Interview: The Trestles

I met Al O’Hare, The Trestles front man in Leaf Café. He was friendly and open, with that particular cheerful vibe only scouse blokes do. It wasn’t long before my cider was growing warm as we got talking about music, politics and the state of the world. I took the opportunity to find out what’s going on with The Trestles, who are, as I have previously said, “the modern antidote to mediocrity”. I love these guys for the honesty and passion that comes across in their particular brand of pub folk-punk, and there’s no let-up to that when you get talking to them.

So what’s going on with you guys?
We’ve got a new album coming out soon, and it’s nearly done. We’ve got a couple more sessions booked, we’ve got next weekend, all weekend, 12 hour shifts, where we’re planning on doing a couple of things. Then it’ll be one more session after that and we’re done.

At the moment, there’s going to be eleven songs. I’ve written a new one though, about two weeks ago, so I’m not sure. We’re always writing songs, but there’s a hierarchy of songs, and this one has managed to shoot itself up to the top. I’ve rehearsed it with the band, and it’s different. It’s a bit darker, a bit quieter; it’s not as rock and roll. It’s got a mandolin on it, and the drums are completely different to our normal style, so there’s going to have to be quite a lot of rehearsal for that. This weekend we’re recording a song called “Sing On”, and that’s going to be the album’s big pop moment, so it’s quite an important one to record really. That could be the big three-minute pop song, it’s really infectious, and so we’ve got to do that right. At the same time, we’re working on the new one that I’ve just written.

We want to put the record out on iTunes, and sell CDs at gigs, because there’s no point in selling CDs in shops anymore, for a band like us. We’ll get it properly produced, and it will come out on vinyl, that’s part of the ideal behind it. Albums aren’t dead. Just because sales are down, you shouldn’t let business make an artistic decision. We believe, as a band, so much in records. I map my life by records. It means we can be seen as moving backwards, but I’m quite happy to be out of step with this world. I think good songs are going to change all that encourage people to choose to buy the album.

You see a band now, and you go home and you put it on your facebook or your twitter page and say, oh, they were great. That’s fine, and that’s lovely, and that’s what the Internet should be about, instant word of mouth. But you can also go to see a band, and buy the CD at the end of the gig, and then tell your friend, and give him the CD. There’s still a lot to be said for that. It’s about putting your money where your mouth is.

We’re planning on the album having lots of ups and downs, being a journey and telling a story. In my head, I have this vague idea of, well, we’re trying to be the band that makes music important again, and so we’d like to do a side A and a side B. We want side A to be political and side B to be personal. That’s very idealistic, and I could wake up tomorrow and think that’s a pile of shite. At the minute we’ve got the songs. The promo single we sent around, with The Civilised and A Drink of Water show the two sides of the band. The Civilised is completely a full on, finger pointing song, in the spirit of The Clash. On the other hand, A Drink of Water is this sort of Waterboys-esque song with all my needs and my wants in life. I want to present both sides of that on the record, I want it to certainly have a foot in the world we live in. It’s an election year, so you’d better have something to say or put the guitar down. On the other hand, I don’t like to ignore the other side of the band, which is a very joyous thing – playing music and talking about what you feel.

Politically, we’re just knocked sick by everything we see at the minute. At the moment, the song “The Civilised” will open the record, for that reason. I watched the prime ministerial debate, and it made my skin crawl, really. To see the men who you’re supposed to look at as your leaders, the people who are going to take you forwards, to see them reduced to, basically the X Factor…ugh. To see them trying to win people’s opinion by the colour of their tie or the way they said a word…it knocks me sick. I also blame the people for it, as well. Each generation gets the heroes it deserves.

The album will have just one single, but we’re probably going to just put one song on iTunes. We don’t know which yet though. Singles are kind of dead in the water, really. It’s a funny time to be putting a record out, which is part of why it’s taken us so long to do one. No one’s waiting for the next U2 album, taste being what it is, but U2 being a big band; you get what I’m saying. I mean, who’s going to give a shit that the Trestles put an album out? So we want to do it right, in the best way. The Civilised and A Drink of Water have both had radio play; they’re both out there doing their thing, promoting it. We might do a video or something as well, basically to announce the album before you can get hold of it.

We’ll be touring soon, as well. We’ve got gigs booked in Nottingham, London and Wales, so we’ve got irons in the fire. We’re waiting for the record to come out. I want to playing gigs like the recent one at the Zanzibar in Liverpool, to a hundred people who love it, and everyone gets stuck in, and we love it, it’s what we do live. I want the gigs behind the album to matter, to be important. I love going to see a band, and the album is out, and you know what’s going on and yet something is at stake. Also, we have no bass player at the moment.

We’ve rehearsed a few bassists, but no one has been quite right. Tom (Carroll, The Trestle’s lead guitarist) or I can play in the studio. We’ve just not found anyone to be a permanent member, we’re all about playing live, and I don’t want someone to come in and just be. They’ll have to fit in with our whole idea. I mean, the song “A Drink of Water” never ends the same way, and we need someone who would be able to go with that. When the song has been going for ten minutes, and I’m just screaming Van Morrison lyrics down the mic, they have to be able to go with it. It wouldn’t necessarily be a musician who’s fantastic, just someone with the same spirit as us, has the same reference points, who loves the same bands as us. Musicians are overrated; forget that, we just want someone who fits in.

We don’t set out to be a boy’s band though. When I’m looking out from the stage, I see a lot more boys than girls, and a lot more middle aged men. I think that the music we make, though it isn’t this, it’s intrinsically linked with what people call your classic “Uncut” and “Mojo” generation. Your Paul Weller, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison fans. I’ve got nothing against them; I’m one of them myself. I just don’t get too concerned with who comes to see us, whether it’s a 21 year old girl or a 45 year old man, for me, it’s about communicating with people. I don’t write with a market in mind. People do, and it’s a big business. I can’t write with someone in mind, I don’t care who buys the record, as long as it’s someone. That’s all this band is, communicating with other humans.

Tonight I’m doing an acoustic set in Liverpool, and that’s massively different from what we normally do. I never used to like doing acoustic sets, because I love a band, and I love communicating with people, taking people onstage with me and communicating with them, and that’s totally what we’re about. I’ve grown to love acoustic because, I don’t know, you’re kind of freer to try stuff that even your own band members haven’t heard yet. I’ve got three or four songs that haven’t been heard outside of my living room and it gives me ideas. Tomorrow I could wake up and go “Shit, that went well, that can go on the record.” The new song is called “Everything I Know”, and that’s forced its way to the top of the recording pile, that I was talking about earlier, was played to about fifteen people a couple of weeks ago, and I just saw the reaction it had. Acoustic performances are, for me, about trying out new things. Plus, I just love to play live. If someone said to me tomorrow, all you’re going to do for the rest of your life is play in front of people, I’d say yeah.

Both Tom and myself write the songs, and I write all the lyrics except for “The Civilised”, which Tom brought to me fully formed. As a band, although our individual tastes are quite different, it works well because all our musical preferences are rooted in good songs. Our drummer loves early 80s stuff, like Michael Jackson, rhythmic stuff. Tom, the guitarist, loves Neil Young and Elliot Smith; Tom loves his introspective rock, to put a label on it. I love the everyman, Springsteen, Dylan, and Weller. I love Van Morrison more than anyone. People who aren’t afraid of big audiences and want to invite them in. How it comes together is, all the artists I’ve just mentioned are rooted in great songs, so it doesn’t matter how they present them. The song comes first, and as a band, that’s where our references meet. How we all consider our heroes to approach a song.

I used to listen to Bruce Springsteen every day, though I don’t anymore. He has a song for every occasion, the bastard, and in some of the darkest times of my life, it’s Springsteen I’ll put on. The ones I go back to the most are Van Morrison, I listen to him a lot, he’s been writing the same song for thirty years and that’s a compliment. I listen to music that touches me, it could be a pop song from ten years ago. Everyone knows I like Springsteen, The Waterboys, classic boy songwriters. But I’ll put on Kate Bush and cry my eyes out. There’s a song called “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush, and it’s the most emotional music ever put on tape. So although I’ve got the boyish ‘let’s ‘ave it’ side of things, it’s not what I’m listening to all the time.

The contrast in tastes and in different sides to our tastes is partly what inspires the A and B side idea for the album. Tom is a massive Rage Against The Machine fan, and he’s always brought their political ideals to it, as well as their strength, their force. That’s something I’ve never been interested in before I met Tom, force in how you play. There’s a spirit to what Tom does that I’ve never had from a guitarist in Liverpool before. I definitely think he’s the best guitarist under 30 in this city. That’s because he brings such force and power, and such finesse as well. It’s not just hundred mile an hour playing all the time, though he can do that, and I’ll have to rein him in or catch him. Tom brings a power that a lot of Liverpool band don’t have. They fall into the ‘lets be like The La’s, or The Coral, let’s be The Beatles’ trap. Now, all those bands are really good, and I like them all, but Tom brings something different, he’s a force of nature really. It’s a good thing, Tom’s RATM to my Van Morrison. Those artists all come from the same cloud, as I said before, Tom Morello and Van Morrison aren’t as far apart as they seem at first, they’re just born in different places.

Music is very much rooted in where you’re from, and all the current band members are Liverpool rooted. We try not to sound like most Liverpool bands. That comes from not wanting to be rooted in any insular ideals, or be a part of any scene. When I was first getting into music, there was a scene going round here. The Coral, The Zutons and The Stands all got signed, and there was a real scouse vibe going on. That looked really insular to me, and when you see a Liverpool band out of their hometown, it’s a different vibe. I’ve never wanted that. I don’t think a band should be defined by the sounds of where they are, even if as a person you are deeply rooted there. I think people take the bad things from the scene. For instance, lots of Liverpool bands want to sounds like The La’s and The Coral, but they don’t want to have their ideas about songs, they just sound like them. I think you should take the best from it, all that Liverpool has to offer and make it your own. I don’t want to be defined by my city.

My direction comes from being around the other band members, I couldn’t be in a band with someone who was in the BNP, well, obviously because they’d be a cunt. We have the same sort of politics, but there are things pushing and pulling, which is a good thing. I get questioned on my lyrics by the other band members a lot of the time, especially by Howard (The Trestle’s drummer). That’s good because I have to prove it, and I have to mean it, because otherwise my band will find me out, never mind anyone who’s listening.

I write about what’s in the air, what’s around. What’s happening right now. A lot of my favourite songwriters write in character, and I don’t buy it sometimes. There’s always got to be something of yourself in there. You can do it, and I’ve done it myself, but eventually if you look deep enough you’ll find the mirror in there. That sounds incredibly pretentious, but it’s true. We write about what’s in the air; it’s joy, it’s love, it’s horrible things too.

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