Got a chance to catch up with Oli from Year Of Birds recently to find out more about his band. The Middlesborough four piece have been going for a few years now releasing material at a head-spinning rate. Year of Birds are one of my favourite scuzzy lofi/punk/garage/wachimacallit bands in the UK right now and it's a pleasure to share this interview...
Year Of Birds! Let's have an introduction - who are you and what do you play?
Ahoy there! My name is Oli Heffernan and I play guitar and read the Yellow Pages into a microphone whilst drinking my body weight in economy lager.
Have you been in or are in any other current bands?
I’ve played in about a zillion bands over the last 15 years or so but at the moment, I dedicate most of my time to Year of Birds and then split the remaining hours of the day between my other projects – Ivan The Tolerable, Magic Smoke Chords and Detective Instinct – as well as playing bass or guitar in a few other bands with my mates. I’m actually typing this from a sofa in a recording space in Holland where I am currently rehearsing with and recording the new album by The Bent Moustache, which features GW Sok from The Ex on vocals. So yeah, I keep myself pretty busy.
It feels like a cheesy question but I'm curious about the band name - how did you come up with it?
We’d actually finished recording the songs for our first release (Split 12” with The Rebel) and we still didn’t have a name so I just named us after the book I was reading at the time, which was ‘A Year Of Birds’ by Iris Murdoch. No cool backstory I’m afraid! We needed a name and I picked one! Haha….Michael (Gillham, YOB drummer, also of Drunk In Hell) absolutely HATES it.
I've read that you're recording at the moment, can you tell us a bit about what you're working on?
We are ALWAYS recording! Haha. The others hate me be because I send them about 20 songs a week to learn. It’s the only way to get shit done though. We have just finished recording a single for Art Is Hard Records which is coming out in June and a few tracks for compilations. Our latest single came out last week on OddBox Records and we are putting out a 7” for Record Store Day next week too, so we have just finished doing all that, but now it’s time for a short break from recording to do a few gigs and then back to work in May.
Looking at your discography you've put a lot of stuff out since 2011 - do you record at home? How do you get so much done?
Yeah, we do put a lot of stuff out I guess. I think it’s probably very damaging in terms of sales and people interest etc, but we aren't really doing it for that. We tend to always insist on small runs of our releases as they sell out quickly that way and then they are gone and we move onto the next one. Feels nicer that way, to me anyway! We generally hire our usual practice room for 2 hours, record the drums and bass for 10 or so songs in that time, and then I record the guitar and vocals in my kitchen and mix it all the next day. We can theoretically record an album in two days for the price of a 2 hour practice (This equates to £3.50 each when split between 4 people) Value for money that, fuck studios!
We get so much done because we don’t waste all our time rehearsing for and playing pointless gigs. We record and learn new songs WAY more than we play live. We never ask for gigs (unless its something we really wanna do) and we steer clear of gigs that we would gain nothing from playing at (bad bills, poor reputations, badly organised etc – we can spot em all a mile off)
Which release are you most proud of so far?
Personally, I’m most proud of the ‘Jaw’ 12” that came out in January as a split on OneC Records with the incredible Queer’d Science. Its my favourite in terms of everything! It sounds the most like us as a band, it sounds great, it contains what I think are our best songs and its got Queer’d Science on the other side. Whats not to love?
We weren’t ready to record it really as we’d had no time to learn the songs but time was against us so we just went for it. I think the whole recording of these 11 songs took about 6 hours from pressing record the first time to sending off the mastered files to the label. On paper it should be a piece of shit, but it worked out nicely!
Your sound has a great lofi quality to it - what's your set up when you're performing?
