Life's just a long flight with your old friends: Interview with International Airport
by Anna Battista
Old friends are great: you can always rely on them, when you're happy you can share with them your joy; when you're sad they can cheer you up. That's what International Airport mean for me. I first met them and their music in 1998 in Glasgow, and well, they sort of introduced themselves as old friends as, on that occasion, it might have been at the 13th Note or at the School of Art, they played a cover of "Una Stanza Vuota" by Ennio Morricone. It was a bit like finding a piece of my home country where I wasn't expecting it to be and I even remember Aki from International Airport being worried that they were going to cut a poor figure as I was Italian, I knew the words of the song and they wouldn't have equaled the original. But instead it was a fine cover and it was fun.
So, let's try to learn more about them. Bassist Aki lists all the International Airport members: "Tom Crossley, Stephen Aston are the core, the rest are flexible, Cari Anderson, Julie Greene, Aki Okauchi, Robbie Wilson, Ali Roberts, Annabel Wright are credited in the album." "I have nightmares about the good fortune of our meeting. Stephen and I were at Glasgow University together, since 1993. Airport started to form in 1995/96," Tom, who plays guitars, drums, piano, flute and gets down on the electronics explains. "We met Aki because we were looking for someone to play bass. Everyone else we knew already. Aki, Stephen and I shared a flat for a while, we recorded All City Glasgow there. There is no fetishism with airports," he adds regarding the name of the band, "Though now I really notice when I see the words in a different context (some people might say their intended context). The name was a necessary evil. But there's no point being saddled with an evil that you don't like, so we picked words that we did like. Not quite out of a hat, but almost. We played our first show in 1997, at the Pastels' club Illumination, at 13th Note in Glasgow. Then, we released our debut LP in late 2000. But we didn't play that many shows during this period. Mostly ramshackle. We only played once outside Glasgow, and that was in Dundee. I tend to hide from bright lights."
Being so many, I wonder how the writing process works for them. "Normally it is Stephen and I, or one of us, that has the basic track," Tom explains, "There have been exceptions. People then attempt to convince us that they have something worth adding." Apparently, the biggest influence on International Airport was, according to Tom, "The original advert for a bass player that listed Pet Sounds, Loveless and Starlite Walker amongst other things."
International Airport delighted me with a Morricone cover. "I think Tom is a fan of nice old music composers," states Aki, "He talked about musicians such as Milton Nascimento." Tom acknowledges Aki's suggestion, "I am a big fan of Morricone. Especially his western soundtracks. There's also some great stuff he did for those less-well-known (to me anyway) '60s-'70s Italian films, but a lot of the music on those records is more scary atmosphere music, which I don't like so much. 'Una Stanza Vuota' appears on the Japanese version of 'Nothing We Can Control' along with the other songs from All City Glasgow, (CD only). I don't think we'll re-record it. That is a chapter past."
International Airport released last year a very cinematic album, Nothing We Can Control, mixed in Chicago by John McEntire. "That was good fun," Tom recalls, "It was mine and Annabel's first proper time in America, not on tour, with some time to look around and relax a bit. I had not really worked in a proper studio before, not on Airport stuff. John was really good. I like the sound of the records he has been involved with, and I'm really pleased with what he did on ours." But there were also other benevolent friends who helped International Airport: "Teenage Fanclub lent us (and Appendix Out) their eight track to do the 'All City Glasgow' single which features on the Japanese issue of Nothing We Can Control," Tom explains. The album was released on Geographic, Stephen and Katrina Pastels' label. "I was aware of what Stephen and Katrina were doing from when they started doing it. This is maybe some time in 1999. In some way this must be due to my involvement with The Pastels, but I think only as a first point of contact. We were going to put out the record already (with Overcoat / All City in Chicago), and then they decided they wanted to do it in Britain. I've never had any dealings with a major label. I am experiencing a sense of community with Geographic and even Overcoat that I would not have expected from any label. This would maybe be harder to achieve with a major label, because of its greater size."
