Minor Victories on their debut album and tour

Famous names, familiar faces; welcome to the world of Minor Victories. Just don’t mention a certain word…

Feature by Duncan Harman | 04 May 2016
  • Minor Victories

When it comes to the language of rock and pop there can be few expressions as tedious as supergroup. It suggests stadium shows, bloated egos, rock ‘n’ roll cliché writ large.

“It gives you images of us all coming in on our private jets, or something,” says Stuart Braithwaite, of Mogwai and Minor Victories. 

“I’m not entirely comfortable with the term supergroup, personally. It kind of made me cringe the first time that I read it,” adds Rachel Goswell, of Slowdive and Minor Victories.

“Although I’d rather they said we were a super group rather than a shit one,” Braithwaite wise-cracks, and everyone laughs. In fact the quartet around the table – Braithwaite, Goswell, Justin Lockey (of Editors, and Minor Victories), and brother James (of Hand Held Cine Club… and Minor Victories) – laugh frequently, naturally, the sense of kinship strong despite not necessarily knowing each other all that well.

Welcome to the strange world of Minor Victories. A supergroup that's definitely not a supergroup (and let’s banish that term for the duration). In fact they’re not even a band in the conventional sense – at least not initially. And whilst the protagonists may be familiar, that doesn’t mean the music has to be; with the debut, self-titled record about to drop, this is far from a rehash of day job musicality. In fact, the way the band tell it, the album’s formation was more an exercise in remote-distance bricolage; a lost and found record, focused upon grace, nuance, flight…

The origins of Minor Victories

The origins of the project began with Justin, whose loose ideas around abrasion and texture curled around a soothing, female vocal lead to Rachel. “I’d spoken to you before,” James confirms with Ms Goswell. “We met at Latitude for like thirty seconds, and we were talking about sending some stuff backwards and forwards.” Not that the two could physically work together – geography and respective schedules a barrier. Instead, ideas were pinged across the ether, and it’s this long-distance collaboration that becomes a recurring theme.

“I was just about to start another Editors record, Slowdive were out touring, and I sent one track – Out to Sea…”

“You sent about six – I’ve still got them on my laptop,” Rachel contradicts. And they run with this, and with each subsequent question, almost as if interviewing themselves.

Justin: “The one track that was more formed – it ended up on the record – was Out to Sea, and then I went and made an Editors record, which Rach was sings on…”

Rachel Goswell performing with Slowdive at Primavera Sound festival 2014

Rachel: “It all so incestuous, really…”

J: “And we had a few drinks, and she’s like: ‘Why don’t we fackin’ finish that fackin’ stuff?’” Cue more laughter at Justin’s comedy impersonation. “And I was like: alright! Yeah, let’s do it. We’ll do an EP. And then we didn’t do anything for a while, then Rachel was rehearsing with Slowdive and she texts me about midnight…”

R: “Probably drunk.”

J: “Yeah, she was drunk. And she said ‘Shall we do this?’ Alright, let’s do it; let’s find a guitarist? And I was like ‘Who do you want to get?’ And she said “I’ve bumped into Stuart a few times at festivals.”

Stuart: “He has a guitar.” More laughter.

J: “'He’s got a guitar, and he can play loudly.' The way Out to Sea sounded, there was only one person we could really get. Stuart got back and said he was up for it, but he was in the middle of a soundtrack – you were in the middle of doing Atomic, or something.”

S: “It may have been Les Revenants, but I was quite busy.”

J: “And that was cool; everyone was doing their own thing, and James was going to do some bass on Out to Sea, but he ended up having four or five tracks that he’d already written that ended up being on the record, so then we started working on James’ tracks and then we started working on Stuart’s tracks, then we started working on Rachel’s tracks and it ended up being ‘Well, this is a band, now.’”

S: “Let’s make a record.”

J: “Let’s make a record. And then that was that, really.”

The making of Minor Victories' debut album

Yet by this stage the quartet had spent the grand total of zero hours together. Instead, with Justin co-ordinating exchanges of ideas, the themes underpinning Minor Victories began to coalesce in a different fashion.

“Everyone had sent parts in, and I’d put it together and send it back out,” he recalls. “And we all had input – “Let’s move this, let’s move that.” We just kept refining and editing, then James went up to Glasgow to record Stuart...”

S: “I did my parts just up in Finnieston with James. That was the first time I met James. I knew Rachel and I’d met Justin at a gig.”

J: “In a pub, in Newcastle.”

S: “My girlfriend’s band were playing, and I was telling a mate about the project when he asked if it was Justin. I remember thinking: maybe he’s a secret huge Editors fan, but he was like ‘Oh, he just lives around the corner.’ I had no idea; I just presumed. I didn’t even know where you were from. I thought that you were probably down in London or something. And it’s weird, so we had a pint.”

J: “A pint at the Tanners Arms. And then he was like: ‘What shall we do?’ Just crack on?’”

“It kind of just fell in between what everyone else was doing,” Justin continues. “No-one was forced to do anything. We weren’t waiting on anybody, it happened at its own pace. And then, when the record finally got together and got sent off to get mixed, it sounded incredible when it came back from where it was to where it landed in the end; it’s quite a big jump.

