Broken Records on fourth album What We Might Know

We catch up with Jamie Sutherland to talk family, playing music with friends and Broken Records' upcoming fourth record What We Might Know

Feature by Andrew Gordon | 20 Mar 2018
  • Broken Records

Though it’s only been four years since they released their last album, Broken Records’ recent return to gig calendars feels like a comeback. While the Edinburgh band headed up by Jamie Sutherland never really went away, they agreed to dial things down following a demanding three-album run to focus on the joys and challenges of entering a new phase in their lives; their 30s. “We kind of made a conscious decision with our partners who had supported us through the five years before that we had to give a little bit back,” Sutherland says, crediting that attentiveness to the band’s “human side” with keeping them together for more than a decade. “The relationship of the band is more important possibly than any kind of perceived success on the music side of things,” he explains. “The simple act of playing music with your friends is the thing that is the success.”

While today’s indie breakthroughs can spend years self-releasing music before the industry takes notice, just over a decade ago the press parade came charging for Broken Records almost immediately on the back of a rough-and-ready EP and their considerable live reputation. To be fair, they would have been hard to miss, what with their seven-piece line-up, including a cello and accordion. That early fanfare proved a double-edged sword, the weight of those expectations morphing into an anxious perfectionism in the studio. Nevertheless, Broken Records continued to tear up stages internationally, even supporting The National on a European tour, but never quite succeeding in approximating that energy on wax. That is, until now.

The first thing that hits you about What We Might Know, their upcoming self-released fourth album, is just how huge it sounds – “It's really fucking loud!” Sutherland agrees. More than that though, it feels raw and alive; the result, he posits, of reuniting with Stephen Watkins, who produced their much-revered debut EP. “I think one of the big problems with the band in the past has always been the fact that we overthink things horribly, and there's an awful lot of self-doubt in everything we do. But Watkins has a very good way of just cutting through that shite.”

The sessions mirrored that inaugural studio experience with Watkins – just the band in a room playing together like they would on stage, with minimal overdubs. Most songs were wrapped up in just a handful of takes with the whole project lasting only a few weeks, something of a revelation for a band known to spend up to six months on a single record. “We did the first [album] in deepest darkest Wales and I didn't step outside for a month. We were so absolutely sure this has to be the greatest thing ever because otherwise everything's fucked and the world was going to fall apart and everyone's expecting all this stuff from us. [This time] we have no expectations at all. We just wanted to make a record that made us happy and was simple.”

It’s safe to say that those early-career inhibitions are a thing of the past. What We Might Know is a cathartic record of anthemic pop in the Springsteen mould that radiates positivity, even while confronting the “nagging doubt” of adulthood, from being a good role model to your children to “the creeping responsibility that your parents are getting older, you know, it's not just you. You have other people to look after.”

Sutherland, who namechecks Tom Petty, The Hold Steady and The Replacements, ascribes that optimism to the American influences in his life. “American artists are always kind of the ones that I've felt more attached to,” he explains. “I absolutely, fundamentally don't want this to come across on the record as being any kind of judgement on Scottish bands, but the miserabilist element of some Scottish music, I really enjoy, but I don't feel attached to it if you know what I mean.

“My wife's American,” he adds, “so if there's any way of breaking down the Scottish mindset, it's to be confronted with that relentless positivity all day every day – best decision I ever made!”

Speaking of family, it seems that just as he's finally made peace with the burden of hype and his own high standards, he’s gone a found a new lease of neurosis in his own son. “The one thing that always kind of gives me the fear is that I don't want him to grow up thinking my music is shite! I mean, he always will. I think the only validation you're looking for in some kind of a weird way is that you don't want someone to grow up and think ‘Why did you do that Dad? That was awful!’”

Of particular concern is what he’ll make of his old man’s falsetto on the first album. “'I mean, I know you loved the Jeff Buckley records back in the day but Jeff Buckley does that, you don't do that!' But it's just a way of reinterpreting your own music going forward. It's the decisions where you go ‘Ah, I'm kind of proud of that, but at the same time why the fuck did I do that?’ Ten years is a really nice gap for looking back at things. Good decisions and bad decisions.” Go ahead and file this new record under the former.

What We Might Know is self-released on 30 Mar. Broken Records play Tooth & Claw, Inverness, 13 Apr; Church, Dundee, 21 Apr; Summerhall, Edinburgh, 26 Apr; Tolbooth, Stirling, 27 Apr; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 28 Apr