Interview with Perhaps Contraption

Back in March we were sent details of a new track called ‘Cousin/Grandma’ by the eccentric art-marching band Perhaps Contraption. We’ve loved it and subsequently asked the band if they’d be up for an interview. Singer, flute player and all round head honcho of the band known only as Squier replied enthusiastically agreeing to answer our questions…. then it went very quiet. After a 7 month wait the answers arrive! I think that must be a new record!

The band have a new album ‘Listening Bones’ about to hit the shelves early November, we’ve heard some preview tracks and it sounds fantastic. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby caught up with Squier, albeit a tad delayed, via email…

Cat On The Wall: From what I gather Perhaps Contraption hasn’t always been a roaming art-marching band. Please can you tell us about your beginnings and how the band has developed into what it is now?

Perhaps Contraption: Perhaps Contraption has always been a shape-shifting-genre-bending sort of thing. It was assembled in Bristol, 2004, using avant-rock and psychedelic detritus, combined with a healthy obsession of Frank Zappa and the Rock in Opposition movement.

Beginning with this rock format, we chose to explore compositions with bendy time signatures, maximalism, free improvisation and spontaneous theatrical outbursts. It was deliberately daring and challenging stuff. The parts of some songs were way past my instrumental ability, but also the ideas goaded me to up my game.

We constructed 3 albums during this phase (one of which is still waiting patiently to be released!).

Towards the end of this period I was getting more and more drawn to post-minimalism, brass and woodwind. I became less fond of the sound of distorted guitars, so, being a flute player too, I felt the need to change the instrumentation and perform in new ways.

After I had an epiphany playing with a huge marching band at Burning Man in 2010, I decided to completely rejig Perhaps Contraption, to become a completely acoustic and mobile octet, one that embraced choreography and big vocal harmonies more.

COTW:  How important is it for you to remain flexible as a collective?

PC: It’s imperative! Constantly working with new musicians and discovering new sounds helps prevent the creativity from stagnating. With the way Perhaps Contraption works now, we have a core octet, then another 7 wonderful musicians who perform with us should the style and budget of the show dictate. Having no chordal instruments in the band at the moment, and a shifting lineup, helps create a range of different tonal combinations to play around with.

COTW: We love your recent release ‘Cousin /Grandma’. What is the song about? How do you work creatively as a band, do you have a process?

PC: Cousin/Grandman is an unusual one! It originally stemmed from Susie Showers, our poet, muse, and ukulele brandishing wonder woman. She came up to me one day and sang the main hook. Beguiled, I asked her if I could take the hook and turn it into a song, she said yes so I did. Me and DeeDee (the drummer) churned around with some chords and made a structure, then I spent a couple of days layering melodic themes over the spine.

The song loosely concerns the concept of a family, relating to others, be they blood or strangers, and spawning offspring.

When we make new sounds, generally speaking, I bring a theme or thread to the group, who then embellish and manipulate the ideas with their own awesomeness.

Sometimes I’m very specific about certain parts, other times its more of a collaborative effort. I’m interested in writing through group improvisation more as the new ensembles’ connectivity deepens. At the same time, I’ve started to score some parts of my music (with the help of our very savvy copyist Horace, who is notating our next album by the way!) The thrill of writing sounds down and giving parts out to the whole troupe is still very new and exciting to me…

COTW: What inspires you musically and artistically (music/daily life/art)?

PC: Right now I’m listening to lots of contemporary composers such as John Adams, David Lang and Frank Zappa, and thinking more about and spatial, roaming elements to compositions.

Walking, cycling and staying up very late are the times I make new ideas for songs. I also find being a part of the festival scene gives me lots of inspiration. On the circuit you meet many musicians and artists, it’s a great breeding ground for collaborations and trying out new ideas.

COTW:  The cover of Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’ is brilliant! What made you decide you cover the track? This will be appearing on your forthcoming album? Can you tell us about the release? What can we expect?

PC: At my last trip to Burning Man in 2010, i played with an incredible marching band which was curated especially for the big burn. Someone from an amazing Chicago based marching band called Environmental Encroachment had adapted The National Anthem. It translates very well into this format, and playing it was immense fun, so upon returning to London I churned around the composition some more for the new lineup.

It will be on our next album, which is due for release in November 3rd. The National Anthem is up for free download.

The new album, Listening Bones, is a snapshot of where Perhaps Contraption were late last year. There is a very fresh and exuberant energy in the recordings. We were still relatively new to each when we recorded, but after an intense summer of festivals, we decided to track it live together, and I was amazed at the vibrancy of the results. It was wonderful to record almost exactly as we performed live. There is very little production and fiddling on the album, so it’s a very pure translation of our live show.

COTW: Your live shows are very energised and have been described as sometimes quite surreal. What do you like most about performing live?

PC: I like the sweat and urgency, the worry that something will go wrong, or the joy that something inspired will happen. We are gradually injecting more and more improvisation and interaction back into our shows as we settle into the new compositions. This is really important to keep the audience and musician on their toes.

It’s somehow a relief with the new lineup, after being reliant on electricity and amplifiers for many years, to now be completely mobile and acoustic. We can parade and play wherever and whenever we choose. Through this we have developed “flash shows”; situationist musical outbursts at festivals or in the streets..Quite often playing without a P.A or a stage means the performances are much more intense and connected with the audience.

COTW:  Finally, what are your plans for the near future?

PC: Well, we have already started work on the next album, and plan on having a whole new body of songs to blast during the next festival season . I also have high hopes to get the whole troupe to Burning Man next year, but we shall see…

Alongside that we are creating an animated video for the last track on the album and filming live sessions using detailed lighting design and choreography.

There are also a few very exciting collaborations on the way including orchestrating a new immersive cabaret with the One Taste Collective, and a 360 degree polysensory performance about Synaesthesia.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris

    Saw these guys at the Piano Bar in Glastonbury 2011… Glad to see they’re still as weird as ever!

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