Across ten years and five full-length albums, Sunderland-based Field Music have established themselves as one of Britain's most creative, innovative indie bands.

This year's Commontime saw David and Peter Brewis, the brothers who make up Field Music's creative core, give themselves the greatest challenge to date: write a more-or-less straight-up pop album. While remaining singularly a Field Music Record, Commontime's touchstones shift from the tangled, restless prog that marked the band's previous two efforts and returns to the early '80s pop - the likes of Tears for Fears, Steely Dan, a splash of Prince - that informed their earliest releases. Arguably, it has taken the last decade for them to feel comfortable letting those influences play out straight, to have the confidence to write songs that simply follow a verse-chorus structure; Commontime is, if nothing else, the joyous sound of a band at the height of their powers.

Due to the unique way in which London's public transport system works, I arrive at the Islington Assembly Hall around 15 minutes late for my interview with the brothers Brewis. Knowing the duo are likely to be pushed for time ahead of their headlining show here later in the night, I ask them to make sure they get any controversial stuff out of the way up front.

DB: Well. I'm not that keen on XTC really. There are things about them I like but I'm not really a fan... likewise with Steely Dan.

PB: I actually quite like them.

DB: How many Steely Dan albums do you have, Peter?

PB: I... I have the best of. Ask how many Queen albums I have and how much I like them. I love Queen ... I've got three Queen albums.

DB: I don't like Queen as much as you and I've got like 11 albums. I went on a thing where I thought, 'there must be more great Queen songs, there must be more than the hits'.

PB: The more Queen albums you get, probably the less you like them.

DB: The more albums you get, the more you realise how great that first greatest hits album is.

PB: We did grow up listening to Queen. All our uncles loved Queen. There was three different Freddie Mercurys came to a fancy dress party. You had to come as your hero of the last millennium! Not just the 20th century. And there was three Freddy Mercurys.

DB: No Charles Darwins, no Ghandis, no Beethovens. Just three Freddy Mercurys.

Talking of growing up around an army of Freddy Mercurys, I'm curious to know how much you feel your upbringing in the north east, and your decision to continue to live around there, has influenced you as musicians. Last time I wrote about Field Music I claimed to be from a similar part of the world - I'm from York - and attracted opprobrium from some angry Mackems. What is it about Sunderland that is so unique, and how ingrained is the place in your music?

PB: Well, we still live there--

DB: --we still knock about with and talk about music with the people we did when we were first getting into a band and things. And what our friends do musically, I think that kind of has a - maybe not a massive musical influence but a kind of a cultural thing--

PB: --It's like a motivational thing, and the things that we talk about day to day to day sort of things, and I think that's kind of still quite important. Our music's not much like Hyde & Beast [the band's support act for the evening, featuring the Futurehead's Barry Hyde and former Golden Virgins drummer Neil Bassett], for instance, but we see them quite a lot. Or Frankie and the Heartstrings, our music's not really like theirs, but I see Dave and Frankie and Michael probably at least once every two weeks because they run the record shop [Sunderland institution Pop Recs]. So I think those are the people that I show our music to first as well. I see Paul from Maxïmo Park once a week, and I don't think Maxïmo Park are very similar to us but it's those conversations about music which kind of trigger ideas.

DB: But it's people and relationships rather than a place. I mean, economic circumstances of where we come from, it's not unique, but that's informed what we do, it's what we keep with us when we're in our little closed off studio with no windows. It's those friends and those conversations. It's slightly awkward, slightly argumentative culture.

Sunderland always gets caught up in 'our heritage,' like if you don't sing a song about ships or mining, how can it really be about Sunderland. And I think well, but we haven't done any songs about a call centre either. Is that now more important?

PB: Barry did - from the Futureheads - and that's the thing I like about the Futureheads, their subject matter was very much--

DB: --He did a very good song about working in a call centre actually. The greatest song about working in a call centre.

PB: And I think that's our kind of, along with the Futureheads and other bands that sing about our area, those are the kinds of things that interest us I suppose.

DB: But York's got a longer, more celebrated heritage, which probably doesn't leave a lot of space for wilder cultural ideas. It has all this history but that maybe doesn't push you to be that creative?

I think it's easy to slip into a comfort zone unless there is something forcing you out of it. One of the things that has marked that generation of bands from your part of the world, but you in particular, is a seemingly constant desire to push boundaries, to create something new and always identifiably yours.

PB: I think we push our own boundaries really. It's sort of: "What haven't we done?" And on Commontime I really wanted to try and write a couple of songs that were more conventional in terms of structure. But it still feels like us. It still has a lot of the musical ideas that we do in other things, but also--

DB: --We should try doing a chorus! We should try doing a song with a chorus. Or, there's this riff that I have, which a couple of years ago I might have said, it's a bit too ... normal. It's a bit too catchy, it doesn't have enough notes in it.

[big laugh from Peter]

DB: And you'll go, can we do something with that? Actually, that was something that I just came up with in the studio and record onto my phone and you [Peter] said 'we should do something with that one'.

It [Commontime] still feels like a continuation of what we do, it just doesn't have some of those aspects, and it pushes some of those other aspects. We wanted it to be a record where we did loads of backing vocals, because we listened to loads of pop songs where the backing vocals are really prominent, and really smart, but because they're associated with pop music, you think it's kinda done. But no, that's the best bit, the space that you leave for those backing vocals is the cleverest thing about those records.