Being signed to an indie label, Aki is experiencing the same freedom Tom talks about "I personally think it's better as long as you are doing what you want to do," she comments. Geographic has got quite a few cool artists on its list and if Aki likes Future Pilot AKA, so does Tom: "I think Future Pilot AKA is my favourite. Maybe Maher Shalal Hash Baz too, but it is harder to remember them. I see Sushil more often, I like to keep close tabs on the objects of my devotion. But everything that has been released so far, I have liked and would have bought anyway, regardless of any 'label mates' connection I might feel." Tom is also well known for having collaborated with other Glaswegian bands, "I am currently playing with The Pastels and Appendix Out, and have been for several years. I don't know if this is a collaboration, more of a sound-generating input to people's music. I have done things with others, Lucky Luke, V-twin, the Zephyrs in Edinburgh (Jonathan and Gordon from Policecat). The Geographic compilation that we are currently involved in feels like a kind of collaboration. A community action project, as I said before."
Knowing so well the local bands also means that his favourite local artists are "Future Pilot AKA, The Pastels, Appendix Out, Bill Wells, Policecat, Royal Bronco, Boards of Canada, The Delgados, Lucky Luke and Teenage Fanclub," but for Aki it is almost impossible to choose a Scottish artist she likes best: "Oh, this one is difficult. Each of us likes one of them for something slightly different. I like Appendix Out, if you are talking about a new band, but The Pastels are doing something interesting all the time."
At present the members of the band are scattered around. "Tom, Anna, Ali, Robbie and Stephen are in Glasgow right now," Aki explains, "Cari is in Edinburgh temporarily, Julie is in London doing her photography course and I'm back in Tokyo." "I am in Glasgow right now, in the university," Tom underlines, "writing emails when I am supposed to be working! I would certainly consider moving outside the city boundary, get a nice house in the country. But I think I would like to remain in the west of Scotland for the moment. It depends on my wife, and who else is around."
Right now there aren't any definitive plans about the follow up to Nothing We Can Control. "I don't know how it is going to sound yet. More live. It depends on how long we take to record it. Nothing We Can Control took nearly a year, on and off, and I hope we can do the next one in a few weeks," Tom states, "I haven't really thought about singers or producers. I just think what can we do with the people we know, and who already play with us. I tried to learn the trumpet for the Geographic compilation but eventually we had to concentrate on writing the song. I enjoy playing music with other people. I would like to do more in the way of remixes -- I have only been involved with one (Pastels remix of Cornelius) and really enjoyed doing that. So if anyone has a track I can experiment with."
Tom at present is working hard: "We have just recorded a track for a Geographic compilation to be issued on Trattoria (Japan) sometime over the summer. It is a great CD with other bands such as Appendix Out, Pastels, Future Pilot AKA, National Park, Empress, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Barbara Morgenstern, Pedro. Then I think we are going to do a series 500 12" for Domino. Then plans to play live as soon as we can get it together. " So will you ever be able to catch them playing somewhere this summer? "I am up for some tour," Aki admits, "but I don't know how it will be possible with me being away. I hope that somehow I can help somebody to bring the whole band to play in Japan. It would be fun!"
And while we wait for Aki to ship the whole band to Japan, let's spy in their record shopping bags and see what they've bought recently "I just got the first three parts of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. I was really into volume four which I got first because it wasn't so expensive," Tom says, "I also got an Astrud Gilberto record, I forgot the name -- the one with Gil Evans, and a green sleeve, which is really great, and 'Music by Madonna. Also the new Mouse On Mars LP. They were amazing live, one or two months ago." "I bought Ida today and I like Gnac. But I've been trying German rock and jazz. I haven't found any good one yet," Aki adds in a quandary.
I also ask them about their favourite fanzine. "The only fanzines I've read recently are those that have had International Airport interviews," Tom reveals, "but Robots and Electronic Brains is a good one." While Aki takes us to Japan choosing the colourful Beikoku magazine as her fave reading.
Being Tom so absorbed in his musical projects, you happen to wonder what he would do if he weren't in a band. "Part of the time I would be doing what I do at the moment, computer programming at Glasgow University. But I would probably need to be doing something else too, so I don't know. Maybe I'd be a fitness freak. Sort my back out." Aki concludes with an advice for those who want to follow International Airport's example, "Don't be discouraged by anyone's opinion and just do what you like."
You never know what will happen tomorrow: you might find yourself waiting in an airport lounge for a flight which will take you far away or you might just keep on going on living your old and boring life. Who knows. Whatever, bear in mind that old friends will always be there for you, like an old piece of music, like International Airport.