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An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpIn recent months everyone from the NME to the Independent seems to have discovered the exhilaratingly percussive guitar-free thunder of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump. But some of us were there at the beginning - before the beginning. The band has a back-story that I don't think has ever been told. So maybe that's a good place to start.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump were one of several bands that came out of the informal collective of left-field creatives, post-post-punks, and new wave art-heads that were hanging around clubs, gigs and art events, mostly in East London, around 2007- 2008.

This was a time of concepts in collision. Gigs in art galleries, art on display at gigs. Bands would be supported by film shows, poets declaimed between the bands. Club nights weren't promoted, they were 'curated'. More by accident than by design - because it wasn't like anyone sat down and invented it all - strange art with a punk attitude soundtrack started to happen - mainly in the basements and back rooms of the East End.

Two of the key club nights that started up at this period were the now-defunct Tesco Disco and the Decasia Club - which still puts on irregular events to this day. One of the bands that played these clubs, among other locations in the art-punk underground, was the out-there electro-soul duo, Eve White/Eve Black. Dee, originally part of the Tesco Disco collective, later the creator of the Decasia Club, and Xtina and Char, the two members of Eve Black/Eve White, were later to join forces and emerge, suitably re-named as D-Bird, X-Bird and C-Bird, as An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump.

That's the nuts and bolts of it - but there is, of course, more. Here's how two-thirds of the band, X-Bird and D-Bird tell, the story, from then, to now, and beyond...

Do you look back to Decasia club events, or those nights at Tesco Disco and places like the George Tavern a couple of years ago, and think of it as a period when things really were in some sort of creative flux?

D-Bird: That time for me was challenging, satisfying and frustrating. Challenging and frustrating in the sense I wasn't part of a clique and had no legacy before I started doing the nights. Tesco Disco was a collective and I learnt a lot by doing a weekly high-profile night - however it wasn't 100% what I wanted to do.

I needed a new challenge. Hence I started Decasia. It was my way of trying to find like-minded people. I didn't want to put on just another band and music night. I created the type of night that I wanted to go to, which I hadn't yet been able to find in London. Decasia was completely organic in that sense - I didn't mass flyer or anything like that. I wanted like-minded people to hear about it by word of mouth and be intrigued enough by it to come along. That's exactly what happened after a while. And that made it wholly satisfying.

X-Bird: Around that time I was completely unaware of any 'scene', if any, developing. C-Bird and I decided to form Eve Black/Eve White as we felt creatively stifled at the time. Both of us are from a film and video background, and personally, for me at the time, I felt numb and wanted to inject some kind of inspiration into my life. Music was in a sense a natural progression. We holed ourselves at home under the pact that we wouldn't leave until we got ourselves a gig.

Eve Black / Eve White

Funnily enough we sent some over-zealous message to Sean Mclusky [ubiquitous promoter on London's East End gig circuit]. He booked us straight away - without even hearing our music - to do a gig at The Macbeth with No Bra. At the time we didn't have any music, just an idea and an ethos but we said yes anyway - and basically improvised a set on the night with a drum machine we had. The An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pumpwhole set was pretty chaotic which involved me getting carried off stage and Char going crazy with a drum cymbal. Eve Black/Eve White had no control during that first show and in more ways than one it was symbolic of us finally freeing ourselves in a way. We finally left the house!

Dee then booked us for the Decasia Club - our second ever gig. We then played Tesco Disco after Chris Flatline [Tesco Disco co-proprietor] watched us there. At the time I didn't realise there was anything else was going on and breaking the mould.

Going out at the time for me was all about dancing at clubs and falling over drunk with mates. Going to nights like Decasia and Tesco Disco added an extra dimension to the whole idea of the night out. It became an experience.

How did three Birds first get together? Did you recognise that you were kindred spirits?

D-Bird: It was totally spontaneous and DIY. We'd been friends for a while, and it seemed natural to come together to do a creative project seeing as we'd been doing creative stuff separately before.

