In 2009, The Big Pink signed to 4AD Records, and have since released two LPs, including five singles. Those unfamiliar with the electronic rock band fronted by Robbie Furze and his wife (photographed herein) Mary Charteris, might listen to the stadium-soaring anthem “Stay Gold” and equally optimistic “Superman.” Here Furze talks shop with his close friend, English multi-instrumentalist Jamie Hince of The Kills.
The dancing about architecture begins:
Jamie Hince: Do you feel you are a rock ‘n’ roll band?
Robbie Furze: Yes.
JH: Maybe that’s a stupid question.
RF: No, I love it.
Hince formed rock band The Kills with American singer Alison Mosshart in 2000. To date, they’ve released four LPs, the first three earning critical praise. If the name’s unfamiliar, their sound’s not. Anyone who’s left their flat in the last five years is likely to have heard their echo-laden, brooding single “Baby Says.”
JH: I’m not saying that you ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. I’m saying that it kind of crosses a few genres. It’s not easy to put Big Pink in and say, “You’re a guitar band. You’re doing this.” There are a lot of different things going on there. For guitar bands, there’s this sort of heritage where it’s like, “Let’s look like we really don’t give a fuck.” And it’s kind of interesting that if you try and mold those two things together, it’s generally embarrassing. Yeah, generally it doesn’t work.
RF: I think that when you said, “Are you a rock ‘n’ roll band?” I think of what rock ‘n’ roll is.
JH: I think you are, but I wanted to ask how you see yourself.
RF: I think that rock is supposed to be appreciated live with live guitars and drums. It’s important to feel the soul of the moment. That’s what I think rock ‘n’ roll is, the essence of the live show.
JH: With The Clash or something playing way too fast and it’s like, “Bang, bang, bang,” it’s just the experience involving the audience. I think, in a way, hip-hop does that quite well. [Rock] suffered from mobile phones filming shit because it doesn’t sound good.
RF: The creativity of a hip-hop artist is what I think a rock star should be. And that’s why I actually think that hip-hop—and the production of hip-hop has evolved over its lifetime—it’s incredible compared to rock music. Rock has not really evolved in any way, shape or form. In fact, that’s why I find bands so boring.
In 2011, Robbie Furze told NME that he noted a strong hip-hop influence on the second Big Pink studio record. Of multiple samples, the second single “Hit the Ground (Superman)” borrows the mechanical “ahs” from Laurie Anderson’s masterpiece “O Superman.” In 2013, Furze was reportedly at New York’s legendary Electric Lady Studios working on the Big Pink’s third album with drummer Vicky Jean Smith.
JH: You seem to think of things, being in a band, it’s kind for life, in a way.
JH: It’s not like, “Oh, that didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” I mean, it kind of is. You want it to be for life.
RF: I think it’s that thing where you start that battle with yourself and your own expression. We did it because we wanted to express ourselves in certain ways. When people started listening to what we had to say, it became the most amazing way of exorcising our own demons and our own stories and relating to our fans, who perhaps might have felt the same things and you might have felt some affiliations with having that feeling. When I went and saw my idols when I was a kid, suddenly now I’m having this connection with somebody who’s telling me that it’s this important to them. I’m like, “Holy shit, it’s the only thing that matters.” I’ve always loved music. I won’t stop, ever.
JH: So, do you think you’re making music—I don’t know if this will come out right—to get fans? Or do you feel that you are making music for the fans you’ve already got?
RF: I hope that what The Big Pink is doing is that I’m creating an environment for people to connect with themselves, in relation to how I’m feeling, in reaction to the same things I’m reacting to. *
JH: I think I’m beating around the bush, because what that is, and I don’t think you should be embarrassed by it, and I feel it, for lack of a better cliché, you want to be a voice of your generation. They are saying things that people who are living in that time, in your environment, absolutely relate to. They think, “That’s exactly how I feel.”
RF: It’s the freedom. Big Pink is a freedom to live and exist by your own rules. That’s exactly how I felt when I felt punk music, or noise music, or being lost without any kind of structure or boundaries of what is supposed to be cool or not cool.
In 2005, Pitchfork awarded an 8.3 to The Kills’ second studio album No Wow. The notoriously stingy music website freely dished out snark. The accompanying review states that the record “steps up to the promise of their EPs and debut LP, a boisterous reminder that kids can still hook up to songs that are little more than a guitar and attitude.”
JH: The Big Pink has to have the combination of a beautiful, melodic song and would support it by absolute fucking honesty in its delivery. That’s what The Big Pink has always been about. For me—it’s like—I respect the concept of a song. The melody, it is age old, it unites everyone. Bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, they are a good example of noisy punk, but they’re basically just soul tunes.
RF: Jesus and Mary Chain are a really big buzz band. It’s one of these things that send shockwaves. The Jesus and Mary Chain have given more depth as time has gone on. At the time, it was really a flash in the pan. I didn’t really invest in them then. They didn’t do enough. As time goes on, they’ve become a really, really important band. It’s sort of like, are you really committed to it to taking that long to make something important? No one can be The Cure anymore, where you just do your thing for 30 years and then, all of a sudden, you’re the most important thing in music.
The third track from FutureThis, “Give It Up” includes a glazy, down-tempo vocal melody reminiscent of jazzy new wave single “The Lovecats” by the Cure. A subtle, subconscious influence obviously. The songs bear little resemblance otherwise.
RF: But I’ve always made pop music. It is pop music. It’s pop music on my own terms that I need to then create an environment for people to get on board. Music is very important. It’s almost like a gang family vibe. I want people to buy into the concept of the real deal. We’re not just single after single.
JH: I think you being Big Pink is a brilliant move because there’s something you give off together. This sounds like a backhanded compliment.
RF: It does reiterate the concept that The Big Pink is not just a band. We have a message and it’s important. I’ve got a thing that I have to do. My wife is my best friend. Of course she’s a fucking singer with me.
In 2012, Vogue covered the marriage between “rock-’n’-roll royalty” Furze and future Big Pink member, Mary Charteris. In attendance were her aunt Daphne Guinness, as well as Keira Knightley, Jerry Hall, and Sean Lennon. They looked on as the couple exchanged vows, with the help of their lurcher, Alfie, who acted as ring bearer.
JH: If you thrive off of being in a gang, it’s hard to have that much time out of the gang.
RF: The carpet was pulled up from under my feet in so many respects. So, after the second record, I had to rebuild my confidence and my concept of The Big Pink. I was trying to figure out what the sound was. And then, I did a full circle and found the sound that was The Big Pink. I had this journey of self-discovery and regeneration to come back and realize the thing that worked was songs that sounded like The Big Pink. That took a while to figure out. Now, I’m in this place where I’ve written a beautiful record and that’s super honest. It’s me promising that I will never question my fucking message again. I won’t stop until I get enough. That’s where I’m at.
*Editor’s note: Here’s a graph we created to better understand this quote, which actually makes perfect sense.
Photographer: Jamie Burke at Jamieburkephoto.com.
Stylist: Hala Moawad at Halamoawad.com.
Hair: Dimitris Giannetos for Opusbeauty.com usingBumble and Bumble, grooming using Chanel Sublimage.
Makeup: Anthony Nguyen at Anthonyhnguyen.com.
Photography Assistant: Tristan Bayer.
Producer: Steve C Wood for Iconoclast.tv.
Production Assistant: Jubin Soleimani and Mathew Kehoe.
Styling Assistants:Eugenia Kim and Brent Nunez.