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A New International: frontman Biff Smith talks about his definition of music

ByErika Talbot

Oct 4, 2016

Beginning as the Starlets, this Glasgow-based group was met with unprecedented support in Japan, Holland and other parts of Europe. As their music progressed, the band became known as A New International. They are receiving increasingly more attention in the UK, as they continue to create beautifully innovative music and perform captivating live shows. Frontman Biff Smith talks to The Student to discuss what is next for A New International.

Between “singing songs and telling stories” Biff reveals that they are indeed working on a new album. This album has a very unique sound. Some tracks point to French influences, others to Spanish; some bits of flamenco, some bobs of romantic ballads, some fast-paced, pop-led numbers. The first listen leaves you gloriously baffled.

Biff says it is simply “the sound that we found ourselves making, not a conscious masterplan.” They are not thinking about what they will or should sound like, as “music shouldn’t be about rules. It comes out the way it comes out.”

The use of instruments such as the accordion, violin, and double bass contributes to A New International’s multi-faceted sound. The mandolin is a fairly new addition, which will complement the Romany aesthetic within their music. Touring abroad seems to have had quite an impact on the band. He recalls his time in Holland: “I remember going over there for the first time and meeting a lot of accordionists out in the street, and that really influenced our sound as well…it’s almost like a forgotten music. [When someone asks] “What kind of music are you into?” it’s usually what’s on the radio, what’s on the TV…and you almost kind of forget buskers, what’s been made on the street. Sometimes that’s amazing.”

After listening to some of the band’s music, one might not be able to fathom what their writing process must be like. The lyrics and the composition fit together and flow so well, transforming the songs into something truly poetic. “I get the song up to a point where it’s semi-listenable” says Biff, “then I usually take it into the rehearsal room and then we’ll work on it as a band.”

On writing the lyrics, he notes; “Sometimes you may just get an idea for a line but don’t know where to put it yet, so I just scribble it down in a notebook and maybe it’ll find a home somewhere…I’ll kind of sing some nonsense to myself until I get an idea of the meter and rhythm and the words that are needed for that particular kind of music. You sing nonsense to begin with, and then if you’re lucky maybe you’ll manage to find grown-up words that kind of match the rhythm of that nonsense . . . that can be your first clue as to what that song might be about.”

“Music” he continues, ‘hits things like memories and emotions in a way that rationality and logic doesn’t. What does it make you think of? Where does it take you? Try to write about that and then try to write something in the same rhythm as that nonsense that you’re singing to.”

Biff’s approach to music is playful: “It doesn’t always have to give a big message. Sometimes it can just be the joy of the noise. There’s one kind of school of thought that you shouldn’t explain songs. If you need to explain songs, then it hasn’t worked, you know?”

Perhaps what is most impressive is seeing A New International perform live at one of their intimate gigs.

You can catch them playing in Edinburgh at the Voodoo Rooms on 7 October, the Royal Lyceum Theatre on 6 November, or the Tenement Trail in Glasgow on 8 October.

Photo: A New International Band


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