Brighton-based, jangle-pop collective Raving Beauties are back with a brilliant new single, This is the Train – an optimistic and summery song, with a hint of Northern Soul. It features special guest, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), on twangy lead guitar, and was mixed by the Go!Team’s Ian Parton, who also plays organ, bass and glockenspiel on the track.
This is the Train is a taster from the group’s brand new album, Over Yonder, which is out next year. Raving Beauties started out in 2015, as a mysterious fictional band inspired by a short story written by frontman, Belfast-born Brian Bell. In an exclusive interview, he tells us all about the new single, so jump on board…
How’s it going? How’s your summer been?
Brian Bell: Well there are a lot worse places to be than Brighton in the summer, especially as it gradually becomes more like its old self, with things opening up again. A big thing for me has been a conversion to sea-swimming and most days I can be found splashing around in the English Channel around sunrise. I love it!
Tell us about your great new single, This is the Train. It’s a bit of a different sound for the band, isn’t it? It’s twangy, rather than jangly, and has a slight Northern Soul feel. Where did the song come from? It was written with band member and multi-instrumentalist, Tom Collison, wasn’t it?
BB: One of the main influences on the album we’re gradually putting the finishing touches to – Over Yonder – is the early ‘70s Island Records vibe, and at one point we’d been thinking about covering a John Martyn or Nick Drake song in a more up-tempo. jangly style. We ended up binning that idea, but This is the Train emerged from me putting a new vocal melody and lyrics to some of the folky chord progressions that Tom had been playing around with during that process.
I love Motown and Northern Soul, so maybe it was a subliminal influence, but I think Ian Parton’s work on the mix, which involved him re-doing the bass to make it more punchy, adding glockenspiel and organ, and doing a lot of work on the individual drum sounds, probably influenced that feel a lot.
It’s an optimistic and summery song, isn’t it? It came out in early September, so are you hoping for an Indian summer, so it can be the soundtrack?
BB: Yeah – an Indian summer would definitely suit the track nicely, but this time of year is often associated with new beginnings too, and I’ve been thinking about that Dylan quote from the Scorsese No Direction Home documentary, when he says “always be in a constant state of becoming”. It would be lovely if the song evokes that kind of feeling in people.
‘Having James Walbourne play on your single is a bit like Messi being in your five-aside team for a kickaround in the park!’
There’s a special guest on lead guitar, James Walbourne (The Pretenders, The Rails), and the organ, bass and glockenspiel are by Ian Parton (The Go! Team), who also mixed the track. How did those guys get involved?
BB: Back in the spring, myself and Tom had finally got around to doing more work on the album in his home studio in Homerton, and during that time I’d arranged to meet up with James for a coffee while I was in the area. When I mentioned the Beauties recordings, he offered to play on something, which was exciting when you consider what a phenomenal guitarist he is. Sorry for the football analogy, but it’s a bit like Messi offering to be in your five-a-side team for a kickaround in the park!
Anyway, we sent him over a rough mix of This is the Train to add a lead guitar part to. When we heard what he’d contributed, we were beyond delighted.
As for Ian’s involvement, it’s been frustrating how much the pandemic has slowed down progress on the album, but I felt that if we could at least get a single mixed and out there, that would feel pretty satisfying. I’d set my heart on that, but the major snag was that by that stage, Tom had dismantled his studio and was in the midst of the huge upheaval of him and his partner upping sticks from London to their new home in Dumfries.
I know Ian through Bosie Vincent – a film-maker who made the video for the single – and we’re pretty friendly, so in the ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ spirit, I thought I’d see if he was up for helping out and luckily he was.
Tell us about the promo video. It’s cool – a bit summery and psych, with trains…
BB: As well as being one of my dearest pals, Bosie Vincent is very much part of the Beauties collective, having made all our other videos. For this one, he mixed up cool archive footage with footage that he got of a bunch of us having a sing-song to the tune around a campfire on Brighton beach. As he’s next-door neighbours with Ian, it was also pretty easy to get some nice close-ups of him bashing a customised Beauties tambourine in time to the tune! When I saw the finished video, I was so chuffed with it. I think he’s captured the feel of the song perfectly with those visuals.
The band line-up has changed since we last spoke. Scottish folknik and acoustic guitar maestro, Callum Johnstone, has joined. How did that come about?
BB: It sounds like something out of our ‘fictional band’ past but it’s actually true. We met at a Transcendental Meditation weekend and when we got chatting, it emerged that he was really into the Bert Jansch/Davy Graham school of finger-style acoustic guitar playing, which I was really keen to incorporate into the new album. When he checked out some of the previous Beauties stuff, he was impressed enough that he was keen to get on board. Let’s just say I ended up ditching the Maharishi but kept Callum!
It’s a nice bit of serendipity in that the original Raving Beauties album was a Belfast-Edinburgh alliance, with singer/songwriter Gordon Grahame, which has now neatly been re-established, as Callum is a proud Edinburgher. If you look closely at the Beauties logo, there’s a Shamrock and Thistle entwined, so I’m really glad to keep that Scots-Irish aspect alive.
Completing the new line-up is drummer Grant Allardyce. What’s his story and how does he fit in? Isn’t he a jazzer?
BB: Grant is another exiled Belfast boy on the local music scene and I’ve known him for donkey’s years. He plays with a fantastic alt-country folk band called the Mountain Firework Company, but he’s primarily a jazzer and is part of a jazz trio called the Lost Organ Unit. It was a massive influence on Grant’s style that he was originally tutored by a guy called Keith Copeland, who was renowned on the New York jazz scene. I wanted a looser, jazzier feel to the album, which is why I got him involved, and Tom came down to a wee studio in Lewes a while back to record all Grant’s drums.
‘We’re tantalisingly close to finishing the new record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely. We’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe’
How’s the new album coming along?
BB: We’re still working on it, and aiming to reconvene at Tom’s new place in Scotland in the autumn, if we can fit that in with his other commitments, as he’s very much in demand as a gigging multi-instrumentalist.
I think we’re tantalisingly close to finishing the record, but a 2022 release is looking more likely now. Sound-wise, we’re aiming for it to be just as melodic as the previous records, but with more of a loose, early ’70s vibe, with lots of instrumental segues provided by Callum, who’s become such an invaluable asset to the project.
I’ve put together a Spotify playlist that’s full of the type of stuff that’s influenced the record:
On that note, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?
BB: I love Fleet Foxes’ Shore – it’s been a constant since it came out this time last year. I think Robin Pecknold is an incredible talent. Other than that, I’ve been on a bit of a John Fahey tip lately. There’s something about his playing that really gets under your skin. His Days Have Gone By album is a big favourite.
In recent times I think we’ve needed music to lift us and if ever there’s a tune that does that, it’s Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir, Like a Ship (Without a Sail), which you hear quite often popping up on 6 Music – what a belter!
Finally, when was the last time you took a train and what was it like?
BB: We went on a trip to Hastings a few weeks ago – there are some very nice Sussex Downs views and coastal scenery on that line. Also, when I get there, I always make a wee pilgrimage to John Martyn’s old gaff on Cobourg Place and imagine Nick Drake striding up those steep steps to West Hill, which he’d have done many times when he came down to visit John and Beverley.
This is the Train by Raving Beauties is out now as a digital-only single on Clubhouse Records.
Kansas City singer-songwriter Brent Windler has made the album of the summer, but he only just snuck in with it – his solo debut, New Morning Howl, which is soaked in the sunshine sounds of The Beach Boys and classic West Coast ’60s pop, but with a hint of Americana, came out in late August.
It’s a lush and lavish record, with rich arrangements – warm and optimistic. One of the songs is even called Mr Sun – a harmony-laden, Beatles-like hymn to the healing powers of that big golden globe in the sky.
Opening song and first single, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop, with heavenly harmonies. Clocking in at around six minutes, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is a Brian Wilson-esque, widescreen epic that’s symphonic and dream-like, while the title track, with its sweeping strings, uplifting chorus, bouncy melody and twangy guitar, is pure Pet Sounds.
The spectral and folky Spanish Jasmine is the perfect song to listen to as summer turns to autumn: Windler sounds like Simon & Garfunkel – with synths.
The Glitter and The Roar, features some great Easy Listening horns, and closing anthem, In My Daze is a big, Beatlesy, psych-tinged anthem, with piano, slide guitar and massed harmonies.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Windler about the new record.
“I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out,” he tells us.
Hi Brent. How’s it going? Where are you and what’s the vibe like?
Brent Windler: I’m doing alright – thanks for asking. I’m in Kansas City and everything here is going alright. If I had to complain, it’s really hot here at the moment…
How was lockdown for you?
BW: It was pretty crazy, like it was everywhere. I was lucky enough to be able to work at home, so I had it better than a lot of folks. It was a strange blur of a year – lots of hanging out with friends and family through my computer screen, and the terrible feeling that everything was crumbling.
Congratulations on the new album. It’s a beauty. New Morning Howl is your first solo record. What took you so long?
BW: Thank you. I’m happy you’re digging it. I actually started to record some solo material about seven years ago – some of it was released in 2019 – but life got in the way, as it does sometimes, and I refocused on other musical projects I was involved with at the time.
I actually have a whole other solo record that is just waiting to be finished that I started around that time, but I have been enjoying writing new material so much I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, if ever.
Did lockdown affect the record? The album feels warm and optimistic, despite the current state of the world…
BW: I definitely think it affected the album. The way it was made would have been completely different had lockdown never happened, but I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional, but we were definitely trying to stay as optimistic as humanely possible while recording it – even though we failed on a regular basis. I know we tried make it work the best we could, and I think it made for an interesting record.
What’s your musical background? You’re from the Midwest. How was it growing up there?
