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Arts and Entertainment

Interview: Milo Cordell of The Big Pink

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The Big Pink: Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze I Photo by Tom Beard

The Big Pink: Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze I Photo by Tom Beard
As with a lot of good things, the band The Big Pink wasn't supposed to be a band at all. Friends, Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze were already distracted with other projects when they started messing around in the studio. Cordell was busy running his record label, Merok Records, which was putting out acts like Titus Andronicus, Crystal Castles, and The Klaxons, and Furze was in another band playing guitar for Alec Empire.

Despite all these commitments, the music that came out of those sessions: the fiery digital noise, the huge fuzzy guitars, and heart-wrenching melodies, which would later become The Big Pink's critically acclaimed debut, A Brief History of Love, was so great that Furze convinced Cordell that they needed to become a band. This took some doing because Cordell had never been in a band before and had terrible stage fright. We caught up with Cordell this weekend to talk about how he conquered his fears, found a live band, and launched The Big Pink with Robbie Furze into the stratosphere. Here is some of what was said.

The Big Pink - Velvet

How did you guys decide to form a band?
I just called Robbie up and said, "Let's go to the studio next week and do something. Let's make noise. Let's make a racket." So we rented some studio space, got in there, and played back some bashed up guitar, recorded it, made some drones and then cut them up into twenty minutes at a time. Which we later used to create the first song on the record, "Crystal Visions." It was just fun. We went into the studio every two weeks and started writing songs. It was really good fun.

When did it go from just some fun to something that you wanted to share with the world?

Oh, if it was up to me it would have stayed in the studio forever. I was quite happy just to leave it there, but Robbie had been in so many bands before that he wanted to take it from the studio play it live. Robbie wasn't happy just to leave it, so we got a band together. There used to be seven of us, but now we've whittled it down to four. (laughs) I didn't even do it the first time. I didn't go to the first show.

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Yeah, I was too scared. I got my friend to do it with a computer and recorded samples. Then I was on the stage the second show we did, but I had my back to the crowd, so I didn't have to see them. I did that for the first five or six shows. Then it got easier and easier and I got less and less red. Now you can't stop me!

How did you find the other members of the band? Was it a difficult search?
No, it was actually really easy. We'd meet people at a club or a party and asked if they wanted to do it. And most of them said, "Yeah, all right." No one had been in a band before they were all just mates. We're a really psychotic crew. We found everyone at six in the morning.

That's a pretty solid vetting process.
Yeah! If you were awake and out at six in the morning, then you got signed up. If you weren't out that late, then you really shouldn't be a part of this band.

Are you still involved with Merok Records?
Oh yeah, we're doing more stuff then ever.

How do you manage to juggle that and being in The Big Pink?

I can't do it as much as I used to. I have to get other people to do it. I used to do it all myself, but now I've got three or four people helping me out. Volunteers, I call them. It really is a charity.
However, I think this year is the most exciting year for Merok. I'm just trying to do both at the same time. It's pretty easy with a laptop, you know.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can control the universe from a laptop. So, how did you end up with 4AD? Why didn't you put A Brief History of Love out on Merok?
I thought about putting it out in my label, but we're really small. We're good at what we do, but we're a really small indie label. One day 4AD came to a show and asked us if they could put out our record. Actually they sent Kip from Tv on the Radio to ask us. He was like, "Hey can we take you on tour." And we were just like, "Yeah, wicked!" And that was that. It was literally that easy.

Wow, that sounds like a dream sequence.

Yeah, it kind of was. We were a pretty hot band in London for awhile and were getting interest from a number of major record labels as well as indie labels. We just really liked 4AD.

Why did you choose Electric Lady Studiosto record the album? Was there a reason why you flew all the way to New York to make it? Surely London is crawling with recording studios.
No, we were just really stupid. The guy mixed our album worked at Electric Lady Studios and we thought it would be great to record there. We could have had a cheaper experience anywhere else. It was kind of out of control. We could have just as easily stayed in London to record that album, but I will say that room has a great vibe. There are better studios with better equipment, but that room has the best vibe. It just oozes down the walls. You can feel Jimi Hendrix, Bowie, AC/DC, coming from the walls. Plus it looks like a spaceship.

