Flight Brigade Interview. Standing To Attention!
It’s been a great year for Hampshire septet Flight Brigade. I met up with them at the aptly named Rainbow House on Portobello Road, designed by top Architect AB Rogers and featuring a rather crazy slide in the living room, before their recent gig at Notting Hill Arts Club where the band held their new EP Stealing Fire’s celebratory launch party.
Formed in 2010, the alternative/indie collective comprises a mixture of family and childhood friends all with differing backgrounds and musical tastes. Lead singer Ollie Baines is married to Miriam who supports her husband with stunning harmonies. Miriam’s sister Dorry Macaulay, who is a classically trained musician, excels on vocals and violin. The remaining four members are Tom Clay (bass), Thomas Pink (guitar), Neil Blandford (drums), and Jonny Barker (keyboard).
The talented group of musicians’ first four-track EP Graduation Day was heralded in 2013 and their new EP Stealing Fire, released on the 23rd October, promises to raise the bar even higher. I caught up with them to chat about the new EP, playing live, and what we might expect next from the group.
I believe Flight Brigade formed in 2010. How did you all get together and do you get on well?
Miriam: Yes, we get on very well. Getting on well is so important, especially starting out as it has to be fun even though you have to work really hard and start at the bottom. Even just booking gigs when you are just starting out is really difficult, as is building up followers.
Dorry: Basically Ollie brought us together. We are all from a similar area and have known each other for a long, long time. Miriam and I are sisters and Miriam and Ollie are married.
Ollie: The relationships in a band are crucial because it’s quite up and down. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes not so amazing. You have to put in a lot of time and effort and sacrifice a lot. We communicate really well which is kind of key, and we don’t bottle things up and this is also very important. We are good at talking. Also, now that we all have smartphones, we can take photos, email, and send text messages to communicate. Thomas got his first smartphone today.
Thomas: Yeah, it’s so exciting!
Mariam: Ollie played with Dorry for a really long time and then it evolved naturally. Tom and I met at college and we also grew up on the same street so we knew each other when we were four years old. Often people that grow up together end up in bands because it’s the most natural connection and the easiest thing to do.
Where does the name Flight Brigade come from?
Ollie: Thomas is quite a fan of WWI and WWII memorabilia, particularly aircrafts. There’s got to be of way of saying that without sounding a bit geeky, but it’s true! Brigade because there’s quite a lot of us. People often comment that we have too many members.
Thomas: Really? That sounds dangerous! What does that mean? I’d better play well this weekend or you’ll be cutting the numbers down.
Did you consider any other names?
Dorry: We considered many but they were extensive and poor. Every band has to go through this process and coming up with a name is very hard. We were on holiday down in Cornwall and they’ve got a cinema called Rebel Cinema. It was such a tiny little cinema we thought that was such a cool name for a band but we can’t change it now though as it’s too late. We’ve got an identity now, and a website so it would be too difficult!
I was lucky enough to see you play one of your three slots at Glastonbury this year. Did you enjoy the experience?
Ollie: Glastonbury was amazing, very tiring, but such great fun. Neil’s been loads and Dorry too but it was my first time. I wasn’t expecting people to be as friendly as they were.
Miriam: The vibe is something else, it’s like a huge family and everyone behaves as if they know each other. The place where we were camping was something else, so steep to reach it and our air beds were deflating rapidly. There was dance music playing all night but I slept well anyway as I was so tired. We basically had a view across the whole site so at night time is was insane. It was like a city, so big. It would be nice to go in, play on a big stage and then leave in a helicopter. That’s the dream.
How did you manage to get three slots, that’s pretty impressive?
Ollie: It was our live agent. We have a really cool live agent now but we did our own bookings for years. We also did band swapping where we would post for them and they would post for us. That’s how we started out really by finding other bands in a similar situation living in other parts of the country and this way we started to get recommended to play festivals. Through our performances at the festivals we then got a live agent which was the best day of our lives.
Thomas: It was quite a game changer to have someone take care of bookings and you get paid enough to cover petrol, food, and expenses. I’m not sure how you would do it on your own, it’s quite hard.
How do you think the experience compares with your parents experience who played the first ever Glastonbury in 1975 as folk duo Mask? Have you compared notes on the experience of things?
Ollie: Our parents played the very first Glastonbury with Dorry and Miriam’s mum and dad. I don’t think it was official in those days they just rocked up on the stage and said ‘I’ve got something to show you’.
Dorry: Mum said it was a ‘free for all’ where people just came out of nowhere as there were no fences. Some people paid and some people didn’t and there were hordes of people suddenly coming over the horizon towards them and pitching up everywhere. It was totally different then but they loved it, and loved playing.
Miriam: I think it still maintains the original vibe now that it had back then. I don’t think that much has changed other than it is now a bit more organized.
