RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW LONDON BAND NATIONAL SERVICE
1) Hi folks. What made you decide to start the band?
It’s mainly Fintan’s fault. We started making music in late 2013 because I met Fintan at uni and, through him, Matt, as they both went to school together. We weren’t really National Service until 2017, so there was a long gestation period. We were all hating our lives and working way too hard for way too little. Happily, things are a lot nicer now. I don’t subscribe to this idea that one has to be in perpetual turmoil to be creative like Oscar Wilde or similar. We’ve found lately that the more we take care of ourselves and eachother, the easier and more enjoyable it is to live and to make music.
2) Introduce us to all the members and your musical history?
I’m Iain and I do the noisey guitar and pretty Elvish type vocals with all the oceans of reverb. I started playing piano at 6 and was mainly inspired by video game soundtracks. My maternal grandfather is my biggest musical inspiration. He taught me what scales were and was a big fan of Elgar, Chopin etc. and a lot of classic jazz stuff like Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery. He also loved 30s/40s music, which still makes me cry, particularly barbershop – I just love the way it’s recorded. I had a Classic FM compilation CD with a sunrise on the front … ‘Most Relaxing Classical Music In The World…Ever!’ … that was pretty profoundly influential – maybe not musically, but in terms of demonstrating how emotionally evocative music can be, even without lyrics. I think the first thing I remember learning on an instrument was the riff to ‘Children’ by Robert Miles. I also sang in a vocal group at school and we used to do competitions where we sang Beatles songs in harmony. I remember making house and trance (or what I thought was house and trance) on ‘Music’ for the Playstation 1 when I was a wean.
I got a cheap quarter size classical guitar when I was around 13 and tried to learn all the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, The Who, Sabbath, Thin Lizzy etc. that I had heard at home, but also the FM radio stuff of the time – definitely owned some Oasis, The Verve, Blur and Travis chord books. There was a dangerous amount of Enya and Bryan Adams in the air at home, but also the Bee Gees, Barry White, Tina Turner etc. The Pink Floyd ‘Pulse’ concert VHS had some serious rotation – I think it is stunning. Pink Floyd are probably my favourite band of all time, even though a lot of their stuff for me doesn’t move me – the Barrett era / The Final Cut etc. To me, David Gilmour is probably one of most emotionally eloquent musicians ever – he’s my favourite guitarist. Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video freaked me out enough. When I was super young, I remember thinking there was this guy called ‘Abbey’, with the surname ‘Road’, who had an album called ‘The Beatles’ and asking why his voice sounded so different in each song. It’s still my favourite Beatles record.
I remember thinking that David Bowie, Annie Lennox and Marilyn Manson were the same person. I got an electric guitar a little after and contracted full blown nu-metal fever. That quickly turned into a punk and hardcore phase, which I’m still in. I had a Black Flag meets Kyuss type stoner-hardcore band at school which was very formative. At the time, I was also really into Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Tom Waits, The Pogues, Damien Rice, Nick Drake, Ryan Adams, Lisa Hannigan and Radiohead etc. Radiohead are, like for most people, gigantic for me. I remember watching Glastonbury 2003 and being mesmerised by Thom Yorke’s total intoxication from whatever music they were making. It was like seeing a man possessed.
I prefer Radiohead when they’re in ‘nightmare mode’ – The Gloaming, Myxomatosis, Optimistic, Everything In It’s Right Place etc. I think a lot of that really made me get interested in more troubadour / singer-songwriter type stuff. I also adored Aphex Twin at the time, and still do. We could write a book about this…
3) What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
Never been asked anything too rough but generally steer clear of anything that isn’t about music or that is calculated to inspire mean-minded splashy clickbait.
4) We set up RGM USA to share music with America and the UK, good idea?
Fantastic idea – we take a lot of influence from American music like Big Thief, The Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins ,The National, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear… the list goes on.
5) Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Only the real ones. The reality is much worse than any of that stuff. People lie all the time. I do think Halon’s razor had it mainly right though –
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
I wish there were real Sasquatches and that Tupac was still alive but the world’s not a right place. I really hope that if aliens are ever discoverable that I will be alive to see that, provided that they’re cool and none violent like the ones on Arrival etc. It might force us into making ourselves into a better species. Then again, we might get a whole lot worse.
6) Did you buy anything you don’t need during the pandemic?
Nah. I like to keep things minimal so if I don’t need them, I don’t buy them.
7) What useless party trick do you have?
I’m pretty good at voices, so I can usually alienate everyone with an impression of talking-backwards computer voice or by doing the Comic Relief version of ‘Perfect Day’ but trying to imitate each different singer in turn. I can make my eyes turn white like The Evil Dead. That or hammering out a both hands piano version of the theme tune from ‘Grandstand’ or ‘The X Files’. I never get invited back.
8) What was the most fun you have had on stage?
It’s always fun. It’s my favourite thing about it. I don’t ever feel nervous about playing. The most fun bits are the ones you don’t remember because you just go blind in it and it feels like the song is playing you. I really like when I can feel the band reacting to one another and a song unexpectedly gets more intense or contains a little improv etc. those kind of ‘roll the dice’ moments that only happen once. I remember playing Omeara once and thinking the gongy cavernousness sound of the stage and venue really suited us.
9) What was the worst experience on stage?
One show at the Old Queen’s Head, Fintan unwittingly set his tuner to ‘Blues Mode’ so his entire guitar was in Eb / half a step-down and, believing that everyone else was in error, made us all tune to his flat guitar. That was quite disorientating having to play and sing three part vocal harmony a half-step out completely on the fly. We probably sucked that night. I guess we could always plead ‘lounge’. We also got abruptly thrown offstage at Camden Assembly by Mike Skinner’s entourage, which was quite rude. That wasn’t him, though. We like Mike.
10) Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about?
I never ate an egg until I was almost 20. No real reason, just thought they looked gross. I think also, that people are surprised that we’re fairly affable in person. We’re not super dour and huddled in the corner reading Dostoyevsky or anything. Maybe also at how collaborative the band is, as well. People are responsible for things you wouldn’t necessarily expect. I think also, when Fintan has a song he’s written, quite how much that initial tune changes when we all have had input etc. Sometimes your job as a band mate is to get out of the way of a song and leave it as it is, but often the original demo sounds totally different to the finished thing.
11) If you had to describe your band/music to an alien how would you describe it?
I can’t quite remember where it came from but I’ve always liked ‘divorce core’. I’m not sure if divorce exists in other galaxies. Then I’d just play it to them, let them form their own description.
12) What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
Most projects fall apart when life gets in the way – we’ve been through every hurdle known to man and we’re still here because we love what we do. We’re all really good friends too, so we’ve carried each other through the ups and downs and the music has been a constant through all of that, an outlet and a place to gain perspective.
14) Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?
Nine times out of ten, it’s not worth sweating the small shit. Either learn from it, change it, or forget it. That said, if you want a list:
Apple’s iTunes interface. That new version of Logic bugs out a lot. Whenever I weigh vegetables on a self-service checkout, the machine doesn’t understand and makes the noise as if I’m trying to rob the place. Illegal labour exploitation being enabled by unregulated creative internships. The music industry’s fixation on ‘Likes’ or ‘Plays’ as opposed to whether the music makes you feel something or teaches you something about yourself. Online gushiness seems forced and effortful – too many exclamation marks, emojis and capital letters for me. Keep it classy.
I’m still angry and sad that Scott from Frightened Rabbit is no longer with us. He was a beautiful man and his writing has helped me so much. Seeing that all unfold online at the time was so awful. The way his band and family handled that incredibly painful and public event and channeled it into something positive with their charity ‘Tiny Changes’ was truly commendable.
15) What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
I really love the ending to ‘The Weathering’ right now – it’s a pretty wrought, desperate dark song up until the end, where there’s a huge, uplifting major key switch-up which just soars. It also has probably one of the best lyrics that Fintan’s written. I remember thinking when we wrote it “that will be great when thousands of people are singing that at the top of their lungs”. I’m a sucker for a sing-a-long. Makes me shed a single, manly tear. I’m actually a huge joy-cry person, so that definitely inspires one.
