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Teaching Your Children to Rock: ballboy's Gordon McIntyre, interviewed

by Dave Heaton

The Scottish band ballboy has a huge, enveloping sound, whether they're playing a restless rock song or a tender ballad about an Olympic cyclist. To put it simply, their music soars above, below and around you, pulling you in. With guitars, bass, drums and keyboards, their music is both rough and pretty; it has the rawness of rock but also a delicate touch. And their lyrics are just as impressive as the music. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Gordon McIntryre writes songs that have a sharp wit and true heart. He is a poet at heart, coming up with vivid images that convey a world of feeling. He blends social critique with intimate emotional revelations, and does so with a sense of humor. Though they've released four EPs in the UK, ballboy's only real U.S. release so far is Club Anthems, an album that collects songs from three of those EPs and throws in a few others. Club Anthems (out on Manifesto Records in the US and SL Records in the UK) is a majestic work, spanning an array of sentiments and styles. It makes me long to hear any other song that they've released and gives me high hopes for their next album, A Guide for the Daylight Hours. Gordon McIntryre told me about the album, and many other things, when I had the chance to interview him over e-mail. The exchange occurred in September, right before ballboy left for their first-ever U.S. tour, opening for Cinerama. {Note: to find out more about ballboy, visit their web site.}

Soon you'll be going on your first U.S. tour, supporting Cinerama. What are your feelings about that? Have you been to the US much before?

We haven't been to the usa as a band before so it's exciting for us. It will also take us back to the days when we were playing to people who had never seen us live. There is an exciting challenge in that. Personally I can't wait.

How would you describe your approach to playing live? How does your live show differ from your recordings?

The live show is very different from the recordings previously released in the usa (our new album, due for release soon in the uk is more like the live shows). It is much more full on, more rock than pop I guess. Our approach is that we should enjoy ourselves and the audience should enjoy themselves. It's never "just another gig" for us. There will be songs, chat and possibly galaxie 500 competitions so swat up.

You have a new album coming up, A Guide for the Daylight Hours. What can you tell me about that? How does it compare to your previous recordings? When will it be out, and will it be released in the US the same time as the UK?

As I said previously it covers more of the things that we do live. It is louder and fuller than club anthems. I would say that the themes are darker than before, but I don't think that the energy and joy of the songs has been lost because of that. It is due for release in November of this year in the UK and probably March/April of next year in the USA. I am very proud of it.

Your web site lists the track titles for the new album--there's some great-sounding titles, very clever. I was wondering if you could pick a couple of your favorite songs from the album and tell me about them: what they're like, what they're about, etc.

"Avant Garde Music" - is about three stories that happened to me at roughly the same time. 1. A girl who worked in the local record shop said that ballboy weren't avant garde enough 2. I had a chance meeting with the queen on a deserted stretch of Edinburgh's Royal Mile 3. My trip to San Francisco 2 and a half years ago to see a girl. I just mashed them all together and the song came out.

"A Europewide Search for Love" - has beautiful strings on it. I think it's the first example of us using the studio properly. It also has very personal ties for me.

Most of your releases so far have been EPs. What drew you to that format? What do you like about it?

It was partly financial at first - we could only afford to record and release that many songs. But I also like the fact that things keep moving - you can put things out fairly fast. I also think that they are good value for people who buy them.

Going back into the band's history, could you fill me in on how the band formed? Were many of the current band members in the original lineup?

Nick (bass) and I started the band. We used to have a girl who sang, but she quit suddenly and I was pressed into service. We revamped the band after that. Katie (keyboards) we found at a drunken party and Gary we found hiding in a corner of Nick's house with a drumkit. We have been a stable group ever since although we occasionally add strings depending on the situation.

The biography on your web site mentions that in 1999 you won the PopCom Band Showcase, which sounds like a Scottish "battle of the bands." What was that like? What did winning that mean to you, either on a personal level or in terms of how it helped the band become more well-known?

It was a big deal for us at the time because it gave us some exposure and allowed us to record our first ep. We also got to play in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, with the castle as a backdrop so that was good. Having said all that it was indeed a battle of the bands and I'm glad we don't have to do them any more (we did do one other one where we had a running argument throughout the whole show with skinheads waiting for the ska band to come on. It ended with security at the side of the stage and was one of my favourite gigs ever, but as I said good riddance to those days!).

I read that you were a school teacher...are you still? What age children do you teach? In what ways has that affected your songwriting?

I am indeed. I teach six and seven year olds at the moment and love it. I would say though that it doesn't have any affect on my songwriting at all. I keep my two jobs very separate. Katie is also a teacher and Nick works with nursery (kindergarten) kids. So we, the balboys can educate your young all the way through until they depart for high school!

I like the "I Hate Scotland" video that's included on the Club Anthems CD. Who made the video, and where did the various footage come from? Have you made many other videos?

The video was made by brainhole productions. It was made by two men called billy and dann. They used super 8 footage of dann's youth, plus animation from a friend of their's (jenny). The other footage is my nephew and his friends in the school gym where I work. We have made one other video for "I've got pictures of you in your underwear" and shall be making another shortly to support one of the singles for the new album.

Concerning the spoken vocals on some of your songs: when you're writing songs do some just naturally become sung and some spoken? I like both styles, I was just wondering at what point in your songwriting you know which way you'll go with a song.

I just go with whatever fits the song. We got so many arab-strap references after "a day in space", and "i hate scotland" that I vowed not to do spoken word again, but then along came "a europewide search for love" and it just made sense to speak it. You should never rule anything out I think.

On "A Day in Space" you sound REALLY obsessed with space. Are you that into space travel, or was that just a persona for that particular song? What about going to space interests you most?

I don't spend my days obsessing about it, but I would absolutely love to go to space. It would be a unique experience that would be life-changing I think. I would be impossible not to see the world from above without having a new insight into it. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Final question: if there's an album you've heard recently that you really like, please tell us what it is.

Things I have listened to and loved in the past few months (these are not all new to me, but I recommend them all):
The Magnetic Fields - 69 love songs
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bright Eyes - Fevers and Mirrors
The Mountain Goats - All Hail West Texas
Galaxie 500 - On Fire (the best album of all time)
ballboy - a guide for the daylight hours (hee hee)

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