You have been compared with an early Arcade Fire, and Muse. How would you describe your musical style and who has most influenced that style?
Ollie: My mum is American so I’ve grown up listening to stuff like Steely Dan, James Taylor, and The Eagles. For me its classic singer/song writer American stuff but each of us have completely different influences and musical tastes. Neil is a complete metal head. Dorry has a classical background. So I think for us there has been this tension, but a good tension. It’s just got progressively rockier over time and I think that is kind of one of our strengths really.
Neil: I’m into quite heavy stuff, bands like Sepultura, Pantera, and Led Zeppelin. Massive metal bands basically.
Dorry: You travelled over to Germany recently just to see a gig didn’t you?
Neil: Well only one time to go and see Coheed and Cambria, who aren’t so heavy really. They are more all-round rock which is kind of the music that I listen to the most.
Tom: It’s kind of just naturally gone more towards a rock influence.
Neil: Our music is just a good amalgamation of everything that we’re all into really.
Tom: The way that we process songs over the last few years has changed as well. Different influences from the different people in the band are definitely coming into play a bit more which does make it a bit more interesting.
Ollie: Muse for example, they have just written some amazing songs. It’s extremely well-crafted music but then it’s proper heavy as well.
Dorry: The comparisons to bands like Muse are really nice, we love those references.
Ollie: Yeah, we love those references. We are massive fans of theirs, and Arcade Fire are incredible as well, they have an amazing energy.
Neil: We also find that every gig, someone compares us to a different band. You often get someone say, ‘oooh you sound like such and such’. ‘Biffy Clyro with girls’ was a recent one which we absolutely love, it’s a great reference. Awesome!
Who writes the songs and how does each member influence the song writing?
Thomas: Ollie basically writes the songs.
Ollie: Yeah, I tend to write the songs and….
Thomas: We make them better!
Tom: We basically say, ‘that’s rubbish you want to do it like this mate’!
Ollie: I wrote songs and recorded songs on my own before the band, but they weren’t that good really.
All: Aww, they were good!
Ollie: They were fine, but a bit dull. The other thing is the direction in which we are going influences the song writing massively. I think we’ve kind of found what it is we like to do and it’s become more unique and more us I think.
Tom: He’s writing songs at the rate of knots at the moment. He’ll turn up each week and say, ‘I’ve got a new one guys’.
Miriam: We can’t keep up with it! We haven’t got enough time as we’re playing so many gigs that we’ve got no time to rehearse.
Dorry: We’ve got a new one for tonight, one that we’ve never played before. We managed to rehearse it in two hours last Saturday and only as we had a gig cancelled on Saturday.
Miriam: We managed to get together for two hours to get it up and running so we could play it tonight. It’s called You Kill Me. It’s going to be the fifth song we play.
Thomas: Can you not say “Here’s a new one, we haven’t played it before”. Say it’s a new one, but unless it goes really badly don’t say we hadn’t played it before.
Ollie: That’s exactly what I was going to say!
Tom: Say it’s a new one, maybe afterwards.
Ollie: People want to know before if it’s a new one though, surely?
Dorry: Ok, and say what it’s called.
Neil: Don’t say, “It might go quite badly”.
Ollie: What about if I say it’s the world premiere?
Tom: Now that’s nice!
Tell us about the new EP Stealing Fire. New singles When We Were Young and The Phantom feature. I’ve heard there is also song about World War II?
Ollie: The song about WWII is Our Friends Our Enemies, we’ll play that tonight. The song is about some Czech workers in the Second World War who worked in German ammunition plants making bombs. They purposefully didn’t put the detonators in and I think a load of bombs fell all over London that didn’t go off because the detonators weren’t there. Notes were put inside saying ‘this is all we can do for now’.
Miriam: The shells were opened up and someone found the notes in Czech.
Ollie: It’s amazing that loads of lives must have been saved by that and it would have been an incredibly dangerous thing to do. So, the song is called Our Friends Our Enemies. They are in enemy territory and they are working for the enemies but actually they’re our friends. It’s just amazing.
So how do you know about this?
Dorry: There’s a book called The Fall of Fortresses about a navigator who was hit by a number of shells flying over Germany but they didn’t detonate and were amazed to return back to the UK in one-piece. They opened up the shells and founds the notes, similar to the ones found in the empty shells in London. The concept is very inspiring.
Some of your song lyrics appear to relate to past experiences such as When We Were Young, and Graduation Day. Do you draw upon your past when you write?
Ollie: When We Were Young is about general nostalgia and the excitement that brings. Graduation Day is not about me actually. It’s about……
Tom: Ha, he didn’t graduate!
Miriam: Yes he did, I think.
Ollie: I graduated. I got a degree in marine biology, put that in!
