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Fell City Girl

Perhaps the best new band to emerge from the Oxford scene during 2004, Fell City Girl combine huge, orchestral waves of noise a la Six By Seven with song structures that recall Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’. Not only that, in singer Phil McMinn, they have a voice that can engulf entire venues, and that’s just during the quiet bits. One of the few bands around about whom you can use the word ‘epic’ without it being either wildly inaccurate or a backhanded compliment.

Phil McMinn – vocals, guitars
Joe Gibbons – guitars
Adam Drake – bass
James Pamphlion – drums

Location: Oxford, UK
Formed: 2003

What do you think you sound like, and how different is that from what other people have said or written about you?

We’ve had pretty much everything thrown at us: “sonic architects”, Six By Seven, Explosions in the Sky, [Jeff] Buckley, Hopes Fall (!!), ‘Radiohead tribute act’, etc. Our favourite was Phil getting compared to Bjork in our first ever review. If ever one piece of journalism is to be believed, that’s the one, ha ha! I was reading this interview with Ian McEwan last night in the bath and he was talking about how he got labelled very early on, and for years his work was viewed through a particular prism, and he found that very infuriating. We feel the same – this never started out as epic rock, and it won’t end as epic rock.

As for what we think we sound like – pass. Actually, maybe that’s being a coward. In terms of our influences, we all seem to have this really unhealthy habit of getting UTTERLY OBSESSED with one thing for ages – for James, it’d be Bloc Party; for me [Phil], the entire Anticon axis; for Joe, it’s the Red House Painters all the way; and Adam – fuck me, that boy loves the instrumentals, the epic, glacial Sigur Ros/Godspeed! stuff.

It seems as if things have been moving pretty quickly for the band recently, including a recent Scala date – what have you been up to?

After the Scala gig [supporting Longview], we were kind of worried everything would go quiet, but we’ve had some really cool dates recently – with Redjetson at an absolutely rammed Wheatsheaf [in Oxford], supporting Soundtrack Of Our Lives at the Zodiac [Oxford]… the main thing we’ve been doing is trying to enjoy what’s happening, which is something we forgot how to do for a few months. When it’s going well, being in a band can be spectacularly fun, y’know.

Tip us off – what great new bands are there in your locality, or that you’ve played with, that you’d urge the curious music fan to check out?

The Half Rabbits are more than worth all the attention they’ve been getting lately. There is more charisma in that band than I’ve seen in years, and they have that annoying but brilliant ability to sound nothing like they did thirty seconds previously. The mini-album they did on Quickfix [Recordings, an Oxfordshire label – www.quickfixrecordings.co.uk] was the release of 2004 for me in Oxford. Nothing came close.

P.Y.E. are going to be a serious force in a few months, I think. There seems to be a climate for instrumental bands right now – the attention 65daysofstatic are getting kind of reflects a hunger for it again, and I think P.Y.E. are going in the right direction. I saw them play a few months back in front of a room full of young, sceptical kids, and their music tore the roof off. I’ve never seen so much energy – amazing.

I saw Caretaker play in Oxford a few months ago, and I asked them when the last time they rehearsed was. Seb told me it was ‘the last time we played’, which was around six months previously. They proceeded to destroy the venue in typically beautiful style. Possibly my favourite band ever.

Do you perceive any kind of suspicion or fear of just writing a proper, honest-to-goodness SONG amongst your contemporaries?

Oh god, yeah. The Oxford music scene (Is there one? What is a ‘scene’? Is God man or woman? Worry, worry…) has, to me, been running scared from Radiohead’s legacy for a long, long time and that’s given rise to a lot of desperately cool, pretentious stuff that has thrived on being difficult without ever really grasping what music is about. The reaction Fell City Girl has had has been split into two camps – those who aren’t scared to like a tune, a melody, a (whisper it) chorus; and those who perceive The Song as evil, as something that, in today’s musical climate, must equal Keane or Coldplay. The type of person who believes that technical skill alone equals a good song, or whon who is far too scared to commit to The Song. Aut for me, you can still fuse the two – there’s nothing better than having a room full of people singing – actually singing – at you, so why shy away from it? after all, isn’t this meant to be entertaining?

In which areas do you see your musical development occurring over the next six months or so?

I think our next steps are definitely influenced by the rise of a lot of angular guitar stuff around at the moment. I think we work best when we do what we want, and for a long time I was trying to write a perfect three-minute pop song, for all the wrong reasons. So we then wrote a six-minute, twisting and turning mountain of a song called ‘Together, We Watched the Fireworks’ and realised that or hearts lie in music on that kind of scale. But there are more and more time changes going on, more rhythmic stuff developing.

