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Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 20 / 8 / 2005

Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy


Settlefish's second album 'The Plural of the Choir' is in the tradition of Pavement, the Pixies and Modest Mouse, but with its instrumental passages and parade of short, sharp songs,is also unique. Vocalist Jonathan Clancy chats to Ben Howarth about it

With their second album, 'The Plural of the Choir', Settlefish have established themselves, and made one of the better albums released this year. Although signed to Deep Elm, a label often known for punk and hardcore, they are a quirky indie band, very much in the tradition of Pavement, the Pixies and Modest Mouse - though not exactly like any of those bands. 'The Plural of the Choir' works as a cohesive whole, with several instrumental passages and a parade of short, sharp songs.There are still, however, some standout tracks, ranging from the sharp 'The Barnacle Beach' to the epic opener 'Kissing Is Chaos'. The music of Settlefish seems to be clumsy and awkward, in the best possible way. Throughout their second album, the band seem to be striving to express something, in a somewhat desperate and uncoordinated fashion. Jonathan Clancy’s vocals being the thread that binds these sounds together. Because of this, Settlefish seem drawn by two instincts, to perform snappy pop songs and to let their music lose itself. The tension this creates makes for an engaging listen. Settlefish are based in Bologna, and are further example of how much great, unrecognised music comes from Italy. Away from the struggle for front covers and heavy rotation videos, it seems Italian bands have the freedom to make the music they want to make. It is such a shame that a lot of these bands are so hard to hear in the UK, but a joy that Settlefish have snuck in. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Jonathan Clancy, who is also Settlefish’s occasional guitarist as well as vocalist, whilst he was travelling to a gig the band were to play in the evening. His enthusiasm shone through, and he was a pleasure to interview. He seemed even more happy when explaining his feelings for the music he loves, both local and international, always a sign of somebody who really cares about music. PB: I’ll start by asking, when did Settlefish form? JC: The band started about four years ago. It was before we recorded our first record, which was called 'Dance A While, Upset.' Basically we started playing a while before that as another band. We were aged 16-18 and the music was more hardcore, and from then on we progressed a little. The core members of the band came together just before we recorded our first album, which was released on Deep Elm. PB: So how did you get in contact with Deep Elm? JC: It was a pretty classic thing, I don’t think it happens that often anymore. We just sent a demo. We are quite fortunate because our guitarist Bruno has a studio, and has had it for a long time, so we recorded a three track demo, and sent it out to Deep Elm, and to other labels that we liked at that period. We were big fans of the Appleseed Cast, so that was why we sent it out to Deep Elm. They were curious about the fact that we had a studio, so they asked us to record some more songs, so in the end they had 8 songs, and then they asked us to record an album for them. PB: Would you agree with the general perception that your second album, 'The Plural of the Choir', is the best thing that you’ve ever done? JC: Yes, definitely. We were increasingly unhappy with our first record, because it didn’t represent us enough. Even when we were touring for that record, we stopped playing a lot of the songs live and began to concentrate on newer stuff. We have also changed a few members since then. We have a new bass player and that contributed to our improvement as a band. We were also lucky to work with Brian Deck, who has recorded lots of bands that we love, and added to the sound of the record. We definitely think it is our best work, for now. PB: How exactly did working with Brian Deck come about? JC: Well, we toured in the US with a guy called David Singer, who used to be on the Deep Elm label, and he recorded with Brian a long time ago and when we said we were thinking of working with an American producer or engineer, Brian was definitely one of the names that came up. We love the stuff he has done with Califone, Modest Mouse and recently the Iron and Wine record, so we got in touch with him and, after a period of exchanging e-mails back and force and sending demos, we managed to get him to come to Italy. It was really, really nice to work with him, and we’ve been in touch with him since and become good friends. PB: Listening to 'The Plural of the Choir', it sounds a lot like sections of it came about from jamming in the studio. Is this a fair impression? JC: Yeah, that is the thing we really like about this album. The first was written over a very long