Tom: You got banned from diving though, didn’t you buddy?
Ollie: Oh I did, yeah!
Ollie: Graduation Day about a charity called Spear who help young people get back into work. There was a one kid that was going to graduate but his folks weren’t alive anymore. He didn’t want to go to the graduation because all the other people graduating had parents that were going to be there. The whole rest of the group were like, ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll be with you and you’ll be fine’. So, that’s what that song is about.
This month you published a beautiful live cover of Florence & the Machines ‘Queen of Peace’. What made you choose that track?
Miriam: We just thought it was a really great song, we really liked it. Ollie’s mum liked it too. We asked her what song we should do and she replied, ‘I’ve just heard Queen of Peace on the radio check that one’.
Dorry: We also wanted to do something current.
Ollie: It’s a great song, and really well produced. And also it’s nice for the girls who can sing so beautifully to take the lead.
Dorry: We organized that one, we took charge!
Your videos are very cinematic, incredibly well made, fun and creative. Where do the video ideas come from and who produces them?
Thomas: Ollie’s brother Seth makes them.
Ollie: It’s my brother Seth but also Miriam and Dorry’s brother Pascal too.
Miriam: Our little brother Pascal works in documentaries and TV and Ollie’s brother Seth is amazing.
Ollie: Also, our brother-in-law, who is married to Miriam and Dorry’s sister does CGI and special effects too. My other brother also does websites so he helps with our website.
Dorry: So, we have a lot of brothers and a whole team of family that help us out.
Thomas: Sadly I have no helpful brothers!
Where did you shoot House Fire?
Miriam: With House Fire, it took a long time to make, almost every weekend for a year. It was shot in Hampshire where we grew up.
Ollie: It was nearly all trespassing on army land, it was very stressful.
Tom: Even if the army did find us, they would just have found a bunch of people all wearing make-up and holding flaming poles. We looked strange!
Thomas: It took a long time. Some people’s hair completely changed between the start and the finish and we managed to do it on every coldest weekend of the year.
Ollie: You may also notice at the beginning of the video that Miriam is pregnant. That’s how long it took, she’s pregnant at the beginning and not at the end.
Miriam: Even though our two brothers took the lead on it, it was very collaborative. We were all working on ideas and watching all the edits during the week and saying ‘well this weekend we should do this’. We worked on it literally every weekend.
Tom: When you don’t have a lot of money to spend on these things, you have to do that which takes longer but I think what you get at the end is more real.
Is this why you don’t feature in your latest two videos?
All: Yes! It’s much quicker if we’re not in it.
Ollie: The video for When We Were Young was done in one day basically. I called my brother up and was like ‘Can you help?’
Dorry: My brother found the footage and Ollie’s brother put it all together.
Ollie: We will do some more videos with us in them though in the future.
Miriam: We have been dreaming about what our next video might be. Maybe it’ll be in the hot tub, just one take in the Jacuzzi and be filmed in Hawaii.
Tom: Next time we’ll employ body doubles so we don’t have to do all the work.
Thomas: I think we are just not going to film it outside in the cold again!
You hope to release your first album in 2016? How is this progressing, and what might we expect from the album?
Ollie: Don’t ask that question!
Tom: It’s an on-going joke how long the album is taking because during the process of recording it we’ve learnt quite a lot. We recorded it once and then decided to start recording it again. We kept certain sections of it, and it’s been refined and refined and refined. So, within the band it’s been a bit of an on-going joke but the reality is that the end result is fantastic.
Thomas: Since the first recording we’ve changed our sound quite drastically, it’s got much better.
Ollie: We have been recording at a studio called Echo Zoo in Eastbourne, right by the sea. The final few songs we’re not sure where we’ll record yet.
Tom: It’s more of a live recording now, and has more of a live feel. We are trying to capture that energy that we have on stage in the recording. It’s been a long process and we giggle about it for that reason.
Dorry: People say we have such energy live and it wasn’t being caught on the initial recording so now we have brought that energy in.
Ollie: We’re actually aiming to have half the album mixed by the end of this year, and then we’ll be finishing the final few songs with a chap called Matt Lawrence [Grammy-award winning producer, engineer and mixer]. So, yeah there’s a plan and the album should be ready next spring.
Dorry: There’s a plan afoot!
Ollie: We cannot wait to have the album out, I tell you. We feel like we have the right songs now and it’s going well. I feel glad that we haven’t put out an album that we weren’t fully happy with but we are itching to now.
With such strong relationships within the band, capable song writing, and an electric live vibe, we can expect to see a lot more from Flight Brigade in 2016. To coincide with the EP release, the band are touring various venues across the UK in November.
Interview with Flight Brigade by Lauren Patel, October 2015, Notting Hill, London.
Portrait Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
Kalpesh has his own photography website right here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate