Rory Atwell (aka Warm Brains) has had quite a career.
The London-based artist was at the forefront of the MySpace music revolution, as one third of the abrasive buzz band Test Icicles (alongside Dev Hynes, who went on to become Lightspeed Champion / Blood Orange).
Whilst the hotly-tipped band were performing to sell-out crowds despite still being in their teens, Test Icicles decided to call it a day and Atwell went into the studio as a producer and engineer, working from a converted ship.
With production credits including Palma Violets, Yuck and Glass Animals, and a string of band projects, Rory released his first album as Warm Brains back in 2011.
Following the release of the latest Warm Brains album Big Wow, a record brimming with idiosyncrasies and lo-fi pop sensibilities, we caught up with Rory about the record, his production and David ‘Big Dave’ Cameron.
Hi Rory, what was the inspiration behind the title Big Wow?
“It was basically an acknowledgement of how much time and effort I’d put into the album and my anticipation that barely anyone would pay any mind to it upon its eventual release. It’s quite odd being a musician and producer in a time when music isn’t as important to people and you can see its value is drastically deflating before your eyes.
“I work with bands all the time, it can be very unpleasant to see bands with immense potential just disappear into the ether on a cloud of indifference. It’s funny, music used to be pivotal to culture, people’s fashion was focussed around the music they liked and people congregated with people who liked the same style of music. Now in our current state of monoculture people just make friends on social media and shit like Tinder and the trendy people with beards and tattoos just listen to Beyoncé and Adele just like everyone else. Big Wow is just a statement of my own indignation toward the situation and my continued stubborn, single-mindedness that I will continue to try and contribute something positive into the world whether anyone can pull their head out of their iPad for long enough to give a shit or not.”
How do you feel this album moves on from Old Volcanoes?
“I didn’t have much of an agenda with Old Volcanoes. I was sad, I was having a difficult time – a by-product of this ‘difficulty’ was that my band Kasms had just split up and the reason I made an album by myself was that I had a load of songs I’d written and I couldn’t bare starting a band again from scratch any time in the near future, and to potentially go through anything like that again. It seemed simpler to do it myself and put that creativity I had bottled up down onto tape. It was interesting, but more of a sketch, a bit slapdash.
“This record is a lot more focussed, I’m not feeling sorry for myself, lyrically the record to me sounds one part comedic and one part full of angry intent. The songs are better too, it’s better crafted and played. Although I think I might like to reintroduce some of the ramshackle blasé approach of the first album into future work. I may have slightly over-thought/laboured this one.”
Your floating studio space is absolutely ridiculous – how did it come about?
“Well around three years ago the East London gentrification motorcade had just been schucked into 5th gear and one of the victims of that was my studio that I shared with Tom Vek which was tucked inconspicuously away nicely between Shoreditch and Dalston. There now lays some luxury flats and the studio is rubble. Luckily around the time of this demolition Ben Phillips had contacted and asked me if I wanted to share studio time at his enormous impenetrable steel ship which was incredibly good timing. Good luck demolishing that thing.”
What inspired the food theme on the artwork?
“I wanted to try and take something very mundane and English and try and make it look startling and special, take it out of its bland everyday setting and throw glitter on it. I wanted to take these things and try and make something that looked like a classic ’70s album cover. A lot of the aesthetic of the first album (and a lot of other albums at the time and since) was to be very hazy, dreamy and non-descript. This time I wanted to do something a bit more obnoxious that people would either love or hate. Again, something that wasn’t indifferent.”
Where was the obliging fishmonger in this photo?
“It was some very friendly Turkish men on Stoke Newington High Street. Me and my photographer friend Chris wandered in there and thought we’d ask. My worry with doing that is that people would see the camera and just think ‘oh here’s some hipster/fashion wallies, let’s try and get some cash out of them’ but the Turkish fishmongers were cool as you’d like about it, a little confused at first, but completely got into it. Gave me a pinny and with a cheeky smile even handed over that massive salmon that I was holding in the picture. I didn’t expect that. I got to have a go on the doner kebabs in the Turkish takeaway up the road too, did you see that one?”
What made you pick out ‘Languid Tarmac’ as a single?
“I always liked this one, it has even parts ‘melody’ and ‘dissonance’ and ‘heavy’ and ‘fun’, it’s not just a wet indie song and it’s not just noise for the sake of it – thought it was a good representation of the album as a whole. Also the lyrics are funny in places. I don’t want people to think that I take myself too seriously. I try and have an absurdist outlook to life and just try and do things because it’s fun to do them and not worry about the consequences or point. That’s what the video was about, dressing up as an estate agent and acting like a dick in public was just something I felt like doing.”
Big Wow has some really plush poppy melodies. Do you think the skill of making something catchy is something you’ve developed over time?
“Maybe. Someone asked me if they think I’ve been influenced by the bands I record and honestly I couldn’t think of anyone who had directly influenced me as such, but I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that I haven’t been influenced at all by the thousands of hours I’ve spent recording other people’s music. Since I’ve got to thinking maybe that maybe working with other people is where the more melodic approach has come from, that and not being afraid to be melodic.
“I grew up listening to a lot of difficult, almost atonal, music and I used to worry that being melodic would mean my friends would think I was a ‘lamo’. I was a young man back then though. Now I can be as melodic or as dissonant as I ruddy well feel like, there’s no point being noisy just for the sake of it.”
Just how close was the album to being named ‘All Hail Davey Cameron’s Majestic Luncheon Meat’?
“Not that close. I’m scared of David. He’s bought himself a brand new internet prowling machine and if I piss him off he’ll hack into my mainframe, plant some sensitive information there and arrest me under suspicion of being a jihadi conspirator or something. Don’t upset big Dave, that luncheon meat looks familiar and friendly but it’s actually very bad for you.”
Big Wow is available now via Milk Milk Lemonade records