Interview: Laurence Morgan and Roosa Päivänsalo
Photos: Roosa Päivänsalo
Originally from South West London, Oli and Andrew of The Well Rested seem to know their way around cheap London watering holes. “All the venues we knew when we were growing up closed down and turned into Tescos. We still walk into the pubs we used to play and arrive at the counter. They ask 'What are you doing here?'. I don't know, it's just a mechanism.”
It's a busy Wednesday afternoon, and in one of the remaining London pubs, we look for Andrew and Oli, who has tipped us to look for someone in a “hideous shirt”. It's not like we wouldn't recognise them anyway; we've seen them once before, playing to a full Lock Tavern with their band, and frontman Oli's animated stage presence has left him imprinted in our minds.
The pair met in “high school” after Oli, a young tearaway as Andrew describes him, had been kicked out and moved from his previous school, and Andrew had been assigned to show him around, “which you fucking hated doing”, Oli remarks to Andrew.
Despite the fact that they were already writing music when they met, The Well Rested came much later, having started in Edinburgh around 6 years ago. Although Andrew now seems to be a core member with Oli, taking part in both songwriting and production in addition to playing keyboards in their live shows, the band's line-up is ever-changing and Andrew has only been actively involved since last summer: “Basically, before he joined the band, he came to our gig at the Hoxton Underbelly. He came onstage, he wasn't playing with us, but he was there with a 4-track that had an output going into the speakers in the room and an input going into a mic on stage and he was dancing around. The number one question I got off the gig was 'Who the fuck was that guy, what was he doing?'”.
These field recordings were used for 'I Can't Love' off their EP. “We made the EP and Oli said 'Andrew, you've gotta join the band' and I was like 'No, I don't want to be in a band again'. I've been in so many bands in the past, I didn't want to do it. But eventually we went to a gig and I got so excited about the concept of live music and playing live music again and said 'Sure I'll do it.'”
The art of live music comes up several times in conversation, and both Oli and Andrew seem to hold it in high regard. Indeed, Oli says he hates nothing more than seeing a band that appears boring onstage, while both men thoroughly enjoyed Fat White Family's “maddening energy and charisma” at their recent Coronet performance. Comparing their own behaviour in a live situation as opposed to recording, Oli says “I just do what he says”, glancing at Andrew, who in turn explains: “I think it's kind of interesting. They are two processes that sit side by side and feed into each other, so we'll rehearse a song with the band and think 'oh that's a new idea, maybe we should bring that into recording”. In the studio, on the other hand, they can bring numerous ideas into life and figure out how to recreate the effects live.
“You look at bands who influence you and you wonder how they did it. Looking at the music from the outside, obviously live music sounds different to recordings, but there's a coherence between them,” they agree. “Recording is an exploration in recorded sound, live is just appealing to a live audience”, Andrew says before Oli continues: “One of my favourite bands is The Growlers. Their live shows are theatrical as fuck, especially recently. But they're getting more money, compared to us – a few months ago I bought off loads of...liaus, laus? Hawaiian floral neck garments. That's as far as our budget went.” [Editor's note: leis].
While The Well Rested want to push the sentiment of the songs through live presence as well as through their sound, they also want to open up the space for improvisation in a live setting. “Sometimes we'll have a rehearsal and I wonder why we even had it, because at the show I'll look at Oli and he'll have a mad look in his eyes as if he's about to say 'I've gotta do something unpredictable tonight'”, Andrew says before continuing: “It would be nice to add more purely textural elements to live music as well. That's something that turns me on, thinking about the different textures that can alter the arrangements. A moment of surprise is definitely something that I like to put into the music."
This appeal for energy and surprise seems to come through in their influences as well, with Oli citing Californian psych rock bands from the 60s as some of his main musical interests. Andrew notes that Oli played 'The End' by The Doors to him (at which point Oli sings “THIS IS THE EEEEEND”): “From then on, I was hooked into ways to find other types of music and other ways of listening to music”.
Their open-minded, experimental relationship with music is something that's very much visible in their songwriting processes as well. “I listen to records and wonder how they do something, try it and basically fail and end up with something else. That's an interesting thing in itself”, Andrew says. Oli is along the same lines: “One of my biggest influences is The Kinks, and if you listen to an album by them, it constantly jumps around from genre to genre, and now you've got an even wider range of genres to pick from.”
There seems to be little need for trying to draw new inspiration though, as Oli is, according to Andrew “a prolific songwriter who comes up with these things faster than...really quickly”. The frontman admits that he does have hundreds of videos of himself with different song ideas (Andrew: “Well, you are also just posing”) that they tend to cut down to just the ones they want to work with. It seems that Oli is the endlessly-productive creative mastermind whose ideas are then refined further with Andrew's involvement, after which the latter also takes care of production and the more technical side of things. This balance of personalities is evident in the way the pair interview as well: Oli's answers are spontaneous, jumping to a range of topics, whereas Andrew appears well-prepared and analytical. This makes them perfectly balanced and functional, even if Oli feels like their production and recording process is much like a Heath Robinson artwork depicting complicated machines to do simple things: “There are these crazy, intricate levels of complexity, like measuring how far a microphone is from the snare drum.”
Even though it's Oli that works with illustration, Andrew draws inspiration from visual art too and sees perhaps even more parallels than Oli: “I take a lot of influence from visual stuff when it comes to making music. Sometimes songwriting is almost like making a comic book: imagine an A4 spread with a few cells on it and you trying to reveal different points of the perspective of a story within the cells. I think visual stuff can be quite useful, building into a musical story.”
“Making music with a band is quite similar to making art with kids, there are definitely a lot of transferable skills”, Andrew says, referring to his work doing art workshops for children. “Today we were doing screen printing. It's very technical and a lot of the kids have never done anything like that. It's incredibly messy.... Incredibly messy.”
Despite their playful attitude towards music, they do think of The Well Rested as a serious venture: “I kind of look at being in a band as a business, I hate to say”, Oli says, cringing. Andrew makes light of his comment though, adding: “Yeah, we have a Soundcloud pro account. 7 pounds a month!”
“Of course, we would love to work with a record label. But the main reason we're doing this is because we fucking love doing it, obviously. There's a fine line between that and a lot of money, but having to do this and that.” “There are artist-oriented record labels that we look up to, who are into getting to know the band."
This collaborative spirit is something they look for in music in general, through small house gigs, for example. “I love the concept, love the DIY set-up, bands playing and having friends over – it's a really nice way of communicating music. Just sit down and have a few drinks... It's lovely.” Recently The Well Rested also asked people to remix their music, giving them stems, with the promise of a “secret prize” for their favourite. “Collaboration is always exciting and interesting, seeing what people can do. It's interesting to hear what people can do with it as raw material, if they can take it somewhere else.”
Towards the end of the interview, Andrew – well-prepared as he is - reminds us to ask about what they have in the works and reveals that they are working on a music video for 'Towers', again collaborating with their friends to create it. “We also have some new members, and a couple of gigs coming up in Brixton on 28th and 29th of April."
Both men seem excited about the gigs and their new ventures: “We are aware that we are in the entertainment industry, but it's an industry of fun. It's an entertaining thing to do to go to gigs, it's enjoyable to play and write music... But we are aware that some mechanisms can help disseminate your music further”, Andrew comments, before Oli chimes in: “I'm aware of eating beans from a cold can in my pants when I'm like 60, and I perfectly accept that. And that's the lifestyle I've chosen. In the meantime it's fun, at least.”