TVAM on “High Art Lite” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, July 22nd, 2024  

TVAM on “High Art Lite”

Joe Oxley tells Under the Radar about his forthcoming second album

Aug 23, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

If your idea of a one-man-band is someone with a bass drum strapped to their back and a harmonica wedged between their teeth, then TVAM will blow your mind.

High Art Lite is the new record by the nom de plume of Wigan-based musician and visual artist Joe Oxley, who came to our attention four years ago with his stunning debut album Psychic Data.

The follow-up, due out on 21 October, picks up where that debut left us, but this time it cranks up the vibrance, saturation and luminance to new levels. Expect an album that veers between epic shoegaze, riff heavy dream-pop and icy synth-wave without hanging its hat on any one specific hook.

Singles “Piz Buin” and “Double Lucifer” have already hit the BBC 6Music playlist, like Dick Dale returning a Blade Runner VHS by crashing a tank into Blockbuster video rental. It’s a record that’s destined to feature highly on many of this year’s ‘best of’ lists.

Under The Radar caught up with Joe to find out more.

Andy Robbins (Under The Radar): Your self-released debut album Psychic Data received plenty of critical acclaim, followed by some fantastic live shows as a duo and then as a four-piece band. Did you plan on taking a break after touring and promoting that record, or did you want to go straight into writing the next album?

Joe Oxley (TVAM): In many ways it was kind of weird because the last gig I did was Lewes Psych Fest in January 2020 and at that point I’d already started writing the next album. I mean, writing is a kind of constant thing anyway, but there are a couple of songs on the album that were written at that point, or were well on their way, so that process had already begun by that point.

Obviously with the pandemic, everything got curtailed. But before that, with Psychic Data it had been great. After playing in bands and doing things for years, to then doing my own solo project and have a much bigger response than anything else I’d previously been involved with was really exciting.

It started out so small, just me and my telly (the television set that Joe takes on stage to display some of his visuals), and it slowly grew and developed naturally into doing festivals. I moved onto doing it as a two-piece and then in 2019 we expanded it to a four-piece when we played things like Green Man and End Of The Road and it felt really, really good. Then it got to 2020.

So, although at that stage some of the songs had been written, it felt like the only thing you could do was write. That’s not saying this new album is a lockdown record, or whatever you want to call it. The beginnings of those things were already there, it’s just I found myself with a lot of time so I thought I might as well use it.

As a solo producer, presumably the pandemic lockdown didn’t change the way you write and record. Did it just give you more time?

We’d all welcome more time to enjoy what we like doing, and have the opportunity to immerse yourself in it. But at the same time the challenge for me was that it was so different from how I’d written the first album. For the first show I ever did there were already songs there, something to work with. But from that point onwards everything was being played live and refined. Just playing things in front of people changes how you interpret it. There wasn’t much of that for the new one.

In a weird way I suppose the new record is more personal. The reflection was more from myself, which I’d say helped it lyrically. But it is difficult because I think having more time can be good and bad. And then there were further delays, as so many bands have had with pressings and things like that.

It’s been a really strange thing because High Art Lite is due out in October, in the same week that the previous one came out four years ago, so the whole cycle feeling is there, but it’s taken so long.

I knew if we were going to put in a release date too early, that would slip. It felt pointless to do that and then have to cancel everything. I’m fortunate that I was able to do that, and I know a lot of bands aren’t in that position.

But in the interim, Invada became really interested in it so I signed with them which was really exciting, because I’d just put the previous record out on my own label. With this one it’s really exciting to be there on such an established label, and a well-respected one.

Did Invada Records come to you after you’d recorded High Art Lite or were they on board at the start of the process?

They’d shown an interest since the first album came out. We were fortunate that when we were playing it as a duo, we got to play with BEAK> (featuring Geoff Barrow, who co-runs Invada Records) and it also fits with the kind of artists they like to work with in terms of the sounds and the themes, so it felt like a really natural fit.

