Pale Blue Eyes on “This House” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 18th, 2024  

Pale Blue Eyes on “This House”

Matt and Lucy Board discuss their incredible new album, forthcoming UK tour and the importance of playing live

Oct 04, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Pale Blue Eyes might just have released a genuine album of the year contender for the second year in a row. This House, released last month follows hot on the heels of debut long player Souvenirs which came out almost twelve months to the day earlier.

Both have provided the catalyst in elevating its creators to being lauded as one of the most exciting bands in the UK right now, while their live shows have received glowing plaudits from everyone that’s witnessed them.

Essentially a trio – vocalist and guitarist Matt Board, his wife Lucy on drums and bass player Aubrey Simpson – although more often than not a four-piece for live shows. Originally formed in the picturesque town of Totnes on the Devon coast, the Boards recently relocated to Lucy’s native Sheffield while bassist Simpson split his time between Devon and London.

While the band’s debut LP Souvenirs captured memories and melancholy from around the death of Matt’s father, This House is its next-door neighbour. The new album was finished in the immediate aftermath of the death of Matt’s mum.

Under the Radar caught up with Matt and Lucy Board to discuss their new record, forthcoming UK tour, and the importance of playing live as much as possible.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): It’s probably fair to say the last twelve months have been incredible for Pale Blue Eyes, with your debut album Souvenirs coming out then the second record This House earlier this month along with a couple of UK tours plus several high-profile live shows and festival appearances?

Matt Board: Firstly, its just an absolute joy to play gigs. For the three of us to be able to get out and do these things is an absolute pleasure. We never expected any of that stuff when we started the band. We’re just doing this because we love it.

Lucy Board: I think when you’re inside it, doing it as well. You still worry about the same things as everyone else. You still have the same day-to-day weird little niggles and paranoias. Sometimes you do have to stop and reflect that this has gone quite well so far. It’s hard to gauge it because I think if you’re a creative person, and you want to do better, the first thing you do after reading a review is home in on the one negative point and think right, we need to do that better. Someone can give you ten compliments then one little bit of constructive criticism and that’s all you can think about – the one piece of criticism. That’s certainly how my brain works. It’s funny because it does feel like everything is going in a positive direction yet we can still be so stressed about how we’re going to afford our weekly shop and utility bills. I guess they’re all the same things everyone else is worried about at the minute. We’re definitely feeling those things as well.

You’ve played a lot of live shows since the first record came out, and I dare say picked up a lot of new fans at those gigs along the way. How important do you think it is for bands to play live as much as possible, especially in the current climate where record sales and streaming doesn’t really account for that much?

Matt Board: We just absolutely love playing live. Up to this point we’ve tried to play as much as possible because it is also about learning. The more we play, the better we become at what we’re doing – as with any trade – and from our point of view, there’s just so much enjoyment to be gained from the live side of it. It’s a main driver for us in that we just want to get out and play. I agree that it represents a large portion of a band’s potential income and for us, means we can stay on the road. We tend to say yes to pretty much everything when people offer us a show. We love playing music even if it makes us a loss! We just want to play. But certainly as the industry goes its an incredibly important part of it for things to carry on.

It does seem like you’re permanently on tour – even looking through the forthcoming tour dates for November. Are there any towns and cities in the UK that you haven’t visited or played over the past twelve months?

Lucy Board: Like Matt says, we wouldn’t agree to all those shows if we didn’t love playing live. Certainly no one is making us do it.

Matt Board: There’s something in just wanting to go everywhere in the UK and play these gigs. It’s a joy to go to a new town and we always meet really sound people along the way as well so it’s become a huge part of our social lives which is another reason why we want to do it all the time.

The flipside of that is still being able to release two albums in the space of a year. How do you find the time to write and record as well as constantly being on tour?

Matt Board: We have actually had quite a long break from writing because for me personally, so much went on in my life with me and Lucy sharing that experience, and having an outlet. Just so much happened over the last three to five years. A lot of life-changing, almost end of era moments. That all just fed into stuff we had to talk and write about but fundamentally it also became our way of coping and dealing with these things. Processing it through our art and our music. It pretty much meant the writing cycle from the first album into the next record became a continuation but with a slightly different method and approach. Mainly because we weren’t in lockdown so the three of us could be together for the second record. Whereas the first one was made in isolation for the most part, the two of us sending stuff to Aubrey (Simpson) then him adding his parts and sending it back, so it was a different way of making a record. There was just so much going on that I had stuff to think about then process through writing about it so it was definitely a way of dealing with what was going on.

With the subject matters of Souvenirs and This House being so close to heart, are some of those songs quite difficult to play live?

Matt Board: It’s emotional but not difficult to play because its helped me navigate the time. So, I put all of that energy and emotion into performing them to try and do the songs justice. It’s definitely helped me to move on from these difficult times, and also my mum and dad were incredibly supportive of what we’re doing. They would have absolutely loved this so it is almost like they’re there with me when I’m singing those songs. It is challenging emotionally, but not in a way that makes it difficult to play any of those songs.

Lucy Board: For me, and probably for Matt as well, there’s a couple of tracks on the album – “Sister” and “Underwater” – that felt like the peak of all those emotions coming out when we recorded them. Even when we just touched on rehearsing “Underwater” once or twice quite recently I felt something brimming up in me. It really took me back to a headspace because it means a lot to us and was written off the back of some pretty horrendous and upsetting experiences. In time, I think we’ll enjoy playing those songs live because it evokes emotion like Matt said which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You shouldn’t shy away from that.

You’ve recently relocated from Totnes in Devon up to Sheffield – which is where Lucy is originally from. Had you already planned to move or was that a culmination of everything that had happened with Matt’s parents passing away?

Lucy Board: No, we hadn’t planned it. We were in quite a strange headspace for a few years where typically people our age would be doing certain things. Whereas we were in a situation where we were back at home with Matt’s mum but purely circumstantial. It was just our unique set of circumstances. There was no end point, and it was really hard because she was very poorly. None of us could really talk about what would happen next because there was no end point although it was a terminal illness. She was on a life support machine which meant she could go on as long as she wanted and came down to a sudden decision from her, and at that point we had a lot of processing to do. What do we do next? So, it took us about six months to make a decision about what we needed to do. Matt had a lot of responsibility because him and his sister were left to deal with a house that their mum and dad owned. The house is on the album cover. So, we just had a couple of difficult decisions to make about this beautiful home that Matt and his family had been in for some thirty years and where do we go next, and as self-employed musicians me and Matt in a dreamworld would have loved to have kept this house but it just wasn’t possible financially or otherwise.

Matt Board: It also gifted us an opportunity to have a bit of a reset and try something new because we’d finished our day jobs. We had to make all these difficult decisions yet the moving to Sheffield bit wasn’t all that difficult a decision to make because we’d had all these heavy things going on. Even if we’d moved somewhere else it gave us an opportunity to have a fresh perspective and a fresh start in a new place. We love it up here so it always on the list of new places once we’d decided to move, all of which were up north.

Lucy Board: We didn’t really have a plan. We never really have a plan!

Dean Honer (The All Seeing I, Moonlandingz, Eccentronic Research Council) mixed and mastered both albums. Was it always your intention to work with Dean and is he someone you’ll work with again in the future?

Lucy Board: When I was a youngster in Sheffield, Dean was in my life in various ways. I was playing drums and trumpet with people in various bands and I met Dean through Adrian Flanagan (Moonlandingz, Eccentronic Research Council, Acid Klaus). Adrian was like a mentor for me, and I’d been playing trumpet and stuff for him. I was young and just wanted to play music at the age where I would just be up for saying yes to everything, so I’d play a few gigs for him and Dean would play synths. I remember chatting to him about mastering some tracks and then asking him whether he mixed stuff as well because I didn’t know his full background. He’s a producer as well, so he asked to send a test track to mix and see whether we liked it so we sent him a stem of “Under Northern Sky” off the first album and we were just blown away with what came back. We listened to it in the car were just blown away, so then we asked if he’d like to mix any more of our stuff. At this point we didn’t really have a plan. We weren’t signed to Full Time Hobby yet. We didn’t even know whether we’d put an album out. We just had all these tracks we were really excited to get mixed. So, we just started firing things over. One of the most impressive things about Dean is not only does he do a perfect job, he’s also really quick as well so two days later he’d send us something back. He really is the master of mastering! That was such a positive experience of working with someone. Whenever we asked him to do anything he’d just go away and do it. We also learned quite a lot from him so on the second record we started to do some of the stuff that he would have done.

Matt Board: Because we’re really interested in the studio side of things – we’d worked with other bands in Devon which we also hope to do in Sheffield as well – we got a little bit more knowledge through making that first record. So, we attempted different techniques and got a couple of better microphones for the second. A lot of that first record was just two mics on the drumkit and 3000 guitar parts! Dean would ask whether we meant to send twenty-six guitar takes or whatever on one track. As we got more and more into the studio side of things the second record was made very differently.

Whenever I’ve seen Pale Blue Eyes live you’ve had a fourth member, John Gooding on keys. Do you see John becoming a permanent member of the band in the future?

Matt Board: John’s amazing. He’s really dedicated to the live side of things when it’s possible. We’d like him to be involved as much as possible as he brings so much to the live side of things. It just depends on his other commitments.

Pale Blue Eyes’ music encompasses so many different musical styles and genres. Are the band’s collective influences as eclectic and diverse as your music suggests?

Matt Board: I’m certainly into lots of different things that I was either introduced to by my dad or discovered myself through going down a rabbit hole within that genre. Between the three of us we’ve got a pretty broad spectrum of music we like. Lucy grew up playing jazz trumpet.

Lucy Board We all grew up through very different roots really. My first instrument was trumpet which I learned classically, and then I got into jazz piano and drumming. Then I was in a punk band when I was fourteen. Aubrey’s mum and dad were really into disco and soul – his mum’s a DJ – so he’s like this weird encyclopedia of musical knowledge. So, he informs us in many ways because he’ll always be playing tunes. When I first met Matt, he really informed my music tastes as he had walls and walls of CDs so I was discovering stuff like Sea Power and Broken Social Scene. Matt was really into Sigur Ros and I’d never heard of them at the time, then I was playing in an electropop band with Adrian (Flanagan). I’d had quite an interest in Sheffield music, The Human League and stuff like that. I don’t think it happened on purpose. I just think it’s the sum of all those things molding together.

As well as your own headline shows and festival appearances, you’ve also had some big support slots this year. Slowdive and James being two recent ones that stand out. Did you take or learn anything from playing with such established artists?

Matt Board: Totally. You can’t help but learn so much when you’re put in that position. It’s a weird way of describing it, but if you’re learning a trade like plumbing you have to do a certain number of jobs with someone else where you learn a bit more, then you learn a bit more and then become a master in your art. All of these opportunities we’ve been gifted have only helped us to learn more, whether it’s about managing nerves on the day or soundchecking. Just seeing people who’ve done it at the highest level was an incredible gift of learning and certainly from my point of view it’s helped massively to understand the bigger picture of what it all means.

Lucy Board: Slowdive’s album from 2017 (Slowdive) was a really important record for me so getting to support them almost feels like everything’s gone full circle because that album really inspired me. It came out just as we were beginning to write stuff as Pale Blue Eyes, so in some ways its funny to then get to support them. And also, to find out they’re just really lovely people as well. When we supported Sea Power, the thing that struck me with them was how incredibly good their live show is every single night. We got to play a lot of shows with them rather than just a one-off, and they were bloody brilliant every night!

Matt Board: There’s dynamics running through their set that really does give you the full spectrum of drama and emotion. It takes you on this incredible journey. They don’t realise they’re doing it because they come across so humble. The journey you’re taken on with that live show really is incredible, and we were lucky enough to see it every night when we toured with them. They’re a band I grew up with and saw many times as a kid, so to eventually get to play with them was epic, and again they’re just really sound people as well.

Lucy Board: They’re incredible and very dedicated too. People think being in a band is so much fun there’s a lot of commitment involved as well. To the point where you have to sacrifice other areas of your life a little bit. They’ve been so committed for years and it takes an awful lot to sustain it.

Matt Board: Their festival, Krankenhaus is amazing. It was one of our favourites last year. The line-up is so strong every year. The site is incredible. It’s set in an old castle in Cumbria. The landscape is unreal. Because its set at the top of this peak where the castle is, you can see for miles. There’s wild birds everywhere, so you might be sat listening to someone from Fat White Family talking about their new book while this bird of prey is hovering over your head!

