In advance of the release on Friday, November 3rd of their third LP, Summer Moon, all five members of There Will Be Fireworks took some time to answer some questions posed by Sput’s own Sunnyvale. Yes, you’re not going crazy, there was indeed another interview with two members of the band posted on this site last week, but the more the merrier!
For ease of reading, please find the initials of each band member below.
Many thanks to the band!
AK – Adam Ketterer (drums)
DM – David Madden (bass)
GF – Gibran Farrah (guitar, vocals, synthesisers, piano)
NM – Nicholas McManus (vocals, guitar, synthesisers, piano)
SD – Stuart Dobbie (guitar, piano)
November 3rd, 2023 marks a day many fans doubted would ever come – the release of a long-awaited follow-up album to The Dark, Dark Bright. Anything you can share on how things transpired/how the creative process unfolded between the 2013 release of that record through the finished product of Summer Moon?
NM: A lot has changed for us since 2013! We released The Dark, Dark Bright in November 2013 and played a few shows around that time and in 2014. We had a clutch of other songs at that point that we loved but that just didn’t feel right for The Dark, Dark Bright. And, to be honest, I think we need that little natural break from writing for a bit. We all had a lot of life stuff going on too – starting out in our careers, some of us moving cities etc, so it was natural that the band took a back seat for a little while.
The other big thing that happened around that time was that our friend Marshall Craigmyle – who engineered our first two albums – sold up his studio (Old Mill Studios in Strathaven, Scotland) and moved to San Francisco. Our band only really felt like a thing for the first time in that studio. When we started the band, we spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms together writing songs and recording terrible demos on an old four track. But we only really got a sense of what we really were the first time we went to Old Mill in 2007. It was the first time we properly heard ourselves and the first time anyone else properly heard us. It felt like the place was intrinsic to the band, and that Marshall was too – and that was true. We’d never recorded anywhere else and, if we were being honest with ourselves, I think we were a bit wary of going somewhere new and finding out it was the wrong place; of going to a studio environment that might not work for us, or working with an engineer who might not understand us. I think we didn’t really know what to do, so we just didn’t do much of anything for a couple of years. We had a few ideas we were vaguely working on but we didn’t make a concerted effort to get in a room together to finish anything.
After a couple of years of pretty much nothing, we were invited to play a gig in Munich in January 2016. We got together to rehearse for that show and it felt great to be back together in a room making noise, and I think that gave us a renewed appetite for writing. Shortly after that, we spent a couple of weekends at a residential studio near Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland. We came out of those sessions with song fragments that would eventually become four of the songs on Summer Moon.
Finally, in 2018 we decided to try recording at Gargleblast Studios in Hamilton with Andy Miller. Andy is a legend – he has recorded Songs: Ohia, Life Without Buildings, Mogwai and De Rosa, among many others. When we showed up at the studio, a few of us realised that one of the rooms was actually the first room we had ever practised in, back when we were in a high school band when we were 16! (It had a different name then.) It became apparent pretty quickly that we’d found our new home and that Andy understood us and the sound we wanted.
AK: The other elephant in the room is covid and the lockdowns that stymied things just as we were getting some momentum back. (That and various other hiccups along the way, including illness, technical gremlins, power cuts, etc. At one point someone said the album was cursed. We definitely thought it might never happen, a few times.) But overall, I think the extra time only helped. It forced us into a new mode of hybrid in-room jamming and remote programming (we’re talking basic Garageband here). I really enjoyed that experience. Suddenly waiting for (e)mail became exciting again. And personally, it stretched me as a drummer. I would write a part in Garageband and then the time would come to actually record it and I’d be like, shit, how do I play this on a real kit? Love Comes Around was the perfect example of that, and gives it a quite different rhythmic feel.
The other nice thing about lockdown was that it actually brought us closer together, funnily enough. For 12 years we’ve lived in different cities and different countries. So Christmas would come round, or whatever, and we’d get together in Glasgow and it’d be: when do I see my family, and when do I see the band? But lockdown hit, and people were doing the Zoom thing. We set up an Album Club where the boys would get together and one of us would pick an album for us all to listen to together, and share some notes on it. We’d have a few drinks and chat about it. It was research (what can we steal?) and it was just great fun, discovering new music and discussing it like we were 16 again. So we were suddenly spending way more time together, albeit remotely, and that accelerated the development of the album – logistically and in terms of the evolution of our sound.
Any specific direction or stylistic change that Summer Moon aims for versus the band’s previous works?
NM: I don’t think there is one big specific thing; it’s more an accumulation of small choices. We didn’t intentionally set out to write anything in reaction to our older stuff, but you naturally evolve and try new things. I think we still sound like the same band, but hopefully with some evolution and some progression. There are some instrumental differences: we are still fundamentally a guitar band, but we used a lot of analogue synthesisers on this album, which we hadn’t really done before to the same extent. Stuart also plays a lot more guitar than previously and he has a very different style from me and Gibran and I think that has added a lot.
