We voted The Wave Pictures our third best live band in the Soundsxp writers’ poll of 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re a place or two higher in the 2008 poll following a series of stunning live shows in the first few months of this year. What might be surprising is how a three piece band can take the simple building blocks of rock’n’roll and create something so sparky, thrilling, imaginative, smart-mouthed and moving from a set of three minute songs. They’re more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Jonathan Richman, the Mountain Goats, Darren Hayman, Herman Düne and Jeffrey Lewis (the Wave Pictures have toured with the last three artists and Dave played with Herman Düne on their January 2003 Peel session where they covered Dave’s ‘Dust Off Your Heart’).
The Wave Pictures (l-r): Jonny Helm, Franic Rozycki, David Tattersall
Although they’re now creating a mighty buzz, it’s taken a long time building. The Wave Pictures are David Tattersall (vocals, guitar), Franic Rozycki (bass) and Jonny Helm (drums). Franic and Dave lived in Wymeswold, Leicestershire where about 10 years ago they formed a band called Blind Summit with drummer Hugh Noble and covered Jonathan Richman and Dire Straits songs. Jonny joined after they met him at Cardiff University. The Wave Pictures are now based in Bethnal Green and, in the psycho-geography of London town, they’re one of the bands orbiting around the Duke of Uke music shop in Spitalfields, in the basement of which they recorded their latest album. Dave is now also a member of the urban hillbilly supergroup Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee.
The Wave Pictures have released two official albums (plus six CD-Rs): Sophie came out in 2006 on Smoking Gun Records and this week (5 May 2008) they released Instant Coffee Baby on Moshi Moshi Records. It’s a fabulous album, adding fresh fuel to the cult of the Wave Pictures, and your life will have a CD-shaped hole, as painful as a stolen kidney, unless you buy it. We web-chatted to Dave Tattersall in May 2008.
SXP: Growing up in Leicestershire, how easy was it to access the music that you loved?
David: I found it easy myself, I can’t speak for the others. My dad had a very small but well formed record collection which had things like Television’s ‘’Adventure’’, ‘’Let It Bleed’’ by The Rolling Stones and some good blues like John Lee Hooker and Skip James. I got into playing his records very young, when I was about seven or eight, and he was always encouraging. My mate Hugh’s dad had a tonne of records, country like Townes Van Zandt or hippy music like Hot Tuna and the Grateful Dead; Hugh’s dad also lent me records and introduced me to people like Patti Smith and Jonathan Richman. I also had an aunt with an American boyfriend called Jim who had a huge loft full of obscure strange sounds, jazz and world music, and he used to send me things. Through Jim I heard Ali Farka Toure and Bill Frisell, Django Reinhardt and Marc Ribot etc, etc. I remember going there as a child and spending the whole weekend making tapes of his records. Then when I was a teenager my mate Hugh started buying lots of indie records, K Records releases mostly and things like Galaxie 500 and The Meat Puppets, and I started listening to John Peel and I heard a lot of people that way. Plus, I had acoustic guitar lessons for ten years or so and the teachers would always encourage you to listen to something or other. The joy of music is that there is so much that can excite you if you have open ears. It never ends. So, no, I didn’t find it hard, I listened to hours and hours of music and I had a few helpful people who leant me things and talked enthusiastically about them. It’s the same now. I have no idea what is going on in the NME or on Radio 1, but a friend just played me The Gerry Mulligan Quartet for the first time and I can’t believe that I never heard them before, it’s so good. Either I’m lucky or it really is easy.
SXP: From the bands that you say you liked early on (Ballboy, Hefner, Herman Düne), I take it you were listeners to John Peel’s show?
