The best music in the world is that which suggests there is no other music in the world. Twenty years on from its humble beginnings, Tindersticks makes music that is so seductive and gripping that it feels just like that. Tindersticks is one of the most brilliant and original bands to emerge from Britain in the early '90s, when the UK charts were dominated by the guitar-driven pop indie scene. Its music is a beautiful mélange of subtle touches of film music, soul jazz, French chanson, cabaret and pop, and all of that is accentuated by singer Stuart A. Staples' distinctive and shivering baritone.
Even later, the band's music stood apart from the then-current and ever-changing music trends. In February of this year, the band released The Something Rain (Constellation Records, 2012), an intriguing listen and artistic triumph. It is a kind of a record that sums up the best of the band as it builds on past successes and expands its ambitions. In 2011, Tindersticks released a box set of soundtrack music, Claire Denis: Film Scores 1996-2009 (Constellation Records, 2011), that the band has produced for acclaimed French director Claire Denis, and went on tour with it.
This interview with founding member/keyboardist David Boulter took place in Novi Sad, one of the cities on Tindersticks' tour, following a two-hour concert that exceeded all expectations.
All About Jazz: The new album, The Something Rain, is really a great record with plenty of great songs. The creative process behind it differed from the previous ones. How was this record conceived?
David Boulter: When we released our last album, Falling down a Mountain (Constellation Records, 2010), we felt really invigorated and refreshed from starting again as Tindersticks, as we had stopped for awhile. But it still felt a little like something similar to what we did before, whereas when we set out to do The Something Rain we definitely felt like there was a need to think about it in different ways, so we kind of started writing different songs and different ideas, and we bought old drum machines, old keyboards and just tried to start it from a different kind of direction. It wasn't like Stuart sitting and playing a song on acoustic guitar, and it wasn't based around a piano or a ballad or something. It was about different ideas and we tried to think about it in a more different way.
AAJ: What does this record say about the band? What sort of evolution of the band do you see with this record?
DB: I suppose the biggest thing is just enjoying it. We have found ourselves in a situation where, after 17 or 18 years of being on a record label, we were not on a record label anymore, so it kind of gave us a freedom to do something different. But, at the same time, it put us under a lot of pressure to come up with something that works without the safety net. If we had it we wouldn't be able to carry on. I think it made us want to challenge ourselves and push the music a bit more.
AAJ: Can you elaborate more on being challenged as the new record really sounds more bolder.
DB: It is similar to doing soundtracks and making different things that push musical ideas, and trying not to just make songs that you think people will enjoy when they come to see you. You try to make something that satisfies and surprises yourself, something that doesn't feel you made before. That is the biggest challenge. It is always difficult, with someone like Stuart, who has a particular voice, so it is always going to be Tindersticks but we try just to think about the songs in a different way in terms of shapes and sounds.
AAJ: How did songs like "Medicine" and "Chocolate" come about? What were some of the ideas behind them?
DB: "Chocolate" was an idea for a story that came very quickly. On our second album [Tinderstick II (Polygram, 1995)] I wrote a story called "My Sister," which Stuart read. This time it was another story that I did. I actually did a little demo and sent it to Stuart, and we thought this time it was best for me to just read it and stay with that. And I suppose it just came to that very quickly, as there was some space after our last album and I was thinking of maybe making some small EP to try doing a thing of my own. In the end, it kind of inspired Stuart to write a couple of songs, so we kind of got together for a few days and we had five or six songs and we said that this may be is a start of something bigger and may be the next LP we should think about. In bigger terms, we invited some more people from the band to do what we could, and we built on the songs and, after about eight days, altogether over a period of two or three months we had fifteen to sixteen songs. It kind of grew from there.
AAJ: Please talk about the working relationship the band has with French film director Claire Denis. For the last 10 years, the band has been doing soundtrack music for her films. Last year a box set with soundtracks was released and the band did some touring specifically to promote that.