I first saw For Abel in 2007, and have kept an eye on their progress ever since. They are a band that genuinely seems to improve every time you see them. They’re not playing too many Glasgow gigs, they’re not relying on hype from pals in the local media, and they are intense performers onstage and genuinely nice guys off it. I don’t know if this sort of “slow burn” approach can work in 2011, but if any band from these parts deserve to make a breakthrough, then it’s For Abel. Several people have remarked that if John Peel had heard For Abel he would have locked them in a studio and thrown away the key! Yesterday Radio 2 played an amazing version of Transmission, recorded by Joy Division during their debut Peel Session of 14th February 1979. I’d be surprised if For Abel frontman Rob Armstrong isn’t familiar with the same recording, as his performances often capture the same sort of drama. We caught up with the man himself to ask some questions about the progress of the band.
Pin Ups had a bit of fun last year when you were on the same bill as Guest DJs The National at our 7th birthday party. We let folk know you’d actually had to change your name (from Nacional) because of a polite request from the National’s management. It occurred to me that the name-related hilarity on the night could have actually got more intricate, because For Abel are surely influenced by, er, The Birthday Party. Do you agree? And do you actually like the National?
The name thing with Nacional really grew arms and legs for us and became a bit of a monster in the darkest sense of things. People from the industry and media constantly surrounded us with it and it was getting to a point where we felt the issue was suffocating people’s beliefs or opinions in our music. It was hard to give their music a chance because some vilified us for the name similarity. About a month after we were politely asked to change the name a good friend of mine, Dan, invited me to come to the Electric Ballroom in London to see The National aaaaaaannnnd they blew me away and have done ever since.
Do we like the National? Put it this way, Apartment Story is a front runner for the first dance at my wedding this summer!! The gig at your 7th birthday party was a big thing for us, afterwards some of the brass section from the National asked us as to where they could buy our music which made us happy people. As to who influences us? That’s a constantly revolving thing but we’re all from the north of Britain and that probably shines through from our first record.
Earlier this year Nick Mitchell (of the Scotsman’s RADAR) described you as “bafflingly unsatisfying”. A band getting even anything approaching a bad review is exceedingly rare in the cosy (some would say far too cosy!) world of Scottish blogging. I think Nick’s point was that he just wasn’t buying into the emotion evident in the lyrics. Whenever I see you it’s clear there’s a lot of emotion being put into the performance – it’s quite striking and I’ve always been convinced. However, is it hard to always rise to the occasion when the performance is clearly so demanding?
Not really, it’s far too much of a natural reaction to what we write and feel when playing our music, if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be doing it. We’ve nothing against Nick – his comments were refreshing and kept us on our toes a bit. You can’t “get” or enjoy all music and if it wasn’t for people like Nick we’d all be living in houses made of cotton wool listening to Snow Patrol… which is pretty much a frightening thought.
Much more positively, your album Greater Inventions was released in May and got great reviews, as has new single Yorkshire, which was launched at the Captain’s Rest earlier this month. It’s a great tune and some splendidly thought-provoking lyrics in the “it ain’t Coca Cola, it’s rice” vein of Joe Strummer. How much time is spent on the lyrics? How does the band collaborate on song writing?
We all collaborate with writing the music and the passion and energy behind it. The words within it are my thing, I’ve always had something to say and through For Abel it gives me a kick having something beautiful to express myself with. To be honest, it puts a fantastically great big smile on my face when people place thoughts behind my words because that’s what they are there for.
Guitarist Colin Healy (pictured below, left, with Rob on the right) sensationally broke his leg on band duty, didn’t he? And then soldiered through a UK tour? He can laugh about it now. Tell us what happened.
He did indeed and he’s making up for the bad karma of not carrying one single piece of equipment the entire tour!! Thankfully our sound tech is a big lad and even carried Col onto the bus! He broke it in April when, in true Glasgow fashion, we woke up to a blanket of snow. A newspaper had asked us to do a photoshoot and chose the red ash pitch in Maryhill…you can envisage the rest of the story but it involved snow, ice and unsteady converse trainers. We were going to complete the whole tour in hospital scrubs but Colin could only steal three.
It seems to me that since 2007 For Abel have made a lot of good decisions, whilst also constantly improving musically. Great radio play, SXSW, UK tours, not too many Glasgow gigs. Do you think you guys are now due a break (and I’m not referring to Colin’s leg)?
The only thing that hurts is that we can’t play every single day because what we could achieve would be frightening. We’ve got our jobs in bars and warehouses to pay the bills and to put into For Abel which is frustrating for us all just now. All we can do is keep on making records and keep those who understand us excited. We’re about to record our second LP with Sam [Smith, formerly "Mother" in the fantastic and sorely missed Mother and the Addicts and now director and producer at The Green Door Studio], it’s called Wildebeest and it’s stronger than Greater Inventions. It had to be otherwise there’d be no point in doing it.