trish keenan from broadcast
today (28 september 1968) is the birthday of the leading lady of broadcast, trish keenan, who passed away in 2011. when I went to her birmingham flat on a warm spring day in may 2001, I found a warm, lovely and smart person who was far friendlier than her onstage persona might have suggested. she was charming and candid and I feel lucky to have met her. we are sharing this interview from our 14th print issue (we have a few copies left btw).
interview by gail o’hara
chickfactor: what was your best experience at this year’s all tomorrow’s parties? any revelations? were you there for the whole thing?
trish: no, we missed the first night. I didn’t actually, I didn’t like anything. I think because if you’re down front you can get the best sound in that room—it’s not a great room. I don’t think it’s a great place to hold gigs at all [pontin’s in camber sands]. the biggest revelation for me and it’s nothing to do with music, is that there was damp in the chalets. the bands get the best of the chalets, but when I went down to a friend’s chalet who paid 100 pounds for a ticket, it was damp and it smelled. and I thought to myself, god, poor british families save up all year round for this holiday? it’s the granny and the kids and it’s supposed to encompass something for everybody and it’s just a damp chalet. there were lots of americans there, and I thought, what must they all be thinking? steve from tommy boy was with us and you know that entrance with the big blue sign, and I heard him in the back of the van going, “fucking hell.” I was like, “yeah, you’re right, it is fucking hell.” I didn’t see many bands; I had a good time. the bands I did see, I was right at the back and it was terrible sound so I didn’t get to see the best of television. couldn’t see all of yo la tengo’s set because we were on before them and we were packing up.
cf: if you curated one of those, who would you invite to play?
trish: they’re all dead. I’ve love for joe meek to play. I’d do a joe meek night, so you’ve got glenda collins and the tornados and what have you. a phil spector night. they should do a producers weekend—that’s what I’d like. three, four nights of just one thing. then maybe a little talk afterwards about how we recorded…
cf: any living producers you’d want to be there? I guess phil spector still works…
trish: good question, I don’t really… in the 50s and 60s when producers were the new phenomenon, they had one sound and they weren’t worried about what the bands wanted and how they wanted to sound, which is what the producers nowadays seem to be more concerned with—they want the band to be happy, which is good. back then, you came as a musician or vocalist to fit in with the producer’s sound. that’s what made it so interesting, that’s what made it one thing, like the spector group, and it had so many connections—the brill building singer-songwriters, and all these fantastic singers could come in and sing their songs. it was almost like this network—it was just like the beatles were. it was like an institute of songwriters and no. 1s and top 20 hits…
cf: surely britney spears is following in that tradition….
trish: see, I like the song but I don’t like the artist. “I did it again” was a phenomenal, amazing song and brilliant vocal performance but she’s crap. she’s crap. I can’t have that.
cf: it’s just a sequel of the formula.
trish: it’s like “oops, I did it again, I wrote the last song again and got a no. 1.” the idea of producers now, I think the bands have got far too much power in the recording studio now. a producer’s job is to somehow throw a net over the five band members’ ideas somehow bring them together. whereas I prefer the producer to go “shut the fuck up and play this.” then you’ve got one mind pushing the whole thing forward. there’s nothing worse than having five babbling voices all wanting to be the greatest thing.
cf: is that how broadcast is?
trish: well, you know, every band can get like that. even if you’re putting a magazine together and everyone has their own ambitions for what they want out of it and you have to be able to compromise. with the producers of the 60s there was no compromise. it was one thing and you joined it, you fitted in with it.
cf: what is the most ridiculous assessment of broadcast that you’ve read?
trish: “futuristic von trapp family.” sometimes writers come up with these things, and it was maybe before the broadcast gig even happened.
cf: what is the best fan gift you’ve gotten?
trish: I have a crocheted brooch. I don’t get things thrown up onstage very often, that’s why I remember the brooch.
cf: what do your fans look like?
trish: it’s quite a mixture actually. ha ha ha. I suppose the one type I’ve come across more than any other is this short, small gay computer or website type guy. I don’t know why. I wouldn’t say they’re nerds. when I meet these people, I say “I know he’s gay and I bet he works in computers,” and it will come out and I think “how bizarre.”
cf: you’re a total heartthrob with straight boys.
trish: I don’t think so. I’m not getting hassled by anybody. boys aren’t like that. girls have got that kind of… especially from 17 to early 20s, if you’re into pop music and chart music, it seems like the girl fans will throw their all at you and they don’t care, they’ve got the confidence. they don’t care if they’re pushed back. boys are different. a girl fronting a band, you don’t get it so much. you just wouldn’t get a group of boys screaming at a girl—it’s just not in their nature.
cf: were you a fangirl at 17?
trish: I was probably just getting into the smiths. coming out of bowie and all the glam 70s things. I was a big bowie fan from about 13 to 16. it’s the age I was growing up. when I started school it was 1980. it was all new romantic stuff as well. I remember throwing myself at morrissey one time; I got up onstage and tried…I don’t know what I tried to do.
cf: he’s very magnetic.
trish: he’s fantastic.
cf: where is broadcast most famous?
trish: san francisco. that’s where we’ve sold the most records. followed very closely by new york.
cf: who would you want to play you in the trish keenan story?
trish: that’s a wicked question! I’m trying to think of someone who looks really irish and pale. um, I can’t think of anyone.
cf: what’s your favorite soundtrack?
trish: I quite like ravi shankar’s soundtrack stuff. I like chappaqua and charly, I’ve been playing those albums for six or seven months. I love krzysztof komeda, especially the knife in the water soundtrack. morricone goes without saying I suppose. I really like the badlands soundtrack actually, the music used in that. but I wouldn’t say I’ve got one guy. james is really into ennio morricone and that would be his answer.
cf: has broadcast been used in films?
trish: we get used occasionally in channel 4 adverts but we’ve been asked to do something but we’re awaiting the arrival of some tapes. if it’s crap, you can send it back.
cf: is there a director you would say yes straightaway to?
trish: no. there’s plenty of good directors out there. I don’t feel that we—not to try and dis the band but the greatest soundtracks have come from composers that are really steeped in the history of music, they can play classical pieces off by heart, they can sight read. all the brill building songwriters were classically trained, and it really puts you on good footing if you’ve got that behind you. if you’re postmodern and you knew punk happened, you don’t need to have that knowledge to put some good sounds together. that’s all right if you’re making an album, but if you’re making a soundtrack all of a sudden you have to represent that scene or those moods and that’s where training would come in handy. for us it would have to be a really good film—we’ll probably end up doing a shit soundtrack for a shit film at some point. right now it would really have to blow us away for us to take it on.
cf: you could always learn to read music. elvis costello learned it when he was 35.
trish: did he? I can read a little bit and I do have a go every now and again. I know I could do it, but it’s just like taking that time out. then you worry about how it will rub off on the writing technique you’ve managed to accumulate up until this point. all of a sudden I’ll start sounding like james galway.
cf: what was your first band called?
trish: pan am flightbag. this was ’90 or ’91, with two members of broadcast. we did two gigs then split off. for a moment there, we were the best local band there was.
cf: were you musical as a child?
trish: I don’t think I stood out, particularly. I didn’t really apply myself in any way and I wasn’t pushed into it from my parents, though they were really into music.
cf: what kind?
trish: I grew up with bob dylan, neil diamond. we had a pontin’s holiday in the ’70s and there was a talent competition and my mom and dad said “you’ve got to get something ready for the talent competition.”
cf: what a riot.
trish: they were there, “go on, get up onstage.” my mom used to do a bit of singing in clubs when she was younger. she didn’t really take it seriously. for the talent competition my dad said, “why don’t you learn ‘love is in the air’ on your recorder?” he taught me all the notes and I wrote them all down. we had our auditions and my mom didn’t get into the final thing. I got in with my recorder. she must have been terrible. a strange thing happened, we were in the chalet. I must have been getting worried about going onstage to play my recorder, my mom said, “come on, it’s 7:30, they want us all backstage and getting ready.” I wouldn’t go. like a 7-year-old kid, I was like, “nooo, moooom.” I must have been nervous though I didn’t feel nervous. my eyes were all red from crying cause I didn’t want to go but I got up and did it. that was it. that was my pontin’s holiday. it’s funny, the second time I would go to pontin’s it would be for music as well…
cf: do you like brazilian music?
trish: I like os mutantes, jorge ben, gal costa…
cf: caetano veloso?
trish: yeah, yeah.
cf: he wrote all the best mutantes songs. what french pop do you like?
trish: dutronc. françoise hardy will always get put on. brigitte fontaine. even a bit of charles aznavour.
cf: what causes a ruckus when it gets put on in the tour bus?
trish: joan baez. I like her, rog likes her, james hates her, and I don’t think tim likes her. for james, I think me liking joan baez represents something that he really hates. that whimsical folk thing, I’ve definitely got that in my taste and in my writing.
cf: you grew up with dylan!
trish: when I saw her sing that song in don’t look back, I had to go and find out what her best albums were. I like that record with all the poems on it.
cf: what melody or lyric do you have stuck in your head?
trish: I’m reading the art of bob dylan at the moment. I do have sections that come into my mind. I have lines going through my head all the time. for me, I’ll like one section of the song; I’ll hate the verse and the chorus but I’ll love the bridge.
cf: weirdest gig?
