Site icon The Third Eye

A Conversation with Tablets about Recording their New EP, the Liverpool Music Scene, and Australian Sheep

Hello, readers of The Third Eye!! You may remember reading a recently posted album review for the band Tablets. Today we go one step further with this Liverpool-based group and get the lowdown on them, and their Sun EP direct from them!! This may be a long read, as each member added their thoughts to the questions, so grab a drink, sit down, and dive into the world of Tablets!!

Interview with Tablets

Tom (Third Eye) – Being from Liverpool must add a certain amount of influence to your music. Can you give us some insight into that and the bands that have been part of shaping your sound?

Dom – Essentially, we’re influenced by music made almost anywhere in the world, but to say Liverpool wasn’t influential on our music would be pretty ludicrous. Some of our favorite musicians ever either came from Liverpool or live in Liverpool. Almost any night of the week, it’s possible to go and see some truly incredible musicians, all from different musical backgrounds.

Bingo – Dom is a bottomless encyclopedia of knowledge regarding psychedelic rock and sixties and seventies music, so there are likely tons of influences in there with regard to psychedelic music that I don’t know anything about. But at the same time, he writes all his songs on a nylon string acoustic guitar, and then it gets translated into our four-piece band, and then we play to the maximum of our limitations, which are endless.

It’s also the case that I’m not personally too arsed about what’s currently going on in Liverpool because, for me, I find it to be a bit of a musical dead-end and far too challenging to make anything happen there, like getting decent gigs or getting paid to play them, but I live in the hope of things improving. We do at least have a certain license to connect ourselves to a continuum of music that has come out of the city, starting with sea shanties in the 1800s into skiffle.

The Beatles and the Merseybeat scene (The Remo 4 being a group I enjoyed listening to recently, that I thought we were a little similar to) and then on and on through the seventies, eighties, and nineties, where there was a constant stream of acts pumping out hits, like The La’s, then you had the Cosmic Scouse scene around the turn of the millennium, one of the hidden influencers of that scene, if you know about it, is a group called The Living Brain who are favorites of ours and influential to us as individuals, and particularly me because their drummer James kind of inspired me to start drumming too.

They put out a couple of brilliant records in the nineties, especially brilliant for an unsigned band getting the job done themselves. The three of us in the backline were also influenced by what Dom and his other Liverpool bands, like Zukanican, were doing ages before we started making music together, so you might say the band influenced itself.

Fash – I also adore and am inspired by Joe Meek, the pioneer of home recording and creating whacked-out insane sounds from a 2 bed flat above a leather goods shop in London and soon to have the most extensive collection of demo tapes released to the world via cherry Red records who have acquired his 2000 plus “tea chest tapes.”

B – Oh yeah, Joe Meek used to be big in my thoughts too, and I used to like making whacked-out takes of his futurism and space-ism when I was recording local bands and demos. And the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop dudes, and King Tubby, Scientist, like dub stuff like Trojan and Whackies. We didn’t actually get too weird with the production tricks on this record at all, preferring to just do a fairly clean output of our band playing pretty straight this time around. Oh, and we love krautrock, and second-hand scouse takes on krautrock too; that should probably go without saying on the jamming front, but there I said it. It’s fun to play.

Beng – I’d maybe just add for myself that I think the sensibilities of repetition and not being overly precious about getting a perfect take over one that sounds good and captures the energy of the band for me is very much taken for the likes of the fall or can or cluster although our music does have a more psychedelic edge which is a tricky thing to balance well. Luckily having drilled these songs out at length and even ad nauseam at some points means that we really have a great command over how the songs should be played. This differed between band members, but luckily for us, it all came together to make something we could all get on board with and enjoy playing and listening to.

Capturing an Organic Sound

Third Eye – As for the album, it seems to have a very organic sound throughout it. What was the process behind getting that sound in the digital age?

D – There’s something primitive about us, in many ways, and that’s an asset for us. Some people can’t believe we could be so basic and yet be turned on by the weirdness of it all because there are genuine complexities within. I don’t think it matters whether digital or analog because that kind of approach to sound, in general, will always cut through.

B – As the blurb mentions, the EP was recorded at the SSL Studio at the University of Liverpool, where I’m doing a Masters’s degree in the philosophy of contemporary culture and musical innovation (or rather investigating the lack of it in the contemporary sphere). Studying at the Department of Music there gave us access to the recording studios. While we’d tried various schemes to record using our own equipment, we could never really afford microphones. Audio interfaces that were good enough to do the job properly – recording a drum kit can be really hard, for example, because not only do you need good microphones and preamplifiers, you also need a good acoustic space, or at least somewhere to configure into one, and financial and spatial restraints in Liverpool mean that we’ve not been able to make this happen, even though we’d love our own place to perform and use as our own 24/7 studio, something we’ve kind of had in the past before we became Tablets.

