Having joined forces from three separate bands (Caves, Bedford Falls & Attack! Vipers!), Bristol’s power pop trio Personal Best are about to release their first full length album, Arnos Vale, on 30th March 2015 through Specialist Subject Records.
The debut LP comes after their first release, The Lovin’ EP, was released in 2014 and is to be supported by the band touring the UK and Europe with both Lemuria and Dads. We had the opportunity to find out how they were feeling ahead of the release, as well as their thoughts on the current state of the music industry.
HUNOW: Arnos Vale is your first full length album, how was the creation process different to your previous release, The Lovin’ EP?
PB: In general, I had a stronger idea of what I wanted the album to sound like – really short and poppy, with a sort of Superchunk and Lemonheads ‘brightness’ to it. There was a bit of pressure to get it done before Lou leaves the country to make her fortune in America; I was adamant that we should record an album with her playing drums since she’s been with me from the beginning. The idea had been in the pipeline but I’ve been lazy and poor and disorganised; that we were on a time limit gave me a kick up the arse to actually finish songs. I write painfully slowly, which is a bit ironic because I see a lot of our music as throwaway three-minute pop (in a good way). It takes a lot of hard work to make a song sound like you don’t care *too* much. I guess the main difference in the creation process was that the EP songs were just the best songs we had around at the time, whereas the album was written in a shorter block of time and with a specific purpose in mind.
HUNOW: You recorded Arnos Vale in Wales with Gethin Pearson (The Enemy) who mixed and mastered your previous release, how did you first start working with Pearson?
PB: Oh I’ve known Gethin for years! From Newport, where I’m from. I guess I knew him first through bands – Gethin Pearson and The Scenery was probably the first band I saw him play in – and I went to his little basement studio years and years ago to mess around with a few song ideas, really light indie pop stuff. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I love Gethin’s energy and enthusiasm. Bedford Falls (a Cardiff band I’ve played bass in for years) recorded our album, Elegant Balloons with him in 2012 (check it out, it’s a great record) at Monnow Valley, so I think it was mostly that experience that led me to want to work with him again. I can’t imagine going in ‘cold’ with a new producer/engineer now, to be honest. Factoid: my brother tiled Gethin’s bathroom.
HUNOW: Do you think working with Pearson has rubbed off on your sound at all?
PB: Gethin brings a level of energy that I hope has rubbed off on the record. The album is a snapshot of one long weekend in Giant Wafer studios – an incredibly beautiful studio in Powys. It’s amazing there, you get woken up by the sound of sheep in the morning. Anyway, we were pretty much 80% prepared when we arrived but I think that last 20%, the ‘on the day’ stuff was certainly influenced by Gethin. He’s great at figuring out harmonies and little touches like that and he just immediately got what we wanted to achieve. But yeah, I think and hope the energy comes through on the record.
HUNOW: Personal Best’s music seems very lyric-centric, is that intentional or are the lyrics naturally more prominent than the instrumental composition?
PB: I think this is a song-writing cliché but I hate writing lyrics. I worry about authenticity; whether a lyric should go in because it just sounds good, rather than being genuinely honest. I suppose the most honest lyrics on the album are from This is What We Look Like. It’s about queer visibility, something I’ve not really talked about before. I was out with my partner in Bristol one evening, holding hands, and a group of lads started shouting stuff, ‘get your tits out’ or whatever. It was really intrusive and not even necessarily directed at us because we are both women, I’m sure they would’ve been dicks to whatever woman was around the corner. So the song was partly inspired by that, kissing as a form of protest and visibility. Regarding the prominence of the lyrics, I think that just comes from me always writing really short pop songs. All our choruses are the same lyrics repeated over, typical pop style I suppose. There’s a few little solos and guitar breaks to let the songs breathe but generally, I like everything to be as completely trimmed as possible. You do get that funny situation whereby every ex and/or current partner seems to think the lyrics are about them. Carly Simon was right. So vain.
HUNOW: You’re based in Bristol, which has an affluent music scene, do you think your location has affected the band’s progression?
PB: Yes, Bristol is pretty cool isn’t it? It’s an amazing location to be a touring/gigging band from, geographically. Things definitely ramped up once I moved to Bristol; before that Lou and I had pretty sporadic practises, with me or her having to travel between Bristol and South Wales. And Tom and Lou are housemates so that also makes things just that little bit easier, organisation-wise. I think a healthy music scene is encouraging, seeing the same faces at gigs, getting to know promoters and other musicians – I think we’ve had really positive experiences because of this.
HUNOW: You’ve all come together from other bands – how does it feel to be part of a new intimate music-making group? Is it weird to be writing music with new people?
