Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Indietracks interview #4: Tender Trap
Interview by Stuart Huggett
Tender Trap started the year by completing the recording of their fourth album, the follow up to 2010’s ‘Dansette Dansette’. When we spoke, Amelia Fletcher (vocals) was fighting a hacking cough, but she and partner Rob Pursey (bass) cheerfully filled us in on their past experiences of playing Indietracks, as well as other Popfests, pizza joints and frat houses around the world.
Can you tell us when the new album’s coming out?
Amelia: It just needs mastering, and we need to finalise the sleeve. It seems like you finish recording and mixing, and you think you’re ready to go, then you suddenly remember a billion other things you have to do first. I think it’s due to come out in about July. I’m really hoping that, even if it’s not out by Indietracks, we can bring copies along and sell them there. When you’re into the new songs you don’t really want to play any old songs live. Obviously you want people in the Indietracks audience to know some of the songs you’re playing, but it’s nicer if people have heard the album first.
There have been quite long gaps between Tender Trap albums before, but this one seems to have come along quicker. Do you have more time to devote to the band these days?
Amelia: It’s partly that, and partly actually having a full band now. There’s five people who are all keen to have new songs to be working on. I dunno why it inspires you, but it really does help you bother to sit down and write songs, the fact that you know there are people ready to play them.
Since you last played Indietracks in 2010, you’ve lost Elizabeth (Morris, Allo Darlin’) and gained Emily (Bennett, Betty & The Werewolves). Has this changed the band’s sound?
Amelia: Yeah, Emily’s got a slightly different sensibility in terms of writing backing vocals, and guitar wise she really rocks. I think Elizabeth had never actually played guitar before she joined Tender Trap. Obviously in Allo Darlin’ she mainly used to play ukulele, and she did incredibly well on guitar for us. But Emily’s been playing guitar for years, and it does make a difference, I think. What was interesting about that last Indietracks (when Betty & The Werewolves also played) was our kids were there. For some reason they particularly focussed on Emily. They really liked her, and she really liked them. So actually that’s worked really well, they get to see loads of her now.
Do you find Indietracks to be family friendy?
Rob: The kids were very, very excited when we got asked to play again. Last time they managed to perch on the edge of the stage, and were singing along and deflecting all the attention away from everybody else. They became the stars of the show, which was either cute or annoying, depending on your perspective.
Did they enjoy the steam train rides?
Amelia: Yeah, they really loved that.
Rob: I think I preferred that to them, actually.
Amelia: It’s not that Indietracks is as set up for kids as some of the festivals are, but because we’ve not been to those other festivals, and the kids haven’t either, they don’t know any better. And there’s a playground, and, you know, they’re basically happy. They’re young enough just to be excited about stuff.
Do you have ambitions to do a set on the train?
Amelia: I’d really like to do that actually, I don’t know why we never have. As ambitions go, it’s one we could achieve quite easily! Maybe we should ask if we can this time.
Rob: I think it’s true that Indietracks is the only festival I’ve ever been to that I’ve liked. That really is true. I’ve been to lots of others and thought, why am I paying all this money to live like a refugee? I thought that Indietracks was just brilliant.
How does Indietracks compare with other indiepop festivals overseas? It strikes me that Indietracks has a much more even gender balance, on stage and in the crowd, than many mainstream festivals.
Rob: Yeah. I certainly think the one in Spain, which is quite small, is like 50-50 men and women.
Amelia: It may be the style of music as well. There’s a lot of female people that like indie music, or the kind of indiepop music Indietracks specialises in.
Rob: And New York, actually. The atmosphere was intelligent and nobody was taking their shirt off and spraying beer around.
Amelia: It was really, really good fun. On that trip we only played two gigs, there and Philadelphia. We got put in touch with this guy who asked us to play his place, and we didn’t realise ‘til we got there that it was a frat house.
Rob: It was a punk frat house. I could almost have never really believed that frat houses actually existed, apart from in films. But it really was one.
Amelia: It really was.
Rob: And we played it.
Was it as raucous as you’d fear?
Rob: There was nobody barfing on people’s heads or anything. It was a really cool, sort of alternative frat house, so it didn't have any of the things you might expect. But there were lots of pictures on the wall of the ‘Class of ‘57’ and stuff, who looked pretty... square. And a bit Masonic. But the current lot were quite normal. It was like being at an indie club, but with weird Greek letters on the door. A normal indie club with freaky extras.
The Masonic indie club network, perhaps?
Rob: Just like a standard indie club really. We did once play in America where people were trying to eat their dinner. This was with Heavenly, I think. It was a club where people would come for a steak or a pizza after work. There were some fans standing in amongst them, but most people were just trying to get on with eating their enormous steaks, and didn't appreciate having an indie band making a horrible racket while they were tucking in. That was in New York too.
Will Tender Trap be returning to the USA soon?