Its dead simple: 2 guitars, 1 bass, 1 drummer, 1 vocal. Turn them all up to as loud as they go and play 17 songs as fast as we can. This normally takes 20 mins on a good day and 30 when we are tired/ill. We had a nightmare recently as our drummer broke his wrist at Christmas and we had gigs/recordings to do, but rather than cancel all our plans, Russell from Girl Sweat stepped in and did the deed for three months which was nice. Michael started drumming again last week but was double booked for a gig which Russell also couldn’t do. Again, we didn’t wanna cancel so we just played it as a three piece with Danni moving from bass to drums and me from guitar to bass. It was really good! Loads of fun too. We aren’t normally a fun band so it made a nice change! haha
Our recordings are hardly different to our live set, we don’t do many overdubs, a bit of keyboard here and there but that’s it. Keep it simple. I think we are getting better live every time we play.
Do you prefer playing or recording?
Recording! Every time! I’ve never been a massive fan of playing live if I’m honest. I don’t hate it or get nervous or anything but there are so many other factors that come into play (bad soundmen, apathetic crowd, tech difficulties, knackered gear etc) that I rarely think we come across as well as we should. Basically I’m a total megalomaniac control freak, which lends itself very well to recording but not so well to live stuff. I’m getting better though! I haven’t shouted at anyone for a while now.
Can you tell us about some of the most memorable shows you've played?
We generally play our best gigs in Leeds and Newcastle. We’ve never played a good one in Middlesbrough! I’m kind of reluctant to play in Middlesbrough ever again if I’m honest. I just don’t enjoy it. Stockton (smaller town just outside Middlesbrough, home of the friction match dontchaknow) is sometimes good, we played a great gig there the other week as part of an all day festival. I think if push came to shove, my favourite so far is probably the first Leeds gig we did at a night called Bloodstains. Good crowd/We were drunk/We played fast. That’s all I ever ask for!
How about the best shows you've ever been to see?
My favourite and least favourite gigs of all time are both The Fall. The best was Middlesbrough Cornerhouse in 2000 and the worst was The Sage in Gateshead in 2006. That’s the problem with The Fall being yr favourite band, for every gem, there is a pile of shit. You just gotta get lucky! In the last year I’ve also really enjoyed Goat, Richard Dawson, Haxan Cloak, Mike Watt…we played with Furrow and Fawn Spots last week, they were both ace too!
Year of Birds are a Middlesbrough band - can you tell us a bit about the scene up there?
I’m not really a good spokesperson for the ‘Middlesbrough Scene’ because I detest almost all the bands from round here! Haha. I could spend the next 500 words going into painful detail about what is fundamentally wrong with it, naming names and all kinds of stuff, but instead I’ll focus on the ones I do like. I won’t get lynched that way. SO! My two favourite Middlesbrough bands are:
Drunk In Hell (possibly the best live band in the country – LP due soon)
Pellethead (one of my all-time favourite bands, everybody should love them)
They are two bands I would go out of my way to see. Although not really my cup of tea, By Toutatis are well worth checking if yr into folkier stuff too, we did two live film soundtracking events with them and their scores are DEFFO worth a listen, totally different to their normal stuff and much more to my tastes. You should also check out Witch Hands (Danni from YOB’s one-woman-band – she got the skills) and also Cromlech are really good live (for fans of Electric Wizard) I play bass/guitar in a few other Boro bands too (Shrug, Girl Sweat etc), I like them so I was happy to get involved. There are a couple of other bands whose work ethic I admire greatly, but no one else is doing anything that I can relate too at all. The main problem round here is that too many people think that Paul Weller/Oasis/Ocean Colour Scene/Sting and all that shit are current/worthwhile/valid influences. Its mortifying. I’ll say no more.
If you could change anything about the music scene where you are what would it be?
I would make a massive list of all the musicians and bands that don’t add anything culturally interesting or challenging to the town and move them all to a remote Scottish island and wall the lot of them in. Then we could start again.
I really don’t wanna come across as arrogant or as thinking that I’m better than anyone else. That’s not the case. I’m just sick of being bored to tears by uninspired, lazy indie/rock that sounded dated in 1995, let alone in 2013. I just want people to try a little harder to be different. Nothing is new but you gotta pick yr influences and put them together in a new way. Please, I’m sick of having to travel an hour in any direction to see something good.
You've got your own label Ack! Ack! Ack! - What are some of the challenges you face as an independent label these days?
