Art Action: False Bliss on Ritual Terrains
We catch up with False Bliss at Edinburgh's Skylight for a novel listening party ahead of the release of their upcoming album Ritual Terrains
On the afternoon of Saturday 9 March, a small cluster of restaurant tables stand in the centre of a room in Edinburgh's Skylight, strewn with fuzz pedals, toy keyboards, an Oral-B toothbrush, cowbells and more. "We should’ve just had it all in a treasure chest," opines False Bliss guitarist John Muir with a tone of 11th-hour epiphany. Ah well, next time.
The event ahead will see the Edinburgh-based four-piece record individual live accompaniments to their studio-fresh new album Ritual Terrains in its entirety, utilising the aforementioned box of tricks, before an audience of friends and industry faces. "Everyone’s been to a listening party," remarks drummer and producer Christopher Laidler, "but has anyone sat on old pianos and watched someone play a toy saxophone while the album blares in the background?" The event’s yield is to later be released on a limited run of cassettes.
Edinburgh’s new art and performance hub, Skylight harbours the event and exists as the answer to the question: what if David Lynch set Twin Peaks in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 60s? Chesterfield sofas, Persian rugs, bleacher seats made from repurposed pianos and a damn fine cup of coffee on offer.
Presently, the band is a far cry from its point of origin as frontman Alastair Chivers’ solo project DTHPDL; genre evolutions and personnel additions have transformed them into False Bliss – a name conjured by bassist and former City of Glass commandant David MacDonald, his lasting legacy to the group before he ships off for Canadian pastures in the summer.
Using their own album as inspiration to create something new makes them simultaneously artist and muse. The listening party with a difference was masterminded by Laidler as an opportunity for the band to listen, respond and add to their existing fruits. "I’m interested in combining all the recordings and removing the album from it to see if I can still determine where in the album we are." As screeching reverb duels with a jewellery-box twinkle of Zorba the Greek, knowing where the day will rove on the sonic spectrum would be utter guesstimation.
Layering the live event’s sound upon the studio output highlights the band’s duality between the meticulous and the spontaneous. When recording, Laidler was propelled to deliver a "cohesive" and "endless" audial experience, rich in nuance and texture, and designed to be played from end to end, and round again. This is mirrored by the structure of the day, which plays the album on loop (four times in total) giving each member their own time at the helm. Laidler adds that so much of his work with soundscapes on the album was bred out of necessity to stand up to Muir’s "bold, full and driving" guitar work – everything else had to be sculpted around it.
Where Laidler and Muir are the musical bones, Chivers and MacDonald provide the thematical meat. Across the board, the band concur that both sides informed each other, with lyrics influencing the quest for field recordings and vice versa.
Chivers states that he wanted to make "a record about action" and more specifically "an art action". This was fuelled by the ebbing state of Edinburgh’s cultural landscape, namely the Save Leith Walk movement and the potential closure of Leith Depot. Ritual Terrains means different things to the four members, and they wish for the listener to kindle their own significance too, but as a flavour. Chivers sees the title as an umbrella for the album’s myriad themes: changing topographies (both natural and urban), immigration, society’s blurred boundaries and art as means to explore possibilities.
It's perhaps the day’s most potent statement that comes from the band’s quietest member, MacDonald: "Art should be a ray of light, offering an alternative path to the one we’re on just now." The sentiment, coupled with his Tropicana-orange beanie, adds a solar flare of luminance to the space and our times.
Having been three years since the release of their EP The Future, Chivers reflects that "life gets in the way" and prevents creative endeavours from materialising as fast as one would hope. Muir is in agreement: "If you don’t have a release or you’re not active on social media, it looks like you’re doing nothing," he remarks from under his cap and hoodie combo. "People think you’re a bunch of lazy bastards, but we’re not – we’ve been plugging away a good couple of years at this album."
They see the release of their work as a wave’s crest, which they wish to ride into their next studio stint to maintain their creative momentum. With the departure of MacDonald, the group see this as blessing wrapped up in a loss, as where they wish to travel next is down a sparser and rawer recording route.
The day has served as an insight into the band’s idiosyncrasies: Chivers with his bowed-head keyboard scratching, Laidler harnessing the bloom from bare-bulbed lamps to produce otherworldly noise, MacDonald's freak-out on a wooden sax and Muir’s sampling of the cantankerous old boys from The Muppets. Up close, they exist on their own planes, but when viewed from a distance one can see that together they comprise a vast map with no borders in sight.
Ritual Terrains is released on 5 Apr via Scottish Fiction
False Bliss play The Cellar, Aberdeen, 4 Apr; Leith Depot, Edinburgh, 5 Apr; The 13th Note, Glasgow, 6 Apr
We're showcasing some of Scotland's best new short filmmakers in The CineSkinny on Tour this May – click here for more details, and to find out how you can get your short film on the big screen.