Stanley Odd are potentially the most refreshing and unique band currently active in Scotland, but the musicians behind the group remain as humble in person and genuine as they are excitingly original in their art.
The band has already soundchecked by the time I arrive at The Garage, the well-known Glasgow venue where they will soon be ending their final tour of 2014, so I head straight in.
It’s a bleak winter’s night, but the cold of the rain-washed street outside is in stark contrast with the warm welcome I receive in the crowded backstage band room.
Though the group seems to have misplaced their drummer (I’m later led to believe that he may be hiding in the toilet) the band members who are present seem to be in high spirits.
Solareye, Stanley Odd’s MC, is comfortably ensconced in the middle of the group, feet up on a low table between stacked vinyl copies of their new album and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
With the other four members (not including the absentee drummer) comfortably seated in a rough semi-circle around the table, I turn on the microphone.
How’s everyone feeling for the gig tonight?
Solareye: Yeah man we’re looking forward to it. It’s the last gig of the tour, last gig of the year. We’re looking forward to it; it’s been a good year.
Veronika Electronika: Glasgow audiences are always pretty rowdy, always quite up for it, so we’ll be going out with a bang.
How long have you been on this tour for, and where have you played?
Solareye: We’ve played Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, London, Birmingham and Glasgow.
You’ve played so many different venues, from Glasgow to America and beyond, but are there any one venue that sticks out in your memory?
T LO: The beach in Malawi was pretty good.
Solareye: Oh yeah, so we played in front of 4 000 Malawians at ten o’clock on a Saturday night on a beach. That was pretty amazing, and it was a hell of gig. We didn’t really know what to expect. We flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow, Heathrow to Nairobi, Nairobi to Lilongwe and then got a kind of rickety old bus, which drove us four or five hours or something…
Veronika Electronika: In the heat, with no air conditioning.
Solareye: And then very suddenly we appeared in this paradise. Interestingly, I would say tempo-wise the acts we were seeing on before us were either half time or double time to what we would be so it meant the crowd moved in a certain way. I was wondering if we were slap bang in the middle of that tempo, but they jumped up and down and they got involved, which is great. In fact, the fact that we’d already played with some of the acts over here at Glasgow Green meant it was really nice – we already had a bit of a connection there, and we did some collaborations on stage and stuff, which was good.
Going back to the beginning, you guys formed in 2009 in Edinburgh, so what was the Edinburgh scene like for you guys, when you were just starting out?
Solareye: Very energetic, I think the scene was then, very vibrant, at that point. Before we joined this band we kind of knew each other musically from other bits and pieces and sharing bills and I think definitely there was that kind of melting pot going on in the scene at the time.
You said you were all in different bands, but you were all working in hip-hop when you first met, were you?
Solareye: Yeah originally it was just me and Samson – the drummer who hates to do interviews; he’s conspicuous by his absence…
Veronika Electronika: He’s probably hiding in the toilet right now.
How much do you think that mixture of different influences contributed to the sound you have now?
Solareye: Oh yeah, totally. We started doing this thing called The Odd Tune on a Friday, where we do a playlist on and everyone has to pick four tunes that they’ve been listening to each week. It’s mental to see the songs people are picking. You get such a bizarre range of tunes, and then we try and guess who picked which songs.
Veronika Electronika: The most obvious is T LO’s crazy, hard German songs; the noisy ones that I skip past.
Since you started out in Edinburgh you travelled pretty far from home – in fact, you’ve played some pretty prestigious venues in America, how did that come about?
Solareye: Oh it was amazing actually. First of all we won the Nordoff Robbins Tartan Clef Big Apple Award here, playing in this venue, which was part of Scottish Music Awards. So, we won that and as part of that we got to go and play a gig during Scotland Week in the Bowery Ballroom. So, we got to go and do that, and we once we got that we were like, “we’re going to be here for the week, let’s do as much as we can.”
The View were very good to us actually and said that we could join them on the dates that they were playing there so we ended up playing venues that really, for our first time in the States, we shouldn’t have been. We played in Boston, we played the Mitten Factory, Webster Hall, we played outside in Central Park. In the end I think we did six gigs in six days, and it was brilliant.
It’s quite a scary thing to go to the home of hip-hop and play hip-hop, you know? But the response was brilliant – such a positive response.
So much of your music is defined by the fact that you’re Scottish – it’s the culture, the politics and the language of Scotland that infuses most of your work, so how well do you think it worked for an American audience? Do you think some of it went over their heads?
Solareye: They probably didn’t quite get it to the same degree – not ever single reference – but I think any kind of hip-hop has always been about telling stories about where you’re from, and the social references. It’s basically just like folk music in that the music is a vehicle to tell a story, and I think people got into that. You can appreciate west coast American hip-hop without living there – it’s just about telling stories.
The lyrics within your material are brilliant, and probably the first thing you notice about your music, but the instrumentation is also strikingly well done and perfectly arranged – what’s the process by which the instrumentation comes together?
Solareye: Yeah it’s a fucking long process! What’s cool is if you look at all the album credits you’ll see different names on every song, because everybody basically goes away, comes up with wee ideas, and then we go into the studio and work them into a structure. Then we’ll go in and record them and then somebody – it could be any number of people – will chop it and butcher it to hell, into something else.
Veronika Electronika: Usually we come up with a nice sounding song and then we’re like, “nah, it’s too nice!” so we take it away and dirty it up.
