Interview by Kevin McGrath
With the much-anticipated Everything Solved At Once due for release on December 6th, Cardiff’s Indie-Noir combo Silent Forum (Richard Wiggins – vocals, Dario Ordi – guitar, Oli Richards – bass and Elliot Samphier – drums) talked to Kevin McGrath about life inside the band and the making of a terrific debut album.
Since I last interviewed the band, back in April 2017, guitarist Aaron Woods has departed. How has Aaron’s leaving affected the group dynamic, and how has the overall sound of the band been impacted?
Elliot - We really missed Aaron he was a great personality to have in the band. He is a Doctor now which I think was a fair excuse for leaving.
Richard – Dario and Aaron would often play competing lead guitar melodies which I felt was one of our key selling features. How many bands have two leads?
Elliot - When he left Dario had to fill that vacuum by writing lead parts that lend themselves to having the spotlight put on them, ones that can breathe a bit more. Oli also bought loads of pedals which helped fill out the space.
Dario - In my early, formative years of playing the guitar I was mostly following the example of bands with one guitarist, so if anything the way I use the guitar more readily lends itself to having that space. Quite often there seems to be an obsolete guitarist in a band, either that or the rhythm-lead setup, but me and Aaron used to battle for a lot of the same sonic space; it was good fun, but I enjoy having the ability to stretch out.
Oli - As the guys suggest, since becoming a four-piece I’ve had a little more freedom to engage with the more melodic side of my playing, as well as having free reign to layer effects-heavy bass textures for Dario to paint over with his schizoid style of guitar. I’ve found this space useful as I’ve been able to incorporate my more recent fascination and flirtation with ambient and drone music. I’ll second that we miss having Aaron around, he was one-fifth of what was and still is an incredible shared experience.
Re-reading that interview now, there was an air of optimism evident throughout. You were about to release a pair of singles – “Limbo” and “Trust”, and there were plans for a follow-up EP Sanctuary. You seemed on the threshold of a breakthrough that didn’t ultimately materialise until late last year. Were there dark times when you questioned whether the band should continue?
Richard – No. We really enjoy what we do and have always felt that we’re on a steady rise both in terms of popularity and creativity. In 2018 it became clear that we had gotten to a point with our music where we were ready for an album. Remember, we’ve been a band since 2012 – so it’s not like we’ve come to expect radio play or any kind of attention – that is a relatively new thing. If no one was listening to us I still think we’d most likely be knuckling down and writing music.
I take it that the delicious irony of a song (“How I Faked The Moon Landing”) that laments the band’s lack of exposure on the radio – ‘We’re destined to be a local band not on the local radio’- being the very track that national radio picked up on, is not entirely lost on the band?
Elliot - We wrote it as a parody of a pop song. It was a tongue in cheek “this is the kind of thing you’d like” statement. The joke being that it was 7 minutes long. The additional joke being that it was actually a really good pop song.
Richard – The irony is not lost on us that this was the one to get picked up by the radio. It was written in response to a radio DJ who said our music was “too serious”, which in retrospect was a comment that has had a very positive effect on us – though I still think it was a stupid thing for them to say.
As well as dominating the airwaves in the Summer of 2018, “How I Faked The Moon Landing” appeared in a number of ‘Best of 2018’ playlists. Did you know at the time that you’d written a stone-cold classic?
Richard - We immediately knew that there was something different about that song. How I Faked The Moon Landing was the original name for our band when we were a fun Indie Pop act so there was a nostalgic element to returning to a frivolous and fun sound with the benefit of years of grafting as a gloomy post-punk act. We had learned how to write and were using this to create something fun for the first time.
Elliot - We tend not to get worked up by individual songs though. We move straight on to writing the next one – we wrote “A Pop Act” the day after Moon Landing.
Oli - I think having “How I Faked The Moon Landing” come out gave us, and especially Richard, a great confidence boost in being able to reflect and reference what we had been doing up until this point. A lot of the album has a self-referential bent that serves as a great in-joke for us and a little bit of insight into what the band is for those listening, two things I think we only really started to develop, or at least embrace, in the post-EP material.
The praise for recent singles “Robot” and “How I Faked The Moon Landing” extended to the accompanying videos shot by Jayden Martin. How does your collaboration work in practice – is he the ideas man for the videos?
Elliot - The great thing about working with Jaydon is that he always comes with ideas. The music video for “Robot” was based on a freaky nightmare which he had a month before filming, he had dreamed actual shots from the video.
Richard - The video for How I Faked The Moon Landing, which we filmed in Barry Island, was a collaborative effort where we were all mucking about. “Safety in Numbers” and “A Pop Act” though we’re very much 100% down to Jay.
