The Sound of Silver

The Skinny meets Silver Columns – the folk troubadours who've gone and done a Dylan

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 14 Jun 2010

"I'm willing to do it of course...but..." Adem Ilhan is gamely 'volunteering' to tackle the decidedly high-pitched harmony in Vogue, only to suggest that his Silver Columns bandmate Johnny Lynch (aka Fence Records stalwart The Pictish Trail) might perhaps suit better. "I knew it, this is a trap", cries Lynch as he and Ilhan, with Falkirk's Malcolm Middleton in tow, attempt to come to grips with the vocal layers on Madonna's 1990 worldwide smash.

The duo are in Glasgow to rehearse ahead of The JD Set on 12 June, an evening at the ABC where they and Middleton, along with James Yuill, Casiokids and Cocknbullkid will each offer their own take on the output from the Queen of Pop. The atmosphere is light-hearted and the banter flows freely while both Columns show no small degree of mastery of the mixing consoles and multi-track recorders laid out for them.

Silver Columns managed to create quite a word of mouth buzz last year, with the white label release of some electro-pop tracks, including the distinctly Moroder-esque Brow Beaten, and a veil of mysterious anonymity. The cat has well and truly escaped the bag with the advent of the full-length LP Yes, And Dance but the two insist that the refusal to confirm their identities was more than a simple attention-grabbing ploy.

"It wasn't a planned marketing move," Adem reveals. "Because we've both got history in the music business, we wanted to make sure that people listened to the music and made their decisions based on that fact alone, so there wouldn't be any preconceptions based on our previous work. As soon as we revealed who we are, all these 'techno-folk' and 'pop-folk' labels started being attached to the music. It's amazing how lazy people can be. We felt vindicated in our decision to keep quiet when that happened."

So what made them decide to break cover then? "We could have tried to maintain the mystery, maybe worn masks or something, but it has been done a lot and becomes a gimmick. As soon as the anonymity became a thing that people were talking about it, that in itself became a distraction." explains Johnny. "Plus, there was another internet rumour that one of us was in The Stereophonics – I wasn't fucking having that."

The pair gladly admit to a large degree of mutual respect, and the collaboration came about in the aftermath of playing at festivals curated by the other (Lynch's Homegame in Fife, and Ilhan's's Homefires in London). Both have established reputations as singer-songwriters with a distinctly folky bent. Adem, who also plays bass in Fridge along with Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), elaborates. "I've been doing a lot of production recently and I thought it would be really nice to have a stab at poppy dancey stuff. Also, it's really nice to work with people. It gives the music an authority and further motivation to do it. The person I thought I'd love to have worked with, whose influences and ideas would fit perfectly with what the project could be, was Johnny. So I called him up."

The band were initially called simply Columns after one of their tracks, with Lynch subsequently deciding to pay tribute to the Silver Jews, Dave Berman's indie rock outfit who regretfully called it quits last year. "Actually I had some terrible ideas for names," says Johnny. "We've got a song out at the moment called Cavalier, and we were thinking of calling ourselves Cavaliers. Then we looked on Myspace and there's a wealth of really shit bands using that name. Then I suggested we call ourselves the Vauxhall Cavaliers, but Adem didn't really go for that, he's not into product placement."

Identity crisis solved, the pair then set about tackling the problem of recreating the ambitious, multi-faceted soundscape of the album in a live setting. "We did ask ourselves a few months ago how on earth this might work, as the album sounds so busy," says Ilhan. "We have a lot of sequenced parts but then we play live on top of that, with elements of the track which we can pull out to give it more energy. It is important that we make it really work as a live experience rather than just a type of karaoke that other electro acts might produce."

They're hoping to bring the same attitude to the JD Set, and it turns out that paying tribute to Madge was in fact Adem's idea, as he explains: "When we got approached by [London-based indie label] Moshi Moshi they made suggestions such as Fela Kuti, which would have maybe been a bit difficult, or Bowie, but that's been done a lot before. We thought it should be first and foremost a good gig, and something that all the talents of the various bands could enjoy doing."

Adem sent out an email to the other acts suggesting either Madonna or Kylie and, according to Johnny, "Immediately everyone was saying 'Oh we can enjoy ourselves with this'. Something more challenging might have been interesting but it's a fun concert rather than an intellectual experiment."

Yes, And Dance is out now on Moshi Moshi

Silver Columns play Loopallu Festival, Ullapool on 17-18 September and curate the second day of FENCE Records inaugural Away Game on the Isle of Eigg on 24-25 September.

The JD Set takes place on 17 Jun at ABC 2, Glasgow.