As they are about everything, The View talk a straightforward talk about why they chose Albert Hammond Jr and Gus Oberg to produce their vibrant, ambitious, rollickingly tuneful new album, ‘Ropewalk’.
“’Cause he’s in The Strokes!” laughs bass player Kieren Webster. “And he seemed really hungry for it.”
“His dad’s a songwriter,” adds singer/guitarist Kyle Falconer, aware that Albert Hammond Sr was a hugely successful artist in the Sixties and Seventies, “plus he’s made lots of albums with The Strokes. So it’s like he knows songs inside-out. So it felt like a massive compliment to have him wanting to work with us. A lot of producers just like the actual sound, but he and Gus sat down and went through all the songs one by one. We’d never done that before.”
It felt like the right time to take that in-depth approach. For one thing, 2015 is the band’s tenth anniversary. It’s been a decade since The View exploded out of Dundee, a rag-tag teenage mob of guitar-scorching rock’n’rollers, buoyed by a brace of instantly anthemic tunes and a huge, loyal following. As singles like Wasted Little DJs and Superstar Tradesman stormed into the charts, followed by debut album Hats Off To The Buskers entering the charts at Number One and nabbing a Mercury nomination, the fanbase’s jubilant battle-cry was heard up and down the country: “The View, The View, The View are on fire!” The fans were as up-for-it as this famously hard-gigging, hard-partying four-piece.
“That time is a blur,” acknowledges Webster with a chuckle, while Falconer happily cops to their innocence. “We didn’t even know what the A-list was. Someone would tell us we were on the Radio 1 A-list and we’d be like, ‘great… what does that mean?’”
But they learned, quickly, on the job. They had to. Three singles from Hats Off To The Buskers hit the Top 20, with Same Jeans rising as far at Number Three. They toured incessantly, wrote constantly, and released four albums in six years. The View had come so far, so fast that they had enough material for a Best Of, 2013’s Seven Year Setlist. They were still only in their mid-twenties.
That line-in-the-sand compilation is another reason for The View approaching their fifth studio album with fresh purpose. With new management watching their backs – they’re now looked after by the same team who look after the rejuvenated Libertines – Falconer, Webster, guitarist Pete Reilly and drummer Steve Morrison decided to both dig deep and also, for the first time, cede some creative control to a producer.
Lead single Marriage is a case in point, its genesis pointing up the simple genius of their creative collaboration with Hammond Jr and Oberg,
“I’ve had the basis of Marriage for about six years,” says Falconer. “It wasn’t even meant to be on the album. It was a demo that was on a CD full of stuff from ages ago – and Albert heard it, and suggested I join it to another song, then we put a beat on it. It was just weird that Albert would even mention those two tunes from all the songs we had lined up.”
His vision worked. The result is a lean funk tune that shows a new side to The View, and that showcases a sublimely soulful vocal from Falconer. In a band that are never short of a tune or three, the frontman says they trusted Hammond Jr’s and Gus’s instincts. Having been introduced to him by Babyshambles’ Drew O’Connell, the band and Hammond decamped to Clouds Hill studios in Hamburg. Working in partnership with longstanding Strokes producer/engineer Gus Oberg, they made for a formidable and productive team. In three weeks last November the entire album was recorded, with a final mix executed later in New York by Justin Gerrish, acclaimed for his work with Vampire Weekend.
“Albert’s vibe was that he did seem to like the songs we’d demoed that didn’t have a lot of stuff on them,” says Falconer. “There were a lot of them that were quite complete, but he went for the ones that had less on them – he could work more on them.”
There’s more invention on House Of Cues, named after a club in Cleveland. The harmonies are smooth, and the groove is laidback, but Falconer admits the sentiments are bitter.
“I was feeling pretty down on that American tour. I’d split up with my bird at the time, so it’s quite negative – ‘I’d love to see you fall and there’d be no tears at all…’ It’s just good sometimes not to be nice about things – and I just let it flow out.”
Psychotic, written by Webster and Falconer, is another pleasing contradiction: biting lyrics set against a smooth West Coast rock. There’s similar sonic vibes on Under The Rug. Pegged as the second single, it was written by Reilly, the first song he’s had on a View album. It sounds like a crunchy Fleetwood Mac epic.
“We worked on that for ages,” recalls Falconer. “It was 4/4 before, but then we heard A Horse With No Name by America, and gave it a bit of that vibe.”
Cracks is another belter, written by Webster. It has an energy and crackle redolent of the band’s first album, and of The Strokes’ landmark debut. Then there’s the mad, freewheeling skiffle of Penny, Tenement Light’s glam rock helter-skelter and the irrepressible beat-pop energy of Living. But in an album bristling with ideas and instantly attention-grabbing tunes, the raucous, Sixties-singalong Voodoo Doll is a stand-out.
“It’s about being bipolar,” reveals Falconer of a song with shades of The Kinks and Manfred Mann. “I actually intentionally wrote it about my bird, saying she was bipolar! But I thought about it and realised subliminally I was writing about myself. But anyway, she slammed a lot of doors when she heard it! It’s funny – sometimes you find what a song is about after you’ve written it.”
And sometimes you find out how your songs should really sound if you open yourself to the creative possibilites offered by an inspired choice of producer-collaborator.
“It was quite scary working with Albert and Gus and having him pick apart our songs,” the singer admits. “But if you’re gonna trust anyone, you’ll trust the guitarist and Producer from The Strokes. So it felt brilliant.”
On ‘Ropewalk’, the sparkling results speak for themselves. Ten years young, The View are on fire all over again.