This Short Sweet Life: Interview With Huw Costin

12 December 17 interview: Paul Klotschkow

The Torn Sail frontman discusses the band's debut album...

Torn Sail Interview

Torn Sail

Hi Huw, my first question has to be what took Torn Sail so long to record and release the album?
The band recorded the songs, and several others as well, over three or four weekends. So that's quick really – they're fine musicians – great flair, intuition, skill and imagination. Admittedly, I lost a year or two to mixing and playing with the overall sound until I was happy. I wanted it to sound human – the band together playing, but I wanted the music to encompass a richness and an insular world beyond that too – to inhabit its own space, be more than the sum of its parts. Just the thinking about that takes a long time. The dreaming of the tracks takes its own time. It can't be forced. Just getting the tracks in the best order took a lot of listening. I knew the music so well I could barely stay awake while I listened. It was tortuous at times.

When I thought the recording was complete, the band went to play a little festival near Sherwood Forest and the boss of the label who was going to release the album at that time heard us trying to play a tricky song I'd not quite worked out yet. He loved it – wanted us to record it, so I said yes, give me a few weeks. That took a year. Partly carving out a soundscape, partly trying to get my friend Guy to work on the track. He hated it, the computer hated it. They both told me so. That took a year. Not an easy listen – but one of my best. Guy did an amazing job.

Then I spent a year touting the album around labels, trying to get funding from the PRS - none of which yielded any results. Finally I got a deal for the album, but after the release date being put back three or four times, I’d had enough and made the decision to do it myself before I died of old age, or worse.

It's also the case that although a lot of good friends and acquaintances worked for nothing - or next to nothing - on the album, it's an expensive process. I'm a musician, not especially wealthy, so I have to wait for some money to come in before I can spend any, which means patience is required. I released a solo album in 2013 (Something/Nothing). I lost my stepfather and my job the same you know, life threw a few challenges to deal with along the way. Same for the rest of the band; jobs coming and going, relationships ending and beginning, kids being born. It’s more a case that the album took a long time to finish with me.

Where were the songs written and recorded?
Most of the recording took place at Random Recordings, a little terrace house down amongst the units on an industrial estate. The writing took place over years. Birds was written when I was working at a factory in Oakham. I was living in Somerby in Rutland. A long time ago. Idyllic for a while. Self-Medication in the car, on the way to Gibraltar Point, or maybe Gunthorpe by the river. Ricochets was in my head around Sherwood, after the kids were born, same as Treasure, Gains on Gains came later – maybe around the city centre in a blue fog after a death in the family, watching people out on a Saturday night. Leave This World Behind – somewhere around Radford – when I used to work around there.

How did Mark Lanegan get involved?
The first incarnation of the band was called The Cold Light Of Day. It was a band Richard Warren got together to be the backing band for Mark Lanegan, when he was the singer for Soulsavers. We spent a week rehearsing together for the All Tomorrow’s Parties gig at Minehead Butlins. It just occurred to me that his voice was perfect for that part of the song. I wanted the song to have different characters narrating the lyrics. I asked him, he sent me the parts within a few days. It just happened he was in the studio recording at the time.

Why have you gone down the crowdfunding route to release the album?
As a way of getting some much-needed cash in before I had to pay for the pressing and for an organised platform from which to reel in a bit of publicity.

What can we expect from your album launch show at Running Horse?
I wish I knew. Warmth, certainly warmth.

Torn Sail - Treasure from Torn Sail on Vimeo.

What have been your favourite gigs to play in Nottingham?
Lately – The Running Horse with Michael Chapman, The Post Office Garden, a gig I put on myself. Both for pin-drop silence, a special atmosphere and great sound. I used to love playing Dubble Bubble with my old band – for the hedonism, The Social too.

Earth The Californian Love Dream created a bit of a noise in the early 2000s - what are you favourite memories of that band?
Just everything about it really. The 15 years before anyone had heard of us, driving a beat-up mini-van around the country before mobile phones and sat-nav to obscure places I'd never heard of, spending nights on-end awake, experimenting with electronic music at Square Centre Studios mixing with the Em:it crew. Playing raves out in the sticks. Living in a world for a while where I could sign-on or work a little, survive, and make art all the time. Later on - recording for John Peel at Maida Vale, playing SXSW, touring the radio stations, feeling like we were going ever upwards, being part of a well-oiled machine, performing.

Why did the band come to an end?
My naivety and idealism really. We didn't know at the time, but our manager had had a breakdown, and went bankrupt and during that time wasn't honest with us about a few big American opportunities which we missed. I fell out with our drummer Jonny, who was struggling with lots of demons, he left the band, and the chemistry was never the same. I sacked our manager over his not being honest (we were meant to be business partners) and the fact that he wouldn't honour his commitment to releasing the album we'd been working on for so long – the tracks from which we were getting amazing reviews, along with our gigs. We struggled on for a bit but after 15 or so years of building the band I think we needed a break. We never really split up, just got busy with other things.

Why should we buy the Torn Sail album?
Because it's beautiful and will last you a lifetime. Or I will give you your money back.

What other music coming out of Nottingham are you enjoying at the moment?
I enjoyed watching Polly Hardy at the Maze a couple of weeks back. Just really evocative. I listen to Beane's Noodle Hot Pot show – I know he plays a fair bit of good stuff from round here. Can anyone tell me if Woob is from round here? I love his music – I know he was connected to the Square Centre studios back in the day. E.R. Thorpe records haunting mesmerising music from her studio in Retford. I included a track by the Great Raven on a mix I did for the Half Lights Blog – all of the music on the NGLand label is brilliant. Some of Lazarus Clamp are from around here I think – I've been getting into Against Entitlement. Finally – going back a bit to 2005 - Lorna's The Last Mosquito Flight Of Summer is one of my all-time favourite recordings.

This Short Sweet Life by Torn Sail is out now. 

Torn Sail with support from Christel perform at the Running Horse on Sunday 17 December 2017. Facebook event

Torn Sail website

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