If you wanted to know about Small Engine Repair you could do worse than start with their name. That suggestion of containment, care and attention, recycling rather than obsolescence, being comfortable with not being the biggest or the most powerful; all of these are qualities that run through the band’s intricate and beautifully poised music.
Geography plays a part as well. Born and raised in Hereford, although well aware of the wider world from sojourns in London and Bristol, the members of Small Engine Repair have learnt and honed their craft away from bright lights and ‘scenes’. Such an isolated musical journey plays no small role in the creation of an album that seems in thrall to no particular artist or genre, content and confident with its own music as a complete statement of intent.
Shot through with Americana but removed from copyism, ‘Serve Yourself’ delivers twelve songs that encompass the singalong hookworm of its title track, the observational, spoken word ‘God’s Given Up On Him’ and the self-referential dark comedy of ‘Pretty Hateful’. The understatement that permeates the tracks is decisive and deliberate, an indication of the maturity of this bunch of twenty-somethings. Instrumentation is used sparingly and intelligently throughout to create an album rich in primary melody. As Tom notes ‘The songs are strong with guitar and voice so as a band we want to reinforce that rather than take away from it’.
Such care to attention applies to the recording of ‘Serve Yourself’. Eschewing the interest that came with a very limited EP release in 2011, Small Engine Repair chose to record and produce the album themselves, Tom taking the lead role in a home that rapidly became a studio, a journey that reinforces the purity of the creative vision at the heart of the band.
Yet this is not a band of say nothing twiddlers. Lead singer and lyricist Phil is happy to set Small Engine Repair in opposition to prevailing trends in wider popular music, declaiming how ‘there is so little real emotion anymore in so much music and no focus on lyrics’ whilst finding positivity ‘when people approach me and tell me that a particular lyric or song made them cry’. The concept of music as an emotive force retains at least one set of subscribers here and Phil points to the likes of Daniel Johnston, Elbow, Nick Cave and Eels as artists with whom he feels Small Engine Repair share DNA.
Small is beautiful once more.
‘Serve Yourself’ is released on ‘iLabel’ via Hit Music Co on 27th January 2014
Band of Horses, Beta Band, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bruce Springsteen, Byrds, Califone, Captain Beefheart, Charles Bukowski, Chris Coco, Decemberists, Drive-by Truckers, Eels, Granddaddy, Iron and Wine, Jack Kerouac, Jeff Buckley, Kate Bush, Johnny Cash, Lambchop, Leadbelly, Mark Oliver Everett, Martha Wainwright, Midlake, Modest Mouse, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Perfume Genius, Pixies, Robert Johnson, Rufus Wainwright, Spinto Band, Sufjan Stevens, Tom Waits, Wilco, William S Burroughs, Woody Guthrie, Raconteurs, Brendan Benson, Willy mason, Hank Williams, Radiohead, Lonnie Donegan, Mark Lanegan, J Mascis, Josh Homme, Billie Holiday, The Coral, Elbow, Grinderman, Neil Young, Beck, Daniel Johnston, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Eddie Vedder, Pulp, Blur, The Good the Bad and the Queen, Elliott Smith.