Sat, 5 December, 2020
Interview: Chris Murray
Photographs: Amadeus Brzezinski &
In the third instalment of the Front Left podcast we spoke to Chris Bainbridge, one half of the band Man of Moon. Since releasing their debut single in 2015 - praised by the New York times as, 'the best debut single from a UK band since ‘Ceremony’ by New Order' - Man of Moon have pushed their sound to new heights, toured Europe (with Django Django and the Twilightsad) and recently released their highly anticipated debut album, Dark Sea. Chris shares with us what it’s like to deal with such lofty expectations, the music that’s inspired him along the way and what’s on the horizon for himself and Man of Moon.
Man of Moon – The Road (Dark Sea Version) (2020)
'It's really important as a musician or as an artist to do what’s right for you, not just what people are expecting you to do.'
Fews - Ill (2015)
Fews - Ill (2015)
CM: Hi Chris and welcome to the Front Left podcast, and to my back garden where we’re recording this episode.
CM: We’ve just heard ‘The Road’ (Album Version) off your [Man of Moon] debut album ‘Dark Sea’ which we, and seemingly everyone else, have been really enjoying - how’s things going with that?
CB: Yeah, obviously it’s been a bit of a weird year. It’s like we’ve been building up to releasing the album for years so it’s been very strange not being able to play it live. Me and Mikey [Drummer] both really enjoy playing the songs live, we’ve worked on our live sound for years and years, but on the other hand it’s been amazing seeing how everyone has reacted to the album so far.
CM: There was a lot of anticipation for the record, did you feel that as any sort of pressure whilst you were recording it?
CB: One hundred percent, yeah, felt the pressure a lot to be honest. We were both quite young when we started out, we’d both been in bands for years - separate bands and then joined forces in college - but we were both quite young when we actually came to the Scottish music scene and started getting recognised. We sort of started getting known as these two young guys from Edinburgh who were making kraut-y psych-rock and we were getting quite a bit of recognition in the early days.
If we could go back and do it again, I feel like the road was released too early - we should have, maybe, held off for a bit and had more songs in the bag. As soon as we released ‘The Road’ [Original 2015] we were getting some interest from labels and we got signed to quite a big booking agency... all of a sudden there was all this pressure. I don’t think either of us were quite ready for it, it takes quite a bit of time to get ready for the music industry and what it necessarily wants from you. It's really important as a musician or as an artist to do what’s right for you, not just what people are expecting you to do.
CM: I’ve been rinsing the album, especially over the past few weeks, and I’ve found it to be near cathartic. There’s moments of almost angst in it, with heavy distorted guitars in ‘When We Were Young’ to a couple of pensive tracks - it sounds like you’re trying to get something out of your system…
Is that something you feel echoed in this as you’ve progressed the sound of Man of Moon from your first EP through to Dark Sea?
CB: Yeah, the songs are about me being 17 up until a couple of years ago, talking about the experiences I had personally with family and friends and stuff like that. I had a lot to say, so I think that comes across in some of the tracks. Ultimately, we just wanted to make an album we were really happy with and wanted to have quite a lot of emotion attached to it. I really like albums where you can really feel what the musician or the artist was going through at that time. When there’s a lot of emotion attached to the track I feel like you can get involved in it a lot more, you know?
CM: Definitely. How do you feel the sound has developed since those early tracks you were putting out?
CB: I think we’ve gotten a lot louder, especially live, in the early days when we started out it was literally just; guitar, one vocal, this shitey little reverb peddle I had, one guitar amp and the drum kit. We slowly progressed, Mikey got a SPDX sampler, which he plays samples and loops through live. Someone encouraged me to try get the low end turned up, and make it sound a lot more beefy so we got a bass amp involved in the live set. Then slowly and slowly it build up to having two guitar amps, a massive pedal board, bass amp - so the guitar gets split into a guitar amp and a bass amp and Mikey’s singing on the tracks as well. So yeah we’ve gotten a lot louder.
