[sic] Magazine

Grammatics by Grammatics with…Grammatics.

When the Spaceman met the bass man. [sic Mag] went track-by-track on the Grammatics album with Rory O’Hara.

Shadow Committee

Brett Spaceman: This is a bit ‘Spaghetti Western’ at the intro. Was it unanimous to start the album with this track? It’s been a single and a fan favourite, right?

Rory O’Hara: I think it was the first song we wrote which we all thought was our kind of ‘accessible pop song’ – we released it as our first limited edition single in 2007 and have just re-released it in the hope more would pay attention to it, and I think that’s worked to an extent. Pretty much ever since we wrote it it’s always been the first song in our live set too, so it felt natural to put it first on the record.


Spaceman: The ‘Foals’ thing? Fair or unfair? Do you get that thrown at you a lot?

Rory: We wrote that song before we’d heard of Foals! We’re talking early 2006. With that song I guess I can see why people might draw similarities, but it doesn’t take much to realise that really we aren’t much like them. We do all really like Foals though so it’s at least positive to be compared to bands you admire. It’s when people start talking about Fall Out Boy that it gets unfair. That’s (and they are) bullshit.

Spaceman: ….and are the dots important? (Why not ‘Dilemma’ in other words?)

Rory: That was meant to be a reflection of the female voice in the intro saying the letters ‘D I L E M M A’. It’s got a strange feel that we thought was kind of interesting. I’ve seen myriad misspellings/mistyping of it and it’s not something that bothers us that much – it was just a kind of afterthought when we first recorded it.


Spaceman: This is a real croon. Where did you meet/find Owen?

Rory: I knew Owen very vaguely from school. He’s 5 or 6 years older than me (I’m 20) so we didn’t really know each other well then but I was a big fan of his old band, and eventually my band got to support them and we talked a bit. Then I played his acoustic night and he asked if I wanted to join his new band. Murderer was one of the songs he was playing at the time, just with a synth organ and programmed beats. He always says it was influenced by the Tsunami disaster in the Middle East a few years ago.


The Vague Archive

Spaceman: This is another example of a Grammatics track that goes all over the place with different phases and passages. Do you accept the ‘progressive pop’ tag? Do you write to deliberately achieve this effect or are you just being yourselves and seeing what comes out?

Rory: The Vague Archive was originally a demo that Owen wrote before we formed, and it was like 2 minutes long (ie. just the first part of the song you hear now). The slow, Nude-y bit on the end was something we developed in the practise room and then in the studio, feeling a need to add some depth to what we felt was a quick, relatively simple pop song.

I think we’re fairly comfortable with the ‘progressive pop’ tag. We’ve never tried to pursue any particular style or sub-genre – we came to the band with different experiences and influences, and each tried to stamp our own personal tastes on the music – but if ‘progressive pop’ implies a willingness to experiment and be open minded, then I’d agree. We’ve been referred to as ‘post-pop’ and ‘compli-pop’ (I think we might have made them up as a joke actually) and they’re both fine with us.

Broken Wing

Spaceman: I love this. I really do. Really shows the power of virtually acoustic guitars. We compared it to Sophia but I get Red House Painters and American Music Club connections coming through too.

Rory: Glad you like it. I’m not too familiar with any of those three but Owen and I are both big fans of Bright Eyes and Elliott Smith – you can hear double tracked acoustic guitar on the recording which was kind of Elliott Smith’s signature move.

Around the time we were getting together Owen really fell in love with the song Black Heart by Calexico too, and I think that had an influence when we were recording it. The song was actually written, like The Vague Archive and Murderer, before Grammatics was a band, so I couldn’t tell you what particularly influenced Owen when he wrote it.

Relentless Fours

Spaceman: “Everyone loves a breakdown”? What is Relentless Fours about? Submission? Time signatures?

Rory: I think it’s influenced by experiences of ‘the nightlife’ and everything that entails, but also about wanting to get away from it because it starts to control you – so I guess you could say it’s about submission to temptation. “There’s a hung over girl in bed, her head hits relentless fours/Her heart is an offbeat high hat, the body composes you don’t even know it.” That line gives the impression to me that you could be writing the music that you are going out to hear, something like that, but don’t hold me to it. Owen will probably smirk when he reads this.

and again

Inkjet Lakes

Spaceman: This is classy isn’t it? Kinda hypnotic. I like the strings on this album. You never overdo it, which I think is the key. And the girl singer, when she comes to the front it’s a bit of a Japanese effect, yes?

Rory: This song has some of my favourite sounds on the record. I love the electronic noises and the sound of the bass, and the groove of the drums. The bassline is really fun to play live too. The girl who sings on that song is called Laura Groves (aka Blue Roses) and she’s from West Yorkshire! But I guess I can see what you mean given the cleanness of her voice – when you say Japanese vocal I think of Deerhoof or Boredoms, which is probably throwing me off a bit.