"Everyone carried on in-between doing their own stuff, and then it naturally formed into an actual, proper band, because I think that side projects or something like that usually scream of a throwaway nature or an experiment that can go horribly wrong.”

S: “Or a situation where you’re not willing to put yourself in front of people. Even though we’d never all played literally together it definitely felt like a solid band, with a solid album, and we’re going to do everything we can this year to get it all out there.”

And no; the foursome still hadn’t been present at the same time.

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• Watch the video for Minor Victories' debut track, A Hundred Ropes

Justin says: “The first time we were in the same room together was March this year. The record was finished mixing and we’d already started doing stuff by that point. It doesn’t feel any different because we’re all at the stage where we’ve got history of being in bands and all that.”

R: “We were all on email every single bloody day. Every day – certainly for the last six months, the last year, there were multiple emails going round.”

S: “It’s like these people that fall in love with people in prison.”

R: “I’m still waiting to find out what the convictions are.” (You guessed it; more laughter).

J: “It was different, because it ended up being a record, obviously, and we knew it was going to be a record, but we didn’t have a label to worry to worry about. Didn’t have any time pressure from anyone to worry about. It was just literally all of us working at our own pace.”

S: “But if it hadn’t had been good enough we’d either have stopped or waited until it was good enough.”

J: “It was very fun. Not that other bands aren’t fun, but it’s different working with people in other bands and how they deal with stuff.”

R: “And you are a workhorse. You really are a workhorse. Out of all of us, Justin was really driving us. I’ve never met anybody that…”

J: “I like working, Rach!”

R: “I gathered that!”

“The way that we’ve been in the limelight is different to other bands,” Justin adds when the giggling calms down. “Mogwai occupy their own genre, their own space, and Slowdive are mythical.”

Rachel issues a comedy snort at this, which doesn’t put him off.

“Editors are probably the most conventional thing to come from to come in to this, so the pressure of a conventional large band is such that you’re always under the spotlight. But in some ways it’s kind of similar; with the last Editors record, we just went into the middle of Scotland and spent four months making a record. It wasn’t very conventional, and it wasn’t a studio; it was just in a room. And in some ways this record was made in a room. My back room.”

“I was especially nervous when it came to the first rehearsal in March. Having sat in front of all the parts for so many months putting it together I asked myself how we were going to do it live. But it just sounded great.”

Minor Victories on playing live and their visual identity

Ah, yes – live; Minor Victories can’t be accused of taking the easy route. A hectic summer of gigs lined up, including festivals and a jaunt around the US, there’s the additional challenge provided by the fact that Editors, Mogwai and Slowdive are all on the road at the same time. Cue shared itineraries and logistical headaches.

S: “Right at the start there was a chance of there being a Minor Victories gig in the afternoon and a Mogwai gig at night, two hours away. And I’d have done it, but I knew that my head was going to be absolute mince.”

R: “There’s some of the diary stuff where it’s literally quite hard. We have a Google diary…”

J: “That magically gets updated…”

R: “By other people.”

"I always know where Stuart is", Justin admits. “It’s like having a Where’s Stuart Braithwaite? app.” A true sign of being in a band.

As too is the band’s strong visual identity, the short, black and white films that accompany the music adding another strand; a further layer of intrigue.

“The visual identity,” explains James, his day job that of film-maker; “we didn’t sit down and have a meeting about it. We just thought ‘Here’s the track, here’s the music, this is where we’re going.” We had the opportunity to do what we want for this. It’s our band, our music, we make films, so…

J: “It seems a bit crazy to interpret it through other people outside of what we’re doing when we’re already in this bizarre situation of making a record without really knowing each other – why would you get yet more people from outside to try and interpret what we’re doing when we’ve got James here to just do it all anyway?”

And there’s their initial press photo, too. Four headshots, each member of the band suggesting a brooding presence.

“I think the photo element was a bit of a necessity as well due to us being in four corners of the country,” James adds. “So having a band photo just wasn’t an option at that point.”

S: “There’s also the slight snag that you two are about twice the height of me and Rachel.”

R: “We’re discussing ways round that.”

S: “What, us standing on chairs?”

R: “Or them kneeling.”

S: “I like that better.”

Yup; Minor Victories. Friendly, playful, self-deprecating – not really how you’d expect a supergroup to act at all.

“Once the record’s out there it has its own life, people will make of it what they will,” says Justin. “Some people will take it to their hearts, and some people will fucking hate it – it’s up to them. We can only do what we can; to make the best record that we can.”

 “We’d probably do another one even if people do hate it. Just to prove them wrong,” Braithwaite smirks.

“I think that hopefully people will just judge the record on its own merits rather than comparing to our separate bands.” Rachel adds. “There’s obviously going to be a bit of that comparison anyway, but I would kind of hope that the people who write about it have a bit more intelligence about it and don’t go down the supergroup route so much.”

So yeah; Minor Victories. Call them what you wish – just don’t mention the S-word.

Minor Victories play Leeds Brudenell Social Club on 5 May and Glasgow Art School on 6 May. Their self-titled debut album is released on 3 Jun via PIAS