The last time Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Ocean Colour Scene, Specials and Paul Weller guitarist, Steve Cradock, it was during lockdown last year.
Used to being on the road, he’d kept himself busy during those weeks of confinement in 2020 and early 2021 by remixing and reissuing his second solo album, Peace City West, which came out last year, and working on a new instrumental record.
“Everyone has got their own stories about those strange couple of years – I had more time than I’ve ever had before. It was liberating in one way and it went on for so long it became like a dream state, didn’t it?” he says, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers from his home studio, Kundalini, in Devon. “We could still work on music, so it was really hopeful.”
The instrumental album he was crafting has just been released – it’s called A Soundtrack To An Imaginary Movie and it soaks up influences including jazz – Cradock was reading Ashley Khan’s book about John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme while he was making the record and he immersed himself in that classic album – as well as folk, Easy Listening, soundtracks and classical music, but, he says, “ultimately, I could play most of these tunes on an acoustic guitar or piano. I loved the melodies. The second side is quite piano-led.”
Guests on the record include Cradock’s wife, Sally, on gongs and Tibetan singing bowls, UB40’s Brian Travers (saxophone), Jess Cox (cello) the Stone Foundation’s Rob Newton (congas) and, from The Specials’ touring band, Nikolaj Larson (Hammond B-3 organ) and Tim Smart (trombone). Cradock’s son, Cassius, plays piano too.
“I went from listening to Radio 6 to Radio 3 – I was listening to a lot of classical music. That was around me all the time,” he says. “Some of the tracks on the album are indie-classical. Two pieces of music came together on the same day – it just sort of happened. I played the melodies on acoustic guitar and I thought, ‘There’s something there.’ ”
He adds: “I had a couple of tracks before that, including the one where Brian Travers plays saxophone [Sarcoline].”
Travers, who died last year, recorded the sax parts for Sarcoline 10 years ago, and Cradock had it as a demo.
‘Lockdown was liberating – it went on for so long it became like a dream state’
The track, which also features Hugo Levingston on flute, is haunting and moody – it sounds like the theme for a ‘70s TV show about a private detective who lives and works in a shadowy city and hangs out in a jazz club in his spare time.
“The idea was that it’s in a jazz club and you’re walking between each floor, which has different music or a different take on the same melody – that was the vibe. You hear an acoustic and flute version and then you walk into another room and you hear the same track playing, but with loads of reverb,” he explains.
So, has Cradock always harboured a desire to make music for films? “I’ve never thought about it – the album title was meant as a joke,” he says. “I’ve always worked on pieces of music… Back in the day, with Ocean Colour Scene, those became Hundred Mile High City, The Riverboat Song or You’ve Got It Bad.”
‘Dragon’s Blood is a bit strange. I played it to my dad and he said, ‘You’re taking that off, aren’t you?’
His wife, Sally, is on the eight-minute, meditative and minimalist mantra Dragon’s Blood – she is credited with playing Nibiru gongs and Tibetan singing bowls. “She’s a gong master and she’s into hypnotherapy,” says Cradock, adding: “A Love Supreme starts with a gong… I was having lots of gong baths and getting into it – the healing of the hurts.
“Dragon’s Blood is the first song on side two – it’s a bit of a strange one. I played it to my dad and he said, ‘You’re taking that off, aren’t you?’ I wanted to have different flavours on each side, so that’s what I thought should start side two because it’s been transcending me, without sounding up my own arse. It was an energy or a power. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but give it time and get into it – if it’s the right moment, I think it will really take you somewhere.”
‘I was having lots of gong baths and getting into it – the healing of the hurts…’
So, is he a spiritual person? “I wouldn’t know if I am or not. I think everything’s spiritual, so that would be a ‘yes’ probably.”
Some of the tracks on the album, like the opening composition, Lapis Lazuli, which has some beautiful cello on it, are quite melancholy and pastoral… “Yeah – it’s reflective,” says Cradock.
On the other hand, there’s Cochineal, which is groovy loungecore, with Hammond and congas – lift music goes vintage sci-fi. “When I first heard it, it reminded me of the Wurlitzer that I used to hear playing when I went ice skating,” he says.
