Here you find what Turin Brakes were up to from the beginning until roughly the end of 2001.
|The Optimist LP
|Underdog (Save Me)
|Mind Over Money
The Door To Succes?
At the beginning of 2001, Turin Brakes were poised on the brink of something very, very special. Fight Or Flight had certainly raised more than a few eyebrows. Olly & Gale were bubbling nicely below the surface of something great, whilst elesewhere Coldplay contiuned to hog the limelight and indeed the number 1 position in the album charts for “Parachutes” over the christmas and new year period.
‘The Door’ was released on 3 formats on 19th February 2001 as interest in the band was gathering apace. It was put out on CD, 7″ vinyl and also a 12″ vinyl which was limited to just 500. The track had been reworked from the EP version, with it being given a much bolder sound and Olly’s vocals much more controlled. Turin Brakes were a band who knew how to make their music do the talking, particularly Gale’s guitar work. The rhythm here is just absolute perfection, and a display of how much the two of them had improved in the 12 months they’d been recording with source, and ‘The Door’ is perhaps the biggest indication of this. Turin Brakes were now beginning to play with a verve and confidence that would see them make their mark on the music scene.
The other two tracks to appear on the single were “Reach Out” and an early version of “The Boss”. Reach Out is a cover song, orginally recorded by Linda Lewis. It was recorded as a b-sides for “The Midfield General”, but nonetheless a great choice and there’s some nice lyrics present “I’m not sure what i’m after, one day tears, the next day laughter”, and the guitar work is deserving of a mention, some fantastic playing by Gale in particular here. The Boss is a studio out take recorded before the finished product. This verison void of the heavy bass, though instead featuring some gentle drumming, this isn’t as good as the final cut.
The Door narrowly missed out on a top 40 place, reaching number 48 in the UK charts on 25th February 2001. Unfortunately the good reviews received in the press had failed to capture the imagination of the public – mainly due to a lack of radio airplay on the main stations. The single featured the band’s first proper music video, filmed in Dungeness, on what seems a very cold day (if you see the video you can see Olly’s breath as he sits down with his tea!). Its quite anarchistic with school children smashing up the guys instruments and chucking stones at them, and is set on the same location as the cover artwork for “The Door EP”. The video was not put on the cd single as extra media – but it is available on the European “Optimist LP” as bonus material.
The Optimist LP
27th March 2001, and The Optimist LP sneaks into the mainstream at long last. Turin Brakes were beginning to pick up some decent critical acclaim, but were still finding it hard to get exposure amongst the top radio stations. On The Day of its release its hard to know what Olly & Gale or indeed the record label ‘Source’ were expecting. In the duo’s case perhaps more relief than anything, afterall the album was ready to go back in July 2000, and at last they could unleash their beautiful music on the world. It is doubtful anybody expected it to gain the kind of recognition it did in the months that followed.
The Optimist LP strolled into the UK top 40 album chart comfortably, hitting its high point of 27 on the week of release.From start to finish its a breathtaking collection of songs that have such purity and beauty that you almost feel Olly & Gale could literally jump out of the CD player and be playing live wherever you are. From the very first piano note of “Feeling Oblivion” there’s a clear intention that Turin Brakes want to soothe you, give you a small piece of their world and what lies in it. Songs which almost paint a picture of life itself, full of heartache and what might have been – but their is more to it than its bare simplicity. The Optimist LP was constructed with a fair amount of confusion. Not within its creation and recording process, but each song isn’t intended to be about “anyone” specifically, its origins stemming from a period in Olly’s life after graduating of being “lost”, a feeling of going nowhere, wondering what life might bring. That is why this collection is titled “The Optimist LP”.
