SOURCE is on a desert planet and it has started to rain. Or rather, we’re sat on a chair in the front room of Julia and Simon, aka pop rock duo The Indelicates. Said room is cluttered with scenery, puppets and props from their upcoming children’s theatre piece Goblins Live, in amongst which the couple’s few months old baby Ryder (dubbed ‘Indelibaby’ by the group’s fans) bounces happily on a rocker.
We’re currently unaware of all of this, however, since Simon has plugged us into his PC via a strange headset device. The virtual world we are viewing is the ‘experience’ designed for one of the tracks on the duo’s new album. Essentially it’s a pop video, but one that places the viewer in a 3D environment they can explore as the track plays. The song is called ‘Breath’ (Julia’s lack of which ironically delayed the album’s completion) and the lyrics sync up with visuals and effects in the digital environment.
“I was really getting into this virtual reality system – the Oculus Rift – at the same time as working on the album,” says perennially floppy-haired Simon, “and the two fed into each other. Virtual reality plays a big part in the album’s songs and story.”
Technology in general has formed a big part of the story of The Indelicates, who met on Brighton’s poetry slam circuit and have children’s books, puppetry and fudge-making amongst their other creative pursuits. The duo have spoken at the House of Commons on issues of digital rights while Corporate Records, a label which they set up and continue to run, was one of the world’s first online record labels. “Us and Bandcamp launched at around the same time, but they launched in Silicon Valley with a fuckton of money and personnel, while we launched in Sussex with no money or paid staff,” says Simon with a resigned shrug.
“I think me and Simon have a struggle at times because we are so fiercely independent,” adds Julia, “and it’s very hard to be anything other than that if it’s in your nature.” Whilst the Bandcamp millions may have eluded them, the duo (accompanied by up to twenty other musicians and vocalists) are about to release their fifth official studio album, ‘Elevator Music’.
It’s an interesting lyrical tale of technology and humanity at odds with each other despite their self-reliance. The music covers an even greater range of styles than you’d usually expect from an Indelicates release, with a cappella folksong and glam thrash amongst the interlopers in what is primarily a power pop, cabaret punk and prog rock concoction. Simon unplugs SOURCE from the virtual world, we position our recording device somewhere we can hear the couple’s replies above the squeaking of Ryder’s rocker, and the interview begins…
First things first. You have been uncharacteristically quiet in terms of product and project releases for the last year or two, right?
Simon: That’s true. We released our last album ‘Diseases Of England’ in three parts, each a few months apart, so there was a whole year across 2012 and 2013 where we were releasing and promoting that. Then I wrote a fully fledged musical, essentially Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in the style of an Elvis movie. This was supposed to be our project for 2014, but we discovered getting something like that off the ground is really, really hard.
Julia: Simon’s previous musical The Book Of Job, which we’re reviving as part of this month’s Brighton Comedy Fringe, is fairly easy to put on as it uses a bare stage and small cast. Obviously there’s so much more involved in putting on a full scale musical.
Simon: Getting together actors and musicians, technicians and a theatre, then having everyone’s availability sync up for the same month, is really difficult. When Julia became pregnant, we decided to put the new musical on the backburner and move on to the next project, a more traditional album.
That album ‘Elevator Music’ is officially out on the 20th November, although all pre-orders include a free digital copy straight away. When and where was it recorded?
Simon: Some elements like choirs and live drums were recorded at Dean Street Studios in Soho, but most of it was produced here in our home studio in the first half of 2015. Often Julia would go to bed and I’d stay up all night mixing songs.
Julia: We had to wait until after I’d given birth before recording some of my vocals, as you lose a lot of lung capacity when pregnant. The album would probably have been finished a few months earlier, but I couldn’t sing more than two words without pausing for breath, so we had to wait.
Simon: We were willing our child to hurry up and arrive so we could finish the album!
Is it fair to describe ‘Elevator Music’ as a concept album?
Simon: Hmmm, yeah. We released a concept album about [cult leader] David Koresh a few years ago and I think we suffered a bit from saying that it was a concept album. People thought that made it something separate from the main continuity of The Indelicates, and it’s weird how people who love a band often aren’t interested in their side projects. There are bands who sell out the Brixton Academy, yet when their singer appears solo in Brighton they can’t fill West Hill Hall… So yes, ‘Elevator Music’ clearly *is* a concept album, but I’m reluctant to say that out loud.
What’s the concept?
Simon: It’s the story of what happens when the internet achieves consciousness. It’s a fact that there are now more connections in the global communications network than in the human brain, and people using it act a bit like neurons, processing and resending information. Once conscious, the internet starts reading Twitter and becomes so annoyed that it just fucks off into outer space, plunging humanity back into the Dark Ages. The internet then splits itself into two personalities and tries to construct a virtual reality ‘Eden’, but things don’t go to plan.
Julia: There are songs from various perspectives; about the people left behind, about the internet’s reasons for leaving and so on, together with a couple of instrumentals that I had fun composing.
How do you think people would react if we *did* wake up tomorrow to discover the internet had just disappeared?
Julia: Practically speaking I think a lot of people would freak out in terms of things like banking. I think most older people would probably be fine with it, but younger people would have a serious problem – a mental breakdown – as they would no longer feel connected to anyone. People don’t really have the same amount of connections in person these days as they do online. Most of my friends are spread around the world, rather than local to me, so I’d feel really cut off if the internet suddenly disappeared.
Would people even be able to buy ‘Elevator Music’ if the internet didn’t exist?
Simon: It would be very, very hard. You could come up to us at a gig.
Julia: I guess if someone had our number they could ring for our address… then, I dunno, post a cheque?
Do you feel it’s a good or a bad thing that virtually all music is bought online these days, rather than from neighbourhood record stores?
Julia: Blimey, I don’t know. Everyone who buys our CDs and merch has the internet, I suppose.
Simon: We don’t have a concentration of fans in one particular location. When we did our last big online announcement, I had a Google Analytics code in the background which meant I could print off a list of the top 500 cities it got traffic from. After the obvious places (200 hits from London and New York, say) it was then a list of pretty much every city I’ve ever heard of – Jakarta, Honolulu, everywhere – but just one hit, one person, in each of those places. So we’re an unsuccessful band, but on a global scale! The only practical way to sell music across a thinly spread global audience like ours is via the internet. Is it a good thing that online sales have largely replaced record shops? In a way I think it is, because it means more people can do more. You can find an audience for something quite unusual if you’ve got the whole world to pick from; whereas if you have to find 500 people in your home town, that’s probably not going to happen. Not for most bands.
Julia: I can understand the nostalgia for record stores, for flicking through racks of albums and so on. We’ve spent thousands of pounds getting a double vinyl version of ‘Elevator Music’ made. We’ll struggle to break even on that, but we just really wanted it to exist on vinyl. So yeah, we appreciate it’s sad that physical shops are disappearing, but I guess that’s just the way things are these days.
In terms of other projects, you’re putting on The Book Of Job: The Musical at Brighton’s Basement Theatre later this month. What should people expect from that?
Simon: It’s sort of a spoof of Jesus Christ Superstar, but there’s still an emotional story involved. Basically it’s an Andrew Lloyd-Webber type Biblical musical done in a very threadbare way, with the narrator describing what would be happening if the show had a Lloyd-Webber style budget for sets, cast and effects. It’s all done with just one acoustic guitar and six performers.
Julia: It’s about ten years old now. We first performed it in 2004 or 2005, and we like bringing it back and reviving it every couple of years. We’ve done it all over; Brighton, London, the Edinburgh Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival… It’s very fast paced and a lot of fun. We also have a children’s show called Goblins Live coming up before Christmas. I’ve been busy making the puppets for that and you can see the set decoration spread all around the house at the moment. That’s going to feature lots of different goblin puppets – big ones, small ones, ones with hats – and some fun and cheeky songs for little ‘uns.
Simon: We’ve always liked producing things for children, books and such like, so it’s nice to have a child of our own now to test things out on.
Speaking of Indelibaby, of all the various different things The Indelicates do (being in a band, writing musicals and books, making puppets, performing poetry, etc) which would you most like to see Ryder himself take up?
Simon: Oh God, none of those. We want him to become an accountant. That’s where the money is.
‘Elevator Music’ is released on CD and double vinyl on Nov 20th and can be pre-ordered (including digital version now) at elevatormusic.space. The Book Of Job: The Musical will be performed at the Basement Theatre as part of Brighton Comedy Fringe on Oct 20th & 21st. Goblins Live is at the same venue on Dec 13th.