The Proper Ornaments are a brit-pop 60s-esque band lead by James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold (Toy, Pink Flames), with Danny and Bobby on bass and drums. The Proper Ornaments just released their second album Foxhole in January 2017, a softer album full of simple yet beautiful harmonies. Though the lyrics may be quite melancholic, there’s a certain lightness and sense of calm throughout the album. We got to catch up with them after an intimate acoustic showcase performance at the record shop Pop Culture (Paris 11e).
Welcome to Paris. Any particular affinities for this city?
Bobby: It seems to be the place where we’ve played the most.
Danny: There’s a good Paris-London musical connection. For years we’ve been friends with people in bands from both cities, we always go over and play and we stay in each others houses.
Max: Paris has always been an important place for people who like art, reading, and music.
James: And going back to the early part of the last century with the art movement, with certain people who aspire to a certain beatnik lifestyle.
Tell us the story of The Proper Ornaments. Why this particular project, in addition to your other bands?
Max: This project was born very naturally, through being friends and hanging out.
James: We like hanging out through music. Other than music, I hate these guys (laughs).
Why the name « The Proper Ornaments »?
James: It’s a song by a band called The Free Design, who I’ve liked for a long time. When we were talking about a name, I suggested it to Max and he like it, so we went with it. We like the connections to the scene that band is from.
How would you describe your music for those who’ve never heard or seen you live?
Max: I don’t know really, it’s rubbish (laughs). Melodic. Sometimes sounding a bit Velvet Underground, Byrds, Swell Maps… early punk bands from the seventies in the UK. Definitely not sunshine pop. We’re not sunshine at all, we’re quite depressing people. I have all the duvets covering my windows so the sun doesn’t come in and James does the same with newspapers.
Bobby: Quite often melancholic, but melodic and classical songwriting.
Danny: Dark dream pop.
The Proper Ornaments have released an EP Waiting for Summer, a first LP Wooden Head, as well as some singles and a split with the band Beat Mark. The third album Foxhole just came out January 20th 2017. In what context was this album created?
Max: This record was made more like the origins of this group, which was, « let’s get together and see what happens, » and slowly it became a record. The lyrics are pretty much what we always write about, which is how we feel. But trying not to be too obvious and make it a bit ironic and funny at times. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It can come across as serious music but it’s not really. We’ve been through rough times, like everyone does, but it’s okay. We’re very lucky people to be able to do what we love doing, but we do suffer a lot of things that are very common to a lot of people… depression or whatever. We’re not going to write sunshine pop music, like the Beach Boys, we love them but we’re not that kind of people.
Why the name Foxhole?
James: There was originally a track on the album called « Foxhole », then the name got changed. But we thought the name ‘foxhole’ suited the mood of being enclosed. The album was recorded in my house. So the sound of the record has to do with the surroundings of where it was recorded on tape machines and we often played quite quietly. The name tied in with the overall feel of the record.
Why is there Japanese writing on the cover?
Max: We got the idea from this monk who lived in the middle of the UK in the fifties. He wrote typewriter, minimalist poetry. We found this image in his book and it looked really nice, so we took the layout for the record. There’s the name of the book written and some Japanese writing on the side. We have some Japanese friends who helped us translate ‘foxhole’.
How is this album different from the previous ones?
James: The first one had a harsher sound and more effects. Foxhole sort of retreats back to simpler arrangements with more acoustic instruments, piano and acoustic guitar. There’s not much distorted guitar, so it’s softer and cleaner.
Max: I think the songs needed to be done that way, if we did those songs with more distortion they would sound horrible. When you create a song, you want to do it justice. This time the justice had to be made by having a sparser sound, a bit more silence between the instruments.
Bobby: We recorded sixteen tracks and the same studio where we recorded the first album. James has got an 8-track tape machine and it basically broke and we lost pretty much all of the recordings. So we decided to go to James’ flat where we could take our time with it. Because he lives in a flat, we naturally just stepped back a bit and played softer, so the album came out the way it did.
Are there any positive themes?
Danny: It’s been very positively received for a depressing album (laughs).
Favorite song to play off the record?
Max: We like to play « Memories ». It’s the first song we ever played where there’s a piano instead of two guitars so it gives it another sound. It breaks the set up in a good way.
Favorite record of all time?
James: Revolver, by the Beatles.
Bobby: Mine was Revolver, but I’ll change it to Abbey Road.
Max: Beatles for Sale.
Danny: I don’t know. These three are music geeks, they always drag me to record shops and we have to stay there for hours.
What have you been listening to in the van ?
Max: Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites. And John Peel Sessions.
James: We’ve been watching films in the van. We watched Notting Hill and it is one the best films ever made. A documentary on Hitler’s drug habits, which was really good… and we’ve listened to Oasis, daily (laughs).
What’s next for The Proper Ornaments?
Max: We’ll be playing some shows in the summer and maybe a Spanish tour.
James: We’re looking to go to America at the end of the year.