Gordon Farquhar, Nico Weststeijn and Alistair Paxton discuss the past, present and future of all things Stapleton...
Returning to action this May with their long awaited fourth long-player Rest and Be Thankful, it's remarkable to think that Stapleton have been knocking around the British scene for over a decade now. Having toured with everybody from Idlewild to The Get Up Kids by way of Hundred Reasons, it has been an up and down journey to get here though. From working with the legendary J. Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox, Burning Airlines) on their critically lauded 2005 Hug The Coast full length to the band repeatedly being put on "hiatus" due to their geographical disparity. Simply put, Stapleton are by no means just another ordinary band following the usual tour/album/tour/album cycle.
Given the magical power of the internet, Dan Jones managed to catch up not only with drummer Gordon Farquhar and bassist Nico Weststeijn at their homes in the West End of Glasgow and Dundee respectively, but also vocalist/guitarist Alistair Paxton in Brooklyn to discuss the past, present and future of all things Stapleton in the lead up to Rest and Be Thankful's release
Ok, so we're catching up in the lead up to the release of your new album Rest and Be Thankful, how do you feel at the moment, excited, nervous?
Gordon - I'd say that there are a mixture of feelings at the moment. We're obviously excited to finally release Rest and Be Thankful. It has been recorded for almost two years now, so there is an element of just being glad to see it released at all. I wouldn't say that there are any nerves related to the release – I'm too cynical and long in the tooth to worry about things like that.
Al - I can't wait for the new album to come out. It has been too long since our last and it's really nice that people are still as excited as us for the new material.
Nico - Definitely very excited about this one. I think we're all very proud of this record and the way in which it came together. There's also a slight nervousness (for me anyway) due to the length of time since we released Hug The Coast, but people around the country have always been very supportive of the band and so far the feedback has been very positive.
When did you regroup and start writing the record?
Gordon - To be honest, there was no "regrouping" as such. We very quickly wrote a group of songs and had the opportunity to record them. In some respects it was a return to the way that we used to write and record when we first started out, which was like "we have these songs, let's go and record them so that we can listen to them and let other people hear them". It was a completely pressure free process. I like the idea that an album is simply a document of where a band is at a certain point in time, rather than everything having to be a "masterpiece" or "our best yet". That seems a lot more genuine to me.
Nico - We actually started writing the material for this record right back when we arrived home from Baltimore, having just recorded Hug The Coast. 'From Wood To Ridge' is a song that some may recognise as we played it often the last time we toured, back in April of 2006 and we were also working on the other songs on the new album back then.
How would you describe Rest and Be Thankful compared to, say, Hug The Coast? Is it a natural progression?
Gordon - I would definitely say that there are elements of Hug The Coast all over the new record, as you would expect. However, I feel that it is much more direct and succinct. Every record is, in some ways, a reaction to the one that came before. I know this was true when we recorded On The Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places – we really tried to make it different to the first record, and the same would be true now with Rest and Be Thankful.
Nico - For me personally, I feel that Rest and Be Thankful is a lot more reflective of the band we are at the moment. I joined the band as we were working on Hug The Coast and hadn't actually played live or toured with Al, Gordon and Andrew at the time we recorded it. Of course I'm very happy with that album, but the amount of time we spent together on tour and rehearsals through late 2005 and 2006 meant that writing and rehearsing Rest and Be Thankful was a lot more comfortable and instinctive for me.
Al - Really, it is just eleven more songs in the style we do best. The instrumentation is the same and there are no huge departures in concept or aesthetic but the songwriting and arranging is getting better all the time. I think over the years we have developed our own sound and lyrical feel that has culminated in this album. It is happy and melancholic in equal measures. I'm very happy with it.
You guys have obviously diversified over the course of your career, do you feel you're quite hard to pigeonhole now?
Gordon - I actually feel that we've always been hard to pigeonhole. I remember a major review for Rebuild The Pier that described us as pop, punk, indie, emo and hardcore. It can be hilarious, but also frustrating. I'm tempted to say that it's actually a great compliment that people find us hard to pin down. I've always loved albums that have surprises, or twists and turns. I think the key is the broad spectrum of influences we bring to our music, as well as the years of experience we've gained. We've never been anything other than honest and, in my opinion, this gives our work a great integrity.
Al - I don't really know if we are hard to pigeonhole or if it matters. I think every band has to diversify and grow but it's nice when there is a common thread you can trace through your work. I agree that the Stapleton music is always honest and can live well within a range of sub-genres.
Have you plans to tour the record? If so, when?
Al - Yes, we'd all like to play the songs live and tour again. The support and encouragement we have had in the run up to this release has been really great. I'm not sure yet when we will tour (and whatever touring we do will be very limited) but hopefully we can sort some dates out for the coming summer.
