Back in spring, Peace announced their newest album Utopia, available via a protected website only. Just three weeks before they embark on their first nationwide tour in 5 years, I caught up with brothers Sam and Harry Koisser, the duo behind Peace, to chat all things Utopia.
So you are back here for a show in Southampton at Engine rooms in three weeks time. You last played there in 2018; How have things developed in terms of the show?
A lot. Our show now uses tones more machinery like, drum machines, samplers, synths, and programming. Basically all the stuff we specifically avoided before. The last few years we just nerded out on that stuff. There’s now a sort of battle between the human and mechanical elements.
We pause. The guys are ordering desserts. Pumpkin cheesecake for Harry (a ‘seasonally appropriate’ choice, he adds), Sam takes the Apple and blackcurrant Eton mess.
So yeah it is totally different now. We have done a couple shows and, no one has left disappointed. Well, maybe one or two.
Is there a noticeable difference for you guys when you play on stage? Do you notice the difference between a duo and a four-piece?
Sometimes. It isn’t necessarily in a negative way though, it is just very different. I do find that sometimes it goes a little harder, because we are really able to expand and do 15 different things at once- the setup is very separate and everything comes from different speakers and it is just this big machine. When it’s all guns blazing, it’s monstrous. Like this mechanical e-street band- like Daft Punk but The White Stripes at the same time.
Was that the intention when getting back into the studio, then?
I don’t think we knew exactly what it was going to be at first. We knew it had to be different considering it’s just the two of us and we were curious as to what we could do as a duo. We had to discover that for ourselves. There’s this fucking massive machine now that we’ve built and we are still adding to. It started small with a tiny drum machine that we would play along to, and slowly just added more shit. Each time we tried something that worked its like great, now add it. We sort of discovered how to create all the dynamics that you want, the overtones and transience, that you have from a traditional rock band using drum machines and samplers. It has a humanity to it, but maintains control. Nothing is set in stone. The sequencing has all got to be a little out of time. If everything lines up, and is robotic, it sounds shit. As soon as you let it be out of time and out of sync, it sounds really great.
What were you listening to whilst in the studio?
Being honest, one of the biggest influences was pretty much anything produced by Phil Spector, which is pretty dark to bring up, nothing on his character. Around Christmas time we actually did a little Christmas concert in the village near the studio, and we learnt a lot of classics and most were produced by Phil. so we were nerding out on that production and his sonics, and the way his music moved. That was probably the biggest influence production wise. We just kept putting on Be my baby and were like: “It sounds so good! how do you get things to sound like this?!”.
I can see that. The record has this very ethereal vibe to it. Especially in Swimming with dolphins, and how it breaks into two parts, one characterised by the riffs you would expect in a Peace song and the other this sort of medieval acoustic guitar. Like okay, this is bridging the gap between the two new forms of the band.
At the start of track 5, ‘Masterpiece’, there’s this little cassette click that brings in that farmyard ensemble, for want of a better word, that almost kind of reaffirms the new era of Peace. A statement of okay, this is where we are now. Would you say that’s a fair reflection?
Definitely. We kept on referring to it as our second debut album. Like, we have to go again and make another statement of intent. We were unionising very natural sounds, the studio was really far out into Somerset and that’s just what we were seeing and surrounded by and the mechanical things we were doing with these machines and sequences was just us trying to bind those very opposing ideas.
Aesthetically then. There are two references to Glastonbury- on the cover and in the closer Polly with the perfect hair. Which, i’ll add, had this very Beatles-y feel that could be the bridge between ‘Revolver’ and ‘Sgt. Peppers’. Whats the significance of that place in the context of the album?
It was the first place I went to write. I started at the very end of 2018, and after living in London for 5 or 6 years, I had just moved there into a converted chapel, out in the country. Basically there was a grand piano, and I spent three months there without really seeing anyone- just writing lyrics and recording song ideas all in these demos. I went to the Tor all the time, I spent a lot of time in the village. Then I went to New York and wrote some of the album there. Then COVID happened so I came back to London. Originally we were looking for somewhere around Glastonbury to go back to, but we found this perfect place just west in Somerset still so we went there. The whole album was pretty much written there, except for those random fucking few months in New York so like, its quite a destination record.
