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Gayan Uttejak Orchestra - Interview

  by Olga Sladeckova

published: 12 / 3 / 2003

Gayan Uttejak Orchestra - Interview


Harper Lee's 'Everything's Going to be Ok" has been one of the recent bestellers on the Pennyblackmusic chart. Olga Sladeckova speaks to band members Keris Howard and Laura Bridge about it and their first ever European tour

There is a long street in Brighton called West Street. The street leads you from the city's train station down to the beach. It feels like you are being polarized by the sea when you walk down West Street towards it. Then you come out at its end and the English Channel stretches out endlessly in front of you. There are 2 piers which stand out into the sea. The one on the right has recently been damaged by fire and lifelessly bends into the wavy water. The one on the left has a busy fun fair at the end of it. On the day I went to Brighton to meet Harper Lee the sky was cloudy, but this perfectly matched the grey sea. Laura Bridge, drummer, guitarist and keyboardist, and Keris Howard, singer and guitarist, were waiting for me on the left pier. We headed for a local pub amidst the increasing intense drizzle, to talk about the band. Harper Lee have released 2 albums, 'Go Back To Bed' and 'Everything Is Going To Be OK', and 3 singles,'Dry Land', 'Bug' and 'Train Not Stopping'. It is the fourth band that Keris has been in after Brighter, Hal and Trembling Blue Stars, but it was clear to me from the beginning that this was the one which has the meant the most to him. Laura currently also plays with Kicker and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves. Even though Harper Lee formed in 1999 their first live appearance was not until late February 2003. The band then played in Spain with Trembling Blue Stars and label-mates Lovejoy. "Playing live means making much more effort to organise rehearsals, get gigs and still do some studio stuff" explains Keris when we sit down in the upstairs section of a quiet pub. "It's best to play in London. You can play all over the country, but if you want to get any press you have to play in London." Laura and Keris met through friends about 7 years ago. "I moved down to Brighton years ago" recalls Laura. "I met Keris here and he hasn't left me alone since then really." They both laugh. "Myself and Alex (Sharkey from Pinkie and ex of Fosca and Brighter-Ed) were in a band called Hal." Keris says, expanding on Laura's story. "We knew Laura and we thought she was quite cool, so we asked her if she wanted to be in our band. Quite stupidly she said yes. So she became our drummer. Laura made it to the first gig and, then quite sensibly when we played the second, " he looks at Laura " you kind of.. were having your hair done or something..." "No! I was moving house" Laura argues, as they both laugh "So me and Alex did the gig in front of about 10 people and, not that long after, decided to give up with Hal as it was just too depressing" Keris concludes. Harper Lee is just Laura and Keris. That can make live events difficult. The question now is if the band want more members. "I don't know..." ponders Keris. "I think it would be nice to have about 5 people on stage. It would be good to have keyboards .... and live drums .. On the other hand it makes it quite difficult to arrange rehearsals. It's difficult enough with just the 2 of us." The recording of 'Go Back To Bed' took Keris and Laura about 10 days. Jill, from Kicker played violin on the album. The album came out in 2000 on Matinee records. "We get quite a good response from Matinee who say we sell quite well" says Laura enthusiastically. The main problem of any band in the independent music world is to get other people to know about them. "Yeah, if people knew about us we would be huge" laughs Keris. "People who do hear us seem to really like us. We get quite good reviews. It's just about how you get on the market. It's really word of mouth." "I was talking to Jimmy Tassos, the label boss, at Matinee," he continues. "And he says we are in profit. That means we don't cost them anything, but then the question is where do you take it from there. It's about getting more people to listen to your stuff" "It is really frustrating. When we did the LP and we came out of the studio, we both were really pleased with it. Then it comes out and gets a few nice reviews and you think 'Excellent!' After that it sells about 7 copies" he laughs, before adding "I think it's the same for many bands at our level. It is for Kicker as well. You know you can sell 500 copies, but after that it's about how you actually translate that into something more, and get beyond selling it not just to the same people, but to a wider audience." "Yeah" Laura agrees. "But at the same time I wouldn't mind if it sold less as long as those people who bought it, really