Olly sings the lyrics with such passion that you genuinely feel his heart is completely broken, but in each track their is a clear message of needing to stay positive. You almost get a sense that Olly is stood infront of a mirror, looking and talking to himself in many tracks, particularly “The Door”, “Future Boy” and “The Optimist”. In Emergency 72 Olly uses his vocals here at their best, sounding tense and the song perfectly unfolding with his heavy breathing over the Lyrics. Thats what The Optimist LP is so good at – its vivid, clear and not a single bad lyric or note on the album in sight. Emergency 72 is a reference to contraception, as Olly describes:”It’s about the 72 hours after the romantic interlude with somebody that you have to find the morning-after pill. “We just thought it was kind of a funny, modern thing everyone we know in the whole world has been through at least once.”
Feeling Oblivion is a highlight in itself. The perfect start with its echoey piano note, and the way the lyrics just set the tone of things to come. Its certainly a strong opener which sucks you in and a perfect introduction to Olly & Gale’s little world of pain and confusion. Many of the tracks put on the album are re-recordings or just reproduced versions of what had already gone before – six of the songs infact had already featured in earlier editions. The Road being given a facelift – much more slow paced, crickets in the background and crystal clear acoustic guitar. It flows almost effortlessly and is one of those little wonders which puts you in complete harmony.
‘By TV Light’, another re-recording, has a vibe of someone worn out, tired and features the sound of tv fuzzing in the background, hence the title of the song. Slack offers some light releif halway through the album, a mid-tempo rock-out and is about having a good nigh out. Turin Brakes rarely go above gentle strumming throughout, but the two songs which add a bit of “oomph” to the proceedings are of course this one and the chorus for Mind Over Money. “Future Boy” is the space folk strummer written about Olly & Gale’s youth. Closing title track ‘The Optimist’ sums things up perfectly with ‘cold blood bleeding, still atleast i’m breathing’ in amongst some great slide guitar, and a song which paints a silver lining over everything that’s gone before. ‘Starship’ is very simililar in ambience, with its dreamy feel and the lyrics give the suggestion of wanting to escape ‘given the chance i would leave this place, on a rocket ship for mars’.
The Optimist LP is an album full of expression, self observation, emotion…so many thoughts, and is something you can come back to time and again, and still find it has that magic, the wonder of being able to make you feel uplifted. Whether you’re chilling out on a hot day or need something for those cold winter nights, this is the album for all seasons. Many CD’s you tire of and end up at the back of the shelf, but this one has defied the laws of lastability. Never failing to draw your attention to the magnitude of Olly’s crushing, soothing and soaring vocal chords, not least forgetting the absolute dextrous beauty and precision of the guitar work. If this isn’t perfection, then its not bloody far off.
The Underdog (or is it?)
Underdog was released a short time after The Optimist LP on May 7th as Olly & Gale were just finishing a European tour with Steve Malkmus and about to embark on their first tour of the United States. They only actually perfomed a handful of proper live public shows in the States – the majority of their time was spent doing promotional work on US radio shows. The decision for such a short tour was because TB were invited to join Stereophonics as a support act following their success at UK dates in April, and a larger schedule was put in place for the middle of September 2001 – where TB would also join up with Matthew Jay in Detroit and Minneapolis. Of course these plans would fall apart due to events on 11th.
Underdog would proved to be not only a mini radio hit for the duo, but also be the first single to break into the mainstream. The Door recieved little airplay previously, with the UK’s most influential music station BBC Radio 1 barely giving much notice at all. Underdog, however was voted single of the week by Jo Whiley on her lunchtime social programme and culminated in it being C-listed on the radio 1 playlist, giving the band some decent exposure. Turin Brakes entered the UK top 40 at number 39, a result which proved to be a pivotol moment for the band. Olly & Gale were long overdue for mainstream recognition for their work, and at last they were beginning to break thru to the masses.
Underdog is certainly one of the highlights of The Optimist LP. There’s many on there of course, but perhaps the chorus here is second only to Mind Over Money. It just sticks right in your head, and the music just has such a summery, beautiful rhythm that it was destined to get the band moving forwards. The thoughts here are typical of the album, someone whose life is clearly troubled, in need of rescue and broken hearted. Its poured out with emotion, but Olly’s voice here is very strong, he really is crying out for help, its melancholy of the highest order and thats what made this such a beautiful piece of music. Olly & Gale’s strumming here is for me the best on the whole album, it just has the ability to give you so many different emotions each time you hear it.
