After reviewing and loving debut album The Land from post-punk four-piece The Wind-Up Birds, I wanted to find out more about them. I met singer and lyricist Paul Ackroyd, drummer Oli Jefferson, bassist Ben Dawson and guitarist Mat Forrest in a pub to discuss their influences, background and future plans.
The Wind-Up Birds have been around the Leeds circuit for a while now with a few slight alterations in line-up. The band’s name comes from the book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, which paints a bleak picture of 20th century Japan, showing that situations and encounters can be far more complex than they first appear.
As each member brings their own ingredient to the band’s make-up, I wanted to find out what their influences are both collectively and individually. Bassist Ben brings the rock element to the group and grew up listening to riff based bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, whilst Oli was more of a fan of Blur and the Manchester scene, which has clearly influenced his appearance. Mat listened to quieter stuff like Belle and Sebastian.
Paul, however, has more of an eclectic taste. ‘Hanoi Rocks were the most underrated band of the eighties, but apart from that I liked really interesting singer-songwriters like Tom Waits and Scott Walker,’ he explained. One band they all agree on is Pavement, with all the members saying they would like to share the stage with them.
It’s one of them places that people who just like music went to, it wasn’t about it being trendy, people just went to see the bands.
Paul’s lyrics combine references to serious issues with light-hearted comment in his native accent. When asked if John Cooper Clarke influenced his work, he replied: ‘Weirdly I hadn’t really listened to owt by him when we first started. Retrospectively I thought this makes sense but he wasn’t really an influence, although I do like it now. I am aware that if you read most bands interviews they always say that, but this is actually true.’ Point proven by Mat: ‘Damon Albarn always said he had never listened to the Kinks,’ he recalled.
I asked Paul where the inspiration for his lyrics comes from as there seems to be a lot of social comment. ‘There’s never any plan, it’s quite random. When things come to me I automatically dismiss 90% of it because I think I have kind of heard that before and I wouldn’t want to listen to another song about that kind of thing.
‘Consciously I try not to edit anything so I try to turn the awkwardness of the phrasing into part of the song. I like it to be almost as if I’m just talking to you now. Arctic Monkeys are really good lyricists but sometimes it feels like “oh look at me a good line is coming up”, then the line comes up and you’re like oh… well done, good lad. So I like to leave all the mistakes and stupidity in, so there will be stumbles and errors and repetition and randomness.’
The Wind-Up Birds are not all about good, interesting lyrics. The musical backing is well structured and drives the songs. Ben comes up with the initial ideas then they get together and rework it into the finished product. Oli summed it up: ‘When we start working on a little bit of stuff I always know it’s going to end up sounding like a Wind-Up Birds tune at the end of it.’
The band has a reputation for captivating and high energy live performances. They told me Brudenell Social Club was their favourite venue in Leeds because of the sound quality. Ben added: ‘The Primrose was an awesome little pub on Meanwood Road, they had a massive rig which sounded amazing…until I blew it up. It was a horrible series of coincidences which lead to my pint vibrating off the piano onto a snare drum on the floor and then firing into the back of the P.A. mid-song. I had no idea what was going on until I saw blue smoke. It was an amazing venue and the guys who ran it really knew their gear and the room, it always sounded dead on.’
Paul also had fond memories of the Primrose: ‘It’s one of them places that people who just like music went to, it wasn’t about it being trendy, people just went to see the bands.’
Even though their album The Land is getting really good reviews, they still find this to be a novelty but take pleasure from the positive feedback and listeners getting something out of it. ‘We were a bit shy, almost embarrassed, to say we were putting out an album,’ Ben said. ‘I don’t think we ever really took ourselves that seriously before and I’m just pleased that people are hearing it.’
Mat noted praise for songs like ‘Nostalgic For’: ‘People have really appreciated it and that means it was worth doing the album even for that track alone.’ Paul pointed out that a lot of the reviews have mentioned how grim the lyrics are, but he sees it more as black comedy.
I wanted to know more about the meanings behind Paul’s lyrics, firstly ‘Good Shop Shuts’. ‘That was about how everyone wants town to be a particular way and wants certain shops to be there but then they never go to them. It’s not just about shopping, there are lots of things in life which people want to exist and want a certain state of affairs but they are not prepared to do their bit. Like phone masts, everyone wanted mobile phones but no one wanted phone masts in their back garden.’
From listening to ‘Being Dramatic’ I began to think that it was about how an increasing number of people trying to be an Ian Curtis type character by visibly portraying how damaged they are in order to seem interesting. Paul explained that this is in fact the song reflects how everyone tries to outdo each other and about the X-factor sob stories used to influence the public.
The remainder of the year will see The Wind-Up Birds playing many more gigs and recording a mini album of songs they have written since The Land was recorded. They have exciting gigs in Leeds and Newcastle and a festival appearance coming up, but these haven’t been officially announced yet so keep checking their website and Facebook page for details.