Trembling Blue Stars Interview

By liz

I was fortunate enough to get a short Q&A session with Bobby Wratten of the Trembling Blue Stars (formerly The Field Mice and Northern Picture Library). Bobby and Beth can be seen performing acoustically in a city near you soon.

A big thank you to Beth Arzy-Dean and Subpop.

Q. Your musical voice has taken on many names over the years, The Field Mice, Nothern Picture Library and now Trembling Blue Stars. Is this the name you will stick with?

A. Yes. I like the idea of having a name that anything I may do can come out under. Also, Trembling Blue Stars is something I started on my own.
In the future I hope that we'll be seen very much as a duo but until we actually do something with the new format I guess it'll be seen as my thing.

Q. As the Trembling Blue Stars, you have never done a lot of touring. We had a tour in America here last summer, but I believe that was your first trip to the US. Did you enjoy yourself then and are you looking forward to the upcoming shows?

A. I actually went to America twice last year. A short east coast trip/ west coast holiday and the autumn tour. I loved both trips, I love America and a lot of American culture. It was a dream come true to travel cross country and I'm so looking forward to the forthcoming trip.

Q. When was the first time you played live?

A. The first Field Mice gig was just before the release of our second single early in 1989. Trembling Blue Stars made their debut in the summer of 1996. We did a few gigs and then I took three years off from playing live!

Q. I think a lot of Sarah fans are dying to find out what happened with the recent split between you and Shinkansen. Do you have a new label in the UK?

A. The split between Shinkansen had been a long time coming. We left simply because it wasn't working anymore. I guess I got frustrated with the fact that it is very much Matt's label and he has his way of doing things. I also just find the label uninspiring in an aesthetic sense. It's not a beautiful label.
We don't have a new label. I think it would have been less of a statement to leave if we'd had somewhere better to go. The fact that we left with no idea what were were going to do shows how unhappy we were. It's easy to leave if you've somewhere to go.

Q. What about with the departure of the rest of your band (save Beth)?

A. Keris left amicably at the end of the US tour. After that the band just went into a kind of limbo. We just didn't do anything. We haven't done anything since we played L.A. last November. When I actually thought about what I wanted to do I realised I hadn't missed the band format and wanted to simplify things to the extent that it was just Beth and myself.
I've spoken to Jonathan and we're fine. He'll probably drum for us in the future as an 'honorary' Blue star. I definitely didn't handle the break up well and obviously some people took it better than others!

Q. You've always held my admiration as a songwriter because of your ability to put all of yourself, no matter how painful, out on display for the world to see. Do you ever have a problem with your personal life being so available to anyone with a cd or record player?

A. Not really. I always think how Jackson Browne said something along the lines of 'If you're worried about going too far you shouldn't be writing.'
Also, they are first and foremost songs. No matter how autobiographical there'll nearly always be some element of artistic licence whether intentional or not. It isn't possible to know me just through the records!

Q. Is songwriting part of your healing process?

A. It's partly that. Obviously articulating something can help. It's down on the page rather than rattling around your head however it's also a process of discovery. It's as much about finding things out as it is explaining them.
But a record like 'Her Handwriting' did make me feel like I'd freed myself of a lot of things.

Q.You've said a few times that The Field Mice was the experience that helped you grow as a musician. Do you feel like you've grown up now?

A. Not really! I'm still very much an amateur musician. I just use the guitar to write. I think what I meant was we were growing up in public with The Field Mice. Obviously on a very small scale but we were making records before we had a clue what we were doing. I haven't grown up but I do feel better at it now.

Q. While arranging for this interview I was told that you don't have a computer. Are you the type of songwriter who has a million books of songs and lyrics, or just a million scraps of paper?

A. Just notebooks and bits of paper. I tend to write songs in batches so that when I'm in writing mode I'll be working on things and writing endlessly. Other times I go for ages without a single idea. I just wait for the songs. You can't force them. It's always so unsatisfactory if you do. Somehow the songs seem soulless.

Q. I think people automatically group you into a 'twee' music scene. Does the label bother you?

A. I just don't think about it anymore. I've never liked that tag or that scene. It's never interested me. It's not what I listen to. However the way you perceive what you do and the way other people see it will often be very different. It used to frustrate me but now I let it go. It's just not my world.

Q. After all these years you seem to have a great working relationship with Ian Catt. Will he always be a partner in crime?

A. I don't know. There's definitely an argument for trying to do something different. Especially with the duo feeling like a fresh start. Maybe breaking away from everything would be good. I do work well with Ian but it could be time for a change. We'll have to see. I definitely want a different sound. It's just whether we'd be able to get it with Ian.

Q. Everyone has their favorite bits of your music, whether it's the lyrics, layers of synth or the way you can make the simpliest melody automatically familiar... if there was one thing you are particularly proud of, what would it be?

A. I just like it when a song stands up in it's simplest form. Which is why the forthcoming tour should be interesting. I do work hard on the lyrics and it's nice that some people notice but it's basically just the songs I'm proud of - not all of them obviously!!

Q. Is there a fellow musician you would like to work with?

A. I've never really got involved in collaborations. I'm not sure I'd be good at it.
However, if Jackson Browne or Brian Eno or Elvis Costello wanted to produce our next record...

Q. Do you read the music press? (and i don't mean only for your own reviews)

A. I read UNCUT and MOJO. I haven't read NME for ages.

Q. What are you looking forward to right now?

A. Going to Brighton next weekend to see Keris, going to the USA, the new albums by Sigur Ros and Jackson Browne, moving to Scotland one day, the future, recording our next record (whenever that may be) and Christmas... I always look forward to Christmas.

Q. What gets your goat?

A. George W and his warmongering, shouty men in shorts! (translation from Beth "nu-metal"), homophobia, racism, the death penalty. I would say the present music scene but that seems a little obvious. It's just that pop music has been so precious and important to me and now there's someone, somewhere falling in love to a mediocre record.

Q. What were the last 5 records you heard?

A. 'Jerusalem' - Steve Earle
'Demolition' - Ryan Adams
'Sledgehammer Dub' - Niney The Observer
'Dancehall Anthems 79-82' - Greensleeves 2CD Set
'The Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll Volume 2'

Q. Are there any bands you're excited about right now?

A. I really liked the Caretaker album. I'm never short of things to buy but there aren't that many bands or new bands anyway that I like right now which sounds a little depressing.

Q. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

A. Hot Chocolate made with Soya Milk!

Q. I've heard that you're an avid reader, what is the best book you've read this year?

A. 'Nothing' by Paul Marley. I identified with it a little too closely but I loved it. He's someone who is full of ideas and they're always interesting - a bit like Brian Eno.
I also liked David Mitchell's Number 9 Dream.

Q. I'm guessing that your musical forays have not made you a millionaire... do you have "real" job?

A. No, but it's on the horizon. So if there's anyone out there who wants to employ a failed singer-songwriter...