Four years passed between the release of Plumb, the last full-length LP that was solely credited to Field Music, and Commontime. I've heard Commontime described in some quarters as a 'comeback record', which seems to totally undersell a lot of the work you've done in the interim. [As Field Music, they put out a covers album, paying homage to some of the influences; David released a second solo album as School of Language; Peter collaborated with Maxïmo Park's Paul Smith on Frozen by Sight; and together the brothers co-produced and engineered their former bassist Ian Black's debut LP as Slug.] It got me thinking about the phrase 'side project', and how frustrating it must be for artists like yourselves, who are constantly creative but not necessarily always under the same banner.

DB: Someone came up to us at the merch table a couple of nights ago and was saying, 'So which one's your favourite, which is the best record?' And I'm saying, 'Well... I kinda like the new School of Language one'. And he goes 'No, it's Tones of Town.' But I totally think of those records as being on a par with and a continuation of all of the other things. But I don't know whether, if those things didn't have 'Field Music' written on it, then it would have got through to anyone at all. It's been interesting to see how differently those things are received. And I'm not keen on 'side project', because whatever I'm doing at the time is the main thing, it's not like part of our mind is thinking about 'and when I go back to real life...' We make those records with the same seriousness, quite often they're more difficult than making a Field Music record. Making the Frozen by Sight record [Peter's collaboration with Paul Smith] was in lots of ways much more difficult than making a Field Music records.

PB: And making The Week That Was was really difficult.

DB: Yeah... I think you set the bar quite high there. We always try and do things that are a little bit beyond our capabilities, and The Week That Was was like ...

PB: Really way beyond our capabilities.

DB: Not way beyond, but just like... the way of putting those sounds together, the way we incorporated the strings was way beyond what we'd done with the first two Field Music records, the way you did the sequencing sample drums--

PB: --Yeah, 'cos it was the first album I'd done with a computer, so I wanted to make it like those early computer records, like Japan, like Tin Drum or The Dreaming or Peter Gabriel's third, where it's kind of trying to find the limits of what these machines could do. So I was trying to do that with my MacBook, with like the light version of logic and a drum programme that cost like £30 called iDrum... I'm glad I did it because I learnt a lot from doing it. But I don't think I'd make an album like that again. [whispering] It's actually quite boring...

What were the difficulties with working on Commontime?

PB: It's been fairly straightforward.

DB: It's just been our attitude, and time. Finding time to be together in a studio, finding time to finish songs - cos we never had any problems like coming up with ideas for songs. And then we'd said beforehand like, 'we'll really go for the singing, really go for the playing', and then when it comes time to stand in front of the microphone, you just think 'I'm just not that kind of person...' That's difficult. And then you just have to go, be that person. Be the person who does an adlib at the end of this song, just be it! We could make a great bonus album of the adlibs that didn't make it.

DB: We had this feeling for such a long time that if you're going to repeat yourself, it has to really be important that the repetition is there. And if you don't need to repeat, then do it and get out of there. And in a way that's what's always stopped us from making something that's more recognisable as 'pop music'. And with Plumb we were keen to have it as these little vignettes stitched together, and that was part of the idea for that record. If we've got something which doesn't want to grow into a four-minute song, that's fine. If it's only 50 seconds, we'll make it work in those confines.

PB: But that's an idea right from when we were first doing bands with like the lads from the Futureheads as well.

DB: Yeah, the first Futureheads records were not stylistically like that, but conceptually like that. Their first gig lasted for eight minutes and they played six songs.

The only thing at the time I could think of that compared to Plumb was of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping, where Kevin Barnes stitched together 30-second segments of songs into three and four-minute tracks. It didn't quite work as well as Plumb but stylistically it was similar.

DB: Never heard that one. Will have to check it out. Actually, we weren't thinking about it so much at the time, but the second side of Abbey Road is kind of like that. I think they did that in a more pragmatic way, they had all these songs that weren't quite finished, and this is the last record, and I'm not going to write any new songs for you, John. I've got my own record to do. But they stitched that together with consummate skill and made something that stands on a par with anything else that they did which is obviously is quite a high par...

Given that drive to never repeat yourselves, that drive for creativity, how liberating was it to play an album of covers when you put out Field Music Play...?

PB: we'd collected that over a long period of time. They were normally tracks we'd done for like Mojo, they'd go 'we've got a Syd Barrett CD so will you come and record a Syd Barrett song?'.

DB: And I don't think we're very good at doing covers.

PB: No. Hopeless.

DB: And partly because the songs that I really really love, I don't just love the song. I don't really believe in that idea of 'the classic song', like you just play it on an acoustic guitar and it's brilliant... nah. That's not how records work. I like records, I like the song, the performance, the arrangement, the production. The songs I love are like that, so how do you cover that? You make a complete facsimile? And that might be interesting for us to do but it's pretty pointless as a listening experience. So we were always kind of like... can we figure out a way to do a Syd Barrett song? Can we figure our a concept that's gong to make this interesting for us? By the time we'd mulled that over we'd be left with the only song left that no-one else wanted to do. So, okay, we'll do [Ringo Starr's] 'Don't Pass Me By'? Okay... in a way that's the best song from the White Album to do because it's not that good. The song is next to nothing and the recording is pretty crap. We can definitely do something with that!

PB: It gives you a chance doesn't it.

DB: The only ones we approached really straight were the ones where it felt like it totally suited us anyway. So the John Cale cover, we did pretty straight, because it suited how we played as a band at the time. The Pet Shop Boys covers, it might not seem like we did those straight but we did the arrangement pretty much exactly as they are on their recordings. They did it with electronics and strings and with his plaintive voice, well we'll do it with-

PB: -Your plaintive voice.

DB: He's a Geordie anyway isn't he? A posh Geordie.

PB: Totally removed from the kind of lower-middle-class Mackem. Which is what you were. Whatever you are now. I dunno what you are now.