Interview: Happy Particles

This feature originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Tuesday May 1, 2012, under the heading QUIETLY AIMING FOR THE PEAK OF SUCCESS.

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch. When ambient-pop group Happy Particles issued their debut album Under Sleeping Waves, it contained the line, “Let yourself in, quietly” – and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The Glasgow sextet self-released their calling card on Christmas Day 2011, with nary a fanfare or physical product, just a Bandcamp web-page and a gorgeous record. But its stellar charms have since secured them a Radio 1 session, national airplay and a Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award nomination.

Fronted by singer-songwriter, guitarist and laptop sage Steven Kane, Happy Particles were formed in late 2009. The band shares members with epic instrumentalists (and fellow SAY Award nominees) Remember Remember, with whom our protagonist also plays. “That’s where I nicked James and Graeme from,” jokes Kane of James Swinburne (keys / saxophone) and Graeme Ronald (bass): we can also thank them for the record’s glorious string arrangements. Happy Particles are completed by Gordon Farquhar (drums), Al Doherty (guitar) and Ricky Egan (guitar).

Under Sleeping Waves was recorded in a converted barn in Dundee, with significant support from producer Robin Sutherland. (“We probably wouldn’t have a record of it wasn’t for Robin,” says Kane). It’s a gorgeous, abstract album: songs with titles like Aerials, Slowness and Infinite Jet pass like celestial daydreams; half-memories. “It’s influenced by a lot of slow or shoe-gaze American bands from the 90s, like Low, Red House Painters and Codeine,” explains the heavenly-larynxed Kane. “Aesthetically, we’re quite fond of minimalism, that balancing act of making each note count. We try to convey things without saying them out loud.”

Despite their hushed approach, Happy Particles’ presence in the inaugural SAY Award longlist speaks volumes. It sees their debut pegged as one of 2011’s best 20 Scottish albums, and aligns them with King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells and Rustie. As a direct result of the SAY Award, they now have physical CDs and retail distribution.

“Stewart Henderson [of the Scottish Music Industry Association] basically would not have it that some of the longlisted bands had no stock because they were unsigned or whatever,” says Kane. “He wanted everyone to gain from the award; for it not just to be a competition. So they funded a run of 1000 CDs [they did similar for Muscles of Joy], which is pretty much unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

“It’s a huge wake-up call that there are people like Stewart out there,” continues Kane, “People who really care about music and art in this country and are willing to fight for it; to put their necks out for wee bands like us. It’s a pretty punk-rock attitude for an awards ceremony to take.”

Acts like the Blue Nile and Mogwai can be discerned in Happy Particles’ exquisite vistas: does Kane feel the band has a Scottish identity? “In a sense yes, although there are no direct references to any places or times,” he offers. “It’s Scotland through a haze of abstractions.”

The SAY Award shortlist is announced on May 17. To vote and for details, see  here.

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