“Sorry it’s taken two years to make” jokes Goldheart Assembly’s front man James Dale from a pocket-sized stage. He is, of course, referring to ‘Long Distance Song Effects’, the band’s second album that informs tonight’s launch at Rough Trade East. This Brick Lane record store-come-live venue is so very intimate you feel as if you’ve got to know the five-piece (or maybe that feeling came from interviewing them earlier in the day…)
They weren’t pulling a Guns N Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ and painfully delaying the album for what seemed like no good reason, it was partly the difficulty of tearing themselves away from the beautiful town of Luzern, Switzerland that became their temporary home for recording. “We fell in love with the city and the people” says John Herbert (the Lennon to James Dale’s McCartney), “we kept going back whenever we could even though our manager wanted us to mix it in London. ‘I’ve got another song! Let’s go back to Switzerland and demo it!”
What’s remarkable about the recording process is the absolute spontaneity of it. “We met a guy on our European tour who had a studio and he asked if we wanted to come in the day after” tells James “so we got up early – the earliest we’ve ever got up – and he liked the vibe so we came back two weeks later and started recording”. Stunning surroundings certainly played a part in the album’s content especially the experience of “writing over a distance, being away from home and people putting complete faith in our music” says James as he pensively scratches his beard.
Tonight’s set, although short, fuses hushful songs like ‘Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel’ with bolshier tracks like ‘Into Desperate Arms’, an aural display of exactly what they’re capable of. This ability that Goldheart Assembly have in abundance meant that ‘Long Distance Song Effects’ was originally thought of as a double album, split into a quiet side and a noisy side. “I bumped into Steve Lamacq and told him we were going to do a double album and he said ‘you and John are fucking wankers’” laughs James. Such aggressive advice became commonplace and consequently the double album dream was watered and whittled down.
Determining which tracks made it to album boot camp was not the simplest of tasks, with John, James, keyboardist Jake Bowser, drummer Nicky Francis and guitarist Kyle Hall all fighting for certain tracks. “We got down to 14 tracks that we felt HAD to be on there and our manager was standing around saying it had to be 8” explains James. “It was tough” adds John, “we all lost songs that we wanted on there”. It seems the right choices were made, resulting in an album that doesn’t feel mismatched or deficient, just wonderfully atmospheric and harmonious.
The “British Fleet Foxes” comparison that so hauntingly peppers their reviews lies miles away from the truth as James explains “we get people saying we’re a folk band who came up out of the nu-folk movement and are now trying to move away from it and it’s just wrong”. The block harmonies of Fleet Foxes sit far away from their influences. Closer to home are The Beatles, the vocal similarity of which can be found so purely in ‘Billy In The Lowground’ through John and James’ harmonies that border on the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. “On this record I’d say rhythmically and percussively Tom Waits has been a huge influence” lists James “Melodically, we’re quite influenced by Elvis Costello. Production wise you’ll get Sonic Youth. We bring it all together”.
Having two songwriters certainly makes for a greater eclectic sound as both John and James add different flavours, although John wishes to base their next album around Columbo; “’Just One More Thing’ is the title track” he jokes (enough time spent with Goldheart Assembly will reveal a slight preoccupation with the fictional detective). Upon being asked what the dream is, however, John supplies a more thoughtful answer; “for my next record to be better than my last”. I liked that. James agrees “when you first start out you see these giant steps happening; your first radio play, your first mention in NME. After that it’s baby steps and fine tuning to get better and better”. It’s a noble attitude that travels beyond wealth and recognition. “We don’t want to sell out the O2, we want 100 dates at The Spice of Life!” says John, to a laugh from the band.
Conversation turns to dreaded album reviews. “It’s daunting” starts James “The worrying thing is that people aren’t going to look into it enough”. He raises a good point. A CD that represents two years work to a band “can be destroyed so quickly by someone saying something negative”. “We got a bad one in MOJO” sighs a slightly disheartened James “you get used to that side of it though. You’re not a big band so you can’t expect too much time or scrutiny but it feels like 3 stars and a press release sometimes. No-one listens anymore!”
We end on a rather large “Fuck you MOJO!” from the group, and I’d have to agree. Even the briefest of encounters with Goldheart Assembly tells you they’re great guys and even greater musicians…but don’t you dare compare them to Fleet Foxes