Nicola Maule speaks to Stephen McRobbie from influential Glasgow band, The Pastels, about record labels, record shops, and the ever changing musical landscape. This November The Pastels take to the stage at The Great Western, a brand new multi-venue festival right on our doorstep.
The Pastels are playing at The Great Western festival in November, which is showing to have a great line-up of bands, at a number of venues throughout Glasgow’s West End. What was it about this festival that made you sign up to play?
It was a combination of things. It seemed potentially exciting and the timing was good for us. We’ve worked with the promoter, 432, in the past and we knew that they would trust us and help us realise an event that we would all be proud of. I’m wary of the word ‘curate’, it’s become such a cliché, so it’s more a co-operation between us to put something amazing in place for one of the shows, in Maryhill Community Central Hall. So far we’ve got Sacred Paws, Lightships and Molly Linen playing, we’re about to add a couple more and DJs. We’re hoping it can become a real hub for The Great Western festival.
Your last album Slow Summits was released in 2013 through indie label Domino Records, and shortlisted the same year for Scottish Album of the Year – did you enjoy reconnecting with your fan base at this time?
With regards to Slow Summits, we never felt disconnected from our fanbase as we’d been playing live from time to time and of course working on other things that became public domain like the collaboration with our friends, Tenniscoats, the Two Sunsets album. We’d been doing some film and theatre things too so it felt not too much like a massive comeback. We were very proud when it started to get good reviews and we could see that people liked it. Great to make the shortlist of the Scottish album of the year. I think many people always feel an affection for a group’s first music but maybe we managed to make people feel an affection for our most recent music. I only hope that we can do it again, we’ll always try to come up with something that’s better than we’ve done before.
Being a part of Glasgow record shop, Monorail, you clearly love being immersed in the music scene – are you always on the lookout for new bands and still enjoy watching live music as much as playing?
Being involved in Monorail Music gives me a different perspective. I get to hear so many different records, it’s healthy and sometimes daunting trying to keep up. For me, I prefer playing music to watching it, it’s just a bit more satisfying. That said, I have seen some amazing shows this year – Jarv Is, Julia McFarlane’s Reality Guest, Trash Kit. I’m proud to be working with Spinning Coin through our label, Geographic, and on a Strawberry Switchblade retrospective too. I try to keep learning and try to keep my enthusiasm. So far it’s not been a problem.
After your first single, Songs for Children, released on Whaam records in 82’ I read that you released a cassette tape. Did that format give you more control and how do you feel about the resurgence in releasing tapes recently as an ‘old school’ format?
I actually can’t remember what came first. We were really keen to reach an audience and impatient so we were always trying to take things into our own hands. Cassettes were easy and cheap – a good format for where we were. I understand them coming back round because they still maybe seem more fun than a file. I think they’re extremely niche objects but they have a place. I still like a well made mix tape with a nice piece of handmade art.
You have always been in what seems to be a crowd of musicians that were very comfortable collaborating with each other. Is this something that you still enjoy and are there any new collaborations in the offing?
We’ve not really got anything planned but would like to make another record with Tenniscoats sometime. I think of The Pastels as a collaboration – between the various musicians in the group and the sound engineer. Sometimes it’s good not to colour everything in to the nth. Then you’re leaving space for a collaborator. If Kicking Leaves had been too realised Craig Armstrong might have felt there was nothing for him to do. Instead he was able to help give it a particular identity which we loved.
How do see the music industry moving forward considering the seismic changes that have taken place since The Pastels started out?
I’m not sure what changes are coming next – people listen to music in so many different ways. Even on our label, Domino, some of the artists are reaching their fanbase mainly through streaming. I think people are after a mixture of convenience and quality. The quality part is ultimately really important. That’s why so many people still love listening to records.
The Great Western is an all-day multi-venue music festival on Saturday 23rd November. For full listings and ticket sales go to: tgwfest.com.