Solareye: It feels like a nice way to work, but it is quite lengthy, and it means that when you’re finished the record, you then have to go away and play it again. We did more rehearsals for this tour than we’ve ever done before.
How much does a song change, between your initial vision or idea and the final recorded track?
Solareye: Beyond belief.
Veronika Electronika: I think the most significant was ‘Knock Knock’ – originally it was going to be called ‘Skyscraper’, but then Sam Baily on X Factor did the song ‘Skyscraper’ so we were like “we can’t do that.”
Solareye: It’s had whole different bunches of songs imprinted on it. There are songs that started out with acoustic guitar demos recorded into an iPhone. Then ‘Pastime’ was one that went in reverse. It was put together like a typical hip-hop track, and then we took those parts and played them as a blues guitar lick – it kind of went the opposite way from usual.
Veronika Electronika: The journey of one of our songs is quite reflective of our journey as a band. If you take one of our songs, how it starts out is nothing like it ends up. In the same way on our records you can hear the progression. How we were on our first album is just nothing like how we are now.
How does it feel going back to that early material, listening to the first album again now?
Veronika Electronika: It wasn’t really us; I think listening back it’s very clear that we were still finding our feet a little bit. I’d love to go back to the first record and put our spin on it now. I think there was a lot of really good potential. In some ways I think those could almost just be the demo tracks.
Solareye: We still play a couple of them, but they don’t really sound like the records. The live versions sound different, very different.
You’ve played so many different kinds of venues, from tiny sweatboxes to open air stages at festivals. You even played the Hydro recently for Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP event there: how did it feel to be a part of that event?
Solareye: Oh that was amazing. To get asked to play that was quite surprising. It was a bit of a shock; we weren’t expecting it. It was the day after we had a gig in Edinburgh, so we’d normally have been lying in the dirt somewhere, but instead we had to make our way to the Hydro.
Veronika Electronika: It meant we were all very well behaved the night before.
Solareye: Got a cuddle off the First Minster.
And she said that your song ‘Son, I Voted Yes’ was a personal favourite of hers.
Solareye: Yes, that was lovely. It was great to meet her, and considering that the content of some of our songs… Like, to hear the First Minister say that her prime focus was Social Justice, something we’ve written about, and then get asked to come and play there… I guess we did nail our colours to the mast when it came to the referendum.
Not to get too off topic from the music, but what did the Referendum mean to you guys personally? It’s obviously been an element in quite a few of your songs.
Solareye: I thought that this year was one of the most exciting times ever to be a human being in Scotland. It was amazing to see the whole country so politicised, to see such positive discussions going on regardless of what people ended up voting, talking about how things affected communities, addressing inequality… It was brilliant. From that perspective I think it was a brilliant thing, regardless of the outcome of the actual vote itself. I suppose time will tell what happens next.
T LO: When I first came to Scotland, it felt like nobody was interested in politics. I think, growing up in Germany, because of the past there’s a much bigger political engagement. You know, you demonstrate at school and whatever, but I never really found that here. I guess only this year I really realised that the main reason’s not that people don’t care, but that people don’t feel they have a voice. I was really proud to live in Scotland and see people so engaged.
Solareye: I think the 80s were a very politically active time, and it did feel like people stepped away from that a bit over the years. It’s good to see toilet wall graffiti containing political commentary again.
Well going back to the matter at hand, tonight’s show’s in support of your latest album, A Thing Brand New. How long did it take you to record all the material here?
Solareye: Overall it took about a year and a half. We got started the day after the Scottish Album of the Year awards, in June 2013. It’s funny; I think a lot of the songs that initially got written for it never made it onto the record in the end. We released an EP earlier on in the year, which, looking back, is a bit bizarre, but I think we just wanted to get something out earlier on. But yeah, it’s taken quite a while but I think it’s probably the happiest we’ve ever been with a record, from the music right through to the cover art.
Speaking of cover art, what’s the story behind the imagery here?
Solareye: Well the story is… The lyric “a thing brand new” is taken from a Loudon Wainwright III song from 1971 that goes “be careful there’s a baby in the house, and a baby will not fooled, it’s a thing brand new, does what it wants ’til you get it schooled”. I thought it was a nice concept of conformity and about wains, and for us it’s a brand new album, a brand new way of looking at things, brand new human beings, all sorts of stuff. So we wanted an album cover that had a kid in it who was pretty much of an age when he could be simultaneously looking like he was a bit world-weary but that he was astounded by what was going on about him.
AdMac: It’s actually my wee nephew, though he doesn’t really dress like that normally. He was game to get his photo taken, so that just kind of filled the bill.
Did he actually have a butterfly in his hand when you took the shot?
Solareye: No that was just good photo editing.
Veronika Electronika: I’m glad you had to ask though.
Well lastly, you’re just about the play the last gig of this tour, your last gig of 2014. So what’s next, what’s planned for next year?
Solareye: We’ve actually just had a chat about this. I think next year, in the first half of the year, we’re going to do basically a sweatbox tour. Like, a tour of wee venues around the country, just to get out and play. That’ll be Scotland and the rest of the UK, and we’ll hopefully have a few things lined up in Europe. We’ve started to get some festival dates in as well, and then hopefully a big hoorah in central Scotland towards the end of the year. The live stuff is really looking to shape up for the New Year. In terms of recording I don’t know, we’ve not even spoken about that yet.
AdMac: Yeah if we start recording now we might even get something out in time for 2016.
Solareye: Yeah, as far as recording goes we’ll have to wait and see.
Words: Malcolm Higgins