The Crayon Set

The Crayon Set make music that just makes me feel so happy inside. Over the course of their 12-track self-titled album, the right-piece Dublin band delve into acoustic musings and upbeat pop songs, all the while with lush instrumentation and gorgeous vocals. They launch the album in Whelan’s this Sunday, April 21. Admission is €6, which comes with a copy of the album (ridiculous value) and support on the night comes from Heritage Centre and Genesse. Here’s the Facebook event. I interviewed Robert Baker, the bandleader, ahead of the gig, where he touches on the pros and cons of going it alone, which I found really interesting, the difficulties of having eight members in the band, and what they’re hoping to achieve with the album, among more. You can read it all after the jump, and the album can be streamed here, via Soundcloud. (You can preorder it here.)

Tell me how the band got together? Did you set out with a plan to form an eight-person group?
Yes – pretty much. I had a bunch of songs written and was listening to a lot of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire at the time – and also lots of Brazilian bands (the whole Tropicalia thing) – so a big, sweeping sound with lots of varied instrumentation was definitely on my mind. Although I love guitars and synths I wanted something bigger and more orchestral. And also having more than one lead vocalist, and lots of vocal harmonies, was always going to be a big thing – we would all be big fans of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Band, 60s girl groups etc. The band name, The Crayon Set, was also meant to be a bit of a concept in that we could turn our hands to different types of music – and combine different things to make our own sound and also to continue to evolve…

What’s the dynamic like when the band’s writing a new song? Is it a group effort or is one person the driving force behind the track?
To date it’s mostly been a case of I’ll have a song written and we’ll jam it and everyone will add their own parts. There’s great musicians in the band – from different musical backgrounds (classical, jazz, rock etc) – so I think that mix hopefully adds a bit of magic.

With so many in the band there’s sometimes a danger of too much going on all the time – i.e. no one likes to sit there and twiddle their thumbs for half a song – so that’s something we’re mindful of; allowing some space, not being “epic” all the time i.e. just getting the dynamics right and doing what’s right for the song. There’s now lots of songwriters in the group and we’re doing more co-writing which is cool – as again it just adds variety and makes it more interesting and fun. One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Wonderland’ which was a co-write between Stephen and I.

You say in your press release that DIY is very important to the band. Were you like that from the very start or was it a gradual realisation that you could do it all yourself? Does it bring added pressure to the band, and can the other stuff be a big distraction from the music?
The other stuff is very time-consuming, and fairly thankless, alright! Basically, early on we realised that no one was going to throw a suitcase full of cash at us so it was a case of just getting on with it ourselves. We did speak to a few small indie labels about releasing the album but it became clear they wouldn’t really have the resources to promote it etc. That is in no way their fault, it’s just the nature of the industry of the moment – there’s really very little cash in it unless you’re Lady Gaga or one of these people. But it seemed like a lot to be giving up half the cash from album sales. In saying that, I still think people do take you more seriously if you’re on a label – even if that label is one dude in his bedroom with a laptop. But so far, we’ve managed OK ourselves. For example, Stephen has a little recording studio in Wicklow where we can demo stuff, I work in media and marketing so I’m fine with that stuff and Kama is a talented artist so took care of the artwork. And we rope in friends and anyone else we can to help out.

You’ve been together since 2008 but only released your debut single last September. Why did you want to take things so slow?
Yeah – that’s not exactly been by choice! Most of the songs on the album were written and ready to go over four years ago. We’ve just been really unlucky with line-up changes – the original line-up fell apart in 2010. The bulk of the album was recorded over two years ago but we decided to re-record lots of it and there was a lot of re-mixing. We didn’t want to put it out till it was right – and I think we got there in the end

The album was co-produced by Nick Brine. Is he a personal hero of yours? Was it your first time having somebody else look at your music? Were you wary of letting somebody else at the songs?
Yes. Nick is great and has become a really good mate. Basically, I’m a huge Teenage Fanclub fan and we just looked up who had produced their last few albums – and it was Nick and John McIntire (from Tortoise). He actually wrote us a nice mail back too. Initially we asked Nick to mix an EP’s worth of material we had recorded ourselves. He liked what we were up to and invited us over to record a full album in Leeders Farm, which is the studio he owned and ran with The Darkness, in very rural Norfolk. It was an amazing studio converted from a 16th century farmhouse and a great experience. As a writer you do get close to songs but no – had no problem at all getting Nick’s input – it would have been silly not to. In saying that, the songs and arrangements were pretty much ready to go – and we didn’t have a lot of time in the studio – so it was really just about Nick capturing good performances and then adding some sonic wizardry. And also getting the mixes right – as on some of the songs there were literally hundreds of tracks.

‘I Worry’ reminds me of Mumblin Deaf Ro – it’s very personal and sounds like a parent worried about their child. Was a particularly difficult song to write, actually articulating your fears for the future?
Thanks. It was actually a pretty easy song to write once I had that melody. I try not to self-edit or over-think with lyrics – I just write whatever comes into my head and then basically look for an overall feeling or theme and piece the best bits together. For that one I had c. 15 pages of potential lyrics – “list songs” are good that way – nearly anything can be thrown in there. We don’t like to be overly political or serious with social commentary and the like in songs. And so the more serious lines are balanced with more everyday, random stuff like “I worry about the replay” (my football team Everton were in an FA Cup replay, which we lost) and the line about “Chicken Lickin and the falling sky” – my favourite fairy-tale as a kid. Actually, the original idea was that the lyrics would continually evolve and change i.e. as your worries change over time.

What are your goals for the album? Are you happy to have an album under your belts?
Yes – It’s great to have an album under our belts – it took fucking long enough! No massive goals of world domination but we think it’s a strong album so fingers crossed more people get to hear the tunes. There’s so many bands and so much noise out there that it’s near impossible to cut through that – unless you get on radio playlists or unless Jools Holland picks up the phone.

Do you enjoy playing live? It seems as if Crayon Set gigs can be few and far between? Is it just a case of trying to get everybody together on one stage?
The main priority has been getting the album right but yes we love playing live and I think we’re becoming a really exciting live band. Re. venues – we are adaptable and can slim down to five or six on stage if needs be. We would love to play live more often and we do plan to. Hopefully after the album release we might have a bit more of a fanbase and it will make more economic sense. There’s only so many times you can play the same venues in Dublin – and to-date it just hasn’t been financially viable to say, drive down to Cork and rent a venue, if we’re not confident we can cover our costs

What does the future hold in store for the Crayon Set?
We’re proud of this album so we want to do it some justice and make sure more people get to hear it. A lot of the tunes are radio-friendly so it would be great if we got a bit more airplay. We’ll be looking to play around the country over the summer. We also have about 15 new songs already written and arranged, which we’re really excited by – so there’ll definitely be no secnd album syndrome – we’re mildly toying with the idea of a double-album! We won’t be giving up the day jobs just yet but we all really enjoy making music together – and we’ve become a much better band – so hopefully there’s plenty more to come.