It took us quite a long time to realise what we wanted to sound like and what kind of band we wanted to be, to be honest, we’re still figuring that out sometimes. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, I have at times thought ‘fuck what music do we really want to make?’. We’re both inspired by so many bands it’s quite hard to narrow it down.
CM: Well we’re going to ask you to try narrow it down and pick out a track that’s inspired the progression…
CB: I’ve picked a song called ‘Ill’ by a band called Fuse. They’re a band based in London but I think they’re actually American/Swedish/English. They’re a kraut-rocky, neo-psychedelic kind of band, the first time I heard the track I was cooking in the kitchen, in Edinburgh by myself, and this track came on BBC 6Music - I think Steve Lamacq played it. I had to literally stop what I was doing and go over to the other side of the kitchen and turn the radio up. There’s this hook that happens halfway through the song, I’m not sure if it’s a synth or a guitar... it’s produced by Dan Carey, from Speedy Wunderground, who’s just done the Fontaines record and so many amazing records over the years. You’ll see what I mean when you hear the track but it’s just got this proper drive feel about it. Through ‘Dark Sea’ I really wanted this travelling vibe, for me personally I love getting on a train and turning an album on and just switching off, to have that sort of motorik vibe to it and just feel the journey through the album. For me, this song has very much got that. I think there’s echoes of this track on the album, particularly songs like ‘Rust’ with the drum machine sounds and stuff like that.
CM: So it’s been a busy few years for you, you released the Chemicals EP last year and then the remixes this year, into Dark Sea. Before that you were touring with Django Django and The Twilight Sad, you must have a few good stories you could tell us...
CB: One that always sort of springs to mind when people ask about touring, it’s not necessarily a great one but it’s always stuck with me, is on that Django Django tour. It was a tour with them across the UK and right round Europe as well, they were in one of those big fancy buses and we were in this shitey sort of old banger of a van that we named Janet. We bought it on the cheap and I think it was a bus that was used for a carer’s home, like an old people’s home, so it had a limiter. It could only go to 57 mph or something - you know, driving down the autobahn in Germany and lorries are just flying past us.
So, we’d played a show in Amsterdam with them [Django Django], and we had the day off the next day, so we were all on a good vibe and ended up partying... going back to the AirBnB, you know how it goes, ended up staying up till stupid o'clock in the morning. Me and the driver maybe got about an hour's sleep, we had the next day off so that’s why we thought it was okay to party but we had to drive to Switzerland that day to play the day after. We didn’t really take into account the whole sort of limiter thing, thought we could blast the drive in eight hours or something like that. Bearing in mind the driver had only had about an hour's sleep, we got up and the drive took about 17 hours [laughs]. It was genuinely one of the worst experiences of my life, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
CM: Is there a show that’s really stuck in your mind from those tours?
CB: Every time we play Germany... I say 'every time' like we’re fucking rockstars - we’ve only played like four or five times [laughs]. When we’ve played Germany it’s always been amazing. Over in Germany it’s almost like they have a bit of a different attitude to live music, this is a generalisation obviously, but they go out to see the music - as in the support bands and the main band. Playing Berlin [on the last date on the Django Django tour] will without a doubt go down as one my favourite shows we’ve ever played. It was an 800 cap venue and we walked out onto the stage, expecting maybe 200 / 300 people coming into the bar, in dribs and drabs and it was just a completely packed out venue. Every single person was there standing in front of us. We were like, “holy fuck this is amazing” and the way that crowd reacted to us was amazing. That was really really special.
CM: Is there a record or a song that you always go back to when you’re on tour?