The final track, Gunjo, has some Bacharach-style Easy Listening brass on it, courtesy of Tim Smart from The Specials. “I love the melody line, which I think is really memorable, and the way it has time signature changes – I don’t normally do that,” he says. “It goes from a 3/4 waltz to a 4/4 thing. It is a bit Bacharach, I suppose.”
‘I sent the record to Weller – he listened to it all the way through and said, ‘Wow – it’s a journey’ ‘
Does he think this album will surprise people, as it’s very different to his other solo work? “Yeah – that’s good, isn’t it? I sent the record to Weller – he listened to it all the way through and said, ‘Wow – it’s a journey’.”
So, we’ve got the soundtrack to an imaginary movie – now someone needs to make the film…
Back To Business is a new collection of groovy, hipshakin’, organ-heavy instrumentals by duo Bangs & Talbot – pioneering acid jazz DJ, musician and producer, Chris Bangs, and mod keyboard wizard and founding member of The Style Council, Mick Talbot.
The two of them have made their first album together in 20 years and it’s a scorcher – just the kind of soundtrack for a long, hot summer.
Talbot lays down some great Hammond, Wurlitzer and Rhodes piano, while bassist and drummer Bangs ensures the tracks always have a great groove – from the jazz club vibe of Sumthin’ Else to the Latino-soul-meets-West-Coast-Beach-Beat-sound of Surf ‘n’ Turf, and the explosive Kookie T, which, with its blaring brass and high-octane Hammond, sounds like the theme to a car chase scene from a Swinging Sixties action-thriller.
Marvin Gaye’s soul classic, How Sweet It Is, has been reinvented as a cool shuffle – Brand New Heavies’ guitarist Simon Bartholomew provides some tasty licks – while Stingray pays its respects to gospel and evokes the atmosphere of legendary California club P.J’s.
It’s Alright takes a trip to Detroit, with fuzz guitars, and the jazzy Leela’s Dance has more than a touch of Dave Brubeck’s TakeFive about it.
“A lot of our past stuff was influenced by the ‘70s, but Chris wanted to get back to some ‘60s stuff – good grooves that were danceable,” explains Talbot, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers.
“That’s the great thing about a lot of this album – it’s either head-nodding or dancey. It’s got a lot of different grooves, but most of them are quite immediate.”
He adds: “I’m not always sure what all the influences are because on a lot of the tracks Chris puts an infectious rhythm together – he likes playing bass and he also plays drums, guitar and keyboards.
“Sometimes he suggests stuff and asks me to adapt it – I’m not precious. He might do a slide on a keyboard on one of his demos, I’ll get the gist of what he wants me to do and redo it all, and then he’ll say, ‘I really miss my slide!’ So, I say, ‘Put it back then!’ [laughs].
‘Chris tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie’
“Chris does a lot of different things – he’ll give an arrangement to the horn players of him singing what he thinks they should play, so you get a funny demo with him singing, thinking he’s a saxophone.
“He tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie. It creates an atmosphere and conjures up an image, but, Chris is so poetic he wants to tell you what that image is.”
Did you make the record during lockdown?
Mick Talbot: Yeah – but there were various times when there was a little bit more freedom. We wanted to try and capture the atmosphere of half a dozen people playing in a room, but that wasn’t possible at the time. Chris and I were only in the same room on two occasions – the rest of it was all done [remotely] with musicians we know.
While we were locked down, I did a few remote sessions, but I always go to my friend Ernie McKone’s studio, in Muswell Hill, where a lot of my vintage gear is, like my old Hammond, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Rhodes – he maintains them for me.
All those ancient things need care and attention – they get a bit sick if you take them on the road without souping them up – and he’s got the space for them. The colours on my palette are all there – the five or five principal sounds that I gravitate towards.