There’s been a lot of focus on Phil and his voice as the talisman or centrepiece of the FCG sound. What’s your take on this?

Well, the singing is there, and it’s kind of unashamedly there as well. But there’s always an active effort not to make the voice the centrepiece of the song, hence the instrumental stuff. I’ve always imagined what Explosions in the Sky would sound like with a singer, so I guess that mentality drives a song in part. But for me, getting up on stage in front of people and conveying what’s in your head at the top of your voice is undoubtedly the highpoint of the day. Nobody can stop you or sneer at you for that half hour.

Do you feel much affiliation with any community with regards to your music?

No, not really. It’s not like we were born and bred in Oxford. There are only really a handful of lyrics in our songs that reflect Oxford as such. The rest comes more from books and newspapers. And girls, of course, damn them. Having said that, the song we’re working out right now has the lyric ‘this city is killing me’ as its central motif, so maybe Oxford does have some part to play in it!

Where did you get your band name from? Do you like it?

We’ve been thinking up a good answer to this for some time now. There isn’t a reason behind it other than that I like the idea of cities falling to the ground, and the ‘girl’ bit was a kind of vaguely androgynous thing that was a fleeting idea a long time ago, during our eyeliner days. My dad says it sounds like a race horse…

Which is your favourite of your own tracks and why?

a song called ‘these are the heart attacks’ – it has a kind of stuttering rhythm going through it and then it has that little ‘pop’ chorus that we’re always trying to avoid. but ‘pop’ is like a magnet really, isn’t it? i can’t write obscure, tuneless stuff. it’s too easy. i prefer the challenge of finding a nice melody amidst the weird time signatures and funny tunings.

What would you be willing to give up/sacrifice for success in your band?

Everything. We will not be stopped. Cities will fall before we do.

What does your family think of your music?

They’re all pretty cool with it. I think every one of our parents has come down now to see us and it’s all been really positive.

What are your day jobs?

Three of us are lame-ass, timewasting students for another two months. And James keeps pretty quiet about what he does, but I think it has something to do with home movies and girls called Cindy.

You’ve been asked to contribute to a charity covers album. Which song(s)would you most likely cover?

Probably the 32-minute track that closes the new Mars Volta album. No hassle. Actually, I quite like what the Cooper Temple Clause did – they gave their fan club members a 7″ that had a cover of their own song done on really shitty Casio keyboards with stupid vocals, so maybe we’d do a version of [new single] ‘Weaker Light’ played at chipmunk speed. again, no hassle.

What’s your favourite bit of band kit?

The new cymbal we just bought James for his birthday. Myself and adam spent half an hour in the local music store attentively listening to the different sounds made by each different ‘girth’ of cymbal. We settled, of course, on the 16″, which has less splash than the 18″. It was a very, very well-informed decision based on our extensive knowledge of guitars and bass. He loves it. We still have the receipt if he changes his mind.

If diskant could buy one thing for your band for Christmas, what would it be?

An anti- traffic-warden missile launcher. When we played with Longview in London we managed to rack up firstly a £350 parking ticket outside the Scala, followed swiftly by a £350 fine for driving in a bus lane looking for a McDonald’s. So that cancelled out any money we made from the gig. A week before that, it was £350 for parking on the kerb outside a pub in Oxford. Unbelievable.

What are the last couple of albums you bought and are they any good?

Low – A Lifetime of Temporary Relief (box set)
More than 50 songs spanning their whole career. I cannot get enough of this band, and this is the perfect way into them. The release of the year (well, uh, last year)

Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
Pretty good stuff all round, although it’s no ‘Personal Journals’. Still, leagues ahead of everyone else in the rap field.

The Mars Volta – Frances the Mute
The first time I heard this I lay on my back tripping off my nuts, with my mouth around my knees listening to that first few minutes. And when cedric cries out ‘come on now, aaalll night!’, it’s pure funk genius.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
I now own more than three jazz albums. This is a masterpiece, I’m told. It sounds quite hectic to me.

Choose between:

(a) Indie label or major label deal?
Ha ha! No chance!

(b) CD or vinyl?
Hand-numbered 7″ all the way.

(c) Records or live music?
Live music, unless it’s Hood, in which case, records please.

Sing us a song:

‘Run for your lives people, run from the bombs! run from your leaders, and i will wait…’
Website: www.fellcitygirl.co.uk

Records we can buy:
A 7″ is to be released around April, but until then, there’s a split EP we did on Bleeding Music Records.