Field Music’s time together is a tale of twists and turns, with the brothers Brewis – both Peter and David – releasing six albums of creatively fascinating music.
Seventh full length ‘Open Here’, though, represents a break with the past. Perhaps more concise, more pointed, and more political than what has gone before, it’s also increasingly out-ward looking, ambitious, and resolutely personal.
It’s an album that more than lives up to the band’s exacting standards, as Peter Brewis explains. “I think we have high but realistic standards,” he tells Clash. “I think we make sure every element of it is good.”
‘Open Here’ is the final album to be made at their current Sunderland base, with the building that houses their studio being demolished, to be replaced somewhat inevitably with quick-fix student accommodation. “I should actually be there at the moment helping out, but we’ve timed things pretty badly,” he chuckles. “The pianos are being moved today. It’s getting demolished and being turned into student apartments, as it’s quite close to Sunderland University.”
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This change leant an increasing intensity to the recording sessions, with the band forced to move a little faster. “We started it in good time,” he recalls, “but there was a bit of a sense of, well, this will definitely be the last record we make here. When we were making the record as well we were conscious of having a few more voices on there. I think that’s what we wanted. To make it a bit of an ensemble piece!”
A distinctly Field Music-like experience, ‘Open Here’ is also an assemblage of other voices, other timbres and tonalities – there are full string sections, example, while wind and brass are augmented by returning spots from Cornshed Sisters.
“In general, me and Dave had things down, but with some of the wind and brass parts we were able to change those ideas and make then more idiomatic for the instruments. Things went in certain ways that we hadn’t expected,” he admits. “Which is not normally a thing that we do really. But it was good to let that go a bit. And I think we’ll do more of that in the future.”
Ceding control became a recurring feature of the sessions, adjusting their songwriting as they progressed. “I suppose we wanted to get wide dynamics in it, so there are parts when there are lots of things going on and then there are moments when it’s just voice and piano, or voice and guitar. Make sure things were varied, really. Make it sound like the whole record was a coherent thing. I think that’s always been the idea but we pushed it a bit further this time.”
If ‘Open Here’ feels like a definitively Field Music experience, then it’s also the sound of the duo moving into uncharted waters. Album highlight ‘Checking On A Message’ has that sense of misfit funk, yet it’s also laden with political allusions, to the upheaval of Brexit viewed through the spectrum of their home city.
“Sunderland was – and they would feel this proudly, I think – described as the first town out of Europe, because it’s vote came in first and they voted to Leave, despite having so much assistance and funding from the EU in the past,” he remarks. “It took probably a couple of years of writing songs, and making music, and there hasn’t been a shortage of things to write about. There rarely is, but things have been very dark right now.”
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These aren’t grand political statements, however, more personal observations, rooted in real-life changes in the brothers’ lives. “I find it horrible to force that, it has to be natural,” Peter asserts. “I tend to write and write and write things down, and then will go over things and think: can any of this be used for anything? It ends up being quite a long editorial process, but it means that if you write down things when you think of them then there’s a fair chance they’ll be used.”
It’s this process that leads to ‘King And The Princess’ - on the surface a tender song written by David Brewis about adjusting to fatherhood, it’s also a frank discussion on gender roles in British society. “We tend to write from personal things, or view world events, political things, through the lens of the personal,” he explains. “That song is very much Dave thinking about his own situation, it’s very specific. Where someone has called his daughter ‘a princess’ and commented on what a good father he must be. So he’s used that very particular experience to talk about wider things. And I think most of the tracks on the album have that lyrical genesis from things like that, very personal things.”
Constantly reaching outwards, Field Music spent a long time tying together the material on ‘Open Here’, resulting in something concise, whole. “We wanted to make it a bit more concise than the last one (2016’s ‘Commontime’), which was a bit too long, in a way. We edited things and got to the point where we had a concise record where things slotted together and we could see what fitted where. It all seemed to make sense.”
Out now, ‘Open Here’ certainly seems to make sense with fans. Field Music are currently in rehearsals for a lengthy UK tour, with highlights including a Newcastle residency and a spectacular ensemble performance at London’s Barbican. Currently moving out of their long-term studio, the brothers are certain they’ll be staying in the North East.
“We’re going to stay in Sunderland. It’s cheap and cheerful!” he laughs. “It’s good to stay outside of these scenes, and be a part of something a little different. Even when we go down to London for mastering or something like that we feel less like musicians and more like customers – there’s a lot of clock-watching, put it that way.”
Fully immersed in their songwriting, if there’s one thing Field Music could never be accused of it’s clock-watching.
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'Open Here' is out now.
Catch Field Music at the following shows:
5 London Rough Trade East
6 Bristol Rough Trade
7 Nottingham Rough Trade
9 Brighton Resident Records
8 Brighton Komedia
9 Bristol The Lantern
10 Southampton Engine Rooms
11 Exeter Phoenix
15 Birmingham 02 Institute 2
16 Manchester Gorilla
17 Glasgow Saint Luke's
22 Liverpool Arts Club
23 Sheffield Foundry
24 Norwich The Waterfront
25 London Barbican with the Open Here Orchestra
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