After playing their first show in early 2011, Liverpool’s Outfit released a strong debut called Performance in 2013. Problem is, it was easy to miss it if you lived here in the US — Performance was only available as an import, and Outfit didn’t wind up getting the attention Stateside that they deserved. The five-piece — Andrew Hunt (vocals/synths), Tom Gorton (vocals/synths), Nicholas Hunt (guitar), Chris Hutchinson (bass), and David Berger (drums/production) — are returning this month with their sophomore effort, Slowness, and while they don’t necessarily sound like an entirely different band, they do sound like a very different band. Performance already offered a slightly skewed vision of pop music, but Slowness finds the band coming more fully into its own. It’s queasier, darker, simultaneously more mysterious and more emotive. Performance was dancier and garnered them comparisons to Hot Chip at times, even if it felt more like the kind of music you’d listen to on the way home from the club than at the club itself (“Pop music for the night bus,” as Gorton put it). Its successor, on the other hand, features music that’s perfectly matched with the obliquely gorgeous yet unsettling art associated with the album, both the artwork itself and the video for opener/standout “New Air.” These are pop forms, zoomed in and deconstructed to the point of mutation and lack of recognition, piano melodies and sickly synths and melted guitar drones all mingling together under vulnerable vocal melodies. Even with the promise of their debut, Slowness feels like a massive step forward — the music here is striking and unique, finding Outfit developing a sound that’s not quite like anyone else. I talked to frontman Andrew Hunt — who actually lives in Brooklyn now but is staying in Liverpool for a bit — about the roots and ideas behind Outfit and about their excellent new album, which you can stream below.
STEREOGUM: You’re living in New York right now, right?
ANDREW HUNT: Yes, I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the last seven months or so. It’s good. I’m in a bit of a state of limbo over there at the moment in that my visa doesn’t allow me to work legally, so I’ve got lots of free time for music, which is great. It doesn’t really quite feel like I live there yet. So it’s right by the water in Brooklyn, so it’s between Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights.
STEREOGUM: There’s some really cool stuff out there.
HUNT: I really got quite obsessed with that area of New York, especially getting toward Gowanus and stuff like that. It’s such an evocative landscape. It’s kind of really fucked up. To me, it’s super American in a way. It’s built on industry and it’s kind of messy and dirty but also quite beautiful. I love that area of town.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about the whole Outfit origin story with the mansion in Liverpool.
HUNT: Yeah, that’s where I am right now actually. It’s a huge building, it’s like 23 bedrooms or something. It used to be, at one point, a nursing home, and then for a while it was a halfway house for recovering addicts. And then at some point it became available as a sort of residential property, and we were living close in another quite big house with maybe 15 of us or so. I saw it come up and thought, it’s just a crazy opportunity to have loads of space and freedom to do lots of stuff we’d always wanted to do, like put on shows in the house and have rehearsal and studio space. It really allowed us to start doing the band here in a self-sufficient way. It was invaluable to us.
STEREOGUM: Did you all meet before you lived together?
HUNT: Well, actually, my brother’s in the band so we’ve known each other for quite a long time. I went to school with Tom, though we weren’t particularly friends in school, really. Dave, our drummer who also produces our stuff, he’d kinda been playing music with Tom. And Chris, our bassist, had been working with Tom in this really weird place. They used to work in this…it was like an Alien/H.R. Giger-themed space museum. So they used to have to dress up as aliens in the full H.R. Giger Alien costume and terrorize tourists and take them on this theatrical planned experience or something. They met doing that.
STEREOGUM: I always liked that Outfit was kind of a malleable signifier of a band name. What drew you to the name?
HUNT: I think it was a name Tom had knocking about for a while. The thing that’s good about it, I think, is it’s a very plain name, so it’s not pushing you into assumptions about the group. It’s a nice blank canvas to start from. I think it also fits quite nicely in a lineage of simple post-punk band names. Simple objects that are utilitarian or something. We didn’t want to have something that was telling you too much in a way. It felt like a good name for a vehicle for our creativity. When we started, that’s how we thought about it, we thought we’d produce videos and songs and maybe mixes or whatever, I don’t know. We were just thinking about it as a quite general creative group, I suppose, and then it very much turned into a traditional band.
STEREOGUM: Are all of you still working other jobs as well?
