“The Panglossian Momentum” by Thousand Yard Stare is released next week.
It’s been 27 years since their last album, now that’s a difficult third album!
In fairness, Thousand Yard Stare weren’t actually a going concern for 22 of those years but they reformed in 2015 for what was initially a one-off gig at the much-missed Borderline. They did a Q&A with us around that time. Since then I have since seen them play twice in Manchester and reflected on the experience in my usual clumsy yet heartfelt manner:
“Got to admit that before going to The Deaf Institute gig last year, I did have a few doubts.
Were my memories of Thousand Yard Stare gigs the first time around recalled through the rose-tinted prism of youth?
Was it just wistful nostalgia for my lost youth?
After all, nobody else I knew seemed to remember them with the same enthusiasm that I did.
Was it possible that I just got caught up in the general excitement of the times and in actual fact, Thousand Yard Stare were *gasp* not all that good?
That Manchester gig last year kicked my stupid doubts up the arse and this gig gave them a further kick in the bollocks to go with it.
Thousand Yard Stare were and are fucking brilliant.”
Anyway Stephen and Giles from the band were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new album which you can buy at thousandyardstare.co.uk.
So the first question has got to be the album title, what does it mean? (I feel like there should be a “man” at the end of that. What does it all mean, man? said in Dennis Hopper Apocalypse Now voice)
Stephen: Ha, yeh, a bit obtuse and pretentious isn’t it? Though it sounds like it might be a taken from a long lost spy thriller novel or a far flung philosophy, it’s just a made up phrase. I was looking for something that captured the overall themes of the album, around how we tend to face our challenges in life with mix of naive optimism and a stiff upper lip. We can’t always have the best of all worlds, but we should always try to find solutions, and we don’t have to do it alone. Deep stuff, eh? I got the idea after re-reading Voltaire’s classic tale Candide, which rings as true today as ever in these strange times. I’ve always been a wordy type as you well know.
Are the songs on the album all new or did you have any unfinished songs from the first time around?
Stephen: Everything is new. It was written as an album, the first time we have had the chance to do that. The LPs in the 90’s were a collection of available songs (Hands On / Fair To Middling) or fractured and unfinished (Mappamundi) so here we had the chance here to make an album with that format in mind, and it’s designed to be listened to in one go. In a way, it feels like our first.
Was it always the intention to write & record new songs?
Stephen: Yes, it was. Well, not initially, not before that first fateful re-union show in 2015. Think we all genuinely felt that would be a one-off, but it was such an incredible and emotional evening, we felt we should carry on, and of course, we have! We didn’t want to be a nostalgia-only band, it’s important to freshen up the pot, and new songs build a bridge between the then and the now. You have to exist in the time you are in, and new material does that. We’re very proud of the music we’ve been making since 2015, some of our best work. They seem to go down well too, and everyone has been very positive about them. It has been great to assimilate some into our live sets, they sit well with the original tracks, and add a new energy. There’s no point being in a band if you aren’t engaging creatively. There was unfinished business..and now we’re finishing it.
We’ve previously discussed how Stephen’s love of vocabulary comes across in your lyrics.
Are there any words you’re particularly pleased about including on the new album?
Stephen: Spandrels is – lyrically – the best song I’ve ever written. It’s also very personal to me, but hopefully written in a beguiling and metaphorical way that others can relate to it in their own way.
I’m happy with all the lyrics to be honest, feel it’s some of my best. Previously, I’ve been mainly observational, this time there’s a lot internal monologues, ones I think many of us have.
Oh, I do like the ‘clarion to carry on’ line in Precious Pressures, love the positive sentiment of that.
I had to look up the meaning of the word “spandrels” Can you explain that one for our readers?
Spandrels are decorative parts of a structure or a living thing that have no apparent intrinsic use or role to play beyond their visual stimulus. It was inspired by The Spandrels Of St Marco. It’s a song about being part of something, but not feeling valued or able to influence things.. Trying to get noticed, or acknowledged by someone. I’m sure we’ve all been there in some capacity or other. The analogy and imagery gave me great scope lyrically.
Any other favourite bits of your own playing on the album?
Giles: I really like the guitars on Schism. A lot of them don’t sound like guitars. Always fun. I’m really into Cresta. It’s unlike anything we’ve done and has a very irregular structure. I went to town overdubbing harpsichord and other things. I think I started it thinking I’d do something quite obtuse and proggy. I sent it to Stephen never expecting him to take it on and I’m floored with what he did with a really quite strange bit of music.
