Interview: Civil Protection

Who said post-rock is dead? I might have; I can't remember. Well, if there's a time for forgiveness and giving one's self to confession time, let's just say I may have to make an early trip to my local church sometime in the near future. Stolen Fire, the debut album by Yorkshire venturers Civil Protection brings with it a brim of passion and dedication that could likely [re-]convert any doubter in this passionate World of ours. While I'm confident no one both in or out of the dedication of the scene will be looking to rename this era as a new 'wave' for the genre, it's comforting to find bands new and old that still strive for a sound beyond its technical structure and by result, excell in their dedication and their attenion to detail. And what better time to look deeper into the mind of one of the UK's (if not the World's) most exciting rock acts, then here on our glorious weekender of new discoveries in 2013. With clasped fingertips and the warming glow of Stolen Fire's cover tucked nearby, I caught up with Civil Protection's Adam Fielding and asked him about their debut's drive, determination and decisions on both a musical and contextual standpoint alike (band photograph provided by Karina Lyburn Photography).
~Jordan Helm

Music Review Database: You list among your influences the likes of Mogwai and Nine Inch Nails. Would it be safe to say Civil Protection's sound originates from a multitude of differing ideas and musical aesthetics? And if so, how do you as a band go about finding the happy medium in-between them all?

Adam: Yeah, that’s a pretty safe assertion! We have a pretty eclectic set of influences and inspirations, which can be pretty interesting from a song-writing point of view. Having said that, when we write music we tend not to focus too much on adhering to specific genres or ideas – while we all have quite differing tastes, we each tend to have an appreciation for music that we might not typically listen to, and so our song-writing process tends to be quite organic. I always find that the most exciting music is the kind that brings the best elements of different genres together, and I think that’s a mentality that’s shared with the rest of the band.

One of the things that I think people forget about the beauty of post-rock is that it's not a bordered genre; it has no native 'home' or origin geographically. With that said, do you feel in anyway your personal background, heritage or even experiences away from being a musician, factor into the music you create?

Absolutely. There are some very specific themes that we explore on our debut album, and it’s interesting to listen back to it and pin-point exactly what the idea behind each song and its title actually mean to us. I would never want to say that 'this song is about x, and this song is about y', as I think that part of the enjoyment of music comes from forming your own interpretation and connections as a listener. But there are very definite ideas and themes behind it all, and a lot of those come from our own experiences and background. Again, as a band with eclectic tastes coming from a pretty wide geographic radius, I think having such a varied group of personalities gives us a lot to draw from musically.

Your debut Stolen Fire seems to invoke that classic post-rock philosophy on curiosity and the thirst for venturing out, possibly beyond what one might consider their comfort zone. Were there any challenges or even difficulties coming into the recording phase of Stolen Fire, or did things seem to flow rather naturally and smoothly for the band?

Haha, this is a subject I could probably talk about for hours! I’ve released quite a few solo albums myself, and I work as a full-time professional musician & sound designer. We were recording & producing the album to a pretty tight dead-line with virtually zero budget, so I decided to take on production duties as I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do with the album. With that in mind, I wanted the album to be a solid representation of our live sound – I didn’t want to over-cook it and fill it with synths & effects that we wouldn’t use live, but I also wanted it to sound suitably polished  and epic. Getting that balance right was quite a challenge as I’m used to working mostly with electronics, I’m used to tweaking individual instruments and effects endlessly. Having said that, I think working to such a tight deadline kept us focussed on the big picture, and it kept us focussed on what was important instead of getting bogged down with the tiniest details… which tends to be my usual modus operandi!

I guess like me, you prefer to see the presence of a, as you put it, 'varied group of personalities' as evidence that the band collectively are passionate, and more importantly, have the drive to excel at a target rather than just meeting it. That must be both challenging as well as exciting when taken on production duties.

Producing the album was actually a really interesting experience for me. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my solo work tends to be more electronic in nature, so I had to take a bit of a step back with regards to producing this particular album so as to let the organic aspect of it really shine through. That was interesting for me, and it’s since had a bit of a bearing on how I tend to work on my solo material. Due to the tight deadline, I ended up having to tackle certain aspects of the album with a bit of a staggered approach. In certain instances I was utilising some rough temp drums until we got the final recordings back from another studio. The first completed track was the title track, and it was incredible to listen back to a semi-complete version of said track with all the recordings in place and just think 'yeah, this is going to work'. I put a lot of trust in the rest of the band, and we really pulled it together. 

You talk about undergoing solo material as well as being a part of Civil Protection. Is there ever a time when you have to remove yourself - even if partially - and say to yourself: 'OK, that might work for me, but for the band...perhaps not', especially given you talk about holding your own ideas and knowing for yourself what direction the album should go in?

That’s been less of an issue than I’d initially thought – due to the way we tend to flesh out ideas and work on song ideas as a band, there hasn’t really been a time where I’ve had to take a step back and say “look, this isn’t right for the band”. Sometimes one of us will start with a riff or a basic song idea, but taking a more collaborative approach has been much successful for us, and it just feels a lot more natural to work like that. There have been times when I’ve been working on solo material for particular projects where I’ve thought that certain ideas would work well with the band, but for the most part it’s very much a collaborative process and I certainly wouldn’t want it any other way. 

It's never surprising to find a lack of vocal use - or be it vocal emphasis - on an album such as this. Was the decision to focus less on vocals an aesthetical one, or was it more a case that priority lay on perfecting the melodic/harmonic properties to your instrumentation?

We’d always intended to be a post-rock band, but we actually ended up playing quite a lot of vocal-oriented alt-rock with electronic-tendencies for a couple of years – we needed some material to play live, and I had a good surplus of tunes that we could use. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get around to writing any new material for quite some time, and when we did we quickly decided that we wanted to write something with more of a focus on atmosphere & progression rather than focussing on standard song structures. Using vocals more as an additional instrument rather than the focal point of the music came as a natural consequence of that, which – personally – was incredibly liberating for me.

It's nice you talk about vocals as an instrument rather than as a function. Writing on music, anyone who focuses on it in such a way is always a nice element for me to rediscover and hear. From a musician's perspective, what do you think it is about the human voice that not only makes it great to work with, but has caused it to be forgotten about (as an instrument) up until recently?

I’m not sure if I’d agree with the statement that vocals had been forgotten about in that way necessarily – from a personal point of view, I much prefer to listen to vocalists who have a very distinct style if they’re going to be the focal point of the music. I think there’s a place for more traditional vocal arrangements in particular genres, but I think with us and a lot of other post-rock acts it makes more sense to treat vocals as you would any other instrument - adding to the overall texture rather than standing out from it. I much prefer the idea of using instruments when necessary rather than forcing myself to stick to any set arrangement, which is why I love playing with such heavy guitar processing and performing using more textural vocals. The human voice is an incredibly flexible instrument - it keeps things varied, and it means I can adapt to suit the music rather than working the other way around.

You've already found yourself on the live stage performing your material to crowds. Is the experience of being in an environment, such as that, have any emotional or even creative differences with that of a recording studio?

They’re very different experiences – as a solo artist I tend to focus primarily on working in the studio, whereas with Civil Protection we’re all about the live sound. It’s an incredible feeling to perform to a crowd that really understands what you’re trying to do, and it’s always great to be able to feed off of that energy and bring some of that fire on stage. In terms of the album, I’d more or less explained to the rest of the band what I was planning on doing with the album, and it was a sentiment that we all shared – we didn’t want something that was polished and corrected to within an inch of its life. We wanted something that captured a bit of that live energy without detracting from the overall quality. They’re both very different experiences, but as a band they’re both inextricably connected.

You've finished the album; you're already experiencing the joy of touring. What's next for Yorkshire 'local heroes' such as yourself?

Well, we’ve already started getting a few rough ideas down for album 2, and we’re looking at playing a smaller tour at some point next year. We’re still on a bit of a high from both the album release and tour, and it makes sense to get some new ideas down while we’re still feeling that energy – I’m focussing a little more on my solo work at the moment, but we’ve got some good stuff cooking!

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Discovery: Interview: Civil Protection
Interview: Civil Protection
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