BW: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I didn’t have much of a musical background growing up. I’m self-taught – a music obsessive – and I just stuck with it. Kansas City was a great city to grow up in, but, like anywhere, it’s got its ups and downs. I would be lying if I didn’t say I wish we had a mountain range near us, or the ocean I could walk down to, but there is something beautiful, calm, and strange about the Midwest that I have grown to love.
‘I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional’
What were your earliest music memories and influences?
BW: Hmmm…. Some of my earliest music memories are getting The Beatles and The Monkees Greatest Hits on cassette. Also I remember a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival being played on family road trips, as well as late ‘50s/ early ‘60’s rock n roll. I specifically remember loving the Monotones song The Book of Love – that always stood out to me when I was really little. As I got older, my influences definitely grew wider. I loved and still love everything from that era, but I got into a lot of punk and indie acts in my teens, and my palette grew to loving everything from Bob Dylan to My Bloody Valentine to Fugazi. There’s too many to name.
Have you been in many bands? When did you start writing songs?
BW: I have been in many bands over the years. I played in the indie rock group The Casket Lottery for a while, doing a record with them in 2012. I also played bass in the indie band The Republic Tigers, and I was putting out records with Sons of Great Dane, which was more of my songwriting vehicle.
I started really getting into songwriting in my early twenties and I became obsessed with the craft. I had dabbled in my teens, but there was really nothing worthwhile that came out of it. Honestly not until these past five or so years do I feel like I started to feel more comfortable as a songwriter.
Tell us about your group Sons of Great Dane…
Sons is a band that was started around 2007-2008 with my good friend and bass player, Nolle. I had just gotten off tour, and had been gone for about six months and needed a place to crash until I got my own place to stay. He was nice enough to let me crash on his couch for a while, and I had written a batch of songs while I was out on tour, so we just started to play around with them and decided they were good enough to put together a band. We have released three records so far, and I’m sure we will get around to doing another in the future here if time permits.
Let’s talk more about your album, New Morning Howl. How did you approach the sound of the record? It often has a lush, widescreen, almost symphonic feel. The songs are layered, with rich arrangements. What were you aiming for from a sonic point of view? It has strings and horns – it’s a big-sounding record…
BW: I approached this record with a no-holds-barred attitude from beginning to end – every idea, whether it turned out good or bad, was tried. On other albums I have made songs that were specifically written with a band or a time frame in mind, so there were lots of ideas that never got tried because it seemed like a bit much, or we just didn’t have enough time and/or money. I didn’t put a time frame on this record, which freed me up in a way. I enjoyed the idea of just writing whatever I wanted to, and not having any certain style or agenda in mind. Sonically it’s the type of record I have been wanting to make for a long while – big but not in the typical big guitar style. I have always been interested in other ways to colour songs with instrumentation, and I think I attempted that on this record. Not to say there aren’t a lot of guitars, because there are a shitload!
What were your influences for the record?
BW: I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out. It all came pretty naturally and glued together without a whole lot of thought at first. I think after we got the first few songs together, I started to see more of a vision of where the train was moving.
How were the recording sessions? Where did you make the album?
BW: The sessions were done at a studio here in the city called Courtesy Tone, owned by a great engineer/mixer named Ryan Benton. We started to put together the record in early 2020, and when we really started to get going on it the pandemic hit and things slowed way down. We made it work the best we could though, doing things slowly and safely through the rest of the year. It was a very strange way to record a record, I would walk up to the studio and mask up, and then cut something quickly and then be on my way, so it was done in small pieces at a time. We also did a lot of things remotely as well. There are so many great musicians that played on the record that lived nowhere near us, and did an amazing job.
Were all of the songs written for the record, or are any of them old ones you’d been hanging on to?
BW: There were actually only a couple that were written during the recording process – all the others are songs had been floating around for quite a while. Some had been tried out for other projects, but were pulled away once I realised they were not going to fit. There was even one that I wrote in my early twenties that was revamped.
Let’s talk about some of the songs. If I pick a few and give you my thoughts on them, can you tell me yours?
BW: Sure – sounds good.
The first song on the record, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, melodic jangly guitar pop with a West Coast feel and also a Fountains of Wayne vibe. What can you tell us about it?
BW: This was the first song we started with at the beginning of 2020. It was actually a song that was written for another project I was working on called Dandelions, but as I was starting to think about what songs I wanted to do for the record, it seemed to fit with the batch I was imagining. The song was inspired by a friend lyrically and musically – he had been listening to a lot of jangle pop songs and I was inspired to write something in that vein. I really wanted to get a female vocal on it and was lucky enough to get the great musician, Heidi Gluck, to sing on it. She’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and vocals really give it a dream-like feel, which was perfect for the song.
On that note, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is also dream-like, and lush – an almost six-minute epic…
BW: This one was written a little while ago, and honestly, I thought was it pretty boring at first. I always really enjoyed the verse progression, but nothing really stood out to me about it outside of that and the melody. I had a friend that really liked the song and would always request that one at solo acoustic shows, so I started to think maybe there was something there. Once I started to add parts over the top of it, the song came to life for me and I got excited about it. The ending I really wanted to be trance-like, almost like a mantra, so you could get lost in the repetition. Then having things coming in and out as the song goes on, but never losing that melody playing over and over. Now it’s one of my favourites on the record. I’m happy I stuck with it.
Spanish Jasmine is very haunting. It sounds like Simon & Garfunkel, but with synths… What’s your take on it?
BW: This is the song I was talking about earlier that was written in my early twenties. It’s definitely the oldest song on the record. I was going back through a bunch of old songs I had demoed back in the day and ran across this one. I felt it would fit the record well. I wanted some synths of some sort on it, so we reached out to a great musician named Nate Harold. He did an amazing job, and in my eyes, what he added gives the song its uniqueness.
The title track is another lushly orchestrated song. It has a Beach Boys feel. Would you agree?
BW: I agree – it definitely has a Beach Boys vibe going on. I borrowed a tenor ukulele from my good friend’s daughter, mainly just for fun, as I was bored with playing guitar. While I had it, I started to write a song and this was what came out of it. This song sort of became an experiment. We laid down the uke part and drums and main vocals, then sent it over to an amazing violinist and string arranger, Kaitlin Wolfberg, to have her arrange some strings over it. I didn’t want to put anything else down until we got back what she put down, as I wanted to build the rest of the song around her strings. It was a different way than I had ever put together a song, and I really enjoyed how this one came together.
The Glitter and the Roar has some great Easy Listening horns on it…
BW: There is a great author named Seth Borgen, and he put out a collection of short stories called If I Die in Ohio. One of my favourite stories from it is called The Glitter and the Roar, so the lyrics were inspired by that. I really like the way this one turned out both musically and lyrically. I really wanted the music to carry the lyrics and give them a big cinematic feel. It ebbs and flows throughout – one of those songs I hope gets better with more listens.
In My Daze is a big finish to the record. It’s quite Beatlesy and a bit psychedelic, with slide guitar. I like the strange ‘whistling’ sound on it. What’s that?
BW: This song is another old one. It was originally played by and written for Sons of Great Dane, but I never felt it was finished or fit very well. The whistling sound is me drenched in reverb. I’m not a great whistler, so that was a huge pain in the ass and took me forever to get right. The slide part was originally put down as a reminder of what I wanted the whistle to be, but I ended up really liking it in the mix, so we kept it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted this song to end the record, and I think it turned out well and wrapped things up nicely.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs planned?
BW: I’m playing some shows here and around the Midwest this fall and winter. I hope to get out and do a lot more in 2022, but will see how everything turns out. I’m also going to hopefully have a few more songs to share by the end of this year as well.
Can we expect to see you play in the UK one day?
BW: I would love that. Hopefully all the stars align and everyone can get back out there and touring on a more regular basis. If I can get over there, I’ll definitely come play some shows.
Finally, what music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
BW: Hmmm… Here is a handful I have been listening to as of lately:
Liam Kazar – Due North
Mini Trees – Carrying On
The Beach Boys – Sunflower
Supergrass – Road to Rouen
New Morning Howl by Brent Windler is out now on Goldstar Recordings.
Gun culture, genocide, Covid, environmental disaster, Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and consumerism – these are just some of the themes that inform American Lullaby, the ninth studio album by Dean Friedman.
But, as is typical of the quirky, US singer-songwriter, who is best known in the UK for his 1978 number three hit, Lucky Stars, a duet with Denise Marsa, the wildly eclectic record, which includes pop, soul, jazz and funk, is loaded with off-the-wall humour, which means that even though Friedman is often tackling dark and disturbing subjects, the album isn’t a depressing or harrowing listen.
“I was conscious that I was touching on a lot of pretty gloomy subjects, so I felt it was important to leaven that with an appropriate amount of humour and outright silliness. I’ve no problem doing that, as it’s pretty much my modus operandi,” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, speaking to us over Zoom from his home studio in Peekskill, NY.
It starts with the majestic and epic title track, which is one of the highlights – a lush, orchestrally-aided piano ballad with shades of Rufus Wainwright – and then heads straight into jazz territory with Too Much Stuff, a wry song about hoarding.
Halfway Normal Word laments how lockdown put a stop to some of the simple pleasures of everyday life, the ukulele-led trad-jazz of The Swing of Things is an optimistic ditty about trying to return to some sense of normality after the pandemic, while on the tight, slick and smooth funk of The Russians Are Coming, Friedman sings in a Russian accent for this tale of political corruption and shadowy goings-on in the corridors of power.
There’s more politics and funk, but with a hint of electro, on Ridin’ With Biden, and final song, On A Summer’s Night, is an atmospheric, chilled-out ballad that calms things down after all the madness.
‘I was conscious that I was touching on a lot of gloomy subjects, so I felt it was important to leaven that with an appropriate amount of humour and outright silliness. I’ve no problem doing that, as it’s pretty much my modus operandi’
We asked Friedman to tell us his thinking behind the new album and what inspired this collection of varied songs and styles, which he self-produced in his studio at home.