HUNT: Yeah, so we all do quite different stuff. Dave and I both work in art galleries, installing AV equipment and doing sort of art handling and stuff like that. He does quite a bit of traveling with that actually, he goes around the world. Chris works in a bar. My brother is a substitute teacher. We all do other stuff.
STEREOGUM: I know that’s the case for a lot of young bands these days, but how does that effect you guys trying to record, or to tour outside England?
HUNT: To be honest, I don’t think that us having jobs is the thing that makes it difficult in a way. Most of us have created a working life that’s pretty flexible, so you can do these things. I think, at the moment, we’re not in the same city or even country, and that poses a lot of difficulties. It means you have to plan a lot. Figure out months in advance what you’re going to do. Doing a band, it takes a lot of energy and time to do even simple things like play a few songs. Being in the same city would help. It’s a funny one, really, I think the work we all do individually has quite a part in shaping who we are as people and what we’re into and what we know about and that in turn feeds into our music. As much as I would love to pack in the day job and all that, there is something to be said about having that other input to your brain that’s not all about reviews and songs and shows and stuff.
STEREOGUM: You were all living together when you worked on Performance. Did the distance and movement factor into the ethos or themes of the new record at all?
HUNT: Hugely, yeah. Distance between us and sort of distance between Tom and the rest of the band geographically certainly came into it. There was quite a lot of pressure in the recording process as to when we’d have to do parts or whatever. Also, I was living away from my wife at the time, for months and months at a stretch, and I had been doing that for like two years. So the distance between me and her was incredibly palpable. In many ways, it’s what the record is based around. This feeling of inertia that you get when you’re apart from somebody that you are close with. It sort of feels like time stands still or something. Aside from my relationship, it does definitely extend to the experience of being in the band at that time. There was distance between all of us. That very much fed into how we were working and what came out.
STEREOGUM: So how does the title Slowness relate to that?
HUNT: It’s named after a book, actually, this novel by Milan Kundera, which I read maybe a year and a half ago. The main thing that struck me is at one point in the book he’s basically drawing this comparison between slowness and a sense of longing as opposed to rapidity and a sense of wanting to forget. If a man is walking down the street and he wants to forget what happened last night, he walks fast. As if he’s literally trying to just run away from what happened. Whereas the man who’s walking down the street missing his love is slow, he’s lounging around, trying to stay within this bubble or something. It was something about that that struck me at the time because of the degree of separation involved in our lives, and certainly my life. I think, also, we’d talked musically about allowing ourselves to stretch out more and avoid the kind of song structures that we’d followed quite rigidly on the first one. Allowing ourselves to have slow moments, quiet moments, so then we can have very loud moments. The dynamics we’d always talked about as a band but never quite done.
STEREOGUM: I’m curious how you guys arrived at this new sound. I feel like Slowness is a big, different step forward, and there’s not a lot of other stuff I could say it reminds me of. I feel like you guys have really carved out your own space on this one.
HUNT: In terms of when we were making the record, we weren’t really listening to much other music. We weren’t being consciously influenced in the same way that we definitely were when we made the first album. When we were making the first album, I remember quite a lot of conversations about references and talking about other music. Lifting the feel of something, or whatever. I think we did that much, much less on this album, and just tried to trust our instincts more. Also, to be more sequestered in a way and just focus on what we were doing. It helped that we were using a much, much reduced palette of sounds. We basically stuck to a live setup of five instruments. Same keyboard on every track, piano. I think it was always going to lead towards something that was quite coherent. We arrived at it, basically, by limiting our choices a lot.
STEREOGUM: I read you guys once described yourselves as “Pop music for the night bus” —
HUNT: Definitely something Tom said. I never said that. I don’t ride the night bus enough.
STEREOGUM: Well, I was going to ask whether you thought this was sort of Outfit, pt. 2, or whether that idea still kind of applied, but since you were never talking about it to begin with —
HUNT: I think when we first started the band, it probably had a bit more of that thing to it. I don’t think that’s where we’re at now. I mean, that being said, I think it is music to listen to on your headphones, at night, when you’re alone. In that sense, I totally agree with him. It’s music that’s probably best enjoyed in solitude and perhaps with the confines of headphones. There’s an introspection to it that lends itself to that. I think there’s something to that, the wee hours, it’s contemplative…there’s a gloominess to it, but the sun’s coming up. You know, like the fucking light at the end of the tunnel. I should ride the night bus more often, figure it out.
Slowness is out 6/15 via Memphis Industries.