Like The Avalanches before them, PSB approach sampling a little differently; where The Avalanches mined old radio plays and used them as focal points for their tracks, PSB were initially inspired by war-era propaganda movies. “There was a documentary on BBC Radio 4 that I heard about how The British Film Institute had released some films online for the first time,” recalls Willgoose Esq, sounding pretty with it after admitting he’d just rushed home after being ‘out and about’ on a cool England eve.
“I didn’t hear it and think instantly, great! I’ll form a band who are gonna sample Public Information Films and we’ll put loads of things on TV’s and play spotty weird music around it!’” No, that idea came later, and more gradually; Willgoose toying around with samples and tracks before gathering some momentum. Now they’ve a second LP on its way and they’re embarking on their farthest flung shows here for WOMADelaide and a Northcote Social Club gig.
Willgoose seems pleasantly surprised that the whole thing has even gotten this far. “We got picked up by a small management company in 2011 and what they said to me was, ‘you’re a live act, you might get some festival bookings, you might be able to live off this for a year maybe if you’re lucky’. So I don’t think any of us thought we’d trouble the charts or anything. It’s definitely a surprise”. Getting this far, according to Willgoose, is probably due to “the strength of the concept” and “how it all ties together”. Public Service Broadcasting is after all, a multi-media, multi-sensory experience. They’re not a nostalgia act though, the music is usually written around and inspired by the chosen samples yes, but the thematics are boiled down, in a sense, to their purest form to then spark the writing process. The first track off their War Room EP, ‘If War Should Come’ is a prime example; it encapsulates the tension and apprehension of pre- WWII London but sounds in parts like it could easily be the score to a David Fincher film. Therein lies the beauty of PSB, modern and progressive rock blending with electro ambience, sprinkled with all kinds of sound and video bytes from WWI era propaganda, U.S road safety ads, mountain climbing documentaries, and for their new LP The Race for Space, the Cold War. So is PSB then just an opportunity for a couple of history buffs to nerd out?
“Well it would be but Wriggles doesn’t really get into it, he hits the drums and hits them very well but he’s… well I’m constantly trying to educate him but it just seems to go in one ear and out the other. I keep telling him he needs to do his homework for this album because if he gets asked any kind of questions about space he should probably have some sort of answer.”
So Willgoose gets pleasure out of it even if Wrigglesworth doesn’t, and even if it involves a bit of trawling through old recordings. “Once in a while you hear something and you know it’s right, that’s a very nice feeling, then it’s down to you to write the music. So it’s a challenge once you do find something good, you’re like right, what am I gonna do with that?”
The writing part can be tricky, but not having to emulate music from the samples era helps, as Willgoose is free to go where the samples take him, noting it would be far more difficult if they were trying to make the music sit alongside the footage in a more traditional sense. “We’re not trying to make music of the period. We quite enjoy the clash of the new and the old, that’s kind of the point.” And although much of their press material promises they’ll ‘inform, educate and entertain’ (that was even the name of their first album) Willgoose says all but the entertain part is kind of a joke; a line they thought up to try and stand out from the number of other shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2010. “I was trying to write something tongue in cheek!” he admits, “We’re not by any means really trying to set out to inform or educate because we’d swiftly become overbearing and tiresome.”
Which is not to say he has no belief or interest in sharing his love of history and archival AV, in fact when we broach the subject of community television and larger publicly funded bodies like the BBC and ABC Willgoose bemoans the way things are headed. “For all the BBC’s faults, it has so many virtues, so many things about it we would miss if it was replaced by a private company. Ultimately the publicly funded institution that is subject to an independent scrutiny has got to be more trustworthy than the massive media conglomerate owned by one person.” Amen brother.