David: Well, I was. I mentioned that in the last answer. I started listening to Peel when I was about fifteen and I never missed a show for a few years there. He was a really great man, a hero for me. Peel was someone who just loved music, who revelled in his subjective judgement. The whole world would change in a day if everybody adopted his attitude. It was very sad when he died how in all the obituaries they said he was great because he ‘discovered’ The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin etc. That wasn’t why he was great at all, and those people would have sold a million million records without him. He was great because he was a free thinker and there aren’t enough of those in the world. He was great because he could hear the value in a record that was made in someone’s bedroom for no money at all and he would play it in his show and thus completely subvert the whole stupid hierarchy of the music business. One of the highlights of my whole life was meeting John Peel. He had no idea who I was, but luckily Herman Düne invited me to do a session with them for his show and we got to go out to dinner with him afterwards. It’s one of the only times in my life that I’ve had nothing to say. I was nervous as hell. He was very affable and a little shy himself, I think because he really admired Herman Düne. I really was lucky to get to do that and to get to meet him.
SXP: This is your second “proper” album but it’s the 8th in total if you count the CD-Rs. Were they recorded for fun, for money or to test out songs (for example, ‘Leave the Scene Behind’ that opens Instant Coffee Baby appeared on 2005’s The Hawaiian Open Mic Night)?
David: For fun. We still do everything we do for fun really. We still don’t make enough money to pay the rent. To be honest, writing songs is fun, playing songs with my friends Jonny and Franic is fun, recording songs is fun. I have never consciously thought about testing out songs, but it’s true - that is what happens, but it happens afterwards, I would never think about it beforehand. I like re-recording songs too! There are some old things I’ve written that I want people to have a second chance to hear. But, our old CDR albums do confuse people. The Hawaiian Open Mic Night is a good example of an old Wave Pictures CDR album. We recorded it in a weekend at Franic’s house when he lived in Cardiff. I lived in Glasgow at the time so I knew it would mostly be a party when I went down to Cardiff to see him. Franic had discovered Gin and Lemonade, so we drank a lot of that and we ate a lot of Chinese takeaways and he had a microphone and a 4 track so we made an album in between drinking and eating. Why wouldn’t you? Making an album is a pretty good thing to do if you’re bad at sports, scared of hard drugs and useless with women. We didn’t send it to any labels, but we sent it to all of our friends around the world and we sold it for five pounds at shows. We just used to meet up and do these things. We behaved in that way for years and years whilst we were living in different places and doing different things from one another. Then we moved to London and got signed by Moshi Moshi and started on a whole different regimen of playing a million shows a week and getting press and so forth. This is also fun and our label guys are nice guys to hang around with. Again, a bit of good luck.
SXP: Following on from that, the Wave Pictures have been around since 1998 yet it’s only the last 12 months or so that you’ve been getting serious attention from the media. Has the lack of recognition ever been frustrating and how does it feel now to be asked to do so much all of a sudden?
David: I didn’t find the lack of attention frustrating personally. We always wanted more recognition but it never frustrated me because I understood that we didn’t do the things you were supposed to in order to get it. I mean, standard rules such as that a demo should have two or three songs on. Our first CD had about thirty songs on it. You should record in a studio. But we recorded at home. You should do lots of gigs. We did about one a year. Etc, etc. The truth is, we lived miles apart from one another and operated very slowly. We were at different schools. There was no rush. Finally in 2006 we moved to London, started recording in studios, got a record label, did loads of gigs etc, etc…. and then we start getting attention. It makes sense really. Nothing about it frustrated me. It was all good. And, you know, some of those home recorded CDRs are very loved by a few people, including us, so it really had its own value. Now that we are getting noticed it feels like we’ve left our comfort zone and exist in a strange and ugly world of ‘new London bands’…. We’re on the career treadmill and it feels like we could slip off any second. But, it IS all exciting. We want to still do this when we’re old and grey. We’re not in a rush right now, just like we weren’t in a rush before. All I can say is that we’ll have to see what happens.
SXP: When you started, you’ve said that you covered Jonathan Richman, Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits songs. Are there any songs you covered at the time that you recall with horror now?
David: No. We used to play lots of covers, and they were all very good. I still like all those acts that you mentioned.
SXP: There’s a big mutual appreciation society with Herman Düne and the Wave Pictures and André H-D covered each others’ songs on CD-R; how did you meet and start playing with them?