16) I hear you have a new single/album/ep, what can you tell us about it?
It was written over the last couple of years. Some of them were pretty fully formed tunes from Fintan, others were weird collaboration experiments where, for example, Matt would write a drum beat, then it would go to Fintan to write a vocal, then to me to do a lead line, but totally in isolation. So the last person would receive a nearly full song but with no sense of what the underlying harmony was if you see what I mean. They weren’t always fruitful but it was interesting and empowering, and I quite like the idea of a song having ‘lead drums’ or whatever. There’s plenty on the record that was written like that.
17) Talk me through the thought process of the single?
I could write an essay about this but to be honest, the music is influenced by the environment in which it was created. This batch of songs were formed and recorded during the pandemic so I guess in a way it’s quite restless. It’s certainly a new direction which is exciting – we’ve had a bit of a lineup change too which has definitely impacted things.
18) What was the recording process like?
The birth of a glacier. We’re doing everything ourselves and all working full time so it can be challenging to balance that and leave enough room to look after yourself. People don’t like to talk about that. Because it’s art, it’s can feel like people imagine it just falls out the sky. In actuality, it’s born from thousands of pounds worth of equipment and thousands of hours of work. We are where we are, but it’s a lot easier to manufacture product when you aren’t all burned out from working a day job and the practicalities are already taken care of by wealthy supportive parents or shareholders etc. You can get a lot more music made when you’re not busting 60hr weeks at the coffee shop just to keep the lights on. But then, even monetary backing has its drawbacks. You might make pallid, over-considered art. You might have a bad manager or AnR or get pushed to do things that feel spiritually or artistically insanitary. No one’s telling us to autotune the vocal, or wear different clothes or whatever.
Our studio is pretty basic, so sometimes that presents challenges but also, it’s more fun having to be resourceful and the atmosphere is more relaxed. There’s no clock or anything and we have some nice fairy lights. I think we’ve gotten better at intuiting when it’s best to just try again another day rather than grind our teeth and try to force a good take etc. which almost never happens. Music making should be fun, ideally.
19) What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
Probably learning not to overwork a take or part. Or not to choke the song with too many quadruple tracked tambourine parts etc. I think when we all like something, we do get super excited and it can be a bit of a idea-crash where there’s just too much going on. That’s good to have everything out in the open and you don’t wanna shut down ideas as they come in the initial stage. But in the editing stage, we’re a lot better now at doing what’s right for the tune and not our egos.
20) Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I would change the bank accounts of the guys who funded the production costs. Unfortunately, it was us. It would have been nicer to have some decent outboard or old weird gear to play with, but it doesn’t matter. It might have been nice to be able to pay some of our talented friends or favourite engineers to mix it, but again, we’ve done it and we’re proud of it. The technology isn’t what makes the record. Some of my favourite records were just a person with a great idea and not so great mic. We’re at this place we’re at now and that’s fine. The next one will be something different.
21) What are your plans for the year ahead?
Release this body of work in stages which will ultimately look like a record we’re proud of. We’d love to book a tour and do some festivals on the back of it and hopefully just continue to build our listenership. Really and truly, we just want to just become viable as an entity, quit our jobs, not for any sort of fame or whatever, but just so that we can dedicate as much of ourselves to the project as possible. And most importantly, I want us to be still pals, band or no.
22) Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
If you’ve got a spare few quid, Tiny Changes, a mental health charity based up in Scotland run by Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit’s family, is a very worthy cause https://tinychanges.com/. Also, if you don’t already know them, these are some artists which we listen to that you really should check out. In no particular order Kathryn Joseph, S. Carey, Ben Osborn, Calluna, Leaps, Big Thief, Rival Consoles etc. S. Carey is Bon Iver’s drummer, Sean Carey, and he’s criminally under known – his second record, ‘Range Of Light’ is superb. Go check it out.
When people say “everything happens for a reason”? The truth is that everything happens for no reason. So don’t worry about it.