By Jordan Mooney.
Here at Cat on the Wall, we love unusual bands. We love unusual people. Basically, we like the sort of people who you’d probably be a little scared of if they weren’t musicians. Especially if they’re also quite lovely.
We also love unusual music. Especially if it’s funny, unusual music. Funny unusual music is about as entertaining as music can get. When music is funny, unusual, and well put together, we’ll love it.
We also like music that pushes things. Breaks boundaries. Does strange, unusual things nobody could ever expect.
We also like Burt Reynolds.
So when a group comes on by, that’s built of unusual people, all of whom are quite lovely, with very funny, very original and very unusual music, that not only breaks boundaries but decides to break a record in the process, that also carries a bit of Burt Reynolds in the mix, we naturally get a bit excited. These very specific requirements have all been filled by Cardiff based eccentrics Quiet Marauder.
This is the sort of band that comes along pretty rarely, not just to satisfy our incredibly specific requirements, but to simply provide proof that bands need to be a very, very different procedure in the modern music industry to what would have been expected ten, twenty years ago.
The music industry has changed – this is no secret, and many bands whom pump tons of cash into their releases are finding the results more and more disappointing. Music downloading, labels crashing and burning, promoters proving themselves to be about as useful as Twitter…the list goes on – being a band isn’t easy, or straightforward anymore.
A band now has to fire on all cylinders. A band now has to provide more than one form of outlet for itself – not just music, not just music videos – a band has to touch upon every form of visual, audible media they can possibly dig their grubby little mitts in.
This is one of the most important things I try my very hardest to emphasise with every musician I speak to – music is no longer music. Music is a form of media, and, if we play cards correctly, a form of multimedia.
So before I begin..I thank you, Quiet Marauder. I thank you with great pleasure for proving that other people do understand, stand by and for that matter emphasise the importance of a cross-media outfit. I thank you for proving it is realistic for a relatively small group and it gives me the greatest enjoyment to say it’s made this little group one of the most entertaining I’ve ever listened to.
Quiet Marauder have come onto the scene with a half hour film, a four-disc debut and a vengeance.
MEN, the debut release of this group, is a leviathan-esque work of collaboration and continuous creation. Composed of 111 songs, spread over four discs or ‘volumes’, it is easily the largest and longest album I’ve ever taken the time to listen to. What’s most bizarre, perhaps, is every single track feels genuine, like a ‘proper’ track – none of it feels as if it it’s composed simply for filler, or an afterthought – every single number on this album is there for good reasoning. There’s no real weak point on any of the four discs. These people are veritable machines!
The issue with such a long album, of course, is that it’s practically impossible to listen to continuously, all the way through, unless you have a trove of spare time. The beautiful aspect of this is for weeks you can dive in with shuffle and discover a new song each time. By the time you’ve listened to the entire thing, you can start again. This album quite literally carries the power to dominate your music player for the foreseeable future. One could liken it to painting the Forth Bridge, were it not the extended lifespan of the paint used in 2011. This, using my unique brand of flawed, sleep-starved logic, makes this release more immense than one of the United Kingdom’s greatest structures.
The negative aspect is that it becomes incredibly difficult to review it all adequately. At first, I tried a track by track – this failed. We only have so much bandwidth. Next, I tried to choose favourites. This, too, failed. Next, I started writing about my experiences travelling to mid-tudor period England and still being unable to find a decent pair of boots. Then, I remembered I have this review to write, and got back to work.
So what do we have here in terms of musical style? Simple little runs of acoustic guitar, a few brass instruments, a copper kettle, a maraca or two, in nice, catchy little beats. Match this with a very slurred, ever amusing set of vocals from lead-crazy (as in the frontman, not inhaling fumes from molten metal or anything), Simon Read, bom-de-bom-bom-bomming his way across a series of hilarious, informal and often very personal vocals. A series of internal monologues and passing trains of thought make up the bulk of the album to great effect, and the informal, silly, fun nature of it all makes for a marvellous experience.
My favourite thing about the song writing at work here is these are the songs you (if you are a man) make up in your head while walking down the street, or on a date, or burying a corpse (Mondays, eh?!), or at the train station, or watching a political broadcast, and sing to yourself only ever-so occasionally while completely alone in the house, regardless of your vocal and musical talents. I think anybody who has really, really been into music or fancied themselves a bit of a lyric writer is guilty of this. Yes, I’m looking at you.
With a firm vocal and musical talent, these internal songs are brought to the limelight and it makes for a fascinating revelation in that not only are you not the only one to think up songs like this, but somebody can make bloody brilliant material from them. Quiet Marauder have done exactly that.
The album benefits from the relative simplicity of the music – this is not to say it is lacking anything, of course, but it doesn’t layer on countless guitars, drums or choir boys. It doesn’t particularly need to. It carries on in an affectionate, infectious sense of humour, ribbing all and gentry, and itself, quite happily, without ever getting bogged down or dipping – it’s a constant high point, and the music continues to provide the perfect accompaniment to this look into a male’s subconscious. As a result, the production, as clean and smooth as it is, does not carry favour towards any particular style nor can I relate it to music I’ve heard in the past. Quiet Marauder’s material is entirely unique in both style and grace. It’s also the only debut I’ve heard with a song about waking up Bono.
It streams perfectly, like a river that’s gone a little bit mental and has turned indigo or something. It doesn’t even hit a rock. Maybe it’s actually indigo-coloured acid and the rock’s melted? Who knows. Either way, nothing seems to stop this strange, but somehow beautiful river from pottering down the fields. Every song just continues the smooth journey throughout. Nobody’s messing with that purple river, chaps. That purple river owns the place.
The entire act, from what I can piece together, is a continuous stream of wit, wisdom, whimsy and silliness. The term pythonesque comes to mind, but I despise using that term – it’s incredibly overused and this is an incredibly unique release.
The entire album is a bit daft. But it’s a unique, whimsical, lovely sort of daft. A bit like that bloke on the bus who tells you about the life of chimps in film. You’re a little scared of the guy, but you can’t help but listen and wonder “How on Earth did I even get into this?“. But you’ll always look forward to seeing him. He’s not hurting anybody. Well, he might be, but he’s not hurting you. And monkeys are lovely.
I shall dub this ‘Quiet Marauder’. And all of you shall bow to it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go into the meat and two veg, peppered slightly, some mashed potatoes on the side, and of course some yorkshire puds… A bit of horseradish…and ask Simon Read, the frontman, the leading gentry behind this marvellous piece of work, a few of questions.
Cat on the Wall: Hi there Simon, thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat with us! Would you care to introduce yourself and Quiet Marauder to our readers?
Simon M. Read: Most certainly. My name is Simon M. Read. I’m one of the main songwriters in the band, the other being Jonathan Day. But the whole collective of six of us all chip in with our own respective lines and parts. In terms of our sound, I would say that we exist somewhere within anti-folk and pop territory but with a tendency to go off on severely odd tangents both in sound and content. We are basically an industrial strength song-writing factory. We can’t stop ourselves. It’s actually pretty weird.
COTW: Quiet Marauder’s first release is quite a large scale project. 111 songs. 4 volumes. A film…All for one debut release. It’s quite impressive! Was this always your intention?
SMR: Thanks. In short, no, it wasn’t. When Quiet Marauder started it was myself hitting a baking tray with a fork in a small room in Danescourt, Cardiff. There was no intent whatsoever other than the expulsion of some demons. It was only after writing about 30 songs of my own that I asked Johnny if he wanted to become part of it. Luckily, he did and it was around that time we started to realise the potential and just how many really great songs we were writing individually and in collaboration with one another. After a few months we had surpassed 200 and knew an album the length of MEN, with a strong conceptual flow, was achievable. We did talk about it, but we only wanted to make it if we felt it was mind-blowingly good. We started looking at a 100-song album but eventually opted for 111 as there were three men in the band at that stage. The joke was that it was emblematic of our three penises lined up next to each other.
COTW: We’ve always believed that bands should aspire to be multimedia projects, and you seem to fit the bill perfectly – is this a philosophy you share?
SMR: More than you could ever imagine! There seems to be a discourse of how it is ‘all about the music’ from some folks, as though it’s not possible to have broader interests. But I don’t think it discredits or compromises the music to have other forms of media being integrated. As you mentioned, we made a documentary to illustrate the process behind the making of MEN; a film which showcases some of the band’s dynamic, our fears, the hard work we engaged with to create something like we did. In that process, it helps solidify the identity that is also embedded in the music, hopefully. We also love music videos as a forum for delivering messages to complement the songs. And for the next album we are looking at the potential to make it into as many different media forms as possible: a novella; a film; a theatre production; sculpture and fine art; and an album of songs as well, obviously.
COTW: We were originally going to try for 114 questions. We didn’t manage. Nice suspenders!
SMR: You obviously don’t have the same commitment or drive as us…but thanks, yes, these braces have been a strong ally. My Mum got them for me. I love her for that. And lots of other reasons too. Birthing me into the world being a primary one, I suppose. They’ve become something of a Quiet Marauder emblem. I feel completely empowered when wearing them, like some sort of dandy superhero. Plus, they keep my trousers up a treat!
COTW: Tell us about the members that make up your little group. Who’s who, what does what, and who’s most important to your own blatant kitchen utensil thumping genius?
SMR: Well, the main songwriters are Johnny and I and we are also guitarists, percussors, vocalists and whatever else comes to hand or mouth. But as we developed our live act, we knew we needed additional members. Johnny had been in a band with a chap called Matt Pasternakiewicz who was a mutual friend and he came on board to add vocals, percussive power (primarily on a now totally deformed copper kettle) and brass. His arrival was a boon. As soon as he joined everything felt like it couldn’t go wrong. From there we recruited further help with the incredible Francesca ‘Word Salad’ Dimech adding her own cornet skills, vocals and charisma. Then Ian Williams of My Name Is Ian joined with his trademark high register and guitar work. And finally we recruited the fiery lynx Rowan Liggett to amp up the percussion and give it a central force, as well as offer his own vocalisations to the sound. We are all as important as one another, and all defined artists in our own right. I personally think of everyone as pretty much a family and we do our best to make sure everyone is having fun, feeling creative and enjoying the band. Though we argue shitloads too. And I am known to impart Greco-Roman submission manoeuvres in the face of too much stupidity.
COTW: You’ve had a fair few collaborations on this release. How did they all come about – and are there any experiences with the guests that stay particularly fresh in your mind?
SMR: Once we knew the album was going to be the length it was, and that the concept behind the album required that level of songs, we thought that just having us singing on it would be a bit monotonous after 4 hours or so. I’ve become quite integrated into the music scene of the locale and pretty much exploited every last contact to see if they would mind singing or playing on a song or two so as to give it more depth. Almost everyone said ‘yes’ and even those who couldn’t take part or had no time were gracious and lovely. And what followed was, I have to say, one of the most inspiring, incredible experiences of my life. Put simply, the talent both in and that has come through South Wales is just uncannily good. The likes of The School, Laurence Made Me Cry, John Mouse, Hail! The Planes, Spencer McGarry, The Lovely Wars, Little Arrow, Ivan Moult, Winter Villains, Scriber, Jemma Roper, No Thee No Ess and so many more were professional beyond reproach, often in the face of a complete lack of professionalism from myself. More than that, in the midst of some of the worst hangovers in my memory, they were kind enough to give me cake, tea, conversation and comfort while still ably displaying their innate abilities. It was humbling, life-affirming and emotional. I still well up a bit when I think of it, and the happy montages play out through my brain.
COTW: Nice susp-Never mind. You mention in your documentary about the production of this fine album that the record is basically a series of manly tales of manliness and being a man. Could you go a little deeper into the idea?
SMR: The concept came from a sense of confusion about masculinity and what it means to be a man. I’m a sociologist in my day job and the notion of a masculinity crisis in Western society has always appealed to me, at a theoretical level. In parallel to this, I was also experiencing my own break-ups and break-downs which left me jarred and baffled by my own desires and thoughts. It seems to me, patriarchy has been treating women pretty badly for quite a long time and that it is so normalised, we can barely even acknowledge it – there’s a song called A Confession From Patriarchy on the album that addresses this directly. Yet, also, in the generation I come from and the friends I share, men are wonderful creatures, full of humour and depth. There’s a complexity in all human behaviour which we wanted to explore here and the album is as long as it is because of this. The basic narrative of the album is open to interpretation and has numerous tangents. But broadly speaking it follows the masculine identity through the pitfalls of love and sexual desire, through rejection and reminiscence. There is a full on ‘crisis’ section in which there’s a quest for a stable identity from popular culture to latch on to. Once this fails, there is a spell of intoxication and a brief obsession with animals. The final volume of the album is committed to the idea of cyclical behaviour and treads similar thematic ground to the first volume: sexual conquests, pervy behaviour and love. The difference is that this time, the identity has a wealth of experience to draw from and comes to an alternative path, albeit not a Hollywood moment one, one that suggests it is as good as it is going to get. There are a lot of ideas and themes being put beneath the microscope and I hope that comes through to the listener, alongside the fun and frolics.
COTW: What do you think a personal highlight of the release?
SMR: There’ve been so many. I mentioned already all of the guest spots but the one with Holly from Hail! The Planes sticks out. I was woken up by her phoning and politely reminding me that we were meant to be recording together, a fact that widened my eyes to the same effect as someone spreading Tiger Balm on your inner thigh. After a couple of minutes of consciousness it was clear I had been drinking the night before. And that it had been expansive. My brain was actually pulsing as though it had a bull’s heart for a cerebellum. But I gamely made it to her house and was treated like a wounded puppy. Fed, watered and ushered into the mould of a record producer. In terms of dark to light transitions, that was special. Of course, having Bubblewrap Collective offer to help us release it was also amazing and gave me a sense of vindication that this oddball concept we had concocted wasn’t just for our own entertainment. So many other highlights too: the gradual evolution of the band, the togetherness in song generation in the early days between Johnny, Matt and I. And then, I suppose, listening to the final, mastered version and remembering back to when it started, about 18 months prior, and realising how much we had developed as musicians and me as a producer too.
COTW: How did the production of it all go? We have of course seen the documentary…but other than that? (relatively) plain sailing?!
SMR: ‘Plain sailing’ is not the phrase. It really isn’t. When I started, I couldn’t record in a way that would make the recording play out of two headphones. I couldn’t record in stereo. I was that bad. Over time I began to get much, much better but large chunks of the songs on the album were recorded two or three different times to end up with the final version we have now. If you can picture that process repeated on about 80 occasions, you begin to get a notion of how gruelling and time-consuming it was. Saying that, I wouldn’t change a single second of it. I absolutely loved the hard work. I craved to get back to it almost the second that I left the room. And at the end of it, as I said, I am so much better as a musician for it, and as a producer. And as a band, I think we’ve aged considerably through putting in the effort at this stage.
COTW: What do you think the world has in store for your masterwork upon universal release? Do you expect a multi-million pound contract? Perhaps a Playgirl centrefold a la the testosterone soaked Burt Reynolds? Or do you just want to pay the rent?!
SMR: I am expecting nothing less than supermodels, yachts and to start my own labradoodle breeding farm. If I don’t get that, none of it has been worth it. Um. No, in all seriousness, we’d like people to hear the record, take the time to get to know it, and enjoy it. Beyond that, the fates will decide for us. The industry is a cruel mistress but we feel quite happy in our niche. We started not expecting anyone to really care or even notice, so the fact that we seem to be connecting with people at shows and through the record is a constant source of pleasure for us.
COTW: And what are your plans for the future?
SMR: In the immediate future, we are launching MEN across the UK in January next year and will be doing shows more predominantly over the border in England and Scotland for a bit. We also have a long run of singles to put out, there’s around eight planned to reflect the size of the album and that takes us into the summer. We’re already looking at the festival circuit too and getting out and about to sunny fields and wild-eyed hippy folks prancing about and seducing us. In the longer term, we are working on the second album already and, as I’ve mentioned, are looking at making this a big, big thing with theatre offshoots, writing, art and what not all converging. It’s about a crack, a floating stone, that suddenly appears near a picnic and play area in Kent. It’s going to be very much story-driven, looking at the human response to a science-defying phenomenon. There’s metaphorical richness in the idea and we are still working it all out, but it’s getting our synapses scintillated after a long, drawn-out battle with masculinity.
COTW: Thank you very much for sitting down to talk with us! Nice suspenders. We look forward to seeing you on our ‘Zine again soon!
SMR: Talking about ourselves is one of our favourite activities, so thanks for indulging it. And do you want to have a go on my suspenders? You’re more than welcome.
I must confess I did not dare to have a go on Simon’s suspenders. The temptation was great, but I’m simply not the sort who goes suspender stroking on the first interview.
Quiet Marauder’s masterpiece, MEN, was released on the 4th of November in the band’s home region of Wales, and is due for release on 27th of January for the rest of the United Kingdom. I not only wholeheartedly recommend it – I shove it in your face repeatedly while quoting lyrics from the release until you cave in and hand your dirty, dirty money to Mr. Read and his band of droogs.
Until then, we have a whole host of little bits and bobs for you – have a music video and a documentary for starters!
“It Wasn’t Me, It was the Moon” – My favourite QM music video.
The Making of MEN – a 30 minute, completely genuine documentary about the making of the world’s longest debut album.
Once released on Bubblewrap Records in England, MEN will be available for download from all good retailers and a bespoke limited edition run from the online Bubblewrap Store, Spiller’s Records, Diverse Music and other independent stores across the UK. As well as several Welsh launch shows, Quiet Marauder will launch the release at a series of yet to be announced English launch events.
As I forgot to shout this at Simon earlier:
GET YERSEN TO LEEDS!
That is all.