SD: I think this album is a little more direct in its songwriting. Not really purposefully but because of covid we crafted the songs a lot more before hitting the studio. So we had options to drop parts, get feedback on parts etc way ahead of time, which wasn’t always the case for us previously.
DM: At the very start of the writing process we were listening to a lot of The Menzingers and Modern Baseball. Holy Ghost had just come out when we went away to Loch Fyne to write for the first time and there was a lot of chat about playing a bit more direct and being quite concise with songs. I think in the end this has come out in some quite interesting arrangements and structures.
The Dark, Dark Bright feels like an album which has “grown with me” : back when I first discovered it, the songs resonated with my more youthful mindset and experiences, but as the years go by, it feels equally (if not more) applicable to my current adult existence. How would you say your lives and perspectives have changed in the decade between album releases, and is there any particular way those changes have impacted your music?
NM: It’s great to hear that The Dark, Dark Bright has had that staying power for you. I mean, a lot of life happens in 10 years, especially when you’re in your twenties and thirties. Since that album was released, I’ve got married, had two kids, started a couple of new jobs and moved home four or five times. The other guys have all had similar amounts of change. Between the five of us, there are six kids, and another on the way! And all of that definitely changes your perspective. We were really young when we released our debut album, and you can hear that almost adolescent energy in the songs. The Dark, Dark Bright was a little more worldly-wise but I think it still has a certain impatience, or even anger at times, which I think is part of youth, on the cusp of real adulthood. I think Summer Moon is a bit more reflective and forgiving and patient. It’s probably darker in some places too, but ultimately I think it is a more hopeful album.
On a more prosaic level, we’re also split between Glasgow and London, and over the last decade some of us have variously lived in Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Oban too. So like AK says we’re often writing remotely, trading demos with each other via email. And that means the arrangements are probably a little more considered than they were before, like Stuart mentioned.
SD: I joined the band after the debut was released but contributed to a couple last minute bits in the studio in 2009 when it was being finished. Therefore, I’ve got a little bit of an outsider/insider view as I heard the first album predominantly as a listener and then got to join the gang for the follow-ups. As a result I’ve always connected the albums as being largely abstract concepts on personal relationships: your relationship to others during young adulthood (self-titled), your relationship to your hometown (The Dark, Dark Bright) and then finally your relationship to yourself and others during later life and adulthood (Summer Moon).
GF: Yeah, I think that ‘growth’ is a good summation of what each album (and Summer Moon particularly) has been and what it represents for us – both thematically/lyrically but also in more practical ways. We’ve evolved and grown as musicians, and gained a deeper understanding of what we’re trying to achieve when we pick up our instruments or go into the studio. The end result is that the music, in my opinion, ends up having more depth and maturity. It’s the kind of thing that’s a natural consequence of playing together for so long but I think it’s part of what makes it stand up to repeated listens
Following Summer Moon, any plans for the future of the band? Should we set a calendar reminder to look out for a follow-up record in the year 2033?
NM: We don’t do plans! Our number one priority is to try and organise a few shows when time and family commitments allow. And we’re working on a couple of songs at the moment, so we’ll see where that goes.
AK: We’re looking into a vinyl release (and remix) for our self-titled debut, so that may come in the next couple of years. For us, the goal is just to keep on keeping on. Realistically, that will mean more remote writing and experimenting. We’ve started sketching out some stuff again. It will be interesting to see if those end up being a necessary little transition period but never become anything (like the songs we had between The Dark, Dark Bright and Summer Moon) or if they’ll develop. When we’re in a sweaty practice room together, things naturally get heavy. When we’re trading Garageband files, things are more sparse, more electronic. You start to hear the influence of The Blue Nile and New Order and stuff like that. You never know what the next stuff will sound like.
DM: We have never really stopped writing so it just depends on how we feel about the songs that come next.
There Will Be Fireworks’ music has always had a strong sense of place – Glasgow often feels like a leading character in your songs. I’ve never been there, but any thoughts on the city – what it means to you, how it’s changed, etc.?
NM: It’s home for me. Like everywhere else, it has its good points and bad points, but I love it. I think it has a real soul and a real sense of itself, and in its own way I think it’s a very romantic city. I agree with what you’re saying about it being like a character in the songs, and I think that’s because the city has such character itself. It’s the kind of place that has its own very strong sense of place, if that makes sense. A lot of our music, especially on the new album, is about the interior world, but Glasgow often finds a way in.