It’s also the case that our paying a pile of money to go into a private, professional studio didn’t seem like a viable prospect either due to how much time we’d need to get the job done, so we transitioned from practicing weekly to recording weekly at the university studio, which we could book for three hours at a time. If we booked at, say, 6.30pm, we could generally stay there recording until 11pm when it closes, and the security guards would do their rounds and boot us out.

So we recorded this EP over several evenings in October and November 2022 by mic-ing everything up with amazing microphones like University’s Neumann U87s and AKG C414s and AEA ribbons, isolating the guitar amplifiers (we were able to hire Vox AC30s from the University stores, which are the amplifiers the Beatles used) and DIY-ing the bass straight into the mixing board, then playing in headphones gathered around the drum kit in the live recording room. This was about the first time we’ve managed to get really high-quality, clean, isolated signals ready for mixing properly (so the resulting tracks aren’t covered in weird frequencies and phase irregularities) despite being together in one form or another for about twelve years, on and off – mostly off before getting together to play again in the past 12-18 months.

But if you’re talking about the “organic sound,” then that’s probably from the fact that we recorded it while all playing together in the room and purposefully avoided doing complicated editing and endless overdubs of guitars, which leads it to have a style more like records of the sixties and seventies, before people started making rock records piecemeal by cobbling together edited parts perfectly inside a computer, like they were totting up numbers in a spreadsheet.

We’re really happy with how the record came out – it probably sounds better than it deserves to be given the conditions it was mixed under but recording through nice microphones and into top-quality equipment definitely helped. That you’d like it enough to buy it, review it, and enjoy it is brilliant, so thank you, it really means a lot to us.

Recording ‘Sunshine’

Third Eye – My favorite two tracks are “Sunshine” and “Sunshine (Jam),” particularly the jam. There are a lot of sounds on it, and since your Bandcamp profile implies that Tablets is a one-man band, how did you go about creating such an incredible jam version with the array of instruments that were used?

Dom – Tablets is definitely not a one-man band, and every member gets a more liberal role as time goes on. “Sunshine” is something we’ve always loved to play live, and much of the recordings were as live as you can get without actually being the traditional idea of a ‘live’ take. All four of us were in the same room playing together but had amps in separate rooms and were on headphones. We added other things afterward, but less than might be apparent.

Rhys – Haha, all that being implied is a bit of a silly joke we perhaps should have explained better; we’re a four-piece band (see sidebar on Bandcamp). It’s a comment on music publishing and copyright because if we were to publish it, Dom would get all the royalties for coming up with the riff and bones of the jam as its “songwriter,” but he couldn’t possibly jam that out on his own, it requires all four of us, so leads to questions of what songwriting is, i.e., a drummer gets no credit for writing their drum part, and the bass player could make or break the track, but everything Fash plays is always brilliant and solid, so the track couldn’t work without his unique input.

When we were recording, we “rolled the tape” in the control room and sat down to warm up, and that jam came out as we first started getting ready to do takes of a different song, with us all playing in headphones around the drum kit. Capturing a jam can be hard to do because every time you’re recording, you’re kind of playing “on purpose,” so it can be hard to be spontaneous and say, “right, let’s record a jam” because it tends not to work, you have to just get into the habit of always rolling before you purposefully start playing to record, then the spontaneity gets captured. And you have to accept that how you played it that day is the take you’ll have to use.

“Sunshine” and “Sunshine (Jam)” was recorded in basically the same way – both tracks are our band playing as a four-piece, and “Sunshine (Jam)” is our band playing live and totally unadulterated; the only effects you hear are some backward effects from Dom’s digital multi-effects unit as he’s playing through it, but none of the jam was particularly planned out, that’s just how we felt that day.

“Sunshine” itself is a six-minute take on the same idea, just with this version, we overdubbed the vocals and then added a synth and a piano part in a rush when we were finishing because we had quite limited time constraints in the recording studio at the University of Liverpool,

Oh, then while mixing “Sunshine,” we did a few weird things with vocal sampling and granular synthesis to fill the jam section with vocal snippets to make the track a touch more bonkers when played back loud. It’d be good to hear it played on a PA system, so play it loud if you can so you can bathe in the sound of it. In fact, “Sunshine (Jam)” could have easily not ended up on the record; it was only when I was in the control room in the studio and found it at the start of a bunch of takes that we decided to include it, having listened to it back on the huge £40,000 Dynaudio studio monitors at an excessive volume that I realized we’d caught something great and played it for the others.

