It's very rare you get a band that blows you away as much by their train of thought as the music. Creel Commission are such a band and these Agents of Awareness are "on a mission to find all the leftfield thinkers and to bring them into the mainstream". Named after the commission created by Woodrow Wilson, their debut EP was produced by Richie Wilkinson who worked on the Magic Numbers album and they describe their influences as Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and lots of 60s music. By some strange twist of fate tabloid paper The Sun has backed them for big things...and here in the Designer Magazine interview Alex McCann finds a band who interest him as much as political heavyweights George Galloway, Tony Benn and The Black Panther Party.
Q: Normally band names are picked randomly because they sound ok. The name Creel Commission however is more thought through and explains to a large extent where the band are coming from. Could you explain to our readers what the Creel Commission is and why you chose the name?
A: Like the name Joy Division the name Creel Commission is both distant and relevant to the band and its purpose. Historically speaking, a commission was created by Woodrow Wilson before WW1 that transformed American society from being essentially non-interventionist and anti-war to one with record draft numbers with a strong anti-German pro-war sentiment, and all within about six months. The head of the commission John Creel used all kinds of techniques, especially exploitation of the media, to go about his mission. What is interesting is that it’s a classic example of the manipulation of a whole country for political ends. We are not concerned about the pros and contra's of whether it was right or wrong (obviously it served Britain's interests!) but more about the factual reality that our thought structures are dominated by assimilated media, and that that media is far more effected by various assumed ideologies than we might assume. The Creel Commission effectively began the PR industry. Also, it’s an interesting name because no one has really heard about the original commission.
As a band you have to play the game and dance through a million hoops put in front of you whether by media or record companies or whatever. When we started out we were intent on creating a scene and creating dialogue with other bands but we've found that the majority of bands are just fighting for the scraps left by record companies who themselves are giving the next 10 years of their budget to the Robbie Williams’ of the world. We not interested in scraps and believe in fully fledged re-recreation of the Indie scene from the grassroots up. We feel that many bands lose the meaning and purpose of why they are doing it in the first place because they are so concerned with getting a deal that they lose inspiration and the sense of destiny that made them do it in the first place. We have a lot of respect for bands like Hard-Fi who have a DIY Indie, take-all-comers, stop-us-at-your-peril attitude. The name Creel Commission reflects this for us. We know that we are playing the game, we’re well aware of how that game works, and we fully intend to use the parameters of it to spread the ideas that we are excited about. The machine exploits you and unless you use it back in turn then you are just another cog.
Q: Usually with 2 brothers in a band there's either a competitive streak. You get the sense that with Creel Commission that both Ed and Jamie perfectly complement each others vision. Is this the case?
A: Ha! It’s not been easy. We are not so much competitive; more explosive in terms of vision. We are both too full of ideas and purposes to actually get through each step with out having to go thru the fires. It is an odd form of symbiosis but we both have what the other lacks and we recognize and value that in each other. We came to music simultaneously very late in our lives and it was born out of tragedy which makes the bond very powerful. However we are two individuals who bring what we have to the table rather than necessarily working it out together as it goes along. That means that the fusion has to happen after the creation itself which is not always an easy task. But you have to sweat for what you love, and if you are willing to hold onto it come blood or money, something special will be created.
Q: We have to be careful when we suggest this, because we said the same thing about Keane after their first single. But essentially what CC try to create is intelligent pop music?
A: Absolutely not, we should be stopped at all costs because we want to tear up the world, turn everything to light and fire and put it back together again, it is very possible we are a bunch of semi-sane megalomaniacs running from the potion that's going to tip us over the edge. Hmmm, okay, we would like to make a music that is a full on emotional and spiritual experience but that simultaneously is like an intellectual electrical chair. Things that make you grow are painful, and we want to make a music and a dialogue that is challenging. Intelligent pop music is not challenging, challenging has to be a bullet out of the blue, something you can't see which just knocks you on the head and leaves your heart beating at a slightly different pace. Ultimately though, of course we want to make music that has a widespread appeal – but in these songs to challenges those who chose to dig beneath the surface, where they’ll find quite a lot of subversive depth. Pop in the sense that people might find the songs great, but not in the sense that it’s manufactured, ‘cause what we’re doing is a long way from that. This stuff comes from the soul…
Q: It's hard to pin down CC's influences, possibly I'd say Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Belle & Sebastian and Gorky's Zygotic Monkey Were these the bands you grew up listening to or am I completely wrong?
