Music & clubs

Sticks rekindled: Stuart A. Staples of Tindersticks

INTERVIEW. After having reconvened in a somewhat altered shape, Tindersticks and their frontman Stuart A. Staples may be the closest the English have come to the French tradition of melancholic pop.

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Photo by Christophe Agou

More active than ever after a mid-decade sabbatical, Tindersticks and their frontman Stuart A. Staples, 20 years on, may be the closest the English have come to the French tradition of melancholic pop.

Bucking the trend of early 1990s Britpop brashness, the Stuart A. Staples-led Tindersticks seemed to draw from a similar 1960s gravitational pull. But while bands like Oasis looked toward the Beatles (or at least their tchotchkes), Staples and cohorts leaned toward chanson and the balladic James Brown resting upon damp knee.

The remarkably consistent (and prolific) band separated mid-decade, with Staples going solo, but they’ve reconvened in a somewhat altered shape, releasing three studio albums in the last five years, as well as a five-disc set of soundtracks for the great French filmmaker and former Wim Wenders’ assistant Claire Denis.

Their latest, The Something Rain (City Slang) shall be performed at Volksbühne on Wednesday, March 7.

Tindersticks have recorded a bunch of records pretty quickly since re-forming.

With the first album we made five years ago, I don’t think we could help but feel kind of a weight of the past on us. I think the last album we made very quickly and as a kind of reaction to that – we just needed to be free in the moment.

And what that did was eradicate that weight of the past. And this album was very much about this moment in time now and I don’t think we thought about the past once.

And how did the past weigh upon you?

I am talking about the past of the band, for myself, David [Boulter] and Neil [Fraser]. We started this band in 1992/1993 in a very unconscious way, and it was built very much around these personalities.

I think when you find yourself without certain personalities, it takes a while to find yourself musically away from that sort of dynamic, you know. It is as though you are trapped in a shape of – a way of – making music that you kind of have to break down and get out of.

I think we reached a point personally between us after working solidly for 11 or 12 years where we ran out of conversation, and along the way we lost our creative desire.

When you are involved in something on a daily basis and involved with people that you love and things start to crumble, it is very difficult to assess what is actually going on.

Your explanation reflects a fatalism that’s also heard in your music.

I never really think about it in those terms; I really don’t. I think I have just come to the conclusion that we just are who we are. If I think about how we got here it is more little steps, or an idea. Walking down the street, they are the things that keep you moving: you think about trying to do this or that but it is that little driving force that is within us all the time, a sense of waking up in the morning and wanting to explore these little things in your head.

This is really brought home to me on the song “This Fire of Autumn” on our new album. The song came to me as this feeling of this fire of autumn, and all the things that could be. But even when I found the music for it, I was happy to let the words just kind of bounce around in my head for a year – and often feeling frustrated about that.

But when the time came that I needed to pin it down to what it actually was, I realized that it was really many things – that it wasn’t just one thing that I was trying to capture. I had to kind of directly embrace the conflict and ambiguity within the song for it to be successful for me.

How did the song present itself to you over time?

It started out as an eight-line poem that was written just walking the streets that I would have walked every day as a child. But then those words didn’t appear in the song – they were just a kind of a starting point.

But it was just about feeling a real commitment and excitement about this idea of the fire of autumn, everything that conjured up in my mind about where I am in my life at this moment, and all to do with whether it’s a kind of energy but also a cleansing and destructive thing.

Does nature have a large influence on what you do?

When I lived in London, I wrote a song called “Say Goodbye to the City”. And I realized it was time to get out of this place. And to try to live in a different way. So, I do feel closer to the country now that I don’t live in an urban kind of environment anymore.

And I think that has had an effect on the work, on this album especially. But I feel it has more to do with a sense of space – and a sense of space to actually explore things and have ideas within.

And what I was just saying about “This Fire of Autumn”, I don’t think working in London I would have had that kind of space in general to explore that idea. I lived in London for 17 years – it’s kind of an extreme version of a city. Perhaps only Mexico City owns a greater intensity.

There’s a lot of space in the sound of Tindersticks. And there’s always been a strong early 1960s and gospel influence.

Um, possibly. I think it’s difficult to talk about at this moment because I feel the album we just made is very English – I think its reference points are so English – whereas in the past I felt those real kind of American influences you are talking about.

I don’t feel as though I’m a kind of student of anything musically – it is about experiencing moments in music that kind of have a profound effect on you and get inside you and feed you in some way.

I do feel a connection to gospel music when you can listen to it in a pure way, when it’s not belittled in any way.

So the methodical approach towards a higher plane might be paralleling gospel in some way?

Everything we’ve ever done has always felt like it’s reaching for something, looking at, finding different ways, different angles to reach for that kind of essence of the feeling that you’re trying to hold within each piece of music.

And so there’s been, over the years, a lot of experimentation in a way of how to get close to that, you know, how to lessen a kind of feeling of technique, I think, and just feel closer to this initial inspiration for life.

How do you get closer to that?

That’s a good question. [laughs]

TINDERSTICKS W/ THOMAS BELHOM AND DJ DICTAPHONE Wed, Mar 7, 20:00 | Volksbühne, Linienstr. 227, Mitte, U-Bhf Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz