Retro-futurism, done poorly, can come off like a dreadful pose –all studied cool and expensive haircuts. It’s complicated to look backwards and forwards at the same time—it’s a theoretical black hole. It’s a rare group that can pull it off with the right blend of stylistic concision and emotional engagement —too much push-me-pull-you in one direction or the other and the music starts to feel all affectation, no heart.
London’s The Projects have their tonal jouissance pitched just right —their buoyant, danceable songs bump and swing with cool verve and irrestistible melody. And, while they possess a certain casually Nouvelle Vague-ish vibe (think Godard rather than a certain fêted cover band), they are not merely paint-by-numbers artistes. Like their tour mates Broadcast, the music harkens back to more innocent times. But breezy optimism isn’t the only weapon in their arsenal —for every spoonful of pop sugar, there’s an equal, opposing force just below the surface —something slightly dark pulsing in the depths.
After their 2004 debut LP Let’s Get Static, their recorded output went rather quiet for awhile. There were tours (most notably with Broadcast, who remixed a track on the Projects’ brand-new EP), and some lineup changes (more on that later), culminating in the delectable new EP, Voice Is Glue [Track & Field] (from which “Voice Is Glue” is drawn). And there’s a new LP just on the horizon.
I chatted with guitarist and vocalist Graeme recently. Here’s what he had to say…
How would you summarize the band’s sound to people who were unfamiliar? (IE, the Projects’ aesthetic in a nutshell…)
My pal Robinson says that we’re “quite fast and not as utilitarian as you used to be.” He added that we have ‘lovely melodies’ and that ‘the electronic noises can be quite interesting.’
The band has changed drastically since its inception. How has the group evolved, personnel-wise and aesthetically? What can we expect from the upcoming album? What do the new songs remind you of? (Could be moods, colors, sounds…) How would you characterize them tonally (overall)?
We’ve had a stable line up for a while, it just appears unstable on account of Track and Field being so astoundingly slow in releasing Voice Is Glue. It’s been me, Alex on bass, David on keyboards, Phil on drums and Ed playing keyboards and guitars for a while now. Dino, who used to play in Miss Mend (and, more recently ‘The Beatings’ is helping out with some guitar on a couple of songs – he’s a great guitarist.
The new LP will be like a Fairground ride which, um, breaks down half way.
What bands would you cite as primary influences on the band’s sound?
The Projects make music all together and so every one’s influences shape the sound. Me, I was pretty obsessed with the music of Spacemen 3 when I was growing up, and now I really love repetition. Alex listens to loads of new stuff that I generally avoid, (bands that I don’t know the name of, bands that (I think) get featured in the NME, but seeing as I never look at it, I can’t say for sure). Phil, who used to be known as Hoffner Burns was, according to the internet, was “raised on a sheep ranch in Arizona but ran away at fifteen after he fell into a sheep dip and and was ridiculed by his fellow school mates.” I expect this experience influences and informs his every drum beat. David could be influenced by his being the grandson of a cruise ship jazz band leader, and son of the Northwest’s best jazz drummer. He comes from a very musical family —he’s a natural. Ed is spoilt for choice with influences. The man can play any tune, you name it and he’ll recite it. He’s such a great musician (mind you, all four are great musicians). So mix all of this together and you get The Project’s sound – a modern bass line with a repetitive, versatile non-jazz beat.
Recently I’ve been listening lots to Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Furry Lewis, this sort of thing, and it’s so far removed from what we’re doing that I can’t see how it could influence me at all. Which is probably not a bad thing… I got myself a banjo, I can only play ‘New Prisoner Song’ and ‘Hard Luck Blues’ on it, but I’m sure my neighbours really appreciate me singing these songs over and over for them.
Do you still have the first beat-up cassette/45/8-track you ever owned? What was it? (Mine was Nena, “99 Luftballons.”)
I have the copy of the 7″ ‘Da da da’ by Trio. I think it was the first song that ever interested me. “99 Luftballons” was definitely a favourite too! There is a theme running through our first music…
Formative musical experiences? What shaped your musical identity and inspired you to create music of your own?
I always, always wanted to make music. Unfortunately this involved me playing ‘Million Tears’ by the Pastels on my guitar in my bedroom after school. It wasn’t until I went on tour around Germany playing bass for Daniel and his Television Personalities that I realised touring is just fantastic but, at that point, I needed no encouragement, the only thing that was holding me back was the fact that all the songs I wrote were rubbish! A few years later Lisa (the old Projects singer) and I formed a band called Miss Mend. By that time I was quite happy with the songs that I came up with. The Projects were called Miss Mend once, but the line up had changed so much that Morgane (who played keyboards up until 2004) suggested that we come up with a new name.
Favorite guilty pleasure (musical or otherwise)?
Ah, that’s easy. That would be spending everything that I’ve saved on really exciting bits of 70s outboard musical gear… The trouble is that it doesn’t make me feel guilty anymore, whereas once it did. Now I am without remorse.
Something that inspired you today. Could be an overheard conversation, a passage from a book, anything…
You recommended the film ‘Valerie’s Week of Wonder’ last week in Warped Reality. Well, I watched it this afternoon and it was great! It was like ‘Daisies’ but more striking. It was “The Singing Ringing Tree” with higher stakes. I can’t say for sure if it inspired me —I think I’ll have to wait until it sinks in – but I hope that it did… It inspired another band at least…!
What musical artist will you just never ‘get’? For me, it’s Elvis Costello, for you it’s…
Turning on ‘Radio 1’ will always confuse me a bit. This is definitely for the best though. It would be awful to turn it on and find that it all made sense.
What do you do when you’re not making music? And, if you didn’t have music as an outlet, what do you think you’d do instead?
In another life I’d move to Moscow and develop my secret surveillance devices for the NKVD or whatever they’re calling themselves nowadays!
The Projects, “Happy Endings” (from the album “Let’s Get Static” )
IMAGE: “GINA2” BY MICHELLE CAPLAN