trish: I think it was in arizona. it was just in somebody’s living room. it was just weird because we were really tired, and we were just looking for a chance to go, “no, we’re not doing it.” and this was our opportunity. there was no PA, there wasn’t even a kettle. we did the gig in the end. I hadn’t seen one person on the street all day. there was a church 100 yards away with barbed wire all around it. we were like, “we’ve gotta get out of this place, it’s horrible.” and all of a sudden like 90 people come out of nowhere and cram into this little room and there was a gig on. you’ll drive to a gig for 40 or 60 miles away, that’s nothing to you. that’s half the length of this country—I couldn’t possibly go that far for a gig. if it’s not a bike ride, most of the time I won’t go. terribly british and lazy.
cf: if someone came to birmingham for the day, what would you show them?
trish: I’d go and see the canals. I think they’re the best thing we’ve got. we’ve got more canal miles than venice. birmingham was the heart of the industrial revolution, and if it wasn’t for the little waterways that were already built, we would have never been anything. you’d never have had black sabbath if it wasn’t for those canals, that’s my theory.
cf: are you from birmingham?
trish: yes, I was born here.
cf: who is the most underappreciated artist in this country?
trish: autechre. I think they’re fantastic. there’s no compromise with what they do. they’re not massive either; they’ll pull a decent crowd, like at camber sands they pulled a good crowd. the autechre fans are always boys that can’t walk properly, they’ll push your pint into you. rude, horrible boys go to autechre gigs. I always get a laugh out of it. if they wanted to do a commercial track, it would be no. 1.
cf: what’s in your fridge?
trish: two very dark brown bananas—I like them that color. easy-peel satsumas, half a tin of baked beans, some salmon, a bag of carrots, there’s usually much more than this. red cabbage, orange juice, mixed salad.
cf: most people just have beer.
trish: I don’t drink. I smoke blow though I don’t keep that in the fridge. I’m not really into alcohol. don’t like it. not a very good buzz. it’s a bit overrated. if they’d legalize some other drugs, alcohol would go right down the pan. that’s why they don’t want to legalize cannabis, especially here because there’s so much tax on alcohol and cigarettes, offer somebody another escape and those two industries will go down the pan.
cf: if your house was on fire, what would you grab on the way out?
trish: I don’t think I’d grab anything. I’d just get the hell out. I’d take my APC shirt and my vivienne westwood shirt, because they’re close to the window.
cf: who is the funniest person in the band?
trish: they’re all really funny. I couldn’t say one’s funnier than the other. roj I’d say he’s the quickest. his comic timing is genius. he really should be on telly. they’re funny but if you put them under pressure to be funny they won’t be. the three of them together (roj, james and tim) are hilarious. they make the tough parts easy. I’m an audience for them, they get a laugh out of me every time.
cf: are you addicted to anything?
trish: cigarettes, cannabis.
cf: do you collect anything?
trish: I mean, if you call records collecting. if you’re into music, that’s just part of what you do. I’m not really that mentality, and there aren’t many girls that are. it’s a boys’ thing, that collecting, and I think it’s innate. I’m not saying no girls can be collecting nerdy types like that, but it attracts the male mind to get into detail about that. you need both, you need the airhead and the one who knows everything. I’m the airhead. I can’t remember names, I’m terrible with band names and track names.
cf: with CDs, no one even looks at the track names. it’s like “I love track 5!” have you ever had something embarrassing happen onstage?
trish: I’ll tell you what I always do, and it really pisses me off. I always end up hitting my mouth on the microphone. I’m not very comfortable onstage. when I walk into a room I like to be unnoticed. I like to slip in. I’m not the kind of person who wants to rule the room with my conversation. I’m a quiet person.
cf: but you ended up the frontman.
trish: I don’t know why. it’s only cause I could sing. I don’t know whether I could sing or can sing…
cf: you can sing!
trish: because my mom and dad always sang, my mom has a karaoke machine, my dad’s irish and they love a good song, and singing is just something you do. you don’t have to be a performer, you can just sing at any point.
cf: what’s your next record like?
trish: it’s not written yet. what’ll usually happen is I’ll put a few songs together on my own, upstairs is where we recorded the last EP, and james will put production ideas together as far as sounds and if he’s got a chord structure that he’s put down, I’ll get it on minidisc and stick it on my four-track and I’ll try and do a vocal on it. hopefully we’ll have a combination of tracks that I’ve just written on my guitar, four-track tracks, and tracks that james put together that I can put a vocal on. then we’ll go to the studio and we’ll take it someplace further.
cf: do you look at music websites?
trish: I do. I don’t download music, I tend to print lyrics. I always go to olga, the online guitar site and get chords and lyrics. and maybe some creative writing websites that give you some exercises to do—just when I feel I need a kick, a boost. looking at a track on paper—I just looked at “you don’t own me”—that’s a real inspiration for me. the biggest inspiration to me is other people’s music and working it out. CF
photo on the cover of chickfactor 14 by gail o’hara.