Guillemots - A band back in fine feather

After a second album which took them away from the warm hues of their lauded debut, Gillian Orr finds Guillemots going back to basics

Music is not limited to certain instruments; I think that's bullshit. The rules are irrelevant; if it makes an interesting sound then why shouldn't it be used? What about all the sounds around us?"

Guillemots' guitarist MC Lord Magrão is explaining spiritedly the band's unique approach to making music, one that's won them some dedicated fans and garnered a Mercury Music Prize nomination since they first formed almost a decade ago.

Since then it's been a bit of a rollercoaster for the four piece, whose members come from England, Scotland, Brazil and Canada. When they first appeared they seemed destined for huge things but have since struggled to deliver on the initial promise.

Back in 2005 they were the toast of the music industry, relaying in interviews tales of being wooed by several major labels and asking for increasingly ridiculous things from companies they had no intention of signing for. They were confident and excited and they had every reason to be.

Guillemots' 2006 Mercury-nominated debut, Through the Windowpane, spawned several festival favourites, such as "Made-Up Lovesong #43" and "Trains to Brazil", and their penchant for flamboyant outfits and idiosyncratic performances, which saw them introduce non-instruments on stage, such as typewriters, led Rufus Wainwright to call them "a super-sexy pack of nerds who aren't afraid of being possessed, Linda Blair-style, by the music", before promptly whisking them off on tour.

Their second release, Red, however, failed to win over critics and audiences quite like their debut and many felt it was an overly ambitious, muddled affair which lost its way somewhat.

So 2011 sees them a modest band, not a huge one; a somewhat confusing band, not quite a great one. As they prepare to release their third album, frontman Fyfe Dangerfield, Magrão and drummer Greig Stewart (bassist Aristazabal Hawkes is absent from our meet) are only too aware that there is a certain amount of pressure.

"To a degree I feel like we need to prove ourselves because Red certainly confused some people," nods Dangerfield. "Of course we want people to like it, we'd love to be a big band and I think we're making music that does reach out. You know, we're not trying to make arty music, we're trying to make something that's really beautiful and dreamlike, but we want it to be universal."

Their new offering, Walk the River, is filled with their signature mix of dramatic orchestrations, moving melodies and uplifting anthems. But it's noticeably stripped down compared to previous efforts. "It was certainly defined by the restrictions that had to happen," explains Dangerfield. "There was a much lower budget for a start, so straight away it's like, 'Well we won't be having a string section or brass stuff because we can't afford it'. We've always wanted to do a record that is more about how we play live anyway."

Recorded in a converted country manor in the mountains of North Wales, the atmospheric environment seemingly informed the final product. "Even though we were only there for three weeks, it permeated the whole thing," notes Dangerfield. "It was very magical and there was something really quite special about the place."

While they were working on the music together, they found themselves moved by certain words and imagery. "It felt like someone waking up abandoned in outer space," explains Dangerfield. "Not in a sort of prog-concept way, but we tried to think what that would feel like – to come to and everything you know is gone, but you're certain you have a home somewhere and the only thing that keeps you going is this hope that you're somehow going to get back there." Sure enough, the lead single, "The Basket", begins with the line: "Wake up, nothing is where it should be, why do these things happen to me?"

"That feeling became the focus for everything," Dangerfield continues. "It was the bulb in the middle which everything had to gravitate towards. I think we all wanted to make something that sounded quite big but not overblown."

With their adventurous lyrical vision and out-there approach to songwriting, have they ever found themselves conflicted between their desire to push boundaries and the commercial demands of their label? "There's definitely a tension in the music or in the process of making the music," agrees Dangerfield. "There's always a push and pull but I look at the people I like and grew up listening to, like The Beatles, and I think there was that tension there. A great pop song is the hardest thing in the world to write. I'm conscious of the fact that it would be a lot easier for us, in a way, to go off and make out-there David Lynch soundtrack-style records. Part of the challenge is trying to write melody and lyrics that anyone can get into, but to then colour it in with the sonics of something that can take you away to places. I'm aware we're on a major label and there's going to be a certain expectancy." He pauses, before adding, "I know it's very fashionable to bitch about your record company, but they've actually been really good to us. We handed in a 65-minute record with eight- and nine-minute songs on, and I was gearing up for the fight, and then... not a word."

There's evidence that the band has been bruised by some of the criticism thrown at them in the past, and throughout the interview they are self-conscious about some of their answers. They're aware that they have irked people with their perceived quirks. "We feel like outsiders in a way," says Dangerfield. "I think we're still seen as a bit of an oddity, and I'm not entirely sure why. It only takes you being called wacky a few times for you to get a real hang up about it. I'm conscious of the fact that I've done stupid things at gigs in the past, like silly dances. There are definitely some things I wouldn't do again, but they were never really preconceived to try and be theatrical."

"I think it's really unfair," Magrão interjects. "There are those bands that are pretentious on stage – they think they've got to do the whole cool thing because they're in a band. When I'm on stage I just feel like I'm in my bedroom – and if we do some weird shit, actually, we're just being ourselves."

Guillemots' new album, 'Walk the River', is released on 18 April (www.guillemots.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable