For better or worse, Garfields Birthday is a Power of Pop kind of band. Meaning that the music of Garfields Birthday upholds all the principles that Power of Pop believes must exist in order for music to be vital and powerful. Strong melodies with classic pop-rock arrangements and an uncompromising attitude to make music that is all about… the music.
Since the mid-90s – the height of Britpop – Garfields Birthday has been sporadically releasing EPs and albums that have never failed to adhere to the classic pop-rock aesthetic, even as this kind of music continues to be marginalized in the mainstream pop world.
Now consisting mainly of Simon and Shane Felton, Garfields Birthday released new album You Are Here in 2014 and once again, it is uncompromising in its writing and recording approach, with a clutch of songs that will put a smile on all classic pop-rock fans – “Magic Bike”, “I’m A Star Tonight”, “Lunar Eclipse” being prime examples.
Check out our interview with Garfields Birthday below.
It is ironic that melodic pop-rock of the kind Garfields Birthday specialize in seems to be very marginalized – any thoughts on why you think this is so?
Simon – I think Garfields Birthday and Pink Hedgehog have always been on the fringe of the “underground” pop scene, so I guess anything non-mainstream will always appear as marginalised purely by the absence of any real commercial success. What’s a little bit frustrating though, is that the music GB makes and much of the music PH releases is potentially quite mainstream and accessible; it’s the kind of music I buy and listen to – in fact it’s only our relative obscurity and genuine indie credentials that makes us “underground” I think. Not that we mind… we love being part of the international pop underground! I would like to eventually make the leap from “virtually unknown” to “cult status”! As a side note… when Hamfatter took their career and destiny in their own hands, and secured financial investment for the band by appearing on the BBC’s Dragons Den TV programme, almost the entire music industry turned against them, as well as a huge public backlash! It seems you can’t fight the music industry, even in the 21st century… perhaps even less so nowadays. The mainstream music industry/radio/tv doesn’t want to take risks anymore and rarely want to invest time and resources in nurturing real talent… they would rather turn the whole process into mainstream entertainment, make a quick buck and then move onto the next thing. As my friend DJ Lord Litter says “Vive La Difference”!
Shane – I guess it’s no longer ‘fashionable’ and doesn’t fit in with todays ‘talent show’ driven industry. But things are cyclic so if we hang around long enough………….
What keeps Garfields Birthday doing what it does?
Simon – GB provides a permanent creative outlet for us… I think it would be hard to stop. Every time I hear a new album by someone like Anton Barbeau, Schnauser or the black watch, I think “wow, we need to do another Garfield album and if it sounds half as good as that, I’ll be happy!”. I’m not a terribly prolific songwriter (partly because I rarely have the time to spend on it), but imagining what a new song will sound like when it’s recorded by the band is very exciting… I love the process of hearing a song develop and come alive.
Shane – Simply the love and enjoyment of doing it, it’s fun, and while a few others also like what we do, we’ll keep doing it.
What is it about 90s powerpop that inspires your music as much as it does?
Simon – The band started in the mid-90s, when there was a huge renaissance of British guitar bands. It was Britain’s challenge to American-led grunge dominance I suppose. Keeping the focus on guitars and more traditional band line-ups, but clearly inspired by the great 60s bands like The Who, The Kinks and The Beatles; more melodic and song-based. I embraced the entire Brit-Pop thing very enthusiastically… probably a bit too much as many of the bands in hindsight weren’t half as good as I thought they were at the time! Teenage Fanclub was initially a huge inspiration for starting the band, but it was the artists that inspired them, like Big Star, Television, XTC, The Byrds, Neil Young… that’s where the true inspiration lies!
Shane – I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, it just seems to be the songs we have inside us.
How did you record You Are Here? How long did it take? What was the process like?
Simon – Shane will explain that process better than me. I’m a bit old-fashioned and would have loved the opportunity to record as a band, in a studio. But the “band” is really just me and Shane now, and we live several hours away from each other, so we had to take advantage of the technology available to overcome geography and budget restrictions. Basically, I recorded my bits in Weymouth, Shane did his in Yorkshire and Alan recorded his drums in Bristol… then it was all stuck together by Shane on his computer! Probably took about 2 years from start to finish, but there were long gaps where not much happened… apart from life of course.
Shane – Demos were recorded using Pro Tools, then we built the songs up by sending files to each other using dropbox and recording our own parts. Once the recording was all done we got together for a weekend in Yorkshire and mixed all of the tracks. It took a while to smooth out a few issues but it seemed to work well. We talked regularly on the phone and when I visited Weymouth we did a few bits. It was a long time in the making, but you won’t have to wait song long for our next offering.
What’s the concept behind that cover – it does look a little sad. Was that the intent?
Simon – I’m not sure it’s sad… maybe a bit lonely? It’s quite a famous image, “Earthrise”, very powerful. The idea of “You are Here” could mean different things… we were going to have a question mark at the end. Shane likes the science/space concept and is probably imagining aliens seeing this view as they look for somewhere to park! I also like the idea that it reinforces the idea that all 7 billion of us are sharing this relatively small planet, so we’d better start trying to get along better.
There’s a great McCartneyesque vibe on “Oxford” – what is that song about? And what do you think of the Kanye West – Macca nonsense?
Simon – I’ve always had a soft-spot for Macca, so I take that as a huge compliment! It’s a fairly honest (if a little rose-tinted) account of a trip to Oxford with my other half. It is a companion piece to ‘Cambridge’ that I wrote for the last GB album. Hopefully it’s not too sentimental, just a little bit. The truth is I was quite poorly with man-flu the entire time we were there and was probably quite grumpy! As to the Kanye West thing… you mean the ‘Only One’ collaboration? I haven’t heard the song, but I admire Macca for his endless energy and thirst for new projects. In terms of all the twitter rubbish… I assume most of these people are being sarcastic. I would imagine it’s quite difficult to reach your late teens or 20s and not heard of Macca or The Beatles? Humour and irony is often difficult to convey online, especially in short text messages. Who knows… if they both pinch a few fans off each other and nobody gets hurt, then I say best of luck to both of them with their future careers, whoever they are!
What does the future hold for Garfields Birthday?
Simon – We are already demoing new songs for the next album. Shane is having an incredibly creative spell at the moment and has written loads more songs than me recently. I think the next album will have a 50/50 split in terms of song writing. I’m hoping it will happen much quicker too, maybe even a 2015 release. I’m doing more with the label again now, including our first vinyl releases… so perhaps a GB vinyl single would be fun to do. There is also talk of doing a few gigs this year as well. I am the bass player in another band, but I would love to do some proper GB gigs in 2015.
Shane – More of the same but without such long breaks now we have a process, hopefully some live shows, health dependent.
Check out You Are Here.