“I’m accused of being too eclectic, but I’ve always taken that as a compliment because I love all kinds of music,” he says.
Did you write the majority of the new record during lockdown?
Dean Friedman: Yes – 90 per cent of it.
Were you planning on making a new album anyway, or did being stuck at home accelerate your plans?
DF: Last March, I was just about to step on a plane and do a 40-city UK tour. Within 24 hours, it was blown out of the water. I had an album planned – I’ve been crowdfunding them for years. In fact, after Marillion, I was one of the first artists to crowdfund an album.
Keeping in mind the severe suffering that so many people have endured, I would say that lockdown imposed a pause on the planet, which I think most people found really refreshing. As a musician, it gave me more time to spend on recording a new album than I ever have in my career. It was a pleasure to be able to really dig into the material. I had more time to explore and try and realise the vision that I had in my mind for how the songs should sound.
It’s a very rich-sounding album, with a lot of varied arrangements on it – strings, jazzy piano, harmonica, ukulele, soul, funk…
DF: I’m accused of being too eclectic, but I’ve always taken that as a compliment because I love all kinds of music. Every song is different, but one of the common denominators is that I think of myself as someone who writes short stories set to music.
Once I’m into the early development of a song, it will generally suggest what sort of musical idiom it is and what sort of production treatment will favour it the most. I kind of let the story guide me, but there are also lots of juncture points in that process where I find myself making a conscious design. Do I want to do it on a ukulele or a guitar?
‘Lockdown gave me more time to spend on recording a new album than I ever have in my career’
Or sing in a Russian accent, like on For the Russians Are Coming…
DF [laughs]: For that, I had a tale I wanted to tell – it was a true story and I drew on source material – the Congressional Record and the Select Committee on Intelligence on Russian interference in the US election. I read a good part of a 1,000-page document and tried to make sure the song was accurate.
Once I’d written it, I tried to capture the essence of what I was trying to impart. It did occur to me that relaying it in a Russian accent would be appropriate. I’ve never done anything like that before. I took a wild shot – partly because of lockdown, the extra time and the lack of pressure, and the fact that everything was messed-up and bewildering – and in some ways it gave me the courage and licence to take chances that I might not necessarily have taken under normal circumstances. It cracks my friends up, but I’ve gotten really good responses from it so far. What’s your take on it?
SH: I think it’s fun – it made me laugh. It’s a good Russian accent.
The title track, which is the opener, is my favourite song on the album. It deals with gun culture, genocide, slavery, the 2017 Paradise shooting in Las Vegas and how America got to be in the state it is today. You then follow it with Too Much Stuff, which is a lightweight, jazzy number about being a hoarder. The first two songs are a real juxtaposition…
DF: I’ve always done that – even in my live shows. I don’t want to put people to sleep, and I want to present a broad palette of human experience and human nature. That element of humour is crucial to understanding and surviving our surreal existence here on this Earth. Without it, nothing makes sense.
The title track nicely sets up the album for some of the issues you go on to talk about, doesn’tit?
DF: It does precisely that – that was my conscious intent. The song American Lullaby talks about America’s two original sins – the massacre of the indigenous population and slavery. The common denominator is our incomprehensible obsession with guns and the degree to which they make us adept killers. Why are we the number one military power, at least for the moment? It’s cos we’re really great at killing people! It’s one of our greatest talents. Look, I love our country and I’m proud to be an American, but not for every reason. On American Lullaby [the song] I’ve tried to tell a 400-year history in a six-minute pop song, which isn’t easy to do, in as gentle as way as possible.
‘The song American Lullaby talks about America’s two original sins – the massacre of the indigenous population and slavery’
All lullabies tend to be infused with these horrible things that happen to babies – like the bough breaking and the cradle falling in Rock-A-Bye Baby. The poor kids falls out a tree and gets hit on the head by a cradle – the point being that, in a strange way, lullabies instil some kind of warning to those little humans just entering the world about all the perils that are out there in front of them, but in a way that doesn’t scare the hell out of them.
That to me is what the album is all about – to impart dire messages in comforting and soothing ways, like a lullaby. Be aware of all the horrible things that are going on in the world but try and avoid them.
The whole album is sort of my attempt, for myself and, potentially listeners, to make some kind of sense of all the crazy shit that’s gone on for the past six years – from the day America woke up to a failed gameshow host and con artist being president.
We knew that people were going to die and hundreds and thousands of them did, needlessly, because Trump was in the White House. The world has gone so far astray that any sense of normality is hard to recapture.
Myself and everyone else on the planet had this sense of befuddlement and confusion – I was incredulous at what was going on, but we had to get on with our daily lives and get stuff done. I wanted to provide a context for that and to chronicle my experiences, my understanding and my bewilderment of the past six years.
Did you write the record as a concept album?
DF: After writing the first couple of songs, I realised that inadvertently what I was doing was chronicling these surreal experiences of current events. Once it dawned on me that was the case, I did consciously address topics that fell within that brief. There are a couple of songs that aren’t 100 per cent in the script, but even then I was leavening some of that heavy, sober and difficult material with some measure of humour and silliness.
‘We knew that people were going to die and hundreds and thousands of them did, needlessly, because Trump was in the White House’
There’s been a low-key, underlying sense of anxiety about what’s going to happen next because, clearly, our leaders don’t have a fucking clue! Even if they did, they don’t have the competence to execute any kind of solution that’s appropriate.
For myself, I also felt compelled to write something that was optimistic and uplifting – a song like The Swing of Things. When you’re in a funk and you’re having a really tough time, you don’t want to get out of bed. That song tries to acknowledge that and people who are experiencing it, but also say, ‘that sucks but sometimes you’ve just got to get back into the swing of things.’
SH: We talked about lullabies earlier. What keeps you awake at night?
DF [laughs]: Like every other indie artist, with rare exceptions, I serve as my own promoter for my tours and gigs. That means that all the responsibilities are down to me. So what keeps me awake at night is wondering whether I’m doing enough to let people know that I have a new album coming out, and that I have a tour coming up in April.
The other thing is that I have a little dog called Lola – she’s from the Czech Republic and she only weighs about four pounds. I live in a semi-rural part of New York State – about an hour north of New York City.
I worry that some kind of bird of prey, like a red-tailed hawk, will swoop down, see little Lola and think ‘what a tasty little snack.’ I’m always out in the backyard with an air horn to distract the hawks. So far it’s worked out okay.
Dean Friedman’s new album, American Lullaby, is released on August 27, on his Real Life Records label.
Heart-Shaped Scars, the new album by Scottish singer-songwriter, Dot Allison, just might be the most beautiful record you hear this year.
On her fifth solo outing, the former vocalist in ‘90s Scottish electronic act One Dove, who, throughout her career, has collaborated with the likes of Massive Attack, Scott Walker, Paul Weller and Pete Doherty, has gone back to nature.
Several of the gorgeous, stripped-down, pastoral folk songs feature field recordings of birdsong, rivers, and the ambience of the Hebrides, where she has a cottage.
Musically, she cites Karen Dalton, Gene Clark, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Nick Drake and Brian Wilson as influences. There’s also a nod to the soundtrack of ‘70s cult folk-horror film The Wicker Man, which is set on a remote Scottish island.
“I love that soundtrack and film,” she tells Say It With Garage Flowers, speaking to us from her home in Edinburgh. “I got asked to sing a song from it, Gently Johnnny, with The Memory Band, at Glastonbury. I’ve bought the soundtrack on CD and vinyl – it’s featured in my world.”
Heart-Shaped Scars has been a long time coming – her last record, Room 7 1/2, was released 12 years ago. Since then, she’s taken time out to start a family.
Recorded at Castlesound Studios, in Edinburgh, with orchestral arranger, Hannah Peel, who worked on the last three Paul Weller albums, it’s a haunting record, musically and lyrically – quite literally, as one of the album’s prettiest moments is called The Haunting and opens with the lines “Slip inside this haunted house – tip toe silent, not a sound.”
There’s also a track called Ghost Orchid – a stately piano ballad with mournful cello. “That song started off as a poem called Church of Snow – I wrote it when I was working with Massive Attack,” she says.
“I showed it to 3D from Massive Attack and he said he loved it. He got me to post it on their forum – that was in 2004. The song is quite different from the poem.”
In the past, Allison has dabbled with genres including pop, trip-hop, psychedelia, electronica and folk, but Heart-Shaped Scars is her most rootsy sounding album so far. “I like to try and explore new sounds and styles, so as not to stagnate. I love the evolution of The Beatles – that’s a good model. I find it interesting to explore new areas,” she says.
Four of the songs feature a string quintet, and other instruments on the record include ukulele, keyboards / synth, piano, guitar, bass, drums, harmonium and Mellotron. The vocals and the ukulele were recorded together on a Neumann U 67 microphone – the album sounds hushed and intimate.
Allison usually writes songs on piano and guitar, but the first single from the album, the fragile, cinematic and dreamy ballad, Long Exposure – “Orchards of cherries lie bruised on the ground” – was one of the tracks she composed on ukulele, after picking up the instrument during lockdown.
‘I wanted it to be comforting like a familiar in-utero heartbeat – a pure kind of album that musically imbues a return to nature’
Lyrically, Heart-Shaped Scars references several of Allison’s interests, including literature, science and nature. “I wanted it to be comforting like a familiar in-utero heartbeat – a pure kind of album that musically imbues a return to nature,” she says.
In fact, one of the songs is called Can You Hear Nature Sing? It’s autumnal folk and co-written with Zoë Bestel, who provides guest vocals.
The record’s most brooding and dark moment is Love Died In Our Arms, with dramatic strings and moody synth – a flashback to her trip-hop and electronica roots.
“I wanted to write a song that was like a mantra, with blocks of vocals and more primary colours – a slab of melody, ” she explains. “I wanted the vocals to be like paintbrush strokes.
