Interviews

Luxembourg

Bill Cummings 07/03/2005

I meet David Shah (singer) Rob Britton (guitarist) and Alex (keyboardist) of the band Luxembourg at the Spread Eagle in Camden in the heart of London's indie-dom. It's an ironic place to meet a band who have always felt like they have been ignored by the press. But all that's about to change. They are a band who can find the romantic in the everyday, who produce a sensitive indie synth-rock sound that jousts with the ghosts of the Smiths and Roxy Music yet retains an individuality forged upon hard work and musical evolution. They are a band who stick out like a sore thumb in the current trends of acoustic rock and garage nonsense. They don't even fit in with ˜New Cross", the so called scene that has been propelling them to more attention, on excellent compilations like New Cross and Rip off your labels. Above all, Luxembourg are a band you can fall in love with: they have that rare ability to create their own myths and destroy them again.

How did you meet each other?
David: Alex and I were introduced to each other by someone we had both met through the personal ads page of Select magazine. That page was a work of art for a couple of years in the mid nineties. Later, we put an ad in Melody Maker to find Steve. Jon was a friend of mine who - when his predecessor retired from the band - suddenly remembered that he could play bass. Rob answered our ad in Loot for a guitarist. The mythology has it that Rob had actually just been looking for a second-hand sofa and stumbled across our ad entirely by chance. As myths go, it's rubbish.
Rob: Particularly as I was actually looking for a flat.

How would you describe the Luxembourg sound to a new listener?
David: Very badly.
Alex: Let them work it out for themselves.
Rob: Suburban. Semi-detached. Some major 7ths.


You first came to my attention upon the Angular Records ˜Rip off your labels" album. How was it being associated with the new cross bands? Although standing apart, I don't really think you have that typical New Cross sound.
Alex: I don't think by the second one there was a typical New Cross sound. The first one yes they were trying to dress it up in localised clothing as there's valid reasons for that. I don't think Angular were to blame for that second album being treated as a New Cross thing, they were trying to distance themselves from it, but the problem was it was still getting reviewed in that way. The imaginary New Cross scene that they invented became a rod for their own back.
Rob: It was a great little album. It was reviewed the wrong way round, the New Cross album was great. ˜Rip off your labels" was better. It was much more diverse and stuff like The Boyfriends and us, The Long Blondes, The Rocks, The Violets, all of whom are great bands. I mean fucking hell the Vichy Government opening the album with ‘I control discourse" was just like a stroke of genius.

It sparked my interest to a lot of New Cross stuff. There was a refreshing rawness and individuality to a lot of it.
Rob: Its an odd thing to look back on because with Bloc Party now being picked up, Art Brut well on the way it seems quaint because its like, "oh god loads of bands sound like this" but its ridiculous, it was only a year ago. There was so many bands with so many ideas it just seemed so different.

Regardless of personal taste, every one of those tracks on there (Rip off your labels) at something there for the listener. It's a hell of a thing, I think deservedly the first one was compilation of the year in the NME.
Alex: True but the second one should have been.
Rob: But still, to be involved in that was great.
Me: I never heard the first one.
Alex: It's interesting, it's not as cohesive in its diversity.
David: Interestingly in the NME review of ˜Rip off your labels" our contribution was picked out as one of the highlights in what was a brief review. But since then we released one single, one album and played countless gigs. Were any of them reviewed? Even negatively? No! You wonder what you've got to do really to get a review because I know if we got a review it would be a good one. Because we're great we just don't get it. Let them come and slag us off. I'd feel happier if they came and slagged us off.
Rob: It's a shame. It should be a bone of contention but it's [the NME] just so powerful, it really is.

I regret it that the NME and other publications have to stick a label onto to bands, or scenes as it kind of destroys it in a way. I guess it's a way of selling papers.
Rob: It was the strangest take on the New Cross: they broke it and then the next thing they wrote an article about it trying to break it, trying to kill it.

I guess I don't understand the way they build people up to knock them down. I guess I write for the passion of the music rather than for any agenda.
Rob: It's the main reason musicians make music as well anyone who still trots out that thing of "we make music for ourselves, it's a bonus" is a fucking liar! You make it because you're passionate about it and you believe in it and you assume that other people who believe in similar things will believe in it as well. The only thing I didn't like about the whole DIY-ness of the scene was the resistance to doing anything else with it. I mean for christ sake if you really believe in it then surely you want as many people to hear as you possibly can. I wanna be Marc Almond, I want ˜Tainted Love" levels of success, I want us to be huge. Who in their right mind would form a band and not want to go on top of the pops? It's not even about validation. It's that we have put a lot of work into every element of what we do and we want people to hear it the way you want it to sound as good as you can. Which has kept us apart from a lot of scenes.
David: I don't believe in scenes.
Rob: I know but we're not indie ghettoised at all are we.

