Well this has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? We were lucky enough to sit down with Paul Russell of Axes and Human Pyramids after an absolutely superb Human Pyramids set at this year’s 2000 Trees festival, but the resulting interview has been held in limbo since for a number of reasons.
An orchestral project that burst into life just two years ago, Human Pyramids have taken post-rock in a direction we rarely see it take and despite the grand scale of the Axes frontman’s vision, the results have been superb, with debut album ‘Planet Shhh!’ released back in 2013 and a slew of great live showings since. As Russell’s orchestral project ends their summer on a fantastic high, however, we’re finally able to turn loose the chat we had backstage at one of the best festivals in the country with one of Scotland’s most talented musicians and composers.
AH: So after a fantastic opening set to the day on the main stage, how have Human Pyramids found the first 2000 Trees Festival?
Paul: It’s been absolutely magic! 2000 Trees Festival was the first festival I ever played, which was with Axes two years ago and we were feeling a bit nervous and apprehensive, we were quite a new band but it was packed, we had an absolutely amazing time. It was kind of rare to see everybody who was working the festival – the sound crew, artist liaison, all the staff – weren’t bastards? Everyone was super friendly, the crowd were amazing and we sold lots of merch, it was kind of the turning point where we said “hang on, festivals are what we want to do”! So it was really the first time I fell in love with a festival, so to be playing here with Human Pyramids is like a dream come true and we’ve loved it.
AH: How does your approach to a festival compare with Human Pyramids to the ones you’ve done with Axes?
Paul: We tend to approach it the exact same way, the only difference is that the stages are bigger! So instead of having to watch where the head of your guitar is going to go, you’re enjoying the space and there’s a lot more room to move about, everyone’s more fresh faced… it’s not a case of approaching it different, but it does tend to be a lot more enjoyable.
AH: With the amount of kit that you have to take on stage and the amount of people backing you up, does that make it hard to consider things like conventional touring?
Paul: I guess the difference between Human Pyramids and Axes is that Axes can conventionally tour, whereas a band like Human Pyramids can’t, so unfortunately it can’t happen with Human Pyramids, which is kind of good and bad, but if Human Pyramids were to do a tour, it would need to be a venue of a big size, as well as a lot of money. Because it’s like sixteen people, and today there’s about ten cars here so to do a tour, you’d need two massive vans which would be very expensive themselves so it can’t really happen unfortunately. But that’s kind of fun as well, because every gig becomes much more magical.
AH: We saw you packing down for a long time and there’s obviously a lot of room for stuff to go wrong; with Human Pyramids still a fairly young project, has anything ever not gone to plan?
Paul: It’s interesting with Human Pyramids because we don’t really rehearse, simply because you can’t, you have a sixteen piece band and it’s difficult enough getting four people together ‘cause they’re like “oh, I wanna see my girlfriend on Wednesday” or “I work late at Pizza Hut on Thursday” or like “I wanna see this film which has just come out on Friday”. So rehearsing four people is really difficult, rehearsing sixteen people is impossible. So what we do is we have a core band of eight, which is the rock element, and then we have another group of eight doing the brass and strings who both come from all over the place. So quite often we’ll rehearse the rock band, and we’ll rehearse the strings on the day and the first time those sixteen people get together is the concert! So when you ask “do things go wrong?” the answer is every time! It’s so mad and it’s something that as a composer or an arranger or whatever, at the beginning I used to feel upset that you couldn’t control that, but as we started to play eight or ten gigs you kind of understand that that’s what it is. Things are always gonna go a bit wrong, but that’s kind of what the beauty is and it always works out in the end.
AH: With people coming from all over there’s obviously a lot of pressure riding on who’s here; what’s the selection process like for getting these guys together?
Paul: Basically, I have what I call a Human Pyramids ‘A-team’, so they’ll be the people who’ve played on the album, they’re good friends, they’re people who I love. And today I was quite lucky in that it was nearly all the A-team. With sixteen people you’ve always got a couple who can’t make it, but the selection process is always the A-team first, and then I’ve got a B and C-team, so I’ll just go through that in order, so if the main tuba can’t make it, let’s ask the B tuba or the C tuba… We were lucky, the first gigs we did it was absolutely hellish, having to ask around who knows a violin player or a French horn player, and now I’m in a situation where I know loads of everybody, so it’s much easier to work out.
AH: You mentioned back in January that you’ve got new music coming together, there’s another show or two coming up this year as well, do you want to talk about what and where’s next for you?
Paul: We’re playing End of the Road Festival in September and then after that, we don’t have a lot planned. I’m planning to write a new album, I’m in the process of recording ideas on my phone and to put things in perspective, the last album took three years to write! So I’m not rushing into anything, obviously besides Human Pyramids I’ve got Axes, and I’m working as a sound engineer and beside that I do film composing, so I’ve got a lot of things happening but in January I’m planning to lock myself away in the Highlands and write the album. That’s my game plan, whether that happens or not is unclear, but I’m a strong believer in not pushing things creatively, I never want to sit down and be like “right, I’m gonna write an album now”, it’s got to come to me. I feel like January will be the time that it starts, and then hopefully by 2016 I’ll release it. I’m also working on a big project with Caroline [Human Pyramids vocalist] so I’m doing a record with her at the moment which will be kind of like Human Pyramids but with more vocals… there’s quite a lot of different things happening.
AH: Well it’s been absolutely fantastic seeing you guys today, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of you again very soon, you’ve probably already cleared a whole bunch of hangovers this afternoon!
Paul: Absolute pleasure, thanks very much indeed! I’ve got to try and find my band now…
We understand that Paul did manage to find the rest of Human Pyramids, and that they absolutely smashed it out of the park at End of the Road Festival last weekend. We look forward to hearing more from them in the coming months.
Words by Antony Lusmore (@VilinskiKonjic)