Matthew Thomas checks in with David Brewis, one half of the brother duo that head up iconic Wearside rockers, Field Music, to talk about growing up in the city, their journey to a Mercury Music Prize nomination and Christmastime in Sunderland.
VIBE: What’s your earliest memory of music?
DB: I remember the compilations our mam and dad used to play in the car – songs like Dance To The Music by Sly & The Family Stone, Melanie’s cover of Ruby Tuesday, Maneater by Hall and Oates and a live version of Knock On Wood by David Bowie.
VIBE: Who were your influences growing up?
DB: We discovered Led Zeppelin around the same time we started playing instruments, so they were a huge influence, along with Free. A little while later we became total Beatles nerds – and we still are!
VIBE: How did Field Music come about?
DB: My brother Peter and I had been in separate bands, trying to turn our weird ideas into something you could actually listen to and enjoy.
We realised that if we were ever going to make the music we had in our heads, we couldn’t rely on someone else showing us how to do it and we’d be better off pooling our resources.
So, we combined our bands and made the first Field Music album in our own practice room in Monkwearmouth.
VIBE: Was music always going to be your calling?
DB: Music started to dominate our lives very soon after we started playing, but we were both fairly bright at school
so it seemed sensible to keep up the academic subjects at college and university and play music on the side.
VIBE: Your 2012 Mercury Music Prize nomination must have been a proud moment. How do you feel looking back at your achievements?
DB: We’ve mostly managed to insulate ourselves from the proper music industry.
We’ve worked with the same label, the same PR and the same radio plugger for years and years, so being involved in the Mercury Prize was a trip into alien territory for us. But, yes, it was a good experience – but it also reminded us why we like to keep things in-house and DIY.
VIBE: What can you tell us about growing up in Sunderland?
DB: I have nothing to compare it to! We lived on Hylton Road until I was five, which was a much busier thoroughfare back then. Both sets of grandparents lived further down Hylton Road in Pennywell.
We spent a lot of time on the Jolly Bus or sitting in our dad’s Morris Marina pretending to be the Dukes of Hazzard. Then we moved to Cleadon Village which felt like the countryside to us!
It meant that our loyalties were a little bit divided between Sunderland and South Shields. But we’d still head over to Pennywell to see my nanna most nights after school and we’d still go to Louis’ on Park Lane every Saturday morning and beg to see the Star Wars toys downstairs in Joplings or the Lego in Josephs.
VIBE: How has Sunderland had a part to play in your success?
DB: When we were starting out, there wasn’t much in the way of music infrastructure in Sunderland, so we became very self-reliant and self- contained. As the music industry has changed, that attitude has served us pretty well.
I also think we have a pretty standard North East work ethic. You don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself, you don’t take yourself too seriously – even if you take the work very seriously, you get stuck in, and you don’t whinge.
That comes very much from our mam and dad, but I certainly associate it with the North East.
VIBE: How have you managed as a band in this brave new world?
DB: We have managed to get a bit of work done but I’ve also learned to set expectations pretty low.
VIBE: From an artist’s point of view, how can we support the arts sector in the current climate?
DB: The big one – and I think lots of people have been doing this anyway – is not to cancel your tickets to events. If things are rescheduled, hang on to your tickets if you can.
If you like buying records, keep buying them. Buy online from your local record shop or go to an artist’s Bandcamp page and buy from there. Engage with artists online – most of us are trying to stay busy though social media.
We appreciate it and it’s the easiest way for us to let people know what we’re up to.
VIBE: We’re big fans of the work Laura and the We Make Culture team provide for the community. Are these initiatives key to reconnecting as a society?
DB: I think it’s important to Laura that the We Make Culture projects share the idea that people can connect through cultural activities – especially music.
The Pop Choirs have become real community hubs, the Young Musicians Project lets young musicians and songwriters feel like they’re doing it as a team, and Front Street Songs brings a bit of joy to people’s doorsteps.
VIBE: Lockdown live streams have become increasingly popular. Do livestream performances have a place in the music industry moving forward?
TODAY IS THE DAY! Our first show since that more civilised age (i.e. February) will be live-streamed from FMHQ this evening at 9pm GMT. You want to know about the development of sanitary towels set to a disco beat? This is the place for you.https://t.co/CkrIaQCaD5 pic.twitter.com/UgH8B3gMDL
— Field Music (@fieldmusicmusic) October 29, 2020
DB: As ever with us, we tried to do something quite technically ambitious with a very limited team of people so we had a few issues which we’ll learn from.
I don’t think they can replace the live music experience – the visceral thrill of being in the same space as the music as it’s made – but I think it can be a potential new avenue for getting to people and it can be done creatively.
VIBE: What do you miss the most about live shows?
DB: I miss the guys and girls in the band and I miss the daft banter we have with our audience. We’re very lucky to have found an audience who appreciate our sense of humour.
VIBE: Your top five lockdown albums?
DB: The Mothership Connection by Parliament
Sign o’ The Times by Prince
Highway by Free
Harvest by Neil Young
Avalon by Roxy Music
VIBE: How is your Christmas shaping up this year?
DB: In some ways the pressure will be off. We probably can’t have the big extended family day and the trips to see every second cousin and long-lost aunt.
It’ll be very hard for people who live alone or who are far away from their nearest and dearest, but this is a year for hunkering down and getting through to the other side.
Perhaps we’ll reschedule the big get-togethers for Easter.
VIBE: Any interesting festive traditions?
DB: I do have a tradition with my best friend from school. We meet up at my parent’s old house on Christmas Eve and walk up to the village shop to get a mint Aero.
I don’t think either of us would dream of eating a mint Aero at any other time of year, but we’ve been doing this for nearly thirty years now so we’re stuck with it.
Even if we don’t see each other at all for the next twelve months, we know we’ll get to catch up and talk nonsense for half an hour.
VIBE: What’s next for Field Music?
DB: We’re just finishing our next album for a release next spring. We’ll have to figure out how we get that out to people if playing live has to be a smaller part of that.
We’re also in the final stages of getting the Paint The Town In Sound exhibition ready at the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.
Photo credits: Andy Martin