period and a lot of the songs were really old when we recorded them. This was completely different. We wrote it all over a 6 month period when we were touring a lot, and some of the songs were written just before we went into the studio with Brian. They were all really fresh. The whole album was recorded live. Everything you hear was recorded live and it has a better atmosphere to it, which was what we wanted. That is why we were unhappy with the first one. That is also the reason why the songs are a lot longer. It is not necessarily what we intended. The songs on the first album were longer at about 4,5,6 minutes in length and when we entered the studio we hadn’t realised that the new ones were all 2 or 3 minutes. That startled us for a second, but it worked out really well. It gave us more focus. PB: Do you all contribute to the songwriting process? JC: Yes, in our band we are lucky because everyone in our band can play an instrument, so our song writing is very democratic. Everyone can bring stuff in and jam together, and that’s great. PB: But I take it you write all the lyrics and vocal melodies? JC: Yes, I have a hard time singing other people’s words but to make it more personal I like to sing my own lyrics. However, I make sure that I explain them to everyone so that the whole band know what is behind the music and we can all get into it. PB: You have toured an awful lot it seems. You have been to the UK and across Europe, and also several times to America. What do you prefer, the touring side of the band, or being in the studio? JC: I don’t know. I think everyone in the band has different feelings about this. I mean I love the recording part but I also love the fact that the recording part is not too long. This album only took just over two weeks to do altogether. I mean I love being on the road. This year, we have been on the road a lot and we have just came back from a long US tour, so maybe now I would say that being in the studio would be the best thing. We just did our second European tour, and now we are going to concentrate on Italy. Being an Italian band we haven’t actually played in Italy as much as we should have done. PB: Do you have much to do with any other bands from Italy? JC: A lot of people don’t know, but there is actually a very, very good indie scene in Italy at the moment. And, of course, Bruno with his studio, records a lot of Italian indie bands. We can actually make a lot more money touring in Italy than we can anywhere else, so that is a pretty good reason to tour Italy. Obviously, singing in English limits the amount of success we can actually have in Italy. The Italian speaking bands will usually be more successful. But there is a very good scene, and as we live in a city, Bologna, that is the biggest university city in Italy, all the tours come to us. Any indie band will probably play in Bologna and Milan before going to Rome. PB: What Italian bands would you recommend to an Englishman that doesn’t know a great deal about the Italian music scene? JC: Well, as well as being on Deep Elm, we are on an Italian label as well, called Unhip records. We are very good friends with a band called Disco Drive, a post punk band. That is the band that I would really recommend at the moment. PB: A similar question, do you have a good relationship with the bands on Deep Elm as well? JC: Yeah, it is funny. We have toured with a lot of Deep Elm bands. Our first US tour was actually a Deep Elm tour, and there were 5 bands from the label. There was us, Brandtson, Red Animal War, Desert City Soundtrack and David Singer. Just because of that tour we have made some really good connections, especially with Desert City Soundtrack, our very good friends from Portland, who we did our most recent US tour with. Then, during the course of the years we have been able to play with Lewis, Slowride and Benton Falls. We toured in Europe with the Appleseed Cast for ten days. That helps, making connections with other bands. We don’t find that many bands on the label have a similar sound to us, so it is hard to pair up sometimes. Our favourite bands are definitely Desert City and Appleseed, who are not on the label anymore, but we’re not really into the pop-punk bands on the label. PB: Before the second album, you did a split release… JC: Yeah, with Desert City Soundtrack and Sounds Like Violence. We’ve never played with Sounds Like Violence. How that came about was that it was going to be a two band between Desert City Soundtrack and Settlefish. The songs from that, some were recorded at the same time as the first album, some exclusively for the split. Then John from Deep Elm wanted to throw in Sounds Like Violence because they had an extra song, so it worked as a three band split. We have never had a chance to meet Sounds Like Violence, although we have exchanged a few e-mails. I know that they are recording their new album now. PB: What are the next plans for Settlefish. Are you thinking about a third album now or is that a