Track by track: Alex Chilltown

Since starting Alex Chilltown back in 2014, London’s Josh Esaw has spent the best part of six years perfecting their sound. ‘Eulogies’, out today on Fear of Missing Out Records, is the moment that gestation period comes full circle, the moment where Alex Chilltown become the band they’re meant to be. ‘Eulogies’ is an assortment of riches, it navigates between art rock and luscious pop, always communicating tension, drama and nuance in its propulsive rhythms. It’s a record so varied, that songs as starkly different as the sleepwalking ‘Seven’ and the epic title-track can stand together without question. 

Esaw is an academic and resultantly ‘Eulogies’ sees him argue and debate over philosophers’ theories on subjects as wide-ranging as identity, futurism and anxiety. Its other central theme is more ‘down to earth’, the post-industrial Croydon that Esaw calls home. A place where concrete high-rises and failed redevelopments blot the landscape. He investigates this most thoroughly on ‘Carry On’, where he concludes “stories from the city where these hopes exist, either way these greying skies are mine”.

For me though, ‘Eulogies’ crowning moment is its closing ten-minute epic ‘Only Ghost’. With shades of Sigur Ros, ‘Only Ghost’ starts from humble beginnings, gradually, tenuously building towards a devastating, heart-rending climax. Above the noise, Esaw sings “In the end /We will blossom”.  An uncannily accurate summation of the journey Alex Chilltown has taken from 2014 to now. 

Esaw exclusively explains each track for us below:

 Eulogies: 

At university we were a short distance from this open field. You’d walk down the side of this wide almost motorway that when it was lit up at night was weirdly beautiful. We’d wander down to this field and for some reason you could always see the stars from on this field and just being there felt like magic and like anything was possible. It felt like this world within a world and somewhere where you could see the cracks. 

It was spliced with memories of other just weirdly perfect moments that were very cinematic in past relationships. Like a Sofia Copolla movie in real life.

That line from Bojack Horseman really sticks in my head for this track though: “You never get a happy ending, because there is always more show, I guess until there isn’t”

This song is about the morning after or the time after being in this world and how things may not have worked out how you intended but it doesn’t mean that things couldn’t mean to you what they meant to you at the time just because it didn’t last. 

Drown: 

I guess this is something to do with the state of the world. It started like as being influenced by Los Campesinos! And Tigercats but then took on its own direction completely. I absolutely love Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar is one of my favourite books so I’m glad that I managed to sneak a reference to her and the book in there. 

I think another recurring metaphor in my writing is seeing roads as rivers or seeing long stretches of tarmac as like bodies of water and that comes up again here. The song was meant to be defiant and I hope that comes across, about the millennial angst I guess we are all feeling. 

It’s also inspired by former Crystal Palace and Republic of Ireland Defender Damien Delaney’s performance at Wembley in the 2013 Play Off Final and his story and journey that entire season. 

This is where I put in references to Mark Fisher and Berardi as well. Fisher is someone who’s work on music and culture I admire a lot, The Quietus feature on his essay about Souixsie and The Banshees really helped solidify what I thought Alex Chilltown was about. 

Searching Souls: 

This song started off because I was obsessed with In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.  We used the same drum machine. The synth track was an accident with pitch bending that was hard to recreate when we recorded it properly. I think I was trying to get those (Sandy) Alex G and Elvis Depressedly  tape sounds and that’s why there is a lot of hum and noise on the songs.

I’d become really obsessed with Slowdive as well and I’m a huge fan of their arrangements so that’s where the dynamic shift came from, When The Sun Hits style. I’d watched the pitchfork documentary about Souvlaki and I was just obsessed with their process. 

One of the big guitar motifs on this song happened by accident in the studio too, It was just someone had left a really ridiculously expensive Gretsch guitar in the studio and we were messing around with the tremelo on it and came up with the added layer of noise.

I wanted this to sound like it could be on the lost in translation soundtrack. 

Seven:

This genuinely came to me in a dream. It’s about how your unconscious feels like it needs to resolve something with someone that you can’t in real life so that person appears in your dream and you have that conversation. 

