Interview with Happy Pill Academy

Below is our interview with London-based project Happy Pill Academy, featured recently with the release ‘Postcards to and from a Doomed Civilisation.’

Your new release, Postcards to and from a Doomed Civilisation, is an epic concept album, led by a robot protagonist. Were there any particular influences for this concept?

At 20 mins long it’s a ‘Mini Epic’ or some form of ‘Albumette’.

But yeah, my robot goes on holiday to another planet that ends up being just as broken and rotten as the place he left, but it lacks the people in his life so he does his best to get back home again.

The concept grew from the first couple of songs I wrote. I had planned to work on something else entirely but got distracted and ended up writing this thing. It was going to be songs based around the seven deadly sins. Which, now that I write it down, sounds fucking dreadful. I wrote the cute riff from ‘Transient Dot…’ on the ukulele and then knocked out ‘George the Pilot’ on guitar and at that point the idea of ‘robot goes on holiday’ kinda got stuck in my head.

There are definitely a few themes explored in the songs, but certainly the idea of anxiety and your place in your own life and the world at large are pretty key.

The album’s cover of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” is fantastic and moving, also fitting cohesively within the album. From where did the idea arise to include this track on the release?

I love fucking around with covers, but rarely play them live or record any; it’s not what Pill Academy is about really. But it stood out as it was the first song I learned to play on Ukulele and the more I thought about what it meant in the context of the concept the more I felt like it was the right song for the point in the story.

The idea is that the robot lands on the new planet and is greeted by a Chuck E Cheese type animatronic band playing something familiar yet different, cohesive yet broken. It’s supposed to be a warm welcome committee but it ends up being more like a warning sign.

The album presents a consuming post-grunge sound with its own idiosyncratic psychedelic charms. Are there any bands in particular in this style that had a heavy influence on your sound?

Not really.

And I figure that’s going to make me sound like an ass, but I went into this just trying to build on music I’d done before both in terms of the writing, recording, mixing etc.

On some level I’m always gonna want to – and succeed at – sounding like a 90s band because that was my formative decade for music and most other things, but what I love about this post-Grunge label (although I always thought of myself as a Lo-Fi Alternative Reality Project) is that it allows you to bring in other elements and hopefully drive the music onwards in some way. What helped with that aspect is working with James Humphry, my production / mixing buddy, because his influences are way more eclectic than mine.

I don’t want to be a genre or a band that does the same thing over and over; I will always try to evolve in some fashion. One day I may form a real band with real people and work in a more collaborative way.

What was the first album you heard that had a strong impact, either artistically or personally?

Probably Green by R.E.M; I got super obsessed with World Leader Pretend. I had the single on tape and just played it over and over.

I was a crappy kid and pretty dismissive of music generally speaking. But that album and that song definitely grabbed me in a way that I don’t think anything had up until that point.

From there I think my taste in music broadened slightly but not much. I’m getting better as I get older about listening to different bands and genres. I was stuck in my ways as a youth.

Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?

Nope. Every year and a bit I get an urge to write something and record it and it just kinda pops out. I become overly engaged in the process and a lot of other elements just get ignored until I feel like I am getting somewhere with the current project.

Postcards was written and recorded in chronological order and with a ‘drums-first’ approach so that was a fun thing to experiment with. It helped that I had the idea of a narrative set fairly early on.

But really I’m pretty lazy so having a deadline is the main thing that motivates me – even if it’s self-imposed. No-one is breathing down my neck to generate new content.

Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?

So many. But apart from St. Vincent and Foo Fighters and occasional forays back in time to the 90s it’s mostly proper indie bands & artists like Lance Turner (he mastered Postcards and I’ve heard his upcoming album and it’s fucking outstanding), Gdansk81, Hawkmen, Dive!, The Kintners, Staunton Road, The Bench, Ivan Perilli, The Plague Doctors, Banana Planets, Jef Leeson, Fields of Barley…

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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