CB: Well yes, there’s one that gets played before every single show, and it always has been since we started out - which is ‘Ghost Rider’ by Suicide. Mikey introduced me to the track years and years ago, one of his favourite bands - which he introduced me to - was The Stone Roses and they have this song that they always play before their set every single time and they always have. He told me about it and I thought that was really cool. I think it’s really cool that you play a song to the audience and everyone gets hyped up knowing the band is about to come on. Ghost Rider just had this menacing, powerful vibe to walk onto so we play that before every single show and we always get proper hyped up backstage - every time.
CM: Could you tell us about how Man of Moon started, how did you and Mikey come to start playing together?
CB: We both left school in fifth year to go to college, to do Sound Engineering in Edinburgh. Obviously, the class needed practice at recording live musicians and the lecturer just asked does anyone play drums and does anyone play guitar, Mikey and me were the ones that put our hands up and were whipped into the studio to start jamming. I’d played in a band, before college, called Penny Black and had a couple of riffs left over we hadn’t really used - we were going in a different direction. I just started playing them and Mikey started playing along, instantly I just loved his style of drumming and musicality, we both just really bounced off each other. Then we started hanging out outside of college, realised we were both into the same kind of music and the same kind of things, it just really grew from there.
CM: You need a real synergy for being a two piece, really rely on one another especially with inspiration. Have you found there’s been any limitations as a two piece?
CB: Yeah, I mean we’re both into a lot of different kinds of music and some of the artists we’re into have a very kind of full sound. So sometimes when we’re writing of rehearsing together - particularly in the early days before we got the extra amps, sampler and stuff like that, when it was really just drums and guitar - we were writing and we could both hear other parts in our head, like ‘I wish someone else was here playing that.’ Then as I built up the guitar sound and Mikey got the sampler, people kept saying ‘are you going to get a bassist?’ and it actually got a bit annoying, we’re not going to get a fucking bassist, we’re going to keep it a two piece stop asking [laughs]. That was the only thing I would say was a limitation, I’m pro two piece to be honest, I think the more you can do with the less people the better. Especially on stage, with two people you can really vibe off each other and it’s much easier to stay in sync with each other. That’s not to say that having three or four people is a bad thing, I’ve been in three and four pieces before and it’s been great. Maybe a pro of having more people in the band is that, in every band, there’s tensions that arise, having that extra body to de-escalate that tension could be good sometime, when it’s just the two of you and you get pissed off with each other it can get a bit intense - but yeah I’m pro two piece. I love the fact it’s so easy to organise, meeting up for practices and stuff like that too.
Russian Circles - Atackla
Stephan Bodzin -Singularity (2015)
Life and Death
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Pish (2015)
CM: Have you ever been tempted to collaborate with people either in a recording setting or in live performances?
CB: Absolutely, there’s quite a lot of artists I’d like to collaborate with in the Scottish music scene and just in the music scene in general. That’s one thing that I definitely want to get into. I’ve sort of thought about the idea of getting some Scottish artists to collab with on the tracks but I don’t know, might just keep it Man of Moon. I’m getting a bit more into remixing myself, Mikey is amazing at remixing and it’s definitely something that I’m just slowly starting to get into. I really like the idea of working with other artists and bouncing off them. It takes the pressure off a wee bit as well, you don’t have to come up with the full idea of the song yourself, it’s nice to hear other people’s ideas as well.
CM: So thinking back to those early days when you and Mikey started playing together, was there a particular record or song that really informed that Man of Moon sound?
CB: There were lots, we were both into lots and lots of different styles of music and bands. A huge range from metal, to folk, to hip hop, to really hard hitting techno - we both like a lot of different styles; so there were a few albums, it was hard to narrow it down to one track for this question. It’s probably not totally obvious in a lot of our tracks but this band, Russian Circles - a three piece from Chicago, sort of ambient metal - and I was really into them just before I met Mikey and I knew he was really into metal and we were both sitting in our pals shed getting high one night and I played him it through my phone and he - I knew he would - just instantly loved it. We were both like rinsing it and trying to replicate some of their riffs and stuff. Particularly the drumming, I think you’ll recognise, Mikey is a very hard hitting drummer and the drummer for Russian Circles really hits hard and is really rhythmical with his playing, and the guitar tones have inspired me a lot. This track’s kind of got a middle Eastern vibe at the start with the notes that he plays, huge reverby sound as well and then it just really fucking kicks in. It’s so good, I love it.