Rob: If we could organise the time, we would. We were invited a couple of times, and we want to go to the West Coast, so it’s just a question of making it work so we can be there long enough.
Amelia: To get over jet lag.
Rob: There’s also the debate about whether children should come or children should stay, and at this point I notice a child has appeared next to me. She is making a thumbs up gesture, which means she must come. It’s just logistically it gets a bit complicated.
Amelia: And money-wise it gets a bit complicated as well.
Rob: But I’m sure we will.
Meanwhile, you’re supporting The Magnetic Fields in April, including a big show at the Royal Festival Hall (25 April).
Rob: Yeah, it’s pretty big. And we’re pretty terrified. We’ve played big places with Heavenly or Marine Research in our time, but I think this is the biggest. It’s the most intimidating place I think we’ll have ever played. Partly we’re worried that we’ll have to be really politely quiet. When you play quietly all the kind of, let’s say imperfections, come to the surface. When it’s loud, it all melds rather nicely, or at least to the point where nobody can tell. So we’re worried about being a bit rubbish. And you feel like you’re being scrutinised more when people are sitting down. They can’t express themselves physically, they just have to frown or tut.
And there’s some dates with The Pooh Sticks too.
Amelia: Yeah, well actually Tender Trap aren’t playing. I’m singing. People assumed we would be playing the Bristol gig (20 April), but because we were doing The Magnetic Fields stuff we just thought it was all too much. In fact, I'm now not singing at the Bristol gig either, so Hue’s not entirely happy with me, but I am playing the Brighton gig (21 April).
Are these the last of The Pooh Sticks’ reunion shows?
Amelia: I really, really don’t know, ‘cos every time I talk to Hue he kind of says, “Oh well, that’s it.” And then I suddenly get an email, “Oh, will you do three more gigs?” I think basically Hue really enjoys it and he can’t quite bear to stop. It is really, really good fun, so I understand his feelings.
Rob: Also, he has got a really good band together. I think it sounds a lot better than it did, personally, so it must be a real shame to feel you should stop just when they’re getting really good.
How do you feel about older indie bands reforming for shows at places like Indietracks?
Rob: Well, it’s like meeting someone you went out with 20 years ago, and now you think, “God, you look really old!” And they think the same about you. No, it can be quite nice.
Amelia: It is really nice.
Rob: We saw The Orchids the other day. We played with them in Spain, and they were brilliant. They were really, really good. I mean, we kind of refuse to do older songs, because it’s like a new band and it’s all about doing new songs. But sometimes you see bands knocking out the old songs only, which I find a bit depressing.
Amelia: It’s a point of some conflict, because I think that people always want to hear a few old songs and therefore we ought to play them. Whereas Rob very much always wants to play the new songs. So we very occasionally do a pretty old song these days. We did a Talulah Gosh song at Indietracks last time, so we’ll see.
Rob: We’re the only two people who were in that band, although actually I was only in Talulah Gosh for about 10 minutes before I left. In horror. I find it more like being an archivist than being in a band, if you just start knocking out old things.
Talking of your old bands, are you both featured in the Story of Sarah Records film that’s coming out?
Amelia: See, I have been interviewed for that, but Rob hasn’t. But I seem to remember saying some things that I ended up realising were slightly false, so I'm terrified of seeing the film.
Rob: What did you say?
Amelia: Well, Calvin (Johnson, Beat Happening) had described me as a “benevolent dictator” in Heavenly, and I kind of said I thought that was quite accurate.
Rob: What, you were like President Mubarak before he got horrible?
Amelia: Just like that! Then I described how it was partly in Talulah Gosh that I hated singing other people’s words, and so I said I was only going to sing my own words. Then I remembered that in Heavenly I did sing other people’s words by the end.
Rob: Not so much a dictator as an appropriator. We were listening to an old Heavenly song the other day – ‘Starshy’, which was on the second Heavenly LP. Someone had found an old clip of us playing it live, actually in front of some more Americans eating. Loads of students eating pizza in San Jose. And Amelia said, “I don’t remember writing that.” And I said, “That’s because you didn't write it.” She was rather smugly contemplating her brilliance at having written this song, and actually she didn't write it at all. So it’s not really like a dictator. It’s more hegemony than fascism.
Amelia: I still think I wrote it!
Finally, who are you looking forward to at Indietracks this year?
Amelia: I’m not quite sure who’s confirmed yet. I am quite excited to see Allo Darlin’, but I have seen them quite a lot of times.
Rob: Veronica Falls are played quite a lot in this house, so I’m looking forward to seeing them.
Amelia: They’ve obviously got the best people still.
Rob: I don’t care really. I think if the weather’s nice, it’ll be great.
Thanks, see you in July! In the meantime, here's 'Love Is Hard Enough', the first song from Tender Trap's new album 'Ten Songs About Girls'.