Interview: Red Kite

This interview was originally published in Issue 22, April 2012. Words by Alice Slater, illustrations by Jhinuk Sarkar.

There have been whispered rumours fluttering around town about new act Red Kite, but let's start at the beginning and then skip to the end. once upon a time there was a band called The Cooper Temple Clause. They were loved and admired by music fans throughout the Kingdom until the fateful year of 2007 when the group disbanded. One little guitar-wielding birdie flew the alt-rock nest forever ... or so we thought. Roll on five years and our favourite fledging Daniel Fisher is back with a new band and a fresh sound to ruffle our feathers.

The band is, of course, Red Kite. Tipped by DrunkenWerewolf's Tiffany Daniels as part of our "Ones to Watch in 2012" feature earlier this year, Red Kite have kept their cards close to the chest since the rumour mill started grinding back in June. With a minimal Facebook page and - gasp! - no MySpace, Daniel Fisher is letting the music do the talking with freebie single "Montreal" (released via Bandcamp in December 2011).

So, as the endangered Red Kite was saved from extinction in the 1990s, Daniel Fisher is to be reintroduced to the British music scene via this awesome new outfit. Hold on to your hats as DrunkenWerewolf's Alice Slater sticks her beak into Daniel Fisher's business over a pint in Camden Town.

So, you started out as a librarian? In a way, yeah. I was a librarian for a while - three and a half years I did my stint in the library.

Why music, and why now? Well, I was a musician before and then the band I was in broke up. It wasn't a particularly good time, so I decided I was going to take some time out. I actually quit [music] completely. I was never going to do it again. I'd had some pretty bad experiences being in the music industry and with labels and things like that. I had a rough year - some stuff happened - and so I just started [playing] again for something to do.

I put my guitar back together - it was all rusted to buggery - and I took it apart and rebuilt it and started strumming away. next thing I know I'd written a bunch of songs. The first thing I did was send them to a friend of mine I was in the band with, Tom [Bellamy], and he said to me, "Dickhead, I've been waiting four years for this. Come down here and let's record some stuff." So, I went and did a couple of cheeky demos with him and they turned out alright.

I know comparisons between Red Kite and previous act The Cooper Temple Clause are inevitable, but how useful do you think they are? Does it get tiring to be constantly asked about your musical past? Obviously there's a lot of love for The Coopers and a lot of the people who are listening to Red Kite are Coopers fans, but it's really different stuff. The whole thing with that band was the fact that we all listened to completely different music, obviously a lot of electronic influences, etcetera. We were always trying to be a different band with every track... that was our appeal... whereas the stuff I'm doing now... I didn't have a plan, really. I didn't know if I was ever going to perform it live. My past is always going to be there and it's nice that there's a bit of love for it, but [Red Kite] is a very different beast, I think.

There's an almost phoenix-like quality tied to the name Red Kite, and the single "Montreal" is reflective of a different age and a different time. Is there a link between the two? Yeah, all the tracks are in that style. It's a very reflective album. It documents some tough times. Kind of getting my mojo back, I suppose, and that's reflected in a lot of the songs. This album almost wasn't a conscious choice. This album just had to happen, these songs had to be written. At one point I'd just pick up a guitar and every day I was writing a new track, which is unheard of at my level of productivity. I think we used to write about five tracks a year. I've mixed something like twenty tracks in about two or three months. Yeah, they're songs that just kind of had to come out. I didn't have too much of a say in it.

How did you come to team up with your bandmates? They were just friends that I've known in other bands over the years, and I knew they were all good players and good people, so I didn't think it would be a problem with them learning the stuff and getting along. We had one rehearsal before our first gig and everyone learnt the parts and then met each other at this rehearsal, and then we went off and did a gig. Since then it's gone from strength to strength. They're all really good players and they're into similar stuff so I knew it wouldn't be a problem. I had faith in them.

Are there any literary influences in your work? The biggest one for this album would probably be Ted Hughes. I was reading a lot of [his work] - Crow, I come back to time and time again. I feel it's a really mythical book. It's one of those books that if you try to describe what it's about, you'll miss the point. There's a musicality to certain writers, like Paul McCarthy, William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, that kind of arcane phrase and language that I like. When I'm writing, lyrically, it's all about the musicality of the words which I think is what draws me to those kind of writers rather than, say, Jack Kerouac, who a lot of people like but not my cup of tea. Very studied, painterly writing appeals to me. Ted Hughes, as far as literary influence, is definitely the biggest for this album.