CM: In recent months you seem to have taken more of an interest in the electronic side of things, with your remixes, like you touched on earlier there’s a great remix on the Chemicals EP; Ride The Waves. Is this a direction you want to take Man of Moon or something that is more of a solo venture?
CB: It’s not really something we did on purpose, the move towards electronic music, we tend to write in the style of what we’re listening to at the time, which can be a blessing and a curse. I think it’s really good as a band to have a solid sound, you’re actually more likely to get success I think if you’ve just got a solid sound - you’re much more marketable - but we don’t really do that so much. We tend to write in the style of what we’re listening to and get very influenced by that, so when it came to ‘Skin’ I had the lyrics down quite a while back and then we actually wrote ‘Strangers’ before but Skin came out first. We wrote ‘Strangers’ about three and a half years ago when we started listening to a lot more LCD Soundsystem. Shout outs to them because that’s what caused the more electronic vibe, funnily enough we hadn’t actually listened to LCD Soundsytem ‘til we played at T in the Park in 2016 and our manager was really into LCD Soundsystem, he was like, “that’s so good, you’re playing on the same day” and we didn’t really know them; he played us loads of them and we were like, “fucking hell this is unreal”. That’s what influenced ‘Strangers’ quite alot, and then we were playing ‘Strangers’ at a gig and one of our pals suggested that if ‘Strangers’ was going to be part of the set - because it’s so wildly different to the other tracks - that it’s maybe good to have a sort of wee brother track that we play before, so it’s not jumping from psych-rock into electronica randomly; a song to tie the two together. We’re both big fans of Jagwar Ma as well so we wanted to go for that kind of vibe and it just came together, it is very very different to a lot of our other stuff but it wasn't like a decision to move into electronic music it just kind of happened.
CM: We’re going to ask you pick out a club ready track, or something you would love to be making right now. You must have something in store…
CB: So the track I’ve picked is ‘Singularity’ by Stephan Bodzin - I think he builds his own synths. It was my mate Danny who showed me the track, we were both cheffing in Edinburgh a few years back and we used to show each other songs whilst we were cooking constantly. I remember he put this on and instantly I was like, “what the fuck is this, this is so good”. I just love the way the track starts, basically it’s the same idea right throughout the song but he changes it every single time it comes round; the sort of pattern he just manipulates it differently and that’s total kraut-rock vibes; the same idea building, and building and building on top of each other. It’s one of those songs I wish I’d written, it’s such a tune.
CM: We’re going to jump straight into another music question, but one that we’ve given you a bit of a thinker on…
So you’ve got up really early to catch a flight - 4am sort of scenario - you’re under slept, you’re sitting in the cab on the way to the airport, what’s the song you’re putting on to ease in the day?
CB: It was actually a toss up between two songs for this question, my initial track was ‘Vitamin C’ by CAN who are a band that have influenced me and Mikey a lot. To be honest, I was going to pick that one purely because I wanted to play it. Then when I thought about the question more and tried to really get into the headspace of what I would be feeling and wanting to listen to at that time - I went for ‘Pish’ by Brian Jonestown Massacre. It’s a song that I regularly play about 7am at a sesh, when everyone’s feeling a bit loosey-goosey and needing to ease in the day.
I actually saw Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Barrowlands, must be about four years ago now, and it was amazing. They’re one of my favourite bands, so good, that kind of heroin in the desert kind of vibes - huge guitars and tambourines. When I saw them, the last track, they got all their roadies on to play, about seven guys playing the same guitar riff it was fucking crazy.
CM: Thanks for talking with us Chris.
CB: No problem at all mate, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for having me.