The School are “candy coated indiepoppers” from Cardiff, who write charming pop songs steeped in the spirit of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and the girl groups of the 1960s. They’re fast developers: signed to Elefant Records after only 4 shows, they played Latitude in 2008, seem to gig regularly, most recently supporting The Boy Least Likely To on tour, and are ever presents at Indietracks. All of which is building up to their debut album release in Autumn 2009, which is being recorded with Ian Catt (Saint Etienne/Stars/The Field Mice/Shampoo). That will follow their Elefant singles to date: they’ve released one gorgeous bubblegum-pink vinyl single ‘All I Wanna Do’ and a CD EP ‘Let It Slip’, both on Elefant, with ‘All I Wanna Do’ featuring on the Rough Trade Shop’s Counter Culture round-up of the best of the year for 2008. Liz formerly played keyboards and sang in SoundsXP favourites The Loves and she and members of The School also appear in Cardiff supergroup Little My. The current line up of The School is Liz (keyboards/ vocals), Ryan (bass), Rich (drums), Steph (violin/ vocals), Harri (guitar/ glock/ vocals/ percussion), Colin (trumpet), Simon (occasional keys/ vocals/ handclaps) and we talked to Liz in August 2009.
SXP: The Loves were brightly dressed 60s-obsessed popsters. Is the School much different from the Loves?
Liz: We aren't as brightly dressed but we hope to be soon. We're also 60's obsessed, but I think The School exploit their girl-group side more than The Loves. There's a track on the new Loves album called 'Love Song #7' which is fantastic and sung by Jenna Love; I hope there are more like that on their next album. I think the key to the Loves' live appeal is the interaction between Simon and Jenna and I'm certainly not as glam obsessed as Simon is.
SXP: How were the Schoolmates recruited and is there a settled line-up now?
Liz: We've had several line up changes, especially between the recording of the first single & EP and the rest of the album. That certainly contributed to the delay in finishing the album. It's hard to find good musicians in Cardiff, let alone ones that understand where you're coming from, or even like our kind of music. We've had changes on all instruments apart from me, bass and violin. We're still not completely settled yet sadly - work and other commitments can often be a problem for us, but the band now is the most supportive group of people I've come across in a long time.
SXP: You can hear the influence of Spector and girl groups, among others in your songs. How do you maintain the inspiration and avoid pastiche with such a distinctive sound?
Liz: It's all real, everything in the music is true, my heart and brain genuinely think they're in that era. It's what I live and breathe so would be unnatural for me to make any other type of music. Being in The Loves gave me the confidence to write songs that feel right, rather than what other people are expecting to hear. I'm always worried we'll be dismissed as a 'cutesy' Pipettes rip off by lazy journalists who are looking for the next Animal Collective, but I'd like to think anyone who would potentially like our music will see past that.
SXP: You’ve just released a fantastic cover of the Left Banke’s baroque pop classic ‘And Suddenly’ in the Slumberland ‘Searching for the Now’ series. What made you choose that song? And hearing that the School seem to be making a more elaborate sound these days, especially with Steph’s violin, does ‘And Suddenly’ represent a new direction for The School?
Liz: Slumberland approached us about releasing a one-off split single that wouldn't be on the album, so we decided to use that opportunity to record a cover (we love covers). The Left Banke have had quite an influence on my songwriting (piano-led pop songs) - also The Zombies too. I wanted to pay tribute to that but choose a song that wasn't so obvious like ‘Pretty Ballerina’ or ‘Walk Away Renee’ as these have been covered several times before. By people like The Bluetones and Menswear. Which is a good thing by the way. ‘And Suddenly’ felt like the song that we could make sound the most like a School song. We really love playing it live, it's a permanent part of our set. The arrangements are becoming more elaborate yes, I'm always trying to slightly vary how all the instruments are used so we're not just a blanket of noise and the songs don't end up all sounding the same - the newer tracks on the album hopefully start to reflect this.
SXP: On the cover of the ‘Let It Slip’ EP, Liz is pictured blissed out on the floor, surrounded by 60s and 70s vinyl, and I remember her buying loads of 60s Nuggets-related records when she was in the Loves. Does all the School have similar inspirations or do other people bring different influences?
