For those who believe in the concept of love at first sight, what happens if you don’t see something the first time round? You might be looking the other way, you might not even be looking at all. If you only get one shot at it, are you doomed to miss out on something magical, purely because of circumstance?
That’s not fair in love, and it’s especially not fair when it comes to music. Never mind love at first sight, what about love at first listen? The concept of reissues is a hot topic that is worth debating, but when it provides music lovers with a second chance to find a band made for them, it’s a process worth pursuing, as hopefully many people will find with the reissue of New Youth Bible, the debut album from Edinburgh School for the Deaf.
SNACK caught up with Grant Campbell (bass) and Jamie Brown (drums) to look back on the album, chaotic live shows and great days that are never coming back.
What was the timeline with the end of Saint Jude’s Infirmary, the short spell of Deserters Deserves Death and the beginnings of Edinburgh School for the Deaf?
Grant: Saint Jude’s Infirmary finished around the time of the release of the sadly prescient second album This Will be the Death of Us in 2009. After a short period of morose self-reflection, Deserters Deserve Death (named after a comic book) formed in 2010. Tiring of a name that was so open to misrepresentation, we changed our name to Edinburgh School for the Deaf in 2011.
Was there any kickback over the name?
Grant: No – it wasn’t intended as a pun or anything tasteless. We just liked naming bands after institutions. I liked the fact that it referenced Edinburgh – just because then, as now, all the best bands seem to either come from, or claim to be from Glasgow. It was more a kind of obtuseness, and a note of surrender, than any notion of civic pride. Obviously when we started to play loud, and then really loud – the name took on another dimension. I’ve paid for any unintentional gaucheness with tinnitus.
Jamie: Only for Deserters Deserve Death. We got some really strange far right messages and other unsavoury interactions. All of this, based on an old Victor comic. Then we kept receiving booking requests for Metal shows.
What were the differences between St Jude’s and Edinburgh School For The Deaf?
Grant: One felt high Roman Catholic, the other very much Church of Scotland.
Saint Jude’s was a construct, a cathedral that we had carefully crafted from our youth – a cult of our own making, to which we’d indoctrinated ourselves. Edinburgh School For The Deaf felt less dogmatic, and much looser and the album was recorded in flux as we moved from one ideal to the next.
What were there different ambitions or influences in ESFTD compared to the previous band?
Grant: Ambition wise, after Saint Jude’s Infirmary I felt that it was institutionally impossible to make any real cultural impact, without betraying yourself, moving to London, or being a dreadful person. My relationship with music changed. The ship was going down and I was happy getting drunk and kicking holes in the hull. Not having any ambition was quite liberating.
Influence wise, it was different as Jamie and Kieran also brought their influences, and songs, to the new group.
Jamie: For me it felt like carte blanche for experiments. There was no weight of expectation. I think the North Star was still the same, but this one painted by a drunken ape. There was always a duality on all of the touch points we had, without shadow, no light and all that yada yada.
Grant, you were in bands with your sister Ashley. How did that work for you?
Grant: I think with a sibling you can be very direct with each other, because you have that history, and you have that link that surpasses the band, and of course you have grown up with the same reference points, and learnt to play together – so you have a musical short-hand. All of which can make the song-writing progress much swifter – more succinct. I do miss writing and playing together, and I do think Ashley never got the credit she was due as a songwriter.
How was the recording process?
Grant: We recorded it with Jamie Grier at Green Door Studios in Glasgow (apart from Orpheus Descending which was a rehearsal room recording by our friend and producer Liam Rankin). Green Door is a perfect studio: you just plug in and everything sounds loud and savage and just perfect. It was a very easy album to record, with minimal psychic, physical or relational damage. The album and early days of Edinburgh School For The Deaf felt so frictionless and easy that I was wary that some great disaster was waiting patiently to befall us…
The group lost Kieran (Naughton) to the bright lights and streets paved in gold of London, how much of an impact was that?
Grant: It was dreadfully sad from a personal standpoint as I missed my pal, and we decided to march on – and got new personnel, who were truly fantastic musicians and even better people…but the summer had turned to autumn…
There were some blistering live shows – a show at the Captains Rest saw you two setting out to smash everything in your path (although this might have been under the DDD name) – what was the group’s approach to live shows?
Grant: We discovered wireless guitar mics so we could ROAM. I know reviews would use the zombie word when it came to the band’s rather detached stage presence, but it was almost touching the hem of the vaguest notion of a spiritual experience. To be inside something so loud, and to be so relaxed, everything beating and thrumming in time with your heart – it was a terrifically comforting sensation.
I think every band when they finally play LOUD have that epiphany. It seems so simple. It’s your first instinct when you join a band, to play loud, and then you are relentlessly shamed out of it by venues and sound-men and other band members. Of course I’ve now got tinnitus like La Monte Young banging a hoover on a radiator.
Jamie: It was always to push it as far as possible, like that Velvet Underground show for the psychiatrists (the band’s infamous show at the Psychiatrist’s Convention, at the Delmonico Hotel, New York, 14th January, 1966).
It wasn’t an active fight, but I was a bit bored of the prevailing ‘like me, please like me’ apologising that seemed to be prevalent at the time. It was all very chin stroking serious musos delicately painting cosy heartbreak. On the flip side that aggressive three chord indie lad rock was stiflingly dull. I just wanted something set aside from all of that, from everyone.
‘Of Scottish Blood and Sympathies’ is still huge. Can you remember anything about the writing or recording process?
Grant: I was confined to bed and became obsessed with this little red bass. It was so dinky that I could play lying down, and the strings were so close that you could play it like a guitar almost and get these open drones. This was a kind of revelation to me, that I didn’t really know how to play the instrument properly after all those years, and that it didn’t really matter – it was just an object to generate sound. That was why the bass sounds like a kind of detuned guitar on the track. It came together really easily, and felt both super heavy and very fragile. I most of all remember playing it live as I would cut my fingers to pieces, and the same obsessed-over little bass guitar would look very horrible afterwards.
Jamie: Well before it became the song on the album it was a rehearsal room demo. I’m not sure I’ve actually told anyone before, but it was when we started doing that song that the band clicked for me. Grant started the riff, the drums came in straight away, then Ash and Kieran dragged us to beauty. I felt the hairs go up on the back of my neck.
Recording it was like translating from a higher power. It felt like speaking in tongues. It all appeared like a divination. I think we tried to fill all the frequency bands with messages. Thankfully our very talented engineer Jamie Grier, guided us expertly to hone it into the silver bullet we always wanted it to be.
The song ‘My Name Is Scotland and I’m an Alcoholic’: Do you feel we’re any forward in how we deal with alcohol and alcohol problems in this country?
Grant: I think it’s changing with younger people, but I am of a generation it’s existentially difficult to imagine navigating complex social interactions (like getting on a train) without alcohol holding your hand. A lot of the bands I’ve been involved with would’ve travelled further, and to a more hallowed destination if the journey was undertaken sober. But in all honesty, if I had to do it again, I’d probably still get off a few stops earlier for cans.
The lyrics were about how culturally sometimes it has been easier to romanticise, and therefore normalise, an addiction than to honestly essay its horrors.
‘Orpheus Ascending’ closes out the reissue – any song with repeated “Goodbyes” should always be a closer – any reasons it wasn’t on the album?
Grant: I never even twigged about the ‘goodbyes’ ending the album – that is nice as it does feel like the missing piece from the first record and it’s a song I was very fond of. My recollection is that it was released as a limited online single as part of a label single club – which was exclusive and that’s why it wasn’t on the album? Or maybe it arrived too late?
Jamie: I’m blaming Kieran for this one 😉 He came up with a brilliant song at the wrong time because the album was done. Luckily we got to release it as a single with Bubblegum. I’m glad we’ve given it a home on the reissue.
Any song you’re particularly proud of?
Grant: ‘Run with the Hunted’: just because we only really played it well the one time we recorded it, and then we couldn’t get it to click live and then it kind of fell off the set. It was nice hearing that again and reminded me of the excitement of the early days.
Jamie: I still really like ‘My Name is Scotland’… I remember when Ash and I wrote and recorded it in a darkened front room in one take. We didn’t really know where it was going, or if we were going to be able to not mess it up before the end. Then Grant and Kieran came in and just knocked their parts out of the park.
How do you feel about the reissue?
Jamie: Very excited. Cory and the team have been superb, helpful, championing and overall understanding of us and what we wanted to do. I’m not sure where we are on the cliche circle about vinyl now but there is still something about it that doesn’t translate to other media.
The other things make more sense in a way; metallic, digital, waveforms and electronics.
Vinyl is a carving of sound, a capture of vibration that is scored into place.
Grant: Amazing. I think the best bit is reconnecting with Kieran properly again, and also meeting Cory and the label who are just deadly lads. I think the one thing with Edinburgh School For The Deaf, no matter where we land in the grand scheme of things, between Cory at Absolutely Kosher and Gary at the original label Bubblegum Records we couldn’t have asked for more genuine, music loving record labels. It was great to see the artwork by Agnes Gryczkowska (featuring our pals Ania and Miko) blown up to LP size too.
As a follow up, how do you generally feel about reissues? Also, who owns the bloody rights to SJI’s work, and when is that getting pushed back out to the masses?
Grant: I think a reissue which has gone out of circulation, or that never quite took root as it should have, is very welcome. I obviously despise the 25 years, 30 years, 40 years, etc, remastering of already big records.
Saint Jude’s were just too soon to leave any proper digital footprint, and as such have largely disappeared into the ether, and with the albums dropping off streaming, it’s unlikely that anyone will re-discover the music. The band are still friends, and own all the rights, and I think we would like to try and make the two albums, and the unreleased music available again.
For you, what were the differences between Edinburgh School For The Deaf and your current work?
Grant: I think that ESFTD made me realise that I was interested in the extremes – the soft and the loud. Since then, my musical tastes have been regressive – trying to take a sound and strip it further and further back, until you get a more abstract kind of purity.
Any regrets of the Edinburgh School era?
Grant: I regret that we didn’t record a second album with either the original or the later line-ups. The songs were always there and ready but the timing was always just not quite right and then real life started to intervene.
Jamie: Only that I wished we could have kicked on some more. We had songs that never saw the light of day, as time and our own ineptitude caught up with us.
We can’t end the interview on a low, what were the best memories of Edinburgh School For The Deaf?
Grant: I think because we recorded the album almost too soon, that it captures that moment when a band is just pure potential, and that is the best and most exciting phase of any group – and I think the album itself is a reflection of that feeling. Also, ‘Love is Terminal’ being covered by two of my favourite bands of that era – Vladimir and Magic Eye.
Jamie: History sings us only the songs we want to hear. The shows in London with the Jasmine Minks and meeting Stewart Lee were a highlight. But I liked the enthusiasm from everyone that came to the shows.
New Youth Bible is out now on Absolutely Kosher Records