Many bands post-reformation albums struggle to live up to their previous work. Exceptions to every rule of course, e.g. last year’s Specials album & the Magazine one a few years ago. Do you have any other favourite examples?
Stephen: Ride’s two reformation albums are in my opinion, their best ever records, especially the new one This is Not a Safe Place where Errol Alkan on production has created an incredible atmosphere. I’m still good friends with Mark Gardener, so really pleased for them. Other than that, my work in promotions and as a music industry lecturer means I’m mainly focused on new artists than those from back in the day, plenty there to keep me occupied.
Giles: There was a new Kitchens of Distinction album a few years ago that I like a lot. I was always incredibly impressed with their guitar sounds and arrangements and that’s still there. House of Love continue to put out great stuff and Swervedriver still make a beautiful noise. Do LCD Soundsystem count? That was amazing given the pressure he must have felt.
What has been the best thing about the gigs you’ve played since you reformed?
Stephen: We were always a live act, first and foremost. It’s where we come alive. Being able to interact with other people who care, be part of that communal atmosphere. But mainly being on a stage again with the people I grew up with in this journey, and feeling blessed we have had a chance to do it again.. for a while at least. Playing gigs is why bands exist.
Giles: Yeah much as six hours in a van is harder these days, all gigs are special. And being part of what is a little community means a lot to me. I still always think how lucky I am when I’m on stage playing songs we wrote to people having a good time. Such a privilege.
At a Beak> gig I went to last year they said that the audience looked like a “boiled egg convention”
Apart from the hairlines of your audience, how else has playing live changed in the intervening years?
Stephen: Ha! I love BEAK, and living as I do now in Bristol, they are part of the cultural fabric here. Geoff is a great guy, love his honesty and forthright, no nonsense approach and he’s a phenomenal drummer. The London shows we’ve done each year have been wild. The Weatherwatchers go more crazy now than they did back in the day! I’m always worried that someone is going to do themselves some damage, but whilst it goes a bit over the top sometimes, everyone looks after each other. From the band side, we’re calmer internally, but still have an energy on stage, our sound and style demands it. We are all better at our crafts now, and that adds to the enjoyment.
You recently had The TYS Cup running on your Facebook page.
Stephen: The idea was to create a Cup style knockout competition, pitting different TYS tracks against each other. People could vote for their favourite and the winner would go through to the next round. Thought it would fizzle out quite quickly, but people were engaging with the idea (someone even set up a Buttermouth supporters club!) and got out of hand. Ended up doing match reports and team nicknames and everything. Ultimately, just a bit of fun. Lots of people said it was great to go back and listen to some of the tracks they’d forgotten again, so that was good.
Were you surprised by any of the results? (When it first started I was convinced eventual runner-up Buttermouth would win.)
Not really, went pretty much ’to form’. The ’singles’ and other tracks we’ve been playing regularly live were always going to be the strongest. Was good to see some outliers like What’s Your Level (reached the semi final!) and newer ones like It Sparks! mix it with the big boys.
We expected No Score to win and it did. It was the final that most wanted against Buttermouth… although there was some ‘crowd trouble’ when Wideshire got knocked out!
Any news on the launch gig that was planned for 30th May?
It has now been re-scheduled to October 10th. We will celebrate this occasion by hook or crook! Seeing the album pre-orders coming in it’s been heartening to know people are interested in new stuff from us. And we’ve taken the plunge on making it on vinyl, and it looks amazing. Pre-order one before they go, it’s not getting a repress and they’re going fast!
No other live dates currently planned. It’s hard for us to get together as we live all over the UK and have different commitments. Never say never, though.
Any particular recommendations for “keeping it alive” during lockdown?
Stephen: To be honest, I’m still very busy, so not had time to kill so to speak. That said, I tune into the weekly live streams from my local record store Friendly Records, all vinyl goodness with different people, you never know what you might get. Went on some funk jazz wig out last week!
My good friend Carl’s new band The Shop Window have just released their debut single, a slice of back the day jangle pop goodness.
Giles: Similar here. I’m flat out working online and studying. I like Devs. Fun with philosophy. My friend Fruitful Soundsystem is putting some nice sets out on Facebook and Mixcloud to get you through the day. Eclectic all vinyl sets.
Ron Swanson in Devs, watch it on BBC iPlayer
Other Thousand Yard Stare related content on this website:
Oh and Thousand Yard Stare also featured in this “Popcorn Double Feature” quiz question from 6 years ago that nobody’s ever answered!