It’s a sunny morning in Sunderland and the Brewis brothers – David in the band’s studio, Peter at home in his living room – have convened over Zoom to discuss what they call the first “proper” album by their band since 2018.
The genre-defying duo have led Field Music since its inception in 2004, razing the landscapes of the indie, pop and art-rock worlds via an eclectic CV that encompasses numerous albums, soundtracks, concept albums and side projects. They even famously attracted the attention of Prince, who tweeted a link to their track The Noisy Days Are Over apropos of nothing in 2015, yet they remain one of the most consistently underrated bands in music. Nevertheless, they’re now readying the release of Flat White Moon, their eighth studio album and the follow-up proper to 2018’s Open Here. In between, there was Making a New World in 2020, a concept-album of sorts about the aftermath of the first World War that was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum. Such unorthodox projects are, by now, standard for Field Music.
Given their musical rapport, it’s unsurprising to learn that the multi-instrumentalist brothers also share a penchant for witty banter. When discussing what their children make of their music in general, David says his “like the hits” – a claim that causes his elder brother to do a double-take. “Hits?” he exclaims. “Which hits?!”
A number one album may have evaded them thus far, but Flat White Moon is undoubtedly one of the best in their eclectic back catalogue. The brothers had already begun recording basic tracks for their next album when they headed out to tour Making a New World at the beginning of last year – which finished just before Covid shut everything down. “And we possibly all caught it at that last London gig,” says David. “I think I caught it at the merch table.” He grimaces. “I shook a lot of hands.”
After recording and touring two albums that proved demanding in their own ways, “we had initially decided that me and Dave were gonna rock out together like the old days, and just basically make some kind of pop-performance-blues-rock record, in the mold of the music we grew up with: like Zeppelin and Free and things like that,” explains Peter. “It was kind of like y’know what, let’s just play. No click tracks, not too many overdubs – let’s just see what we’re like as a basic, but smart rock band. We did that for a bit, and then obviously it had to change because we couldn’t go into the studio.”
Quite a lot of the record is about our mam. Our mam passed away just before we went on tour
When they reconvened last June to pick up where they had left off, they realised the album had taken a new direction. “The first songs we started all had this kind of do we really mean this blues-rock feel?” says David. “And then Peter came in with Orion from the Street and Not When You’re in Love at a fairly similar time, and those songs aren’t in that style, and they couldn’t be – and it’d be a waste to then say okay, we somehow have to make these sound like Free.”
Although the album is characteristically bright and breezy from a musical perspective, there is an undercurrent of loss and grief threaded throughout its lyrics.
“Well, quite a lot of the record is about our mam,” he says, his voice quietening as he chooses his words carefully. “Our mam passed away just before we went on tour for Open Here; she’d been ill for a really long time, so it wasn’t a surprise. But y’know, awful in that way. I definitely felt that with us both being parents of young kids, it puts a different perspective on that kind of loss, and how you feel about your relationship with your parents; you start to think about it in a different way.
“Across that year, I didn’t feel like I was in a mental position to write about it in song-form, which is what we do with most of the things that happen in our lives. So it was good for us that Making a New World was there for us, then; it was like let’s dive into other people’s stories and try not to deal with what we’re thinking about. But certainly, our mam’s absence is the core part of a lot of the songs on there. Not all of them – there’s other things going on as well – but it informs a lot of what’s on the record.”
Although it is arguably one of their most personal bodies of work for that reason, there was still scope to look at the wider world, as heard on the quasi-political No Pressure. Other tracks, like I’m the One Who Wants to Be With You, take a lighter tone. That song was inspired by a conversation David had with his wife, about how teenage boys in the 1990s used to channel their romantic feelings via the medium of “beautiful technical rock ballads” like Mr Big’s To Be With You.
“I have ups and downs with whether it feels ‘worthwhile’ to write political-leaning songs,” says David of the former. “Sometimes you just think is it pointless even thinking about this? We can’t do anything about it,” says David. “And sometimes you feel like you have to speak out and make your ideas known. It feels like one of the defining things politically, of this time, is the sense of those in power not taking responsibility for things. Finding a way to shift a narrative, rather than what you used to see happen – which was oh, I’ve been found out lying or doing something bad – I’d better resign. That just doesn’t seem to happen any more. So No Pressure is about that.”
Those songs were honest to the dickheads we were then... Instead of the dickheads we are now
Overall, it seems that Flat White Moon is a tying-up or resolution of many things that people experience in their 30s; losing a parent, becoming parents themselves, becoming more politically engaged, to an extent. Even so, Peter denies that there was a specific direction behind the album’s themes.
“You write about the things that are on your mind,” he says. “I think the word ‘authenticity’ can be a tricky one, because for some people, authenticity means an acoustic guitar, or a ‘real’ guitar, or ‘real music’, or a ‘real band’, or ‘real lyrics’. But I do think that we try to be – and don’t always succeed – but we try to be authentic to ourselves, regardless of whether you think hey, this is gonna reach a new audience. Because we can’t worry about that.
“With Making a New World, people thought we were writing an album about the first World War, and we weren’t; we were finding out stories that interested us, that were on our minds. We were writing about people, and how we reacted emotionally to stories. And that is what we do every day; that’s what reading about the news is. You react emotionally to a story, or to losing somebody, or to your kids being dicks. That’s what Do Me a Favour’s about,” he laughs. “But it’s not that different. I always feel strange about using that word, but I don’t think there’s a better word for it than ‘authenticity’.”
David adds: “You chase what resonates with you, so the things that resonate with us now are the concerns we have now at the age we are now, and the experiences that we’ve had. And maybe that means we maybe can’t write a song which is necessarily going to resonate with ‘the youth of today’. I don’t know whether we’re clever enough or cynical enough to do that. That’s why we find it difficult to play some of the songs from when we were in our early-to-mid 20s, because I just don’t wanna say that stuff any more.”
Peter says: “Those songs were honest to the dickheads we were then.” David deadpans: “Yeah, exactly. Instead of the dickheads we are now.”
They may joke, but Field Music have been renowned for their constant sense of reinvention over the past 17 years. They have already ticked multiple boxes, from concept album to double album to soundtracking a 1929 silent documentary (2015’s Drifters). Where could they possibly go next?
“There are always new things happening,” shrugs Peter. “Music’s amazing, because it’s like a time machine; we can find something new to our ears, that existed a thousand years ago. So I feel like because we make ‘collage-rock’, basically, it’s like everything’s available to play with, really. I don’t even feel like we’ve necessarily started, really. I feel like we’re still a rock band, and maybe we could be something different.”
David adds: “That’s the thing: I don’t feel like I’ve figured anything out yet. I feel like we’ve made loads of records about not understanding things very well. So there’s a way to go, yet. I don’t know what we’re doing – and I don’t really want to know.”
Flat White Moon is released on April 23rd.