“The song has a Juno-106 [synth] on it. There’s a company called BrandNewNoise that makes these interesting little, experimental wooden bits and bobs, like a weird, mutated version of a glockenspiel, which has an internal mic to record what you’re doing, but also a modulation button, so you can loop what you’ve done and then fuck about with it.
“I used that on it. It’s like a marriage between a synth and a wooden glockenspiel. It’s mental the noises you can get out of it, like a moment that sounds like a weird, distorted star. I think I’ve hopefully brought the slightly left-field dance mentality to the sounds – even though they’re quite human.”
Heart-Shaped Scars is a beautiful record. I can’t stop playing it…
Dot Allison: Thank you so much – I really appreciate it.
It’s been 12 years since your last album. Why did the time feel right to put out a new record?
DA: The time was right because my kids are older – I had more space to work on music and I also changed my manager in early 2018, which meant I started writing again, and then the album started coming together.
How did Covid-19 affect the album?
DA: Covid altered my plans, but, thankfully, I’d started the recording process – the bass and the drum, and the bones of the songs that were going to have a fuller band sound were laid down before lockdown. When it came to further recording and production and mixing, that all got delayed.
During lockdown, I started writing on a ukulele and ended up writing four extra songs [Long Exposure, Forever’s Not Much Time, Goodbye and One Love] which changed the plan for the record, because they were strong enough to bump other songs off. In a weird way, lockdown benefited the album.
The ukulele songs began on my phone – I record everything that I play and then I listen back to it on my headphones at night and make notes of little moments. It’s like catching butterflies in a net. I get it all down, so I don’t miss anything.
Once I captured some bits and lovely moments, slowly, through repetition and playing them, the songs started to take shape and knit together in my head. I then laid them down in a studio at home – just rough recordings, with a ukulele and some harmonies on my voice. I sent voice notes on my phone to Hannah Peel and Fiona Cruickshank, who co-produced the album with me.
‘I record everything that I play and then I listen back to it on my headphones at night and make notes of little moments. It’s like catching butterflies in a net’
You’ve worked with orchestral arranger, Hannah Peel, on the record – she’s collaborated with Paul Weller on his last three albums, True Meanings,On Sunset and Fat Pop (Volume 1). How did you and her get together?
DA: I worked with Paul Weller years ago – we didn’t stay closely in touch, but I reconnected with him in 2018. I met up with him – I went to his Black Barn studio for a cup of tea, he played me some songs and he mentioned Hannah Peel. I’d been listening to his album, True Meanings, which I absolutely love. Hannah and I agreed to do something, which I was really pleased about – I love her work. Fiona Cruickshank is a really good engineer and she’d come very highly recommended as someone who could mix the album. She agreed to get involved.
You made some field recordings in the Hebrides, which found their way onto the album…
DA: I had a little handheld recorder – I went up there for the weekend, got up early one morning and went for a walk. I recorded the stream, the sea, birdsong and a rattling gate – I turned a corner around a cliff and there was a Force 7 gale! Suddenly, I couldn’t record anything. I also recorded some birds in Edinburgh – I collected a lot of sounds and created some loops in the studio.
The whole album sounds to me like it was written and recorded in a remote cottage in the Hebrides…
DA: Some of it was written there – Constellations was written on the island.
Throughout your career, you’ve collaborated with so many great artists – sadly, some of them, like Andy Weatherall and Scott Walker, are no longer with us. Did their deaths have a big effect on you?
DA:I was devastated to hear about Andy – I loved him to bits. I was very shocked. It was weird because I’m met him only a few months before it happened, for the first time in ages. He was in Edinburgh, and he was with [singer] Denise Johnson…
Who, like Andy, also died last year…
DA: I know… He asked me if I was doing any music, and I said, ‘funnily enough – I am.’ He wanted to hear some of it, but I told him it was unplayable at that time, because it was all on my phone. He said, ‘what do you mean? It’s unlistenable!’ I was like, ‘probably…’
I was planning on sending him something… It was totally shocking and so premature. I also couldn’t believe that Denise had gone too – what the hell is going on? You’ve just reminded me that I’d asked her if she’d wanted to be on this record…
Scott Walker has been a big influence on you and you worked with him…
DA: He was a creative lawbreaker – he totally did his own thing. I ended up recording with him on a song he did with Sunn O))) called Bull. Scott talked to my managers about my voice – we had the same management – and he said that I had ‘great pipes’. I’m having that!
What have been some of your favourite collaborations?
DA: I’m really proud that I worked with Hal David – that was just insane. He got temporarily stuck on the chorus of Did I Imagine You? He asked me to write him a dummy chorus, but he kept one of my lines! That was amazing. I loved working with Paul Weller too – he’s so lovely and he really put me at ease. I get so shy, it’s awful – such a burden.
‘Scott Walker said that I had ‘great pipes’. I’m having that!’
Anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
DA: I’d like to work with Linda Perhacs [American psychedelic folk singer], who made the album Parallelograms – it’s a cult classic. She’s so talented, but she was written off and she became a dental assistant. I’d love to work with Brian Wilson too.
Finally, what music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
DA: I’ve been listening to Parallelograms and The Wicker Man soundtrack. I also got an album by My Solid Ground – I’m quite obsessed by a song called The Executioner. It’s quite prog. I’ve also been going back to The Beatles. I decided to listen to all their albums chronologically – it’s the craftmanship of the songs. I started at the beginning and then went, ‘fuck – that’s insane!’
Heart-Shaped Scars by Dot Allison is out now on SA Recordings. It’s available digitally and as a double gatefold vinyl (limited edition pressing of 500) – pre-order it here.
When Say It With Garage Flowers last spoke to one of our favourite authors, UK crime writer Mark Billingham, it was exactly a year ago, for the publication of his novel Cry Baby – the seventeenth entry in the Thorne series and his twentieth book, if you include his three stand-alone thrillers: In the Dark, Rush of Blood and Die of Shame.
During that interview, he told us he’d written the majority of his next novel during lockdown. That book is published this month. It’s called Rabbit Hole and it’s another stand-alone, but, in typical Billingham style, it’s a highly original take on the locked-room murder mystery genre, with a great twist. No spoilers here, but it’s one of his best.
Written in the first person, it centres on the character of Detective Constable Alice Armitage, the novel’s narrator, who finds herself on the trail of a killer who has murdered a patient on an acute psychiatric ward. The problem is that Armitage is a patient too… and could she actually be the murderer?
Despite its sensitive and often disturbing subject matter – severe mental health problems – Rabbit Hole is also a very funny book, full of darkly comedic moments.
Billingham started writing the novel in February last year – just before lockdown – and he finished it in four months.
“I wrote it really quickly, because I couldn’t do anything else – I had nothing to do but write,”he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, sat outside a north London pub on a warm early evening in July.
So did being locked-down at home while writing the novel inspire the subject matter of the book in any way?
“It may have done subconsciously, but the more conscious decision was that I’d had some recent experience of that world, which was not something I’d known about until recently,” he says.
“It’s a personal book in many ways, because a close family member and a very close friend both spent time on an acute psychiatric ward. I had a wealth of stories.
“Graham Greene said that writers have a chip of ice in their heart – maybe crime writers have a much bigger chip of ice… I was confronted with a situation that was deeply unpleasant, traumatic, sad and disturbing, but, at the same time, there was part of me going, ‘wow – this would be a brilliant setting for a locked-room mystery.’”
He adds: “For every couple of horrible stories I heard, there were also some that were just hilarious, but in a dark way. Some of the more bizarre things in the book are completely true.”
Mental health is a difficult subject to write about – it’s a sensitive topic. How did you approach the book to make sure you didn’t come across as patronising or ill-informed?
Mark Billingham: I was aware of that all the time – but you should always be aware, whatever you’re writing, of treating the subject with sensitivity and nuance.
I did a lot of personal research and I got to know some mental health professionals who were working in a ward and were kind enough to speak to me away from the location, off the record, as it were. There was always a conscious decision of what should I talk about, or not talk about, but you make those decisions all the time – every five minutes.
‘Graham Greene said writers have a chip of ice in their heart – maybe crime writers have a much bigger chip of ice…’
Because I’d decided to write the book in the first person, which is something I’d never done before, and I knew I wanted to be with this character, that’s a big decision, because if you’re asking your reader to spend 400 pages inside the head of the same character, you need to make that person attractive and engaging, even though they’re infuriating, frustrating and sometimes unpleasant.
Alice Armitage is an interesting character. She’s an anti-hero, isn’t she?
MB: Yes – and right off the bat she says she’s unreliable because she’s medicated and paranoid. In a way, she’s the perfect narrator for the book.
Rabbit Hole references the Covid-19 pandemic, although not in a big way, and it’s dedicated to the doctors, mental health nurses and health care assistants who lost their lives to the virus. Was it important for you to mention Covid in the book, and, if so, why?
MB: It was a difficult choice or call to make because I knew roughly when the book would be coming out and, back then [when I was writing it], like everybody else, I had no idea what the situation would be like. Would Covid have gone completely? Obviously, we know now that it hasn’t, but you can’t predict the future.
With the majority of the book being set on a mental health ward, I had to reference it, but I didn’t want to make too much of it – I didn’t want to make it a ‘Covid book’. I couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened, or it wasn’t an issue, but I tried to make the references subtle. I didn’t want every other page to be about masks and hand sanitisers, but it’s obvious that it’s going on.
The reason I dedicated the book specifically to the medical professionals who’d lost their lives was because when I visited the ward, I got to know some of the mental health nurses – I spoke to one of them a lot outside the ward and she was very helpful.
She later told me that four of the nurses on that ward had died – nurses I’d met. What you extrapolate from that is, ‘Christ – if it’s four on one ward in North London, how many is it nationally?’ It felt like an appropriate thing to do.
‘It’s a personal book because a close family member and a very close friend both spent time on an acute psychiatric ward’
Have you read many new books by fiction authors that are referencing Covid?