‘All my ancient gear needs care and attention – it gets a bit sick if you take it on the road without souping it up’
I did a remote session for a fella in New York – having been around for quite a while, it’s amazing to me to think I’ve just done something that’s on an album in New York and I didn’t have to go there…
The shenanigans people used to go through when they were doing an international project in the old days – they were scared of putting analogue tape through X-ray machines because you could wipe it quite easily. You couldn’t leave it in your hand luggage. Now I just do a session and, with a little ‘ping’, it’s gone thousands of miles and it’s on someone’s track.
How did you first get into playing keys? Are you self-taught?
MT: I’m a mixture of things. My nan was a piano player and she played by ear. I was quite enchanted by that and I asked her to try and show me some things, and she did, but she couldn’t really show me much because it was hard for her to explain the instinct – she just did it. It felt a bit mystical to me.
She told me there was a lady round the corner who taught piano, but I had the horrors about that because I wanted it to be like how my nan did it – like magic. She said, ‘If you’re keen, you don’t need to stick at it,’ but I did it for three years and it benefited me more than I thought.
Once I’d got the rudiments, and I got more of a personal taste for music, the fact that my teacher was principally a classical one, I wanted to try and apply that to the playing that was on the records I liked to buy. By the time I was about 12, I started trying to form school bands, so I stopped going to piano lessons and tried to develop what I’d learnt.
When you were growing up, were you listening to soul, jazz and funk? Have you always been into that?
MT: I liked all the English ’60s bands as well, but I guess they were R’n’B or soul-influenced. My mum was quite a fan of Motown, so, when I was really small, that was playing a lot.
My dad was more of a modern jazz fan, which I got to understand more as I grew older. He was good at sussing out records that would bring us together – he got me a Sly & The Family Stone album and said, ‘Some people think this bloke is jazz, some think he’s rock and some think he’s soul – they’re having trouble defining him, but I think he’s good and I think you might like him, but I don’t like all your music…’ We bonded over that.
When you and Paul Weller formed The Style Council, people had trouble labelling you too, didn’t they? You embraced so many influences: soul, pop, funk, rap, jazz, house music, European café culture, classical…
MT: We were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t a calculated thing. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet.’
To me, it all seemed to make sense – the more you look into music and go a bit deeper… The European influences, for instance – elements of Debussy, Ravel or the Romantic Classicists – a lot of that music, in turn, influenced people like Duke Ellington, Burt Bacharach and Thom Bell of the Philadelphia sound.
‘The Style Council were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t calculated. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet’.
Prior to forming The Style Council, you were in mod revival band, The Merton Parkas. When you were growing up and listening to soul, was it then a natural step to becoming a mod? What attracted you to that scene?
MT: When I was really little, I can remember that I liked that look, and then, in London, in the mid-’70s, just prior to the punk thing, there was a real explosion of energy with Dr. Feelgood – they influenced a lot of the punk bands with their attitude and their look. I liked that on the sleeve of their first album [Down By The Jetty], it almost looked like they were from another time, like the mid-’60s.
Fast forward a couple of years and I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended – who were more of my age than Dr. Feelgood and they had some affinity with that ’60s mod thing and they were playing a few soul covers in their set.
I did see a lot of the early punk bands, but I thought their image was artificial on some levels – I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job. I thought it would be nice to be someone you could be all the time, and there’s no doubting that there’s a generation of bands who were so influenced by The Jam.
‘I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended’
Of the first five bands that surfaced with New Wave or punk, I felt The Jam were the most honest. A lot of them were trying to say it was Year Zero and that they weren’t influenced by anything, whereas The Jam weren’t shy about saying they were influenced by The Kinks, The Beatles or Wilson Pickett. It wasn’t like they’d just been dropped there by a spaceship in 1976.
‘I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job’
And I guessed you carried that approach through to The Style Council, as on the front cover of your second album, Our Favourite Shop, you had a store featuring memorabilia, books and records from some of your favourite writers and musical artists. You were literally wearing your influences on your sleeve…
MT: The visuals on that record had far-reaching consequences – people were trying to find copies of books that were out of print… I’ve met people who’ve said, ‘I think I’ve got three-quarters of what’s in that shop!’
The nice thing about that sleeve is that 90 percent of what was on it was mine and Paul’s and the rest of it was stuff that we wanted that we got our designer, Simon Halfon, to source. It wasn’t put together by a stylist – it came off our bookshelves or out of our lofts. It felt part of our makeup.
