introduction by sammy maine
There’s a stark, spitting anger that oozes out from Leeds four-piece Post War Glamour Girls. It’s in-your-face but not unnecessarily so; they’re the kind of group that are ready to vigorously shake you from your slumber but with a warming cup of tea in hand. New album Swan Songs explores their intensity through examining what makes us human – the anxieties that come with the shifting relationships with others and yourself; the stress of pushing to achieve; the wars that continue to wage without the bat of an eyelid. Post War Glamour Girls are angry but their articulation of such subjects is reprimanded with a grace and a grit that bestows a refreshing sincerity.
Approaching the album, the band spent time in the remote village of Skerray on the North Coast of Scotland with producers Jamie Lockhart and Lee Smith of Greenmount Studios. Turning rough ideas into a seamless record, the divide from their every day – and bonding with the village’s community – enabled Swan Songs to become something tangible and candidly poetic. It gave Post War Glamour Girls the chance to be themselves and to perhaps, learn something they might have missed.
You can stream Swan Songs here, and read the band’s guide to the record just below, with pictures from their time recording in Skerray.
words by james smith, james thorpe-jones, alice scott & ben clyde
James S: Thematically, this sets the tone for the whole record. It’s a positive message about finding purpose without a plan. It’s not me singing to you because I don’t know your problems and I don’t have the answers either way. Love is a universal theme but this isn’t about romance, it transcends that. It’s instinctually navigating it’s way through the unknown with a sense of purpose, aiming for something you don’t understand yet aren’t afraid of. It’s about everything happening all at once, about every movement being connected and of feeling that connection unknowingly.
James T-J: It’s taken 3 albums to allow ourselves the luxury of piling into a blue shed in Scotland, and to just play, play, play and play then hit record. “Guiding Light” was one of the first tracks we formed the basis of for Swan Songs, which is probably why it sticks out from the rest, the oldest child syndrome. Truth be told it does lyrically state the sentimental intent for the album, musically on the other hand it’s a restless, relentless and energetic bastard; I feel it’s as close to capturing that ‘live sound’ as we’ve come in the studio thus far.
Alice: The bones of “Chipper” fell into place very quickly once Benj got his sticks round it.The whole track sits back on his cocky drum swagger (he won’t mind me saying that) what a great beat Benj. So my bass line was particularly easy to write, and a particular favourite to play live as I get to strut the stage like a lanky peacock making sure I look like i’m playing a lot more than I am. Lyrically speaking, James disappears down a schizophrenic hole of despair which has never been repeated the same twice. Fuelled with a perfect balance of brooding Scottish sunset and single malt, the first vocal take is the one that went to press.
Ben: This began for me as one of those strange moments in life, hearing something you’ve known for so long and heard repeatedly, but then tuning into an element you had never paid attention to in the past. It’s like you’ve heard it so many times, that you suddenly transcend through the surface detail. On this occasion it was “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. It just hit me how good the whole feel was, the swagger and bravado in the music to accompany the MC-ing. I think we wanted and attempted to capture something similarly raucous and antagonising. (N.B we don’t actually think we’re N.W.A.)
Ben: I think this is by far one of our most mature songs we’ve ever written together. Everyone was playing economically yet with enough original personality poking through. I remember James S suggesting an idea of the beat and I interpreted as such, making sure the full beat kicked in at just the right time, without being too forceful. I love everyone’s parts equally, I think it’s one of Al’s finest bass lines she’s ever written, and Thorpe’s chiming guitar part which we doubled with Jamie’s one-man string section, elevated it to the sublime for me.
James T-J: Fond memories of this track and my personal favourite, I don’t have to play anything until the end really too, but hopefully that’s not what makes it great idk. Clyde’s drum pattern and James’ acoustic line has that Wild Beasts – Wanderlust vibe, “is he really going to keep this up for the entire track?” and I suppose the Peter Buck-esque pay off at the end is exactly that. Clyde and I were living together at the time and Murmur was frequently on the spin so that definitely had a direct influence. It’s a creeping, cringey, sticky mess of a track, like being stuck indoors on a dusty sweaty day in summer, and then all of a sudden the windows fly open.