MB: Yes – I have. Some have done it really well and some it’s obvious that they’ve had a last minute ‘Covid edit’. They’ve gone through it and just thrown in some references to masks, hand sanitisers and PPE to make it current, so it doesn’t appear dated. That’s kind of an odd thing to do – I think you need to do it, or not do it. You could set the book in 2021, so it’s not an issue, or in 2024, and hope Covid has gone by then, or you do what I did, and say, ‘I guess Covid is still going to be knocking around and I can’t pretend it hasn’t happened…’
I was talking to a comedian friend of mine and asked him whether comedians are doing any Covid material. He said they are, and audiences are loving it – it made me think that people want to go somewhere where they can laugh at it or about it – the experiences they’ve had. Laughing about it is one thing, but do they want to read books or watch films about it? I don’t know – time will tell.
Directly after the Second World War, people didn’t want to read about it – the golden age of crime fiction happened between the wars because people had had enough of grief and violence on a massive scale.
‘I was talking to a comedian friend of mine and asked him whether comedians are doing any Covid material. He said they are, and audiences are loving it’
Another good example is the huge explosion in recent years of Northern Irish crime fiction – while the Troubles were happening, there wasn’t any, because people were living it and they didn’t want to read about it. Now enough time has passed, and writers are looking at it and examining it – it’s really interesting. You need a little bit of distance.
Your last stand-alone novel, 2016’s Die of Shame, was also a ‘locked-room’ murder mystery, and it too dealt with people suffering from mental health issues – a therapy group full of recovering addicts. Do you see Rabbit Hole as almost a companion book to it?
MB: Do you know what? I hadn’t until you mentioned it, but it kind of is, I suppose. They’re both takes on a locked-room mystery and they both have at their hearts the same premise.
When you have a traditional locked-room mystery, the characters are all guests in a stately home, or passengers on a cruise ship, but addiction or mental health affects anybody and everybody. That means you can have people from all sorts of different backgrounds.
In Die of Shame, I had an incredibly disparate group of people in terms of social demographics – where they’re from, and how much they earn, and what class they’re from. The same is true of people who end up sectioned.
But the mental health ward in Rabbit Hole is a ‘locked room’ which people can come in and out of…
MB: Yes – it’s an air-locked room… there are ways the patients can get out, for some periods of time, like short trips, but, essentially, you’ve got a group of half a dozen people with incredibly different stories. And I wanted to tell their stories too.
Like your other novels, there’s a lot of dark humour in Rabbit Hole. Was it an enjoyable book to write?
MB: I’m not sure I’d say it was enjoyable – it was a hard book to write, because of my personal connection to it. There were definitely moments when I had to stop and go, ‘should I be writing this?’ but I would always say, ‘yes, you should’.
The people I know who are close to this situation all told me I needed to write it. It was also time to write something different – I’d written three Thorne novels on the bounce.
There are some cameo appearances by regular characters from the Thorne series in Rabbit Hole, including Thorne himself. You usually do this in your stand-alone books, don’t you? That must be fun – you’re expanding the Thorne universe…
MB: I’ve probably done it in this one more than any of the other stand-alones. I knew Thorne was going to make an appearance, and, because I was dealing with psychiatric issues, I knew Melita Perera would be in it. Hendricks gets a mention too, in a way in which readers of the series will go, ‘oh – I know who they’re talking about…’
It’s fun. You’re creating this fictional universe and characters drift in and out of it – they come into the spotlight and then recede into the background.
It’s like the Marvel Universe…
And your last book, Cry Baby, was an origins novel…
MB: Yes – both me and [crime writer] John Connolly wrote origin stories at the same time – me with Thorne and him with Charlie Parker [The Dirty South] – without us knowing we were both doing it. You can them prequels, but it’s more trendy to call them origin stories.
Could you ever see any of the other characters from the Thorne universe, like Nicola Tanner, getting her own series of novels?
MB: Yes – I think that’s perfectly possible. Or maybe Hendricks will get his own book, or I might revisit a younger Thorne again. I don’t know – it will be whatever idea suits the story that’s in my head.
Let’s talk about the next book after Rabbit Hole, which is another Thorne novel…
MB: The next book is done – it will be out this time next year. I’m ahead of the game because I wrote two books back-to-back very quickly.
Can you tell us anything about the next one?
MB: I can – it’s not a big secret. It’s called The Murder Book. Thorne is back, but so is his worst nightmare. It couldn’t be a more different book to Rabbit Hole – it’s real pedal to the metal.
Finally, was the working title of Rabbit Hole ever Who The F*** Is Alice?
MB: I’ve had a few emails asking me that…
Rabbit Hole by Mark Billingham is out now and is published by Little, Brown.
In our first ever guest post for Say It With Garage Flowers, author Nick Quantrill talks to Californian singer-songwriter, Jeff Caudill, who has just released a brand new EP, Old Blood, to tie-in with his 50th birthday.
“This record does sort of feel like taking a breath before embarking on something new,” he tells us…
It’s been a tough 18 months for musicians, but for California’s Jeff Caudill, it’s still been a productive time.
With a cancelled UK tour and enforced downtime, he set to work exploring a back catalogue encompassing 30 years of work, firstly as the frontman of punk rockers, Gameface, and then through a series of solo releases to create Stay Home: The Quarantine Editions.
Premiering the tracks on social media and even releasing one on flexi disc via the Future Vampire Club label, looking backwards helped sow the seeds to move forward. His latest release, an EP called Old Blood, was released just ahead of his 50th birthday, which is on July 10 this year.
“Old Blood is a small batch of intimate acoustic songs that I’ve written in recent years,” he says. “I wanted to release something on my 50th birthday and I feel these songs are a clear snapshot of where I’m at.”
It follows his Reset the Sun EP, from 2017, but it sounds nicely different and progressive, maybe sparser and more reliant on just voice and guitar, something Caudill agrees with.
“Of all the songs on Reset the Sun, the title track is the simplest, yet ultimately is the most immediately poignant. I spent a lot of time on arrangements for the other songs on that record, but the one that I just tracked live with an acoustic guitar hits just as hard.
‘This was a rough year for everyone and approaching 50 amidst all this puts a fine point on your mortality’
“I took this to heart while planning the recording of the new EP. It made sense in a lot of ways to keep the songs pure and simple. I keep a notebook with me and scribble thoughts and whatnot. I just keep musing until the right combination of words and music presents itself. The lyrics certainly reflect on my life up to the minute with some pretty heavy stuff. This was a rough year for everyone and approaching 50 amidst all this puts a fine point on your mortality.”
If you’ve followed Caudill’s work, you’ll hear that progression on Old Blood, but it retains the ready comfort of old favourites and familiar reference points. It’s the perfect jumping in point for new listeners.
“I had a few songs already written before I had the idea for this record: Irrational Anthem,I Know We’ll Never Know and Make Time Sleep are songs I had written for other projects. The two more recent songs, Waves and Old Blood, were written specifically for this project. I just wanted it to sound like a guy playing in a room. Just a guitar and a voice,” he says.
“I added some complementary instrumentation and some vocal harmonies, but it’s pretty minimal. I had spent almost a year in my home listening to a lot of the music I grew up on — Jackson Browne, Neil Young, CSNY, Poco, all that Laurel Canyon stuff.
“All the main tracks were done at home — some in my bedroom but mostly out in the garage, aka Ramshackle Studio. It’s astonishing what you can do with a decent microphone and a laptop these days. I sent all of the tracks to my long-time friend Jim Monroe to mix. We did one day at his studio to listen to everything and add some extra stuff, like the violin and some percussion. It was all quite simple, which is how I like it.”
‘I spent almost a year in my home listening to a lot of the music I grew up on — Jackson Browne, Neil Young, CSNY, Poco, all that Laurel Canyon stuff’
Monroe isn’t the only help Caudill received on the EP. On Make Time Sleep, the backing vocals and co-write comes from Career Woman, who also happens to be his daughter, Melody, a talented songwriter with her own burgeoning thing going on.
“I’m sure I’ve learned a thing or two from her, plus we share a lot of music with each other. A record from last year that we both love is Better Oblivion Community Center. We listened to it a lot and noticed that in a lot of songs, Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst aren’t singing harmony, they’re singing in unison but in different octaves. This was our attempt at that style. I wrote the guitar part and we both wrote lyrics for it. It’s loosely about time travel and video games. Our friend Kristi, from the band The Pollen Collective, played fiddle on the recording and she just knocks it out of the park. It’s one of my favourite moments on the EP.”
Maybe new blood is the opposite of old blood in some way, but there’s a sense of energy it brings to the material and also points the way forward, something Caudill notes.
“This record does sort of feel like taking a breath before embarking on something new, but I never really know what that is going to be. I just keep pushing on and doing what feels right in the moment. I’ve have a few projects up in the air over the past few year so it was nice to just sit down and make something happen in real time. Life is long and life is short. I’m happiest when I’m making stuff.”
One of these projects is the reissue of Gameface’s Three To Get Ready, the band’s blistering 1995 set, with added B-sides and outtakes.
“I look at the pictures and listen to that voice and it’s like I’m watching another person. I’m really proud of all of the music we made and I know this record means as much to some as it means to me and the band,” says Caudill.
“It’s wild to be able to enjoy a slightly-belated 25th anniversary of a punk rock record I made when I was 25. And at 50, I feel so very fortunate to have some of the folks who were with me way back then to still be with me now and want to hear what I have to say. None of this is lost on me.”
Old Blood by Jeff Caudill is out now: buy /stream/download/limited edition vinyl.
New pop-up music store in London to give away records to customers.
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we love vinyl records – especially when they’re free!
That’s why we were excited to hear about the launch of a new pop-up music shop with a difference, in London, to celebrate Record Store Day (July 17).