I don't think you will be because you don't fit into that certain sound, So as much as you may be part of that you should never be lumped into it. Even on Saturday (Gspot), I felt you were slightly out of place.
David: We stuck out like a sore thumb on Saturday in the best possible way. We very often are.

Well we could have had bands that were not similar but working in the same field such as The Boyfriends?
Rob: The thing is we do that and we still seem to stick out. I The Boyfriends, I think they are fantastic but there is a very definitive Boyfriends sound. Which is brilliant. But we come along and we're like "hello, this ones a bit more synth-led, this ones a big ballad". People kind of go, this is brilliant but it would be better if you did this.

I know someone on Saturday who didn't like you and I said, well they are one of these bands that you either Love or Hate.
Rob: Which is great, who would want to be one of these bands making coffee table music? We've been fighting for so long in Luxembourg and our previous bands that the last thing we are going to do is turn around and kowtow to accepted Luxembourg sound. We are in defining mode now.
Alex: It's far more likely we will turn around and do something that sounds like nothing we've done before.
Rob: A lot of people find us arch because of it and I think we are about as far from arch as you can get. We're flat. Not arched at all.
David: We are so much more sincere than most of the bands we have talked about.

A lot of people have called you camp though?
Rob: I don't even think we're camp, even though I'm not offended by it.
Alex: It implies insincerity in what we do. I don't think it's the right word. I think people use it as a defence mechanism.
Rob: The idea of camp is grand gesture that means very little but in fact its grand gesture that means a lot. I think when People are applying camp to us they are thinking of torch balladry and stuff, that grand kind of gesture.
David: I think people are using camp as a code for a variety of things that's perhaps one but there are others which are probably more obvious.
Rob: They are using it as a sexuality shorthand as well, which is crap. There's no kind of shutting the door and prancing around.
David: And there's your glass ceiling.
Alex: If we were camper we would probably have been signed. There was some review that said we were a peculiarly British version of the Scissor Sisters. It's like, if we were we'd be huge but we're not.
Rob: I wouldn't want us to come across as some terrible version of Stereophonics sincerity, that kind of earnest style. Theirs is humour there. Dave said it brilliantly: there's humour, there's anger there cos its real life.


Who's your favourite celebrity with "close-cropped hair"?
David: Jennifer Aniston.
Rob: Mia Farrow
Alex: Rob Britton

You're on Desert Island Discs; what two records would you each choose?
David: Tropical Brainstorm by Kirsty MacColl for the highs and Pink Moon by Nick Drake for the lows.
Rob: Discography by the Pet Shop Boys and Hits by Pulp. I'm going to need some singles collections in case I have to throw an impromptu dinner party.
Alex: Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets and some St Etienne comp or other.

How important is it to you to make your single releases as strong as
possible? Are they statements of intent?
David: Because this band has very little proper backing, we have to treat each single as if it might be our last. We spew out utter gems, and then - for the most part - watch them disappear beneath a cascade of mediocrity.

I heard someone describe ˜Let us have it" as being a clever two way metaphor involving anal sex and immigration. To what extent is this the true meaning of the song?
David: I regret saying that now. I've decided in future I'm not going to explain the lyrics. That might make for short interviews but I don't care.

Is it more interesting for the listener if you leave the lyrical meanings to their imaginations?
David: I think that's it. Otherwise it just kind of destroys it. Otherwise you might as well write an essay. It's supposed to be artful.
Rob: To have a duel meaning in the first place you're never going to want to explain it all.
David: Yeah but I did it that once because I was so tired of people not understanding that there was a lot going on in the lyrics. Just for this one song I wanted to say look at this. This is interesting and complex- a little bit complex.

What do you mean when you talk about the resistance in the song and on your website?
David: I'd be a hypocrite if I explained a lyric now after saying I wasn't going to do it. I guess we were up against it at the time we always are. You can take it to mean whatever you want.
Rob: It's quite an angry little song. I guess they mean what they mean to each individual listener. I don't think there's any kind of Rubic's Cube with the lyrics. It's not that we're cleverer than you, and that you're not going to figure these out.
David: Its not so much we are cleverer but we are clever. That's the point.

I guess what I was asking is was it a reaction to the music scene in general?
Alex: I think everything we do is a reaction to the music scene. But it's broader than that, it's we find ourselves doing and how we react to everything around us.
Rob: If the world is enamoured with The Libertines and as much as I personally like them, at the height of their popularity we did something like ˜Mishandled" which is eons away. Not to be contrary, just because it's nice to be in the position where you can do things like that. The more you can do that at this stage the more you can get away with it later on. I always really liked bands that had multi faceted levels of music. They could do whatever they wanted: a huge swollen epic, a dub reggae track or a rock song.

