Comparisons with Arcade Fire are inevitable, but homegrown indie band Broken Records are on the cusp of being a big noise in their own right, singer Jamie Sutherland tells Aidan Smith
WHEN Jamie Sutherland, singer in the highly rated Broken Records, was a pupil at one of Edinburgh's best-known public schools, he was urged to forget about rock music and focus on the true destiny of a sensible young man in Scotland's capital city. "They wanted me to become an accountant," he groans.
Naturally he ignored the advice, but as his band plot a course through the increasingly choppy waters of the record industry he allows himself a wry smile and admits that maybe a head for figures would have been useful after all.
"Some people in this business think our group is too big," says Sutherland of the seven-piece formed 18 months ago. "So when we're asked what it's like to have all these labels chasing us, we go: 'Hang on, there might not even be any record companies left in six months' time.'"
We're in a Royal Mile pub sheltering from the summer thunderstorms, and Sutherland concedes that Broken Records – already dubbed Scotland's answer to Arcade Fire after the release of just one single – do not seem built for a credit crunch, never mind these straitened times in music. He wonders whether they really need a cello player.
But then we're joined by bassist David Fothergill who says he was listening to Nick Cave on the walk across town and marvelling at his gospel choir. Sutherland was similarly impressed by Spiritualized at Glastonbury: "Choir, brass, strings, a 50-piece band – an incredible noise. Our ambition is to make as big a sound as possible."
Sutherland was joking about the cellist – that's Arne Kolb. When they recently accepted a gig last-minute and he wasn't around, the rest of them felt lost. "In a lot of our songs the guitars are white noise and the cello takes the lead, so his job's safe," says Sutherland. "But we want him to double up as the van driver, so if he'd hurry up and pass his test…"
Fothergill adds with a smile that Broken Records have "cosy" sleeping arrangements when on the road, and so touring costs are no more than for a four-piece. He says that if he could, he'd make the band even bigger. After all, when you've spent your whole life dreaming of this and the chance finally comes along, there seems little point skimping on ambition.
Is there a label out there willing to share in the grand vision of a panoramic ideal? By sheer law of averages, there should be. At the group's debut London gig, the guest list of industry types ran to 150. Fothergill again: "There's been some unfortunate incidents of people who've liked us suddenly losing their jobs because of cutbacks, but we've still got some great options."
Broken Records are Fothergill, Kolb and Sutherland, plus the latter's brother Rory (violin/accordion), Ian Turnball (piano/glockenspiel), Dave Smith (trumpet) and Andy Keeney (drums). Because of their size and instrumentation, the Arcade Fire comparisons were perhaps inevitable, and the band are simultaneously flattered and frustrated by them.
Like all new groups, they insist they never set out to imitate anyone, though this lot have always had a rule about not playing covers, believing it to be a sign of weakness. Sutherland is in awe of his kid brother's fiddle-playing, which draws on the work of Yann Tiersen, composer of the Amelie soundtrack. Fothergill adds that they've incorporated into their sound elements of klezmer, the traditional wedding music brought over to Edinburgh by East European immigrants.
Sutherland's original idea for Broken Records was actually a label. "I dropped out of an English and Philosophy degree at St Andrews University because the tutors were only interested in having us regurgitate their views on favourite novels back to them – there was no room for subjectivity," he says. "So I had this plan for a little umbrella company kind of like Saddle Creek (home to the 'Omaha Sound' and Bright Eyes]."
Initially unable to find a band of his own in Edinburgh, Sutherland offered to record other groups in return for them backing him at his gigs. This sounds like a highly subjective deployment of a roster of musicians, and before long he started to make the right connections.
Broken Records had got up to four-strong when the offer of a gig at Bannerman's, the Old Town's early staging-post for all aspiring rock stars, seemed to demand they debut with an ever greater racket.
"That was when Dave came in and he knew Andy," says Sutherland. "Then a mate recommended a bassist who said: 'David's your man.' The first time the full line-up met each other was also the first practice session." After the gig they bonded over much beer, and discovered that maybe they were always meant to be together.
"David and Ian were at the same school though didn't meet until the band was formed," adds Sutherland, "and Dave and Andy worked at the St Andrews pub where I played pretty much every night for two years, but never on their shifts."
Broken Records contains not one but three uni dropouts. "My mum was really angry when Rory quit his architecture degree, but I think she's forgiven me. Now you can't keep her away from our gigs."
"Aye," says Fothergill, "and wait until you see the leather jacket my dad's just bought…"
• Broken Records play Belladrum Festival, Friday, 8pm; Liquid Room, Edinburgh, August 17, 7pm as part of the Edge Festival; and Connect Festival, Inveraray, August 30. The single, Slow Parade, is released August 11