Day 11: The Balance Company

Like a lot of Swimmer One songs, The Balance Company started life as a rough instrumental recording by Hamish that we then developed together. I remember being keen to do something with this one because I thought we could make it sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand or the Killers, who were new and exciting at the time, and therefore we might have a ‘hit’. This was often my instinct when writing Swimmer One songs. Perversely, this instinct was coupled with another, counterproductive fear of making any of the lyrics or titles too ‘obvious’, and therefore coming up with titles like Largs Hum (a reference that will probably mean nothing to you unless you live in Largs or have an obsessive interest in unexplainable low frequency noises) or indeed The Balance Company. What the hell is a balance company? I wish I knew.

With hindsight, I can now see that my instincts were topsy turvy. What I should have been aspiring to do is make music that sounded like nothing else you’d heard before, with lyrics that felt familiar and were therefore accessible and relatable. Like, you know, Bjork or Kate Bush. As opposed to a band you haven’t heard of who occasionaly sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand.

A disclaimer: Hamish might well describe the creation of this song – and indeed all of our songs – quite differently. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to make something that sounded like Franz Ferdinand or The Killers (more likely his reference points were Roxy Music or Neu). But then his instincts always tended to be better than mine. I suspect that a lot of our best songs were good, at least in part, because I had an idea and he said no.

Anyway, this is another Swimmer One song (like National Theatre) that I struggle to love largely because I wish my contribution had been different. It was almost good – inspired by Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, I’d been wondering how a company of angels might operate. Would they enjoy their jobs, given all the pain and tragedy in the world that they were clearly failing to fix? Would it be deeply frustrating a lot of the time? What would they feel they’d achieved? ‘Balance’ was the best answer I could come up with – as with so many jobs, if the successes just about balanced out the failures they might feel ok about it. Hence the Balance Company. However I suspect that a pop lyric that takes almost a whole paragraph to explain probably isn’t doing its job.

Daniel’s film for this song is another example of other people’s instincts being better than mine. I turned up at Out of the Blue in Leith wearing basically whatever clean clothes I could find that morning, thinking that if I appeared in the film at all it would be fleetingly and in the background. The people doing 90 per cent of the performing would be the theatre company Highway Diner, who were basically devising a theatre performance in the course of one day, on film. To link it all together, Daniel then decided I should sing the song straight to camera. Since I lived in Glasgow there wasn’t enough time to go and get changed, so the clothes I was in would have to do. Of course Daniel ended up using loads of this footage, prominently showcasing the not very nice cream jumper I happened to be wearing that day. I would have much preferred almost anything else in my wardrobe to be immortalised on film, but there we are.

On the plus side, there’s a bit in this film where I’m sitting on some old car seats with my future wife, which will be a nice memento for our children one day. Look kids, here’s Dad pretending to drink tea from an empty mug and Mum pretending to be dead in a road accident.

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