Polar Swelling

Spaceman: This begins SO TV On The Radio. Very Dear Science. Are you fans? But the strings push the effect into twee 80’s territory. Like Shelleyan Orphan if you want an obscure ref point. I compared Owen to Morrissey in the review which he probably feels is outrageous but the ‘You found God’ part…..ah. Do you get what I mean?

Rory: We do really like TVOTR yeah. I stood behind their bassist when they played at Leeds Festival once. I remember one of us bought Return to Cookie Mountain when we were in Barcelona for Benicassim 2006 (as punters) and thought it was amazing, especially Wolf Like Me and I Was A Lover. Dear Science is cool too. Shelleyan Orphan sound interesting but I don’t think any of us had heard of them before.

Spaceman: Don’t get your hopes up.

Rory: The song was written around the Omnichord, which we had just started to use – our ex-keyboard player had one. When Owen gets hold of something new he tends to spend hours on hours with it (most recently it’s a Roland Juno 60) and this is something that came out of his obsession with new instruments.

It has one of my favourite lines – “Now that apathy’s been done to death/Let this verse serve as an epitaph”, and yeah, I get what you mean about Morrissey. Musically we are nothing like The Smiths, and most of the time Owen’s lyrics are cryptic and dreamlike, but there are flashes of ‘social commentary’, for want of a better expression, which can be really beautiful and haunting. The full line you mentioned is “you found God, found God and now I can’t afford your love, yet I am drunken with relief” – which puts a strange spin on it – you could take it as jealousy of God, or whatever you wanted. I don’t think any of us, Owen included, can really pin down a certain meaning there. It’s open to interpretation and that’s the beauty of it.

Rosa Flood

Spaceman: My promo misbehaves a bit during this one so I’m not qualified for a fully formed opinion. What I did hear reminded me of Mew, the Danish prog-popsters. Do you know their stuff at all?

Rory: I’m not a fan, they’re a bit before my time, but I know Owen and Dom are familiar with them. People in reviews I’ve read seem to miss the kind of afrobeat rhythm thing going on in this song, which to me is the focal point of the song! When we wrote it it felt really dancy, especially the second verse and big heavy loud bit at the end, but it was also around the time that afrobeat seemed to become a dirty word in the music rags. It turned out a bit more jagged than I expected and I think that’s been noticed more, especially by reviewers who might only listen to the first half or whatever, which is a lot more choppy. The song is named after a character from the excellent book The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis.

Cruel Tricks Of The Light

Spaceman: This one is very loose, almost freeform. Good sequencing. Here and on the album overall. It’s a good Idea to bring the tempo down before the end.

Rory: Cruel Tricks… was written relatively late, and a song that remained a solo acoustic arrangement until we got into the studio, where Owen put some of my Indian harmonium on it and some organ stuff. It’s really personal to Owen I think, and like you say, a welcome breather from some of the more dense stuff on the album.

The sequencing was something I have to say Dom and Owen put a lot of effort into, especially placing the interludes between the tracks. It was much discussed and I think we did a good job of it in the end, so it’s encouraging that people have picked up on it.

Swan Song

Spaceman: There’s a slightly sinister edge to Swan Song. I like Owens ‘Oooh’s. Clever. You always expect more. Very clever. And then there’s the ‘hidden’ track. (Long wait though!) You could go further down the road of stripped back piano couldn’t you? On the next, maybe?

Rory: There’s definitely a sinister thing going on in Swan Song. I remember thinking the line “in cahoots with the slim white lady” was really creepy when we were writing the song – probably the closest Owen’s lyrics have got to Nick Cave territory.

The hidden track was completely spontaneous – Owen was sat down putting some piano on another track and just started playing that out of nowhere. It’s something he does all the time – I’ve observed him writing songs for years now and it’s startling to me that he just plucks lyrics, besides the music, out of the ether. When I write songs I might have a few words until I’ve come up with something, but Owen comes out of nowhere with these fully formed lines. You do often see him humming into the recorder on his phone – he’s always writing vocal lines and I think the stuff he composes in his head sometimes just comes out unannounced, and that’s what happened with this piece.

I’m all for stripped back piano. Over the 5 months it took to record I basically taught myself to play piano by learning Radiohead and Thom Yorke’s piano songs. I can definitely see us trying out that side of things a lot more. Owen and I are trying to figure out how we can get a piano into our flat, so if that comes off you can definitely expect to hear a lot more on the next record!

Spaceman: How do you follow an album like Grammatics or aren’t you thinking about that at all yet?

Rory: There are so many different ways it could turn out. We have 5 or 6 new songs already in various stages of completion, and a lot of different sounds within them – some upbeat (we’ve been playing one that sounds like an A Tribe Called Quest cover at recent shows), some kind of slow, melancholy post-rock, some weird electronic stuff. I hope we can really challenge ourselves and move on – it feels like a very long time since we wrote some of the songs on Grammatics. I think we’ve got it in us to make a really great second album.

And so do we. [sic] Magazine thanks Rory and Grammatics.

Grammatics album review