Over the Wall: Working On a Dream

Having banked our house on Over the Wall being one of "the next guid things" in 2009, we subsequently lost everything and now run this magazine from a wigwam made of chip wrappers. But you can't rush perfection...

Feature by Ryan Drever and Sam Wiseman | 03 Nov 2010

To recap: Over the Wall emerged in the mid-noughties from the Glasgow collective of the same name and whittled themselves down to two members – Bathgate’s Gav Prentice and Ben Hillman of Bridlington, Yorkshire – before proceeding to create the exuberant, Springsteen-inflected take on electropop we know them for today.

A long time coming (though it’s no Chinese Democracy), their impending debut album – Treacherous – wraps a cavalcade of cutesy beats, trumpet, organ and anthemic power chords into an impressively varied but compact whole. Lyrical themes are similarly diverse, ranging from romantic escapes of everyday drudgery to vampires, via snooker and Rafael Benitez. We spoke to them about their chemistry as a two-piece, the recording process, and their shared love of Peter Gabriel and Star Trek.

Your debut album has been a wee while in the making, how did you approach it?
Gav: Basically we wanted the album to sound a lot bigger than the EP, some of the songs we had for the album needed something different. At times it still sounds pretty lo-fi because we've still used some parts that we recorded ourselves in our flat, which was how we did all of the EP. We worked with a producer called Mark Whitelaw, who among various other things in a rather mental career has worked with rave legends like QFX and went to LA to play guitar with Faith No More [he what? - ed]. Subsequently he knows tricks for how to make guitars sound huge or make a beat fill a room which we had no idea how to do. In the end it took us far longer than we ever intended to, because we became obsessed with getting it right and these things just snowball; Mark was keen to indulge our ridiculous requests. But then it didn't destroy us.

There seems to be a sense of hope and resilience in the face of confusion and uncertainty throughout the album – Settle Down in particular…
Ben: Absolutely. A lot of themes seem to be about that uncertainty about growing up and where you are taking yourself and your future. I suppose there aren't any obvious love songs on there. It’s quite difficult to write a song and remove your self from it, but we have tried – there's a storytelling aspect to bring the themes out rather than just having it all about us. In Istanbul for example, we wanted to set a scene, as in have a song about a specific event. That scene being the halftime team talk that Rafa Benitez gave to Liverpool during the Champions League final in 2005. What he said must have worked; I hope it was similar to what we thought it might have been.

Gav: The Crucible is sung from the point of view of a wife who's been cheated on. The message of it is a similar one of 'we've still got each other' to some of our other songs, but it's set during the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.

Do you play everything yourselves on the album – are there any additional musicians?
Gav: Despite it having a much bigger sound than our previous stuff it’s actually had less input from other musicians. This wasn’t by design, it’s just that it would have been impractical to keep getting other people in when you’re spending so long crafting it. So we would just have a go, and I’m glad we did; when we realised that it was just the two of us on the record we felt proud. Then we remembered how long it had taken us, and we felt shame.

You've played some interesting shows in your time together, what would you say have been your best and worst live experiences so far?
Gav: The worst was in my home town of Bathgate. The bouncer on the door got slashed in the face before we went on and came in with his t-shirt covered in blood, spluttering to the barmaid to get help. There followed an almighty ruckus in the car park outside in which some policemen got a bit of a kicking too. One of the guys involved in all the trouble came in and, to our horror, went up to the part of the place we were playing to watch the show. There was a really weird atmosphere all night and it remains the only place we’ve ever played where someone actually shouted “SHITE!” at us after a song. Good times.

One of the best was the Fence Away Game on the Isle of Eigg last month. We were worried that, not by anyone’s intention, that we would be the outsiders on the bill with no previous Fence Collective involvement, but we were made to feel so welcome and included by everyone involved that it was really quite touching. Kenny, of King Creosote fame, introduced us as ‘The Wall!’ and was genuinely mortified to hear he’d got our name wrong, but we thought it was hilarious. When we started playing the place, which was the community hall on Eigg, went mental and there were people on their friend’s shoulders and everything, despite it being about four in the morning.

Besides Fence and of course Jean Luc Picard, who has been a collective musical inspiration to the band?
Gav: Always Springsteen. The way his music reflects changes in himself as he ages as well as changes in what the world is coming to is the ultimate goal really; not many people come close to him in any art form in that regard. Peter Gabriel is someone who we’ve grown into loving together I think, he’s probably the most direct influence in terms of actually copying sounds! As a consequence the future for Over the Wall might get a little proggy. Apart from that I’d say a lot of non-musical influences were important to the album – such as Cameron Crowe films that inspire genuine hatred from people. but that we love.

Ben: I love listening to a song that sounds simple but is actually secretly complicated. Peter Gabriel is definitely a master of this. When I hear songs like Solsbury Hill it makes me want to try and write a song straightaway. I think Yeasayer have a lot of brilliant pop songs but they are really intricate too. It’s nice to try and give yourself that challenge.

What's next for Over the Wall?
Gav: The last time we spoke to The Skinny we said that when our debut album came out the affairs, coke habits and Star Trek: The Next Generation box sets would follow. Now that those days are upon us I’m not sure where to start. Series three or four?

Playing Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh on 12 Nov and Captain's Rest, Glasgow on 20 Nov.

Treacherous is released via Motive Sounds on 22 Nov