David: We gave them a copy of that 30 track CDR that I mentioned earlier after a show they played in Leicester. I think that happened about 6 years ago. They liked it and got in touch. I’ve become good friends with them since then. I am a big fan of Andre and David’s song writing and I enjoy their company and Neman’s company too. I’ve played with them on and off since that meeting. It is always a pleasure. They are serious in the right places and casual in the right places. They are serious about song writing and casual about performance. They improvise a lot. They play a lot of songs. They are good guys, I love them, hope I see them all soon.
SXP: You’ve said before that you don’t feel part of a scene but you could group some of the bands you’ve played with – including the Mountain Goats and Jeffrey Lewis - as “outsider music” or cult heroes. Would that satisfy you to fall into that category or are you looking for more from Instant Coffee Baby?
David: I’m not looking for anything from anything to be honest. Enough money to pay the rent would be nice. You could say it’s outsider music but both Jeff Lewis and The Mountain Goats play catchy simple songs with intelligent but not impenetrable lyrics. They don’t play avant garde music. There is nothing difficult about their music. It’s hard to imagine guys like that selling millions but there was a time when people like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits were huge stars and Jeff Lewis’s or John Darnielle’s music isn’t any more difficult than that. Anyway, for whatever reason, they are outsiders and they are cult heroes, it’s true. I know that the sound of The Wave Pictures will never sell a lot unless the world changes. I think the world would have to change first because we really can’t be bothered to overdub our guitars fifty times or whatever you have to do to sell millions. So, the best we can hope for is rent money. I already think we’ve made music that a few people like and I also wish to increase the number of people who like it, even just to increase the number who get to hear it. I also, more than anything else, just want to keep going. That’s the main thing. We don’t want to stop.
SXP: Your music is based on really simple rock’n’roll foundations; even now when you can record in a decent studio, songs are pretty stripped down and you can hear every instrument. Are you ever tempted to go wild with the technology? Could you ever make a dance record?
David: No. Hearing every instrument is one of the things I enjoy about the music I like. I’m not interested in orchestral music for instance. I can enjoy a Beethoven quartet, but the orchestral stuff bores me senseless, it’s just wallpaper to me. I like hearing each player, like building a mental image of them in the room. I have no interest and no skills in going wild with technology. Technology, computers, equipment… they bore me senseless. Dance music bores me senseless. I’ve never heard any that I’ve liked. Sorry about that.
SXP: We saw you play an amazing ukulele solo last year that made us rethink what so simple an instrument can do. But you haven’t brought it out since – has you gone off four stringed instruments now?
David: I went off the ukulele because it seemed to me to be a gimmick. I know that I am a good guitar player. I’ve spent years learning and playing the instrument. The ukulele I just picked up for a few months. It was fun, but the popularity of my ukulele playing was frankly absurd. All I did was plug it into a guitar amp, turn up the gain to make that ‘fuzztone’ sound, and then play the same shit I would play on a guitar. But it made people very excited. I can understand it, but at the same time, it has no meaning to me. If I came on stage and set fire to my face people would be excited, too. The Wave Pictures want to be a standard guitar, bass, drums outfit because without any gimmicks you really get to assess simply how good or bad someone is. Gimmicks do sell you though, I’m well aware of it. You don’t think Joanna Newsom would have got this popular, this fast, if she was a guitarist do you?
SXP: Your lyrics are often funny, strange, impressionistic and charming. Are there particular lyricists that inspire you? And have you ever bought anyone picked eggs or chutney as the lyrics of ‘I Love You Like A Madman’ suggest?
David: There are many lyricists who inspire me: Townes Van Zandt, Morrissey, David Berman, Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Jonathan Richman, Darren Hayman, Patti Smith, John Prine, Guy Clark, David Byrne, Terry Allen…. Millions and millions. The world is full of good lyricists. As for the second part of your question: no.
SXP: Finally, David-Ivar Herman Düne calls your music “accessible and uplifting”. That fits what we’ve seen so far; but do you have a dark side you haven’t revealed yet?
David: Well, how could I answer this in an internet interview? Either you’ll hear it on a record someday or you won’t! I don’t have a better idea about that than anybody else.