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Short Stories - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 31 / 8 / 2013

Short Stories - Interview


John Clarkson talks to Tim Rippington and Stephen Miles from Bristol-based indie pop group the Short Stories about how they met again after twenty years apart, their songwriting partnership and their three years-in-the-making fourth album, 'Send My Love to Everyone'

The Short Stories are a Bristol-based indie pop group, which was formed by long-lost school friends Tim Rippington and Stephen Miles in 2007. Tim Rippington was the second guitarist in both acclaimed late 1980’s C-86 band the Flatmates and a latter line-up of cult act, the Beatnik Filmstars. He has also fronted his own bands, the Five Year Plan and the Forest Giants, and with the latter group he recorded four albums. Stephen Miles has worked as a drummer with various West of England groups, including at one point Bristol-based indie chart toppers Modesty Blaise. While the pair had been close friends at school, and Miles had been a fan of Rippington’s first group the Inane (which he had formed with Rob Pursey, who has since gone on to success with both Heavenly and Tender Trap), they had lost touch afterwards, and had not seen each other in over twenty years when they met again through the internet in 2007. Rippington was looking for a drummer to help him record some songs he had written after the break-up of the Forest Giants, and invited Miles after they had initially met up again in a Bristol bar to accompany him. When at those sessions he discovered that Miles both also wrote songs and played guitar, they, however, quickly instead forged a songwriting partnership. There have been three previous Short Stories’ albums, ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’ (2008), ‘The Night is on Fire’ (2009) and ‘Small Mercies’ (2010). The group’s fourth album, ‘Send My Love to Everyone’, which came out in May, however, has proved to be a change of direction in several ways. Released on Rippington’s own Breaking Down Recordings, rather than International Lo-Fi Underground, the label of Beatnik Filmstars’ front man Andrew Jarrett, it finds the Short Stories moving on from the thrashing, discordant lo-fi rock of their previous three albums and playing music with a much cleaner, airier sound. Fuller in tone, ‘Send My Love to Everyone’ is also the first album that Rippington and Miles have not recorded as a duo, but with their new band which consists of bassist Geoff Gorton, drummer Simon Harrison and keyboardist Kay Farnell, and also for this recording special guest, cornet player Harry Furniss. Both Rippington and Miles are divorced fathers of two, and ‘Send My Love to Everyone’, in contrast to the Short Stories’ darker, earlier records, finds them, while acknowledging the pains of the past, looking towards the future with a tentative optimism. The album is opened and closed with Miles’ ‘Angry Young Man’. a brassy, breezy number which has Miles humorously concluding that, while he is more resigned to the ways of the world than he used to be, he has still not quite lost the youthful anger he used to feel at its injustices and callous stupidities. The second eight-minute version of the song concludes the album in a surging, triumphant rush of orchestration. The meandering, softly bubbling ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’ has it three protagonists – a financially struggling thirty-something; a self-harming teenage girl and a recently widowed pensioner – each taking life-saving comfort in music. The elegiac ‘The Robin Song’, which features strings and like ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’ was also written by Miles, opens with a swooning a cappella female vocal and, although about death and loss, is the most tender of tributes and love songs to someone who was “there, always there.” Tim Rippington’s songs include the punchy ‘Let Me See You Smile’, which is about the thrill and buzz of a blossoming potential new romance; the exuberant ‘Make Me Happy’ about taking pleasure in the simple things, and ‘We’re Still the Same’ which reflects affectionately and with gentle humour on the rekindling of his and Miles’ friendship. ‘Send My Love to Everyone’ is first-rate, an album of instantly catchy melodies and down-to-earth lyricism and genuine charm. Pennyblackmusic, keen to know more, spoke to both Tim Rippington and Stephen Miles about its making and songs. PB: The first three Short Stories records came out very quickly and within the space of two years from each other. ‘Send My Love to Everyone’, however, has had a much longer gestation period. It has taken you three years to get this album together. Why has it taken so long? Was it just because you were making the step up from a duo to a full band? STEPHEN MILES: It was partly that, although the band has been in place for a while. We wanted to make this one sound different and a lot more finished and polished, so we spent a lot longer recording it. TIM RIPPINGTON: The first album, ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’, was literally thrown together a couple of months after we had met again. When we re-met up I discovered that Steve both played the drums and also had written some songs, so we got together really quickly and just knocked the record out. We wanted to find some people to play with, but then we went through that usual thing of finding musicians that were not necessarily suitable or who had their own agendas or whatever, and so we carried on making records just on our own. After we had done ‘Small Mercies’, the third album, we thought that we really couldn’t take in that format any further, and that we should really try and get a proper band together and concentrate on making