2015 has been the most successful year yet for indie electronic outfit Public Service Broadcasting.
From playing in arenas with Leeds heroes Kaiser Chiefs to winning over crowds at several major festivals and almost breaching the UK top 10 with their second album The Race For Space, the past 12 months have been an exhilarating ride for the group formed by the enigmatically named J Willgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth.
PSB closed the year by releasing an EP, featuring a new track Korolev, dedicated to the leading Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer of the 1950s and 60s.
Willgoose says he first came across Ukrainian-born Sergei Korolev while he was researching the concept album The Race For Space. “He was a figure that was in a lot of the reading I was doing and I did manage to watch a short film about him from the BFI [British Film Institute] but I could not see how it would fit into the running order of the album so I put it to one side, thinking if I do have time to do another track I would do it about him.”
Soviet propaganda sidestepped the fact that a contributory factor to Korolev’s early death, at the age of 59, may well have been his imprisonment by Josef Stalin in the 1930s. He was later rehabilitated by a Communist regime determined to beat the Americans into space. “There was no mention he got packed off to a gulag that ruined his health and probably killed him 15 years early.”
Researching speech samples and stories for a project such as The Race For Space proved time-consuming, Willgoose admits. “I don’t want to come at anything from a position of ignorance. I have to bring myself up to the base line. I started doing a lot of heavy background reading from January 2013.”
As with the band’s first album, Inform-Educate-Entertain, Willgoose raided the archives of the British Film Institute in London, “getting ideas for topics”.
“From that point to releasing the album two years later was interrupted by a lot of touring. It was fitting [writing and recording] in where and when we could.”
The theme of space travel had fascinated him since childhood. “So many little kids are interested in it,” he says. “It’s about us and our place in the universe, what we are doing and why. Then you add contemporary history and geopolitical manoeuvrings by superpowers racing each other and the technological developments, it’s a facinating period of history.”
For live shows this year, Willgoose drafted in two new touring members, visuals expert Mr B and bassist and flugelhorn player JF Abraham. Willgoose says the idea of expanding their line-up had appealed for some time. “We held off because we could not afford it for the first album but as we got to album two I would love to add someone else,” he says. “It does not make a great deal of financial sense but b***** it.”
He thinks the band have become “more confident and comfortable on stage” as a result. “There’s much less awkwardness and nervousness about us than there was in the early days. It puts everyone at ease.
“We’re always growing,” he adds, “from the first song I did to where we are now. It’s important to keep doing that rather than become stuck and stale. It bodes well for the future.”
As for the band’s next album, Willgoose says “it would be nice to boil things down to a more human-focused work”.
“I don’t want to become too earnest,” he adds. “I realised with this album you could pack more emotional weather. I want to take that to the next level.”
Public Service Broadcasting play a rearranged gig at Leeds University Refectory on February 7. For details visit http://publicservicebroadcasting.net/