The SMARTY Disc-overy store is encouraging Brits to rediscover the joy of new music by giving away a free vinyl LP to each visitor, but here’s the, er, flip side – every album cover in the store will be covered up, so you won’t know what record you’ve been given.
Instead of picking albums and artists they already know and love, punters will choose a mystery record, with a sealed sleeve for the element of surprise.
It could be a rare, collectible album, a special edition, or a record by a new artist. Each record will be wrapped in a SMARTY Disc-overy store sleeve.
According to new research, restricted access to live music and record stores since the pandemic has meant the nation has fallen into a musical rut, listening to the same tracks over and over again.
In partnership with Record Store Day UK, the SMARTY Disc-overy store, which has been created by the SMARTY SIM-only mobile network, aims to ‘energise music lovers with new discoveries and serendipity’.
The store will also feature listening stations for customers, and a DJ whom visitors can request to play the vinyl they’ve been given.
The SMARTY Disc-overy store is free for the public to attend on Friday 16 July from 11am – 7pm, 19 Air Street, London, W1B 5AG (nearest tube is Piccadilly Circus).
Each visitor will receive a free vinyl LP.
For more information on Record Store Day, click here.
New Morning Blues are husband and wife duo Ian de Sylva and Joanna Backovic.
The pair, who released their debut album, London, this summer, run a recording studio together in Soho, and are independent artists in their own right, but this is the first time they’ve collaborated musically.
“To be honest, we’ve always been pretty busy with our own music projects, and it never really occurred to us to work together,” says de Sylva, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers.
“I had a song called Polestar. It wasn’t something that really suited my voice, so I asked Joanna to sing it. It sounded great, so I just kept writing with two voices in mind rather than one. So far, I’ve written the songs and we’ve arranged the vocal parts together.”
Backovic is a composer and performance artist who creates scores for theatre and film – she also performs under the name ArHai – while de Sylva’s first band, Silver, released a single on Rough Trade Records.
Signed to Medicine/Warner Bros, Silver recorded their debut album with producer Craig Leon (The Ramones, Blondie). They toured with The Cranberries and Elastica, and de Sylva also recorded two solo albums.
London is an impressive and arresting debut, from the ‘take no prisoners’ opener, Fortune Teller Blues – primal, White Stripes-style, blues-rock with mean organ and dirty guitar – to the beautiful and spectral folk ballad The Mirror, with shades of Nick Drake; the twangy, widescreen country-pop of The New Messiah; the cinematic psych soundtrack that is A Face In The Mirror, and the dramatic orchestration of On The Horizon.
There’s a haunting, atmospheric and autumnal quality to most of the record. “It’s pretty much autumn all year round in England, so that may have come through in the songs,” muses de Sylva.
How are things? Have you got ‘new morning blues’?
Ian de Sylva: No – we’re both feeling pretty good today.
How did you find lockdown and are you getting back to some sense of normality?
IDS: We actually enjoyed lockdown up to a point, as it gave us both a lot more time to work on our music, which is what we love to do.
How has it been running a studio in Soho during the past year?
IDS: It’s been fine really, as we’ve been able to use the space for our own music more, so all good.
‘It’s pretty much autumn all year round in England, so that may have come through in the songs’
How did you approach the album musically?
IDS: It developed very naturally, without a definite vision or plan sound-wise. I think it reflects music we both love, from psychedelia to country, folk and blues.
Can we talk about some of the songs? I’ll pick a few, give you some of my thoughts on them, and then can you give me yours.
Fortune Teller Blues: This is a raw, electric blues song – the heaviest track on the record. It has some great dirty guitar and organ on it…
IDS: It was written more as a kind of Dixieland jazz-type thing, but once I had the guitar riff, then it changed into something more bluesy. I wanted to write something upbeat and hopefully danceable.
The Mirror is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a haunting, folky ballad, with shades of Nick Drake…
IDS: We’re both fans of Nick Drake and love all his albums. Vashti Bunyan is also a big influence and I think that comes through on this one.
The New Messiah is another highlight for me. It’s jangly country-pop. It has a bit of a Nancy and Lee / mid-’90s Jesus and Mary Chain feel, circa Stoned & Dethroned. I love the twangy guitar solo.
IDS: We were watching a few of Tarantino’s movies and to me it sort of sounds like it could be in one of those films – definitely the guitar solo.
A Face In The Mirror is moody and cinematic, with a dramatic string arrangement…
IDS: This is more of a psychedelic influence. I think maybe it owes a lot to Arthur Lee.
What did you learn most from making a record together, and would you make another one?
IDS: We’re already recording a follow up-album, and working together on music has just been great so far. You hear a lot of stories of how being in the same band breaks couples up, but we don’t feel any need to write our The Winner Takes It All just yet.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
IDS: More recording over the next few months, then some gigs this autumn.
‘We actually enjoyed lockdown up to a point, as it gave us a lot more time to work on our music, which is what we love to do’
What music – new and old – are you enjoying? Any recommendations?
IDS: We’ve been listening to John Grant, The War on Drugs, a great Spanish band called Carino, Kilimanjaro by The Teardrop Explodes, Scott Walker and Sandy Denny.
Finally, why did you call the record London?
IDS: It just seemed like an apt title. Having both lived in the city for a long time, it’s inevitably had a big influence on us, both as people, and our music.
London by New Morning Blues is out now on Berwick Music.
Exclusive interview with Bob Collum and the video premiere of his new single, Parachute – out today (July 2 – Fretsore Records).
On his latest album, This Heart Will Self Destruct, Olkahoma-born, but Essex-based Americana singer-songwriter, Bob Collum, covers lyrical themes including anxiety, hope, fear, humour, uncertainty, love, disappointment, redemption and faith.
Judging by the subjects he’s chosen to tackle, you won’t be surprised to find that the record was mostly written during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Collum says the album “began life on the cusp, before the insanity of 2020”, adding: “I think it captures the last year quite well.”
Impressively, on the opening track, and brand new single, Parachute – the video is premiering on Say It With Garage Flowers today – he manages to cover off hope, fear, humour, uncertainty, love and faith in the one song.
It’s a mid-paced, rootsy, country rock shuffle, with violin, on which Collum tells a potential partner: “It’s a leap offaith, you know that much is true, but I’ll share my one and only parachute with you.”
“Parachute is me writing a more positive type of song, but with an escape clause,” he says, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers.
“I wish I could write a really upbeat love song, but they’re very difficult. This is as close to a feel-good song as I’ve written. It’s about the uncertainty of life. Sometimes it helps to have somebody there to face it with you. It’s an universal theme, but I liked the image of a parachute.”
Surely the classic country song take on it would be to have a parachute that doesn’t open?
“Absolutely. The answer song would be Who Packed the ‘Chute?” he says, laughing.
‘Parachute is me writing a more positive type of song, but with an escape clause. I wish I could write a really upbeat love song, but they’re very difficult’
Recorded with his band, the Welfare Mothers – “although only one is a mother, and none are on welfare at the moment, they remain the tightest band this side of the Thames Delta” – the album was produced by Pat Collier at his Perry Vale Studios in South East London.
Most of the recordings were done intermittently, with safety taking priority. “At our age, most of the band were in the danger zone,” muses Collum.
The Welfare Mothers comprise Mags Layton (violin and vocals), Martin Cutmore (bass) and Paul Quarry (drums and percussion). Honorary member, guitarist Martin Belmont (Graham Parker and the Rumour, Nick Lowe, My Darling Clementine) plays the Fender Stratocaster and Fender VI bass on the album, adding a mean, Duane Eddy-style, twangy solo to the jaunty Shake It Loose.
Belmont’s ‘70s pub rock influence comes across on Giving Up, which is an infectious power-pop song – kind of New Wave meets country.
Elsewhere, there’s tongue-in-cheek country (the title track); echoes of early R.E.M (Second Fiddle); a sad and reflective country ballad inspired by the likes of Johnny Cash (From Birmingham) and a raucous, fiddle-fuelled rockabilly cover of Saved, which is an R&B-flavoured song written by Leiber and Stoller and first recorded by Lavern Baker in the early ‘60s. Elvis Presley and Joe Cocker have released versions of it.
Collum also dips into blues (Tall Glass of Muddy Water) and soul territory (Spare Me). On the latter, he’s joined by Peter Holsapple (The dB’s and R.E.M.), who plays a mean Hammond B3 organ and also sings backing vocals. The song was an intercontinental collaboration between him and Collum.
Say It With Garage Flowers got to spend some quality time talking with Collum before his heart self-destructed…
How was lockdown for you and how has Covid affected your plans as a musician?
Bob Collum: Lockdown provided a focus – the new record was pretty much written during the first lockdown.
It was like being stuck in a weird alternate reality, which stripped everything back to basics. I missed rehearsing and playing gigs – that’s part of music. We do it because we like that aspect – the commonality of sharing a love of music. Maybe now we’ll appreciate every single gig even more than we did before – the chance to play music live is going to be really special and nobody will take it for granted again.
I started thinking about life and what I enjoyed doing. I was able to sit down and be focused in a way in which I haven’t been for years. I did home demos and there was a lot more space to be creative.
That was really interesting. I’ve also managed to write another new record – I have more than enough songs for another one.
When we signed to Fretsore [record label] we going to put out an EP before we did an album. We recorded three or four songs in December and then we were going to go back into the studio in January, but we had to reschedule for late February and then Covid hit.
So we held off until things were safe, but then I picked up my guitar and started to write – the songs started happening, and the band liked them, so we thought ‘let’s do a full album’.
We did a session in late summer, when things opened up a bit, and it went really well, so we did the whole album and finished it up – then things went crazy again. It’s interesting how this record came to fruition – it was a happy accident, I guess.