a good record. We have had the songs in most cases for a couple of years. PB: ‘Send My Love to Everyone’ is a much more upbeat title compared to ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’, ‘The Night is on Fire’ or ‘Small Mercies’. Why did you decide to call it that? TIM RIPPINGTON: We wanted a title that was more upbeat. It was a deliberate thing. We went through quite a few names before settling on that. I am in a much better place now than when we were making some of those earlier albums - It was quite a dark time for me - and ‘Send Your Love to Everyone’ is also a reflection upon that. STEPHEN MILES: The front cover of the album has a photograph of a pier on it. It is almost like a postcard. The lyrics are perhaps a bit deeper, but they are almost the kind of thing that you might jot down on a postcard. That is another reason why we chose that title. PB: A lot of the songs on the album –‘Short Stories for Long Nights’, ‘Make Me Happy’, ‘The Robin Song’ and ‘Angry Young Man’- seem to acknowledge that, while things can sometimes be very bleak, you have to grab at what hope there is. Do you see this as the main theme of the album, promoting that concept of hope? STEPHEN MILES: We didn’t set out to have a main theme for the album. It is not a jolly album. It is not a hide-your-head-in-the-sand album, but that idea of “Things aren’t always so good. Let’s try and look on the bright side a bit” definitely became a major part of it. I think that part of the reason why it took longer as well is because we wanted to make the music reflect that. That is why we have a trumpet on some songs and greater orchestration on tracks like ‘The Robin Song’ and ‘Angry Young Man’. We were trying to get away from the distorted guitars and drums that we had always done, and to bring that emotion through. Tim and I shared the song-writing as we have always done, and he had written gloomy song after gloomy song in the past, and so I told him that it was about time that he wrote something cheerful (Laughs, and he came up with both ‘Make Me Happy’ and ‘Let Me See You Smile’. TIM RIPPINGTON: I wasn’t feeling especially depressed, but it is a lot more difficult to write songs about happy things. If you are feeling in a bleak place, it is easy to get out a guitar and get those sort of emotions out, but it is a lot harder even if you are feeling upbeat about things to write upbeat songs without them sounding really crass. ‘Make Me Happy’ in particular was written about something that was going on in my life at the time, but it was a deliberate attempt to up the poppiness and show people that I could write a happy song too (Laughs). PB: ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’, as well as being the name of the first album, is also the title of the second song on ‘Send My Love to Everyone’. Was that song originally recorded for the first album? TIM RIPPINGTON: No, it wasn’t. Steve came up with that title for the first album, and then after we had released it he decided to write a song of that name as well. We had that song several years ago, but like quite a few of our songs it was written and did not come out for ages. We have been keeping that song because we felt that we needed a full band to make it work. PB: That song is very much about the saving grace of music, isn’t it? STEPHEN MILES: It is. It sums up for me a lot of what I have always thought about the redemptive qualities of music, and also of literature and of art in general. I guess that it ties in as well with the hope message of the album as well. All the three characters in it find conciliation or the promise of conciliation from good art. PB: While you didn’t set out to have a theme, in light of both that and ‘Make Me Happy’, do you think that the other main message of the album that it is often the small rather than the major things that can make the difference between making things better for us? STEPHEN MILES: Yes, certainly… TIM RIPPINGTON: I think we have both come to that conclusion. We have been around since the punk days. That was when we first started getting into music, and when you get to our age you realise that you’re not necessarily going to change the big things by going out on marches and demos and that kind of thing, but if you concentrate on some of the smaller things in life that you can often make things better both for yourself and for other people. I have found out particularly since I had kids that the things that you do that actually make other people happy are some of the most worthwhile things that you can possibly do. I have been in bands since I was seventeen and eighteen, and life in those early days was about being in a band and trying to make it as a group. You can pretty much cocoon yourself into that life for a long time, and it only as you get older that all of a sudden you discover that the world is a little bit different than from living in that zone of cafes and studios and basements. PB: Are most of the songs on the album autobiographical? TIM RIPPINGTON: To an extent. There is probably something autobiographical in every one of mine. They are not always necessarily about me. They might be about someone else, but it is often someone that I know and, of course, they are always written from my perspective. STEPHEN MILES: Not necessarily. I don’t know, for example, any of the people in ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’. None of them are me. None of them are people I know. Some of them are bits of people I know I suppose, but I certainly couldn’t name anybody who fits any of those bills. ‘Angry Young Man’ is partially autobiographical. Certainly the main line is about me, but some of the other ones are slightly tongue-in-cheek. ‘The Robin Song’ is entirely autobiographical. It is written about