I first found TYS in the late 80s, from an article published in the NME of the day and later from music TV “Transmission”, broadcast in the later hours on ITV. Their fast paced indie sound fitted with what I was listening to at the time and their foppish baggy appearance, met with the tribe I was following. After a number of E.P.s and 3 albums, they disappeared and believing they had had their 15-minutes moved onto the next bright young things.
I didn’t forget the place they had played in my musical upbringing though and still had their LPs and CDs in my collection, these I would play occasionally. So when in May of 2018, I saw that they were playing at Leicester’s Soundhouse, my interest was sparked, going to the event and even talking with their lead singer Stephen Barnes prior to the show. Following this, again they disappeared from my radar, so when nearly 2 years later I was asked if I would like to review the new album? My answer was clear. Some 27 years since the release of Mappamundi, this was interesting, although not unheard of. New product rather than a rehashed affair sounded appealing? So talking to Stephen via Email, the following was formed;
NJ: My first question goes way back. All the way back, but why “Stifled Aardvark” as a label?
SB: Ha, it came from a nature doc, where an anteater had almost asphyxiated itself with it’s snout in a termite mound. Tickled me, and it stuck..
NJ: How have you found the making of this album and what was the process? Did you find that you were crafting much of the content in the studio, for the instrumentation at least?
SB: Cathartic, this is the first time we have had the chance to make an album as just that, an album, from scratch. And it was an itch that needed scratching. Everything was meticulously planned beforehand, so the studio time was all about finessing and adding texture. We found a gem in the shape of the young buck Callum Rafferty, who applied sparkling spit and polish. We’re very happy with the sound and feel of the album.
NJ: What have you gained from the process of writing and recording this new album and was it something you always felt you had in you? With the time spent away, has it brought the realisation that writing music was in your DNA?
SB: Myself and Giles write the songs, and I think I can speak for us both when I say the process was remarkably smooth. I think we have found ourselves in a similar place sonically, and we were both prepared to journey into new sounds, but keeping it tethered to our roots. It wasn’t initially planned to make an album, it became a natural progression once a couple of tracks were written, but that said, it was always at the back of my mind. For me, albums are your statement pieces, the cornerstones of any artists’ canon, so wasn’t a decision taken lightly. But once the idea started forming, there was no stopping it. So guess, yes, we always had it in us, and once we had aligned that with a reason, a theme and the right timing, it came together fairly easily.
NJ: I like what you have said about the naming of this album, that “it’s about realising that whilst we don’t always live in the best of all possible worlds, we should always strive to try and find a way through and we don’t have to do it alone.” Am I right in my understanding that this is a philosophy present in many aspects of everyday life and the challenges that can be encountered, if so what has this belief brought to you and your life?
SB: I’d been reading Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ – a satirical swipe at the idea that everything exists in its best possible way, fuelled by naive optimism. It struck with me how this mid 18th century novella still rings true today, so found it a strong over arching idea for the lyrical theme of the record. I guess I wanted to challenge myself, to be more honest and analyse inwardly for this record and like most of us, have had ups and downs. These songs are partly documenting the working-out of many different conundrums, I think we all face – be it love, social pressures, conformity, new technology, family, friends, rejection, guilt, lack of purpose – and how we often are only armed with our own naive optimism as we start to work these things out. And that it’s OK, we aren’t meant to have all the answers; finding our way – sometimes with help – is all part of the process. It’s a positive spin, that you get better at it as you get older.
NJ: How much “fun”, if that is the correct description to use, was it making the album? Reuniting the band and producing work that is obviously so strong? And at which point did you feel this was the case, or are you retaining this thought until you see how it is received by a wider audience?
SB: Creating something new is always fun, especially as this was something of a new challenge – an album from scratch – so added focus and drive to the process. Once we had two or three tracks in place, the challenge was to match them, make it flow, add new dimensions and sounds, that was where the fun was at! Lovely of you to say it’s so strong, we obviously think so, or we wouldn’t have released it – we aren’t beholden to anyone in that regard, we’re bound only by our own markers. The feedback we’ve got from those who have heard it has been great – it’s surprised a few people, too – which I guess was partly the intention. We aren’t so worried about the wider audience, just our own, and hope they embrace it as a new chapter in our catalogue, or as a new member of the family.
NJ: I have met you previously on a number of occasions, the first I think was when you played downstairs at Leicester’s University and more recently in May of 2018! (I thank whoever it is for the linking of my Google Photos account). We spoke when you played Leicester’s Soundhouse, I believe you were teaching at the time, or had come out of teaching. Am I correct in this understanding? And what has the rest of the band been doing during this 27 year hiatus?
SB: I stayed working in the music industry. I’ve run (and still do) a promotions company, working for labels on their bands and releases, and had a hand in artist management, documentary making (won a Sony Award – darling!) running events and more latterly turned towards teaching, which I enjoy. I teach Music Business at a University, and it keeps me in touch with up and coming talent, which I love. It’s varied my musical taste and despite the industry being very different now to when I started out, much of the same ethos remains, and can apply my long experience to the new paradigms in the industry. I think it’s an exciting place right now, and am lucky to be involved in many great projects from huge artists like Noel Gallagher, established outliers like Fat White Family, up and comers like the Orielles, through to local talent like Oliver Wilde. It’s very rewarding. The others in the band have had more regular jobs, but all kept their hands in on making and playing music, and it’s a mix that works well for us.
NJ: Having noticed you had had to reschedule the album launch party until October this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Could you tell me, how are the family and the band are coping with the situation?
SB: Well, these are extraordinary times. It came without warning, so like everyone we have been adapting to the new normals. Everyone is in decent spirits, families are safe and whilst it can be a mental challenge, we are lucky compared to many. Most of us are still working, are healthy, our families are safe as they can be. It’s alot worse for many, we’ve nothing to complain about.
NJ: Who does the band consist of now?
SB: The line up is the same. Kevin took some time out last year, and our ever present ‘6th Member’ Floyd (aka The Reverend) stepped into the breach as he always has – he’s been our multi-tool over the years – roadie, driver, merch guy – and we couldn’t function without him. We owe him alot.
So with Stephen reaching his half century later on this summer, we shall leave the band here and wish them every success with this new phase. A great album has been produced and I hope like me, you can now understand a little more of how this came about.