Dave Pen

  • Birdpen
  • 2006-03-06

Birdpen are a rocktronica act who have recently expanded to a full band to give their live shows a bigger and fatter sound. Birdpen combine melancholic singing with spine-tingling acoustic guitar ambience, electronic orchestration and kicking percussive rapture to nourish and comfort the heart. With two eps under their belt, they have been receiving a lot of praise from critics, with many comparing them to The Beta Band. They have six dates in the south east of England coming up over the next few months so I caught up with Dave Pen to discover more.

Mike : First of all, could you just tell me a bit about the band’s history?

Dave : The name Birdpen derives from our nicknames we’ve had for years. Mike being Bird and Dave being Pen. Birdpen started as a visual project, Mike and I were making videos for bands and constructing visuals for live shows under the name Birdpen. We then wrote some songs and it kinda went from there.

Mike : Guitar ambiance, strong and clean vocals, epic sound, folktronica are
just some of the ways people have described your music. How would you
describe it yourself?

Dave : Tall/slim/GSOH. Only kidding. We like people to make their own minds up about the music. We have been compared to loads of styles and bands which we think shows that there is no one particular way to sum up what we do. Recently someone said we were big and boomy – we like that.

Mike : I hear you’re expanding. How has that come about?

Dave : We decided to expand because as the two of us, we found ourselves a bit constricted playing live and didn’t like using exstensive backing tracks. We thought the time was right to expand this year. Four just seemed to work nice so we’ve stuck with it.

Mike : You’ve released two eps, Fake Kid and Discussing Robots/Dig That Hole. What sort of response did they get?

Dave : We had a very good response to both releases and gained airplay on a lot of radio stations around the world. Other than the UK we see europe as a very appealing territory as Europeans seem very open to progressive types of music. The Fake Kid ep was done primarily to gain reviews which it did brilliantly and continues to help generate interest and build our profile.

Mike : What are you currently working on?

Dave : Currently we are out playing shows and writing and recording. Having our own studio space makes it nice and convenient to knock out ideas and demos all the time. A fair bit of time this year has been spent getting the band together and rehersing.

Dave : We have also been working with London based band Archive — I’m one of three singers as part of their collective. Both Mike and myself have been writing and recording songs with them for the forthcoming new album due out in May on Warners in Europe. With shows in Germany booked with The Zutons in April and lots more to come over the course of the year both Mike, who is Archive’s programmer, and myself will be very busy with both acts this yearw – just the way we like it!

Mike : So who are your past and current influences?

Dave : Our influences range from lots of stuff. Musically some acts we like
are Beck, Pink Floyd, The Stills, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Nick Drake, Richard Hawley, The Arcade Fire – there so many the list is endless really. Also we love John Carpenter’s movies and his music and just watching the television. Also George Orwell, Douglas Adams, Chris Morris, Roald Dahl and others. One of our biggest influences is the comedian Bill Hicks – purley from a philosophical, emotional and expressive way. Watching and listening to him and his outlook on life and what goes on around us is very inspiring.

Mike : You often play in your basetown of Southampton, with two shows next month. What sort of response have you been from these shows? Would you
say you have a loyal following?

Dave : I woudn’t say we have a big following in Southampton, we have a group of people that love what we do and come to most of our shows. Until the band came together the gigs had been far and few between. We have always had a really good response when ever we have played and we are still building our fan base in Southampton. The Charged gig at the Soul Cellar in Southampton is the sort of event we enjoy playing. It is so much better to play to neutral crowds and playing a night that is more geared to a particular style as apposed to lumping together a load of different bands. Also Ejector Seat, who are promoters in Southampton, organise decent shows and book some really good acts so we always enjoy playing at their nights.

Mike : How do gigs in other parts of the country compare in terms of audience and awareness of your material?

Dave : Most shows we play are to neutral crowds but the repsonse is always really good and it helps to raise awareness of the band further from home. Audience ranges depending on what kind of bill we are on. We’ve done gigs to 20 people and we’ve done gigs to 200 people.

Mike : You have been praised for your use of visuals at your live shows. In what way would you like to see these interpreted alongside your music?

Dave : Our visuals are an extension of the music really. We compile visuals we feel reflect what we are playing about and we don’t have an expectation of what people will interperet from the visuals. We like people to take what ever they want from both the music and what they see.

Mike : Your show at the Soul Cellar in Southampton sees you performing with The Chap, JayetAl and Ross Flight. Will you be listening and learning from the other artists as a bit of band ‘homework’?

Dave : We have played with Jeyetal a few times and really enjoy what they do — we think they are great. We don’t go looking for what everyone else is doing but always enjoy watching and listening to acts that we are billed with. Some we think are good some we think are not. It’s just opinion.

Mike : Who have you played alongside that have really impressed you?

Dave : Of the acts we have played with Red Jetson and iLiKETRAiNS have been
the best.

Mike : Plans for 2006?

Dave : Writing, recording, playing shows, and we have recently recorded a
single with Mike Nielson (Underworld, Snow Patrol) which we are currently working towards getting released. Along with working with Archive this year will be very busy.

Mike : Thanks for your time, Dave.

Upcoming Birdpen tour dates:

Tuesday 21st March. Rhythm Factory, White Chapel Road, London.

Wednesday 22nd March. The Soul Cellar, West Marlands Road, Southampton.
With The Chap, JayetAl and Ross Flight

Wednesday 29th March. The Horn, Victoria Street Street, St Albans.

Saturday 1st April. The Loft, Chesterton Road, Cambridge.

Thursday 4th May. The Joiners, St Marys Street, Southampton.
With iLiKETRAiNS

Friday12th May. Cargo, Rivington Street, Shoreditch, London.
Channel-zero and Encompass-London presents an audio visual night.

For more information about any of the tour dates above or Birdpen in general, check out www.birdpen.com

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