Alice: For the longest time, no-one besides Smith had any idea where the chorus came in on this song. As a result the track has a super hypnotic feel to it, where parts naturally happen in a series of rounds meandering in and out of each other and waiting for others to catch up. I must have listened to this song upwards of three hundred times when making the video, and it’s still got meat.
James T-J: Took a second go to get this one ‘right’ and the solution was just to record it once and never play it back, not to let overthinking get in the way of its simplicity. For me, this track has always invoked the imagery of the dancing apes from the Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood video and The Muppets – Cabin Fever, it must be the primitive knuckle dragging rhythm and the “fever honey” line. In essence I think this one of only a handful of love songs we’ve ever written, we’re not quite at Bee Gees openness level yet; give us time.
James T-J: We were very excited about taking this up to Scotland as we’d only played it through once or twice before. It’s become a song of two halves that would be dog shit without the other, a bit like us as a band. Whilst up in Skerray we took some time off and headed up to the coast for some surfing lessons off Jamie’s (producer) niece Iona, and I think that feeling of being completely relaxed, and content amongst friends really sunk in and got a hold on this track, we could’ve played it for hours. In the end we found it hard to cut the length down for the purpose of vinyl, yes that’s the short version you’re hearing.
Ben: My lasting memory of this, which also sums up how I feel about the song aptly, was when we had gotten right into the flow of the song after a few runs through. We went for the take and afterwards everyone nodded silently. We took off our instruments, wandered out to the ‘shed’ to find Lee and Jamie, both sprawled out on deck chairs, sunglasses on, sun beaming down upon them, with the last take blasting out. That was clearly the one.
James S: This song is an evaluation of how your priorities may change when you’re no longer the centre of your own universe. It’s challenging the mindset of the middle class nuclear family model. The idea that you start a family and remove yourselves from any threat of danger by moving to the leafy burbs. You spend all your time working a well paid job you don’t like and losing the connection you once had with your life-partner just so your kids can have everything they want, and then they don’t appreciate or understand the position of privilege they’re born into. In the process you’ve sacrificed your own happiness and ambitions and it’s all so they can make vapid, hippy, bull shit EDM music about nothing on their iPads whilst sprawled out across huge, leather corner sofas eating all of your Waitrose essentials custard creams without a care in the world. Ain’t gonna happen to me and my kids mate.
Ben: “Polly…” took on a few identities before it became the animal you hear before you. Certainly from a rhythmical point of view, I wanted to emulate Flying Lotus in the groove without it becoming a full on beat, which sounded interesting if not a little abstract. It became clear over time when we were writing for last year’s live album that the song’s melody was so strong and emotive, that it needed what was needed all along; a big bloody beat. And that’s what we gave it.
James S: My favorite track on the record. It started as an exercise in wordplay in the vein of MF DOOM but quite quickly revealed itself to be a pretty deep track. It tackles the subjects of depression and immigration simultaneously. The first two verses allude to depression in quite an abstract way. Though vague in their self assessment, they’re quite clearly written in the first person, so are obviously about me. The chorus sounds more surreal still, but it is actually rooted in my family’s history.
I come from a long line of Polish Barbers. My great-grandfather fled persecution in Poland and arrived in London in the late 1800s. Our original surname ‘Konowpinsky’ was above the door of the barber shop he established there, but people kept bricking the windows because ‘go back to your own country’ was just as much of a thing back then as it is today and, sadly, humans never seem to learn… I’ve never felt much of a sense of identity, I don’t believe in flags or borders but finding out I’ve been going under a fake name my whole life resonated with me… It made me realise how different my life could’ve been if my great grandaddy hadn’t crossed the channel and changed our name (which we changed the name to Smith to protect the business). It was interesting to find out I descend from Polish barbers because I’ve always done a great job of cutting my own hair and then paying myself fuck all for it.
Alice: This used to be called ‘Sick to the Sun’ but had it’s name changed when Craig, Jamie’s nephew, was telling us about how he had his golden time taken away from him in class. At the time James and I were squeezed into ill-fitting wet suits in the back of Lee’s van, feeling extremely amateur next to little surf-tutor Craig, who has been in the waves since he could walk.
The track is so evocative of that time as it was pretty much entirely written in Scotland. I took all my overdrive out of my bass, turned the sub to ten and played softly. Benj, played the tambourine at the same time as the kit. Smith recorded/controlled all of his effects in real-time. And I’m pretty sure Thorpe wasn’t counting his painkillers right. To me, this track just feels easy.
Alice: “Sea of Rains” is one of those songs I can barely remember writing. I think it is Thorpe’s guitar that twinkles in and out of the picture like a sweet lullaby that lull me into a content slumber. Benj also splashed out on a ‘Sizzler’ for his ride cymbal which is basically a string of beads that dance a ‘shushing’ noise around your ears in the choruses. It is certainly the most peaceful track on the album with James uncharacteristically crooning to the moon.
James T-J: There was a Paul Simon style “dodo-do-do” that didn’t make it on the track due to unforeseen circumstances that it made James burst into a fit of laughter, that’ll always be a shame.
Alice: “Welfare by Prozac” has been waiting in the rafters for a while. It evolved from a bass line I wrote three houses ago, alongside two of our singles, “Gustave” and “Lolong”. The lyrics seemed all the more poignant once we found out we had left the EU and we ended up pushing “Welfare” out as a single earlier than anticipated.
Before Scotland, we had never sung this track. James had written the lyrics and the plan was for us to sing them together, one late night, which we did, facing one another into two tom-tom microphones, five inches apart. Now, I’ve never seen Thorpe put his foot up on his amp and throw his head back with his eyes closed, but Lee (producer) assures me that this is what happened, right at the end of this track when you can hear a guitar, wailing like a banshee. I will never be able to listen to this song and not be picturing just that.
James S: The most overtly political track on the record. I’ve always said I don’t want to ram my politics down other people’s throats. Though I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe in and always fight for what you believe is right, I think it’s really hard to change peoples minds this way. That said, this track is just about getting it off your chest.
The lyrics were written before the results of the 2015 general election and the doctor’s swearing an oath in the name of fiscal growth is alluding to the continued demise and privatization of the NHS, amongst many of the other horrible things the Tories are for and actively doing to destroy community and the harmony we’re working toward within it. I love the trade offs with Alice, it doubled the ferocity of it, and her delivery is so cool. On reflection, there is a lot of references to god, spiritualism and organized religion on this record. It taps into the idea that faith is a double edged sword. It’s claim and it’s blame… It’s a way of washing your hands of responsibility. Good and evil, escapism.
James S: Actually, maybe this track is more political… but thematically, it comes at it from a different angle to “Welfare By Prozac”. It actually gives clarity to the blurry statement of intent hinted at during “Guiding Light”. The album pulls up all these themes and hints at different things but Divine really concludes the record. It’s not about what the ‘higher power’ should be doing. It’s about what we, the people should be doing. I know it’s not that simple, but without approaching it as an idealist, such ideas would never get the chance to bloom.
Furthermore, it would make a terrible piece of writing, being a realist and all that… The absolute majority of us are being oppressed to some degree on the spectrum by a ‘higher power’ hell bent on staying at the top. Again, I never said I had the answers, but I do think it’s important to channel your frustrations into positivity. Holding the ‘higher power’ to account is so very important, but it also makes them/it all the more powerful when we feel we can only abide by their/it’s rules, this transcends everything for me. This is about giving power back to the people, and it sums up the record pretty bang on I reckon. Peace, Love, Understanding.
Ben: I think the loose and spontaneous way we approached this track really suited the recording on reflection. It was getting towards the end of the sessions, people were tired but still enthused. We wrote the final half that day and then just dived in. I felt like every time we played it, the more lost we became, the less we thought, the more transfixed, the further dusk penetrated the room, the more intense and violent that last half developed. It was like releasing a plug hole in a sink and watching the water vortex faster and faster. I really love James’ vocals at the beginning, it feels like it could be a public announcement on a government television advert, or even a politician’s empty speech. I think the beauty of it lies in the infinite interpretation, despite there being a clear message.
‘Swan Songs’ is released on April 21st, via Hide & Seek
You can pre-order it here