I always love reading about who or what influences the musical artists I’m into – it often sets me off listening to them and discovering new stuff…
MT: It’s the same with me. As a kid, I’d read about The Beatles and thought that maybe I should check out The Everly Brothers or Little Richard – whatever they were talking about. I liked The Rolling Stones as well and they helped me to find out about Howlin’ Wolf and Solomon Burke. It’s a nice process – I guess some bands are more open about that sort of thing.
Are you a record collector? How do you listen to music?
MT: I listen to it on any format because the moment you rely on streaming – I don’t want to get into the politics of that, but they don’t bloody pay you enough – there’s sometimes a grey area. Things are missing, like you particularly like a B-side of a 7in single, but it’s not on Spotify. Why haven’t they got the one I’m searching for? It’s an anomaly.
‘I’m not a music format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice’
Wiggle Wiggle, the B-side of the Bangs & Talbot vinyl single, Sumthin’ Else, ison Spotify… What’s your hi-fi setup at home like? Is it a big system?
MT: No – just normal speakers. My brother-in-law found me an old Dansette – sometimes I like to stack up some singles on that. I don’t do it all the time, but it might be influenced by something, like finding a rare record in a little junk shop, and I think ‘I’ll definitely have to get that red plastic thing out again…’
I’m not a format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice.
You’ve played with so many acts, including Dexys Midnight Runners, Galliano, Gene, Candi Staton, The Blow Monkeys, The Young Disciples, Monks Road Social, Wilko Johnson, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend… Any collaborations that stand out?
MT: It’s really hard to pick out one. It’s whatever I’m currently working on.
Different things have enchanted me for different reasons – there are people I’ve not recorded with, but I’ve worked with… I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while, when his brother, Chris, who plays Hammond, took a couple of years out. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people. When you’re working with Jools, you’re never quite sure who you’re going to get. It’s quite spine-tingling when you’re playing with a legend.
It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was really mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976, and then I ended up working with him. He’s so influential.
Through working with him, I got to work with Roger Daltrey, and out of that I got to play with The Who very briefly. I filled in for a charity event – we did a medley. It was thrilling to be sat behind Pete Townshend while he was swinging around – that was a buzz.
‘I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people’
There was one week in 2018 when the second Wilko Johnson album I’d played on came out, as well albums by Roger Daltrey and Ray Davies that I was on. They were all recorded at different times, but it was like three buses turning up at once.
People say to me, ‘What are you up to? Are you still in the music game?’ ‘Well, this week, I’m up to quite a lot, but next week it will look like nothing’s happening…’
I’m really looking forward to the next Monks Road thing coming out, as it’s been put on hold for a while. We did the third album [Humanism] in Spain, but we ended up doing the new one in London, at RAK Studios, in one week. I love that studio – I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there a few times in the past couple of years and, for me, it’s second only to Abbey Road in terms of an old-school studio that still has every option available.
‘It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976’
We have a mutual friend, Matt James, who was the drummer in Gene. You’ve played on his debut solo album, Breaking The Fall, which is released next month, haven’t you?
MT: Yeah – that was really nice. He had a few of the old Gene boys [Steve Mason – guitar, Kev Miles – bass) involved. It was great to catch up and play on it.
Matt always had that vocal thing going on – I can remember when I was playing live with Gene, they’d sometimes get Dodgy’s drummer [Mathew Priest] in, so Matt was featured more as a vocalist and a guitarist.
It’s great that it’s always been in him and that he’s got round to doing his own album. There’s one song that’s quite Northern Soul on it and a nice one where I played an accordion sound, with a rural or Cajun influence, or a bit like Ronnie Lane.
So, what’s next for you?
MT: I’m halfway through working on an album with an act called BirdSMITH – they used to be called First Congress. They’re the vehicle for a songwriter called Tom Van Can – he used to be a director of independent films. I first met him about 12 years ago, when I did some stuff for a soundtrack. He’s focused on music now. They had a single out called Kiss It Better – it got played on Radio 2 a bit.