The album was produced and recorded by Pat Collier at his Perry Vale Studios in South East London…
BC: We’ve been working with Pat for years – he’s one of those classic producers. He did his apprenticeship in the late ‘60s/ early ‘70s at Decca – he was around when all the stuff that we love was being done, but he’s also fully up to date, with Pro Tools and everything. He’s not a slave to the old-fashioned way of doing it. His bag is that he wants to record a band playing together by using the technology that makes it easier to do so.
The record really captures the performances well – it almost feels like a live album…
BC: I really appreciate that – when I started making records, back in the ‘80s, everything was done a track at a time… The performance is part of the recording. The most important part of the producer’s job is to make everyone feel comfortable and have fun – that’s what Pat’s really good at it.
To be a good producer and an engineer, you have to be good at psychology because, like any other conglomeration of human beings, in a band there are all sorts of things going on and you need to know how to keep things moving and how to appeal to the different egos. Pat manages to massage everyone into giving a great performance and he never gets flustered.
The title track is one of my favourite songs on the record…
BC: Thanks, man.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek country song, isn’t it?
BC: Yeah – I love the great soulful and emotional stuff, like George Jones, but he also wrote crazy, almost novelty, songs, like I’m A People, or Love Bug. Humour has always been a huge part of country music, but one of the problems is that in the past 15 or 20 years, the humour has gotten really stupid and crass. If you like all the great writers, like Shel Silverstein, their songs always have a wry side to them.
And they’re self-deprecating…
BC: Yeah – that’s the perfect word for them. If you have a sense of humour, you can get away with all sorts of stuff. Having that ability to wink at yourself is very important, because then, when you are being serious, people realise that you are serious.
I like the title, This Heart Will Self Destruct, which is a nod to Mission Impossible, isn’t it?
BC: My co-writer, Dave Bailey and I were sitting around and talking about the great country writers of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – a lot of the time you could tell that they started with the title and worked backwards. It’s a great way of writing – it’s like starting a puzzle with the outside edges.
We were talking about phrases… I’m a big Mission Impossible fan – the TV show with Martin Landau. I’ve not seen any of the movies.
I was thinking about a guy who wanted to warn someone that things were going to end badly – ‘I’ll end it first before you have a chance to hurt me’. That kind of thing. The phrase ‘This heart will self-destruct’ just popped into my head. We wrote the chorus, then filled in the blanks.
There are some blues and soul influences on the album, particularly on the songs Tall Glass of Muddy Water and Spare Me... On the latter, you sing the great line: “I’ve got work to do like The Isley Brothers. What makes you think you stand in front of all of the others?” And Peter Holsapple plays organ on it… How did you get to work with him?
BC: I was a huge dB’s fan back in the day. I met him in the ’90s, at SXSW. We swapped numbers and our friendship developed over time. We did a gig together the year before last, which turned out be really fantastic, and, out of the blue one day, he said to me: ‘I’ve got this song – do you want to help me finish it?’ And he sent it to me. We did it and then he asked if me and guys wanted to record it, so I said, ‘of course!’ I like the groove it has – it’s not what you’d you expect from us, but it still sounds like us.
Holsapple played with R.E.M, and I think your song, Second Fiddle, has the feel of early R.E.M…
BC: Yeah – you can’t be alive at our age and not be influenced by them. They were a band in the ’80s that were a touchstone. Peter Buck plays guitar like you want a guy to play guitar. He’s an influence. When I play arpeggios on guitar, it comes directly from Buck and Roger McGuinn [The Byrds.]
The Byrds are an important band – probably the most important American group of the ’60s. They were fearless when it came to their influences. They had no problem crossing the line.
They were the American Beatles…
BC: Exactly. They did something nobody else were doing and they influenced The Beatles. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a group of guys who were as perfect as The Beach Boys.
What’s your approach to songwriting?
BC: I try to avoid it! [laughs]. There’s no real way of doing it. I’m not like Paul Simon, doing it 9 to 5, with a yellow pad in front of you, or like Peter Case, who calls it ‘skywriting’ – waiting for the inspiration and song to come.
‘The Byrds are probably the most important American group of the ’60s.They were fearless when it came to their influences‘
The way I’ve been doing it lately is by coming up with a melody and some key words and phrases, putting it down on GarageBand, doing the lyrics off the top of my head, and then editing them as I’m doing it, and recording a demo. It’s a similar process to the way you’d write in the studio, but the studio is in my phone.
I don’t think there’s a set way of writing a song. There comes a time when you say, ‘how the hell did I write that?’ That’s life – when you get older, you don’t do anything the way you did when you were 20, 21 or 22…
As writers it’s difficult to maintain the same style. People say there’s a formula – yeah, there is, but sometimes you forget the recipe. Elvis Costello couldn’t make a record now like he did in 1978 if he tried, but he could make one that sounds fantastic, which is what he’s doing. It doesn’t sound like he’s aping his past.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
BC: Lennon and McCartney, Costello, Dylan… I always find it weird when people don’t like Dylan. It’s like a writer saying they don’t like Shakespeare.
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? Did you have a lockdown soundtrack?
BC: Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways has been a hugely important record. I don’t think it could’ve been better timed – it did so much for so many people I know who listened to it. Dylan exists out of time and space – he just does what he wants to do.
You said earlier that you’d written another album. Are you hoping to record that this year?
BC: Yes, but realistically it will be autumn or winter, when things get back to normal.
What have you been writing about?
BC: Fewer love songs, but more ‘what the hell’s going on?’ songs. I should call the next record 12 Angry Songs. They’re not angry songs, but they’re more ‘what the heck?’ I’ve sent demos to everyone – Martin Belmont said it’s some of the most melodic stuff I’ve ever written, which is pretty cool.
Finally – this interview will self-destruct in 10 seconds. What’s the last thing you’re going to say to me?
BC: I just hope you like the record, man. During these crazy times, music has held me together more than I ever thought it would – I think it’s done that for a lot of us. If just 10 people hear it, it’s important.
This Heart Will Self Destruct by Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers is out now on Fretsore Records.
June 19 – The Plough, Shepreth
July 6 – The Horns, Watford
August 1 – The Geese & Fountain, Croxton Kerrial (solo)
August 28 – Thornton Hough Village Club
September 5 – Southchurch Park Cafe, Southend
September 12 – The Flying Pig, Cambridge
September 18 – Queen St Brewhouse, Colchester
October 16 – The Grove Inn, Leeds
October 30 – The Smyth Arms, London
November 25 – The Betsey Trotwood, London
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we aren’t fans of the summer. In fact, when we first started publishing, in 2009, our tagline was, and still is, ‘musical musings from the dark corner of a pub’…
We love autumn / winter, and during the summer months you’re likely to find us sat indoors in a boozer, not the beer garden, discussing music, or hiding away indoors, listening to new and old albums. We’re staying in for the summer…
However, we do like our summer soundtracks, and this month we’ve been enjoying the new, self-titled album from Mojave Desert duo – and couple – Starlight Cleaning Co., who are Rachel Dean and Tim Paul Gray.
It’s a wonderfully melodic record that’s in love with ’70s/’80s New Wave guitar music, glossy L.A. pop, country rock, Americana and soft rock.
Opener, Don’t Take It Away, is jangle-pop perfection, with harmonies ringing out high over the desert landscape; the chugging, organ-fuelled and anthemic Train Wreck is like Tom Petty doing Springsteen’s Atlantic City; The Race is melancholy and reflective dream-pop, with a superb haunting guitar solo by the late Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, Circles Around The Sun), and Joy Killer and The Current have the swagger and style of vintage Pretenders.
Dean fronted two bands prior to Starlight Cleaning Co – War Children and The Hot Fudge Sunday, while Gray was a member of Orange County-based groups The Delusions and Charles Mansion.
As a duo, Dean and Gray have toured with Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Bash And Pop, Guns ‘n’ Roses) and on their own. Two years ago, they did something they had wanted to do for a while – they turned their solo act into a full band and recorded their debut album.
Dean has previously played under her own name, having released an album titled Indian Summer, produced by Rob Campanella (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Casal, who plays guitar on two songs on the Starlight Cleaning Co. album. Sadly, he died last year.
“His death profoundly affected me,” Dean tells us, in an exclusive interview with the band. “It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record.”
Adds Gray: “Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.”
‘Neal Casal’s death profoundly affected me personally. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record’
Recorded at Dean and Gray’s home studio, Starlight Sound, Starlight Cleaning Co. was produced by L.A./San Francisco blue-eyed-soul and soft rock troubadour, Bart Davenport, (The Bedazzled, The Loved Ones, The Kinetics) and engineered by L.A.’s “indie king” Joel Jerome (Dios, Cherry Glazerr, La Sera).
“This record is a reflection of our life together as well as the individual paths that led us here: the struggles, uncertainty, the hopefulness and love,” says Dean.
“We hope that it resonates with others in their lives and brings us together as we all seem to deal with these common themes. We dedicate this album, in loving memory, to our dear friend Neal Casal.”
How’s it going? Where are you and what’s it like?
Rachel: Hi there. We are currently at home in Yucca Valley, California – right next to Joshua Tree. It’s a beautiful day and we are sitting outside enjoying the weather.
Congratulations on your debut album – it’s one of my favourite records of the year so far, and it’s my album of the summer. How do you feel about that?
Rachel: Thank you. That’s so nice to hear. We are excited you like it and hope that other people are connecting with it as well.
Tim: Very kind. Thank you.
How did you two first meet? You were both solo artists and this is your first full-band collaboration, as you were performing as a duo before, right?
Rachel: We first met when I booked Tim’s previous band at Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. I used to do all their music/cultural programming. We ended up talking more and he hopped on a show with me at Pappy and Harriet’s – a now famous roadhouse out here – as well. The Pappy’s show happened first. I really loved his music and voice, and we started talking about playing music together. The following week, we were already on it… me joining Tim on a solo acoustic show. The rest is history.
Tim: Even as a duo we knew that the kind of music we wanted to make would call for a full-band and the songs were written with that intention, so really the current situation is just an extension of those early duo days. We still enjoy a stripped-down show now and again.
