Public Service Broadcasting have been a hot ticket ever since the release of their debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain popped up in 2013. Using a unique blend of public service announcements, news clippings and samples from famous speeches they craft their electronic soundscape around the information being imparted to form a glorious concoction of well, education and entertainment.
Having formed a strong relationship with the British Film Institute through their use of archive samples from England in the Blitz on their EP The War Room, for their latest offering, The Race for Space, the duo were granted unique access to historically important films from the BFI allowing PSB to go back in time and explore the period when the USA and USSR fought to gain the upper hand in a new frontier Ė space.
The Race for Space features some firsts for the duo Ė lead single Gagarin features a 6-piece brass section and a 5-piece string section, a superhero funk tune for the most famous man in the world at the time. More surprisingly, the album opens with the celestial tones of a choir, recorded at Abbey Road Studios; and perhaps most unexpected of all is the addition of guest vocalists on one track. The clear picture is of a band that are constantly evolving and pushing the scope of their sound.
Having wooed audiences at Blissfields in 2013, theyíre back in Hampshire next month for another round so we took a few moments to chat with head of the chap pack and corduroy loving muso J. Willgoose to find out what the deuce all this space malarkey is aboutÖ
You released The Race for Space earlier this year, whatís the reception for that been like so far?
Pretty good I think, yeah. Iíve been pretty happy with how it seems to have gone down. It seems to have connected with people in the way that I wasnít sure it necessarily would do. I hoped it would, but you can never be sure until it gets out there so yeah, Iím quite happy with how itís gone down so far.
How did you land upon space as the concept for the album?
It was probably coming off the back of The War Room and looking for something along a similar vein and being slightly pragmatic about it and wanting something that I knew thereíd be a lot of great footage and great stories about. And itís something Iíve been personally interested in for, well, as long as I can remember and yeah just the scale and the scope of it just appealed to me because it means you can take a few more risks with the music as well.
And when you strike upon a piece of footage that inspires you, how do you then go about building the music around it?
Thatís not necessarily even the case. Quite often thereís music floating around anyway and itís a case of finding something that you think will go with it so you can be looking for something in particular and if you find something that you think is going to work, thatís obviously a very satisfying moment. At least 50% of the time the music is kind of formed already and the music is in search of something rather than the other way around. It was probably about half and half for this album. But however itís been generated, whether itís hearing the speech first or writing the music first, when it comes to putting the songs together, the samples stay off it until the song is about 80% done. Itís always focussed on getting the music as strong as possible first and then seeing how you can weave the samples in and out of it to reinforce it.
Can you remember the first time you became aware of sampling as a technique within music and what you first started playing around with?
Iíve been personally playing around with it for ages, probably since about 2000 I think just on a keyboard that had a small whatever the precursor to the SD card was and I just loaded a few films onto it. I was probably inspired by The Holy Bible [Manic Street Preachers] as much as anything because I got started off on guitar music before weaving into all sorts of other genres and listening to basically everything today. So it was probably the Manics and the way they used samples on the Holy Bible that really kind of turned me onto using sounds in that way, which is a weird source to get your love of sampling from but itís definitely one of the big ones for us.
You worked with a full band on the single Gagarin, what was that like?
Yeah, it was good. Itís always nice to work with more musicians and get more people playing on it, different sounds and characters and all that. It was a bit of a departure sound-wise for us so it wasnít without a few nerves about how people were going to perceive it but ultimately it was something that we wanted to do so letís just do it and hopefully people will like it. It was done with a view to proving that, in this case there were literally a few more strings to our bow and getting strings and brass involved. It goes back to the idea of ambition really and trying to create something that matches the scope of the audio that youíre dealing with.
And how will you transfer that over to your live show?
Weíre touring brass with us where we can and I think at Blissfields weíre going to do our very best to have brass with us but canít say for sure yet though. Weíve expanded the core touring element to include a third musician as well as our visual artist and set designer Mr B so thereís four of us permanently on stage now which is nice and heís playing a bit of bass, keys and percussion and playing a bit of brass himself so itís all growing still.
How do you present the video clips, etc within your live show?
It all depends with festivals as to what time of day weíre on and what production is available on stage. We did a couple last year in daylight and our projections are no match for the sun sadly so we did them visual free but I think weíre on pretty late at Blissfields so weíll either have our own TVs or possibly their screens, or possibly both.
Your music is designed to teach audiences the lessons of the past through the music of the future. How do you think that propaganda has changed since the time of the footage you utilise through this digital age?
I should first of all say that that sentence I wrote in 2010 to set me, cos it was just me back then, to set me apart from the 6000 other acts that were heading up with the Edinburgh Fringe so it was kind of an act of releasing a PR statement and not one to be taken 100% seriously. But I donít know, I think people are slightly more savvy to it in general and working in more subtle and mysterious ways. Itís more about where you choose to get your news from. You could be basically receiving 24 hour propaganda which is a sad new development of the current age. Youíd have been hard pushed to find that 50 years ago Iím sure.
You mention the tongue-in-cheek element that features in quite a lot of your work. Do you think sometimes that message gets lost in translation?
Thereís always a risk of we do being perceived as being pretentious and having a horrifically didactic approach to music making and seeking to teach people stuff that we believe they donít know about, which is definitely not the case. Weíd never set out to portray ourselves as the fountain of all knowledge, itís not about that at all. Possibly people do take it in a way that we wouldnít like them to sometimes but I think thatís part of the deal of being out there I suppose. You canít control what people think of you.
Your image is often commented on, when did you start wearing corduroy and was it a conscious styling of the band?
I must have been wearing it from an early age but it wasnít as exclusive as it is now. I think the first gig was in summer 2009 and I remember me and the missus going to various charity shops and picking out the worst possible brown shirts we could find and corduroy jacket and trousers and putting it all together for as cheap as possible. It just kind of felt like the right look really. It felt like a 70ís geography teacher / 70ís BBC worker / Open University. Slightly fuddy-duddy but undercutting any kind of pretention that people might seek to attach to us.