It’s no secret that a good chunk of the songwriters in the world inevitably look back on their previous work and react with some kind of mental face-palm. Whether its cringing at the overuse of the word “baby” or wincing at the lyrical traces of an intense anger that died a long time ago, most composers have a few verses here and there that they wish would just disappear.
Ian Roure, however, is not one of those creatives. In fact, he’s pretty proud of the words he’s laid down.
Acting as both the songwriter and producer for the British post-punk pop band The Larch, Ian says he has no regrets, which is pretty impressive for a guy that’s been making music for over a decade. He’s also quite the reader and has made a habit of incorporating many themes from his favorite literary works into his songs. But don’t worry, The Larch’s music is not as serious as it sounds. I mean, the dude writes about soccer hooliganism and the band’s named after a Monty Python skit. Those two things alone should make you want to throw on their latest album and dance around like it’s 1999.
Chelsea Deptula: So I hear you guys like to write music inspired by books. Because it’s Literary Month here at Golden Mixtape, I want to know the specifics. Tell me about said books.
Ian Roure: Among the Thugs by Bill Buford inspired the Larch song “Free Kick” – both are about British football (soccer) hooliganism. I fleshed out the song with some of my own experiences growing up in the soccer obsessed south of England.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood inspired the song “Return of the Chimera”; both ultimately ask questions about genetic experimentation. The book is what Atwood describes as “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction,” though there is a dominant science aspect to the story. The storyline is told in flashbacks by what might be the last human on earth and depicts the events leading up to a bio-engineered apocalypse.
Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (mostly Red Mars and Green Mars) inspired the song “Red Planet Express.” The books start in 2026 with the first colonists on Mars and tell the tale of the civilizing and the terra forming of the planet; my song focuses on the bullet train line that is described in Red Mars and what a trip to the space port among all the commuters might be like.
“The Long Tail” is inspired by the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. It’s all about Amazon, Google etc., and the way we’re all doing business online these days. The phrase “the long tail” refers to the shape of a graph showing popularity ranking of consumer goods.
Chelsea: Everyone has a few favorite words. A few of my personal favorites include ‘impromptu’, ‘scrumptious’, ‘chuffed’ and ‘resplendent’. Either as a collective or individually, could you tell me some of your favorite words?
Ian: Surreptitious, onomatopoeia, erstwhile, triumvirate and temporal come to mind. Also nih!
Chelsea: When making literary references (or references to other work in general), do you believe it’s important to honor and maintain a certain respect to that original work (almost like creating an extension of the original), or do you think your own interpretation of the work is more important?
Ian: I often pick a central idea from the book to write the song around. In the case of “Return of the Chimera,” it’s the idea in the book Oryx and Crake that experimental genetic modification in animals could get out of hand or even accidentally go astray and pose a threat to our culture. Free Kick is like this also; “Why do people become hooligans?” is the central question in the book Among the Thugs, as well as the song. On the other hand, “Red Planet Express” just expands on one small aspect of the book.
Chelsea: I know a larch is a type of massive tree used to construct boats–is that where you guys came up with the name for your band? And why not another type of tree? Tell me the story behind that.
Ian: Do you know Monty Python? It’s a British comedy show from the late 60s. There’s an episode called “How to Recognize Different Kinds of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away,” and number one is the Larch.
Chelsea: You guys have been making music for more than 10 years now and I’m sure you’ve both seen and done a lot of things. What kind of advice would you give someone just jumping into the music industry?
Ian: I wouldn’t make fame and riches your main incentive! I think most musicians in the end have to decide whether they want to make a living out of only playing music and veer more towards playing cover tunes on cruise ships and weddings, or maybe go into session work. Or you make your own music the way you want it to be and find some other more normal way to make an actual living. It’s a very small percentage of artists that get to do both – an even smaller percentage these days, and there’s more competition than ever!
Chelsea: As a band, what kind of goals are you guys working toward?
Ian: At the moment it’s making our next album – Days to the West – as superb an album as possible! We’ve got all the basic tracks down, and we’re starting overdubs this month. Very exciting!
Chelsea: What do you believe is your band’s greatest accomplishment?
Ian: Hmmm, well, as a songwriter, it makes me very happy that when I look back on 10+ years of Larch recordings, the cringe rate is almost zero as far as the actual songs are concerned. I think even the silly songs like “Sushi Habit,” “Cell Phone or Schizo?” have their moments. Most of the music I’m proud of in one way or another, though I do think that the last two CDs–Gravity Rocks and Larix Americana, as well as the one we’re working on now–are musically the best we’ve ever done. Those three make a nice set thematically as well (the themes being space, the modern world and time respectively).
Chelsea: What do you think is most important to bring to the table as far as being a musician goes? Is it the passion, skill, creativity or something different all together?
Ian: Imagination and intelligence in my opinion….and tenacity!
Chelsea: If your journey as a band was written down and put in book form, what genre would you categorize it under? Adventure? Fantasy? Chick lit?
Ian: Maybe a historic epic. The Life and Times of the Larch: the Laughs, the Hangovers and the Music! Kind of a rock ‘n roll Great Expectations.
Chelsea: When you aren’t touring, playing shows or recording new music, which authors or books do you find yourself reading?
Ian: I’m just finishing a hefty tome by Richard Dawkins called The Ancestors Tale and just starting a book called Spook Country by William Gibson. Liza has recently been reading William Styron and Marge Piercy. Ross has been enjoying a little light reading by Jose Saramago and J.M. Coetzee, and Tom has been digging a spot of Neal Stephenson.
Chelsea: Can you make us a mixtape of your top 5 songs for relaxing in the bath tub with some tea lights and a good book?
Ian: Sounds like a Slipknot moment to me! No, maybe Joni Mitchell, Hissing of Summer Lawns – the whole second side! “Hissing of Summer Lawns,” “Boho Dance,” “Harry’s House,” “Sweet Bird” and “Shadows and Light”…ah, good stuff!
Originally published on Nov 15, 2011