Turin Brakes: “It surprises people when we say, ‘We’re going crazy about this new Justin Bieber track!’”

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(Image: © Olly Curtis / Future)

You might have been sleeping on Turin Brakes over the 15 years since their Top 5 single Painkiller (Summer Rain) hit the charts, but the band certainly haven’t been resting on their laurels. 

The four-piece - which began as duo Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian - have been quietly active ever since, releasing an album every two years since 2001, touring worldwide and signing a new deal with Cooking Vinyl in 2010. Their eighth album, The Invisible Storm, which came out in January, sees the band stick to their stripped-back, indie-pop-rock sound while exploring themes beyond the personal.

Sometimes we talk about our songs being like wheeling around a wheelbarrow full of porridge

“Things have been a bit weird in a lot of ways recently and there are a few references to that,” says Gale, referring, without going into detail, to the global turmoil that permeated 2017. “A lot of our records are quite oblivious politically - they look more at the bigger picture - but the day-to-day of living on this planet at the moment is so hard.”

That doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly emerged as an anarcho-political punk band; the sonic values of the album still have the signature Turin Brakes sound with wistful melodies, acoustic guitar lines and surprisingly upbeat riffs (considering the subject matter).

“It’s probably the most upbeat snappy thing we’ve done in a long time!” Gale laughs. “Sometimes we talk about our songs being like wheeling around a wheelbarrow full of porridge so we wanted to keep it a bit faster... but lyrically there’s always a bit of darkness. The title track, The Invisible Storm, is about not cowering or giving up, it’s about providing the strength to fight on.”

Know limits

Describing your own songs as a “wheelbarrow full of porridge” is typical of the kind of self-deprecation of Turin Brakes, who know their identity well enough to make these kind of gentle jibes about themselves. They’ve performed with the same line-up since their formation in 1999, with Rob Allum (drums) and Eddie Myer (bass) beginning as collaborators and touring members, but graduating to unofficial members of the band.

When asked about how they keep their sound fresh after almost two decades, and whether the passing musical trends of the charts ever influences them, Gale is philosophical.

“It’s a double-edged sword, really,” he says. “We’re generally always inspired, we’re still music fans and we’re always listening to stuff, and it seems to surprise people when we say, ‘We’re going crazy about this new Justin Bieber track!’ But we’re aware of what the band is, and that we can’t do a Justin Bieber track, because we’d feel really uncomfortable once we get to play it live.

“AC/DC are AC/DC and you go to them to do that kind of thing, and people go to Turin Brakes for our kind of thing. We can’t just keep doing the same thing, and we’re inspired by so much other stuff, but this is our character.”

We’re aware of what we are and we have this big headache about it and discuss it a lot

It’s a stoic viewpoint to take in an industry that, in the mainstream at least, is often based around buzz acts and transient trends. That doesn’t stop Gale and Olly worrying about where they fit in, but Gale says Ed and Rob help keep them grounded.

“We’re aware of what we are and we have this big headache about it and discuss it a lot; we can’t do this, we have to do it like this… it’s nice having Ed and Rob around to say that it sounds like Turin Brakes. We try not to worry about it, but we do!”

So, what exactly is it that makes them sound like Turin Brakes? The folky, acoustic basis of many of their songs delivers a warmth that they’ve perfected over the years, and Gale says much of this is down to Olly’s unique approach to guitar playing.

“The ground zero would be that Olly could write a verse and a chorus on the guitar. He’s not a particularly educated guitarist, but he can find chords from a singer’s point of view, so you get this kind of interesting thing going on by accident,” he laughs.

As for still being associated with the song they wrote in 2003, Gale is again pragmatic.

“With Painkiller, people go, ‘Oh yes, that band’,” he says. “But our first A&R guy used to say there wouldn’t be Kid A unless Radiohead had done Creep. It’s a really ‘business’ way to think about it, but he was saying, ‘Give me the hit and you can do what you want.’”

The strategy’s worked. As they gear up for a three-month tour for The Invisible Storm, they continue to prove they’re so much more than a one-hit wonder.

The Superego Has Landed

Sci-fi conspiracies and new synths helped Turin Brakes experiment with their sound 

Breaking away from personal lyrics saw Olly and Gale go down a bit of a rabbit hole regarding new topics.

“There’s a track about the Large Hadron Collider - they create these black holes and dimensions, and that coincides with a lot of this weird stuff happening in the world,” says Gale. These futuristic musings also led to experimentation with new tech.

“We’ve discovered the polyphonic [Electro-Harmonix] Superego Synth Engine,” Gale explains. “It’ll freeze the note you’re playing, then you can put loads of other stuff on top of it. You hit that thing and there’s another person in the room. The band’s all revved up and everyone’s going for it.”

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