Today sees the release of The Panglossian Momentum, Thousand Yard Stare's third studio album, released twenty-seven years after its predecessor Mappamundi. We caught up with front man Stephen Barnes to find out why a one-off reunion has turned into a fully-fledged one with a live album and double EP already under their belt and chatted about the album's writing and recording process and how their sound has changed over time.
Was it always the intention when you reformed back in 2015 to work towards the release of an album or had it very much been a case of wait and see how it goes – and if the latter, when did you feel the time was right?
Not at all, the intention was one reunion show.. I was a bit cynical about the whole nostalgia/revival thing going on, a single dip back those heady days seemed likely to be enough, but it’s just kept rolling! I’m more comfortable with it now, thanks to the positive response we’ve had since that first show back, and can see it means a lot to some people. That said, it only works for me if balanced with new material, to keep things fresh. You’re not really a band if you aren’t creating new things, and once we were back in a groove together it was clear the spark was still there. I thought the double EP ‘DeepDreaming/StarGrazing’ we released in 2018 would be our last word, but ended up being the platform for us to kick on, resulting in this album. It’s been a wonderful experience, and had a great response so far..and I’m very happy with it.
Where did the title of the album come from?
I was looking for a title that wrapped the themes of the lyrics together, and wanted something unusual and unique.. it came about after re-reading Voltaire’s novella Candide, a satirical take on naive optimism personified by the character Pangloss. I’ve always been prone towards strange words, and even made them up before (Seasonstream, Wideshire etc.) and the phrase The Panglossian Momentum just stuck with me during the writing process. It’s a bit pretentious, but I like that, and think it sounds a lost spy novel or film title that never was. I’ve always been a bit on the wordy side...
How were these songs written – did you create them together in the studio or would one or more of you come with an idea for the rest of the band to work on?
The songs were written by myself and Giles, we mould and refine the ideas, demo them, and then let Sean and Dom loose to add their sparkling rhythm in the studio. We all live in different parts of the country now, so it’s a necessary process, and whilst I miss getting in a room and just ‘jamming it out’ like we used to, think this way of doing things has allowed us to go a bit deeper into the sonic and melody process, a more considered construction rather than wholly relying on ’the vibe in the room’, and think that shows in the final output for the record.
You’re not based in the same part of the country – so how have you managed to organise times to write and record around everything else going on in your lives?
We all have busy lives, and doing things together is a challenge. It has made us more efficient, but as we are beholden to only ourselves these days (no management, label, media expectation) it’s the drive to be creative that makes the time. We control all aspects of the band and label, are wholly independent, so the pressure is all our own, and we relish it!
You’d previously rehearsed and recorded the live album and EPs at Electric Studios in Brighton yet the album was recorded at Rafter Studios in Kent. What made you change location?
I really wanted someone fresh and untainted for this record, and through a friend came across this kid with a studio out in the sticks, Callum Rafferty. He’s less than half our age, knew nothing about us, our sound or anything, and although initially a risk, was taken by the idea of someone younger bringing a new perspective to the process. Feel he’s captured the spirit of the band’s sound from back in the day, but with a modern, up to date sheen. We have always been prone to throwing everything but the kitchen sink into every recording, but he’s found a way to iron it out, let it breathe, and finesse the details. Basically, he’s a genius!
You’ve gone the whole hog on this release with a vinyl album as well as CD and digital. How important was it to make this a full-on release even though you’re self-releasing rather than using a label or distributors?
Whilst the cult of the album is under review in the streaming age, I think for most artists, long form releases are still the cornerstones of your catalogue, they are the format that defines you. Vinyl remains very much a statement of intent, and so wanted to take the plunge. We’ve made a splatter style coloured heavyweight vinyl, which looks stunning, it’s definitely a statement!
You had your own imprint Stifled Aardvark back in the day and that’s been resurrected for this release – was there ever any discussion that it might not be or was it just the most natural of decisions?
Just natural… although there were over two decades between TYS versions 1 and 2, it was important to keep a connection between past and present. It was always intended that this album would be a follow on from what we did in the past, but documenting who and how we are now. The logo in the centre of the vinyl is still the one hand drawn in 1989!
There’s moments – It Sparks – where the songs sound very much like old-school Thousand Yard Stare and others, vocals permitting, that sound like a completely different band. Was it intentional to move away from sounding like just doing a follow-up to the two 90s albums or was that just how the songs flowed?
Like I said earlier, was important that we documented who we are now, but didn’t want it to sound disconnected to our past. I think we have straddled that quite well on the record. We’ve all got nearly 30 years more life experience, new influences and perspectives, so was a natural progression to push the boundaries a bit more. Myself and Giles are in quite a similar place musically these days (not so, back then) so was a natural progression. We knew what paints were going on the pallette, was just a case of deciding what we were painting!
You’ve chosen Schism Algorithm and Precious Pressures as the two singles just before the album release. Was it a conscious decision to not choose something like Sleepsound which sounds more like the band’s earlier work?
I think that singles should show different shades of an upcoming album, we’re not chasing radio plays or media attention per se, so it was more important to give a peak behind the curtain on how the album was shaping up. It Sparks! kind of covered the ‘indie pop/rock’ side of things, and Schism is more akin to the likes of Comeuppance, a mid paced wide screen slow burner, and Precious Pressures, the dancier side of our range. So yes, I guess it was a conscious decision!
You’ve now released an album, two EPs and a live album since you returned in 2015 – that’s not far off the output of the band’s first life – does it still feel like you have unfinished business or is this record likely to draw an end to the band?
Well, the drive behind making the album was very much unfinished business. It was the first time we have ever had the opportunity to make an album as just that, an album, from scratch. Our debut (Hands On) - like most bands I guess - was essentially a collection of the best songs we’d been playing live at the time done in the studio, and Mappamundi was a fractured record, made either side of a long US Tour under label pressure - so making TPM was very much about unfinished business. Is it finished now? I don’t know! We have got some other tracks we’re happy with, so they may emerge at some point, but we will have to see. If this is the end, I’m happy that this record is our final word.
COVID-19 permitting you have a London show planned for October. Is the intention to get out to the rest of the country if and when that becomes possible?
It’s hard for us to tour, but would be nice to get a few more dates at some point. The most important thing right now is for everyone to stay safe and sane until we are out of this situation. So who knows, we’re certainly up for keeping it alive!
Thousand Yard Stare's official website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.
The album can be preordered from their store.
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