O’er The Border

– the Beta Band come home

The Beta Band have just arrived back in the UK, and Steve Mason has come home to Scotland following their acclaimed ‘Hot Shots II’ album and US tour with Radiohead. We caught him between househunting and Xmas shopping, and got some hints for surviving the Scottish winter…

So, where are you at?
“We just finished the US tour, and doing the video for ‘Squares’… what else… we did Jo Wylie on Channel 4 on the 11th December – playing live – and that’s it till January. There are gigs in the UK in Jan and then its back to the US in March.
Last time you played the US was on tour with Radiohead?
Yes, it was good, we’ve been to the US a lot but never supported anyone there – or anywhere really- it was kind of weird to begin with, but in the end a really good experience, and really beneficial audience-wise”
So what kind of venues were you playing?
“Mostly outdoor, 25,000 or so capacity. It was a massive tour too – 2 weeks there, home, then back again and did another 4. Massive.”
So you gained a lot of new fans via Radiohead?
“Definitely! The last tour on our own sold out every show anyway but this was much bigger. I think in every country there’s groups of people who want something new, want to be challenged, and are open to something new – they want to hear music that’s honest instead of pre-packaged and marketed and marketed to such an extent that it drives you to fucking insanity – that’s what we were tapping into I suppose”.
So what’s inspiring you?
“On the bus we were listening to loads of hiphop – Roots Manuva, I really enjoyed that a lot, it’s a really good lp.MOP’s album too.”
Do you think your fans are also listening to that kind of stuff?
“I would hesitate to categorise people by stuff they listen to, but there’s a lot less boundaries to an extent with what people listen to – not wanting to generalise, but you get people that buy a Beta Band record or a Superfurries record who’d then go get Aphex Twin or Carl Cox, or some garage perhaps; there’s a lot less boundaries than there used to be.”
Are you pleased with album’s performance, sales-wise?
“Well, reasonably – I expected it to do a lot better than it did but I’m really happy with the music on it so that’s the main thing really.”
And how about the recording – are you satisfied with that as compared to previous one?
“Absolutely, it was a totally different experience.”
So what changed?
“We went in with 10-15 finished songs before I even went to the band with them – which is obviously a really healthy thing. ”
So previously you were putting stuff together in studio?
“Yeah, exactly, so this time me and the band got together and worked for 2 months solid on my songs – and one of Richard’s tunes too (‘Alleged’) – so there was that level of preparation before we went in which totally paid off when we went into the studio as we could concentrate on individual sounds, beats, whatever, it was just a much easier experience.”
So how does the first album look now, in retrospect?
“Pretty much the same as it did – shoddy, shoddy. Ah, there’s some good tunes on it – ‘The Hard One’, ‘It’s Not Too Beautiful’, I think they’re amazing pieces of music.”
And were these the ones you prepared in advance, by any chance?
Yes, especially ‘The Hard One’, we did a lot of work on that before we went in and it really shows. One of the few tracks on there that sounds fairly complete.”
So you’ve got the formulas used for a quality album now.
“Oh, dunno about that, I don’t know if there is a formula. But preparation… definitely the key.”
What about the single (‘Broken’), usually a good benchmark of commercial success?
“We did Top of the Pops but they didn’t show it ! That’s just the way it is these days. I think it depends on how high your chart position is. I assume they thought like we did that the record people might have put a bit of effort into telling people it was gonna come out, but unfortunately for everyone concerned the record company decided not to do that… so…”
I assume that your contract has you tied in for a while?
“mm, yeah, less said the better… like any relationship you have to make it work the best you can.”
So can you crack the charts with ‘Squares’?
“I’m not really thinking like that, I just want to get it out as it caused us such grief – the i-monster thing and all that pish. It won’t be a hit, just want to get it out. I can’t imagine people will have forgotten the sample but the record company have got kind of obsessed with that track! Radio One pretty much refused to play us, but the record company have decided this is the track that’s going to get some airplay… they’ve become totally obsessed with it. For fear of getting sucked into the mincing machine, we just stood back and let them get on with it.
So when does work start on the next album? Did you write any on tour?
“I find it impossible to do that. (write on the tourbus). I’ve not really started even thinking about that – after getting back I just found somewhere to live” (John has just moved back to Fife… )
So will you take the opportunity to re-acquaint yourself with live bands up here?
“I dunno, I’m not really a big fan of going to see bands – I used to go to clubs more when I was in Edinburgh before.
Finally, any more for the fans?
“Keep warm this winter. Lots of sex. Keep warm and keep shagging, for christ’s sake!”