Interview: That Fucking Tank

What was the thinking behind recording A Document Of The Last Set in a studio rather than capturing a live show?

I think it was just so it would sound better! There was an idea of us playing in front of an audience. When we first did that A Document Of The First Set EP (That Fucking Tank’s first release), we did two versions of it – in a top room of a pub just to test it, and then we recorded the gig – and the recordings not in front of an audience were loads better. So we talked about recording it live at the Packhorse or whatever, but it seems like a silly thing to take all of that recording equipment to the stage when we can just do it as we did, which is exactly the same sort of performance and set up in the same way. It’s just more efficient.

You strike me as a band that aim to capture a “live” sound on record.

We did when we first started. That first EP was totally stripped down. The previous albums have got stuff that we never play live – they’re more “composed” as albums – whereas this is just the live set on two halves of a record, just as we’ve been playing it for the last two or three years. It’s the feel and the energy of it as much as the sound.

It still feels composed to an extent; it sounds like you spend a long time on track transitions and track ordering.

That’s the sort of thing that comes out of refining that set over a long time and working out what’s good in the transitions to keep the energy up. I mean, we see that set as just one long song.

It seems to span quite a large portion of your discography too…

There are tracks on there that either we now play differently or that have never come out on vinyl. The second half is mostly from our second album Tanknology which never came out on vinyl, so this is just a way for that to be on vinyl as well. I do think it’s a different record though. We didn’t want to do a “Best Of” as that feels like it would have been a really pretentious thing to do for a band of our scale.

With it being your 10-year anniversary as a band, has that encourage you to reflect on the band’s career so far? Where are you with the band at the minute?

I think James (Islip, drummer) and I are playing the best that we ever have, and the gigs are the best gigs that we’ve ever done. It’s weird that we’ve been going for 10 years. I mean, we’re a different band to when we started, but to use a cliché, it feels like we’re on the top of our game.

James and I have been playing music together since we were 11, and we play in other configurations as well – I’ve been playing guitar on James’ solo project, and we do lots of other arts projects together too. It crossed my mind actually, that if James and I were to start a band now – even with the same equipment – would we be playing the same sort of music that That Fucking Tank play?

It’s good to have a bit of breathing space to round off that 10 years and capture the moment that this band has got to. We’ve got the opportunity to take the band in a different direction afterwards, or even do something completely different. James and I will continue to play music together for a really long time; we’re really good mates and the band is just an opportunity for us to hang out.

Has your equipment setup changed much over the 10 years? 

We’ve upgraded the stuff so that things are less likely to break, and things have got a tiny bit smaller so that we don’t break our backs carrying them around, but it’s pretty much been the same idea from the get-go.

Has there ever been a point where you’ve had to consider how to keep it fresh, given that the equipment and personnel has remained constant?

There was a little period where we were really mucking about a lot more – there was a lot more improvised stuff in the set, and I maybe even got a loop pedal out at some point. I didn’t really like doing that stuff live. I like the equipment limitations in Tank – the ethos is to keep it small enough that we can fit it in a van, so that we can turn up and play anywhere.  When you’ve got ten years of people expecting to do a certain thing…people know that Tank is riffs, and a bit dancey and that sort of thing.

Maybe it’d be interesting to try and do something different next year. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but perhaps we’ll take some time off gigging next year and do a load of collaborations with other musicians we like that are very different to us, which might force us into doing something quite weird. There are some really amazing musicians around Leeds and Bradford that would be good to work with. So that’s just an idea at the moment; it all depends on how much time we’ve actually got.

So is there anywhere in particular that you want to explore, musically speaking?

There are bands that I’ve seen that I’ve been really blown away by. There’s a band called Jooklo Duo from Italy that we played with a long time ago. It’s a sax and drums duo. I put them on in Bradford recently and they were absolutely mindblowing; very improvised but loosely structured. It went all over the place. So yeah, there are these things that you get inspiration from every now and then. There are some really good noise rock two-pieces about as well, and I don’t think that’s been fully explored yet.

The equipment limitations allow you to pull in quite a large variety of influences and mangle them into your own sound. You get some really great results from doing that.

That track “Acid Jam” is a take on acid house and techno…that was quite interesting for us. It’s like, how can you put our take of a techno song next to something like “New Wave Of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal”, and have it not seem like you’re really genre hopping? Like you say, because we’ve got a consistent sound, we can go of all in different places and still sound quite Tank.

In the wrong hands it could have seem like quite an ugly transition.

It did cross our minds actually. On the album before, TFT, we recorded all of the songs separately. We were thinking, “God, this is a really weird album…” Maybe there is a concept to it, where it’s me and James pulling in all of our influences from 20 years of playing music together.

What’s the recording process like for you guys?

This album in particular was really quick. I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than four days recording for an album – again, it’s part of the ethos of the band to keep it efficient and economic. It would be interesting for us to work on something properly composed and spend loads of time in the studio, but I just don’t think we’ve got the resources to do that really. As I say, this idea of collaborating with other musicians – spending a lot of time on the recording – will be a way to explore that without it having to be the pressure of a new Tank album that could potentially really upset people because it’s really different.