That all took shape during the pandemic, but recording wise it was very similar to the first record, just done in my little bedroom studio. But this time around it was great working with James Trevascus from Invada who mixed it. It was just good to have that sounding board and someone to bounce ideas off.

With the previous album, Dean Honer (Sheffield based record producer and one half of electronic duo I Monster) had helped out in that regard, with the final mix. But with James it was great because he was keen to follow what I was pushing for. A lot of the sounds on this new album are big, colourful, energetic…you can’t hold them back. James was just great for saying “Okay, let’s crank them up as much as we possibly can.” He helped breathe new life into songs I’d been working on for a while.

High Art Lite definitely picks up where Psychic Data left off but, as you say, everything does seem bigger, bolder and much more saturated. Is that what you wanted from the outset?

Yeah, absolutely. The songs were there and I had a vague running order. I realised it was a louder and more colourful album than the first one and that although there were subtleties there, the cornerstones of the sound had to be really prominent and upfront. They had to become the focus.

I think in some of the songs and some of the things going on lyrically, it kind of felt it needed to be big, bold and colourful. I was just really happy that we got there with it.

Is there a particular theme or inspiration behind High Art Lite?

What happens, and this kind of happened to me with the last album, is that I tend to work on a track-by-track basis. I didn’t go into either album with a concept. Quite often, with most artists, it’ll be that you have a set of songs written in a particular period of time when certain things are on your mind and certain things are going on.

I think what happens is that when they all pile together, they resonate with each other in ways that you didn’t necessarily expect. It was weird listening back and hearing certain themes that were standing out from it.

With “Piz Buin”, the first single that I’ve put out from the new album, it’s like my take on JG Ballard’s Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes, those kinds of books where there are segregated communities for the rich and well-connected. That was quite fun, to bring back some of those thematic things, where there were images of swimming pools, sunshine and holidays. It was all very vague, but they kept coming round again. That fit with the big, bold way in which the sound came together as well. It was bright and quite garish in some ways.

I latched onto that with High Art Lite as there was a book that I read a while ago on the British modern art movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and about the interaction it had with the media and art’s own idea of itself. This felt like my own critique of myself and thinking “Am I just pushing buttons for the sake of it?”, or if getting any reaction is better than no reaction. I think those sorts of themes do play out a little bit on the new record.

That temptation as an artist, to try and make art that draws attention to itself rather than any message, or any other reason for it to exist…it mirrors a lot of current culture and social media, in discourse, in the way that people frame themselves. It became a thought that kept rolling round my mind, and that thought infected some of the songs that are on the new album.

Do you feel you always try and weave a message into your music when writing?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a hell of a lot to be said for a gut reaction to an amazing riff or amazing beat. There are bands like The Stooges where it just hits you on a gut level. I’m a massive fan of 1960s garage and surf instrumentals, and for most of that stuff there’s nothing deeper to it than the sounds coming from your speakers.

I think for me it’s just that having a song is the bedrock that gives me the chance to ponder things and think about stuff. I’m often drawn to instrumental music to have on in the house or around me. It gives you that space to impress your own thoughts on it and enjoy being in that position where those thoughts come clearly.

It’s not a case of having songs that always have to have a message behind them. It’s more that I’ve created this space and it becomes therapeutic for me to ruminate over things and consider stuff. That’s the enjoyable part.

I suppose the visual side of TVAM is part of it. I’ve made the track and the music is already there, but then I can create visuals that turn it into this little world. It’s about finding the things that fit into that world and how to bring it to life.

The visuals are a big part of the TVAM live show, where you use old footage and superimpose the lyrics over it, sequencing it perfectly with your performance. It looks almost lo-fi, but I’m guessing it is more complicated than you make it appear?

(Laughing) It takes a lot of time for it to look that crap! I started it because there was no way I wanted to go out there and play, just me and a guitar on my own. I didn’t want to be that classic singer-songwriter. I just didn’t want to do that. I would have got bored with it and would have felt more awkward than I normally do.