Do you think any of New York rubbed off on your album or does it sound like London?

I think it's a city record. It just has this really urban, modern sound that really captures the sound of the city. London is one of the best cities in the world, if not the best, so we needed to record the album somewhere that had the speed of the city. I really think New York upped it a bit. We loved it so much there, that we added a bit of New York on this album. We wrote and recorded song just for that city.

Which song?

What is your writing process like?
Me and Robbie play everything. We just get a synth and fuck it up. We'll record it for like twenty minutes as this wall of sound. It's like dance music or hip hop; we start with beat or a loop and then add to it. We do not start by going over to each others' houses with an acoustic guitar. That doesn't happen.

That would be super strange if it did. What inspired "Dominoes"? Did you guys have a particularly good night out?
(laughs) No, no. The chorus was written in the back of a car with Robbie. We were listening to Al Green and we were talking about doing something like his choruses. Then this tiny bit of a song came into my head and I started singing, "Dominoes dominoes," which is really odd. It arrived like visual thing. It's written about that kind of thing in love where you try and replace someone who you've lost. There's this temporary vacuous period between loves. It's about the weakness of man, where we get lost in one night stands. It's very tongue in cheek and a bit crass. It's about the crassness of man, which is both sad and true. Somehow it became a pop song. It's got a really joyous chorus, but is actually quite sadistic. It's not a very pleasant song.

Who's the lady on the cover of your album?

I don't actually know. There's this guy who does all of the classic 4AD albums like for the Pixies and TV on the Radio. He's done it all. He got the picture from a friend of his, who's a French photographer. All of our albums or singles are his photos. They're just a series of girls that this guy had a relationship with. I don't know who they are. All I know is that they're French girls. They could be women he's slept with or prostitiutes, I don't know, but I think the photographs are quite good views of them. We had to blur out their faces in a number of them, just in case we got sued. I think they're really peaceful or sad depending on how you look at it.

Weird! What if they find you one day?
And demand money?

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No, just come up to you and say, "Hey that's my face."
Yeah, it would be weird seeing your face in a record store. Especially if it was a picture of you from twenty years ago.

Exactly. It would be very strange. Why did you choose A Brief History of Love as the title for the album?
The record is about love. The good in it, the bad in it, and how we treat each other. We either have love and don't like it. Or don't have it and pine after it. It's explosive. Everything about it is explosive. The title itself doesn't really make any sense. How can you have a brief history of love? There's nothing brief about it. It's just a grand statement.

What's the weirdest thing you've seen in the audience?

My brother.

Your brother?
Yeah, he's a pretty weird guy.

How involved are you in the concept of your videos?
For our first videos, "Too Young To Love" and "Velvet" we were really involved because it was directed by a friend of ours. But for "Dominoes" we had met the director, who had done an amazing Animal Collective video, and he started taking about ice sculptures and explosions, and we thought, "Explosions? Yeah lets' do this one!" If there's an explosion in a video it's generally going to be good.

Can we talk about your last show at the El Rey? That was your first show in America, right? How do you think it went?
Oh God, it was a fucking nightmare. Were you there?

Yeah, I was there.
God, it just disintegrated. Let me tell you what happened. We arrived from London that day and went straight to the theater to sound check. That's when we discovered that the airline had left the samples in London. Virgin Airlines had put them on the wrong plane and the whole show was still in London. So we had three hours to recreate every single sample from a laptop. Oh God, it was the most intense experience of our lives. We were trying to do the impossible. I can't even talk about it. It was so horrible.

It wasn't so bad. I promise. One last question, how did the song "Velvet" come about?
I was completely obsessed with this girl, and it wasn't working out. There's a lot of honesty in that song. You kind of have to just look at yourself. Well, I don't know. The song is about replacing something that's lost, but it's never the same. It's about looking for something, but not quite finding it.

Well, thank you for talking with us!
Thank you.

Be sure and catch The Big Pink as they return to the El Rey Theater on Tuesday night with A Place To Bury Strangers and Active Child. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 8pm.