A: Well, yes and no. We are into all music sorts. All good bands that you’ve listed though (interestingly the Belle & Sebastian comparison has been drawn before by the Barfly). However above all it is the British tradition that we feel a part of and that we extend from. The tradition of great British song writing bands with fuck-off melodies and guitars. Brit-pop was a great time to be a teenager in and doesn't get enough credit for all the guitar bands that have sprung up over the last couple of years - all these kids were listening to Britpop and getting inspired to pick up the guitar. The great thing about British youth is that it hears a great song like Live Forever or Strawberry Fields or what ever and it thinks, right, “I'm having some of that, I'm gonna pick up a guitar and make something too... or better!” That is what it’s about and the single greatest ambition of this band is to inspire the kids, not just musically, but to think in new ways, to dream, to follow their paths with all their heart and to take the fire and honesty and verve of youth into what ever fields they got into because the world needs it, and it needs the reactionary-ness of youth to combat what we are doing and where we are going as a species. I mean how the hell did we evolve for billion years and then decide to give the most powerful job in the world to someone like our dear ol' Friend Dubya, who incidentally gives me much hope in that even if one does spend the next twenty years drunk, we can still wing it into the biggest job out there and suck it up... erm, sorry, back to music - lots of 60's, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Blue Train by Coltrane (best rock ‘n roll jazz tune), in fact, balls, we are into everything and are totally un-elitist, if you got the cogones to get on a stage, good for you...
Q: Last year you recorded an EP with Richie Wilkinson who went onto work on the Magic Numbers album. How did that experience work out and will he be working on the album with you?
A: The experience was absolutely top. We basically got a down-time deal at a top studio to make and EP in Feb 2004. It was a great experience as a band for many reasons. First Richie Wilkinson will go all the way full stop. The guy works hours that we’ve never seen, 24/7 and usually works 18 hour days, I mean, a different scale altogether. He sent out 1000 letters at age of 17 to every top studio in the country, got two replies and has never looked back. As a producer he is great because he gets the best out of you, very accommodating, and he's a great engineer too…
As a band it was important to go to a top studio to know you can cut it but also to know that there is no great mystery. We will are just as happy working on a lap top as a big studio. What we have learnt is that as far as recording goes (and writing too for that matter), a good vibe is critical and we are at our best when we get out of the big smoke (London) and go somewhere where we can do it without distraction 24/7. For us great music needs space, and the possibility of getting out of the urban surround to write and record is an on going dream because we've only been able to do it once.
We are still in close contact with Rich, he was at our last gig at the Dublin Castle actually, and we are doing some work together next month. Whether we record together again the fates will decide, but we hope so.
Q: What can we expect from the debut Creel Commission album?
A: We are just gunning to record new stuff because the last EP came out early last year and we are a whole new proposition now. The new stuff will have more songs with me and Ed singing different parts, will be more charged lyrically, and will have the best set of debut songs since....well, Beethoven I guess! No, we believe in what we have the capacity to do, you have to do to survive and we are charged about making an album early next year. One thing is for sure, it will pull you in like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and just when you think it is safe it will rear up and bite you, but ultimately regurgitate you in a new form - ha!
Q: You recently played with Joe Cocker and Elvis Costello. Do you feel that playing with such legends schools you in the art of song-writing as oppose to playing the standard Indie venues?
A: Not really, your schooling really happens when you are in the bedroom and you have nothing in the world apart from the music you are introjecting. It was great playing with Joe Cocker because he commits emotionally more than any artist I have seen and that was a big lesson. You can't have off days, if you want to get something across you have to live it. As Charlie Parker said - "if you don't live it, it won't come out of the horn". But song-writing for us is the key; it is the architecture of music. There is nothing that can pierce through a man's cynicism and foibles more penetratingly than a great rock n roll song. And those two are masters. Festivals are great but we love the intimacy of the small venue, it’s where you can really get stuff across. Intimacy is important.
Q: You've got tours with British Sea Power, El Presidente and The Editors coming up soon. How did you get these sorted and what cities can we see you in?