GF: Despite living in London for many years (long enough to call it home) Glasgow will never stop being a home to me. Like all major cities it changes constantly but I feel like it has an identity which I can recognise whenever I’m there
NM: The other thing is that it’s got such an amazing and diverse musical heritage too. When we were younger, it was such a fantastic city to be in a band or to be into underground music – so many great venues and clubs and so many great bands, and there was a vague Glaswegian sense of community without there necessarily being definable “scenes”. And I’m sure it’s the same now, but I’m totally out of the loop! I mean, our first ever gig was supporting De Rosa who were an incredible band, signed to Chemical Undergound at the time. The show was being promoted by a zine called Is The Music in this (then) legendary venue called The 13th Note, where Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand had been a booker. The sound engineer that night was Brendan O’Hare, the drummer from Teenage Fanclub. He was telling us about touring with Nirvana while I was trying to work out how to turn my guitar tuner on. Our first ever gig! Stuff like that seemed totally normal – all these amazing bands and people. I look back now like, what the hell were they doing letting us play with these guys? And I feel like we’ve kind of come full circle because De Rosa became such a huge band for us after that gig and the sound of their records – particularly Mend and Prevention – was the main reason we chose to record with Andy Miller. It’s nice to think that in some way the seed for Summer Moon was sown at that first gig back in 2008.
I realize this might be like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but is there a There Will Be Fireworks song you can choose as a favorite, or even just a tune which is personally extra meaningful? My top three There Will Be Fireworks tunes are currently probably In Excelsis Deo, Roots, and South Street, in no particular order, but would love to hear any thoughts from the creators themselves!
NM: Definitely something from Summer Moon. I always prefer the newer stuff! For me, right now, it might be Second City, Setting Sun but we’re in that golden period of having just enough distance from the songs to actually enjoy them for a while, so it changes pretty much every week.
AK: It’s always changing for me. I love the singles we chose for Summer Moon, but another one I love is Holding Back the Dark. It’s anthemic and relentless and really uplifting, sometimes at odds with the lyrics. When the chorus kicks in, Dobbie and Gibs’ guitars melt your face off, but in a good way.
SD: From the back catalogue probably Here Is Where due to the arrangement and lyrics being especially great. On the new record Something Borrowed I come back to a lot as it captured a real and anthemic feel.
DM: Probably Dream Song for me. It just sounds huge and probably unlike anything we’ve done before. There is a real darkness in the sound.
GF: Similarly, it changes all the time but Love Comes Around has been something I’ve returned to time and again. The song began as a few synth chords that Nicky sent round to us all and I remember having an immediate reaction – it just had a melancholic feel that was unique and that’s stayed throughout the studio process.
There Will Be Fireworks members have been involved in various other musical projects throughout the years (Dead Modern, New Year Memorial, Tiny Skulls, not sure if I’m missing any others). I myself wrote a pretty glowing review for the recent Tiny Skulls debut album (out earlier this year), which I definitely recommend any readers check out. Any other upcoming artistic endeavors we should know about?
NM: I don’t think so, not immediately anyway! My friend Iain, who is the main guy in New Year Memorial, is threatening to get that going again but that’s about it from my end. The focus has been on There Will Be Fireworks for the last few years.
SD: Thanks for the kind words! I think our love of music and writing means the door is always open to new projects from any of us. For the longest time Gibran and I have discussed doing some lofi stuff in the style of songs we love from the 1950s/60s.
Any musical recommendations for us? Could be either specific influences which play a role in the sound that There Will Be Fireworks gravitates towards, or just acts you’ve been enjoying lately!
NM: We’ve all been loving The Blue Nile for a long time. They made two perfect albums in A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. We spent a lot of time talking about them as part of the Album Club that AK mentioned. And The Meadowlands by the Wrens is a massive album for us. In terms of newer stuff that I’ve been enjoying lately, I love Hamish Hawk’s couple of albums from the last few years.
SD: I’ve been enjoying the new Spanish Love Songs and Saturdays At Your Place albums.
GF: I went to see the recently restored Stop Making Sense at the cinema recently and hence have been listening to loads of Talking Heads and being reminded about what a singular character David Byrne was and what a moment that gig was.
For the last question, taking a different angle. Were any of you familiar with Sputnikmusic (before this interview, I guess)? The reason I ask is that There Will Be Fireworks has long had a very dedicated following on the site, and the band is one of the prime examples of what we jokingly call Sputcore – artists which have an outsized fanbase within the Sputnikmusic community. Anyways, we won’t disown you if you had no idea that Sputnikmusic even existed previously, but just curious if you were aware of this little cluster of superfans.
NM: We were aware that you Sputnik guys exist! I can’t remember who told us about it, but we know there is a little community there that grew out of The Dark, Dark Bright. We’re very grateful and appreciative of you guys. Thanks for sticking with us and we hope you like the new album!
AK: We definitely knew about Sputnik, and love the fact that our stuff has taken on a life of its own in these communities. We’ve always felt like we’re a band that won’t “make it” in any commercial sense, but if we can be like 100 people’s favourite band then that’s a nice version of success. Sputcore has now entered our vocabulary, love it.
DM: Big thanks to everyone on Sputnik for all the support over the years. Sorry for the wait (hope it was worth it)!
GF: Yup, it really does mean a lot to us to have people who care about our music as much as Sputnik does.
And that’s it! Thanks to the band for their insights, and thanks to the reader for your interest! Summer Moon is out on Friday, Nov 3rd.