To follow on from my retrospective article about Schmoof over on The Electricity Club, here is a brand-new interview with Schmoof!
Lloyd and Sarah Schmoof: it’s great to hear from you both again! When I interviewed you last you were just about to release your second album, The Glamour and preparing for a UK tour to promote it. That album turned out to be my favourite release of 2007, but I think a lot of your potential fanbase either didn’t “get it” or just weren’t ready for your brand of analogue synthpop, retro ZX Spectrum visuals, and latex (there was a lot of latex).
Just a couple of years after Schmoof there was a huge resurgence and interest in electropop – do you think Schmoof were just around too early, or do you think you were just a little bit too different from your contemporaries?
L: When we first started gigging in 2000ish, we found it really hard to get gigs. All venues seemed to expect four dirty blokes playing guitar…
S: …and most sound engineers didn’t understand how to mix us!
L: So we started running our Warm Electro club nights at the Water Rats. If you go out to gigs now in London, there are many electro duos. So either we were too late for the early 80s electro era, or too early for the current one. I still believe that using proper synths is really important. Most electro bands these days just press ‘play’ on their laptop and pretend to twiddle knobs on their mixer that isn’t plugged in – it ain’t live.
What was important to us was writing catchy songs that were actually about something. A lot of electro music today is dance music with bland lyrics about love. Some people thought we were a joke band because there was a lot of wit in our lyrics. It didn’t feel like a joke for us; music is all about entertainment and making people happy.
S: In this way we were different from our contemporaries; we were serious about making music but we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and had fun with the song-writing process and the performance in particular. Some people just didn’t get that. A lot of the electro-pop around at that time was very ‘cool’, both in terms of the timbres used in the production process, the lyrics and particularly the aloof style of performance. In many ways we were the opposite of that, hence Warm Electro. Perhaps people would have understood us better now, with people like Lady Gaga around who have fun with their performance.
Which Schmoof song are you most proud of?
S: I’m really proud of the whole of our second album, The Glamour. It realised our musical aims with Schmoof; it’s all essentially electro but it doesn’t all sound the same, for example Backseat Driver contains rock elements and Hayfever has a country’n’western vibe. I also think it contains some of our best songs. In terms of songwriting, I’m particularly proud of Northern Line.
L: Chocolate Boyfriend was the single. That got a lot of press including Single of the Week in The Sun, beating Robbie Williams! The song is really simple musically, it’s mostly two chords. But for the musos out there, there are some odd chords in the pre-chorus and the middle 8. It sounds like a clean mix, but there are lots of distorted synths buried in the mix to add dynamic contrasts between the sections. I’m also very proud of the final section of Backseat Driver where Sarah’s voice morphs. Sarah wasn’t about that day so I got a bit carried away. I spent a whole afternoon trying to get the perfect take by running her voice through some crazy wirings through filters and ring modulators on my System 100 and twiddling the knobs going to tape. These days I could program something similar in Logic in a couple of minutes, but that would lack challenge and you wouldn’t be able to get it as wild sounding.
Any special Schmoofy memories or moments you cherish?
L: All of it really. I was so proud of the quality of what we were producing without a major label budget. I also loved our live shows; most bands at the time just turned up and played their instruments but we tried to stamp our brand on the venue. We had striking outfits and our projections helped fill the stage – the ZX Spectrum was the third member of the band. And everyone got a schmoof sticker during the gig.
One gig that I remember was in Bedford (I think). We weren’t expecting anything special – just a small venue, probably half empty; small town mentality. The place was rammed full of teenage metallers who had come to see the local 6th form metal band that were supporting us. We didn’t think that these metalheads would be into us and they would probably just leave after their mates band had finished. They stayed and partied hard. They loved our music and we sold loads of CDs and sold out of T-shirts!
I think that our final gig, which was in London, was our best. We were really on it. It was a great venue in the heart of Hoxton chic; it was rammed. No-one knew it was our final gig except us.
S: I think one of our best gigs was when we played Infest in Bradford. It was probably our biggest gig in terms of audience size – well over 1,000 I think – and it was one of the first times we had done a gig outside our home town of London and had several people calling out requests for our songs! That was a lovely feeling – we felt like proper pop stars for 20 minutes!
Your album The Glamour seemed to make a sardonic comment on how life in a band might be anything BUT glamorous. What was the worst thing about touring? Worst gig?
L: In the early days there were some truly awful gigs. Small venues with limited sound systems. We were so dependent on the sound system because we didn’t have a drum kit and guitar amps. We did a lot of gigs in Glasgow. We know every inch of the M6!
Because all of our synths were analogue, in a live situation with hot lights shining on them, they always went out of tune. This was really hard to manage whilst still trying to make the gigs look effortless. The Roland SH 101 was the biggest culprit – sometimes it could be a few tones out of tune. It needed re-tuning for every song.