I’ve not seen Candi Staton for a while – she’s coming over for a handful of festivals, so I’m going to play with her – and the next Monks Road Social album should be looming soon.
I’m also working on a second album for what I hope is an ongoing project with Chris Bangs, and there’s a Jam and Style Council exhibition on in Brighton [This Is The Modern World]. They’re showing the Style Council documentary [Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council] and I’ll be there for a couple of days, doing a Q and A.
Nicky Weller [Paul’s sister] is curating it and she tracked down one of our early video directors who had lots of outtakes – there’s all sorts of things. Her partner, Russell, has been editing stuff – he sent me a film of me playing with The Jam at The Rainbow, in 1979. I had no idea anyone was filming it.
Were you pleased with the documentary? I watched it earlier this year, on Sky Arts, and I thought it was brilliant.
MT: It was good – it was very hard to try and shove everything into one film, but they did a good job. It really reflected the personalities of a lot of people well.
Paul and I did a combined interview – the people who put the film together were hoping there might be a commercial DVD release, because they said they’re sitting on about half an hour of stuff from us that they couldn’t get in that’s really funny. It shone a light on some things, but it didn’t work in the film. I guess it’s all owned by Sky… it’s not my shout.
How was it talking about that time again? The film was pretty candid…
MT: Having to film it over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur.
A lot of it was shot at Paul’s studio – while I was down there, I played on three tracks for his album, On Sunset, which he was just finishing. I thought I played on two, but it turns out I’m on three. There was so much going on.
The Style Council got back together to play one song at the end of the film, It’s A Very Deep Sea. How was that? It’s a lovely performance…,
MT: I was really pleased it came together. I saw Paul play in London a few weeks ago and it’s in his set now – I don’t think he’s played it live for a very long time and it’s nice that’s put a new focus on it.
I had concerns about whether or not we should work up three or four songs, in case it didn’t click, as it had been so long, but Paul went, ‘No – just that one.’ He was very definite about it and he said, ‘If it works – it’s great, and, if it doesn’t, we don’t have to use it.’
I was really hoping it would work, but if hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, as nobody knew about it but us.
People might think we sweated over it for a long time – I listened to the song a lot at home – but, when we did it, we started playing it, Paul thought it was really good, his instinct kicked in, and he said, ‘Let’s take it now.’ We only played it through all the way once. It felt good – a real pure performance.
‘Having to film the Style Council documentary over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur’
Do you think the film has opened up the Style Council to a new audience? You were so ahead of your time and more groundbreaking than you’ve been given credit for…
MT: It can’t do any harm. I was at a family party the other Saturday and I was quite surprised at some of my wife’s younger cousins who were aware of us. I think a lot of that is down to the documentary.
Some of the political issues you were writing about back in the day are still relevant now, aren’t they?
MT: Some of Paul’s more pointed lyrics seem like they were written about today, but they’re from 35 years ago. It’s astonishing how little things change.
Back To Business by Bangs & Talbot is released on June 17 on Acid Jazz. It’s available on vinyl, CD, digital download and streaming platforms.
Guitarist James Walbourne is no stranger to Say It With Garage Flowers – we’ve interviewed him before about his folk-rock duo, The Rails, which he formed with his wife, Kami Thompson, but we’ve never chatted to him about his rock ‘n’ roll roots… until now.
Walbourne, who plays in The Pretenders – Chrissie Hynde calls him ‘the definitive guitar hero’ – has unleashed his new project, His Lordship, a kick ass, rock ‘n’ roll duo with drummer Kris Sonne. The pair of them share vocal duties and when they play live, they’re joined by bassist, Dave Page.
The band’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs.
It was recorded in Copenhagen – after a long day of recording a set of original material for an EP, His Lordship kept the tape rolling and, in one take, laid down some loose, high-octane versions of songs by the likes of Gene Vincent, Jack Scott, Link Wray and The Killer – Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs’
Available now digitally and on vinyl in the near future, it will be followed by an EP of self-penned songs, including the band’s latest single, All Cranked Up, a raw and ferocious rock ‘n’roll-meets-punk-anthem-in-waiting – ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’ – that clocks in at just over two and a half minutes, and sounds like it was written about the frustration of lockdown.
