The concept of musical collaboration has often bore the sweetest and strangest of fruits. Collaborative ‘indie music' is not a genre with many contributions but invariably, the quality makes up for the lack of quantity – Mark Linkous’ Dark Night of the Soul being the most recent and worthy example.
BNQT (pronounced ‘Banquet’) is the result of what happened when Eric Pulido of Midlake brought together Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Fran Healy of Travis, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses and Mark Linkous collaborator and Grandaddy vocalist, Jason Lytle.
Having just released their critically acclaimed debut album Volume 1, we caught up with Eric Pulido to discuss love and kinship, the logistics of songwriting via email and his embarrassment of Donald Trump.
Q. Hi Eric, please paint us a picture – where are you right now and what have you been up to today.
I’m outside walking in Texas. For the sake of the interview I’m making a small sacrifice and stepping indoors to get clear of the wind.
Q. What were your reasons for setting up BNQT?
We were touring with Midlake and at the latter part of the cycle when we got talking about harbouring the Midlake ship and starting up another project – one that we wanted to be collaborative as I always loved the idea of partnering together with other musicians. I had a blast making and producing a record with John Grant so the whole idea of bringing people together to create music got me really excited.
As a singer, I always admired The Band’s idea of trading lead vocals around the band and giving everyone a go. The idea of there being no one lead singer was something that intrigued me. I wanted to conjure all of those things together to create a group.
I didn’t know how people would respond but when I began the process of approaching people and throwing ideas around of what I wanted to do there was great feedback. The fundamental desire was to make great music with musicians that I admired and was excited to work with.
Q. As the band members for BNQT are spread all over the world, can you tell us a bit about the writing and recording process?
So, I guess a good example would be when Fran [Healy of Travis] and Jason [Lytle of Grandaddy] came to town. When we spoke and organised the trip we’d kind of agreed that they would bring a couple of songs – anything really so long as there was an idea or a structure of a song.
When they arrived we just got together and got jamming and worked it out in a really organic way – it reminded me of just being a kid and simply getting together with people and making music. It wasn’t like we were trying to be Midlake or Travis or Grandaddy or Band of Horses or Franz Ferdinand.
That was refreshing for everyone I think – there were no set prescriptions or pressures to work in a particular way or within the confines of a particular sound. The way we produced the album had nothing to do with our own bands, it was just taking and working on songs in the purest way.
With Ben [Bridwell of Band of Horses] and Alex [Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand] they sent their demos over email and we re-created the song in Texas. I’d record myself doing the vocals (doing my best impersonation of each singer) so that we’d get an idea of how the song was progressing and then send that back over via email. They’d then send us notes and ideas and we just keep going back and forth until it was ready for the final vocal recording. After all that, the only thing left was to weave it all together.
Q. What was it about Alex, Fran, Jason and Ben and their respective bands that drew you to them for this project?
Before I knew any of them I was, first and foremost, a fan of their music. When you are privileged enough to travel the world and play music you get to know many different people. In terms of touring and playing festivals, you are away from your family and home comforts and you do develop a kind of kinship and a new kind of music family.
For me, I always wanted to take this relationship to a new level – not just be friends but to make music and work together on different projects. That whole idea was the motivation for approaching these people and I feel very blessed that we got it to work out.
Q. There are many collaborative projects across many different musical genres – hip hop being (perhaps) the best example. There are not many comparative examples in the ‘indie music’ world. What are your thoughts on this?
I think collaborative projects in the ‘indie world’ are always in danger of being wrapped up in the narrative of ‘supergroup’. We never saw this project as creating an ‘indie supergroup’ (as has been quoted) or taking over the world or anything like that. It was just a progression of a mutual love and respect and whatever comes of that is organic and it’s natural.
It’s cool to hear feedback from all sorts of different fans and of course, it wasn’t like I was oblivious to the idea that mixing different artists from different places would bring all of these different fans together – that’s a really cool thing and I think people from indie bands should be doing a lot more collaborations because everything is now set up to do so.
Q. Give us your thoughts on Trump’s America.
For starters, I’m embarrassed that Donald Trump is our president.
I think we’ve become very extreme in how we desire representation – we either want this extreme viewpoint or the other extreme viewpoint. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. I think we’ve lost reason and compassion and empathy and Donald trump is a product of all these things.
For the arts community - our response to this situation is to ensure that we just keep creating. Do not let fascism or any sort of oppressive force stop people creating and loving and communicating. Letting the activity of creating be the reply to those who want to silence and to suffocate.
Of course, we could all get on our #resist messages but it’s also important to be active – active in the sense of getting out there and standing up for things and trying to effect change. It’s also about being for something – not just resisting something but advocating the possibility of changing things for the better. Not just through rhetoric or ‘clickitivism’ but through actual engagement with the issues we face every day.
Q. What’s the rest of 2017 look like for you?
We’re about to start a Volume 2 with BNQT later this year and next week I’m starting a solo record. Midlake is still happening – we all live close and stay active and show love for each other. I’m doing a pretty good impression of looking prolific!
For the rest of the year? I guess it’s all about just trying to age well.