 It originally had a few different forms but I was messing around with a bass synth and then wrote the bass line. It turned out it was pretty impossible to play on an actual bass so we had to record it in two parts and then layer it together. 

This song kept changing in the studio and we kept recording different parts for it around the bass and vocal part. It was Emma (Deerful) who really brought this arrangement alive because when we were scratching our heads as to what exactly It should be, she was like “well what about this” and then we just kept layering. 

The song musically is a nod to Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized but also a lot of other sadcore/slowcore stuff I like so Galaxie 500, Codine, Low e.t.c. It also lyrically features a reference to Disenchanted by My Chemical Romance but it’s very specific to my experience of that song so I am probably the only one who gets it. It’s meant to be esoteric and it’s called seven because of the significance of the number 7 in mythology. 

Barely Awake:

This was about a breakup from ages ago. I spent a while trying to make the song work and couldn’t but it gradually started to come together. 

The original demo of this song was way slower than this but we decided to try it faster and it felt a lot better. It just had a real energy to it.

Poppy’s Vocal really brought this to life along with Joe’s really cool break beat drum fill. We went into recording this album with a really specific idea of how to do the drums and I think this song was where we really reaped the rewards of how we mic’d them the most. 

The idea for the twisting synths that propel this song was also something that came from a couple of shows where I played guitar for Flirting. And how they built a song live off a distorted sample. Also it was a nod to Nikes by Frank Ocean, which I really liked. 

Brutalist:

This song was meant to be our “We are All Bourgeois now” by McCarthy. So this nice jangly pop song that was actually quite political. 

I was reading ‘Capitalist Realism: is the no alternative’ by Mark Fisher and other radical texts and I wanted to make a really lush pop song that was underpinned by deconstructing the world around me and to quote Mark Fisher

“emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.” 

This record is about destroying the appearance of a natural order and then the next record will hopefully be our vision for what comes next, for us as much as anything. 

Carry On: 

This song was really influenced by Modest Mouse at first. When I first started Alex Chilltown I was writing without any deliberate reference points and then someone said “oh this sounds like Modest Mouse” so I went and gave them a listen and fell in love. It then transitioned through lots of different influences like Broken Social Scene and Spiritualized but also Slowdive. 

This final arrangement really highlights how working with Jonny (bottle rocket recording) has really improved my process of writing. I used to start on guitar and then build outwards where now I think more about whole arrangements.

I also got really into minimalism, like Steve Reich and Terry Reily and It made me start to detach the parts of songs from each other and then connect them back together through rhythm. So this song isn’t built with like a central powering motif more the way the individual guitars interlock. 

The song is about growing up and making mistakes and how you learn from them and keep going and allowing yourself to grow. 

Only Ghost:

I was studying at Sussex for a while and it meant a lot of commuting and a lot of roaming around Brighton killing time. This song started when I wandered into resident and a song was playing and it was everything I wanted music to be in that moment. 

I asked the cashier like what was playing and they said it was Blind Blind Blind by Silver Mt Zion Orchestra and I knew that I wanted to try and write something that epic and I really enjoyed a lot of the way it built and the call and response and a lot of things from that went into this. 

Live we’ve always had one long jam but we never really recorded anything like it before so I wanted to try. This was the final explosion influenced by like Los Campesinos! But also in the spoken word bit it quotes Jean Paul Sartre because I was listening to a lot of philosophy podcasts and getting really into existentialism. 

I did lots of preparation and obsessing on this record, I did a lot of things instinctively but I also then spent time analysing and re-editing and trying to connect the dots of all the different things I was drawn to. 

I made a huge playlist, that I kept adding things to, its hours long and it’s got so much different music on it and I feel like this is the final push where we threw everything into it. Will got to play some e-bowed guitar and we just kept layering and layering and making it bigger and more explosive. 

I’m really proud of what we achieved with this record but I see this as the start rather than the end of the process. The next record will build from here and I think we’re still a work in progress and always will be. 

‘Eulogies’ is out now on Fear of Missing Out Records

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