Rest and Be Thankful is coming out through Xtra Mile, how did that come about?
Gordon - We toured with Dartz! in early 2006 and became very good friends. As well as being great people, they share a similar ethic and aesthetic as ourselves. Henry (Carden, of Dartz!) was keen for us to release the songs that would become Rest and Be Thankful and, when he started to work for Xtra Mile, it gave us an opportunity to release the songs on a label we were happy with. It's a fine marriage so far.
Stapleton have been going for over a decade now, could you have imagined that back at the beginning? Did you have any particular aims or goals back then?
Gordon - It does seem incredible that Stapleton has existed for more than a third of my life. It's the longest relationship any of us have had, but it continues to be rewarding. I remember when Al and I first started Stapleton and he said that he would be happy if he could release just one 7" and to be able to get it in his favourite record shop. To think of how much we have achieved since then is crazy. It's really been a wonderful experience.
Al - It's strange to think of Stapleton being ten years old. Obviously our line up has changed a little but Gordon and I have known each other since we were five years old and it's great to have been in this band for so long. We started with no expectations at all. We were so full of energy and I could write ten songs a week. I think of all the early songs that we never recorded / released and feel a little sad but we have done so much I'm grateful for and, really, we have achieved way more than I ever imagined.
Are there any particular high points that stand out? Working with J. Robbins must have been a great experience?
Gordon - After three weeks of working and living with J, we looked up to him as simply an incredible human being. He's still a real inspiration, for so many reasons. The time we spent in Baltimore will be something I'll remember for a long, long time.
Nico - Being given the opportunity to work with J was an incredible experience – and the three weeks we spent out in Baltimore working on Hug The Coast were simply fantastic and hold memories which won't be forgotten any time soon! There have of course been other high points however. The first tour I played on was a very special one for me as I was just blown away by the positive response we received after such a long time since Stapleton had last toured.
Al - The high points for me are probably just the people and bands we've met from all over that we would have never met otherwise. Also, when people tell you how your songs have affected them in a positive way it's a rewarding feeling.
Of course there was your hiatus, would you say that was the low point? You seemed pretty disheartened back then.
Gordon - To be honest, the "hiatus" is situation normal for Stapleton now; our personal circumstances and geography dictate this. This can be frustrating at times, especially in the run up to this new record, but I think we're all much happier with our priorities and the choices that we've made. For me, the low points were the long periods when we didn't record. We have always been prolific, and for these times to be undocumented is really sad.
Al - It becomes difficult to maintain a live profile and always be out playing shows. It was hard for a period a few years back when we all had different priorities and suffered from label difficulties. I guess I probably was disheartened for a while but not just with the band. It's never a conscious thing for us to do a "disappearing act" but we don't really feel we need to justify the activity or lack of activity with Stapleton. It feels like a part of our lives that we can always go to. We might not do another album anytime soon but we may do another next year. We're not trying to be awkward but we all live in different places now and don't see each other that often. It's great when we can get together and we don't need to put limits on what we may or may not do in the future.
From the outside the Glasgow scene seems to be its ruddiest health for some time, would you agree? What would you attribute this to?
Gordon - There are certainly some excellent Scottish bands – The Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit records are both great – but very few I can think of from Glasgow. It is good that the reputation of Glasgow is that of a city which produces thoughtful, intelligent and often innovative music, but I reckon this is more down to a handful of highly successful bands over the last ten years than anything happening at the moment. That said, I'm probably not the best person to ask.
Nico - I can't speak for Glasgow in particular, but it's looking very positive all around Scotland. There are a lot of enthusiastic people putting on shows and lots of great young bands who are trying to have fun rather than "make it big" – which I think is the best thing a band can do.
Al - I haven't been in Glasgow for an extended time in a year and a half now, so I'm maybe not the best to say, but Glasgow has always been great for creative music and for a city of its size the talent it produces is pretty amazing. We never really felt that closely attached to the Glasgow scene, even though it was home, probably because it never really took to us the same way many other cities across the country did.
What are the band's plans for the rest of the year?
Al - Just to enjoy the release of the new record and try and reintroduce ourselves to the good people who like our music and indeed those who may not know us yet. This album will also be released again in Japan. We want to try and do some shows for the album and we are talking about releasing another CD of some of our unreleased recordings, b-sides, session tracks etc.
Ok, last question, what do you still hope to achieve with Stapleton?
Gordon - If we can continue to write, record and release music, as we see fit, then I'm sure we will continue to be satisfied.
Stapleton release their fourth album Rest and Be Thankful on May 12th through Xtra Mile Recordings