Now Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian are not only re-appreciating what they created with The Optimist LP but are celebrating their defining work with a tour, which hits The Leadmill tonight, playing the record in full.
“We’re going for ‘how it is on the CD’ which is a challenge because we spent 10 years playing them trying not to make them sound like on the CD,” says Gale, fleeing fire alarm bells at his hotel in Newcastle.
“I was on the toilet, but luckily I had just enough time to get out. I wasn’t sure whether it was me who set it off a bit.”
Iffy tour diet aside, Gale is ready to talk in equally colourful terms about the album that launched this restless duo – and arguably was the starting gun for a flood of acoustic-style and nu-folk artists since.
“Sometimes I think ‘it’s all entirely down to us’, other times I think it was happening slowly, while we were doing it, but we definitely opened some doors.
“Or we were right at the front of this movement which is now basically pop music.
“At the time the landscape was very different musically. There were very few people doing that kind of thing.
“People had decks. Now maybe everyone has sold their decks and bought an acoustic guitar and they sing about how upset they are.”
Yet, even when The Optimist was finding audiences the Brakes were moving away from acoustic purity and creating a juxtaposition – such as opening for Stereophonics.
“We’ve kind of spent the last 10 years not really playing like the record. It’s always been a bit more ramped up than people assume.
“We were quite comfortable on the Stereophonics tour. We felt like we were coming from a similar place to them, more so than with other bands we’ve supported like James – even David Gray to some extent.
“We never really set out to be singer/songwriter-esque. We always thought there was more than that.
“We considered ourselves somewhat of a production duo that had a bit of a mission for various things at the time. We’re definitely happy with the way The Optimist worked out, but there’s a massive element you can’t control when you make a record.
“Obviously there was a lot of scope for stuff. People who assume we’re singer-songwriter full stop, I don’t know if they can hear that. We wanted the vocals to be very dry, wanted a wall of acoustic guitars somehow portraying power without using electricity in some way. Part of that carried through to the finished listening experience.”
While The Optimist has been cited by many that followed, Olly and Gale didn’t want it to be the sum of their parts and set about putting musical distance between them and it.
“When we made our second album if we had remade The Optimist that would kind of have summed us up and we wouldn’t have been able to do anything else.
“We were really conscious of doing something different which is why it’s quite dark and a bit more rocky and Los Angeles.
“We just kept moving away from The Optimist. It’s weird the way it’s taken 10 years for us to say ‘That was actually really good... and how on earth did we do that’.
“It’s got a particular sound. When we go on tour, quite often people come up and say ‘We loved the first album and the second one’ and don’t really know we’ve done anything else since then.
“It’s become our signature sound, defining a moment.
“We’d had our whole lives before that to perfect it and it was made in complete isolation from any music industry views or influence, which is impossible to do once you enter that world, we’ve found.
“We did have an aesthetic we were trying to please and we thought about it to make it different. There was a bit of mindfulness behind it – it wasn’t completely random.”
Since both albums, of course, they’ve grown up and gained more studio and playing knowledge, so the music has evolved.
“The tools often dictate some kind of technique.
“For example, the original Star Wars; when George Lucas put that out everyone loved it because of the way it was.
“When he got his hands on technology 20 years later, he re-released it and said ‘I meant it to look like this’. He completely missed the point.
“In a lot of ways the limitations of what you can do mean you do things in a more creative way.
“A lot of our first album was demos the label was happy to release, without us re-recording. That in a sense shaped it.
“That’s not to say everything we’ve done since or will do with new knowledge is less good. If knowledge and technique is part of the sound you might not realise it for a while.”
While The Optimist is a magical, summer breeze of a record, it was the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought Olly and Gale back in 2001.
“We realised it was the anniversary on the day it was released. We emailed each other and our old manager and said we should go celebrate. It’s quite a big number, 10 years.
“Everyone was talking about 9/11 quite a bit before September and reminiscing about that made us reminisce about where we were and what we were doing – touring and promoting The Optimist and about to start our first tour of the States.
“That triggered loads of memories and we thought we should really do something more solid, take this out and celebrate a bit more.”
That became the tour that has them visiting old haunts, such as The Leadmill.
“It’s nice we’re playing these places. The downside is a lot are rock venues and we’re playing the album from start to finish...
“It isn’t the regular show we would do – it’s sedate and considered.
“When you’re doing that in a rock venue you kind of want to rock and you feel like everyone else wants you to ramp it up as well, but you’ve all agreed you’re going to be doing this nice calm presentation of the album.”
Now both dads, and with the brakes finally off The Optimist LP again, there’s even talk of giving it a little brother finally, rather than another precocious cousin.
“We’ve talked about it. It’s kind of in the air.
“At the same time we know so many variables happened then, you can’t just repeat things because you want to.
“This tour brings it all back and has made us re-visit the space we were in and the value of that space, so if the ideas are there...”