X-Bird: The Birds came about in some sort of creative, spontaneous flurry. On the spur of a moment we decided to have a jam session in D-Bird's living room before a night out. She had a bass and drums and we all thrashed about for a few hours,. What seemed unashamedly chaotic at first progressed into something more beautifully chaotic - and from that The Birds were formed.

When An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump formed, it seemed very sudden. It was like the band just walked into the room and announced its presence. Did you make a deliberate decision to start up a Decasia/Eve Black/Eve White side project, or was it a spur of the moment idea that took on a life of its own?

X-Bird: It was all very sudden. The initial jam session we had opened something up in each of us that night. It started out as something spontaneous, something without commitment that we could throw ourselves into with abandon.

It was when we decided to fill a slot at Decasia when a band pulled out at the last minute that the cogs really started to turn.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpWe set ourselves a challenge and in a really gung ho way jammed until we had our first set written. From these early sessions songs like 'Lights Out' and 'Silent Hour' were conceived. At the time we had no idea what kind of impact our first Bird show was going to have. It wasn't at all a deliberate decision, at the time we were just three people with a common ethos in mind, to create forward thinking music.

D-Bird: Sometimes you can labour away and think of an amazing idea/look/movement, but the beauty is lost because it has been deliberated over and therefore seems contrived. If we'd sat there and figured out a game plan for The Birds it would've come across as the most pretentious pile of shit ever. When people hear our music and see us live, the one thing they always mention is how raw and passionate we are. You just can't manufacture that.

Now, of course, the mainstream media is taking an interest in some of the stuff that's coming out of the East End art-underground. An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump have got quite a lot of attention, of course, and other bands from that area have definitely got their heads over the parapet. Have things changed in the underground, now that it seems the media is watching?

D-Bird: It works for and against itself, and that's the twisted beauty of creatives and the media. Media attention obviously gives bands support on a bigger level - but then you always have chancers who come along and try and ride on the bandwagon. I still always look to be constantly inspired and keep an ear to the ground. It so easy to spot the genuines from the fake. I don't need the media or anyone else to tell me how to do that.

X-Bird: Essentially getting your face and ideas across in certain magazines is a positive way for a band to get their word out there, but at the end of the day all that matters ultimately is the work you create. If you have enough passion for something you will continue to have that constant urge to keep it alive.

Of course, getting mainstream media attention will allow your voice to reach audiences further afield but ultimately with the current climate of the internet you can reach whoever you want, wherever you are, be it in an East End basement or from a suburban bedroom.

It's so easy to get caught up in whirlwind of it all, but you have to keep grounded. Nothing is ever concrete and the only thing you can depend on is your own passion to take you where you want to be.

The name An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump is wonderfully counter-intuitive - it's certainly not a neat, snappy, we-are-a-pop-group name. You'd probably have problems trying to fit it on a badge. But it sends a message that something different this way comes. It hints at science and nature in collision - it's quite sinister, in a way. This is probably the question that everyone asks, but how did you choose that name?

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpX-Bird: The name derives from the Joseph Wright of Derby painting of the same name. Personally, my inspiration isn't exclusively musical. All facets of creativity are inspiring. Central to the painting is a bird trapped within an air pump surrounded by spectators.

What I find most intriguing about this painting is the human psychology behind it; as a species we're all fascinated by death - it is the one moment that every living creature on our planet will experience. No one is ever too noble to never experience it. Death has no social hierarchy.

D-Bird: We wanted a name that represented our artistic influences outside of music. And we also wanted something pretty outlandish as that's the one thing about us - we don't believe in conforming to anything. I constantly want to be the thorn in people's sides in everything that I do.

Here comes another question that I'm sure you've had before. The line-up of the band is hardly the standard rock 'n' roll set-up. Did you make a conscious decision to veer away from the conventional 'rock band' line-up, or is the band's drums/bass/vocals/nothing else musical concept something that just randomly happened?

X-Bird: Again, this was something that occurred organically. We were trying to utilize the resources we had at the time during our first jam session - all we had were bass and drums! I don't think we even started jamming with vocals until we decided to do our first show.

D-Bird: I had a bass and drum kit in my house, and that's where we first started jamming. We just picked up what was around. Sparks started flying, and we went along with it.