Liz: Haha, yes that's me in my living room showing off as usual. The School are very lucky to have band members who all have a very wide yet similar taste in music - 60s, indie, experimental, folk. We all listen to a lot of different music all the time, and you can always find us at gigs in Cardiff - I think that certainly helps us bring our 60s influences to meet today's, and keep us on our toes.
SXP: The School has a strong base in Cardiff. Are you ever tempted to move away, given the growing popularity of the band?
Liz: I'm always tempted to move away from Cardiff but only to places like Sweden; nothing to do with the popularity of the band though. Cardiff is our home and if Los Campesinos! can base themselves here successfully then so can we. I don't think living in somewhere like London matters as much as it used to 10-15 years ago, the internet has helped that a lot. I cringe when people I know move to London as if they're seeking their fortune, they always end up fading away into millions of people, it's really sad.
SXP: You seem to be active tourers now, with lots of different bands. Who’s the best act you’ve played with and who would be your ideal bill to play on?
Liz: Eek that's tricky. The Boy Least Likely To were my perfect band to support, they were absolutely lovely people too. I'm glad that our first proper tour support was with someone who chose us to play with them, rather than arranged through a third party. We get that a lot as promoters in Cardiff, tour supports who are booked just because it's convenient for the agent rather than because they complement the headline band. My ideal bill would turn into a festival, but I think we'd love to play with people like Camera Obscura, The Carrots, The Besties, The Essex Green.
SXP: You’ve been snapped up by Elefant Records for a couple of albums. What does being signed to Elefant mean to the School?
Liz: It's a dream come true. My plan in 2007 was to send demos to lots of labels, do a couple of releases on singles clubs, and hope that Elefant may pick us up a few years down the line. I made it my ambition to get signed by Elefant one day, maybe for the second or third album. But then I had an email from Luis Elefant asking to sign with them for 2 albums, and I couldn't believe my luck. We'd only played 4 shows, and they soon had us recording with Ian Catt (Saint Etienne) and having our songs featured on compilations and television shows all over the world, playing Spanish festivals and talking about albums. They're such genuinely nice caring people, with a real enthusiasm for our music and a good international reputation, I couldn't care less about signing with another label.
SXP: You’ve released a couple of singles and a CD EP so far. When can we expect an album?
Liz: The debut album, Loveless Unbeliever, will be released later in the year. It's scheduled for October but we think it may end up being November now, it's currently being mastered. We're very excited. I feel quite guilty that it took so long to record the album, I was getting quite fussy with my songwriting and wanted it to be perfect.
SXP: Valentine was chosen for a fridge advert in Japan. Has it done anything for your profile in that country? And how did you feel when your music was used on an ITV trailer for Kingdom?
Liz: We've had quite a good response from Japan since the very start, just a quick look through our myspace friends will show a huge amount of listeners are from either Japan or the US. Lucky Soul, who are also on Elefant, have had a great reception in Japan so we hope to go down the same way and want to tour there next year.
I still can't stop laughing when I see the Kingdom trailer, I still get butterflies. I spent about 2 weeks shouting 'we're on f***ing TV!!!' each time it came on. Simon saw it first in between watching Britain's Got Talent, but I didn't believe him. He's always playing tricks on me so I always assume he's lying. But then he phoned Ryan too - he would never pull a trick on Ryan. We stayed up until 2am sitting through the worst programmes ever to be shown on television before giving up, then we finally saw it the next day. Elefant were still in the middle of closing the deal for the advert and as they're based in Spain, we don't always get the message straight away so it was a lovely surprise. My parents now think my true calling in life is writing jingles.
SXP: You’re very natty dressers, especially you, Liz. Have you even considered a School uniform?
Liz: Thank you! We are currently considering a School uniform actually, especially as we always seem to be expanding slightly, we can look a little scruffy at times. It will be loosely based on the theme of 'colour'. I don't want to be too strict with people but I do like to look like we've put in a bit of an effort. And I'm now armed with a sewing machine so if anyone misbehaves they're getting a costume!
SXP: Would you have chosen the same name for the band if you’d realised then how hard it is to Google?
Liz: Have you googled our band name recently?