PB: Nah, only because I write everything myself! Well, I come along with an almost-finished song and we thrash through it a bit until the full song emerges. And obviously Tom and Lou write their own instrument parts. We aren’t really the kind of band that spends time jamming. I would like to but Lou will never indulge me. We don’t mess around in practises at all but there is an element of collaboration in how a song comes together in its – I don’t want to say vibe because I’m not a hippy – but yeah, the vibe of the song is something that emerges just from playing together. 9/10 songs start with me coming in with a verse and chorus, and end with that structure times two and some guitar bits in-between. None of this process is weird at all when it’s with your friends. But I do get really shy when I have a new song; I ask ‘is it good though?’, ‘do you like it?’ for at least three practises.
HUNOW: Having now recorded and released a full-length album, what’s next for Personal Best?
PB: Saying goodbye to Lou. I’m so not ready to let go! I think it was when the artwork and release dates were coming together that it hit me that she’s leaving and that the weekend of gigs we’re doing in March is going to be the last we play together (unless we go out to America to tour). I had a little cry. Lou means a great deal to me, musically and personally. Lou is one of the best humans I know. Tom is ok, I guess.
We’re still going to carry on as Personal Best though. I think we’ll have a rotating line-up of drummers for a while, I’d like someone to fill the seat permanently but they have an enormous amount to live up to. I hope that doesn’t put anyone off! Depending on who the drummer is, I think the sound of the band could go in a few different directions, but still very much under the guitar/90s/indie/punk umbrella. I try to write music that’s a bit harder sometimes but pretty much everything comes out melodic and positive!
HUNOW: This May and June you’ll be touring the UK and Europe with Lemuria and Dads, whose idea was the tour and how did it come about?
PB: Tom is responsible for this! He’s great at that sort of thing, I’m terrible at organising stuff. He spoke to me ages ago about Lemuria and Dads wanting a UK band to tour with, I really didn’t think it would happen because you know how these things go, and there’s a hundred other excellent bands to choose from. I believe Tom and Max from Lemuria are pretty good buddies so I guess it emerged from there. I said yes thinking we’d have a 10% chance of it happening, and then it did. I guess the lesson here is: never underestimate Tom Hussey. Tom ‘gave up’ Facebook for his New Year’s resolution and when he of course caved in to help promote the album stuff everyone gave him loads of hassle which was amazing and hilarious.
HUNOW: Are there any places that you’re bummed out to not be playing on this run of tour dates?
PB: Off the top of my head I can’t think of any, I think we’ve got most bases covered… I’d really like to ‘do’ America this year if anyone can help make that happen.
HUNOW: The Lovin’ EP is available for download, with the ability for listeners to pay whatever they want for it. With the slowing sales of music continually in the news, do you see playing live as the main activity of your band or in your view, are releases as important as ever before?
PB: Playing live is definitely the main activity for PB, but only by default. Travelling to a gig is far cheaper than being in the studio. If I was a millionaire I’d be in the studio full-time creating loads of terrible albums and getting full on Soronprfbs. I do believe people will still always want the music for keeps, whether that’s physical or digital. We played gigs for ages without music or T-shirts and so many people nagged us to get our shit together.
Even if music sales are slowing down, people are still listening to it, probably more than ever because so many people have near enough round the clock universal access to anything they want to hear. I like that, that it’s no big deal to have Fugazi next to Fela Kuti on your iPod. I don’t see an incompatibility between listening to good mainstream pop music and obscure punk and fusion jazz and whatever the hell else takes your fancy. But on the other hand, it sucks that so many record shops have closed down because people want to own way more music that they can feasibly pay for. I think music is getting better and better. That there has been a ‘golden age’ of music which has been and gone, is bullshit in my opinion. That’s just something that Q Magazine or whatever uses to sell issues with yet another Led Zeppelin or Nirvana feature. I love both of those bands, but look at what artists like Grimes, FKA Twigs, MIA etc. are doing. Completely weird, cross-genre, original stuff. ‘Post-internet’ I guess, haha. Anything that takes the focus away from the tortured straight white male artist is incredibly welcome, frankly. Why can’t that be the next ‘golden age’? Maybe we have to start judging the health of a music scene on something other than how much money the music industry is making for men with ponytails and cigars, if Wayne’s World has it correct which I believe it does.
I think you have to let the financial aspect trundle along and not worry about it too much. I’m under no illusions that the band is ever going to be a money-spinner, the best I hope for is to break even and hopefully have enough to help kick-start the next tour or recording or run of T-shirts or whatever. The way I look at it is that I’m going to spend the same amount on the band whatever happens (until I don’t want to anymore), so if someone wants to pay a tenner or absolutely nothing for the EP mp3s, I don’t really mind; that money has been and gone. Personal Best has turned out to be a pretty expensive hobby but you’d have to be pretty misguided to go into DIY punk thinking you’re going to make a significant amount of cash. Having fun, playing live and meeting people is way more important.
HUNOW: Do you have any parting words for our readers?
PB: Listen to Alimony Hustle. Stay hydrated. Thank you.
Personal Best’s debut album, Arnos Vale, is out on 30th March 2015 and they are touring the UK and Europe with Lemuria and Dads.
To buy the album and get tickets please visit:
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