One of SXSW's major selling points is the concentration of talent sharing one square mile for such a short time. We still wonder how Austin didn't spontaneously combust with the sheer magnitude of artistry constrained to a single city and several stages. So being the opportunists that we are, between sets we took time to sit down with some of our favorite artists, new and old, to get to know the brains behind the bands a little bit better.
First up was three-piece UK experimental cinematronic outfit Until the Ribbon Breaks – a band breaking molds with their avant-garde, genre-melting productions. And given the dashing, debonair good looks of producer Pete Lawrie Winfield leading the charge, they're probably also breaking some hearts. The guys (also comprised of James Wolujewicz on synth and Elliot Wall on drums) first entered our lives via the track “Pressure” – a culturally-relevant, anti love song toward the media, inspired by the press missing the mark when covering the London riots a few years back. We heard the song on the MS MR Track Addict Volume III mix-tape, which is appropriate given that the band name was inspired by playing a cassette mix-tape “until the ribbon breaks." Way to make old new again, gentlemen.
And speaking of brand spanking new, today we’re premiering the video for “Goldfish,” a brooding ballad off Until the Ribbon Breaks’ new EP The Other Ones. And this is quite the treat, because the videos that UTRB releases are not simply supplemental cinematography to the sounds, but rather, atypical amalgamated works of art.
"Goldfish" gives the viewer multiple perspectives: seeing a flock of seagulls in the sky from underwater – and then alternatively getting a bird’s eye view of a man drowning and a lifeboat burning on the surface of the sea. These visual elements of fire, water, flight, fear, and struggle provide an intensity that might get lost in just an audio interpretation. The jarring imagery elevates the emotion of Pete’s signature distorted, fiercely whispered vocals, giving deeper meaning to the lyrics written on screen – and it’s like reading a book in which the pictures and words seamlessly envelope our consciousness as one complete sensory experience. The glowing synth resounds over a eerie choir of “ohh ohhs” and the plodding percussion blankets us in a drowning sense of desperation. "I wanted the video to reflect the sentiment, the feeling of watching someone that you love drift further and further away, to the point, where one or both of you is 'lost at sea,'" says Pete of his intent for the video.
After you've been sufficiently moved by this masterpiece, be sure and score the 4-track EP on iTunes and read our interview with Pete and James of UTRB below, because they make awesome music and eat chicken & waffles for breakfast.
Earmilk: So tell us a little about your musical beginnings, how did you get into music, what were the early days like?
Until the Ribbon Breaks (Pete speaking, unless otherwise noted): My parents were classical musicians professionally. I can’t remember an exact time, they were just always playing, there was always a piano in the house. The sound of my mom practicing drove me to despair. She played the oboe which is a beautiful instrument, but if your own mother plays it, and plays it every day, it sounds like someone strangling a duck. It’s incredible reedy. She gave me a trumpet which I preferred, and I just tried to play louder than her.
EM: When did you know this was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
UTRB: I don’t think it was a conscious decision, I’ve never been any good at anything else. I never went "Okay, I’ll do music."
EM: What’s the story behind your stage name?
UTRB: I had made the record, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, I just wanted to make some music that I liked without thinking what is it about – I was talking to someone about how it flicks through a lot of genres, and he asked if I thought this was a problem. I said no, because the whole point was to make something that I liked. And we got to talking about when you used to give someone a cassette mixed tape, and it didn’t matter that it flicked between genres, because it was just what you liked. And how I used to love it and played it and played it until the ribbon breaks.
EM: I first heard you on MS MR's Track Addict Volume III, it was the song "Pressure" – what’s the inspiration behind this track?
UTRB: "Pressure," yes, so there were some riots that happened in London, a couple of years ago, and I felt like the press dealt with it really badly and painted the youth of today as this horrible kind of anti establishment and a bunch of idiots. And in a way the youth reacted was terrible, the looting and rioting, but everyone missed the point – that they were frustrated about something. And maybe they didn’t voice it in the right way, but there was something wrong for people to act like that. It was about me falling out of love with the way the country dealt with the issue.
