The Big Pink: "We don't consider ourselves musicians"
For The Big Pink, nothing's better than excess. We're not just talking about the London-based electro-rock duo's over-publicized partying, or its penchant for provocative images and revolving-door relationships. Multi-instrumentalists Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze revel in transforming too much of a good thing into exactly enough, crafting pop songs around massive drones and washes of noise anchored often by megalithic, hip-hop-informed beats. Their 2009 debut, A Brief History Of Love, found Cordell and Furze exploring more possibilities than many of their manifest influences—The Jesus And Mary Chain, for instance—have over the span of long careers. Longtime friends and musical omnivores, the musicians differ most in how they spent their time before forming The Big Pink three years ago. While Cordell mostly stayed at home running his label, Merok Records—early home to Klaxons, Titus Andronicus, and Crystal Castles—while Furze toured hard, first with digital hardcore pioneer and unabashed anarchist Alec Empire's Atari Teenage Riot, then with the no less confrontational Panic DHH. Before kicking off a North American tour that hits Turner Hall tonight, Furze spoke with The A.V. Club about life on the road, rotting feet, and his secret political agenda.
The A.V. Club: You've been touring a good long while: How have the experiences with The Big Pink differed from previous bands?
Robbie Furze: [Laughs.] They've differed quite a lot. Touring with ATR was very cool—big tours, big buses, and very loud shows. I've had a ringing in one ear since the first show I played with them. Alec [Empire] and I had these incredible conversations about noise that went on for hours. Panic DHH was a lot more bare bones: We mostly played squats. You know those disgusting-looking discarded mattresses you sometimes see on the sides of roads? That's what we often slept on. At one point, after not taking my boots off for a week, because it was cold and we had no place to wash, I got trench foot, which I hadn't even known existed. It was awful. Your feet get all fat and spongy and smell like they're rotting. Fortunately, I got it treated before they fell off. Touring with The Big Pink is heavenly. We're not rich or anything, but we have a nice bus, eat well, stay in hotels. Having a crew is a wonderful luxury, too. I don't even see my guitar until I go onstage.
AVC: It's just the two of you in the studio, so how do you make it work in a live setting?
RF: We take performing live very, very seriously. Shaping sound in the studio is one thing, but making sure everything is in place live provides an altogether different set of challenges, especially given that we record as a duo but tour with a full band. I've seen way too many shows—noise shows, especially—where what you hear is just this amorphous sound blob with little to no definition. Sure, that can be cool, but it can also get old very quickly. We employ noise, but we make pop songs. We want people to be able to hear the vocals and the lyrics, to feel beats as something distinct from everything else. Milo and I don't consider ourselves musicians. Luckily, we have people like Daniel O'Sullivan to help us. Daniel is probably the most musical person I know. He's one of those annoying people who can play anything. He's also capable of explaining what we do to us in musical terms and helping us improve it. It's very nice having him around. Also, as Milo manipulates everything live, we never repeat ourselves.
AVC: What's your songwriting process like?
RF: We usually start by running some sound source through an effects chain, tweaking it until we get something we like and recording it for, like, half an hour. We then build on that until we have this massive block of sound. After that, we spend a lot of time listening back, finding melodies, and chipping away at the block to bring them out. What's really nice is that you get a consistent theme. It's more of a sculptural approach. One thing I learned from Alec is to never let myself be harnessed by restrictions. The way we work, it's like we create a sonic environment, then respond to it in what seems like the most appropriate manner. Lyrics usually come last. I could never see us sitting down with some lyrics and an acoustic guitar and going about things the good old-fashioned way. There's nothing wrong with doing that. It's just not for us.
AVC: "Crystal Visions" really stands out on the album, both sonically and lyrically. How did it come about?
RF: It's the first song we ever wrote and recorded together. We ran a guitar part through two huge Marshall stacks and got so excited by the results that we just went wild, creating this enormous psychedelic thing that was really lush and phantasmagorical, yet also really aggressive. We felt that we had to give it the most surreal, hedonistic lyrics we could come up with. I love playing that song live; it's probably my favorite. Every time, it makes me feel as if I'm in one of the great psychedelic bands of yore. It transports me to a different dimension.
AVC: Why do you think the press dwells on your alcohol and drug consumption?
RF: I've often wondered the very same thing. People need a story, I suppose, and gossip is such a big thing. But from what I can tell, we don't party any harder than anybody else. I can't help but attribute it to lazy journalism. It's the same with so many writers pegging us as a shoegaze band. Sure, we've listened to My Bloody Valentine. But when I think of shoegaze as a movement, I think of watery vocals, drums buried way back in the mix. It's pretty much antithetical to what we do.
AVC: Although A Brief History Of Love couldn't be less political, you have a history of playing in highly political bands. What's your agenda?
RF: I do whatever I want, whenever I fucking want, and I wish everyone could live by that.