Well, I release something when I have the time and money, which is seldom! I don’t make any money from it, but it does self-fund so that’s pretty good I guess. I tend to stick to small runs of stuff as most of it is pretty niche and it’s hard to get publicity on a big scale without spending a ton of money, so I’m happy to keep it small. I get lots of nice emails off people saying they like stuff I’ve put out, and that is reward in itself. You just gotta keep plugging away, even in a small way. It’s a little victory.
Will you be doing an Ack! Ack! Ack! RSD 2013 compilation to follow up last years tape?
I was planning on doing a tape of bands covering Fall songs for this years RSD release but I just couldn’t find the time cos I took way to much work on in march and april to get it together, plus I’m working full time again now so instead we are releasing a Year Of Birds 7” on clear vinyl lathe cuts in a MEGA limited edition of 20 copies that is only available from Sound It Out Records on April 20th. We are playing their RSD gig on the night too so it all tied in nicely. I was gonna tell everyone that we got 1000 7”s pressed but that we burned 980 of them to make it limited edition, but no one would have believed me as it’s a well known fact that I can barely afford my rent each month, let along pressing 1000 clear vinyl 7”s. I was even gonna film myself burning some old 7”s in spare copies of our sleeve to enhance the lie further… I wish I’d done it now.
I'm interested in getting people's take on record store day, what are your thoughts on it?
I like it in theory. Haha. It’s a fun day that really helps record stores to turnover a much needed bit of cash and provides collectors with some cool products…..HOWEVER! The more stubborn side of me thinks that it should be record store day every day/week and that the major labels are getting more and more involved every year, swamping the market with a load of bullshit releases designed solely to make a ton of money. Nothing new, nothing quirky, no interesting packaging, just some crappy album that everybody already owns 2 copies of but this time its on….green vinyl and there are only 5000 of them. Really? Who would get up at 6am and queue for this?! Last year, Domino did a zine that contained a load of really nice flexi discs of new material by bands. Nice package, well executed, and really well thought out. That’s what it should be about. This year we have Stephen Malkmus covering the WHOLE of Can’s ‘Ege Bamyasi’ LP…I’d get up at 6am for a copy of that any day of the week.
What were some record stores you visited when you first started buying music? What did you buy there?
The main shop when I was growing up was Alan Fearnley’s but it sadly closed in about 2003. I used to go in a few times a week when I was at college and uni, in fact I think he got about 80% of my student loan now I think about it. I bought some great stuff from him, tons of early Sonic Youth stuff for £3 a go. VALUE!
Sound It Out is a great shop over in Stockton, they made afilm about it last year. Did you see it? It’s great! There’s a couple of songs by my old band, Idiot Savant, on the soundtrack as well as a Detective Instinct song on the accompanying 7”. I’ve got some great stuff from there over the years too, lots of Residents and Cabaret Voltaire stuff at good prices.
Is there anything you want to say that I haven't covered here? the floor is yours!
Ideas for this month: Buy the new Hey Colossus LP, Watch Parks & Recreation, Eat sandwiches or pizza for every meal, Learn a new skill, Walk places more, Make a record with yr friends, Leave a note in a library book, Visit a friend you haven’t seen for a while, Buy your girlfriend/boyfriend a nice cake, Learn about star constellations, Play Scrabble, Be kind to others, Fix something that is broken and keep yr head down and get on with stuff.
What's next for Year of Birds and Ack! Ack! Ack!
Next for Year Of Birds is a single in June on Art Is Hard, the Record Store Day 7” and gig and then back to recording in May/June for another 7” due in early summer on Third Uncle Records in the USA and a tape due out on Giant Hell hopefully in late Summer. We’ll probably do a few gigs here and there too, who knows….
As for Ack! Ack! Ack!, I’m not sure. I’m still trying to get this Sky Needle tape out, but it’s gonna be worth the wait!
"I'm full of dust and guitars", Syd Barrett - if you were sliced in half what would be inside?
Thick, dark clouds of cigarette smoke circling ominously over a pool of economy lager and molten cheese, whilst slices of pizza float slowly around.