Friday, January 30, 2009

Grown up and mystical

Their second album takes The View in a new direction, and musicals may be next, as Nick Hasted discovered, when their singer was fit to talk

The house-to-house search of his old haunts in Dundee has been completed, and here comes The View's singer Kyle Falconer.

He's three hours late, with dark make-up smeared down one eye, fingernails painted black by "the lassie behind the bar at Darnell's", and a beatific smile. He crumples on to a bench in the afternoon sun before retreating, shivering, inside.

The View's whereabouts in the two years since the release of their 300,000-selling, Mercury-nominated No 1 debut album Hats Off to the Buskers is not something Falconer can help with right now. "Kyle can't speak," guitarist Pete Reilly confirms. "Kyle's gone a bit ... couch potato."

Falconer will have more to say, later. But meeting The View in Dundee shows how far they have come. In 2006, during a barnstorming 60-date tour that saw them banned from hotels by their own management, they were childishly bored teens, playing with crisp-bags and pens. Today the band's bassist, vocalist and writer Kieren Webster strides into the bar in sharp Mod shoes, treating the place where they played some of their earliest gigs like his front room. Friends and hangers-on caper round the band, and a hopefully flirty girl massages their heads.

The View remain kings of the Dundee scene. But it was on returning here in 2007 that they hit a dead-end, pressured from all sides. "Kyle and Kieren got left in the lurch a wee bit," says Reilly. "We says to the record label, 'We're ready to go in to the studio and be creative.' They said, 'Ahh, you've got no singles.' Then when we stopped, we got lazy."

Webster, lonely on tour, felt worse back home. "I was like a soldier who got left in Vietnam who didnae ken the war was over," he remembers. "I just went under for four months. I liked being on tour better than having to think about anything. And I broke my hand ... punched a wall."

They were dragged back into action when their debut's wild producer Owen Morris turned up on Webster's doorstep, demanding the sequel. Which Bitch? finally arrives on Monday. "We were listening to Robert Johnson early on," Reilly reveals of the sessions. "He's pure special, his timing's revolutionary. And listened to loads of Beatles interviews – getting warmed up for yourself.

"Everybody goes on about difficult second albums, but this was like a stroll in the park. And possibly groundbreaking. We think it's the best body of work any band's produced in maybe 10 years. On our first album, everybody thought that was young boys, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and it was. It was life in Dundee. This album's more ... mystical. Kyle did a pirate tune called 'Distant Dubloon'. If he could talk, he'd really tell you what it's about. Blind Pew, mixed with real life ..."

Which Bitch? isn't that extraordinary. But its freewheeling confidence and the Mahler-inspired Dundee fantasia of "Distant Dubloon" ensures it outshines their indie peers.

The reasons become clear when, the next week, I keep bumping into The View. In Liverpool they're in another fine mess, arms wrapped round each other as they dance to childhood idols Oasis. Finally in a west London bar, I find Falconer fizzing with optimistic, articulate visions. The View live life to the chaotic full. But ambitious hard work underpins the excess. Their world tour wasn't just an excuse to go wild. They absorbed the cultures they passed through, from gracious, litter-free Japan to the "dirty" US, and storm-lashed Australia. This curious spirit inspired Which Bitch?.

"It used to be that it had to be real," Falconer says of his songwriting. "It was a credibility thing with me and Kieren. You used to say you didnae care what people around you thought. But we kinda did. There was some subliminal line in my head saying, 'You cannae do that...'" That line was crossed when he heard the original nonsense lyrics to the seemingly heartfelt "Yesterday", and abandoned careful sincerity for spontaneous, "mystical" writing. Morris drove on their education. "We were eating lobster for tea every night," says Falconer. "Even if we didn't want to we were supposed to, to see if it was cooked better than the other ones. Just excess, do whatever we want. Pure liberating ..."

Morris built a throne from a destroyed £2,000 bench in the studio and stuck it midway up its wall, to get the vocals just so. Having their own producer banned from the trashed studio was just what the label had feared. "The record company said, 'We don't think he works well together with you,'" grumbles Falconer. "What do you care? Were you in the studio? And they did not want Owen to mix the record. That's a point that we won."

The music business's timidity makes him sigh. "Everything's too rigid, man. When we're on stage we expect mistakes, somebody'll forget the words, or the mic'll break and you're singing into somebody's head. Everyone's singing the words anyway. Nobody cares what they sound like. But when we started playing big dates everybody was saying, 'Postpone your vodka,' there were loads of rules. SonyBMG have given shaping us a bash, in a polite way. But when they ask us to do something, we're like 'What?' when it's not even that mental, or that big a deal. So we've always had a good relationship."

Rivals such as the Kaiser Chiefs have used third albums to exhaust their one idea. For The View, a musical could be next. "I've studied musicals all my life," Falconer says, "because that's what my sisters and my mum used to play. I listened to Peer Gynt before I went to my bed, and Tchaikovsky. My sisters were a lot older and they babysat us just so they could tell us about Barry Manilow. West Side Story I grew up on, that was one of my favourite things. Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We're just doing what's meant to be done right now, taking the righteous path [with Which Bitch?]. But this musical'll be a dream come true."

Falconer and Webster see being in a band as a place of endless opportunity. Reilly is already content. "When I started playing guitar I had dreams," he tells me that day in Dundee. "One of them was to play in front of a massive crowd. The other was to support Oasis. And we supported Noel Gallagher at the Albert Hall. I've done my dreams. If I died tomorrow, I would die a happy man. I've done loads. And saw the world."

"I quite like memories," went their biggest hit, "Superstar Tradesman". "A man's dead if he doesn't have a story," confirms the new single "Shock Horror". "That's exactly right," Reilly says. "Live life to the fullest – and success has certainly made life closer to grab. That song goes, 'And the clock keeps ticking/ let's hope you don't grow old.' Yeah, and let's hope I don't grow old," shivers the 22-year-old.

"We'll live forever, don't worry," Falconer slurs. "You don't miss your lover till she waves you goodbye/ You don't miss your water till the river runs dry.'"

"Lover" sounds worryingly like "liver", the way Falconer tells it. But The View are about innocent experience, not self-destruction. Rock'n'roll for them isn't a career, but a way to be free.

By Nick Hasted, The Independent, 30th January 2009


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