Albums drop into our inbox all the time, however sometimes they also arrive over a beer via a recommendation that is projected across the table.
The latter scenario is an interesting one, as a lot of the time we’re usually too well-oiled to remember the recommendation parted by the messenger. However, in this instance, something stuck. And several days later, when that follow-up email arrived of same the recommendation, it seemed to all make sense.
Brown Fang are a Nottingham duo consisting of bassist John Thompson (The Nectarine No9, The Selecter) and guitarist Henry Scott AKA Henry Claude (Fang Jr).
Without revealing too much during our introduction, the pair have toiled away for several years, which has seen Brown Fang as one the staples of the Nottingham jazz scene. That honest toil has seemingly come to fruition, as the band welcome in the release of their debut album, Sherwood Pines.
Oscillating between rich cinematic splendour (the defining opening track, Tracing Paper Spatial) and a spatial post-rock patina (HDMI Love You), Brown Fang also give us the gorgeous cover of Gary Numan’s I Nearly Married a Human, which eventually leads into the closing track, the infamously titled and finely-crafted Goodbye Donkey Jacket.
All told, with Sherwood Pines, Brown Fang have released one of the lovely surprises in 2022 – an album that you will keep going back to, not only in the ensuing months, but in the coming years, too.
At the back end of April, following the release of Sherwood Pines, Thompson and Scott answered some of our questions about the album, Nottingham, and their writing process.
Sun 13: Can you tell us the history of Brown Fang?
John Thompson: “Brown Fang started for me, about 16 years ago. I had a working template of recording an instrumental in the day, on my eight track, then going out in the evening and finding a name for it.
“This worked well, initially, until I switched over to a computer based studio…. Ten years of fannying around with that and I was none the wiser. Then Henry appeared, and the solo dream was now a duo. We started again, and here we are today. The lost album may well see the light of day… Where is that eight track…”
Henry Scott: “Brown Fang is John’s melodic and wonderful creation that I jumped on board with once we had met through work. Before Brown Fang I played as many notes as possible, now it has weened me down to about 40 percent of my past crimes against ambient music.”
S13: You both have a long association with the Constellations Workshop, which I’d not heard of before listening to your music. It sounds like a fantastic initiative. Can you tell us about it?
JT: “The workshop is home to many a musician, and multiple projects. Members of Spiritualized, Six by Seven, Attraktors and Torn Sail can often be found loitering around the fridge. It’s a place that keeps us grounded, and paid, so that we can relax into music in the way we meant to.”
S13: Sherwood Pines has a real meticulous feel about it. Can you tell us about the recording process?
HS: “We were lucky enough to record it at the now extinct ROFL studios with David Stanley. Furniture-based trades allowed us some leniency on the clock, which allowed us extra time to obsess over details and trim away some of the fat. ROFL was a world class facility and we’re both very sad to see it go.”
JT: “After a period of rehearsals, we went to ROFL with Dave and recorded most of the tracks live in one evening, Fridgewords and HDMI were improvisations that were later expanded. It was a quick and pain free process, and importantly, very enjoyable. Most of the time was spent making the furniture to trade for studio time.”
Sun 13: There’s a real Northern feel to the record as well. Some people see colours when listening to music, and with Sherwood Pines I really experienced that. How much did Nottingham influence the record?
HS: “We both come from this area and have spent a lot of time loving its natural landscapes. As both quite ‘outdoorsy’ people, I think there’s no way that our environment could not have rubbed off on us. We recorded the album in the city centre too so maybe that reflects the organic/mechanic blend found in the record.”
S13: How important was it to begin the record with such an epic song like Tracing Paper?
HS: “I’m proud we started with that one, I think it sums up everything we’re about and sets the tone. It’s definitely one that moves me still and I get lump in my throat a bit when I hear it. Good memories.”
S13: With a track title like I Nearly Married a Human, it sounds like a title to Philip K Dick short story! Was sci-fi an influence to the record?
JT: “That is a Gary Numan cover from his replicas album, which was, I’m sure, influenced by Philip K Dick, who he is a big fan of.
HS: “I’m a complete sci-fi newcomer and apart from reading H.G. Wells’ The Invisble Man, Island of Dr Moreau, First men in the Moon and War of the Worlds, I have no experience with any of the more modern stuff and I can’t say I’ve even seen all of the Alien films either.
“Though with HDMI Love You and this title there seems to be a film of synthetic love and feelings from bleeps and bloops. Maybe Ex-Machina and Wall-e are more our kind of inspiration, who knows?”
S13: There’s a good blend of minimalism with jazz and ambience too. There’s a lot of influences that play out, which gives the listener the sense that you both have a wide array of musical influences. Is this the case?
JT: “It’s safe to say that there’s more than a few years between myself and Henry, so our influences span a fair few decades, but having said that, we have very similar tastes and are constantly playing each other new things. We both share a love of synths and gadgets, so they are an influence, and more often than not, a starting point for tunes.”
S13: Again, with a project like Brown Fang there seems to be so many ideas on tape. Is there much compromise between the two of you when deciding what’s worthy and what’s not of ending up on a record?
JT:“The lost album aside, we pretty much use everything. We’ve nearly finished the new album, which is heading towards being a double album.”
S13: The artwork provides a nice juxtaposition, in my opinion. It’s not what I’d expect for a record like this. Can you tell us about it?
HS: “The painting was done by Esme Gill-Brown after I had spied her work on Instagram. I showed it to John and we both loved her use of wolves and natural landscapes among her moomin-inspired output. It was a no brainier really and a straight forward process. We couldn’t be happier with it.”
S13: Jazz has really dominated in the U.K. over the past five years or so. Can you tell us about Nottingham scene and which bands should we be keeping an eye on?
HS: “Major Ruse, Saffron, Harleighblu and Goodgoodbye. Some are not strictly straight-up jazz but they’re all heavily influenced and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me labelling them so.”
Sherwood Pines is out now for NuNorthern Soul. Purchase from Bandcamp.