Field Music: A case of sibling revelry

After splitting to concentrate on solo projects, Field Music have returned, and with a better sound than ever, says Nick Hasted
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The Independent Culture

'If you're a bunch of white guys with guitars and drums, you get trapped as an indie band," Field Music's Peter Brewis declares. "That's when you question what you're doing. Are you actually in the same league as Bloc Party, and Kasabian, and Franz Ferdinand? Because if I am, then we're losing. And I want to take me ball back. Because I don't play that game. I thought I was in the league of Randy Newman and Todd Rundgren and the Band and Television and Wire and Peter Gabriel. Basically, the records I had. Naively, I assumed I was the same, and I'm not. It's a different game now."

Sunderland brothers Peter and David Brewis have been disappointed by the British music scene since the fractured pop of their self-titled 2005 debut as Field Music, made with Duke Ellington in mind, saw them lumped with friends the Futureheads and Maxïmo Park as Indie's north-east branch. The band's second album, 2007's Tones of Town, was followed by a seemingly permanent split. But Peter's album The Week That Was and David's as School of Language, Sea from Shore (both 2008), proved to be high-grade fuel for a triumphant new double-album return, Field Music (Measure). Cascading over its 20 tracks from Prince-style funk to bucolic folk and choppy, ecstatic rock, it promotes them into the ambitious musical premiership occupied by Americans such as Grizzly Bear and Vampire Weekend. "We went away and made different records to show we think about things differently from a lot of what's going on," David explains. "We made our own world."

Sitting gulping dinner before their first London gig together in nearly three years, Peter admits he felt "incredibly lonely" making music apart. He bows to David in conversation. The latter admits he's "not musically, but in terms of logistics, quite controlling. When Andy [Moore, Field Music's ex-keyboardist] was there, we had to have a democracy. Now we can live in our own binary fascist state!"

In truth, fascism, and the violent rivalry usual in British rock siblings from Ray and Dave Davies to the Gallaghers, couldn't be further from the Brewises' hearts. Consideration, home and hard work fill their lyrics and conversation. "I don't know about you," David muses to Peter, "but I value being nice much more than music. I could give up music if that's what it took for me to be a good person, and have a good, happy life."

"You have to try and be... communal," David perseveres, "and, if you are to do something, go through it without destroying things. Our parents are quite strongly principled. Dad's not as socialist as Mum, he's more pragmatic. We've slogged to make five albums, we haven't wasted time, and that comes from our backgrounds."

Perhaps rock's biggest sea change over the past 20 years, its abandonment of the social revolutionary agenda which made it seem so vital from Elvis through to punk's anti-Thatcher offspring, is present in the Brewises' more realistic ideals. While American peers such as Grizzly Bear make music about nothing but its own beauty, Field Music take a stand against corporate culture in the independence, honesty and ambition of the way they work.

"I'm certainly very wary of anyone doing music very successfully claiming for it any sort of larger social good," David considers. "Because most of the music you hear that claims to have those kinds of aspirations is trite. And it's not going to change anyone's mind. Bono probably does more to change people's minds by being very, very famous and doing lots of campaigning. U2's music isn't a force for social change. We follow principles in how we go about making music, that conform to how I want to be as a person. We really try not to bullshit anyone. And we really try not to be wasteful. I feel that about debt. The music industry is proliferated on bands getting money up front, then being under the cosh." Field Music have instead made every aspect of their records themselves, from recording to videos, in the co-operative Eight Music studio they co-founded with the Futureheads.

Field Music (Measure) is a culmination of their efforts to date. Peter was listening to the stately atmospheric pop of the Blue Nile, Talk Talk and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and Lou Ferrari's environmental tape-collages; David obsessed over Bowie's Scary Monsters, Led Zeppelin and Richard Thompson. The new record restates the ambitions with which they began. "The first album had an experimental idea behind it," David recalls. "To do something with a very limited palette, and all the weirdness is either going to be in the songs themselves, or the arrangements. And I forgot that's the reason I wanted to make records. With this album, we haven't expanded our sonic palette much, because the previous albums were so dense with ideas. You can't lie and say, 'I'm only influenced by myself.' With us, it's, 'The way Prince approaches rhythm on those albums – that's good, I want to do something like that.' And obviously we miss. Because we're just two blokes from Sunderland. But that's what the Beatles were doing – failing to make "Drive My Car" sound like Stax. We're embracing what recorded music can be. Which is collage."

'Field Music (Measure)' is out now on Memphis Industries