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Interview: The Glue Ensemble

by DavidBeech
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on 16 February 2015 in Features

Much like their name suggests, The Glue Ensemble are a band who have stuck together despite a variety of setbacks. Forming six years ago, the decision to play acoustically became the main goal for the band, who drafted in a number of eclectic musicians to complete the line-up.

Now with a handful of EP releases behind them, it's clear the band have moved in to a new phase, opting to shift their base from the home-cum-studio of member Ben Blaine after the passing of his mother, in to the house of band member and cellist CJ Lodge. Such a change might well have shaken a lot of bands to their core, but The Glue Ensemble aren't your typical band.

We asked them a few questions to get a rough idea of where they are today.

Hi guys, thanks for taking some time to answer our questions. Can you tell us who you all are and how you got together?

Zee and Ben went to school together and played in different versions of the same band for some time. There was a lot of start stop. Our last effort at really doing something ended with Zee's hospitalisation forcing us to cancel what felt like a key gig. The night before Ben had packed his two electric guitars into our drummer’s boot and he's never picked them up. By the time Zee got out of hospital our ambitions had changed and the idea of playing acoustic music felt like the right sort of fresh start, like turning away from the sort of success we’d been failing to find and focusing just on a sound. Deeply unglamorously we then turned to the internet to find other people to make us sound better. We found viola player Lyllou first. She’s now a conference interpreter for the EU but at the time she was living in London to “improve" her already faultless English. Cellist CJ Lodge was a little later, drawn in despite a reluctance to get saddled with more band politics. But we’re not really a band, we’re an ensemble so we sort of tricked her into it. Actually it’s not unglamorous at all. The internet is an amazing thing. We’ve become incredibly close friends and have been through a lot together - all out of hearing a noise coming out of a screen. It’s sort of magical really. It’s like the other players on the album, Steve (trumpet) and Chrissie (horn) both responded to a shout out on twitter. Jude (oboe) is a more wonderfully complicated story but still one that hinges an unexpected email. In the past we’d never have met. Life in the future definitely has perks.

Is there a story behind the name?

Not really. For a while we were intending to call ourselves Saint Jude’s Devotional Choir (or some variation of that) because it felt like the patron saint of lost causes was our guiding light, but other bands sort of beat us to that territory. The important part is the Ensemble bit. This isn’t a band. It wasn’t just a ploy to trap CJ, it was always the intention that no one ever felt obliged to play, or hurt if the others played without them. No one is in charge and no one is barred from doing other things. Lyllou is an active member of French hop’n’roll band Coffees and Cigarettes. For a long time CJ played in a more traditional folk outfit and she’s still the chief musician with the astronomically successful improv show Austentatious. There’s nothing to keep us together except love… Which seems to have kept us together rather than tearing us apart. Should have stuck with Saint Jude - even our policy of non-commitment was a lost cause...

You seem to have been through quite a lot as a band. Certainly considerably more than most. How do you think that's brought you closer together?

It’s been six years which is a fair amount of time to know anyone, but a lot has happened in those years and often directly around us as we played. From the outset we rehearsed and recorded in Ben’s Mum’s house. She was always a presence and when she got ill - that happened to all of us. As she sank into the depths of her illness we surrounded her with sound. Similarly we now most often rehearse at CJ’s, with her baby daughter sat on the sofa listening and watching and flexing her astonishing fingers in practice for the much better music she will someday play. There’s a lot of shared experience.

All your EPs have been recorded in houses, How has that process compared to recording in your typical studio? And has that changed the outcome of the records in anyway?

Not just houses but one specific house. Ben’s parents' house had been the musical refuge for very many years, long before we were glued together. Ben’s father was an architect and he built a lot of the house including this big central room which had great acoustics and a beautiful grand piano with an amazing sound. Then from the outset we’d been driven by this idea of playing acoustically - of not creating a sound in a box. So the sound we had spent longest crafting wasn’t just our instruments but the sound of us in that particular room. So when we set out to record we really wanted to keep that sound. That is why the producers we worked with - Pete Bilk and Josie Lloyd for the two EPs, then Paul Smith for the album - all kindly agreed to rebuild their studio set ups in the house. It was impractical, hanging microphones from lampshades and in terms of what most recording sessions are about it was an acoustic nightmare! But for us it worked perfectly. You can hear the piano creaking and the dog barking in the garden - when you listen to the records you’ve stepped into the house, you can hear the kettle just boil. Sadly Ben lost his mum between Tea Time... and forthcoming We Used to Live Round Here. How did that affect the mood? The songs had been recorded before Linda passed away, or was even ill. She’s actually one of the spoken voices woven into Devil in the Garden. Most of the death that echoes through the record comes from Ben's father dying, which also happened in that house. But like the glue part of our name, these recordings make more sense now than they did originally. Her passing is definitely part of that. She died in the room where we played, where the songs were recorded. Of course we didn’t know that then, we were just trying to be our best selves in front of microphones, but now with the house sold that period in our lives becomes so unreachably distant. We will never sound like that again because we will never be in that room again. It’s like finding flies in amber, little things you hear in the record now have grown new meaning because of everything we didn’t know was going to happen.

As a band you've all under taken a variety of work outside of music and outside of the UK. Has any of this been incorporated into The Glue Ensemble?

Of course. This music, though it’s been an essential thing, a life saving thing, for all of us, this music isn’t all that we are. That was always one of Zee’s guiding energies, the passion of the part-timer, the true meaning of the word amateur. We’re all busy, fighting to find time for the music in our lives but we’ve also tried keep in mind the need to do the opposite as well, to fight for our lives in the music; letting the sound be the echo of us. Sometimes music becomes an aspirational idea, it imposes a style and a way of life. That can feel very pure but it’s also very deadening. Being in a band can be a series of failures to be a band. Hopefully no one who plays with us ever has to pretend to be anything other than what they are. Hopefully everyone who plays can play with all the strength of everything that they are.

With the release of We Used to Live Round Here not far off, what can we expect from you as we go in to spring and summer?

The release is so close it’s actually in the past already. The record is purchasable and downloadable from the magic internet right now. However it does also appear in reality on vinyl at the end of March and we’ll have a singing sort of party to celebrate. There will be other performances, some of these songs, some of other songs, some entirely improvised. One of the strands that has pulled us through the last few years has been our collaboration with improvisers Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft. We’ve learnt a lot about truth from them. Their show is truly astonishing and it always feels like a privilege to make things up alongside them. They’re also better at organising gigs than we are so look for them on twitter.

Finally, any final words you'd like to leave our readers with?

Look for us on Twitter too! And then buy this record with money because hopeless idealism deserves your support much more than pragmatic cynicism which will get by just fine. Most of all, forgive your parents and if you’re lucky so will your children.

Thanks, it's been a pleasure!

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