Next month, the band head out on a tour of the UK and Ireland – the dates were postponed earlier this year, but they’ve now been rescheduled. His Lordship literally were ‘all cranked up with nowhere to go…’
“We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do,” says Walbourne, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers. “We’re dying to get out there…”
How did His Lordship come about? Did it emerge from Mother’s Little Helper, your rock ‘n’ roll covers band, which played in North London, in venues like The Boogaloo, in Highgate?
James Walbourne: It came out of the ashes of Mother’s Little Helper – we wanted to do original songs. Mother’s Little Helper was just a thing we did for a bit of fun – we thought, ‘Oh, fuck it – let’s play some rock ‘n’ roll!’ It was playing things we love, with no pressure, and then it kind of morphed into His Lordship.
Mother’s Little Helper were a trio, but His Lordship are a duo. Aren’t you a three-piece when you play live?
JW: Yes – we have a bass player. He’s a guy called Dave Page and he’s fantastic. We’re a live trio, but, as a band, it’s me and Kris.
How did you meet Kris?
JW: We did a Chrissie Hynde solo tour of the States together – she’d made a record called Stockholm in 20014. We’ve been good friends ever since.
When Mother’s Little Helper wound up, Kris and me talked a lot about what we would do – the original [songs] aspect what always the way to go. If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go.
The aim was to have a bit of fun, but then we went, ‘Oh fuck – we’ve got this great song that we can play, let’s try it.’ Now we’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year. Doing rock ‘n’ roll covers was a great way to start a band, but, for us, it wasn’t enough.
‘If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go. We’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year’
Your debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release, with a vinyl version to follow. It’s an EP of covers… Did that come about by accident?
JW: Yes – we were in Copenhagen and we did a bunch of original recordings for an EP, but, right at the end of the session, we thought ‘Fuck it – let’s just leave the tape running, film it and do some rock ‘n’ roll songs.’ It’s all live – there were no second takes. They’re songs that we’ve been playing for a long time – they’re some of our favourite tunes. It’s as simple as that – we just love playing them. We have a new EP of original songs coming out in July.
Will your new single, All Cranked Up, be on the EP?
JW: Yes – that’s right.
‘We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there’
One of the lyrics in the song is: ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’, which sounds like it could be a comment on lockdown…
JW: It was written before lockdown – we’re like an oracle. We can see into the future.
You’re a professional musician – how did you cope during lockdown?
JW: Initially, I was fine, because me and Chrissie did a Bob Dylan album [Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan], which was good, and we wrote another Pretenders record. I did a lot of writing for His Lordship too. It was fine up until Christmas time, which was when I wanted to kill myself.
‘Lockdown was fine, up until Christmas, which was when I wanted to kill myself’
Do you write all the songs for His Lordship?
JW: We write together – it’s very much a collaboration. I couldn’t do it without Kris. This is the first time I’ve been in a band where the drummer’s been so important! [laughs]. He brings something different to the table that I would never think of. It’s just great. I’ve never had as much fun – me and Kris just laugh all the time. And cry… We laugh and cry, Sean [laughs].
I think me and Kris doing this was a reaction to everything around us – the number one thing is to have a really good time doing it.
Now you’re back playing live, how have the His Lordship shows been going?
JW: Brilliant: we’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there.
Where did the band’s name come from?
JW: We got the name from… [laughs]. I don’t even know how to explain it. We were playing a gig at Goodwood House – where the cars are…
The Festival of Speed?
JW:Yes – the Festival of Speed. The backstage area was in the house. It started as a joke – I started calling Kris ‘his lordship’ and it stuck. It was a nickname, but then we thought, ‘actually – it’s good. Fuck it – let’s use that!’ And there you go…
Is there an album planned?
JW: Initially it will be a series of EPs. You make a record and it takes a year to come out… We haven’t got that sort of time. We just want to get out on the road as soon as possible. We’re going to build it up and keep playing – we’re old school, really. The live shows are the thing – that’s where we thrive – and we make the EPs off the back of those.
