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Bent Interview

8 April 05 words: Emily Hynd
photos: David Bowen

As Nottingham lads Bent have done us proud, they've been here through thick and thin...

Simon and Nail from Bent - Photograph by David Bowen

I was first graced by the brilliance of Bent in 2000 and have been in love ever since. Like all young, heady relationships, we've had our ups and downs but their quality (and my loyalty) has never faltered. The sample-heavy debut 'Programmed To Love' that first caught my eye was fun while it lasted but as the Bent boys grew, so too did their sound - and by Album Three we were looking at a far more sophisticated, mature piece of work.

With a strong focus on song-based material, Ariels proved Nail Tolliday and Simon Mills' true talent for all things musical and saw them sit comfortably alongside fellow downtempo gurus Zero 7 and Lemon Jelly. And yes, you’ve heard of them even if you don’t know it - from the many adverts they've featured on, from Carlsberg to the Inland Revenue. 

As Nottingham lads Bent have done us proud, they've been here through thick and thin, have nursed many a thumping hang-over and have given us the soundtrack to countless summers. I caught up with Simon to find out more…

Tell us where it all started for Bent…
We both made music before we started working together in 1998 - since we were teenagers really! We met because I used to live above Nail, and eventually we moved in. I had a small studio set up, and a box of shitty records from charity shops, and we both went from there. We realised very quickly that we worked very well together. Lots of messing around but then realising that we really liked what we were making. Shortly we had a manager, and it all went from there. But it wasn't until late '99 that we had deals forming and music released.

There was a shift in your last album Ariels from sampling vinyl to musicians and instruments. Was this a natural progression?
There's a few reasons for this. Firstly, we wanted to make an album with a melancholic emotional feel and have a flow to it, not take you all over the place. An album that you could put on and listen to as one piece in a way. We were sampling ourselves, and although we made nearly 40 tracks for the album, many of them were electronic and sampled, but the ones we chose had that organic quality. Also, samples are expensive, and sometimes take months to clear! We wanted to have an album we could take to the stage and have electronic sounds and musical performance.

So you’ve traded in your old vinyl for a set of drums?
Nope. Still used the vinyl, but in more subtle ways than before. People think we've turned our back on electronic music. Not at all. The next album may be more electronic than the first two! It's very nice to get a real harpist involved and string quartets. The style of the music tends to come out a bit more "traditional" sounding, but there's some beautiful musicianship there that you can't achieve with a sampler.

Your website is one of the most unique we've seen in ages. Is the Bent image quite important to you or do you just enjoy doing cool stuff on the side?
I come from an art background, and so images, attitudes and all the rest of it are very important to us; it reveals a bit more about us. People do read a book by its cover. We thought it would be nice to have a Ceefax website, seeing as everyone else does slick web pages.

The artwork for your latest EP Flavour Country featured 500 photographs taken by yourselves…
To have a sleeve containing pictures of your toilet, keyboards, wife and mum is quite nice, because bands rarely reveal to their audience what they see day-to-day and hide behind a certain image. 500 limited versions of those records actually contained a single unique print. People were emailing us saying "what's this?" and we'd be saying, "That's my daughter", "That's a picture of the Robin Hood statue". I was wondering out of all the pictures who on earth was going to get the record that contained the limited picture of me and my Mum. I couldn't believe it - Nail got it!

I keep reading about Nail’s life-changing experiences last year...
Well, Nail's now happily married with a beautiful daughter, and he wasn't well a couple of years back. It puts your life in perspective. Over the years we've almost become married. Hahah! But when you work together you get to know each other very well, and we both made a definite decision to make an album that was more ‘emotional’. The next might end up being whatever - more banging, more strange and abstract, etc. We just go off on how we're feeling at the time.

What's a typical day in the studio with you both like?
We'll meet up, act very juvenile, wind each other up, and all the rest of it. In between that we somehow make music. Two typical blokes, really. Lots of people say hanging out with us makes them uncomfortable, because we almost speak in code nowadays. This is what happens when you spend all day in a room full of machines with another person. Heheh!

You seem to be quite proud of your Nottingham roots. Are you ever tempted by the bright lights of London like so many other artists?
London is a big expensive place with great places to go and all the rest of it. Lots of bands stay here. There's a great musical community in Nottingham. Why go somewhere expensive where your friends and family aren't? If that was the case, I'm sure we'd be in Barcelona or something!

What's your favourite place in Nottingham?
The Victoria Centre, Wilkos on Parliament Street, Yates, TFI Fridays, Dunkirk flyover…I can't choose. Kidding! There's a lot of places I like in Nottingham, but most of them that are springing to mind are bars. And that's probably because we have more bars and pubs per square mile than any other city, don't we?

Where would we be most likely to find you on a Friday night out?
Not in the town centre. It's a bit nightmarish in certain places nowadays. I'd go into town on a night out on a more relaxed evening. If I had to go out on that night though, it would either be around the Castle area since I live near there or in Hockley.

What festivals can we catch Bent at this summer?
We're probably going to be at The Big Chill again - we've been for the last few years, and I love it. It's perfect. I'm sure we'll be doing another tour soon, but right now we've just come back from touring with The Scissor Sisters, Mylo and loads of others in the Good Vibrations festivals all over Australia.

What's the future for Bent?
Look for album four, more gigs, more remixing, lots of DJing. There you go. A bit of blatant advertising. We're also working with other acts like Weekend Players and other singers on their projects. All good fun!

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