Dario - When we do our music videos Jay is just another member of the band, one with a particular set of skills. If we’re discussing a guitar part that I’m playing ideas will come from anyone in the band, but we can say that I may be a particularly driving force in this dimension owing to what I bring to the table. It’s the same with Jay and our music videos.
Oli – Jay’s confidence in his creative vision really allows us to relax when working with him. It’s no work at all, it’s premium hanging out time where one of the guys is directing, like a really well-run birthday party.
Is there any chance of you sporting the rather fetching papier mache head from the “Robot” video on stage any time soon?
Elliot - I don’t know where it is, so I doubt it.
Richard - Jaydon made that himself. He lives back in his home country of Australia now. I doubt he took it with him, but I don’t think he’d throw it away.
In addition to “How I Faked The Moon Landing”, your debut album Everything Solved At Once also features a number of tracks that dwell on life inside Silent Forum. Pop music has, of course, a history of self-referential songs from “We’re the Monkeys” through to “Ant-Music” and Pavement’s “Range Life”. Why the intense focus on the internal workings of the band?
Richard - As the lyricist that is down to me. With this album, I didn’t want to sing about sad things anymore. I’d seen friends go through horrific pain and couldn’t justify expressing insufficiently earned sadness in our songs – it felt self-indulgent. I summed up my pre-album lyrics with the line “I’d like to apologise for pitching sadness as an aspiration”. On this album, I wrote from a few perspectives – the perspective of a disgruntled office worker (“Spin”, “Robot”), a friend (“Safety in Numbers”). But the sense of identity that we felt as part of a band, whether in opposition to others or changes we were experiencing such as me moving to London felt rich for lyrical picking at a time in which we were trying something new. I was writing about what I knew.
Your previous release, the cassette only Sanctuary+, featured classic band tracks like “Nameless”, “Limbo” and “Who’s Going To Side With Me?”, were you tempted to re-record any of these for the new album?
Dario - There’s often a sort of treacherous desire to never let a good song go, to cling on to nice things that you have written, and to deny them their natural lifetime; these are always counterproductive feelings. It quickly became apparent to us while writing that we had an abundance of ideas coming to the surface; you can’t move forward if you’re still dragging with you everything thing that you have ever come across.
Oli - That being said, some early conversations around re-recording “Nameless”, were pitched. Whilst we have moved forward into new territory, we certainly learned from both our best bits and less focused moments from previous releases.
On “How I Faked The Moon Landing”, a track which you describe as dance punk, you sing ‘You don’t know where to place us, that’s hardly our fault’. Given that there appears to be no settled view among critics – recent reviews have compared the band to Wire, Whipping Boy, XTC, Kitchens of Distinction, Spandau Ballet, U2, and Editors, where would you place Silent Forum on the pop spectrum?
Oli – It’s very difficult to think of ourselves in those terms because we don’t write deliberately drawing from a specific space – even if some of those influences may have subconsciously informed some of our choices.
Dario - Every band should try and play in such a way that genres become impossible.
Signing an album deal with Libertino must have been a huge moment for the band – how did the partnership come about?
Oli - Through our fantastic producer Charlie Francis. He knew Libertino’s Gruff Owen would be interested as soon as we finished recording our first couple of songs together.
Richard – It was a huge moment for us because it’s given us a support network and a perspective on the band that we’d never had before. Libertino has led us to do things that never would have occurred to us such as refining our look and stage show a bit more.
What did Charlie Francis bring to the project?
Richard - A great deal of expertise, a creative mindset, a willingness to try new things. He was never passive, always making suggestions. “Safety in Numbers” in particular was a collaboration that has his fingerprints all over it. We recorded loads of vocal takes for the backing vocals and discussed the kind of Folktronica vibe we were going for – he then weaved this immense vocal sequence which we are lucky enough to have running through the song.
Dario – When we go into the studio Charlie becomes a member of the band. We’re not interested in a fence that would separate us from the many others who have participated in the creation of this record, even those who may not be aware of their contributions. It’s an anti-creative mindset that seeks to cordon off art to this or that person.
Oli – And now Charlie is just one of the guys, he really slotted nicely into the group dynamic. His nickname on our messenger group is Daddy Bear.
Was the recording process wholly enjoyable or was there a certain amount of tension in the air given that this was such an important stage in the band’s development?
Dario - There really aren’t many greater joys than putting together a piece of work that holds each of its contributors transfixed. And if there are tensions then that’s part of the joy too.
How would you describe the finished product? Give us the sales pitch!
Richard – sometimes poppy, often weird and adventurous.
When and on which formats will Everything Solved At Once be released?
Oli - Streaming and vinyl. We’re hoping to shift some vinyl! It’s translucent blue and easily the nicest looking record any of us have ever seen.
Are you planning a 2020 tour in support of the album?
Elliot - Absolutely, we have a couple of irons in the fire for early next year – looking forward to it!