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20 October 2011

Interview: Chris Taylor of the Workhouse by Wayne Guskind.

Originally from Oxford, London guitar-bliss architects The Workhouse formed in 1996 but didn't start releasing singles until three years later. By 2001, the Workhouse's lineup had finalized to guitarists Mark Baker and Andy Dakeyne, bassist Chris Taylor, and drummer Peter Lazell.

Their debut album, The End of the Pier, had a U.K. release late in 2003. It was also released in the U.S. by Devil in the Woods the following year, boasting a resequenced and expanded track listing that included tracks with Baker and Taylor handling vocal duties. That fall and winter, the Workhouse began work on their second album, Flyover, which was released in 2006 on the Bearos label. It wasn’t long after the release of Flyover that I penned this review at

If there ever was a band that has gone criminally unnoticed, The Workhouse has to earn first prize. It is impossible to summarize what an outstanding record this is from start to finish and everywhere in between. It has it all - big sound / quiet moments / incredible musicianship / heartfelt lyrics. These guys are unquestionable masters of their craft - delving in and out of styles (like the Western tinge on Sellafield - just stellar) effortlessly. There are big rushes mixed such solitude that make you realize how special this music is. This is a total composition / music with such poise and purpose. The "world is truly a better place" because of The Workhouse.

Over the last few years I have become friendly with the band members through a mutual friend and fan of the band, Michael Brandon. Michael saw the band play live back in 2007 and, fortunately for us, he video-taped several of their songs and posted them on youtube. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched these videos!

Their third album, The Coldroom Sessions, was just released earlier this week by Hungry Audio in the U.K. and has already received acclaim. The new album still has many of The Workhouse’s trademark sound which has been described as a wondrous combination of influences from early Factory Records, The Chameleons and 90s shoegaze. The band mix effects-driven mayhem with warm psychedelia to produce a rich melodic sound that builds layer upon layer eventually creating a dense landscape of mesmerizing beauty.

I believe Michael Brandon summed it up best at the end of his stunning review of The End of the Pier - “It is hard to imagine anyone not loving anything this beautiful.”

Now a three-piece with a new drummer, Steve Hands, the band has been in the studio and plans on releasing another album in the near future.

When The Sun Hits Interviews Chris Taylor of The Workhouse. Interview conducted by: Wayne Guskind

How and when was The Workhouse formed?

The band originally formed in 1994, I think it was through an NME advert.

The Workhouse. The End of the Pier.

Can you tell us what The Workhouse has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc)?

We have just released on album called The Coldroom Sessions. which we recorded ourselves. The album is dedicated to Rich Haines, a good friend who recorded our first two albums, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. This was our last album with the band's original drummer. We now have a new drummer, and we are recording our next album with a producer called Paul Tipler. He's worked with some great bands, particularly Stereolab, Idlewild, Elastica and many others. He also worked with some of the original shoegazing bands in the early 90's. The recording is going really well, Paul is great to work with.

Do you consider The Workhouse's music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

Clearly, we are seen by anyone who's heard of us as part of the shoegazing/post-rock scene, and that's fine - that's what our music sounds like and there's no point in trying to claim that we're completely original! Despite that, I do hope that we bring at least something new to the type of music that we do. I don't have any strong feelings about genres, most bands now probably fit into one.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?

I love The Low Lows and Thee More Shallows; I'm not sure that they completely fit into those categories, but they are wonderful. The latest music I have completely fallen for is the piano music of Dustin O'Halloran, it is absolutely beautiful.

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

My favourite pedal is the Boss DM2 analog delay, and we probably use it more than any other pedal. It's got a lovely warm and dark sound. I generally like the sound of analog delays, but I use digital delays as well, including ones with analog simulation, I'm not a snob about it. Apart from that, it's mainly just Boss pedals of various types - chorus, tremolo, etc. and I use a Rat distortion occasionally. We used a Voodoo Vibe for tremolo once. Andy, one of the guitarists, used to use an Alesis nanoverb a lot, which was great for high, angelic sounds. On our first two albums, we used normal Peavey solid state amps. The guitars on the third album were all done through an amp simulator/pre-amp called the Sessionmaster JD10, which is great and cheap. With a bit of reverb added, it gives a brilliant sound which comes pretty close to the sound of a really nice valve amp. It's particularly good for those "inbetween sounds", not totally clean but not distorted. On the new album, we are using a Peavey valve amp. Our guitars are basically a strat, an Epiphone Les Paul and a couple of semi-acoustics. I have recently bought an Epiphone Riviera, which is a nice guitar.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?

There seems to be a whole load of great music around, and it seems really varied. I listen to shows on BBC 6music, particularly Marc Riley, Tom Ravenscroft and Gideon Coe, and I hear some wonderful new sounds. Recording is much easier now, good equipment is cheaper and anyone can put their music on the internet for the world to hear. I suppose that means you get a lot of mediocre music as well, but that's just the way it is. We are a band that gained a little bit of prominence in an era where the internet was nowhere near as influential - our first single came out in 1999. Then, there was only a tiny number of places where you could hear or read about indie music - basically just NME and Melody Maker, and a few radio shows, such as John Peel. Now, it is just endless, it is sometimes hard to know where to begin, and where to find good stuff. That's why it's so good to come across blogs like this one.

The Workhouse. Trading Estate.

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?

It's good to have the validation of a label saying they want to release something by you, and it's satisfying to have your music on a physical format, whether it's CD or vinyl. But I'm happy just putting tracks up on the internet as well.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

I listen to CDs, and mp3s sometimes. Vinyl is nice, it's got aesthetic and tactile qualities that more modern formats lack, but I hardly ever listen to it now. I only use cassettes for my four-track multitracker.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

Probably all the ones you'd expect - The Chameleons. Joy Division, The Cure, post-punk generally. Talk Talk. Slowdive, Ride and most of the other shoegazing bands.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc)?

Music: The artists I mentioned above, also The National, Arcade Fire, Low. There's a band I love called Junior Elvis, who I don't think anyone else has ever heard of, but they are amazing, I would describe them as a kind of cross between The Smiths and The Divine Comedy, but that's possibly not that accurate. The quality of the songwriting is just breathtaking, it's very sad, mature and deep music.

Art: George Shaw. He paints pictures of desolate suburban scenes that are very moving, both sad and somewhat disturbing. He uses paint that is usually used for model aircraft, which gives the paintings a unique and evocative quality. My description probably doesn't do them justice - you really need to see them.

Web: When The Sun Hits, of course! I'm generally not into blogs; I know there are some great ones, but sometimes I find the sheer number of them a bit overwhelming. However, Martin Newell's blog The Wildman of Wivenhoe is something I always read. He's a poet and musician (formerly in a psychedelic type band called The Cleaners From Venus), and the blog is full of stories and observations on life that are funny and moving.

The Workhouse. Shake Hands.

If you had to choose one Workhouse track that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?

"Ice Cream Van" from the first album. I don't really know why, I just think it sums up best what we do. It's an atmospheric instrumental song, but it's also fast, which I suppose is slightly unusual.

Can you tell us a little about the band’s song writing process?

One of us will come up with an idea, usually something very basic, and we just play it over and over again until it takes on some kind of form. That's it really.

What is the band’s goal for 2011?

We want to finish the next album and release it. We would very much like to do more music for film and television - we recently had a track used on Ideal, a BBC series.

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

"Have a good time - all the time". No, not really. I think that if you usually expect the worst, anything better than that will be a nice surprise.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! love this blog. I'd like to se emore on/about this killer UK band. yes please!