Sometimes you do an interview that leaves a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of you. This is one of those times. Fireworks Night, who named themselves after my birthday* are an eclectic bunch of characters. Band members are like swinging doors, coming and going, but the one constant thing in this band is the magic of the music. Who would have thought that coffee addiction, the opera, snooker tables and Reggae would lead us to the sounds of perfection? Read on...
Soundsxp: Who are Fireworks Night and why are you named after my birthday (and an annual celebration triggered by an historical event)?
James: Fireworks Night are, at full strength, currently six people. I play guitar and sing, Matt plays drums and sings, Tim Hancock plays keyboards and sings, Nick plays guitar, ukulele, saw and other things, Rhiannon Armstrong plays violin and Neil Walsh plays viola. Some, though not all of these people, played on our recently released album ‘As Fools We Are’. A full history of personnel would be long and perhaps tedious. It should be stressed however that any departures have been amicable.
Matt: Fireworks Night are sometimes two, sometimes six and sometimes in between. They play music, live and on record. They are on myspace.
James: The band name was initially a flippant suggestion which then stuck. There is sadly no great reason behind it but I do think it has come to suit us.
Soundsxp: What firework best describes you and why?
Nick: The one that you light, and then it doesn't go off, and you spend the rest of the evening a bit wary of going near it, in case it goes off into your eye and you never see properly again.
Matt: "The Imperial Bouquet" - according to Ghengisfireworks.co.uk it's "a great value mixture of multi colour bursts and comets."
Soundsxp:I must say that 'When we fell through the ice' can move me to tears. Are you aware of the effect that your music can have on the listener?
Nick: I am now. That's really lovely.
James: I’ll second Nick on that. Thank you. We’re sometimes made aware that we’ve made an impact on someone over the internet or when approached after a show. It is always sincerely appreciated and can really help us keep going if we’re having a difficult spell.
Soundsxp: You've been labelled 'folk noir' among other genres. How would you label yourself? Do you even want to be labelled?
Nick: I think, if you ask any decent band what sort of music they play, they'd go "Erm..." Most music that's conscious of being part of a genre just ends up sounding like distilled boredom- if you decide that you fit into a genre, all that's left is deciding which cliches you're going to use in your music. Having said that, I think we're "indiefolkadeltronica".
James: We are very bad at labelling ourselves, as the previous responses suggest. When pushed I might mutter something about ‘folk’ or something similar although I don’t really think of us that way. I don’t think we have ever asked to be labelled although I understand that it is sometimes a necessity. I always just ask people to listen to us and decide for themselves. Then, if they want a label they can come up with it – they’ll be the ones using it after all.
Soundsxp: Your songs have an element of tragedy running through them – Byronesque, almost, if you like. What drives you to create the songs that you do?
James: I write songs because, for the most part, I enjoy it. I’m not so sure, however, why I write the type of songs that I do. There are so many possible reasons. Maybe it’s because my father played Leonard Cohen to me when I was younger. Maybe it’s simply because I just like listening to ‘sad’ songs and my writing reflects that. Maybe I’m just a sourpuss. That said, I should point out that I try and make songs that are positive in some way. I hope that they do not come across as singularly depressing as that is not my intention at all. I would accept that my brand of positivity might not always come across very well. I find that if I look closely at the terrible things that people can do to each other then I tend to appreciate more the good that they can do. Sometimes that process can be blissful.
Soundsxp: How do you come up with some of the musical compositions. Are they well thought out or organic? Do you create music arrangements first then add the lyrics or the other way around? Some of it is simply spellbinding, especially 'Echo's swing.'
Nick: Since I seem to be the first person to answer I'd like to take the opportunity to take the credit for the string arrangements, please. Jim comes up with the chords and melody, and often a particular line that should be played - the structure of the song, basically - but a lot of it involves us all. I'm sure everyone has a little mental list of what they've contributed but the overall arrangements are often the result of everyones' input, I'd say. Jim's going to contradict me now, isn't he?
James: No! Nick is speaking 100%, GRADE A TRUTH. The string arrangements that you hear when we play live are his and they are excellent so it is fair that he demands credit for them. With regards to our records the pattern goes something like this… I’ll write a song (music first, words second), usually on a guitar and then play or record it for the rest of the band. Sometimes, if I record it, I might include some other musical ideas. From then on the process is absolutely collaborative and arrangements emerge sometimes as a result of much thought, sometimes as happy accidents. I tend to have a very strong idea of what sound I want and might push towards that but often I don’t need to. ‘Echo’s Swing’ is a good example of the group effort – what would be a pretty little song if I played it alone made bigger, bolder and, crucially, given atmosphere.
At this stage I should also give a massive nod to Ricky M who has produced both of our albums. He is always brim full of ideas and plays a vital role making our records cohesive and evocative - as further explained below.