Lucy Board: The line-up this year was incredible. They had Bo Ningen, W.H. Lung, so much good stuff that I wanted to go and see.

What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?

Matt Board: We actually got our head around writing quite a lot before we even decided to go out and start playing. There was a large period of time writing, reworking and rehearsing songs as a three-piece before we even booked a show. Once we got going, we just said yes to everything. If you can make it work it’s a nice way of road-testing songs early on. Just getting out there and playing.

Lucy Board: My first answer to a question like this is always don’t do it!

Matt Board: If someone had said that to you five years ago, you’d have told them to fuck off!

Lucy Board: I was only joking but, in all seriousness, I’d say have realistic ambitions and make sure you get on with your bandmates because you’ll spend so much time in each other’s pockets. We’re so lucky that we get on so well with Aubrey. He’s a little bit younger than us, yet the first time we all hung out together we just clicked.

Matt Board: I think that was fate, because we’ve all been in projects before where things haven’t worked out how you expected. Keeping perspective on what it all means is important, particularly when you’ve been through what we have in real life. Although my best piece of advice would be try and enjoy every moment. Even if its weird or not going the way you planned it, still try, and take something out of it.

Lucy Board: Definitely be in the moment like Matt said, and I also think there are certain areas you have to take with a pinch of salt. Be careful not to get sucked in and worried about weird stuff. Don’t stress about streaming statistics or play counts. There’s so many aspects of the industry I don’t understand if I’m being honest. All we put our energies into are writing the music, playing the music, and enjoying that process. Enjoying playing gigs. Enjoying meeting people. The rest of the stuff, if you worry about it, you’ll just ruin it for yourself.

Matt Board: We’ve been lucky to have met Sea Power who’ve got an incredible community around them, and also Public Service Broadcasting who we toured with. Those guys are just legends, and the community of supporters they have around them are just lovely people. They’ve built this world around the band and they all socially hang out. It’s a social subculture which I’m really interested in, and it’s a great night out. We’ve met some amazing people along the way, that if we didn’t have this band we wouldn’t have as friends now. That we see at gigs and they enjoy our music. Once we’ve done our bit and I’ve stopped sweating and calmed down, then we have a beer with them. It’s a dream, and we’re lucky to have been opened up to that world. That’s what it’s about for me. Those little micro scenes. The subcultures that build around the band.

Lucy Board: I think it’s brilliant and almost like the point of it all is meeting people that are as into it as we are. There’s obviously a huge cross section of people that wouldn’t have a clue what we’re getting up to and that’s fine as well because they’re getting their thrills from something else, but I love it and don’t want to not be part of that world. So, I think you just have to carve out that world for yourself if you can.

I guess being on stage and looking out to see so many regular faces bellowing the words back at you must be an amazing feeling?

Matt Board: It is an amazing feeling and we feel lucky that people have taken the time to watch us. It does definitely feed in to what we’re doing. What we do is inclusive, and having that audience energy or audience participation – whatever you want to call it – works for us. People getting involved just fuels us even more to want to keep doing it.

Lucy Board: Deer Shed again would be a classic example. That was such a fun gig and lovely experience for us, mainly because we were getting so much back from the audience. Someone once said to me that mid-afternoon slots at festivals are the most difficult but that was such an incredible vibe for us.

Matt Board: We often talk about this, yet I feel so lucky to just be able to do it, and whether we’re playing to a handful of people or a full house I’m in. I’m there.

Are there any new bands or artists you’d recommend that Under the Radar and its readers should check out?

Matt Board: We’ve been listening to Young Fathers loads. I know they’re not exactly new but their music is incredible.

Lucy Board: There’s a lovely Manchester-based band called Cruush who supported us on a few dates earlier this year. What they’re doing is really cool. I think they played at Krankenhaus actually.

Matt Board: Bleach Lab I really like. She’s In Parties as well. Have you heard of Nabihah Iqbal? Check out her album Dreamer. It’s amazing. Again, it’s new; it was released within the last year; but its new to us and is something we listen to regularly when we’re in the (Citroen) Berlingo!

The album This House is out now on Full Time Hobby.

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