Tindersticks' Decade of Defiance

Tindersticks' Decade of Defiance
Tindersticks is the musical equivalent of a time-lapsed photograph, a lone figure standing stock still, in sharp focus, while all 'round it is a blur, people distractedly moving through their lives. Upon closer inspection, the lone figure is oblivious — and quite possibly drunk.
Since the London-based sextet's formation in 1992, music has expanded and contracted, contorted and stagnated: grunge and Britpop were felled by a lack of ambition and an excess of vices; boy bands revived then choked the mainstream; and hip-hop became the most disruptive sonic and commercial force in pop. All the while, Tindersticks have quietly released a flow of excellent records that sound as if they were made in humble defiance of the outside world. In Tindersticks' world, life is an eternal nocturne between last call at the bar and first regrets at sunrise. Leonard Cohen is a pop star and the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says" is a standard.

Dickon Hinchliffe, Tindersticks' multi-instrumentalist and arranger, is appropriately reserved about the band's durability. "When we think about how long it's been — everything that we've done — sometimes it's a bit surprising, because we always just took each record, each tour, as it came, and were never sure if there was ever going to be another one afterwards," he says. "Having said that, in hindsight it's not really surprising because we were never interested in a quick fix of fame and fortune. We always just wanted to play music that we liked and to do it in our own way, and I think that's the key to it — not compromising in certain areas of what you do."

Remarkably for a band in its 11th year, Tindersticks' sixth studio album, Waiting for the Moon is its best yet, a distillation of the band's various strengths in a relatively compact 45 minutes. Although it harks back to the baroque melancholy that was especially pronounced on the band's first three albums, Waiting… also continues the exploration of '70s soul that began with 1999's outstanding Simple Pleasure.

"After we made [1997's] Curtains, we all felt that we'd reached a plateau of what we could achieve in the way that we were at that time," says Hinchliffe. "We felt like we needed to change, and to do that we had to do something conscious, because in the past everything was natural and unconscious. We started to play songs that relied much more on a groove or rhythm, something looser. It was us learning to play a different kind of music, in a way, even though a lot of people thought it wasn't that different. It's like learning to play an instrument; you have to have a certain degree of dedication to the craft of it for a while, but then, after a time, it takes on its own character and dimensions."

Despite never having had a bona fide hit, the band's globe-straddling cult following is surprisingly broad, as well as devoted. The band frequently fills London's Royal Albert Hall; in October 2002, there were three sold-out nights at Brooklyn's venerated St. Ann's Warehouse, performing with a 14-piece string section to hushed reverence.

"I don't think that we're completely unique in that way," considers Hinchliffe. "If you do something that touches people emotionally, if you work from that basis in your music, I think that will immediately cross any kind of boundary of age and race, class, whatever… The way we write and play, we leave a lot to the listener to make of it what they will and how our music translates into their everyday lives. It's kind of the most interesting thing to us."