Linked to that I can hear your influences, but you seem to move within your own world musically, it's quite individual and refreshing when I compare it to a lot of bands I hear.
Alex : That comes from coming from different places musically. There would be no point in us sitting down and saying we are going to sound like Morrissey. Because we would be sitting there saying we don't want to do this.
Rob: More than any kind of sound we are influenced in the ways in which bands we like have been allowed to work. With the bands that cross all of us there's no set sound to what heir next single is going to sound like. If you can do ˜Animal Nitrate" or the ˜The Wild Ones", if you can do ˜That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" and ˜This Charming Man", it's a statement.

I suppose to make that single musical statement with the first track off an album is particularly important?
Rob: Absolutely. It sets the tone for an album.
Alex: That was the point of ˜Housewives"
Rob: We'd been doing demo singles as documented on ˜Best Kept Secret for a while now. From Housewives onwards its going to be more purposeful. "Luxembourg Vs Great Britain" will document this, etc. It's going to be all moving it on a bit. That was the beauty of Best Kept Secret
.
I heard someone describe Best Kept Secrets as your ˜Hatful Of Hollow" released before your debut album. I liked the fact that you had "this is not our debut" emblazoned across it, I thought that was cute.
Rob: There's a reaction on Best Kept Secret beyond everything else they are really fucking good songs. And they've been ignored. It's annoying. It's nice to put them out in a context, we can control and we can say what this is.
David: Just a demo, yeah
Rob Songs that haven't been picked on at all previously
Alex: Suddenly they are being frothed about. Something like ˜Success Is Never Enough’ this time last year was released on a demo EP and it got about two reviews.
Dave: And it was sent to everyone, labels, DJs , the whole industry had a copy.
Alex: Then suddenly it's on this album and every single reviewer said this is amazing!

Is that part of the problem with the music industry?
David: People need your stuff to be taken seriously by someone else before they listen to it properly. For a band that is essentially unsigned we have a huge audience.
Rob: There was people from Italy who came over for the gig on Saturday (Gspot 22/1/05) and they are always asking why they can't get our records in the shops.
Alex: Or they ask why don't you play outside of London.
Rob: The second level to Best Kept Secret which a year or two ago would have seemed cynical was given the sham that the NME is if we were to break tomorrow , PLEASE GOD! Immediately you would have everyone going For Christ sake!" because of the age we are and what we grew up listening to there's going to be a cross over of bands influenced by the same things so you've got the Departure, The Bravery , Maximo Park etc. People are going to say your ripping this off , Best Kept Secret is going to say "No! fuck off!", we've been doing this for four years. We're not ripping anyone off!

So it's your insurance policy then.
Rob: It's not even that cynical
Alex: It's just a happy by-product of the release.
Rob: It proves some element of hard work. That doesn't seem to exist in the music press anymore. So we wanted to say no we have worked there's no shame in saying you've worked. It's not just a flash in the pan that seems important. I never hear that with bands anymore. That used to fascinate me. I was fascinated by tales of Blur playing early gigs as Seymour. As much as I like Franz Ferdinand they just seemed to appear fully formed ( dang dang dang ~Rob does guitar playing motion~)There's a bit missing in terms of their history. The humanity is sheered away somehow.

It's happening with the Bloc Party: the NME Leap on the bandwagon and their history is glossed over, they just become the new Franz Ferdinand.
Rob: To people that love them their history will be very important. People don't appreciate how powerful the NME still is in London. There's Teletext, fanzines and the NME, that's all that's left. It's rubbish, there's amazingly talented people the world over. I'm loathed to attack something that I want to pick the band up at some stage. But all that the NME said about us on the new cross compilation was that we were on it.

Your live performances seem to be communal and joyous experiences. Is performing live one of the best parts of being in a band?

David: I want people to reach out and grab me during the gigs - there
should be arms around waists, hands on shoulders, fingers on wrists.
As in my personal life though, it seldom actually happens. The desire for physical affection from an audience is probably fairly unhealthy, but I don't care.
Rob: It's half an hour as the person you hope you really are. No work timetables, no Excel spreadsheets, no council tax reminders. When it really works everything feels well with the world. This usually lasts until I get to the bar and find it closed.

Rob, where does your fascination with dogs come from?
Rob: A border collie named Gyp. She was Hobbes to my Calvin.

Alex, what do you think keyboards add to the sound of the band?
Alex: People tend to think of keyboards as some kind of effete bolt-on to a guitar band, and guitars as a symbol of machismo authenticity in an electro act. I'm not into that. Luxembourg is all about working that middle ground - the keys and guitars are equally integral, working with/against each other the whole time. It's much more fun that way.

David, how did you develop your vocal style? When did you first realise you had a "voice"?
David: I found it in the bathroom of a rented house in Reading in the Nineties. Later, I learned how to use it.

What can fans expect from your new single "Luxembourg Versus Great
Britain"?
David: One of the most important singles of the year.
Alex: Top Three would be nice.
Rob: Morricone, Osterburg and Sabrina. In a bath.

What are your plans for the future?
David: Early retirement.