Field Music: Our friends in the north

Field Music don't care that their Sunderland home isn't cool. They even have a liking for Phil Collins, as they tell Kevin Harley

Hailing from England's north-east, Field Music number the Futureheads and Maximo Park among their friends. Maximo's drummer, Tom English, once described them as local "legends". They centre on a sibling dynamic, like the Beach Boys or Oasis. But to meet David and Peter Brewis, the core of this pleasingly arty Sunderland trio, in Newcastle upon Tyne is not to plunge into a bacchanalian rock pool, nor to take a ringside seat at the city's equivalent of some rock'n'roll soap opera. Happily, despite his band's pedigree, there's no hint of the London pop scene's currency of cool here.

Field Music's short second album-proper suggests as much. Like their sterling, eponymously titled debut album, and the interim B-sides release, Write Your Own History, Tones of Town ploughs a furrow at odds with fashion. Its 11 busy, bustling pop songs pack innumerable surprises into 32 minutes. The uniformly excellent reviews have seen Field Music compared, appositely, to the art-pop end of Blur's output, XTC's smart post-punk, Steely Dan's jazz-pop and even Peter-Gabriel-era Genesis. On the trio's MySpace site and in interview, their stated influences range adventurously from Thelonious Monk to The Beatles, the Neptunes, the Beach Boys and Roxy Music.

They also speak fondly of Phil Collins, mind. And when David launches into a half-ironic, half-spirited defence of "Against All Odds" ("The lyrics are absolutely terrible, though," Peter admits), he surely puts paid to their chances of securing a place on the NME's next Cool List. "Good," cracks Peter, the elder of the Brewis brothers, who graduated from a course in electro-acoustic music at Bangor, and plays drums.

In the tradition of bands situated outside what are presumed to be a country's creative centres, Field Music's location suits them. Fads are other cities' problems. "Fashion takes a while to get to Sunderland," David nods. "By the time it does, you can choose whether you want it or not. If you make music thinking, 'the kids'll like this', it gets in the way of you doing something original. And I think it gets in the way of you doing something good, as well. You have to just make music to amuse yourself and your peers. If your peers are critical enough, and if there's a network of people to encourage you, you might make something good. That's how it works for us."

Field Music started work in the Brewis family home, where their parents' record collections comprised a history course in mainstream British pop ranging from the Sixties to the mid-Nineties. "Nothing obscure whatsoever," David beams, proudly. "We listened to Phil Collins. Me mam loved Elkie Brooks." "And Robert Palmer," Peter adds, "and Stevie Winwood."

The sole hint of Oasis-esque sibling rivalry confessed to during the interview occurred when Peter received a drumkit for Christmas in 1989. "I felt jealous," David grins, "so I saved up and bought a £20 acoustic guitar. Peter got a book of chords and one of those plastic discs that show you how to tune. I couldn't play properly so I used to make excuses by saying, 'I'm 10, my fingers won't do that!' I used that excuse for years." "You still do," Peter quips.

In terms of sibling dynamics, who was Liam and who was Noel? "It was more like Dennis and Brian [Wilson]," Peter laughs. "But seriously, for me, if I'm doing a piece of music and I think Dave is going to think it's crap, then it probably is crap. I know that something I've written will make sense in Dave's head immediately. We'll mention bits of music and we'll know exactly what to do. And we give each other the confidence that the music will happen, which will often involve handing Andy some fiendishly difficult piano part."

Andy is Andrew Moore, the multi-tasking third Field-player who bears the brunt of any sublimated sibling tensions. "He's a very capable young man," Peter grins, which is helpful, given that Moore's duties often stretch to playing bass guitar and keyboards on the same song. Their friendship stretches back to school, when Field Music played covers of Doors and Led Zeppelin songs in local pubs. Still in their teens, they won studio time in a battle-of-the-bands contest and taught at the Sunderland City Centre Detached Youth Project. The project was a springboard of community-based creativity. "If there is a scene," David explains, "it's to do with a funny coincidence of people meeting and encouraging each other. You ended up with this situation where there were four or five bands and everyone was in each other's band. It was a fertile time for ideas."

Field Music sprouted organically from Moore's receptivity to the Brewis boys' ambitious ideas for what their band should be. "What we wanted," Peter recalls, "was for the strangeness of the music to be inherent in the music rather than just tagged on sonically."

David explains further: "It still annoys us when bands who are lauded as experimental just make ordinary songs with a synth in, going 'brrr!'. It's such a cliché."

Granted, this commitment to experimentation isn't the path to instant gratification. "We can't do anything about that," says David. "We'll keep on making records. And eventually, people will find us. That's how it happens with the best bands." "Except," Peter grins, mischievously, "for The Police and Phil Collins."

'Tones of Town' (Memphis Industries) is out now. Field Music play the Cluny, Newcastle, 13 February; ICA, London, 23 February; Cockpit, Leeds, 26 February; Glee Club Birmingham, 27 February; and Admiral Bar, Glasgow, 28 February

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