Soundsxp:I read somewhere that some of the creative process has taken place under a snooker table? Is this true? It's a bit of a weird place to look for inspiration. Were you playing snooker and had a 'eureka' moment or something? Any other weird places you go to in search of a muse?
Nick: Did it? I have never done anything under a snooker table. Personally, I have all my best ideas in the shower.
James: I recorded the vocal to the song ‘Long Time Healing’ from our first album lying under a snooker table. It was Ricky’s idea. He thought it would suit the sound of the song. He was right.
Soundsxp: Your second album is called 'As fools we are.' Why that title? How does this album compare/contrast with your first one?
James: The title is actually the title of a song that didn’t quite make it onto the record. We tried out a lot of names and kept coming back to that. For me it fits because it can be taken light-heartedly as well as seriously and also because there are no heroes in the songs. This album is a lot more ambitious than the last one. It’s also the work of a ‘band’ while ‘It’s a Wide, Wide Sea’ was really a group of friends tinkering.
Soundsxp: There's a real 'dramatic' sound to your body of work. Is anything lost in a live performance? Or is the 'atmosphere' that your music creates intensified on stage?
Nick: I think, recently, we've become a lot better at creating the atmosphere we want onstage. When we were starting to play the songs live, I think we felt under a lot of pressure to be the indie band so we had bass, guitar, drums, keys, vocals, and none of us wanted to stop playing for a second so the songs kind of got a bit lost. Now we're all much happier to play when the song needs us, rather than when we want to, and we use a lot more strange guitar techniques and funny instruments.
Matt: I think fireworks night are very much a live experience. The full scope of what we are trying to do in terms of the texture of sounds we are creating is best heard at a gig. Having said that, I’m very proud of the record. If you have a kind heart and a keen mind you will buy it.
Soundsxp: What kind of characters are you? What are you searching for? What do you get/want to get out of your musical journey?
Nick: Personally, I decided quite a long time ago that I'd much rather make a broken, failed attempt at something I'd never heard before, than a polished example of something I'd heard a thousand times. So, I guess I'm trying to make everything a bit less broken and failed...
Matt: I am a polished example of something Nick's heard a thousand times.
James: I think what I want/get from music is to do with a desire to communicate. Playing music with other people FOR other people is an absolute joy when you feel that the audience has latched on to something that you are trying to express. It’s also a very addictive feeling. I’d like it to happen more – hopefully in some countries that we haven’t been to before.
Soundsxp: You have links with Cambridge. Is there any reason for me to go to Cambridge? Sell Cambridge to me.
James: Matt was our link to Cambridge. I think he is finished with it now.
Matt: It has like a totally amazing McDonalds, oh and a Gap too.
Soundsxp: Songs like 'When we fell through the ice' definitely set you apart. There is something unique about your sound. Who do you like to listen to? Who interests you?
Nick: I don't know whether this is a conscious decision, but a lot of the stuff I listen to is instrumental - William Basinski, Do Make Say Think, Sylvain Chaveau, Merzbow, Aphex Twin, Arvo Part, Steve Reich etc etc blah blah. Most lyrics are really, really bad, which might have something to do with it; good-lyrics-bands I like are things like Low, The Magnetic Fields, Wolf Parade, things like that. The stuff I listen to on my own, I probably wouldn't listen to in company for fear of being ostracised.
Matt: I like folk music; The Copper family, Martin Carthy, Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. That sort of stuff.
James: My most recent musical obsessions have been – Scott Walker (The Drift), The Knife (Silent Shout), Joanna Newsom (Ys), Grizzly Bear (Yellow House). I’ve also been enjoying Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Panda Bear, Feist and some opera (possibly pretentious but true nonetheless) – mainly La Traviata.
Soundsxp:You have the power to get 'a big cult following.' When you read that kind of statement how does it make you feel? Does it make you feel anything?
Nick: Who said that? What are they after, exactly?
James: Which cults? Are there any one would want to have following them?
Sarcasm aside that kind of statement makes me feel hopeful because if someone thinks we deserve a following then that’s a good thing. They haven’t found us yet though, these cults.
Soundsxp: What is making you feel happy/sad right at this moment in time.
Nick: I have a large mug of coffee. Few things make me more happy than a constant supply of coffee. Not so much a vice, as an addiction.
James: I’m pleased that I’ve nearly finished typing.
Soundsxp: What next for Fireworks Night?
James: We’re playing at the End of the Road festival in September which I am excited about. It’s our first festival. I’ve also started to work on new songs which will hopefully lead to another record although I can’t be certain when that might be.
Matt: More Reggae
*This is a total lie but it would be great if it were true. Go see them at the End of the Road festival and find a place in your cyber hearts and record collections for 'As fools we are.' You'd be foolish not to...