Local Leeds quartet Post War Glamour Girls are back with their third LP, Swan Songs.
The post-punk band recorded the album all the way up in Skerray on the northern coast of Scotland. The band totally isolated themselves with no phone signal or internet, a contrast from the hustle and bustle of Leeds! The results for Swan Songs are profound, it is mesmerising whilst hypnotic, firmly the “sleekest model” PWGG have ever completed!
I caught up with vocalist/ guitarist James Smith to discuss all things PWGG.
So you ventured all the way to northern Scotland to record your new album Swan Songs, why did you go so far away?
We went to Skerray all the way on the north coast. It was about a 12-hour drive. The intention was that we wouldn’t be distracted doing anything else. Having done the first two albums in Leeds where our entire lives and work are, the albums ended up fitting around it. But for this one, we wanted to remove ourselves completely, and that’s what we did.
We were in a really isolated village, there were about 30-40 people there. There was no internet or phone signal so we were totally with each other and the family we were staying with. It just solved all our problems and it made us terribly focused on the record. It was quite an insular experience… and nobody could go home!
What can we expect from Swan Songs and why should people listen?
I think that people that already know us should listen to it as it is the most fully realised we’ve ever been as a band. Everything we’ve done has worked up to this point and it is the sleekest model we’ve done! We’ve played together 5 or 6 years and know each other inside out; there’s stuff on this record that we couldn’t have done if we hadn’t known each other that long. There’s less stuff that sounds complicated, we felt like we didn’t have to do all that this time around.
If you don’t know the band, it’s a very very good set of songs! I’m not trying to be boastful, but I wouldn’t pour my heart into the record if I did not mean it. It’s got all our trademarks, but is slightly more accessible than the last two, without intentionally trying to do it.
Your new single ‘Organ Donor’, what’s that about?
It’s got conflicting views within the song, and that’s a theme that runs across the album. ‘Organ Donor’ is one of our songs that is closest to a love song. The line “be my organ donor”, literally means giving your organs to a loved one if you die! Or just giving your heart.
It is also based on the ‘Milgram’ authority tests. In these tests, individuals were asked to press a button and they would hear the sound of someone being electrocuted in the other room. It would start with a little shock. Then they would get someone in uniform to come into the room and ask the individuals to press the button. The individual in the presence of an authority figure would deliver a greater shock to the person in the other room. That’s what the first verse is about. How perceived authority will make people do something out of fear.
Then the song veered off course, and the third verse is a love letter to my partner! We moved in together last year, and I was writing the song before about how I was going to ask them. We had spoken about getting a dog, but we couldn’t as we were going to get a cat. We were gonna call the cat Patti, and with my surname being Smith, it would be Patti Smith!
That’s kind of what ‘Organ Donor’ is about then, a love song about authority tests torturing people! It’s quite a contrast, but that push and pull is important to us!
The video is quite a spectacle, how did it come about?
Me and Alice made that! We just spent £10 on the green screen. We were on a little bit of a budget, spending money on the recording in Scotland. So we tried to make the video look really cheap and trashy but we put loads of effort into it!
So we had green screen hung up and stuck our heads through it. Then we had some frog tape (green duct tape) wrapped around our necks. Then we just filmed loads of shots with our heads bobbing, the rest was the edit. It took about four days to complete and we were getting about four hours sleep per night! We got there, it was fuelled by red wine and getting to the end of it! It was loads of fun!
The artwork for Swan Songs to me seems like a lot of random objects, is there a meaning behind these objects?
Our mate Tommy did it. He wanted to make all these still life objects look human, and all the objects are related to lyrics on the album. He did a lot of research, and you can interpret it how you want.
It looks like the lamp is looking and the shoe is running away. The way that the leash is slack overside of the cinderblock is almost like a noose. The little Virgin Mary hiding in the shadows, with spiritualism running through the album. Whether this is an overbearing presence good or bad. When I write it’s not telling people not to believe, and I would not knock anyone for their beliefs, but looming in the background is religion. The hour glass is that we’re really low on money so it always feels like a race to get everything done in time! But yeah as I said, you can interpret it all how you wish!
As you mentioned earlier, you’ve been a band for five or six years, what’s been your highlight?
Our first single came out in 2011, and we’ve been a band since 2010 so seven years! err… I don’t really look back on it. When you look back on it, it’s kind of like you’re collecting your memories and your best is behind you. We’ve done loads of cool things though. But then there are things that aren’t that cool, but they’re what you tell people!
So the big thing that comes up is when we played after Green Day at Reading Festival. Green Day a few years ago did a surprise slot. It’s kind of the thing you tell your dad’s mate so he doesn’t think you’re a failure.
However, the biggest one for me was when we supported The Fall. They’re one of my favourite bands and it was a really weird night. They’re a band bringing a circus to town with them!
Scotland was also one of the best experiences. It was really nice for us to all hang out with each other. When we first started we were all students and we played five times in a basement because we didn’t have jobs or priorities. But after we’ve grown into our late twenties whilst still being in this band, our priorities have shifted. We’ve all got long-term relationships, different jobs etc. We still manage to see each other twice per week, but then that’s the only time we get to see each other. We’ve made an effort since Scotland to spend more time together, it reminded us all that we’re friends and do get on!
Finally, you’ve been a band for so many years and answered every question imaginable – is there any questions that you wished you have been asked but have not currently been asked?
That’s a good question! I tend to try really hard not to repeat myself in interviews, but then you start elaborating to the point where you forgot what you’ve said and start lying! Bands, in general, should be asked more question not related to themselves, so you can get more of a scope for what they are like as a person – and then you can know that they’re not just reciting their press release back to you!
Post War Glamour Girls’ fourth LP Swan Songs is out 21st April. They’re playing at the Fulford Arms on 13th May and you can buy tickets here.