What impact did the pandemic have on the album process then? Did it change how it sounded originally?
well, we lost two members!
We took a moment to laugh, and the boys tucked into their desserts in the meanwhile.
It added two years onto the process and that gave us time to work out all this shit. The drum machines, and all this technical stuff that we had no idea about as we never had time to sit and learn about sequencing and analogue recording and triggers and all that shit. We had no idea how to use it. I remember at the end of 2019 we felt that pressure of okay, we have got to get moving, but actually the pandemic took all the pressure away; We weren’t the only ones grounded to halt, so we just took our time.
So it was essentially a 2-year playground.
That’s the most positive way of looking at it, which I love. It’s good to put a positive spin on it, I haven’t heard that one yet!
When you spoke to NME you joked about the ‘career suicide’ that the album roll-out would bring, seeing how unconventional it is. What initiated the idea for taking an alternative approach to releasing music?
After a long period of reflection, we were just thinking about how much time we had put into the record and we knew that Spotify and streaming had changed in the meanwhile, and obviously you have TikTok as well. Those platforms and other tech companies held huge seminars and said basically, we need an album every year. There was actually one point where they wanted a song a month, treating the artistry as a content machine. I thought, considering it takes us 2-4 years to finish an album, that wont work, because we spend a lot more time on the music and it isn’t just content. The only way to create the space for us to have time and resources was to force the campaign to be longer. Obviously we have tour coming up in 3 weeks (November). If we had started putting songs out in April, this would be the end of the album cycle. But we haven’t even ventured onto Spotify with this album yet. So if we do it after the tour, it gives us time to create music in the way we need to. We just can’t churn it out. If we throw stuff together it just sucks. We either release worse music, or somehow force the situation to move at the pace we need. So that’s why we went with physical and the website idea, everything is really inward facing. Then we reach outwards after, if we want. I’m still not even convinced that we will!
Is there an attraction to keeping it physical, then?
I just love the idea of it. I like the way we mixed it out of the desk- it isn’t to tape or anything. It was live on the desk, then we sent that to Miami and then that wave got cut into a plastic disc. I like the idea of it being a physical souvenir, almost.
I saw recently that ‘Lovesick’ was in the TV series Heartstopper. Is TV and film a possibility for you guys? I feel as though the groundworks for a score is buried within this new project.
If someone wanted to use our music, that’s out of our hands. But I don’t think i’m ready to score anything. We make music that’s difficult to explain in the sense that it’s utter chaos. Neither of us have music theory or knowledge of how that works. It is difficult working with people who do, because we just use random images to describe sounds, which is useless to them. We have had issues with classically trained musicians before and we were like ‘Cant you just play something that goes [insert ramble of inaudible noises from Harry]‘ and they’re like “We need that written’ and so i’m like ‘Yeah, just vibe it out man‘. I think that would be a disaster, if we scored a movie. It’s an interesting idea, never say never, but we would have to be in a position where everyone on board promises not to get annoyed at us.
Ending it on quite a philosophical note. The title we have for the record is Utopia. obviously not the only record from this year with that name. So, off the back of that, what is Utopia to you?
I’ll explain why we chose that name. I saw a poster from 1992/3 of a nightclub in Torquay and it was literally an advertisement for a club night on the strip, and it was called Utopia. It had all this stuff of this buzzy, rave-y atmosphere. A sticky-floored nightclub in Torquay is the opposite of what I’d think Utopia is. It was the art director for the album who actually said we should just call it that, as it suits the record. As soon as we did that, those sounds in between the songs and the atmosphere of the countryside, that’s what I think of when I hear the word Utopia, it’s that sonic experience. It’s so visual as well, the sounds of nature. I didn’t even realise but you can get fucking apps that play you drones of nature sounds to help with anxiety, they’re great! We accidentally did that and put an album on top of it. But that’s what humans like. The sound of bugs and wind in the wheat and stuff.
So Utopia is whatever you make it?
I think so, it’s the image of world with nothing on it. just a blank canvas. Or a rave in Torquay, maybe.
The new album is available for pre-order (vinyl only) now, out November 3rd. The duo hit the road for a string of UK dates, including a stop in Southampton at Engine rooms on November 5th. Tickets are available now.