Interview: The Felt Tips

The Felt Tips - Photo courtesy of The Felt Tips

The Felt Tips – Photo courtesy of The Felt Tips

If anyone ever has doubts about the effectiveness of posting a “musicians wanted” ad, he or she only need talk with members of The Felt Tips to be assured it works. After all, that’s how guitarist Miguel Navarro found a band after relocating from Spain to Scotland in 2005.

Upon seeing an ad in a record store, originally written by Andrew Paterson some 18 months prior, Navarro contact him, and although somewhat reluctant to give it a shot, Paterson eventually agreed. The group was rounded out by a friend of his, Neil Masson, on bass, and after a few different drummers, the group’s current percussionist, Kevin Carroll, joined the band in 2008.

According to the members, the three years between first forming The Felt Tips and Carroll joining were beneficial for getting the band going, but when the current lineup was set is when things really began to fall into place.

“There was a full band during the period 2005-08, [and] we released three singles and played many gigs in the UK and abroad,” Navarro said. “It was a very productive and important period for the band actually. However, it didn’t feel so stable and enjoyable until [Carroll] joined us.”

Paterson agreed, noting that the band’s dynamic only improved from 2008 on.

“[Now] everyone’s heart is in it and…we all get along,” he said. “Before [2008], we functioned well enough but it wasn’t so enjoyable.”

Fast-forward two years to 2010, and The Felt Tips released album number one, Living and Growing, on Plastilina Records. The album was 80 percent funded by Creative Scotland (then the Scottish Arts Council), an organization that helps artists with their creative projects.

“The…grant was crucial. We would have recorded the [album] anyway, but the funding meant that we were able to go to a top-level studio with arguably the best engineers around and this made the album sound as good as it did. We were really happy with it and were pleased with the level of critical acclaim it got,” Carroll explained. “This allowed us to approach Creative Scotland again and, along with sales of the first album, show how we benefited from the first award in terms of our progress, and ask for another lesser level of funding to do a second album. There should be more organizations like Creative Scotland and more funding available for bands to develop themselves.”

The second album, Symbolic Violence, came out in May of this year on Firestation Records, a label that Navarro referenced as being “probably the best contemporary label of classic indie pop.”

“We were more mature as a band and I can see that in the result,” he said of the writing and recording process. “We worked on the sound of the songs more than we did for the first album, applying all that we learned during the recording of Living and Growing and from all the gigs that we’ve played during all this time.”

Yet aside from more experience under their belts, the band members don’t feel as though they drastically changed things in the way they approached the album, aside from maybe being more vulnerable when putting the music out into the world.

“The first was more like a ‘best of’ with a few singles and better-known b-sides. So Symbolic Violence felt less well-tested, which added to the excitement of recording and releasing it,” Paterson said. “At the same time, it’s always a bit harder releasing an entirely new batch of songs as people need time to get to know them. Still, the reception from folk has been really positive, with just about all the songs quickly becoming people’s favorites. In terms of the media, we’ve had plenty excellent reviews this time round, and more radio play than Living and Growing.”

Interestingly enough, the members of The Felt Tips admit that they don’t strive to be an “indie pop band,” but that’s just where they end up falling on the musical spectrum.

“We are definitely at home in the indie pop scene. I don’t think we necessarily aim for that; we do our thing and our songs are the result, however they may sound,” Carroll said. “I always find it interesting that [I] didn’t know about indie pop until after I joined the band. So when I first heard The Felt Tips’ songs, my only thought was ‘this is a great band,’ rather than a great ‘indie pop’ band. And I still think that!”

Paterson’s experience was somewhat similar, in that he also didn’t “discover” indie pop until after he began playing it.

“In my mid-teens, I liked bands like Crowded House, REM, The Doors, etcetera, so it wasn’t a big leap from the middle of the road to discover Morrissey (Vauxhall and I era) at the age of 16,” he said. “For me, the Smiths were a world apart from the then-fashionable Britpop, but I gradually began to discover other bands that were pop, yet intelligent and humorous, such as Pulp, Belle & Sebastian, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and Hefner. I have to say, though, that I wasn’t aware of indie pop as a genre until after The Felt Tips started.”

Meanwhile, Navarro’s experience with the genre is something that, in part, is what brought him to the UK.

“I don’t remember a moment, record, or band that made me ‘discover’ indie pop. And I think that is in big part due to the fact that I was not aware that such a label existed. Thinking back, as a kid, I loved many of the Spanish bands from La Movida pop scene. The truth is that all these bands were mainstream back then (in Spain), however they would be categorized as indie pop or twee pop nowadays, and I can see now that my indie pop roots are there,” he shared. “My good friend Eduardo, who is older than me and lived the eighties as a young student, helped me to discover many indie pop bands when I was at university. We used to catch up weekly for a beer and a chat, and he’d give me tapes and CDs of great eighties bands like The Go-Betweens, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole…so he’s somehow responsible that I ended up in Glasgow some years later.”

But regardless of how each member came across indie pop, they now all fully embrace the music and their place under its vast umbrella. Just last weekend, The Felt Tips returned to Berlin to perform at Popfest Berlin, having also played at the first Indie Pop Days in 2010.

And of course, being a band in the UK means that The Felt Tips have played its fair share of festivals there, including being the first band to play at Indietracks back in 2007. But in particular, the group has mostly positive things to say about Glasgow’s music scene, a surprising contrast to the negative reputation it has earned due to its sports and politics.

“On the whole, it has to be one of the best cities to be in a band, with loads of good options for gigs, scenes, promoters, studios, etcetera,” Paterson said. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy to form a band, something I struggled to do at first. But when you do meet the right people there’s plenty of support to tap into. Folk like Wake the President and Ally Kerr were helpful in the early days, giving us advice, gigs, and moral support. For instance, one of the Wake The President twins suggested we apply for the first Indietracks festival.”

Navarro took that a step further, touting Glasgow as “the best city for music” that he has ever lived in.

“I currently live in London, and although in theory you have all you need here, it all seems unreachable for small bands. The top recording studios, venues, media, etcetera [seem] reserved for the mainstream scene,” he shared. “Glasgow is just perfect for an indie pop band in my opinion. Venues, people, bands, scenes…they all change over time, but there is something in Glasgow that persists, making it a great city for music.”

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