You already mentioned that Tom Bellamy produced your demos. Was he involved in the production of any other tracks on the album? Yeah, he's produced everything. I did everything with him. He's a life saver, really. I owe pretty much anything that will ever happen to Red Kite to him coming along and saving my proverbial bacon. It's good to work with him because obviously we've worked together for years. In The Coopers there was a kind of tension between what I liked and what he liked, which is obviously very different, and that's what made The Coopers. He was great on this. We just sit back and be like, "I know the kind of stuff you like, let's try to capture that kinda vibe" and yeah, I'm just really comfortable working with him. It was all recorded in his dining room, which you can do nowadays, in his place in [North London]. He was living in some run down, decrepit house, two burnt out houses either side. Ideal for us because there were no neighbours.

And do you think that's an important quality for a producer to have? Someone who really gets what you're aiming for, but also where you've come from? The most important thing is that you're comfortable working with them. There's an intuitive thing between us where he'd be fiddling around with something and I'd be like, "hmm, I don't like how that sounds", but I know to leave him because he's trying to get something. He'd be sat in his chair doing something and I'd be sat in a chair behind him and I'd just sit and wait for him to spin around and say "What d'you think of that?" Until then, I'd wait for him to finish what it was he was trying to capture, and 90% of the time it was great by the time he turned around, after he'd gone through a couple of awful sounds. He's a genius as well - he can think of stuff that I can't think of. I think the most important thing is that kind of intuition: being comfortable working with someone, being able to make mistakes and do bad stuff in pursuit of trying something different. That's definitely the most important thing about working with him.

What have you learnt from the mistakes you've made whilst producing this album? I've learnt that I can kind of play drums, but just not all at the same time. I'm a better drummer if I play each individual thing and then put it all together. Vocally, it took a long time for me to get comfortable... this is the first time I've properly sung everything upfront so getting over that initial worry of how my voice sounded, and [Tom] helped a lot with that. Over the recording of the demos, I've pretty much had to relearn how to sing. With The Coopers, I tended to just sing acoustic stuff, but with Red Kite, musically it's more ambitious. I couldn't just hum a quiet little cracked vocal melody over the top, y'know? It had to be something deserving of the music, so that took a while. I guess also knowing what to leave out. There's a tendency to throw everything at a track. Stripping stuff back works a lot better sometimes. Knowing what to leave out is something I've definitely learnt across this whole process.

Do you feel the same way with lyrics? Is less more? I tend to write myself a lot of words which I have trouble remembering. I don't just go for repeating the first verse again and again. I think that's kind of lazy. I tend to agonise over lyrics. They can take days. Music can come together in a day, but you can spend days agonising over lyrics. Although, having said that, "Gathering Storm" came in twenty minutes so there's no set formula. You know when you've done something good enough for the music. I actually rewrote "Montreal". I went in and sang, and Tom and I were kind of like, "Yeah, yeah, it's good, stick with it" and then I went home and I text him later on saying, "It's not good enough, is it?" and he just said, "No." So I rewrote it. You have an inkling whether it's right for the track.

Was Red Kite's sound was the natural result of experimentation, or was it more consciously crafted? Was it an organic process? The first few tracks were more acoustic tracks and as the project went on, I grew more ambitious with what I wanted to do. Out of the first demos we did, I think maybe only one of them is going to make the album. The last one we did in that session was "Gathering Storm", and we were like, "Wow, that's raised the bar a bit." And then the next one we did was "Montreal", and so it went from me thinking it was going to be little solo record that had a bit of a Grandaddy or Bright Eyes vibe, to being this quite expansive thing. I started, probably against all better judgement, experimenting with two drum kits. One of my favourite bands of all time is a band from Canada called Do Make Say Think. I love the skittery rhythms they used to use and so we did that. "Gathering Storm" uses two drum kits - that's very simple, just pounding out that beat - and "Montreal" uses two drum kits playing off each other, which our drummer enjoyed trying to mix into one beat [laughs]. He plays an amalgamation of it, although when we can set them up onstage we do play with two drummers. We did a show in Reading with two drummers. We're playing Reading later on [this year] and we're going to have two drummers there. It's kind of dictated by stage size really. So yeah, it all just got more ambitious, and once I'd written a couple of tracks with two drummers, I thought I might as well do loads of other ones and it kind of grew from there.

