Interview: Gale Paridjanian, Turin Brakes

Gale Paridjanian and Olly Knights, who form the nucleus of Turin Brakes, have been friends since their school days, and the sound of the band has been evolving ever since their initial jam sessions.

Yet one constant comes from their distinctive acoustic sound, which seems to be drawn from the West Coast feel of their guitar playing. "That's a good description of our sound and our songwriting, I think," says Gale as he takes a break from guitar practice at home. "When I was learning to play the guitar, I did try and aim for the West Coast sound, which is what I liked when I was growing up. I found a copy of the NME that was published the year I was born, and they were writing about people like Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash, the musicians that I liked. It was very different from the NME I read when I was in my teens!"

While we're on guitars, it's worth talking about the gear that Gale and Olly use when recording and touring. "We have a strange attitude to our guitars really. We like classic sounds, and then we like to change things up and sound a little different. So we always have Gibson J-200s around at home and in the studio because they are dependable, and we like the early Rolling Stones sound we get with them. We have also been using a Guild M20, which we used on the last album as well. It's the same model that Nick Drake is playing on the cover of the Bryter Layter album, Olly and I have got one each. It feels really small when you play it, the opposite of the J-200, but you can get a really good big sound out of it. Olly has battled for years on stage playing big-bodied guitars, and now we have one that looks a lot more comfortable, he doesn't look like he is a small boy sitting behind it!

"We also bring something new in to mix it up a little bit. I've got an Atkin with a cedar top that I've had for about 12 years. I changed the strings on it about a year ago, so now it sounds really good. I always think that if you put new strings onto a guitar just to record with it, you can tell from the sound. It makes it sound like a vintage guitar if you play with older strings. Other than that, we like J-45s as well because we like classics."

But if anyone is getting the idea that Turin Brakes are wind-in-the-hair super-sensitive types, Gale is here to disavow you of that notion. "I am fond of my Charvel guitar, it's made in Korea and it's like the 'heavy metal' acoustic. It's the most reliable thing in my life - I've had it for more years than I have not had it. If anything defines the Turin Brakes acoustic sound it's probably the sound of the Charvel.

"Olly and I have conversations in the studio that go, 'We could use a nice Martin on this track, or we could hire in some really nice top-end acoustics… or we could just use the guitars we always use!' and that's what tends to happen. I take the Charvel on the road with me because it's robust and something of a workhorse, and we don't mind the 'working guitars' getting some of the bumps and bangs that can't be avoided on the road. I took the Atkin out on tour with me for a while, but it didn't really work out. Every time I plugged it in, I got a different sound with it, and that got to be really unpredictable, so that stays home with the J-45."

Right behind any discussion about acoustic guitars has to come the discussion about the songs that are written and arranged on them, and Gale is keen to update fans about the ongoing development of the writing process in the band. "Olly has always been the main songwriter in the band, and we have come to the conclusion in the course of the band's career that songs need to go through Olly's songwriting filter, otherwise it sounds like there are two competing forces at work, and that interferes with the identity of the band's sound.

"We have been in the habit of spending a day or so jamming with different songwriters that we hear about, sometimes the record label hooks us up with people, and sometimes it's people Olly or I get to hear about ourselves. Lately, we have been working with a friend called Thomas Speight and we've ended up writing a lot of songs with him. Three of those songs are on the new album: 'Jump Start', 'Save You', and 'Martini'. We were a bit unsure whether they fitted in with our sound, but everyone we played them to liked them, and when we played them to Rob and Eddie, our bass player and drummer, they said they sounded just like Turin Brakes, so that was all the reassurance we needed.

"One of the transferable skills you pick up when you write songs for as long as we have is that you can collaborate with someone and you can usually come up with at least one finished song in a day. That makes the collaborations easier because you know fairly early on if it's going to be something to pursue. Tom is coming out on tour with us, so we will be spending a lot of time together, and we can see if anything more develops. He is really good at picking our useable sections from the snippets of ideas we keep throwing at him.

"We thought that the songs we wrote for Tom were going to finish up on his album, but as I said, some of them have ended up on ours. We have always had something of a 'closed door' policy when it comes to writing for Turin Brakes but now, here we are on album number seven, and the door seems to be open."