Passion of the Weiss: A conversation with Simon Tong of Erland & the Carnival, 2011

An interview with Simon Tong of Erland & the Carnival. Originally conducted for Scene Magazine, the entire Q&A was published on Passion of the Weiss, a music site edited by LA Times journalist, Jeff Weiss. Excerpt below.

The talent on tap for Erland & the Carnival, who emerged out of the busy London indie scene in 2008, is more than a little intimidating. There’s the charismatic, angel-voiced Erland Cooper out front, while the Carnival consists of David Nock, former right-hand man to producer Youth, and Simon Tong, one time cornerstone of The Verve and more recently guitar-for-hire for both Blur and Gorillaz.

The trio were always going to produce interesting music, and so it proved with their folk-inflected, self-titled debut, released just over a year ago. But there’s a danger when you throw this sort of group together – particularly when two members are experienced producers – that you create top heavy tunes, more concerned with atmosphere and feel than actual songwriting.

Erland & the Carnival’s new album, Nightingale, turns out to be just such a listen. This is an immaculate record – you won’t find a better produced slice of rock all year – but it’s not always an engaging one. The band have layered so many ideas on each track that the actual songs are often in danger of going missing completely. Still it eventually rewards patience, tunes like “Map Of An Englishman” and the spooky title track growing slowly out of the gloom. Elsewhere, the swing-dancing “This Night” is an electrifying candidate for a single.

I managed to catch the imperturbable Tong while he was recently on tour in Australia with Gorillaz. His quiet, northern timbre couldn’t disguise the idea that Erland & the Carnival are just getting started, and he was happy to chat at length about updating the band’s sound, pretending to be a commuter, and recording Nightingale in the bowels of an ancient battleship. Originally part of an article in Scene Magazine, the full interview is presented below – Matt Shea

You’re currently in Australia on tour with Gorillaz. How’s it’s all been going?

It’s been really good, yeah. Really nice audiences. It’s a shame the weather’s been a bit crap – we’ve just been following the cloud around.

Is it a little odd, the increasing stage presence Gorillaz band has taken over the last couple of years?

Yeah, it’s something they just had to do really. How can you make these cartoon characters come to life? I don’t think the audience isn’t quite there yet – maybe it will be in 20 years.

You’re involved in a lot of projects, Simon. What was the particular inspiration behind Erland & the Carnival?

Every band I’ve ever been in I’ve been asked to join or drafted into – I was joining someone else’s project sort of thing – but this is the first time I’ve actually really started a band myself. It was me and Erland: we kinda met and got chatting and found out we had a lot of influences in common – British folk music and that sort of thing – and we just started writing with each other. Originally I was just gonna write with him – he was going to be a solo act, a singer-songwriter sort of thing, and then I thought, ‘There are so many soddin’ singer-songwriters around. Do you really want to be a singer-songwriter? Can’t we just make it a band?’ It would be much more exciting and different, and there’s so much more you can do with a band, you know? So it kinda stemmed from that, really, and we started off quite acoustically as well – quite traditional – and then we just got more electric and stranger and kinda more modern, I suppose.

Nightingale – your second album in just over a year. Are you pleased with the way it’s coming together?

Yeah. Really happy, yeah. I mean we’d kinda been writing it for about a year and recording it and demoing it and stuff, and then we did about three months in the studio, we found an old boat on the Thames and that’s kinda how we finished it off and pulled it all together. Yeah, no, we’re very happy with it. It’s always hard: we just finished it about a month ago, so you kinda need a while for the dust to settle (laughs) and take stock of what you’ve done.

You seem like busy bunch of guys – particularly yourself – how did you manage to write and record the follow-up in such a short period of time?

Yeah, I think we just didn’t stop writing. We kinda finished the first album quite a while ago – probably like 18 months ago – and it didn’t come out for a while, so we’ve just continued writing ever since then and building up the songs we kinda had. It was a continual process and it still is, I guess – we’re still writing for the next one. It’s the three of us who write in the band so there’s quite a good flow of songs – we’re not relying on just one person to come up with the songs the whole time. It’s quite good to have three people each bringing ideas and developing stuff separately: it really keeps things rolling along.

I guess that means if you’re touring with Gorillaz, for example, the other guys can take up that slack…

Yeah, but I’ve got my laptop with me and you do writing on the road. It’s the 21st century, isn’t it? (laughs) That’s how you do these things.

What do you perceive as some of the big changes between your debut and Nightingale?

I think we wanted to make it more futuristic, if possible. A lot of the reviews of the first album sort of said, ‘Oh, it’s great but it sounds like it’s come from the 60s,’ which is kinda fine because that’s a period of music that I really love. But I think there was a conscious decision to try and still take the template of the first album, which was kinda modernising the old folk songs – that was the idea of it – we’ve still kinda kept that but just tried to make the music more 21st century, really. It obviously still has elements of things from the past, but I think it’s much more, production-wise and sound-wise, a much more modern-sounding record.

For the full article, visit Passion of the Weiss.

2 Responses to “Passion of the Weiss: A conversation with Simon Tong of Erland & the Carnival, 2011”

  1. Hey there, cool blog (and some brilliant posts too!) Was just wondering though, which platform did you build it with? Blogengine? WordPress? Dreamweaver? Also, did you find a designer, or make it by yourself? It’d be good to know. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for the comment. The blog was created with WordPress. I used a pre-made theme — find the links in the footer.

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