I particularly like what happens at the end in the final sixty seconds to close it out because that was totally unique and spontaneous and not a part/ending we’d ever played before, but it is occurring, and us realizing that’s how it was ending turns out to be my favourite part of the track.

Across the universe

Third Eye – I saw that the lyrical content is about the sun and other things as well. Could you tell us a bit about them, their inspiration, what they mean to you, and what you hope listeners derive from your words?

Dom – The sun is something one can consider the most powerful thing in the universe or something that simply comes up and goes down once a day, just like a band, but I’d personally like people to find a playful depth in proceedings. For example, “Sunshine” is based on a story about a man locking his girlfriend in a cupboard, quite a dark thing, whereas “I Am the Sun” is literally just about the sun going about his day. In “We’ll Meet Again,” it appears only reverentially in an attempt to capture an early beat group vibe…as for “Gregory vs. The Red Herring,”…what can I say!?! That song is basically a list of song lyrics, titles, artist names, and even record labels, which is how the sun got in that one! That song was written in about as long as it takes to listen to, and it is a gem to play and much tougher than one would think.

Third Eye – I also saw that you were funded by The John Lennon Memorial Scholarship. This made me wonder if Yoko and Sean handpick the winners and what they said about the music you create.

B – It’s a bit of a long story we don’t want to go into too much detail. Lennon family money did actually fund this record into existence in a direct and totally roundabout way. They didn’t handpick any winners – it’s an academic scholarship, not a musical or songwriting one, but you could also say that this record was cutting-edge research into twenty-first century Beat music at the University of Liverpool because that’s exactly what it’s being used for.

D – That’s yet to happen regarding Yoko & Sean, but the question does give us ample opportunity to illustrate just how much of a band this actually is. We all lead very different lives, and Bingo leads one that puts him in high academic circles, mastering one thing to the next and never forgetting how it was mastered in the first place. Fortunately, he got the scholarship, and so the band entered that orbit, too…it just happens that way for Bingo! I couldn’t really describe what it means to me… it’ll be with me forever.

Animals, planets, and outsiders

Third Eye – Going with the previous question, the Tablets logo is reminiscent of The Beatles in terms of the font used. Was this an intentional nod to the Fab 4?

B – Well, it’s not an accidental nod to them, is it? TABLETS is almost an anagram of BEATLES, but we only noticed that after picking the Tablets name, after changing from our old name. It’s a little bit of a joke about our psychedelic music being for people nowadays more likely to be taking strong prescription pills rather than fun club drugs like LSD. But Tablets also just means Tablets, whatever that means for you, and the nod would more likely be a headbutt aimed in our direction if John Lennon was around because we can never and will never be in the same league as the Fab Four. It is a bit of a piss-take on our part, though, because at least three of us are major piss-takers.

D – Initially, the name wasn’t a nod to the Fab 4 and just a joke about our music, but we realized some of the synchronicities of the whole thing. We all have a love for The Beatles, hence Bingo’s scholarship, and I write for a fanzine about them (Teatles Magazine), but I think Beng is the only one who’s actually been in a room with a Beatle (even spoke to a Beatle!?!), which leaves Fash, who’s probably the most like a Beatle out of all of us! Thank you, Beatles!

Third Eye – The album cover is also quite unique and psychedelic in nature. What was the inspiration behind it, and who, if not you, were responsible for creating it?

Fash – The drummer captured the photo of the dead sheep in Australia. The guitarist arranged the picture and font from hazy Liverpool. And I fucked with the image via the process of “glitching” from a Beatles-themed hut on the edge of a blue lagoon on an island in Thailand (not even kidding).

D – We’d toyed with obvious covers for it, like sun-based ones, and went as far as all taking pictures of the sun at roughly the same time from wherever we were, but it wasn’t representing what we were actually up to as individuals as much as we might’ve liked. We’d thought about it for a while, but it came together quickly once we started. It’s basically three different covers we liked…how do you get from the sun via a sheared sheep head to a psychedelic gig!?! We seem to have a thing about animal parts, planets, and outsider notions.