long way in  the future? JC: Well, at the moment, we are, as I said, concentrating on touring Italy until November and then we are going to go into our studio and to work on some new songs. At the moment we are thinking of doing lots of little stuff, an EP and maybe some splits. We’d like to do some tracks with our friends, perhaps re-work the material of another band. Also, we’d like to do an EP of more experimental material. We are thinking about coming back to the UK in the first week of December, playing probably the same places that we played earlier this year. And then we’d like to go to Germany for another 7 days. PB: Do you think that you’ll carry on with Deep Elm as your label? JC: Yeah, we have another record on our contract with Deep Elm so in the UK it will be with them. For mainland Europe, our label is Unhip. Unhip is a label that started out as an electronic label, specialising in weird formats, 7” and 10” and lots of DIY and care in the packaging. They did splits with Lali Puna, Tar Water and To Rococo Roc, bands like that. Then ours was the first full length of theirs, and they have also done the vinyl version of our album. They have also done Disco Drive and their latest release is a split of Fantomas and Melt Banana. It’s really good, done on 3” CD and 5” vinyl, both pretty weird formats! In the future, for Unhip, we have recorded for a tribute album, a tribute to Red Red Meat, a Sub Pop band, and there is a lot of big names on this album. That will be out sometime in 2006. PB: What bands do you like and inspire your music? JC: We love Iron and Wine, Wilco we listen to on the road a lot, Modest Mouse, the Walkmen, the Shins we play a lot, Les Savy Fav. Some of us are really into Lightning Bolt. It varies a lot from who likes pop and who likes heavy stuff. We all grew up with bands like June of 44, Pavement, the Cure and Nirvana. Pinback we have been listening to an awful lot on the bus, and also Broken Social Scene. PB: Do various members bring different influences and approaches to the music ? JC: Yeah, we definitely have some people who bring in a noisy part and some people who bring in the pop melodies. We’re going to do some more experimental stuff in the studio and I definitely think that stuff will come out more mellow, but then again, we’re a lot louder live than on record and I don’t think we’ll ever lose that part on record. PB: What are your ambitions for the band ? If the band ever ended, what would you hope to have achieved? JC: I don’t know. I think we hope to tour and bring home money. That’s what we’re aiming to do. All of us, even if it is working in a studio or doing sound for other bands, want to make a living with music. Hopefully, we can get on tours with other bands. We want to branch out. We’ve never really been into the "emo" thing, and being on an "emo" label. It is kind of hard to get into that. We’ve played a lot of shows where 15 or 16 year old kids turn up to the show, which is great, but I think sometimes they are expecting something else, and that is kind of hard when you are marketed into the "emo" or pop/punk scenes, and we don’t really have anything to do with that. Then again, what we grew up listening to was bands that back then were called "emo", but now what the media call "emo" is very different. It was better in the US where we toured with Desert City Soundtrack, and they have the same feelings about this as we do, and it was better to play to an indie public, and an older crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I love having young kids there, but it is hard when you’re not like Brandtson. Then again, Brandtson are good friends, but it isn’t what we are into. PB: I suppose that the advantage is that you might be the first band that really gets some people into different music. You could be a bridge… JC: What I liked, a lot of shows in the UK were small towns and there were young kids for an emo/punk bill. A lot of the kids were really weirded out by what we played but really curious at the same time. I don’t think our music is that strange. We listen to bands that are a lot weirder, but for them, I guess we were a bridge to weirder stuff, which is definitely what happened when I was 15 or 16. That’s definitely something that is nice! PB: Well, that’s a good place to end. Thanks a lot for speaking to me, I’ve really enjoyed it! JC: Okay, thank you too. The photographs that accompnay this article were taken by Giulia Mazza

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Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy

Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy

Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy

Settlefish - Interview with Jonathan Clancy

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The Plural Of The Choir (2005)
Broad-ranging and wildly ambitious fourth album from thoughtful Italian indie rockers Settlefish, which shows a great band establishing itself

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