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Heist - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 6 / 2004

Heist - Interview


Genre-defying London-based act Heist are back after three years away with a second album, 'A Shopkeeper will Not Appear'. Frontman Mike Targett talks to John Clarkson about its difficult recording

It has been over three years since Heist emerged on the British independent music scene with their genre-defying debut album, ‘Friday Night at the Trabi Races’. It combined the catchy pop sounds of the likes of the Lightning Seeds and the Pet Shop Boys with the strings-drenched orchestrations of Eastern European and 60’s spy film scores, and won the London-based group unanimous critical praise. NME wrote about Heist that “they bubble with a kind of passion most British acts struggle to recognise, let alone harness”, while they were described by Virgin on its website as being “the best kept secret in British pop.” Elsewhere they were defined as both being “consistently inventive” and also as “like Abba sung as a James Bond theme.” Heist, which at that time consisted of vocalist, guitarist and pianist Mike Targett ; violinist Calina De La Mare ; additional vocalist, trumpet player and cornetist Allison Thomson and drummer Anthony Oudot, played support slots to the Buzzcocks, Eddi Reader and the Fall, and a brief flurry of headlining shows in both Britain and also in Europe. Then, just as quickly as they emerged, they once again disappeared. Now they are back at last with a new album, ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’, which, like its predecessor, has come out on the band’s own Super 8 Recordings label. “Heist has imploded and rebuilt itself several times over the last few years” admits Mike Targett, talking to Pennyblackmusic. “We lost Calina shortly after ‘Friday Night at the Trabi Races’ came out, and tried other new people in the band who worked out with varying degrees of success, before finally settling on a new line-up 18 months or so ago. Writing started on ‘A Shopkeeper will Not Appear’ not long after ‘Trabi Races’ was finished , but it has been a question since then of finding the right people to play on it, and the means of recording it on a low budget, which was a problem we had last time as well.” “Being in a band is a funny thing” he continues, talking about the split. “It is not supposed to last forever, and, when it does last, it’s usually a bad thing rather than a good thing. It had just run its course. It was difficult at the time, especially as Calina and I in particular had been friends for a long time, but we have all moved on and the different mix of people has definitely made a difference. We have created something that I think is a little bit different than last time.” Friday Night at the Trabi Races’, which takes its name from an illicit set of underground Hungarian races, was a concept album, its main theme and narrative being about escape and defection, imaginary and real, from both the East and the West. ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’, another concept record, takes this idea of escape and of people finding their own fun in often repressive circumstances further. It is described by the band in their press release as being “an inter-connected narrative of 14 songs about daydreaming” and “the story of a ‘Carry On’ film canteen-revolutionary, whose adventures in supermarkets, offices, factories and council estates are gradually transformed by the power of a beautiful soundtrack that constantly runs in his head.” “It’s pretty much all completely taken from personal experience” says Targett, who is the group’s songwriter. “The imagery that I have used is sometimes stylised, but the albums’s content, lyrics and concept are pretty much entirely an opportunity for me to vent my world view on the listeners.” “I think that it is a very positive album in a lot of ways. It is about the power of daydreams and the way in which you can transform your own life through them. It asks the question whether transforming your own circumstances through your daydreams is a kind of self-delusion or a special lucidity which is available to you, and whether there is a physical divide, if you like, between the worlds of reverie and of reality. The conclusion that it comes to is that there is no simple divide and that it is possible to remake your life in line with your daydreams.” “Much of the inspiration for it comes from a period I spent working as a messenger boy in the early to mid 80’s in a big company in the City of London” he adds laughing. “And working in this beige landscape of 70’s office interior design that has always stuck with me ever since. A lot of the songs are taken from then.” ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’ combines lush strings and razorcut guitars with spiralling trumpets and seering violins. Many of the influences on it are French, and Targett cites the French film composer Michel Le Grand, who wrote the score for the classic 1964 Jacques Demy-directed musical, as a particular source of inspiration. “Michel Le Grand had a great influence on the last album, and he is, if anything, an even stronger influence on on this one. On the last album I was still working through an early childhood obsession with John Barry whom I still absolutely love. I discovered Le Grand and Francis Lai, who was the other big French music composer in the 60’s, a bit later in my mid to late teens, and have been listening them ever since. The cover of the ‘Shopkeeper’ album is in fact almost an homage to ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ . It is to my mind one of the greatest suites of popular music ever written, quite apart from whether it a film score or not.” “There is a spattering of Serge Gainsbourg and Jacques Brel on ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’ as well. I didn’t really recognise it before it was finished, but there’s some very early English influences in there too like Pink Floyd. and also a touch of Abba.” To fill in the void left by De la Mare’s departure, the remaining trio of Targett, Allison Thomson and Tony Oudot decided eventually to replace her with two new members, violinist Hannah Sless and bassist Tricia Reid. “Hannah is an old friend of ours, and of Allison’s in particular” says Targett. “We had talked vaguely about doing things for a long time together before we actually did so, and had tried several unsuccessful people through adverts before it all fell into place with her. She definitely gives out something a bit different than Calina. Her speciality is early music and baroque music , and she has got this kind of austerity that you hear more in baroque music than you do in other kinds of classical music.” “Tricia is a friend from way back as well. I actually taught her to play guitar in my other life as a guitar teacher, and she’s been a good friend for a long time also. We decided that, instead of using a sample bass like last last time, this time we would use the real thing. It’s one of the things that has really altered the band having a proper bassist.” ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’ was, like ‘Friday Night at the Trabi Races’, almost entirely recorded at home in band members’ living rooms and kitchens, and then produced and mastered on computer. As well as the five regular bands members, a rich variety of session players, including flautists, mandolinists, and vibraphone, bouzouki and trombone players, all also make appearances. “It was recorded in exactly the same circumstances as the last one” Targett recalls. “The other reason why it has taken so long since is that this album arrangement wise has been even more labour intensive and extravagent than the first one. Basically how it has worked is we have got people in to play the parts for free and recorded them at home and pulled them together as a montage, but the editing and the mixing process when you do something like that can take an extraordinarily long time.” “This time all the violins were played by Hannah. We got a very generous top end string sound, but it meant hugely long recording sessions where everything was double tracked and then double tracked again and so on. This album also has a lot more in the way of brass on it, whereas the first one was almost entirely strings.” “We had a few people working very hard to do the work of several people this time, but there was still nine or ten other musicians involved.” Heist played a headlining show at the London Spitz to launch the album in May, which won them further good reviews, but the band has now had to go on temporary haitus while Allison Thomson, who is pregnant, awaits the birth of her first child. The group hopes, however, to tour later in the year. In her temporary absence Targett meanwhile plans also to promote ‘A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear’ as much as possible. “It’s taken so long that we can hardly believe that we have it in our possession as a finished project” he concludes. “We’re going to be doing various promotional events over the next few months. If people look at the Super 8 Recordings website, they will be able to keep up with news. Apart from that, as soon as possible we’re going to start writing the next one. We aim to make it a much shorter gap before we come out with Album Number Three.” Heist have had several difficult years. There have been a lot of barriers against them . It is good , however, to have this most unconventional and uncompromising of groups back and in fine form. More information about Heist and Super 8 Recordings can be found at www.super8recordings.com

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