The single was released with two parts of the CD, featuring a mixed bag of material. ‘Nowhere’ was a reworking from ‘The Door EP’, and perhaps did little to improve on its predecessor. It now featured added electronica, with the beautiful slide guitar being pretty much left in the background – certainly not a patch on the original. There’s a couple of live tracks – ‘Feeling Oblivion’ and ‘The Door’ respectively, which certainly give a taste of just how good Turin Brakes were beginning to perform. The other track is another re-recording – This time ‘Balham To Brooklyn’ – which is stripped of the gentle bongo’s used in the ‘State Of Things EP’, and also the small piece of synth taken out. The result is an improvement – the guitar work is certainly much broader with plenty of added wizardy from Gale, spicing things up nicely with his slidey bits.
The video deserves a mention – its actually quite hilarious. Olly falling over the place in a narcotic state with Gale trying to hold him up and slapping him to keep him awake. It sounds ludicrous but much more understanding when you see it. The two of them paid special attention to their early videos and tried to make sure they told some sort of story and Underdog didn’t disappoint. It’s a personal view on the movie “My Private Idaho” with Keanu Reeves. The single itself spent just one week inside the top 40 and their newly found critical acclaim would see them in great demand during the summer festival season.
At the time Underdog was gracing the UK charts Turin Brakes headed off to the US for just four short days during the week The Optimist LP was released stateside in early May. They performed a handful of shows in Los Angeles, Philadelphia finishing at The Fez in New York. In between this they appeared for two radio sessions, one for KCRW and another for WFUV in Louisville. Olly & Gale then headed back to the UK supporting Travis at Dublin Castle before setting off for some European shows and a busy schedule of festival appearances.
Mind Over Masterpiece
Mind Over Money, perhaps the single biggest masterpiece of The Optimist LP, was released at the height of summer on August 6th 2001, just as the boys were about to launch an assault on their first V festival appearance. Turin Brakes were now beginning to make a name for themselves as darlings of the ‘Acoustic Movement’ – whatever that is, and whoever thought it up (NME) should be crucified. Olly & Gale were just like any other band, forget the brackets you put them under – playing simple guitar folk melodies soaked with emotion and silky smooth lyrics to touch the soul. Turin Brakes were much deeper than being given any label – and its a tag which would drive them to a new direction, but more on that later.
Mind Over Money, as said previously, is one of those songs any band would love to have in their repertoir. It builds up so innocent and sweetly – a sun drenched guitar rhythm, backed by some equally dreamy opening verses from Olly. The punchline is of course its fantastic chorus – built in the same mould as everything else on the Optimist LP, its life affirming stuff full of shimmeringly rich melody. Drumming on the album itself is barely recognisable – at least not immediately noticeable – but its on Mind Over Money’s soaring chorus where its most prominent. So, the chorus to end all choruses – you don’t know whether to punch the air or simply sit and ponder the lyrics.
To a band of great magnitude, this would have had hit single written all over it – indeed it was a big hit for the band as far as they were concerned – reaching number 31 and becoming their highest entry in the singles chart yet. But, honestly, if Turin Brakes gave this song away for Coldplay to release then it would have been number one for weeks. Still, Olly & Gale were now beginning to ride on some sort of wave – everyone was lavishing praise, and not a bad review in sight – Turin Brakes were now what you might call ‘precious’ – they simply couldn’t do any wrong.
There’s some cracking b-side material aswell on the single, which was released on a two CD format. “Stone” is a home recording, and is the early beginnings of a song which would appear on Ether Song of course (Stone Thrown). Void on here of the complexity of Gale’s slide guitar as featured on the polished version – it still has a degree of charm. The lyrics certianly seem to have greater feeling here and there’s some extra sounds here as well – some gentle percussion with the maracas, a lovely piece of synth and a short piano note midway through – its certainly touching.
