Public Service Broadcasting have made waves with their new album, Every Valley. The album is definitely not your typical adolescent trope on the vicissitudes of love and loss. Deeply empowering and phenomenally rich in storytelling, the band made its sophomore release a story about miners – specifically, miners from Wales.
Comprised of multi-instrumentalists J Willgoose Esq, Wrigglesworth, and JF Abraham, the band brings a curious mish-mash of genres — echoing the stylistic power of post-punk, electronica, krautrock and punk rock — together to create an intriguing narrative from start to end on Every Valley.
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As if their musicality isn't enough to impress you, the story behind the album is interesting – and we had the changes to speak to frontman Willgoose (whom we will affectionately call J) about the bands thought process behind it, as well as about the thrills and spills of touring.
Instrumentation was, of course, the first questions on your mind – the band professes to have the trusty flugelhorn in their gear cabinets, among other standard instruments like the keys, guitars, and drums.
“Our bass player is a classically trained trumpet player by trade and he plays the flugelhorn as well," J shares, "and I think for him playing the bass and playing the keys – those are the things that he picked up just for fun."
Every Valley is a stroke of remarkable growth for the band — both in their conceptual and musical efforts. Tackling the weighty history of coal miners in Wales, it's a grounded take on a complex industry, something that's not far removed from their previous work which took on the well-documented space race in the 60s on The Race For Space, and various historical achievements on Inform-Educate-Entertain. Their music is driven by various soundbites and samples which aid the narrative.
Every Valley, their third album, shows a band playing to their strengths, never relying on a tried-and-true formula.
"I’m self-taught and from a very different way of writing and thinking about music," J says. "The drummer, as well you know, he did a degree in drum studies so he’s not really a kind of very accomplished drummer. He’s a percussionist — he can play tuned percussion like the vibraphone on this album or the glockenspiel. It just gives you more options to work with really.”
When it came to thinking about Every Valley, I remember my dad asking me: ‘don’t you think there’s a risk that you’d be tagged as a sort of political act, or that this album is gonna be viewed as too political?’ I just started to think: ‘well, is that a bad thing?’"
— J on tackling the album's main topic.
Of course, this feeds in well with their approach to their genre, albeit it being something extremely difficult to pinpoint. J shares that “I think it almost chooses itself because it’s the music that comes out of you when you’re writing in response to these events and these stories. I think I did want it to be less electronic than previous albums that we’ve done and the used maybe a slightly richer arrangement and have a more rich sound to it overall."
He continues, "I guess it’s just a product of all the music that I listen to and it all just kinda goes through you — you’re just kind of the filter for that. It comes out of your mind and, hopefully, it's something new in the process.”
Something new they did, indeed – the band, continuing their historical interests, decided to find their inspiration in an unlikely source: the British Film Institute, or BFI. The band’s efforts in the hallowed halls of the famed institution led to J developing a — at the time — burgeoning love for the mining community of Wales, despite never actually meeting members of the community. The resultant and rather organic process resulted in the creation of Every Valley, which has some pretty suggestive title tracks like ‘People Will Always Need Coal’.
J justifies this inspiration: “I was looking through their archives to see what they had. I found an enormous collection of coal board films and coal review films. I just thought, ‘where there’s that much material, there’s a chance to make an interesting album from it’."
Digging in deeper provided a sense of purpose to craft a narrative for this fascinating stretch of history. "The more research I did about this subject in particular, the more I kind of read about the South Valleys and how the strong community sense for there and how — in terms of the strike in the 80s (the UK miners' strike in 1984-85) — the rate of return to work was the lowest in the country. [We] used it as a kind of microcosm and try and draw out bigger lessons by focusing on something so contained. That was the reason for constructing it that way.”
Their deep study of the region and its people resulted in a visceral album that speaks of a forgotten community, which fits in well with a solid commitment to speaking directly to audiences: “We got so much further than I ever thought we could with something like this," he says. "When it came to thinking about Every Valley, I remember my dad asking me: ‘don’t you think there’s a risk that you’d be tagged as a sort of political act, or that this album is gonna be viewed as too political?’ I just started to think: ‘well, is that a bad thing?’"
Unlike their previous albums, the central topic of Every Valley is not particularly popular, but it's especially resonant in a post-Brexit world. "I don’t think it’s something a lot of people would’ve thought was a good or commercially appealing idea to do," he says. "That was part of the reason why I wanted to do it: the challenge of it, the ambition of it.”
J’s humility then shines through when we change gears and ask him about the trials and tribulations of touring, a topic we’ve attempted to consistently ask touring musicians in the effort to bring their struggles to the eyes of the fans.
“On a Friday night, we got to a hotel at 2.15am and we had to get up an hour later to get to the airport. It’s not that hard. It’s a minor struggle compared to—well, when you’ve just written an album on coal mining, I think you need to wary of saying that you have a tough job. (laughs)"