X-Bird: It was a set up which worked for us at the time, something that inspired us to create the songs we have since made. I'm most drawn to the rhythm section in music. Growing up I used to play the cello so rhythm was always something that I was instinctively drawn to.

Even with Eve Black/ Eve White the way we write a song is initially inspired by the rhythm of the drum machine. I have never been one for epic guitar solos. Although I respect the talent that goes into creating and playing them, I have never had the patience for them. More often than not I find guitar solos to be too self-absorbed and used as a form of window dressing instead of an organic progression for a song as a whole.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpThere is a theory that setting boundaries creates a kind of hot-house effect - everything has to happen in that designated area, so the ideas become tightly focused, distilled down to the real essentials. Is that your approach - to deliberately say 'We will NOT be a straight rock band' and thus force some different ideas to come out? Or is it all organic - you do it your way just because it feels right?

X-Bird: I feel if you get into anything creative, going in with some kind of agenda completely negates the beauty of creating in the first place. If you let yourself go, you're more likely to realise your ideas and create something pure and in turn have a passion for it. What we have become is a pure manifestation of who we are, it was our passion for creating music which in a sense has allowed us to become the band we are.

D-Bird: We've never stated we sound like anything in particular, or that we'll keep doing the same line up/instrumentation we've done to date. Like I said, too much thought and planning kills spontaneity and also creativity to some extent.

Would you move the boundary - maybe bring in other instruments? If someone said, 'Hey - let's put a guitar on this song!' or, 'Let's have some keyboards on a backing track!' - would you go for it, or would the idea be rejected?

D-Bird: Yes, we'd definitely do that. Hence one bass became two...you have to constantly develop as a musician, otherwise you are just a faker and a chancer. You need to throw yourself in the deep end and delve deep down to find those rare, beautiful moments of pure creativity.

X-Bird: If the natural progression for the band in the future was to add other instruments then it would definitely not be something I would reject. My aim has always been to realise any ideas we have and if adding to our set-up in order to create new dimensions in our sound will make this happen then that's an exciting prospect.

It's fascinating to see that there don't seem to be any assigned roles within the band. No one person is 'the singer' or 'the drummer'. Everyone plays bass, drums, and sings, in various different permutations. Was that planned in advance? Or was it another thing that just happened organically?

D-Bird: We just wanted to experiment and move around, so we could all have a go at doing different things. It totally worked.

X-Bird: This was not something that was pre-thought-out. When we created our songs and began evolving as a group we never set out to assign certain musical roles for ourselves. We are all keen on expressing ourselves in different ways. This has helped us create some kind of harmony within sound we create. Our individual techniques when playing a certain instrument or singing has definitely shaped the way we write songs and perform, but from the outset this was not something we originally thought out. It was born purely out of jam sessions.

It seems to me that the band keeps changing, sometimes from gig to gig - two bass guitars appear in the line-up instead of just one, there are suddenly more D-Bird vocals. Do you have a master plan, or do you just let things happen?

D-Bird: When we jam we ask, 'Who wants to go on bass now? Who wants to go on drums?' - and then start writing. So it totally depends on who feels what that day.

X-Bird: We let the creative side of our song writing happen organically. Adding an extra bass was something we felt at time would enhance our creativity and a challenge our abilities.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpWhen you're writing new material, how does An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump song take shape? How do you decide who does the vocals, who plays drums? Does it all come easily, or do you sit around, agonising over a line or a rhyme before it's right?

X-Bird: Our songwriting process is born out of jam sessions. We hole ourselves away and write, be it during a rehearsal session or during time we have set aside to write. We'll go into the studio and pick an instrument we want to play, almost like some natural calling. Again this seems very idealistic but it doesn't go without its frustrations.

With anything you have to work at it. There will be times where we'll be jamming and we'll know something doesn't feel right, in this case we'll stop and move on. It's really important to learn to let go of things otherwise you will find yourself stuck trying to squeeze blood out of a stone and hurtling towards a creative block.