I suppose in some ways the visuals draw attention away from me, but in the best sense in that it also adds to the experience. I made the visuals so it was almost like watching a duo performing. I wanted to make it so that people could be immersed in it.

The visuals helped to bring to life some of the sounds that were being made. They elevate the music into something else.

The live visuals and some of your videos look quite nostalgic, based on the type of footage and the old television you use on stage. But it also feels like a perfect fit. Are your aesthetic choices quite deliberate?

I’m really interested in nostalgia, and the difference between people’s actual childhood and personal experiences and the shared nostalgia that we have for certain things and the difference between the two. Quite often the difference gets lost and we feel like we remember things that we didn’t actually experience.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it is just a sign that we’re after some kind of joint experience in what is quite a connected, yet disconnected, world.

The TV that I’ve taken round for ages is actually our old family TV. It was the one I ended up taking to my room at the point when we got a new one. I used to use it with old games consoles, but then I thought I could use it live. I can’t take a full-on TV cabinet on tour though, so I thought I’d get an old stand, on casters like the ones they used to have in school, so that I could wheel it out on stage. I realised though that the whole thing kind of made sense, because those are elements that dip into a shared and individual nostalgia.

A lot of the footage I used came from charity shop videos and just the most random things I could find. The humdrum is what I loved about it. I suppose these humdrum things that were around when I was young…I had little to no interest in them originally, but actually they say a lot about the time. The problem is that a lot of charity shops don’t take videos anymore, so they’re few and far between now.

A lot of names get mentioned when people describe your music, ranging from The Beach Boys to Loop. I’m not sure how many are genuine influences on your music or not. Were there any particular bands and artists that inspired you on High Art Lite?

I don’t really work in the way that an influence comes in, and a song comes out. On the last record it was My Bloody Valentine and Boards of Canada getting mentioned a lot. Don’t get me wrong, they are present and are there, but some of the songs can just start from a guitar riff originally played at twice the speed, then I’ll transfer that to a keyboard riff and slow the whole thing down.

When I started TVAM, I didn’t think I would be using electronics as much as I do. I thought it was going to be me playing electric guitar and some kind of drum machine, and that the songs would be a bit more garagey. But then it didn’t turn out like that and the whole thing with the visuals means that the electronics really work and they open the whole thing out.

For some of the songs on the new record, I was interested in bands that I used to be really into in the 1990s. Some of the poppier bands, like The Dandy Warhols and Beck, and there’s a bit of Primal Scream in there as well, I think.

There are certainly moments on High Art Lite that wouldn’t sound out of place on XTRMNTR (Primal Scream’s sixth studio album, released in January 2000).

I love that album and the only time that I went and saw Primal Scream was on that tour. But for me I really remember that time because Radiohead’s Kid A came out around a similar point. I suppose I was the classic indie kid and guitar music was my thing. Then those two records came out and changed my perspective. I’ve only really realised that looking back, but those two records are quite key in a lot of what I do.

I think everyone needs to have those records where they challenge what you think about music. Looking back, there isn’t anything that’s too ‘out there’ on either of those records. But there will always be records that hit you at a particular point and challenge your perception of what you think music is or what it can be or, I suppose, what you think it should be.

The first two singles from High Art Lite, “Piz Buin” and “Double Lucifer”, have both made it onto the BBC 6Music playlist as well as getting support from other stations. You must be pleased about that?

It is exciting. The one thing I’m really looking forward to is the record being out. It’s been hard as I’ve known the songs have been there for a while, but it’s just because of circumstance that it’s been a longer process to release them than I thought it would be. It’s really exciting now to be in the position where it is actually just round the corner, it is happening.

What’s been interesting this time around is that I’ve been getting a lot of plays on radio abroad as well, so that’s really cool.

It would definitely be nice to get to some festivals and do more abroad, outside the UK, although since the last record we’ve now had Brexit so we’ve got other things to deal with that can pose challenges. I just want to get out there and play lots of new places.

High Art Lite is out on 21 October on Invada Records.

TVAM will tour the UK in November 2022.

Visit the TVAM website, or follow Joe on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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