EM: Your videos are bold, artistic, and even sad in the case of "2025"– do you think that that’s important to reflect the message of the music that maybe you cant say?
UTRB: 100% I think they’re one in the same. I think that the visuals are more powerful with music and that music is more powerful with visuals. Especially now when peoples' way of listening to music is YouTube. A) peoples' attention spans are shorter so you want to do two things at once and B) I just think it’s more powerful emotively, you can feel more when you can look at what you’re hearing.
EM: How does your music translate to the stage?
James: Basically we had a lot of fun taking the album, dissecting it – creating a live performance out of it. It’s really fun and really interactive, because we are playing all of those parts – and we have different ways of performing, and manipulating the parts and presenting the visuals with the music where we can. Pete: It’s difficult when we’re outside because sometimes there's not enough time to set up, but tonight’s show we’ll have it set up.
EM: Although you don’t stick to a certain genre, for the album is there a theme that weaves throughout, do you find yourself going back to some sort of thread?
UTRB: I didn’t now there was, it wasn’t intentional – but when I listen back there’s definitely a thread. And I think it’s a pretty obvious one, it was quite a shock. When I made it, I was 29 about to turn 30 and I think for anyone, that’s a weird time – because you have one foot in "I still want to have fun," and one foot - kind of “what the fuck am I doing, is this what I want to do, this is what I used to do,” it's a very existential period.
EM: I'm 28 so totally get you there, a sort of post quarter-life crisis. Do you have a typical process?
UTRB: James and I will work together making a bit of music, and that’s a great process, bc there’s no rules – it’s just like okay I’ve had an idea, your go – before you know it, you’ve carved out something that a minute ago wasn’t anything. And after that I pace and pace and pace in the room while it’s playing, and write a song there and the. I don’t go away and write lyrics down, that’s not what I do. There’s a certain amount of adrenaline and excitement that comes with pacing.
EM: Who were your influences? Then and NOw
UTRB: Well for me, words are one of the most important things in the music. Lyrically, Paul Simon is a massive, massive influence – probably my favorite. And then a lot of rap, anything that is word based from like Outkast, Tropical Quest, then classics like Nina Simone, Elton John and again, Paul Simon - and I think this project was about trying to marry a bit of that.
EM: What type of genre would you place yourself in, or do you not even go there?
UTRB: I’m still trying to think of… (AMAZING!) *chicken and waffles arrive*
EM: I’ll make this quick so you can dig into that.
UTRB: No looks a bit daunting. Anyway, the one that grates a bit to me, is it’s constantly called R&B – and I love R&B, I absolutely love R&B, but I don’t make R&B. I’ve heard it called apocalyptic pop and all kind of dodgy words. I don’t know, the whole point of it is that it isn’t.
EM: Is this your first festival in the US? What’s on the docket for this year?
UTRB: I thought the record was finished, until we toured – and then just seeing how people react to certain things, I think there are some holes in the record. I think just finish the record, add some songs to it – that’s what we’re going to do next.
EM: When you’re not doing music, what are you doing?
Pete: At the moment, there isn’t that. James: There isn’t anything else. Pete: Music.
EM: Is there anything else you think I should know? Anything funny happen recently? Comedically tragic?
UTRB: Yeah we did this show in LA on this last tour with Delorean, and I had the flu really badly, and I thought this only existed in films or rock biographies or something, so in order to do the show I had to go see a fix a doctor and have a steroid injection in my bum. So I was sitting there in the room and I couldn’t have felt worse, sweating, fever, thinking there’s no way I could do the show – he’s like turn around, jabs the steroids in my bum and is like sit there. And literally like 20 minutes later, I was like “let’s go!”
EM: Haha, wow - I’ll be sure and look into that next time I’m in need of a quick fix.
Pete: Don’t because it’s fucking expensive. James: Especially without insurance.
*end scene and feasting on chicken & waffles commences*
Can we just take a moment to appreciate great music, fried food, health insurance and UTRB being candid enough to share steroid shot stories with us? Amen to that.