For Folk’s Sake interview: Broadcast 2000

Broadcast 2000 is the stage name of Joe Steer, a Devon-born London-based classical music graduate with a unique take on folk using computer-generated looping of acoustic instruments. His music has appeared on adverts including E.ON in the UK and apple mac in America. His first mini-album Building Blocks was released last year. FFS caught up with him and his housemate – singer Louise Golby – last month at a the Carling Academy in Islington.


For Folk’s Sake: How did you get the Academy gig?
: The lady from Academy Events had been to a couple of our gigs, it’s not through an agent or anything like that. It’s a weird gig because it’s four bands that are supposed to be up-and-coming but from completely different styles. One’s pumping electro and the other two are quite loud indie bands and we’re acousticy folky type stuff. Especially tonight when we’re headlining. 

How has the tour been so far?
It’s been good, apart from Monday which was in Liverpool.  It was the Liverpool vs Everton local derby so everyone was watching the football and there were only about 20 people at the gig, which was a bit disappointing.

Did you record the EP all by yourself?
I did, in my bedroom in Archway where I live with Louise, who is a singer in her own right, she’ll be able to tell you that she hears me through the door sounding silly. Experimenting with stupid vocals and stuff. Yeah, its quite a creative little flat. We live with an actor and – well it used to be two other actors but now a new guy’s moved in who works in a museum.
Louise: He has quite a creative job, too.

What did you record it on?
I have a little macbook with Pro Tools software, and one little microphone. It’s a very simple set-up with crunky instruments I’ve bought in second hand shops and stuff. 

Did you produce it yourself?

And mix it and everything?
Yeah, just all on Pro Tools. I’ve tried to keep it simple and not to complicate it because then it’s harder to get right. But that’s a dilemma I’m in at the moment because I’m writing a full-length album and I’m almost there with all the tracks but I don’t know whether to get an experienced producer to help finish them off and make them sound more radio-friendly. 

They’re pretty radio-friendly as they are! They’ve been used on adverts haven’t they?
Yeah. It’s pretty good that advertising companies are willing to use it straight out of my bedroom. I think that is a real trend now just getting stuff that’s completely unsigned. There’s a lot of stuff on adverts now that’s completely DIY. It’s cheaper if they can get in early and take advantage. 

How did you end up with the ad deal?
I used to work for a music publishing company so I had some contacts, it’s not a very rock ‘n’ roll way of doing it – I was doing a crappy admin job and in the other department were the people who pitched things for adverts. I just got chummy with them and kept giving them my CD, then they took advantage of me! It’s really good publicity definitely and a lot of people, when you play it to them, they don’t know the band name but they know that song.

How much of the song is played?
It’s 30 seconds, there’s singing on it and it’s right on the foreground of the advert. We’ve just got another one actually in America for an Apple Macbook, which is really good, but it’s very much in the background and there’s a voice over it. It’s an instrumental version of Run, which is on the mini album and no-one’s really noticed and there’s not stuff all over the internet. But it’s paying my rent, I’ve given up the day job and it means I can do music full time.

I read that you did a music degree, where did you do that?
It was at Keele University, which no-one’s ever heard of, it’s got a great music department and really good recording studios. I did a dual honours degree in computer science and music. That’s what Keele does, people tend to do one science and one arts subject. 

Is that where you started recording?
I’ve always done recording on four-track recorders and stuff like that, but it definitely helped to have professional facilities. That’s where I learnt to use Pro Tools which is the industry standard for recording, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d just been teaching myself. 

What instrument do you use when you’re composing?
Always generally guitar. At university my main instrument was cello, but I’ve never composed on the cello, it’d be pretty difficult to write a song on it. 

What instruments are on the EP?
There’s cello and double bass, guitar, ukulele, a bit of banjo, all sorts of bits of percussion which are just sampled. Like I’d get a bass drum and just go ‘doof’ like that then put it on the computer and just slot it in wherever I need it. All the percussion is like that, it’s not played by a drummer it’s just samples. Kind of like a dance producer would do it, but it’s all acoustic instruments. 

So now you have a drummer who has to recreate it?
Exactly, yeah. These guys aren’t on the recording so after things are recorded I have to then teach them the songs. And usually teach myself the songs as well because of the way I write. It’s all made up of loops. I don’t sit down and write the verse and chorus and play it like that I tend to do one bar of guitar and another bar of guitar and loop it a few times and build it up like that so I have to learn the song afterwards which is a bit weird. 