How did you select "Montreal" as your first single? Well, we kind of knew straight away. That has something about it, and we thought it was quite a good intro in general to what we do. There's a lot of variation between the tracks, but that's a good starting point. It has a good energy about it that just said "first single" so we went with it.

You also decided to release it as a free download. What lead you to that decision? It's a weird time for music. The whole game's changed now, with the internet and with YouTube and stuff. One of the great things about now is that you don't need a studio to do an album. You don't need a label to come along and build you a website. You can reach people on your own to start with, and you can make an album on your own, which is great. The downside is that when you're actually trying to find someone to help put the album out and really make it reach a big audience, you're expected to have done it all already yourself. I think I've learnt more about the music industry doing this in the last six months than I did in my entire career with The Coopers as I've had to do it all on my own. That's recording it, getting the mixes done, all the videos I make myself. It's a tricky time, I think. Also, it's kind of saturated as well because anyone can release music. It's harder to find decent stuff. But I just figured, it's an introduction to the band and when people get involved early on you want to thank them and show them that it's appreciated that they've been looking out for you and they've found you and they like what you do. We did release it on a vinyl as well, which you could buy if you wanted to get in early and spend a couple of pennies to get something very limited edition, so that's there as well, but we didn't want any impediment to people being able to listen to it early on. "Gathering Storm", I think, we'll release on iTunes. That's going to be the next single (April 30th).

I guess things are very different now, because The Coopers split in 2007, which was pre-Twitter, and Facebook was only just a thing. It was all MySpace back then.

Yeah, retro! Are you finding that you're closer to your initial fanbase because, through Twitter and Facebook, you're communicating with them in a new way? It may seem unfashionable these days, but I try to keep a bit of distance there because I always liked bands that were a bit enigmatic. I like looking up to musicians and finding them these mysterious, otherworldly figures. I mean, I'm not suggesting in any way, shape or form that I'm that at all - I'm quite the opposite. The Libertines really started it; they were great at having that kind of connection with their fans. You have to be that kind of gregarious personality that does that anyway so that's why I don't bother. Other people turn around and say, "You should do a blog as well," but it just feels forced. I think people who're good at blogging are just blogging anyway. People who are like that, and have that kind of relationship with fans... that's just who they are. I'm a far more introverted person. I like a bit of mystery, a little bit of distance. It suits what we do, it suits the music. So, it's hard to say whether I think it brings you closer to your fanbase. I guess we'll find out when I get more of a fanbase.

You mentioned Reading, but can we expect to see Red Kite at any other festivals this year? It's hard because, obviously, what with us keeping such a low profile, we're still trying to see if we can get anything. I'd love to do Secret Garden Party just because it's bizarre. It's not historically a festival you go to for the great line ups, but it'd save me the price of a ticket [laughs]. But obviously any chance to do any festival would be great. We'll just have to see what comes along. We're looking into it at the minute, trying to see if we can get on any bills. Hopefully with the new single coming out in April, that'll help that, but it's still at the formative stages with no concrete plans yet.

The question on everyone's lips: is there a release date for the album yet? Not yet, no. There's an album done, but it's one of those things: you'll always write new tracks so what I think is the album now might not be the album in six months' time. There's an album's worth of material and at the moment it's doing the rounds, trying to get a home. I'd like to see it come out by the end of the year, so fingers crossed that'll happen. If not: early next year.

Do you have a working title? I don't at the moment, because originally it was going to be called Red Kite Songs, but I didn't have a band name. I thought it's more important to have a decent band name, so I took Red Kite. Now I just have the songs left.

Red Kite plays Surya, London on April 25th.

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3 Responses to “Interview: Red Kite”

  1. dave wheatley 23/08/2013 at 11:45 am #

    Are Red Kite and Type Two Error competing to see who is the mostest secret….loved the Coopers but only heard of you lot today….best of luck Dave

    • Tiffany Daniels 23/08/2013 at 6:51 pm #

      Yep, takes a bit of digging to find them eh? From what I can tell, they’re pretty much all involved in other projects now with the possible exception of Kieran Mahon.

      Did you see this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of9Ohvxztok

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  1. Red Kite release new video + album details and UK dates | DRUNKENWEREWOLF - 10/10/2013

    […] musical project headed by Dan Fisher of the late Cooper Temple-Clause, Drunken Werewolf previously interviewed Red Kite's progenitor back in 2012. The new album was initially made available to fans via a Pledge […]

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