George McFall meets with 17 Seconds to buy us a coffee, tell us about his new album and why it’s coming out under his own name.
Given the somewhat intense look Mr. McFall gives on his fantastic new album XIV: Surrounder, it may come as a surprise to some readers just how very nice and down to earth he is in real life. We met on a dark January night in the bar of Edinburgh’s hallowed Cameo cinema to discuss the forthcoming release of his second album – the follow-up to 2012’s debut God Save The Clean – due out at the end of January. He buys me a cup of coffee, settles himself down with a pot of tea and we get on with a very enjoyable chat.
So, given the seven years that has passed since the debut (also an excellent record, in case you were wondering) what has he been up to? Quite a lot as it happens.
‘I’ve been trying to hold down jobs, maintain relationships and working on the new album,’ he says. He also did a degree in History at Birkbeck College in London, where he lives for much of the time. With the exception of drums from Edinburgh drum legend Murray Briggs (of Oi Polloi and Aberfeldy), everything else on the record has been played by George himself. ‘Being able to do a record like this one in a mere six years is quite impressive when you’re having to do everything yourself,’ he says. Really, it’s hard to argue.
Not only that but checking the shelves back home later reveals he also contributed to the two albums released in that time by Dominic Waxing Lyrical, Woodland Casual and Rural Tonic. He’s also written and recorded a forthcoming album with Murray’sbrother, Aberfeldy frontman Riley. They set up the Edinburgh record company, Tenement Records, with friends back in 2010. ‘None of us are doing it thinking that we’re going to sell lots of records,’ he says, though the quality – which also includes Aberfeldy’s last album to date, Somewhere To Jump From – pretty much speaks for itself.
Whereas previous records, going back to his debut single, 2007’s ‘First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women’ were under the name Clean George IV, the arrival of the first track from the album ‘Autumn’ towards the end of last year was the first time he had put out a record under his own name. ‘There comes a time in life when giving yourself a cartoon name seems trite and embarrassing,‘ he says.
The original name was nothing to do with George IV Bridge in Edinburgh – the city where he grew up – but was,he says cryptically, ‘somewhat ironic‘ . Of that debut single, he jokes about having an idea about writing protestant pop music (believe me, in parts of the Celtic Fringe there are still those who wouldn’t get the joke about that, regardless of churches being places they go for hatching, matching and despatching). The A-side references a notorious pamphlet by the Scottish religious reformer John Knox, while the B-side ‘The Great Highland Crack Epidemic’ was inspired by nights out. ‘I was writing songs from the title backwards in those days,’ he reflects.
Given the distinct sound that he has fashioned, I ask what his influences are. His father is a classical musician, and growing up he was surrounded by the 1980s pop music of the time, followed by a ‘classic rock phase’ and then a period of what may now be regarded as classic leftfield rock, the likes of Captain Beefheart, The Birthday Party and The Fall. The latter particularly sound like an influence on his two albums.
He also enjoys the German progressive rock sound of the 1970s – I tell him that I hear a connection between his music and that of the legendary Faust. This seems to please him and he recalls an encounter with the drummer of the band some years ago who told him that in the future we’d all smoke electric cigarettes. The time has now come, we agree. He played keyboards for a while in the fondly remembered Kling Klang, who drew on the German music of the period, but were eventually forced to split up after a cease and desist notice from Kraftwerk (it’s the name of their Dusseldorf studio).
We also end up discussing the minimalist music of the late twentieth century, he gives the thumbs up to the likes of Americans Steve Reich and John Adams, but he’s rather less than enthusiastic about Philip Glass, perhaps being rather unimpressed when I tell him it was David Bowie and Siouxsie Sioux who got me to rethink my own views on him.
Perhaps given our surroundings on this wet January evening, we discuss the film influence on his work – he describes both his albums as ‘quite cinematic sounding.’ He tells me that he has deliberately courted a hi-fidelity sound on his records. While he is sympathetic to previous generations indie shambling, he tells me quite firmly that ‘in this day and age there’s no excuse! [for low fidelity]’ In his defence, he doesn’t name names. Many of these bands come from north of the border, and in Scotland, the six degrees of separation is usually reduced to two.
Surrounder was finished last summer, and over the next few months he intends to finish not one but two albums under his own name. In addition to that, he has radio sessions and a few ‘little shows’ as he describes them, lined up. Certainly his new album may have been a while coming, but once my broadband finally lets me, it’s a treat for the ears. He ploughs his own furrow, and your record collection should be better for that.
XIV: Surrounder is released on Tenement Records on February 1.