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Reigns - Interview with Tim Farthing

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 10 / 2 / 2005

Reigns - Interview with Tim Farthing


The Reigns is the new piano-based project of veteran of PJ Harvey's band Tim Farthing with his brother Roo . Ben Howarth speaks to Tim Farthing about the Reigns' debut album, 'We Lowered a Microphone into the Ground'

During the first few weeks of this year, I spent a lot of time playing a seven inch single on Jonson Family Recordings by a band I had never heard of before. Based around beautiful piano melodies and sounding vaguely like Four Tet, Reign’s 'The Corners And The Straights' was compelling listening, perfectly suited to being spun over and over again. Naturally, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of their debut album, 'We Lowered a Microphone into the Ground', which was released a few weeks after I heard the single. I wasn’t able to discover much about the band, save from the fact that they comprised of two brothers, Tim and Roo Farthing, and they seemed to have a fascination with the rural mythology of their South Western home. But I thoroughly enjoyed the album, finding it to have a consistent tone and energy, but with enough invention to stop the songs seeping into one another. Eager to find more about a very fine band, I contacted them, and Tim Farthing – a veteran of PJ Harvey’s band – answered my questions. PB : I wanted to begin by asking about the 'concept' (for want of a better term) of the album, of lowering a microphone into a hole and discovering sounds. Where did you get the idea for this? It seems very rooted in your local environment, would this be fair? How does the concept on the album relate to the Portal that is found on your website? TF : The bottomless hole is an evergreen folk myth that seems to be told across the world. The Fortean Times identified them in an article about three or four years ago. Sounds emanating from these holes (old radio broadcasts, spirit voices) are, apparently, a recurring phenomenon. Also, at about the same time, I read 'The House on the Borderland': a thoroughly peculiar cosmic horror story about a house built upon a vast pit, possibly the gateway to hell. Based, as we are, in the countryside we're a lot closer to older perceptions and superstitions that are not so prevalent in an urban environment. Although, we've yet to come across anyone who's located a bottomless hole, people here tend to give more credence to folklore and aberrations in nature and that, in turn, resonates with us. The portal idea on the website has a nebulous connection but has more to do with the next album. PB: Was the music something that evolved around the microphone concept, or were the two conceived separately? TF: The album title was suggested about halfway through the recording and gradually the idea and the music converged. PB: Are the conceptual elements a deliberate attempt to draw listener's attention away from your own identities and personalities and towards the music? TF: Very definitely. Our natural inclination is to invert the current tendency to garnish a vacuous and insipid record with steaming dollops of "personality." Reality television has validated this "exposure at any cost" credo which has seeped into almost every art form - especially music. This intense concentration on image has left the music itself floundering in a mire of cliché and almost supernatural mediocrity. The pop song has now become a sort of cipher - an inherited set of tics used to denote emotion, soul or passion. Think of Joss Stone. How soulful does anyone really find her? That's partly why we used our own codes; computer voices; made up languages, anything to bring some mystery back. PB: In a time when digital technology seems to be taking over, was the 'concept' perhaps an attempt to stress this release as an album, rather than collection of songs to be downloaded and shuffled? TF: One of the many impractical ideas we abandoned was to have the whole album as a single track but we thought that might be a tad dictatorial. Nevertheless, the album was designed to be a slow burner and we do believe it works best as a unit. The nature of the radio friendly single is to have impact and immediacy, two qualities we were unconcerned with. Having said that, we did release a single but more as a perplexing calling card rather than as an attempt to smash our way into the national consciousness. PB: How long did writing and recording the album take? Was it a difficult process, or a simple one? It is certainly a blissful listen, but was the playing of the music as relaxed? TF: My brother and I met once a week for a year. This is patently a ridiculous way to go about things but day jobs etc prohibited any other approach and it did have benefits: namely, everything was considered, nothing was hurried. So effectively, the album was whittled. The playing was relaxed because we were alone and usually a bit tipsy. PB: You've both had established music careers prior to Reigns? Is Reigns an attempt to go in a new direction completely, or does it feel like an evolution of what you have already achieved? TF: It's more of a simplification. Having a personnel of two like-minded siblings tends to lend our music a fair degree of focus. It is also a reaction. Having done an extremely lengthy PJ Harvey tour I came home with an almighty aversion to all things rock. Now we've got our eye in, though, we're happy with where we're at. PB: When did you first start playing music? What are your earliest musical memories? TF: My earliest musical memory is my fifth birthday party and playing musical statues to Steppenwolf. It was pretty much a rock household. We started playing guitar in our early teens - Roo was a big Police fan and I was obsessed with AC/DC. Still am! PB: What music do you enjoy listening to? TF: I know Roo is quite into 'Shiny Beast' era Beefheart at the moment and has more than a passing interest in Stewart Copeland's soundtracks. For me only Scott Walker's 'Tilt' and Arvo Part's choral stuff seem to be hitting the spot at present. That and silence. PB: Do you ever envisage a typical Reigns listener? What are they like? TF: I think it would take a fairly adventurous soul to unearth us in the first place - we're hardly Chris Moyles material, thankfully. I have yet to have a face to face encounter with someone who has bought our record so it would be pure guess work but I imagine they would be gleaming specimens of mental and physical perfection. Like us. PB: When and how did you come into contact with Jonson Family, your label. Are they good to work with? What do you think of the other bands on that label? TF: We've known them for about ten years. We used to play in a band with Joe who runs the label and who is now in Hey Colossus called the Young Hurlants - another one of our projects that fell whimpering into the abyss. They are good to work with and have let us do pretty much whatever we want. We've heard most of the bands on the label and like them although we realise we're something of a sore thumb amongst them. Jonson Family Records run the label in very much the same spirit that we made the album: do it all yourself. PB: How comfortable are you with the idea that this album will probably be well received in the indie/underground music scene but may go unnoticed outside it? TF: If anyone, anywhere makes the slightest space in their lives for it, we're happy; whether they're from the indie crowd or the gangster skiffle contingent is entirely immaterial. PB: Do you think there are more Reigns albums likely to appear in the future? TF: Yes and we fully expect them to bring about a new age of enlightenment, realign the stars and maybe get a play on Orchard FM. PB: The album has been in many people's possession for a long while prior to it coming out officially. Was it frustrating waiting for a release? TF: I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. We had to wait for certain things to be in place before a release. To date we have only ever played a single gig and Jonson Family recoups a great deal of their income selling records at gigs. So, in the absence of their usual method of promotion we had to wait to let them get the word out. There were other mitigating factors that I shan't bore you with… PB: Finally, is there anything else that you would like to add? TF: I think not. Thank you for your questions. PB: Thank you!

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Reigns - Interview with Tim Farthing

Reigns - Interview with Tim Farthing

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The House on the Causeway (2009)
Potentially magical pastoral post rock on third album from West country band Reigns, the project of brothers Tim and Roo Farthing, slightly marred by their decision to use spoken word on some of the tracks
Corners And The Straights (2005)

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