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'We Wanted To Reach People on a Personal Level': Pijn Discuss The Genre-Defying Power Of 'Loss'

Monday, 12 November 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

A striking development in the past decade or so has been the extent to which people discover music through mood as opposed to genre. Streaming services have adapted to perceived consumer demand by releasing reams of playlists tailored to every emotion or context imaginable, from deeply depressed to “songs to sing to in the car”. This has its upsides and downsides for a band like Pijn.

The Manchester collective have been categorised variously as minimalist, post-rock, post-metal and atmospheric sludge metal, plus a range of other genres only a pedant would care about. In their case at least, the tone of the music is a better indicator than any one label: Pijn literally translates from Dutch as 'pain' and their full debut is named 'Loss'. That might seem reductive or on the nose, but their sound is nothing if not intense, with lumbering guitars and wicked strings colliding amid an opaque textural backdrop.

Guitarist and vocalist Joe Clayton, drummer and pianist Nick Watmough, and bassist Luke Rees are the main trio, but there's a revolving cast of additional members who contribute on violin, saxophone, cello and steel guitar. But the level of collaboration on their first LP, which thematically follows some of the stages of grief, goes far beyond even that.

As it was created, members of the public were asked to share their own experiences of loss, contributing poems, songs and photographs for use on the record. “We wanted to reach people on a personal level, and for them to share in the catharsis that making the record had given us,” Clayton says.

Watmough says that there's no exploitation or grief tourism on their part. “There's been a lot of very personal things for various members,” he adds. “I think we intentionally tried to keep things vague: A, because some don't want to discuss things openly, and B, because we don't want to dictate what this album is about. We'd rather leave things open to interpretation. That sounds clichéd, but I'd rather people listen to it and think 'Oh, it makes me think of this'.”

For Watmough and company, the band's intense and extreme style makes sense in those terms. While some artists might seek to impart meaning through lyricism or a key narrative, Pijn experiment with musical form and presentation itself. The album is loosely split into four long form pieces, divided into smaller chunks, and promoted in the form of multiple short films and vignettes rather than standard music videos.

“In a practical sense, we knew we had a maximum of 20 minutes of vinyl,” Watmough says. “So we intentionally wrote four tracks. We knew when we had a full double album, we wanted to do the pretentious post-rock thing of a long song that takes up an entire side [the track Unspoken]. One side is that long track and the other sides are stitched together, two or three songs either side that felt like they hung together thematically. We wanted to represent the five stages of grief without acceptance at the end, and it evolved into its own thing.”

The video for Distress is most ambitious of all, almost serving as an extended companion piece to the album itself. At 57 minutes long, it's an extensive and meandering feature that manipulates audio from the original track and seeks to “disrupt the casual, throwaway viewing experience of many music videos”. In essence, the repetition of various elements is meant to signify the mental strain of loss itself, making for one of the boldest and most uncomfortable projects by a musical artist in recent memory.

“The main inspiration for the long film was Frank Ocean when he did 'Endless' and then 'Blonde', which was released as a weird live stream,” Watmough says. “Luke Bather, our filmographer, specifically said: 'We need to make it 57 minutes, the exact length when something is officially a feature length film.' That seems very pretentious, but was so it could be sent to festivals or anything else.

“We didn't want just a short clip slapped on YouTube that people would forget about. When we came to doing the album, we were asked to make music videos, but all the songs are very long so it's difficult. We're not trying to be too explicit about themes, so it was about finding a way to be experimental and abstract with it. We still want to find a way to play live with the visuals, but that might be a logistical nightmare."

Logistics certainly appear the only major restraint on Pijn's ambition. But Watmough stresses that their experimentation isn't born out of pomposity and that “we just wanted to write sad stuff and stuff that wasn't stereotypically what a three piece rock band tries to achieve”. In terms of process, the core trio tend to hash out loose structures and ideas together, drive down to Bristol so violinist Claire Northey can lay down harmonic ideas, and then add loops and additional elements to their sound from there.

If anything, you get the impression the band are self-deprecating about their experimental instincts. They're currently approaching local art galleries about a monumental 12 hour performance so, as Watmough puts it, they can “interrupt people enjoying some Picassos on a Sunday afternoon by droning loudly in the background”. He cites experimentation as a desirable trait in itself – surprisingly given the band's minimalist and atmosphere-driven sound, the Mars Volta's ostentatious jazz-rock opus 'Frances the Mute' was a catalyst for the band's formation.

This November, meanwhile, the band support prog-pop behemoth Vennart, former frontman of the much-loved Mancunian band Oceansize and another artist with which the band have little in common in terms of sound. However, for Pijn, categorisation and confinement by style isn't really the point – open-mindedness is the driving force behind their approach.

“We don't sound remotely like Vennart,” Watmough says. “But we were all huge Oceansize fans. Being based in Manchester, we all know bands who played with them back in the day and they left a big footprint on the musical scene. We reached out to get on the tour and apparently he had already heard of us, but I don't know if we're allowed to say he's a fan.

“I'm just interested to see how the tour goes. There's an overlap between the ArcTanGent going math-rocky crowd and fans of experimental, post-rock type music, so I'm just looking forward to it. How many of us will there be? That depends who's available, but at least six of us and we'll tailor the set accordingly. It started with me and Joe, but we certainly don't tell anyone what to do. Maybe we could be more dictatorial in this band, but for us it's just about being free and loose.”

‘Loss’ is out now through Holy Roar.

Pijn Upcoming Tour Dates (w/Vennart) are as follows:

Mon November 19 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Castle & Falcon
Tue November 20 2018 - BRISTOL Fleece
Thu November 22 2018 - LONDON Dome
Fri November 23 2018 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Sat November 24 2018 - GLASGOW King Tut's
Sun November 25 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Cluny

Click here to compare & buy Vennart Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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