have the opportunity and the support.

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Absolutely agree! Tell us about Paint the Town In Sound online exhibition?

When Jonathan from Sunderland Museum first got in touch with us to act as guest curators, the brief was pretty open. We knew that the majority of the works in the exhibition had to come from the Arts Council Collection but that was about it! So, we started poring through ACC catalogues and decided to use the exhibition as a way to look at how music, art and identity feed into each other and that ended up touching on fandom, pop iconography, sleeve art and punk as a community movement. We were very fortunate, to have Jonathan guiding us through the process and being so accommodating to our ideas.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

Why should folx check out the exhibition and what can they expect?

The hope is that if you go to the exhibition you’ll see some reflection of yourself in there. We all use pop culture as a way to self-identify and while we can’t represent EVERY pop tribe, we hope it’ll show a bit of how that self-identification happens and why it’s so interesting and important. I’m over the moon that we have some great work from NE-based artists – the likes of Narbi Price, Laura Lancaster and Graeme Hopper in there – alongside Peter Blake and Anthea Hamilton. I think people will find the items from the Bunker archive really interesting – handwritten letters, posters and newsletters from the first flourish of punk organising in Sunderland. And I personally really enjoyed putting together the display of NE-linked record sleeves and researching the artists and designers who created them – it’s like an alternative history of music and design. And it took AGES.

Field Music. Photography credit: Andy Martin

What I love about the exhibition is that it really showcases how music and art can blend together and create something quite magical….. how has art affected your music? What type of art are you into?

One of the things that became really apparent in compiling the sleeve art display is that the styles of art and design used always say something about the artist, even if it’s the artist deliberately trying to steer you away from a particular interpretation of their music. So with us, the art we tend to like and tend to use is a lot like our music – we want it to be comprehensible without a lot of explanation but we want it to hold details and references which you’ll hopefully discover the more time you spend with it. We often want it to have an element of humour or self-deprecation. We like things which cast a bit of wry eye at luxury and commerce and we like to subvert symbolism. I also like things where it feels like the artist is struggling a bit to communicate something just out of reach. And conversely, with both visual art and music, I tend to glaze over a bit if it feels like making it or conceiving it was too easy.

Field Music new album

One of the things, I love about being The Culture Vulture, is that I have the privilege of going behind the scenes and getting my mits on things before everyone else (which is mad because it’s just Horts from Gateshead!) – you had that experience a bit seeing the Arts Council Collection stuff? What was that like?

Sadly, because everything was done under some level of covid restrictions we didn’t get to see anything for real before the installation. We were entirely dependent on the ACC catalogues. Which did mean, for instance, that we didn’t release quite how risqué Anthea Hamilton’s Leg Chair was until it was in situ!

What else are you working on? Anything else you want to share?

In between the frustrations of homeschooling, we’re having to spend a lot of time thinking about how we promote a record when we can’t go out and play; it’s difficult to rehearse and we can’t go anywhere. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who used the phrase “visual content” but here we are. We’ve also been working on songs for a commission for next year which has involved some fascinating historical research. More on that soon!

Very exciting! Thank you so much David!

Field Music. Photography credit: Chris Owens

Keep an eye out on Field Music social media for the album drop on 23rd April.

To view Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

To experience the virtual walk through of Paint The Town In Sound visit HERE.

And finally, keep an eye out for Paint The Town In Sound Podcast series, as it will be launching soon!

Coming soon – Field Music PtTiS Podcast series

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