“Are you from Field Music?” asks a gentleman of Peter Brewis, who replied in the affirmative. “I’m Lawrence. I was just going to buy your record. Field Music are the best band in years!”
Not many people nowadays under the age of 30 know Lawrence but we do, and we are as pleased to see him as Peter is. Lawrence is in a band called Go Kart Mozart, but was previously the celebrated lead singer of the bands Felt in the 1980s and Denim in the 1990s. In fact Denim made the cover of an issue of Select magazine in 1993 in which Brett from Suede was draped in a Union Flag with caption: “Yanks go home!”
We mention Lawrence only because half of our allotted time with Peter Brewis was taken up by a conversation between the three of us. Peter, whose band Field Music has just put out their well-received (at least by us) fifth album Commontime, admitted to being a little starstruck.
Not just Lawrence, but Al Kooper, who played the organ on Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, and Prince have come out as Field Music fans. A group whose biggest album, 2012’s Plumb, was nominated for the Mercury Prize and only just got into the top 50 are not household names. Peter thinks the nomination helped them sell records, but “we went away for a few years and I had a kid.” Their musicianship is brilliant, honed through years of listening to top rock and pop.
“I like pop music. I also like hard music!” Peter says, before Lawrence pops up to heap praise on the band. Peter and Lawrence discuss Frankie & the Heartstrings, a renowned Sunderland band, and Paul Smith of Maximo Park, a band Lawrence has little time for.
Commontime was Album of the Day on BBC 6Music on the day of its release, and the band appeared on Lauren Laverne’s show the day they played Rough Trade in London. Lawrence is in awe of the posters up all over town promoting the album, especially as Field Music are on the Memphis Industries label as a ‘major minor’ act.
As we mentioned in the discussion of the album elsewhere on the site, Commontime is fourteen pearls of pop-rock wisdom. It nods to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but another band strikes us as influential: the Brothers Gibb. “I wouldn’t mind that comparison! I love The Bee Gees, from the 60s stuff to You Win Again.”
Peter takes a lower pitch in his vocals, while David likes to hit falsetto notes. Like The Bee Gees, the brothers play their own songs, and have sold millions of records. No, unfortunately Field Music have only sold thousands, but they have been streamed millions of times.
“It’s a revolving dictatorship,” Peter says of the workings of the band. “It depends on whose song it is.” The Field Music sound is definitive, and it sometimes feels like two bands in one, like the later records by The Beatles. Unlike the Fabs, Field Music share credits on all their songs, rather than giving sole credits to ‘D. Brewis’ or ‘P. Brewis’. “We aim for that. I quite like it when you have to work out whose song it is rather than, ‘Oh that’s one of his,’” says Peter.
With Commontime, rather than purposefully go for hits, they gravitated towards repeating choruses (“That’s what they’re there for!”) and relaxing themselves, possibly because both are now fathers of toddlers and only had a few hours a day to plot a new album.
It is full of magnificent choruses, the best of which is on the recent single Disappointed, A-listed by 6Music and given plenty of spins a day. Yes the chorus has four beats to the bar, but even then Field Music make the melody of the chorus only three bars in length. This is odd; usually pop has a rigid pattern of phrases made up of four bars (think of Call Me Maybe or Hello or, indeed, any hit from the last 50 years). There are also some amazing chords in the bridge of the song.
Hall & Oates are a big influence on the sound of the band. “We went through a period of buying all of their albums during the Commontime process,” says Peter, who prefers “the songs that Darryl wrote on piano. I like [the albums] Voices, Private Eyes, H2O, the triptych of new wave soul.”
We’ve seen the band play live and marvelled at how Peter and David would swap instruments and hit gorgeous harmonies. Field Music on the road is a five-piece, so there may be less swapping on their Commontime tour. Says Peter: “We have to play each other’s songs, but we’re particular about the drums and the vocals. David plays his own drums for his own songs, though that hasn’t been the case so much on this album.
“But we never have a drummer, ‘cos they push the tempo too far or not enough. That’s a real voice that gets forgotten about in rock music.
“When you watch the last Zeppelin gig, when they reformed, you know that Jason Bonham’s a great drummer but he doesn’t have the same feel even as his dad [John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham, the original Zep drummer whose death prompted the band to retire]! He doesn’t quite hit them the same, and you notice it.”
The Field Music song I’m Glad is in a very difficult time signature, not ‘common time’ but six beats to a bar so it sounds, 1-2-3-2-2-3, not 1-2-3-4. Even worse for pop fans is that the last bar of the chorus goes 1-2-3-4-5 before returning to six beats. If you don’t understand that, just know that it is not a usual structure and Field Music are in the Everything Everything, Roxy Music or David Bowie school of pop.
“We never think about numbers. It’s not intuitive. In the Beatles, John Lennon did that all the time. All You Need is Love has a five. It’s editing things so you don’t have the extra few beats that you don’t need.”
The drum solo at the end of I’m Glad is a nod to Rock and Roll, the track from Led Zeppelin’s IV. “It was a joke. We wanted it to sound like two drummers falling down the stairs. In stereo.” Peter played one kit on one side of the studio, David did the same on the other side. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment as well as playful homage.
Much has been made of Prince telling the world through Twitter that the album’s opening track The Noisy Days are Over was his jam. He then shared a link to a Guardian newspaper piece in which David Brewis wrote about his five favourite Prince tracks. Raspberry Beret, Take Me With U and 1999 are three of them, and David adds that Prince is particularly good at writing songs ‘that don’t have chords’ in them, which leave space for ‘little sonic touches’. Think of 1999, which is just one chord and a riff over the top of it.
Prince’s album Parade is Peter’s own favourite. “It’s so weird, so bizarre, so gorgeous. It’s quasi-orchestral, the groove is always there, there’s Harlem jazzy overtones. I saw him at the O2 and he was incredible. He even goes, ‘Excuse me while I do this’ when he plays guitar solos, and said that he just ‘got too many hits’!
“Then he’d start playing something, stop and go ‘Oh no, the band don’t know that one, how about a little…’ and Peter vocalises the opening riff of Kiss, the hit single from Parade, complete with grunt.
Plumb charted in the top 40 back in 2012. With Purple endorsement, could Field Music have a top 10 record? “It’d be amazing to even be top 40. There’s no way it’ll get in the top ten, I can tell you that.”
Then Peter’s old schoolfriend Andrew waves hello. The pair used to listen to metal together as kids. They briefly discuss Sepultura, at which point Peter has to soundcheck. They play the store six years after they played the same venue to launch their third album Measure, paid for courtesy of a tune of David’s being used in a car advert, after Field Music had threatened to disband for financial reasons in 2009. The musical world is better with them in. Hell, just ask Lawrence.