“Tunnel” is quite a scarey one. Olly & Gale bringing out their choir-esque tones, all they do throughout is give “Wooooooo—ooooooohhhh” sounds at a high level. It was recorded in Griffith Park, LA under a massive tunnel (funnily enough) on their mini-disc recorder. They made a collection of ‘sound photograph’s’ as an experiment, and this is one of those, lots of echo here and the tune ends with a car rumbling overhead. ‘Road’ is a radio session recording for ‘The Road’ on KCRW, and probably as good as the album version, much more life like and at times Olly really gets to the high notes with much greater feeling and power. ‘Sunjets/Heavy2’ is a home recording featuring lots of experimental sounds. Some little chinks, a radio broadcast in the background, before growing into a gentle guitar section at the end.
Turin Brakes were due to fly out for a US tour in September, plans which would fall apart at the seams. They were due to fly out on the 12th – the day after 9/11 – and so the adventure came to an abrupt halt before it had even got off the ground. Olly & Gale were due to be supporting the Sterophonics on all ten of their west coast dates, before doing a couple of dates with Matthew Jay and then a mini headline tour of their own. The Sterophonics instantly cancelled all their dates after 9/11 and because of this Turin Brakes best laid plans were up in smoke as their stateside visit was built around supporting them. Olly & Gale wouldn’t return to the US until the summer of 2002 where they would go on to record album number two in Los Angeles. It would be 2003 before they toured the US properly.
’72’ was released with its shortened title on 8th October 2001 and minor controversy surrounded its release before it hit the shops. The full title of the song is of course ‘Emergency 72′ but the band were forced to drop the Emergency bit due to the catastrophic events of a month earlier September 11. So, ’72’ was the new name but the song remained almost in its original form. I say ‘almost’ because it had a slight remixing thanks to Spike Stent who gave the song a slightly heavier sound musically and part of the lyrics were removed (‘on my mobile number, cos i’m always in’). Turin Brakes had just started a full autumn headline programme that would see them play at 15 venues up and down the country. If that wasn’t enough they would finish the year in grandeur style by supporting Travis on their European tour in November and James’ final farewell tour in December.
So, what of Emergency 72? Its a song which is one of the most demonstrative of Olly’s vocal depth. His voice constantly growling and heavy breathing all over the lyrics. The atmosphere of the song conveys a great deal of tensity throughout and it just feels like you could be in that smoke filled room with him. So what is the 72 bit all about? According to the men that matter, its about the contraceptive morning after pill. Enough said, that’s all the information you need to know what the verses are piecing together. It’s not all down and out though, Turin Brakes have a wonderful ability in making a song which should be dead in the water turn out smelling of roses. ‘My hazy hills glow green for you, you can just call me you know’ – the ending line suggesting that a phone call could make everything better, especially the way Olly raises his voice to a higher level. Nice one TB.
’72’ didn’t actually make the UK top 40. Well, it was the fourth single to be released off the album and the record buying public not interested as most of them had the album already. It was released over two CD formats and featured two very strong b-sides in ‘Everbody Knows’ and ‘Lasso’. Everybody Knows has some beautiful guitar and is classic TB ‘don’t you leave me on the floor, with your answers for everything’ one of the stand out lines. It’s a very pleasant tune and one to put a smile on your face at any time. Lasso on the other hand is 6 minutes long and is one of those which creeps up on you. Its folk laden blues is so mellow that it builds to a mini crescendo at four minutes before fading out. The other b-sides were experimental sound recordings. Radiohead nicked part of the riff on ‘The Last Time’ for ‘Pyramid Song’ (yes, TB’s cut did come first…anyway, listen and see for yourself!!). ‘The First Time’ is a little acoustic demo, extremely demo as well, the rolling of the tape is so clear you can even hear the humming from the 4 track recorder!