‘Moratoria’ is the name of Bikini Atoll's debut album. In the words of the band’s singer and guitarist Joe Gideon it means “deciding not to make a decision”, which all comes down to the music industry ,and how it’s been almost impossible to find a record label to put the band's album out.

Bikini Atoll, as well as Gideon, also consists of his sister Viva (keyboards & bass), Bastian Juel (bass) and Che (drums), and first formed in 1999. The band spent the first three years of their existence playing around London, rehearsing and working on ‘Moratoria’. After endless efforts to impress any record label enough to put their music out they decided to release it themselves. Only a few days later, just after Pennyblackmusic first spoke to the band, Bella Union Records (also home to the Dirty Three Lift To Experience and Explosions In The Sky) got in touch offering to release the album.

The album, which is influenced by Sonic Youth, Black Emperor, Tom Waits and Joy Division, finally came out on the 8th February this year and was greeted with many favourable reviews. ‘Destination Highway’ from the album had already made it into the soundtrack of the horror film ‘My Little Eye’.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Joe Gideon in the back garden of his house in North West London about the 12 months since they first signed to Bella Union.

PB: The last time we spoke was last year, I think, in June. It was just before you heard from Bella Union that they were interested in putting your album out. How did that all come about ?

JG: We sent them the album and they got in touch. I asked if they were a real record label which is not a good way to start. (laughs) And they said “Yes ” so I sent them some more music and they just loved it.

Duncan (Bella Union's press officer-Ed) liked us and then he spent about 3 weeks getting Simon (Raymonde, ex-Cocteau Twin and the co-founder of Bella Union-ed) to sign us. Obviously Simon needed to take some time to decide. And then I think Duncan lost hope and got in touch that it probably wasn’t going to happen. Simon heard that Duncan had said that and he immediately called and “What ever Duncan had said, that’s bullshit!” (Laughs). We met the following day and then he called us about three hours later to tell us that we had a deal.

It’s all based on trust really. That’s lot nicer anyway. We prefer it like that.

PB: I remember I went to see you at the Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush just after they offered to put ‘Moratoria’ out. Simon was there on that night as well and you said then that that was the first time he was going to see you.

JG: That was a monumental gig. We were so nervous. Bella Union had not seen us play yet at that point. We felt we had to be really good and give a good impression. But he loved it. He really did.

PB: You recorded 'Moratoria' and even put it out yourself before Bella Union stepped in. The album then didn’t come out on Bella Union until eight months later in February. Why was there such a delay ?

G: Those things always take a long time because you need about 3 months in advance to try and warm up press to make them aware that the album is coming out and so you can get reviews and interviews.

We have a single coming out actually. I think it will be the end of June. It will be ‘Cheap Trick’. It will be the last thing from the album and then we are going to be doing some new stuff.

We are going to be recording our second album in September with Steve Albini! I love Steve Albini. I think he is a real master. He doesn’t actually produce but he has a really good way of making a band sound like the band. It doesn’t seem to be anything in between. That’s why we are doing it.

PB: How did you get Steve Albini to work with you?

JG: I just called him and he was into doing it. So we are going to go to Chicago. He has a really nice studio there. We might do a few gigs as well but the most important thing is the album and that will be quite expensive to do.

PB: You recently toured with another Bella union band Explosions In The Sky. That was your first UK tour. What was it like?

JG: It was great. Explosions had a full house every night. We had never played to so many people before. Their fans quite liked us but they were into instrumental music a lot. I guess some people didn’t like it but a lot of people liked it anyway.

We had a really good time. We just slept on promoters’ floors and every now and then we treated ourselves to a hotel. Explosions are really nice and they sort of looked after us. Once or twice actually they gave us some extra cash because we were getting just £ 50 a gig and that only covered the cost for the petrol, but in the end we didn’t lose any money from doing that tour which was pretty amazing.

We also did a few dates with Lydia Lunch recently. It’s kind of funny to support bigger bands because everyone is there to see the headliner. I prefer smaller gigs because people are there to see the whole line up and you get people that want to see you.