So is some of it quite difficult to play?
Yeah, it’s always working out how I can do it in standard tuning because when I’ve recorded it it’s just been any old note in any old position.

So do you sound really different live?
I think we do actually compared to a lot of bands but I think that’s a good thing. A lot of people say ‘you sound so much better live’. It’s certainly much more energetic. We played in Bristol last night and there was a maniac dancing round all over the place like it was a rave or something, you can almost get that with it because although it’s very much acoustic with the live set up the percussionist we’ve got is a great percussionist and he’s so energetic, he adds loads and he adds loads of energy to it. 

Where did you find your band members?
I poached two from another band called Lady and the Lost Boys Chris still plays drums for them and Tom does various things in other bands and Louise is a singer in her own right.
Louise: You found me at home
Joe: I did I found her at home lying around and I’ve had other people. Kelly, the violinist who’s not here tonight, but she’s played with us for a tour. I want to build it up and have a whole string quartet. 

Where do you get your ideas for your songs from?
I tend to write the music first. I really like writing the actual music – messing around with chord sequences and stuff like that. I really struggle over the lyrics. I hate trying to explain what the lyrics mean. It’s nice when people say it means something to them but it might be about several different situations in my life and not about something that will necessarily be that interesting to someone else. The way I listen to music, is I really like music with lyrics that I can take something out of and relate them to some situation I’ve been in, so that’s why I try and write lyrics that are universal. I do much prefer writing the music, I think one day I might write a completely instrumental album. 

How did you get your record deal?
I’ve got a very small independent record label called Gronland who’ve put out the mini album. I did a tiny gig on top of a roof for last fm, they did a one off promotion thing about a year ago. It was the first gig we ever did. I got these boys on board especially to do it and it was like their ‘Alternative Christmas Number One’ promotion thing. It completely flopped. No-one got a Christmas number one out of it… so we did a really cool gig on top of the roof and a guy from Gronland records, which is based in Shoreditch where last fm is, happened to be there and he really liked it. Because it was all there and all recorded it was really easy. It’s not like he had to say go into the studio. I think with the record industry the way it is now you have to do it yourself and take it to the record company and see if they’ll put it out. So that’s the way I did it. There were no costs involved for the label at all, they just put it out. They’re a very small record label and I’m not committed to another record with them so this new album might be with some other label.

So you’re recording the album on spec yourself?
Exactly, I’m not committed to anyone. It gives me good bargaining power and I hate recording in big studios, anyway. I’ve done it with other bands and there’s always a time issue. When you’re in the studio and you’ve got way more stuff you’ve got too many options. You can end up going round in circles.

There can be too many people wanting different things…?
Exactly, that’s why I don’t like writing music as a band. I hate jamming in a band, too. I used to be in a band called Artisan. I wrote with someone else and I always felt the songs were a compromise between the two of our writing styles. His songs were really good and mine have been really good, I suppose, when we were writing separately but there was no defining style. It did work to a certain extent but it’s easier by yourself. 

Do you feel like you missed out on shit gigs?
We still do shit gigs, it’s weird because people have heard the song on the advert and I think promoters more than anything think ‘I recognise that song they must have a huge fan-base’ but actually we did a gig in December in Kings Cross and there were about 10 people there. It’s not automatic when people hear the song that they then go and find out who the band is.

Did it get radio play?
A bit it did when we released it. It’s bits and bobs but it’s always late at night. 

What do you listen to that informs your music?
Um… loads of stuff. Really good songwriters like Paul Simon, The Beatles, Radiohead. My degree was classical music so I’m into classical music too. 

Is there anyone you’d recommend?
Yes definitely. They’re all going to be people you’ve heard of, I expect. (To Louise) Who do I go on about? My Luminaries are really good, I’ve just done a cover of one of their songs for the new album, it’s very much an indie song and I’ve done it in a Broadcast 2000 style, I’m really happy with that so I’m looking forward to getting that out. You should check out the drummer’s other band Lady and the Lost Boys, they’re really good and based in Hampshire. Who else?
: Me!
Joe: Louise is a soul singer. There’s Left With Pictures. Who plays at Monkey Chews? Stars of Sunday League, I really like. Also Meme Love is really good.

Interview: Lynn Roberts

Broadcast 2000 is currently in the studio with putting the finishing touches to his album with Noah and the Whale producer Eliot James.