It's these moments when you need to let yourself breathe and when you're ready; step into the creative hole again. Nothing is ever easy and people who say it is are ultimately lying or on lucky street. You need to work at things, and feel the blood, sweat, tears of it all to fully appreciate the final product. What we hear is a pure manifestation of all our hard work and our absolute blood, sweat and tears.

D-Bird: We all write our lyrics individually, and all the music comes out of a jam. However, sometimes someone has an idea for a bassline, and has already come up with something. Songs have also come about that way.

If you had to nominate just one song that encapsulates everything that the band is about...is there one?

D-Bird: I'd have to say the three songs on our new Buy A Life EP - 'Silent Hour', 'Smear' and 'Only In Death' - they totally sum up where we've come from, where we are right now and where we're going....

X-Bird: I would have to say 'Lights Out'. It was the first song we ever made. It represents for me the spontaneity and the sheer urgency of our band at the time.

   

With some bands, you can tell pretty much what they've got on their CD shelf within about three songs. I don't think that's possible with An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, and it's quite amusing to watch reviewers tying themselves in knots, trying to find a few handy comparisons (I've probably tied myself in those same knots on a few occasions). But who inspires you? Do you have any specific influences? Are there any artists out there that made you think, 'We want to do it like that!'

D-Bird: Probably my most favourite female singers are both called Karen - Karen Carpenter and Karin Andersson from The Knife/Fever Ray. They both have such unique voices, and not in the Beyonce kind of diva way. They are fragile, haunting and quite quirky.

X-Bird: I know I tend to always say this in interviews, but it was listening to the soundtrack that Teji Ito made for Maya Deren's film, 'Meshes Of The Afternoon' which really got me into the drums. It was a couple of years ago when I was studying film that I first watched that beautifully dark and mesmerising film and heard Ito's sound track. The soundtrack is sparse and primal, each beat hitting you in the gut.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpI don't see the sparseness of the drums as a distraction. The sparseness of some rhythms is utterly fascinating - the moments between each beat just consume you. At the time I wanted to hear drums like that in music - then I discovered The Creatures! There is something alluring about the drums - as if you can channel spirits through the rhythm and create some kind of earth beat. In some respects this was why I bought myself a drum machine and started Eve Black/Eve White. Then being in The Birds gave me the chance to finally realise my drum fantasy!

Are there any current bands that you think of as kindred spirits?

X-Bird: We're playing with some great bands at our EP launch party on the 10th December - Veronica Falls and Battant! Also we're all big fans of Selfish Cunt who I first caught live back in 2003/4 at On The Rocks. I originally went along to see my friend's band play. Then my friend told me this amazing new band called Selfish Cunt were playing. I think it was even their first gig! I remember it being one of the most electrically charged shows I have ever been too. It was poetry, chaos and drama set to a back drop of sharp beats and noise guitar. AMAZING!

D-Bird: I like Maria and the Mirrors - Charlie from the band is a real music head, and so passionate about music. I feel a real connection with Selfish Cunt - they are the most passionate musicians I know, with so much to say. Martin Tomlinson [Selfish Cunt vocalist] was number 8 in NME's top icons of the decade recently - it was a victory for the entire East London music scene.

X-Bird: I'm a big fan of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who I would love to play with at some point in the future. I'm currently listening to their first EP again and their song 'Our Time' is on constant repeat. There's a bittersweet quality about it, it's an uplifting song, but for some reason it also makes me feel quite emotional.

And just recently you went to the USA to work with Steve Albini. That was...unexpected!

D-Bird: He was high on the list of producers we wanted to work with, and we were lucky we could go over there and work with the legend. We came back with an album which is a pure documentation of the last 18 months of this band.

Now that the band has had a bit of press attention, has that made a difference? Do you find doors that were previously closed to you are now swinging open? Or do you see the band as still scrabbling up the ladder, rung by rung, by your own efforts, doing it your own way?

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpX-Bird: The press we have had in the past year or so has definitely helped spread our word and opened doors to new audiences for us. This by far is not a negative at all. I personally want people to hear our music, read our words and hopefully feel inspired too, in the same way I was inspired by bands and artists I read about or heard about on the grapevine.