PB: I also heard that you contributed one of your songs to the forthcoming Spitz compilation. which consists of live recordings made at the Spitz venue in London.

JG: Yeah, I’m not sure what is happening with that. We gave them 2 songs. They were both instrumentals, ‘Shark Requiem and then ‘Remains’. They were the best ones from a gig we did at the Spitz.

PB: You mentioned you were going to be recording a new album in September. Have you got all songs written for that and what it’s going to sound like in comparision to the last album?

JG: We have a whole new bunch of songs. ‘Shark Requiem’, ‘Remains’ and ‘Silver Moon’ are three of them. We have been already playing those at our gigs.

I think the new album is going to be quite different compared to the last album. The songs are more direct and there are more stories that you can follow. The songs on the previous album are a bit more abstract.

PB: Are they true stories?

JG: I don’t know... I sort of have this idea that the whole album is like about a lost weekend.. Did you ever see that film 'An American Werewolf in London”? There this scene where the main character refuses to believe that he is a werewolf even though he is getting all these signs. And then there is a full moon and he turns into a werewolf. The next day he wakes up and he has no recollection of how he has got there, but he is in a wolf pen in London Zoo. He is lying there naked and has no idea how it happened. And then there is this funny comedy bit where he is completely naked and is trying to get home ! And that album is sort of like that. Bad things happen, but the guy in the story has no idea how they have happened.

PB: Do you think the fact that you are going to go all the way to Chicago to record the album and then when you get back it will probably feel like it never happened will add to that idea?

JG: Yeah, that’s true! I hadn’t thought about that, but it's completely true. And we will also probably have jetlag so it will be completely surreal. God, that’s a good one.

PB: Have you decided on a title for the new album yet?

JG: I think it’s going to be called ‘Shark Requiem’. It ties with all the songs on the album. There are some songs like murder ballads and then you have these aggressive shark songs and requiem songs so it’s like the whole album is really black and white. I don’t think there is anything in between.

PB: How did you come up with the title for the song ‘Shark Requiem’?

JG: There is a shark called a Requiem Shark but then I thought it sounded better the other way round. I hope we can find a good place for the song on the album because it works well. It comes originally out of the riff on ‘Desolation Highway’ . That song is really up and has all this feedback. We haven’t got another song like that on the new album. That’s what we will be doing over the summer. We only get two weeks with Steve Albini so we have to really work out what we want to do. So we will have to do a lot of rehearsals.

PB: When do you think the album will be out?

JG: It will probably be out around February or March of next year. And then I think we will do the next album ourselves. We have all the gear so I think the idea will be to learn from Mr. Albini and then take that knowledge and make the next album ourselves because it’s just so expensive. It’s a very expensive hobby.

PB: That’s only recording. If you add expenses for gigs and rehearsals it must be a lot.

JG: It’s ridiculous! Maybe one day we will make some money out of it. I don’t know. I think the important thing is to keep going and make sure that everything you do is really good. And then hopefully build up a fan base.

PB: It’s going to be nearly a year since you started working with Bella Union. If you look back at it how do you think it has changed things for you?

JG: It’s been really good. Our songs can get played all over the world. They have a really good network. 'Cheap Trick' has been played in Australia and Greece.

It’s hard to know how to play it. On one hand I think of being in a band as a hobby. What I wanted initially was to write really commercial pop songs and get a good deal and then become really subversive on the inside. I think that was a bit naïve because that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I just wanted to make some really big bucks and that didn’t pan out. It took me a little while to realize what I really wanted to do and I’m really just realizing it now.

PB: When the album came out I remember you did a session on Radio 1 with Steve Lamacq.

JG: Yeah, it was nerve wracking. I was just really worried that I was going to freeze and that I was just going to stumble through it, but I managed to talk in proper sentences and use words in the right places (Laughs)

PB: Good luck with the album. I’m really looking forward to its release next year. Thanks a lot.

JG: Thank you.

The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Matthew Williams












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