B – I was in Australia just before Christmas, and the idea of photographing the sun on the solstice at the farm I was staying at didn’t happen because it turned cloudy that day. Then I found myself in a shearing shed in a place called Glenhope, Victoria, amidst a professional sheep shearing operation, and one of the sheep, as he was inverted while getting his fleece removed by a burly shearer, looked at me really deeply and pensively as if he was contemplating the existential paradoxes inherent in our mutuality, so I snapped a picture of his face with my smartphone and then sent it to Fash to make it all psychedelic with his art gadgets. And Beng put a sun where the sheep’s eye is. So, we all contributed a little to the task of TCB because the cover art was threatening to turn into a headache and just needed sorting.

Beng – The artwork was mainly a happy accident. After throwing the idea around for a few days and not really landing anywhere all the Tab Four were happy with, I quickly added the logo to a picture of a sheep’s head Bingo had sent over while shearing sheep on his walkabout through metropolitan Australia. Fash applied his glitchy business to it, and miraculously the Sun EP cover was born.

There you go… four vaguely consistent takes on what might have happened in making the cover image.

A thing to behold

Third Eye – Despite being a one-man project, are there any plans to recruit some musicians and possibly play this material on the stage at some point? It would be quite something for concertgoers to see in a live setting.

D – We’ve already done a brace of live gigs but have rarely had the chance to play the ones we want to play. We need a decent p.a. and venue to highlight all that, but we haven’t had much luck. We’ve had some excellent feedback from the few gigs we’ve done, and that’s been on the fly because we really hadn’t been playing together for long considering the mass of material we chose to play. We decided to learn more songs rather than master eight and play them religiously and had known something like 24-30 in the few months before we first played out.

B – It’s not a one-man project; we’re a four-piece band and play small shows in Liverpool and its environs. Hopefully, this record can get us bigger shows and gigs outside Liverpool. Our band has two sides to it – one where we play more pop-song-based material, such as We’ll Meet Again and Dirty Mac, and the other where we play longer jams and get much more experimental, exploring the themes in our songs over a much longer duration. It would be good to get shows in psychedelic clubs and venues receptive to experimental jamming where we can explore this side of our band more because we can’t really do it when playing thirty-minute sets. I’m in Australia right now, so it would be nice to have the money to fly the band here one day because I feel like we’d be better appreciated and get better gigs in Melbourne than we ever do in Liverpool. But I/we don’t have the spare £10,000 to make that a reality at the moment.

Beng – Tablets live is a thing to behold. It never comes out as rehearsed, for better or for worse. Live outings are anything but smooth, making for interesting viewing, and there’s plenty of energy coming out from the stage.

Other creative outlets

Third Eye – My last question is about any other projects you may have; basically, what else do you do in terms of a creative outlet or any plans for further releases under the Tablets moniker?

D – All four of us are around music outside this project, from solo home recordings to bands being played on BBC Radio 6 (England’s go-to alternative radio channel), so it’s never far away. There’s something quite captivating about this particular project, though, and it splits opinions. Some think it’s a novelty, and I get that, but an Egyptian shopkeeper’s feelings of victimization because his sales of flapjacks are not going well can still be told with genuine sincerity. All four of us can write our own music that’s well within the Tablets realm, and there’s so much scope…the dream of a vinyl release is also always there, so who knows!?!

B – We’d like to get a couple more EPs recorded and then combine all three EPs into an album with a few additional tracks by the time we lose access to the studio in Liverpool in September 2023. It’ll take a lot of time and effort on our part to make that happen, but the good thing about recording is that once it’s done, it’s done forever, mainly once it’s uploaded to Bandcamp and YouTube and just sits there, playable for all time. I’ve made other music for years, but at the moment, I’m primarily interested in non-fiction writing as my primary creative outlet.

I think there’s likely too much recorded music in the world already, even though I still enjoy making more. And Dom is in a heap of other great bands he’s not telling you about. Fash makes tons of music at home, which we’re always stunned by when he plays it to us; on rare occasions, he delights us with selections from his deep archives. I know he’ll make a brilliant solo record one day, maybe even as his pseudonym Denny Coyne is backed by the Tablets.

Third Eye – I’d just like to close by thanking you once again; we at The Third Eye appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions for supplying us with such great music!!!

Tablets – Thank you, Master Tom, and Third Eye, too. If ever we’re in Tennessee, we’ll be sure to drop by and eat all your mangoes!

Support Tablets by checking out their Bandcamp or finding them on Instagram.

This interview was done by Tom Hanno, who has been writing reviews for the last 7 years but has been sharing his love of music for the majority of his life. Originally starting out at the now defunct Chimera Magazine, he is currently contributing to Doomed and Stoned, The Sleeping Shaman, The Doom Charts, Tom’s Reviews, and The Third Eye. Read more of Tom’s reviews by checking out his Linktree.

Exit mobile version