Do you play any other instruments yourself?

I play bass and normal guitar in other bands. I’ve been working on another band called Nope quite a lot recently, and we’re just doing this project with a filmmaker called Eoin Shea. We just played it last night for the first time actually. It’s this 28-minute track, and I play straightforward guitar in that…that’s me getting to do my Billy Corgan impression. I do solo stuff under the name Elizabeth too, and I play a lot of different instruments in that: field recordings, kalimba, contact mics, acoustic guitar and stuff.

So you guys are playing with Black Pus in a couple of days?

Yeah, and that’ll be the first time that we’ve got a physical copy of this record to sell, so it sort of works as the album launch.

And you’ll be playing the same set?

Oh yeah, we’re always playing that set! People have been like, “so it’s your 10-year anniversary – have you got any surprises or special material planned?” Nope! We’re going to play this set we’ve got nailed down [laughs].

In a way, it really makes you really aware of how much the audience and context of the gig affects what you’re doing. Even though we’ve got a really consistent set of material, each one is different for us; it depends on who’s there, how the audience reacts to it, what the space is like, and the other bands that you play with…the novelty is always there, even if we’re playing the same stuff.

I was looking at your page on Gringo records recently, and it has Whitehouse next to Foals on the artists you’ve previously played with. Do you notice different audience reactions depending on the other bands in attendance?

We played at ArcTanGent festival this year, which was the closest we’re ever going to get to a genre-specific festival. That was a great gig for us – there was tons of people there to see us and the audience reaction was good – but I kind of like those gigs where you feel really out of place as well. It reminds me of when we started; we were playing really unusual gigs in Leeds, and sometimes I quite like having to win a crowd over. You put some extra effort in if you’ve got a sea of faces – well, 10 or 12 people – bemused at the front, and you’ve got to win those people over.

The mention of Whitehouse stuck out for me. I can imagine many of the hardcore Whitehouse fans not having a great deal of tolerance for too much rhythm or melody.

Oh yeah. We played with them twice actually, in Wales and then in Sheffield…I don’t know, I guess that a lot of their audience are there to get their ears pummelled, and it’s quite high-octane music, so I guess there’s some crossover there. But then I’d say the exact same thing for a band like Foals – they’re a very different band to us, but there’s enough there to keep people’s interest. I think that if you play with some sort of conviction and commitment to what you’re doing, then people enjoy it even if it’s not what they think is their sort of music. What we’re trying to offer people with Tank is an experience of two people going at it really hard, and doing something that they really love doing. I hope that people will connect with that no matter what genre of music they’re into.

It’s testament to your efforts that you do get asked to appear on such an eclectic array of lineups.

I do quite like us being slightly outside of our comfort zone, but I think the gigs we feel most out of place are amongst the bigger and better-known bands. If you play on the DIY circuit at really small venues…certainly 15 years ago, the bills were incredibly mixed – there’d be hardcore bands playing next to really strange avant-folk acts and industrial bands, and all that sort of emo stuff that was coming out around then as well. The DIY scene is pretty diverse, and it’s only in the last 10 years that you’ve started getting lineups of four two-piece bands that all sound pretty much the same. It’s good for us to be playing with people who play different stuff to us – I think that’s what keeps it fresh.

I suppose that it was harder 10 or 15 years ago to seek out people with a similar mindset – the internet wasn’t there to assist in reaching out to like-minded people.

Yeah, I guess it was much more about physical local communities – you know, whatever bands were in the area, tied together with an ethos or political outlook rather than all being into the exact same sort of music.

So what are your immediate plans now? Pushing the new record I’m guessing?

Yeah. We’re going to do a couple of more dates toward the end of the year and then go out to Europe early next year and do another European tour. That was always a big part of the band – we did it in order to travel around and see places that we wouldn’t normally see. I think we’re overdue a European tour. It’ll be good to go over there with the record as well. You’ve really got to work at that sort of stuff – you can drop off and lose your contacts quite easily, so we definitely need to go and do that. I think there’s talk of us playing a festival and a few dates in Spain as well.

If this record is a definitive document of what we do, I’d like to think that it’ll take us to a few places. We’ve never toured the States with Tank – James has gone over and done some other stuff with his other band and solo, but I’d like to go outside of Europe if we can. I’m more interested in Asia than the United States really. We’ll see what happens. We’re quite easy going with it really.

Now you’re on the eve of potentially moving on to something different, I guess that now is the time to tick off the Tank bucket list…

Yeah, I think so. Like I say, we’ve got this idea of it changing, but the fact is that it could remain almost exactly the same. We’ve got the option to reflect on it a bit. I think it’ll be really funny if we go in for a year thinking, “right – we’re really going to change this”, when what we end up with is pretty much the same!

 

That Fucking Tank website – http://www.thatfuckingtank.co.uk/

 

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