What’s it like being in a band together, and also in a relationship with each other? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Rachel: It’s honestly a lot of fun. It can be stressful at times, but overall it’s really something special. We are able to share all these amazing experiences together. Also we both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative. Sometimes, when we have opposing opinions, it can get too close for comfort, but we can always work it out.
‘We both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative’
Do you write collaboratively? What’s your songwriting process?
Tim: The closest we have come to collaborative writing is Don’t Take It Away, where we tossed around lyrical content, took inspiration from our dog and surroundings, and had a good time making a song of it, but the truth is, it is very difficult for us to do. We’ve found making small suggestions for each other’s work is what works best for us.
Rachel: Yes, Tim is definitely the writer in this band. He writes everyday and it’s part of who he is. I just write when I have something in my head that I can’t escape.
You’ve said that the album is dedicated to the late Neal Casal, who plays guitar on it. How did you get to know and work with him, and how has his death affected you? Was it hard to put the record out after his passing, or did it feel like the right thing to do? Is it difficult to listen to?
Rachel: Neal was one of my dearest friends. We met in 2006, through mutual friends. We became close and he was a big part of my life. When it came to music, he really guided me. He produced my last record, Indian Summer, and he helped me so much with it. He played on it, sang, arranged all the songs and even took the photograph for the album artwork.
His death profoundly affected me. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record. He actually took time out of his tour schedule and rented a studio to do some guitar parts. Putting the record out with his parts on there was celebratory. It was a way to celebrate Neal and thank him. I actually love listening to his parts. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile.
‘Putting the record out with Neal Casal’s parts on there was celebratory. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile’
Let’s talk about the recording of the album. How were the sessions? When did you make it?
Tim: We recorded this album pretty quickly in October of 2018. With a lot of unexpected events that year and the next, we were slow to wrap the mixing process, but once [producer] Bart Davenport suggested [engineer] Bill Faler, it took shape pretty quickly. The sessions took place at our home – Bart, [engineer] Joel, Dan [Sandvick – bass] and Sal [Salvatore Romano – drums] came out to stay at our house for five days and we just got it done. We cooked every night. Bart had a birthday. It was fun and low-key and an honest representation of our sound at the time.
You recorded it at your home studio, Starlight Sound. What’s your set-up like?
Tim: We were inspired after watching Thom Monahan and Vetiver do a record in our living room for the album Up On High in April of 2018. Like Thom, Joel brought all the gear and we just holed up and tracked it in our living room and the adjoining studio/office. I have a very basic set-up that I use for demos.
You worked with Bart Davenport and Joel Jerome on the album, as well as Neal Casal. What did they all bring to the process and the sound and feel of the record?
Tim: We thought of Bart for the role of producer, because we love his records. In particular, [his album] Physical World gave us the impression that he would be an excellent fit both creatively and for sonic and aesthetic reasons. He used a lot of similar tones on that record and shares the 1980s quality we were after. He’s also a great person and a calming voice of reason.
Joel brought the entire studio out to the desert. He is incredibly talented and has an amazing pop sensibility that made his input invaluable. He was also comic relief when we needed it most and an excellent DJ. Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.
‘The desert moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring’
The record has an ’80s soft-rock and New Wave feel, as well as jangle-pop and Americana. What influenced it, musically and lyrically? Do you think being in the Mojave Desert rubs off on you musically?
Tim: We love so much music. A jangly guitar says something an aggressive guitar can’t and vice-versa. It’s a very sensitive-sounding album and the lyrics reflect that, so more often than not, the jangle won the battle with the lyrics coming from such inward places.
The ’80s thing is just part of what we love and who we are. We listen to a lot of that decade – The Replacements, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and ’80s hits. It’s just stuff we like. And there is a lot under the Americana umbrella we love too: Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt… the list goes on.
Rachel: I moved to the desert back in 2007, after countless trips to Pappy and Harriet’s. I’ve been in love with Bakersfield country and California cosmic country like Buck Owens, The Byrds, and Linda Ronstadt, and have been inspired by those sounds almost as much as I am Chrissie Hynde or The Motels. So I guess the desert just moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring.
Although everyone seems to be catching on to it, back when I first moved here, this area felt very secret and special. Certain types of people were drawn to it. Weirdos, artists, and musicians mixed in with the sun-worn blue collar workers and it made for an interesting energy.
‘Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys’
Can we talk about some of the songs on the record? What can you tell me about Don’t Take It Away? It’s one of my favourites – I love the harmonies and the killer melody – it’s perfect, jangly guitar pop. Where did that song come from?
Tim: Thank you. The uptempo songs always come about after too many cups of coffee early in the day. Just walking around the house, strumming the guitar. I like to imagine playing songs live and that sometimes helps them take shape.
Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys. So that’s where the idea came from, and Rachel and I had a laugh making it.
What inspired The Race? It feels like it’s about your relationship… There’s a brilliant haunting guitar solo from Neal Casal on there too, isn’t there?
Rachel: Yes. The Race is about our relationship and about the short time we spent in the south. Back in 2015, shortly after Tim and I started dating, my job moved us to New Orleans to open a new hotel and book the music venue on the property. It was a rough time. Although there is a sleepy, slow-paced feel to that place, there was a sort of ‘rat-race’ mentality in what I was dealing with there.
The song is about the hard time I was having fitting in, that both of us were having with each other, and still figuring out who we were together, and socially fitting in as well. It’s about struggle and overcoming it, when the going gets tough. We got through that life hurdle and it made us realise we were meant to be together and if we could get through that, we can probably get through anything. Once we started playing the song, we both agreed a Neal Casal guitar solo would be the icing on that cake.
I love the organ sound on Train Wreck – another of my favourite songs on the record. Ryan Adams would kill to have written it. I think it sounds like a classic Springsteen or Tom Petty tune…
Tim: That’s Bobby Furgo on organ. He played with Leonard Cohen throughout the ’90s and he’s an incredible musician living out here in the Joshua Tree area. He and Rachel both played together in the Pappy and Harriet’s Sunday band a while back.
Train Wreck definitely sounds like Atlantic City, but I realised that too late and there’s no going back now. Tom Petty’s writing style was more of an influence on that one than Springsteen though. There’s something really challenging and fun about trying to get something to resemble a ‘hit’. It’s like a different part of the brain and Tom Petty was a master at that.
I wrote the song in 2015. I had been living and travelling in an RV and broke down in Ozona, Texas. I was in a tow yard for three weeks and worrying and thinking a lot about the people in my life with substance abuse problems. Train Wreck came out of that experience.
I think Like A Shadow has the feel of The Smiths at times – it’s the jangly, Johnny Marr-like guitars…
Tim: I am a fan of The Smiths – Johnny Marr’s playing, in particular. That is probably Bart’s playing you’re hearing though, as I was strictly rhythm on that track. It is one of my personal favourites that I’ve written just due to its simplicity and how quickly it came to me. It was a little valentine for Rachel.
Sooner Than You Learn has an ’80s pop/ soft rock vibe – a touch of Fleetwood Mac…
Tim: Fleetwood Mac definitely crossed my mind when writing that song. It was built around that opening guitar part and the realisation that not only myself, but so many others, are just kind of going too hard and drinking too much after the party’s over..
Joy Killer is one of the heavier songs on the record – it’s kind of ’80s indie-rock and it reminds me of The Pretenders. The Current feels like it’s coming from a similar place, too…
Tim: Joy Killer was a song I had before I met Rachel that I never properly recorded. We just liked having a rocker in the set and so it became part of the album, although the lyrical content dwells on the relationship issues I was having before I met Ms Dean.
Rachel:The Current was another song from the past. I wrote it back in 2007 with my friend Rick Boston, who was sort of mentoring me at the time. It was one of the first real songs I ever wrote and it started out as a slow song.
Chrissie Hynde has always been a huge influence on me and I could always hear her in the song, so I guess it kind of shows up a bit. It’s so funny to think that Tim and I were both writing these songs that would mesh so well together, years before we ever met.
What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?
Rachel: Well, I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past. I’ve been listening to a lot of Burt Bacharach, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, Divinyls, Richard Ashcroft, Travis, Jesse Ed Davis, Doug Sahm, and Marcos Valle for summer vibes. And for newer stuff.. well I guess some of this isn’t exactly “new”, but I love so much of our friend’s music like Brian Whelan – he used to play with Dwight Yoakam, and he’s just an incredible songwriter and singer –, Vetiver, The Tyde, Cass McCombs, Howlin’ Rain, Beachwood Sparks, as well as the Curation Records bands – GospelbeacH, Pacific Range, FD and the Wizards of the West, Trevor Beld Jimenez – and so many others.
‘I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past’
Tim: What she said… Also I’ve just recently doing a dive into Nick Lowe’s new(ish) stuff – Stoplight Roses from The Old Magic is an amazing song, as is pretty much anything he does.
The first record Rachel got me was his Labour of Lust, early in our relationship. A friend turned me on to Richard Hawley and I’ve been enjoying his music. I had a moment with Funkadelic, Zappa and the like during the pandemic, which always lifted my spirits. I run the gamut with my musical taste. It’s all over the place. I love a lot of our friends’ records as well.
How has Covid affected your plans? Any live shows coming up? Will we get to see you play in the UK?
Rachel: Our plans for the rest of this year are to get out and play as much as possible. Out here on the West Coast, venues are opening slowly but surely and I hope that by the fall, we’ll be playing more regularly. As of right now, it’s a lot of unconventional outdoor shows, private parties and things like that. We’re really hoping to get to the UK next year, and we’ve actually been talking to a friend out there about setting up a tour, so fingers crossed. We really love the UK and can’t wait to get back.
The self-titled debut album by Starlight Cleaning Co. is out now on SofaBurn Records, on vinyl and digital.