Officers is a Leeds-based electronic collective with a sound that recalls the decadence of Depeche Mode while rocking with the same conviction as Placebo or Nine Inch Nails at their best. We sit down with vocalist and chief songwriter Matt Southall to discuss the band’s new album ‘On The Twelve Thrones‘ (out in October on the 17), alongside his main inspirations and, how to make monsters.
“It’s important to create and protect mystique”
S] What were some of the biggest challenges in making this record?
M] “The biggest challenge was to just keep going and believing in what we were doing; there was a constant temptation to change sounds, and edit the lyrics to songs. I would probably still be in the studio now, if it wasn’t for Stuart [Drinkall, synths] and Jamie [Baker, guitar] saying it was done.”
S] How did the collaboration with Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas happen?
M] “We have been massive fans of Tim’s work for years and had approached him to co-produce the record originally alongside myself. Unfortunately, he was busy working on the Tame Impala record and then the Spiritualized album as well, so it didn’t happen. Then later on in the process, our manager called Tim and asked him to do a remix and found that he was interested in mixing the whole record, so we jumped at the chance! His remix of ‘Afraid Of Your Love’ [as Electric Loop Orchestra] on the ‘Co-Education’ EP is pure hypnotic genius! We are hoping to work more in-depth with Tim in the future.”
S] Why ‘On The Twelve Thrones’?
M] “This came from an article that I was reading years ago about a theory that the Judas [Iscariot] story had been compiled from a series of children’s fables and ‘lesson-learning’ stories. There’s a passage in Matthew [19:28 from the Bible] where it says, ‘You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones’ implying that Judas was still a loyal follower. It intrigued me as a lot of the lyrical themes on the record are about betrayal, half-truths and how everyone needs a ‘bogeyman’ to blame for their own mistakes or misfortune when usually the problem lies within. There could be no good without the evil.”
S] We are very interested in the opening track ‘Counting My Guns’ – it’s the strongest intro we’ve heard in a long time – talk to us about that?
M] “Each one of us loves albums that have an introductory track and we wanted a big, dark and sinister marching tune to introduce the album. Stuart had the guitar-line for a while and I had the vocal to go over it, but we decided that this was the form it should take. When I hear it now it still sends shivers down my spine! It’s the track we play before we go on stage.”
S] And the haunting closer ‘Another Long Year’ – that’s a change of pace from the rest of the record – talk about that and the inspirations?
M] “This song was actually a birthday present for my wife! We were apart for her birthday, after a hard couple of years, it was just after Christmas. There was snow on the ground and it was dark outside. It felt like it was going to be a long time before we would celebrate anything again. Officers actually has a lot of songs in this vein; big and epic, but uplifting at the same time. It was important for the record to end on this track. I guess it’s our only love song.”
S] Our stand-out track from the album is is ‘Mosquito’ – what personal experiences and ideas inspired that tune?
M] “This is a song about how powerful negative energy is. It can be contagious among a number of people very quickly. I found that I was a person who used negativity to get what I wanted and affect the moods of people around me. I was finding that I was actually happier being negative and a solitary figure by taking what I wanted from people and making them weaker as a result.”
S] You are with Riverman Management who look after Placebo – how are they supporting you as we approach the album’s physical release?
M] “Our manager Angus [Blue] has been with us since pretty much day one. He is one of our best friends, and believes in us and what we are doing without question. He is a big brother, confident and an endless source of advice and knowledge. Riverman are a fantastic company and work very much run on the premise of being one big family. The team are superb and all pushing tirelessly to help us. We are very lucky to have found these guys, as to me loyalty and the understanding of what we are doing is essential. Also, we have played a number of times with Placebo and they are an inspiration for musicians on how to do things on your own terms without compromise; they are wonderful, creative people.”
S] You’ve been fairly mysterious on your social media sites up until now, only releasing the band’s names and a few other details – are you planning on unleashing any more info over the coming weeks?
M] “Jamie and I are a big believers in creating and protecting a mystique. For us, this is what we loved about bands when we were very young. We used to wait with baited breath for the next postcard or piece of information on our favourite bands. The internet is a fantastic tool but there is a temptation to just go, ‘bang here we are!’ and then that’s it. I think drip feeding information is more exciting and keeps people captivated.”
S] How do you look back on your material as The Officers – will any of that unreleased material be available any time soon?
M] “We have spoken about putting our old demos online for free but there are literally 500 tracks! We are proud of all our work and because of its nature, I can recycle bits and pieces all of the time into new songs. I’ve sampled old work a number of times. it’s quite inspiring, actually.”
S] How will your relationship with artist Stuart Semple be developing in the future?
M] “Stuart Semple is gentle, kind and truly inspirational. Everything he has done has taken my breath away. We have a fantastic installation planned at the Rough Trade store in London for the week of the release which will be an amazing listening experience. Stuart will continue to create all our visual media for the foreseeable future. He has some fantastic ideas for our live show!”
S] There’s musical influences on this record from the recognisable electronic and rock styles to the more niche witch-house – what inspired you to amalgamate these styles rather than just go for the more generic indie structure?
M] “We have all been inspired by independent music, both from some of the bands and the ethos. I guess the songs and certainly my production is based upon the way I feel and what makes me excited or what is happening technology-wise at that time. Officers is very sound-influenced, so new drum machines, synths, pedals and things like that shape the sound.”
S] You used to be The Officers (and those online profiles are still active) why drop the the, and risk confusion within your audience?
M] “During the recording process a founder member [Kieran Wherrett, guitar] of the band left so we felt almost like a new group; a change of name was needed to signify this, albeit a very slight change.”
S] What is driving the band to create music and stay alive right now, what with all the challenges of the modern music industry?
M] “Creating music and the experiences and relationships that spawn from that is what keeps us going. Also, working with Stuart Semple, Tim Holmes, Dave Bascombe [Depeche Mode producer], Graeme Stuart [photographer], Matt Sladen [musician and producer] and Jagz Kooner [Primal Scream producer] has been truly a dream, they are all geniuses and we have loved working and forming relationships with these artists. Also, making music on our own terms is so satisfying, especially with the team and support network we have. We all have different strengths along with interests and ideas for how to actually make the record available from recording it to the item being available on the shelf. Original Wall Of Death Recordings is our own label and we are looking forward to putting other acts out on this too who share the same ethos as ourselves.”
S] If you could come up with a Frankenstien’s monster for the Officers’ sound, (for example, the head/synths of Depeche Mode, the body/drums of Placebo and the legs/bass of Salem), how would it be created?
M] “You are actually not far off there already! So, I would say: the head of Depeche Mode, the neck of The Cure, the chest of Placebo, the abdomen of Queens Of The Stone Age, the left arm of My Bloody Valentine, the right arm of Kraftwerk, the left leg of Salem, the right leg of Nine Inch Nails, the left foot of Death In Vegas and the right foot of Radiohead!”
For more information visit the official Officers website.