liked it." "We could sell 5000 copies, but if they were all in the bargain bin that would be terrible " Keris jokes, before saying. "I actually did see a copy of 'Train Not Stopping' in a bargain bin." "That was my copy" Laura laughs. All musicians must feel very proud when they see their album or single in the shops. The first time that they ever release something must be especially memorable. "I remember the first time. I was in Brighter. When we saw our record in a record shop in Birmingham" Keris recollects. "It was just so exciting. I think the manager of the shop was a fan of our label, so it was on display. For a moment you think 'Oh, my God! I'm a pop star!" he adds triumphantly and and laughs. "I did that with the first Kicker single." Laura adds. "It was released on Rough Trade's 'For Us'label. They gave us a box of singles and we all went to celebrate at the Notting Hill Arts club in London and we all got drunk thinking 'Oh, God , this is fantastic!' At the end of the night we left the box behind us because we were so pissed we forgot about it." The latest Harper Lee album has the positive sounding title of 'Everything Is Going To Be OK'. "I think I was conscious that the sound of the album was a bit gloomy" explains Keris. "I wanted it to be slightly hopeful. It's that kind of thing where you have had some really bad experiences, but at the end of the day, hopefully, everything will be alright, and you want to put those things behind you. The last song is quite positive. We wanted it to finish on a high note." All Harper Lee's lyrics are written by Keris. "There are couple of songs which have been put together in an almost lego-like fashion" reveals Keris. "I won't say which ones they are. But most of them are quite personal. I kind of hide my meaning though. I wouldn't write anything which was so explicit that people would be able to identify themselves in the songs. That wouldn't be fair." On every album, there are always songs that are the musicians' personal favourites. For Laura it's 'This Better Life' and the previous single, 'Train Not Stopping'. Keris likes 'I Can Bear This No Longer' the most. "Every time I listen to that song I think 'That's genius'" he enthuses and laughs. "That song does everything to me. I thing that's one of the best songs every written and I wrote it! Excellent!" he concludes with self-satisfaction and we all laugh. Keris has managed to keep some fans from his days playing with Brighter and Trembling Blue Stars. "I know that a lot of people who used to listen to Brighter in particular now listen to Harper Lee" he confirms. "We used to play stuff in a more twee and jangly style, and that was fine at the time, because we were really into it, but things move on and you change. I wish people wouldn't see Harper Lee as an extension of Brighter though because it's something different." Laura is still playing with other 2 bands, Kicker and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves. "I think it's good because I get to play very very different music with each band. I think you sort of create your own style in what ever band you play with. Also, as you get older, your taste changes as well." Harper Lee have only recently started to play live themselves but have had mixed experiences with playing live in the past. "With Trembling Blue Stars I was very nervous." Keris confesses. "I think it was because it was somebody's else's band and I didn't want to fuck up for them. With my own stuff I don't mind so much but, you know, Bob Wratten, from Trembling Blue Stars, would beat you with a stick if you made a mistake" Keris, laughs but then quickly adds. "That's a joke!" "I get nervous as well." Admits Laura. "I think it would be weird if you didn't feel a bit nervous. You also get nervous during the sound check because you are worried how it's going to go." Harper Lee have recently finished a small tour in Spain where they played as a three piece, being joined again by Alex Sharkeyon bass. Harper Lee are now working on songs for a third album. "There are new songs in the pipeline" reveals Keris, "and we are doing a song for the Matinee 50 compilation. It would be nice to get a new release out by Christmas." The band will also be contributing a song to a compilation on a new record label Slow Noir. The compilation is due in early Autumn. In words of Harper Lee 'Everything Is Going To Be Ok'. Well... Let's be a bit more confident still and also, with regards to the band's music, honest. 'Everything is going to be great'. With Harper Lee the potential is definitely there. As Keris says "Now it's all about how you translate it into something more."

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Gayan Uttejak Orchestra - Interview

Gayan Uttejak Orchestra - Interview

Gayan Uttejak Orchestra - Interview

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