My moral high ground erodes quickly on the realisation that I can count my own quarry on one hand (just). I’ve wanted to talk to Stef for a while, but haven’t had the balls at these shows, so I badgered him from an emailer, hence the robotic relentlessness of my questioning against his sincere human nature.
James McDonald How tough is the skin on your fingers?
Stef Ketteringham I just broke one of my fingers and crushed it so the end of it is open and some of the bone got smashed off, so they’re all good apart from that one.
James McDonald When was the last time you felt disheartened?
Stef Ketteringham At the weekend because of having crushed my finger and worrying about whether it’ll be very good at guitar when it’s healed.
James McDonald Can you share a few experiences from your European dates a few months back? Or any European experiences for that matter… I hear that the whole culture is warmer towards touring bands…
Stef Ketteringham Yes those gigs were wonderful, and we played very nicely and had a great time driving around so I feel it was all perfect. But I don’t want to be drawn into being flippantly negative about playing British gigs because loads of great nights get arranged here too, we had some really nice nights recently in Brighton and London which along with places like Nottingham and Leeds and quite a lot of other places we’ve always had really nice gigs at. But yeah it’s great touring abroad and my heart lays in driving around other countries playing Eyes gigs. It still feels amazing that we can be 1000 miles from home and people will come and listen to us play whatever our set happens to be, it all feels amazing really.
James McDonald As a local, have you noticed a difference in accessibility to venues and resources for bands in London? Is is noticeably harder to function? Or what of your feelings towards the city in general at the moment?
“It still feels amazing that we can be 1000 miles from home and people will come and listen to us play whatever our set happens to be.”
Stef Ketteringham For gigs I think it’s good, me and some friends arrange gigs quite often either together or separately, I feel like there’s some good venues to book with nice arrangements. I think New River Studios is a very good new venue, and Tottenham Chances is also really good, and me and my housemates put gigs on in our house every 2 or 3 months or so. For rehearsing near where I live there’s some good places, DSI Studios in Tottenham and New River Studios near Manor House are both very good, and I know they try and be affordable too.
James McDonald Are there any bands in particular – around currently – that you feel are under-appreciated?
Stef Ketteringham Under-appreciated is a notion I don’t want to indulge because I think it’s a good thing for a band to remain quite small and nearly all the bands I like sound at their best in 50-100 capacity rooms. But bands I like loads are Rattle, Sweet Williams, Picore, Jealousy Mountain Duo, who are all small-room bands. Last night I watched a band I hadn’t heard of before called Eye Foam who were totally wonderful. And I really liked a band I saw called Bamboo recently that I hadn’t heard before.
James McDonald As an outsider, there seems to be something wonderfully organic about your set up (cliched as that sounds) – you tend to release music for free, you mix up bass players so each album becomes a ‘project’, you then tour it on a shoestring… is this approach necessary to incubate your sound, or has it come about naturally?
Stef Ketteringham Thanks James, but it’s a bit hard to answer because it doesn’t feel like that is our context really, as in we’ve wanted to just do it for pleasure and it be our hobby, and haven’t wanted to adhere to some sort of punk dogma, and there isn’t some punk dogma that we’ve liked being lumped in with. And as for touring on a shoestring, because I own my van there’s nothing else to spend money on on tour beyond ferries and fuel and lunch, the people arranging the gigs give us everything else as well as arranging all these really wonderful nights for us everywhere, and the money they give us from the door means it’s a really comfy holiday for us, because it more than covers our costs and it’s a blast doing it.
The word shoestring might suggest some hard-done-by stance that we’ve never wanted to have. All I can say is we’ve never wanted to contrive the band with all the dogma that goes with so many bands, some sort of inherited and regurgitated Fugazi/Black Flag punk dogma that I don’t care about and find mostly daft. We’ve wanted to record and release songs at the rate we were writing them, and it’s been wonderful to do a lot of quite long tours. It’s been great because it’s nearly always been very friendly within the band and the last few years have been a breeze with all of the good stuff and very little of the bad.
James McDonald So Reciprocate’s the sixth LP – without wishing to compare to previous releases, do you feel your work as grown up to this milestone? Are there particular moments on the record you’re proud of, or anything you’ve accomplished that you wouldn’t have been able to 8 years ago?
Stef Ketteringham I think it’s a good album and I enjoyed making it and also the process of releasing it. It’s got stuff on it that is new ground for the Eyes and I’m very happy to think we recorded most of it in my house. We recorded it in a very simple manner, with not many microphones and chasing nice gentle room sounds. Whilst I’m not keen on a lot of our earlier output now it must have been necessary to get to the point of our more recent material and our live playing of the last few years. The peaks of improvised interplay we hit during live sets is what means most to me and is also the least tangible part. I love playing with Henri and Dearbhla.
“Do musicians deserve to get paid? ”
James McDonald Do you find pressing vinyl viable?
Stef Ketteringham Do you mean financially? Yes our records break even pretty quickly these days. But we don’t spend any money on anything beyond recording it and getting the vinyl made, so we keep the costs as low as possible. And recording for us is very cheap because we can do it in my house.
But yes, the way of releasing stuff that I’d have liked the most from the start would not have been albums at all, I’d have preferred a sort of never-ending stream of 7″ singles, to get away from the feeling of often too much time having lapsed between writing and releasing the songs that can come with putting albums out. But releasing music as albums is very nice too for different reasons, it’s much cheaper and I like thinking up the order of the songs and things like that.
“Sort of, but not really. It’s a pretty bitching hobby.”
James McDonald Do musicians deserve to get paid?
Stef Ketteringham Sort of, but not really. It’s a pretty bitching hobby.
James McDonald Which is your favourite recorded version of ‘Drill…’
Stef Ketteringham I don’t know, it’s cool there just being loads of them, on different live recordings and that. The original studio version is probably a bit naff, but we liked it at the time so I should shut up. It changed a lot anyway with all the gigs and I like all the freedom for our songs to change a lot, which happens very naturally.
James McDonald I’d like to talk a bit about your writing process, ta… Are you the kind of person who can never be without his guitar? Is it a case of fucking around with tunings/noodling on the fretboard until something sticks?The frequency of your output is immense, I think that’s what I’m trying to say…
Stef Ketteringham I just really like doing loads of guitar playing for the sake of it in my bedroom, and then the writing has been pursuing some of the ideas into songs. But at the moment with my broken finger I can’t play at all with my right hand so I can only play with my picking hand. I’ve been doing that a bit, with open strings in a strange tuning, and pursuing finger rhythms I haven’t managed before. That’s all I can do for the time being.
James McDonald Similarly lyrics, do you take joy from singing? And do you feel you’ve always been able to express yourself lyrically? Do the words form with the melodies when you’re writing for guitar?
Stef Ketteringham I’m a fairly shite singer but that is sort of right in power-trios perhaps. And yes I’ve liked writing lyrics and the melodies I wrote just sort of came out with no real thought. But now I don’t want to write lyrics anymore and for the most part I just feel interested in writing and recording guitar stuff at home, I really like recording guitar ideas when they are at the semi-composed/semi-improvised stage, and multi-tracking them. But now I have to let me finger heal before I can do any more of any music for the time being.
James McDonald When was the last time you felt enthused?
Stef Ketteringham A minute ago stroking next door’s cat.
James McDonald What have you learned from your experiences with this band?
Stef Ketteringham Loads of stuff… OK here’s one, potentially a bit too keenly stated but anyway; finding I’m part of a broader European community, through doing small gigs that are good to arrange, good to play at and good to attend. (Endless thanks to all the people we’ve met doing this).