A: We got picked up by an agency who really wants to push and that is great for us. The A-list venues in London are great but also a killing ground because so few bands get out alive....
Q: As well as being in a band you're also interviewing figures you admire. Could you tell us about the interview with John Gray and who you have lined up in the future?
A: We try to break out of the conventional boxing of bands in magazines and normal Q & A's by pushing our own agenda. We don't want interviews to always be one way dialogues but forums for discussions. You don't get to the heart of matters unless there is reciprocity. I'm just as interested in what you are doing as in what I am doing; only this is being done on email so we can't get into dialogue. The media is a one way dialogue and we don't like that. Why just sit back and allow yourself to be boxed and caricatured and your ideas bastardized? No you got to get up and step into the ring and that means creating dialogue. We just aren't interested in being another band that talks about it self is continuously self-referential. Our band is of little or no significance. What is important is the Great Idea and someone has to be willing to stand for it even if that means becoming a clown for it.
So far we have interviewed Professor James Lovelock (who wrote Gaia theory), John Gray, John Taylor Gatto, and Colin Wilson (The Outsider).
Ideally, what we do is go and see them in their own homes and discuss their ideas and lives work, then print up the interviews on out website. We also sell the books of the people we interview at our gigs, and try and push their ideas onto any impressionable minds we can find. We were in Devon interviewing James Lovelock just a couple of weeks ago and he was the single most healthy, benevolent and charming human being we have ever come across. He was recently voted, the man who has irritated more scientists than any other man in the twentieth century, and we think that is fantastic. Colin Wilson had us to stay in Cornwall and even though he had had a stroke the year before spent three hours with us and force fed us a wonderful supper over six bottles of wine. Now that is hospitality! When can you honestly say that you gave six bottles of wine and a bedroom to three strangers!
Q: Agents of Awareness - grand title. Elaborate?
A: We are on a mission to find all the leftfield thinkers and, if life goes as we hope, to bring them into the mainstream, or at least to an audience they didn't have before. We need the mainstream to spread their ideas, and will hunt it!
Basically we are not into setting ourselves up as an ideological tank with an axe to grind, we want to be a vehicle through which ideas pass through. Socrates taught by asking questions - we want to ask the great questions to the great minds and pass on the wisdom.
Essentially it is the recreation of the old oral tradition that has been lost. We want re-ignite the ancient legacy of older sages teaching younger artists the way. The modern world is totally alienated and spiritually dislocated. I am saddened by the lack of guidance I have had in my life - but what a great band can do is offer some, so long as its motives are true - and its music is good! Basically the world is full of men with ego and power and axes to grind and we don't want to be a part of that. The twentieth century was full of man trying to impose his version of reality onto another, and if he disagreed, killing him for it. We are about a more active - passive stance. We believe if you present people with the true facts then people will put one-and-one together. It doesn't do much good shouting stuff from the rooftops because people just get threatened. You have to let them come to you.
In time people will come to us and we will pass on something of the things that we have learnt. Our goal is to pack everything in and go on a world mission to find all the sages and speak to them all. A rock and roll tour that is a mission and a way of life. That's what we are planning at the moment (its early days) but we hope to find everyone from Ben Okri, to Arundita Roy to Noam Chomsky. We’ve got plans to interview John Pilger, Eric Hobsbawn, Richard Dawkins, and, hope, hope, the Dalai Lama.
Q: From the sublime to the ridiculous, The Sun are big fans. Surely this must be the most bizarre moment of your career?
A: Napoleon found himself in a pub in Poland, having just had 900,000 men flanked and killed by the Austrians from the South and the Russians from the East, and commented that there is only one step between the sublime and the ridiculous - and the Sun moment was our moment of Napoleonic oddity - a band with proper leftfield ideas being championed by the Sun - the heart of the beast! That’s the thing though, you find the best people at the strangest places, and the Sun has many good journos (didn’t they first champion the White Stripes?). Anyhow, the Sun manages to combine moments of greatness with moments when you just think, what the hell is that all about? I guess as such journalism in it’s best and worst tendencies just holds a mirror up to its readers: from the gutter to the stars (although most of the ‘stars’ in the Sun belong in the gutter!). Life is a strange brew, and even if we all are standing at the end of it all naked to the apocalypse, let it be with a smile.
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