Broadcast – an interview with Trish Keenan from 2005

I interviewed Broadcast’s Trish Keenan for Stool Pigeon magazine in summer 2005, just before the release of the band’s third studio album Tender Buttons.

I was very nervous about doing it: not only were Broadcast one of my favourite bands but they had a mystical air about them that suggested they were far cooler than you and wouldn’t take kindly to idiocy.

I shouldn’t have worried: Keenan was incredibly friendly and open, talking about her intimate family life in a remarkably honest way and telling me how happy she was that people loved her band. I remember thinking, too, that her broad, friendly Birmingham accent was a world away from the icy mystique of her singing voice. It made me love the band even more.

That was the only time I would ever speak to anyone in the band. But it stuck with me. And after Keenan tragically died in 2011 I found myself thinking back to the joyful interview.

The Stool Pigeon closed down in 2013 and this interview never appeared on their website. But with Broadcast’s back catalogue getting the reissue treatment this year, I thought I would post it here.

All the best bands are a mass of contradictions are Broadcast are no exception. The band – slimmed down to the core duo of James Cargill and Trish Keenan – have emerged from their Birmingham bunker with a gorgeous new album, Tender Buttons, that is both their most obliquely cool and warmly personal.

“When I sat down to write the songs I was keen not to say anything. I just wanted to play around with words, I wanted to stay free of who I was,” Trish explains down the phone from her messy Birmingham bedroom. “But when I let go of all the pressure to describe me it became more personal.”

It is this idea of letting go that centres Tender Buttons. “It’s letting go of everything, being human, being who you are,” Trish explains. “I lost my dad during the making of the album. That was a parallel for me. It came out in the way I thought about music and I had to let go of my dad.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that such emotions seeped into the album, given the troubled circumstances that surrounded the recording: James and Trish, who are also a couple, argued heavily while making Tender Buttons and Trish wrote many of the lyrics while visiting her father in hospital where he was dying of cancer.

Such frankness is incredible in modern music, but Trish is unfazed. “I have got no problem with people knowing me or any personal details about myself,” she says. “I have had a crazy life: I was brought up by a prostitute.”

This experience is reflected in the lyrics to the beautiful Goodbye Girls. “I imagine what it’s like to be a prostitute, what you have to turn off inside to do it,” Trish says. “To a certain degree it’s a description of my mum. She has a blankness to her some times. There’s reasons she ended up as a prostitute.”

The idea of letting go also applies to the very idea of Broadcast as a band: Tender Buttons is a conscious step away from the guitar driven 60s style of previous albums, based as it is around a hypnotic swirl of minimal drum machines and distorted, angry keyboards.

As Trish describes it, it was a horribly necessary move to make. “We came back from America on the Ha Ha tour and it just felt like we were really sick of how we worked. We always wear our references too much on our sleeves. We needed to do something that was more us, other than in the shadow of all the 60s bands,” she says.

Tender Buttons certainly achieves that: the album is a startlingly original mix, beholden to no one, and a real step forward from the maximal sounds of previous long player The Ha Ha Sound. “We just turned off all the jewellery. The Ha Ha Sound was like a jewellery box, full of sparkling things,” Trish says.

Brilliant as the album is though, it may well prove a controversial one with their fans, some of whom have urged the band to return to their 60s ways. But if there is one track above all that is likely to incite argument, it’s the brilliant pop noir of America’s Boy, which Trish describes as “a sort of celebration of the American soldier”. “I wrote something off the top of my head and I am going to be called a Neo Conservative,” Trish jokes. But of course things are not that cut and dried. “There’s no pro or anti war thing going on at all,” she says. “Besides the world you and I come from is already converted to anti war.”

Not that you can imagine Broadcast coming from the same world as anyone really. Rather they exist in splendid isolation, floating on the planet Broadcast a million miles away from the humdrum world of modern music. “I don’t know where we stand. We get good reviews but nobody buys it,” Trish says, possibly facetiously. “There is the promo world that exists and there is life in this house. It’s weird that there are these posh photos but I look around my bedroom and it’s a mess.”

And with that, the singer of the best band in Britain goes off to tidy her room.