my mother who died during the recording of this album. It is designed to be about all the good things that she left behind and good times that she had, rather than regretting that she is gone, which is quite a good way of handling loss. Although it is autobiographical, I would hope that other people would take something from it without necessarily knowing any of its history. PB: There is a female vocal on ‘The Robin Song’. Who did that? STEPHEN MILES: That is my mum singing at the beginning of that song. She had a fabulous singing voice, and performed in choirs in all parts of Bristol. She could have been a major singer, but had to give it up to go out and make a living. Much later on in life I taped her one day, and of course now that she is gone I regret not doing that much more. The recordings of her come from that tape. PB: ‘We’re Still the Same’ is one of your songs, Tim. Is that about your and Stephen’s renewed friendship? TIM RIPPINGTON: That comes down to me trying not to be so miserable too (Laughs). When I wrote that song, it was going to be called ‘It’s Not the Same’, and Steve said, “No. no. You should call it ‘We‘re Still the Same’. It sounds less melancholic.” It is about how everything is different in our lives now, but it concludes that we are still essentially the same people. PB: Did you really meet again as the song portrays in a dodgy pub in Bristol down near the docks? TIM RIPPINGTON: Yes, we did. Steve got in touch with me through the internet. When MySpace was still popular, he found me through that. Bristol is probably like many other cities in that it used to have a lot of dodgy pubs down the docks, but when I say it was horrendous I didn’t mean that it was grimy and horrible. It was one of those places with loads of TV screens. Steve lives quite a long, long way out, and about twenty miles away in Weston-super-Mare, so we picked a place in the centre of town, but it was the sort of place that neither of us would go into normally. My previous band the Forest Giants had just broken up. When I had known Steve at school, he was totally into his music, but I hadn’t known that he wrote music as well and I was quite surprised when we met again shortly after that he picked up his guitar and started playing songs to me. STEPHEN MILES: I have always written songs. I wrote poems and stories as well, but I hadn’t shown them to a lot of people. I wrote a lot of songs before I started playing drums in groups, but when I began playing in them I largely stopped. Some of the songs on the first two albums, and a couple of the songs on the third album as well, were written twenty, twenty-five years ago. PB: You seem to come from very different schools of songwriting. A lot of your songs on the album, Stephen, – ‘Angry Young Man’, ‘Short Stories for Long Nights’ and ‘The Robin Song’ - are fairly lengthy, while yours, Tim –‘Make Me Happy’, ‘Let Me See You Smile’ and ‘We’re Still the Same’ - are much shorter and snappier. Have you very different musical tastes? TIM RIPPINGTON: That reflects the fact that we have different musical influences. Steve is a big Velvet Underground fan, and he is a big fan of them live. He has got a massive archive of their live recordings. They did live often very different versions of the same song, some of which were quite lengthy, and he is a big collector of those. I come from more of a pop background, and am into song writing bands like the Go-Betweens and Galaxie 500 - bands like that and whose songs have a beginning, a middle and an end. Everything in the Short Stories is a meeting of two different sets of influences coming together. STEPHEN MILES: I don't think I've ever heard a Belle and Sebastian record, and I don't think Tim owns any Television. We both, however, like the songs the other writes even when they are just acoustic guitar and vocals basics; if we didn't, we couldn't work together! TIM RIPPINGTON: I would say though that we actually both write songs that in quite a similar style, despite the differences in our musical tastes. Arranging the songs is usually trickier though, and we often go through quite a few variations before we come up with something that both of us are totally happy with. PB: How often do you get together to work on new material? TIM RIPPINGTON: The hours have got unfortunately less and less. When we first formed the Short Stories, Steve was doing teacher training in Bath and he used to stop off in Bristol on the way home, but he now works at a secondary school in Weston where he also lives. PB: What plans do you have for the future in light of that? Will there be another Short Stories album? TIM RIPPINGTON: There will be another Short Stories LP, although it may take us a couple of years to get round to finishing it. In the meantime we are making a few videos for songs on the current LP which we'll be posting up as and when over the next few months. Gigs are less likely because of Steve's other commitments, but if something really good comes along I'm sure we'll try to fit it in. I met Stuart Murdoch at the End of the Road Festival recently and gave him a CD, so you never know! I have some plans as well to release some songs under another name just because Steve and I don't get that much time together, and I get itchy fingers! The band will be called the Charlie Tipper Experiment and I'm hopeful to get some recordings done and out in 2014, and maybe a bit of touring too before we get back down the Short Stories in earnest. PB: Thank you.

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Short Stories - Interview

Visitor Comments:-
699 Posted By: Pete Groling, London on 30 May 2014
Hiya I can't find any review of these guys actual recordings on the site, hasnt anyone done any?

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