Good Arrows is the third album from Tunng, the follow-up to Tunng’s critically acclaimed 2006 UK release, Comments of the Inner Chorus, and the band’s Thrill Jockey debut. Describing Tunng’s music is a difficult task. Dubbed in the British press as “nu-folk” or “folktronica” and by Pitchfork as a “digital folk collective,” this septet uses traditional as well as non-traditional instruments to create music that mixes in electronica, folk and pop elements among others and skillfully avoids any genre limitations as a result. Good Arrows is a totally immersive record, enveloping the listener and their first album to be recorded in its entirety with the full, six-piece band. Taking influences from Icelandic prog rock, choral music and film soundtracks, Good Arrows marks a significant development for Tunng.
3 years back, Mike Lindsay had a studio in Soho in a basement below a clothes shop. Mike had been playing about with the studio equipment, making electronica and trying to make a living producing advert music, when he met Sam Genders, who was a bit of a singer-songwriter, used to doing gigs by himself. They had to go through the changing room to get down to the studio, then couldn’t get back out while the shop was open in case they startled naked ladies on their way out. Stuck down there, they found they had a great working relationship, and that their various influences fell together naturally into an amazingly coherent sound.
A year of ‘having a laugh in the studio’ together followed, beginning with ”People Folk” - originally Mike’s song, which they then reworked and produced together. After that they wrote in all kinds of permutations, sometimes starting with a full song by one or other of them, sometimes just with a phrase or tiny idea and working it up together. Tunng’s first album Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs is very much the sound of this partnership as they bounced ideas off one another in their basement. An approach to Static Caravan met with a welcoming response, and Sam and Mike realised that Tunng was a project that could find a wider audience.
As work on what was to become that first album went on, their songs leaked out via friends. Inevitably ears pricked up as more people heard them, and quickly they started getting asked ‘would you like to do a gig?’ ‘Yeah… but we don’t know how!’ was the instant response – so they had to go hunting for like-minded spirits to take their unique sound to the stage. Sam made the choice not to play live, so Mike found Becky and Ashley to do his vocals at gigs, and Sam remains a mystery man in the shadows (or at least in Derbyshire, where he lives) – but still in every way an important part of Tunng, playing and singing on record and present in spirit at every gig.
Now, Ashley Bates, Phil Winter, Becky Jacobs, Martin Smith, Dave Lewis-Floyd all play with the band in one way or another – and have all contributed to the new album. Ashley has been involved with music ever since he drummed with shoegazers Chapterhouse as a teenager in the early 90s. Phil has been around DJing and making music on the electronica scene for an age. Becky sings live with her brother, the far-left-field electronic maverick Max Tundra, with whom she knocked Mike’s socks off at SONAR festival a while back. Martin is a multi-instrumentalist who ran his own label Loose Cannon, on which Mike released some of his earliest pre-Tunng groove experiments as Dirtbox. Dave is an eclectic cellist whose tones graced some of the first Tunng recordings and has been involved on and off ever since.
All this might sound tangled, but it’s an important illustration of the world which Tunng inhabit. They are every inch the collective, coming out of the fringes of scenes – fringes where people collaborate to survive. It’s partly the post-rave soundsystem ethos where everyone contributes according to their skills and wishes. Partly it’s the world of underground art music epitomised by SONAR festival where the idea of the band as singer-guitarist-bassist-drummer standing in a row simply seems an obsolete conceit. And partly it’s the folk model where people play together as and when they want to and songs are reinterpreted as they want.