The one thing that I will always stand by in regards to press attention is that ultimately this does not carve you and you should never let it. Use it as a positive vessel to spread your word and don't get sucked into the hype machine. Once you do, egos will flare and hell will suck you in. We're a band who are scrabbling up the ladder. I don't personally want to ever feel complacent about where I am on the grand scale of things. You have to continually work hard to reach the creative peak you want to achieve. It adds fire to the passion you already have!

D-Bird: This band still has a long way to go in terms of releases and tours. We're still pretty embryonic so it'll be interesting to see how this year goes. I hope we'll put out another EP, the album, and get to play in America. That would be a dream....

It was odd how both Artrocker and the NME recently decided that goth is the new cool thing after previously ignoring more or less any band in black - in the NME's case, for years on end. Both mags suddenly took a sweep through a few current bands which supposedly had some sort of 'dark' style - and more or less created a scene out of whatever they found. One of the bands they hit on was An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump.

Did you recognise yourselves in all that 'New Goth' coverage, or were they creating something out of nothing? When you read those articles, and found your own band in there, did you think, 'Hey, great!' or 'Oh, no!' ?

D-Bird: I'm totally into goth music but I'm also totally into grunge, jazz and pop.....I listen to a lot of music and love a lot of music. It annoyed me being painted with just one brush so early in our careers as it taints people who are new to you and are yet to see you live. There are a million influences in this band that range from music to poetry to film. The 'goth' tag failed to appreciate that.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air PumpX-Bird: This whole 'goth' tag has always confused me. Some articles I have read in the past saw it as some kind of fashion statement more than a current musical movement. I felt in some instances it was more about finding the sound to go with a certain look.

Forming a new scene around a fashion is never going to last. In fact, I think forming a scene out of a specific genre of music or fashion etc etc is a flimsy way of categorising. Some need these categorisations in order to understand new cultures, but ultimately they end up getting consumed by marketing ploys. It's a way of branding, in advertising-speak, and in some ways this is what this current tag is doing. I feel it also marginalises bands and puts them in a box. Ultimately any form of art is about breaking out of the box and this is something The Birds are continually striving for.

Looking into the future, do you see the band as having a fairly conventional album-tour, album-tour existence, or will things be different? The music industry is still all based around bands making albums, so is that still the best way to go? Or, in these days of downloads, are individual songs more important for making a mark?

X-Bird: Who knows where our future lies? I could say, we're going to be the biggest band in 2010 but then I would be completely contradicting what I've been saying in the interview. Not knowing the future but working towards one that makes me happy is enough to help me sleep at night. That's where I'm going and currently The Birds feature heavily in that.

D-Bird: I want to put out albums, because each one documents a certain part of your musical life. It's important to constantly release stuff, so you have to keep challenging yourself to write great material. I'm constantly intrigued by the DIY approach and this year's goal for me is to put out a lot of music whether we get a deal or not, or whether the industry care or not.

Amanda Palmer once said that the music she makes is like 'a firewall against fame'. She doesn't make mainstream music, so she'll never appeal to that lowest common denominator crowd that turned Oasis into megastars. Do you think your music is a similar kind of firewall? Would you like to see An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump on the front page of the NME - or are you going somewhere else entirely?

D-Bird: What is mainstream music these days? I don't think there's a clear-cut definition of it, especially when 'subversive' artists can gain a massive, international following. I mean look at someone like Bjork. Her music is so weird and wonderful but has hit the mainstream. The Knife/Fever Ray have also managed to do the same. We may not sound or look like pop princesses but our music is definitely accessible and our live shows memorable. Surely that deserves an accolade, no matter what? NME cover here we come!

Essential Links:

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump: MySpace

Find live reviews of An Experiment On A Birds In The Air Pump here, and photos here.

Eve Black/Eve White: MySpace

Decasia Club: MySpace

Tesco Disco (now closed, but info survives on the web): MySpace

Credits: 'Lights Out' Video by Mr Elizabeth Hendrix. Photo at top of page by The Female Zoo. Original artwork by Joseph Wright.

 

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