S: Yes when you’re a band releasing stuff on your own label, it aint that glam! I loved the gig part of touring but the travel and sleeping on random floors was tough. There’s a photo inside the album cover of us both lifting our massive super-heavy silver flight case, which contained most of our gear. We sometimes got to a venue and realised that we had to lift that flight case up four steep flights of stairs! But of course the worst bit was lifting it back down again at 6 in the morning when you are knackered and drunk! That bloody flight case…
One of our worst gigs (but also one of the funniest) was at a small club in Cornwall. We went on very late and the place was full of very drunk people. One audience member had to be held back by her boyfriend as she screamed rude names at me and a man asked me to sign his bottom when we came off stage! Bizarre…
What made you decide to call it a day with Schmoof?
S: We felt that we had taken it as far as we could. Our ultimate aim was to make music our entire life, so after The Glamour, when we were still having to support Schmoof through our day jobs, we decided not to continue. But I’m incredibly proud of everything we achieved and feel that we ended on a high with The Glamour.
L: And I wanted to surf more. Living in London was doing my head in.
What do you miss the most about being in a band?
L: Spending a lot of time with Sarah. We were so close as friends. We were so focused on the band. It was our lives – it was all we did. It’s really rewarding producing a product that people want to buy into. We did it all ourselves – we had no help from labels or management companies.
S: I agree that Lloyd and I became very close. Experiencing all the highs and lows of a band with one other person is very intense and we were like brother and sister. I really miss the song writing process – I would have loved to have written songs for other people but it is so hard to get a foot in the door. And I really miss playing live.
Any special Schmoof memorabilia you still have? What happened to the Schmoof synthesizers and home computers?
S: We still have the outfits! I haven’t tried them on since having children but I’ll probably keep them forever.
L: The synths are in my Dad’s attic or some of the better ones are lent out to musicians. It’s best that they get used because otherwise they stop working. Some of them are 40 years old now. If I were ever to record songs again, I would use the same studio gear. I see no reason to upgrade my Atari and my synths. I would like my music to sound individual – not like Logic Pro music as everything in the charts sounds like.
If you were to do it all again now, what (if anything) would you do differently?
L: Produce more records and sell them. Sometimes, I think we kept trying to make the music better instead of just getting it out there.
S: I would have spent less time trying to get a record deal/manager/agent and focussed on releasing our own records and building our label and fanbase gradually.
What did you make of all the female-fronted synthpop bands that came after Schmoof (La Roux, Little Boots, Ladyhawke etc.)?
L: Where are they now? They didn’t last long or do anything new. La Roux wrote some nice songs, but they aren’t classics that stand the test of time.
S: None of them quite worked for me. Of the three, I think Ladyhawke was best. I liked her voice but that’s probably because I love Stevie Nicks!
What music do you listen to now?
L: Daft Punk’s latest album is amazing. It sounds like proper music because they use proper analogue synthesisers; it doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded on Logic like everything else around at the moment. And Donna Summer’s disco stuff. Sarah and I listened to the 17 minute version of “Love To Love You Baby” last night.
S: I’ve always been a huge fan of 1980s pop music and still listen to all my old albums now. I rarely buy new stuff if I’m honest but recent stuff I’ve liked includes Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae and Haim. I wasn’t as convinced by Daft Punk’s latest album as Lloyd, although I did like ‘Get Lucky’ and was reminded how awesome Nile Rogers is – I’d kill for a career like his! I mentioned her earlier but I do love the humour and showiness of Lady Gaga. I also saw electro trio Midnight Juggernauts a couple of years ago and got really into their stuff.
What have you been up to recently? Do you still do anything music-related?
S: I’m now a mummy to two little boys! So my time is mostly spent running around after them. I’m also in the process of setting up my own business.
L: I run a music technology course. Some of my students go on to have chart success which is rewarding. I can hear stuff that I taught them in their recordings. I also surf most days. That is my new creative outlet.
Any chances of a Schmoof reunion gig, or some solo material? Any unreleased Schmoof songs that might see the light of day sometime?
S: I’m afraid there won’t be any Schmoof reunion gigs. I did consider doing solo Sarah Schmoof stuff but I never find the time with two young kids and perhaps the moment has passed now (sob).
L: I have tapes and tapes (yes tapes, not mp3s stored on a computer) of Schmoof recordings that no-one will ever hear. The tapes have been in the attic for years – they might not even play now. It is good to reminisce about Schmoof – it’s been such a long time and has reminded me of another life. This has encouraged us to put the album up on YouTube with the original ZX Spectrum animations so people can see them on this modern thing called the internet.