Tin Pot Hit The Jackpot
Francis Jones talks to the Belfast band as they prepare new material
Bands that make us think as well as feel are increasingly rare. The Tin Pot Operation are one of that exceptional breed, not only self, but socially aware, they engage the listener's head and heart.
Their songs are melodically bountiful, steered by guileful guitars and fuelled by driving rhythms to create a musical Trojan horse for their message.
Until now the band has been primarily renowned for their combustible live performances. However, they’ve just finished recording a superb three-track single that could change all that. Comprising established live favourite ‘Black Eye’ alongside new songs ‘Ticket’ and ‘What Have You Done’, Tin Pot have hit the jackpot.
Where did you record the new tracks?
‘We went up to Pete Pratt’s place, Blue Room Studios. He’s just got the right idea about what we want to do, he doesn’t try to make it sound metal or foist any preconceptions about how it should sound, about what’s a good guitar sound.
'Pete’s got his own ideas, he’ll set things up a certain way, but he’s willing to listen, so when we start messing about, he’ll acquiesce, he won’t try and turn things back to how he’d originally envisaged.’
What were your own aims for these new recordings?
‘Our idea was to make it sound like more of a recorded product, to exploit the fact we’re recording in a good studio. We wanted to use that to our advantage and see what sounds we could create, rather than just being faithful to the ‘live’ sound.
'Now that Brian (Steenson) is drumming for us, he’s a lot more precise in his approach than our previous drummers, that high-precision attitude just helps clean up the whole sound. By contrast the guitars are slightly rougher and rawer, albeit better recorded.’
Do you think these tracks show real progression from what you’ve been doing previously?
Definitely, there’s even a bit of a heavier vibe than previously. I’m really happy with the way these tracks have turned out, how they came together in the studio. I think that’s because we’re always playing live, always practicing and completely dedicated to that.
'The quality of the songs, the arrangements, there’s greater attention to detail, knowing when to make a tweak here or there. Those things make a real difference.’
Your songs usually have a message, be it political or social commentary, beyond the various, clichéd permutations of 'boy meets girl'. Do you deliberately set out to make music with a message?
‘When we write, we write about stuff that we care about. That might tend towards political issues, but there’s nothing wrong writing about other issues. We don’t have a set rule as to what we write about, it just so happens that those issues are the kind of things that fire us up emotionally.
'That’s what’s in our heads when we’re writing the songs. There is no manifesto of the Tin Pot Operation. We don’t sit down and go, ‘ok, today let’s write about Lebanon.’
'We’ve been accused of being a band with a contrived agenda, of sitting down to write political songs, but to me the deliberate choice not to write political songs is far more contrived, just writing about cars and girls and not saying something because you’re afraid of causing offence. Music, or any art, has to come from a position of honesty.’
Do you find it surprising that in Northern Ireland, one of the most politicised places on the planet, there is a dearth of bands willing to be seen as socially aware?
‘I think so, certainly they’re a lot more open to it in the rest of the UK and particularly other parts of Europe, Germany and France, where it’s commonplace. However, here when you speak about any political situation it translates into the usual ‘us and them’.
'Talk about Lebanon, Palestine or the war in Iraq and people see that as some comment about our own political situation, that makes people feel uncomfortable, they don’t want to be identified with one side or the other.
'We don’t give a shit about that, we’re not gonna pretend we’re from some grey, non-political hinterland, we're from west Belfast. That’s just a fact. Everyone comes from somewhere, some places have certain connotations and baggage, to try and deny that would be a lie.’
What are ‘Black Eye’, ‘Ticket’ and What Have You Done’ inspired by?
‘The catalyst for ‘Black Eye’ was the London bombings of 7/7. Those events triggered the chain of thoughts that led to the song. The whole idea of a ‘War on Terror’, that you can kill terror by attacking other people, the line ‘The man that built the war out of lies’, that is very clearly Tony Blair.
'There’s quite a bit of humour in ‘Ticket’. It’s dedicated to the marauding hordes of spides and thugs that walk about. They’re a law unto themselves and people are expected to put up with this. I think people will recognise that situation. It’s really Raymie’s (Ray Lawlor, Vox/Guitar) song, every Friday and Saturday night he sees the gangs going around vandalising, stealing people’s cars.
'‘What Have You Done’ is a song that’s quite personal to Raymie. I couldn’t get into the specifics of it, but basically it’s about being betrayed for money, about someone who wants the cash-up-front, who isn’t worried about principles or friendship, the things that matter in human terms.’
With the Tin Pot Operation people tend to focus on the lyrical content, but what about the music?
‘It’s not easy to pin down. We get compared to The Clash, The Jam, bands of that era like Gang of Four or Television. But, we’re not actually inspired by those bands, more likely we have similar record collections to the people in those bands, Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix.
'We’re not trying to be like anybody else, we just love soul, funk and the blues. Michael Franti and Spearhead would be a big influence and I know that today’s music charts can seem like a bit of a wasteland, but there are bands like The Futureheads who are just doing something that stands out.’
How will people be able to get the new tracks?
‘They’re going to be released through iTunes, Rhapsody and Sony Connect. They’ll be available to download around December time. Before that we’ve decided to make use of our website and MySpace and make all three tracks available for free download for a period of twenty-four hours.
'With these tracks we’ve really made the effort to use the studio as a tool, immediately, when we played them back we could imagine them being played at a club. They’re so solid, that’s what’s so exciting, what got us going.'