‘It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art’
Every time I’ve interviewed you in the past, it’s always been about your folk-rock duo, The Rails, but this time we’re chatting about rock ‘n’ roll, which is your first love. How did you get into it? Were you a rock ‘n’ roll fan as a kid?
JW: Yeah – my took dad me to see everyone. When I was really young – six or seven – I went to see Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. They were my favourites – rock ‘n’ roll is still sort of my favourite music. It’s taken me until now to figure out a way of doing it – Kris has made it possible. I’m in cahoots with somebody else who has the same outlook – we both like that rock ‘n’ roll weirdness. All the great rock ‘n’ roll tracks have something strange about them – we’ve tried to get that. It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art.
You played guitar on a Jerry Lee Lewis album, didn’t you? What was it like meeting him?
JW: Indescribable. I’ve never got over it! [laughs]. I can’t top it!
How do His Lordship capture that authentic ’50s or ’60s sound when you’re recording?
JW: We’re not into that at all – we’re not trying to replicate it. It’s not like a Civil War re-enactment! We want to make it modern. Without sounding like a cliché, we want to take it somewhere different. We like what The Black Keys and The White Stripes have done – we’re haven’t got our rockabilly trousers on! It’s our attitude, more than anything – our spirit.
JW: We did it before lockdown – it was a brilliant experience and I met some brilliant people and made some great friends for life. Everyone on that session was great – it was a great musical experience.
Did you enjoy playing the songs in concert, too? I saw one of the London Soulsavers shows and it looked like you were having a great time…
JW: After not doing anything for so long, it was really cathartic. But then I got Covid… but that’s another story.
‘His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun’
So, what’s next? Will The Rails be doing anything new?
JW: Not really – we’ve got a live record that I’m putting together. We’re not as busy as we were, but when it’s right, we’ll do something else. His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun. Me and Kris are so into it.
Do you take turns at who is his lordship?
JW: No – we’re both lords all the time. And other people can be lords… You could be a lord, Sean, but it depends on what you’re wearing.
I won’t wear my rockabilly trousers…
Finally, Chrissie Hynde calls you a ‘guitar hero.’ Who are your guitar heroes?
JW: When people ask me that, I never know what to bloody say. I’m very wary of being boring in interviews, but, this will surprise you… Probably, my guitar hero, who made me want to play, is Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s the guy who really spoke to me in my formative years. There hasn’t been another one like him.
Could he have been a lord?
JW: He’s the king.
His Lordship’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release. There will be a vinyl version out soon on Psychonaut Sounds.
His Lordship are touring the UK and Ireland in July – for tickets and more information, click here.
When lockdown first kicked in, PM Warson, had only just finished recording his debut album, True Story.
Faced with no gigs to promote it, once restrictions allowed, the UK soul-R’n’B-garage rock singer-songwriter went straight back into the studio – a small room in an industrial storage unit, in Stoke Newington, North East London – to work on a new record. The result is his second album, Dig Deep Repeat, a brilliant collection of raw and soulful songs, albeit with a harder edge to them than those on his debut.
Warson, who is 32, is in thrall to the classic sounds of Ray Charles and Booker T. and the M.Gs, but this time around he’s also paid homage to his love of ’60s pop music, like Phil Spector, as well as vintage garage-rock and the surf instrumentals of Dick Dale, Link Wray and Duane Eddy.
First single, the high-octane Leaving Here is a reworking of an early Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown song that’s been known on the R ‘n’ B scene for years, and covered by The Who, among others, but Warson takes it back to its soul roots while still keeping its garage-rock credentials intact.
Game of Chance and Out of Mind are dramatic and haunting ’60s-pop-inspired songs, the ferocious surf-styled instrumental Dig Deep could grace the soundtrack of a Tarantino movie, and the stunning, organ-drenched soul ballad, Matter of Time, is so authentic that it sounds like a standard. You can’t believe it’s not an obscure track that vinyl-loving Warson hasn’t dug up while crate digging and taught his band to play.
His new album has been on the Say It With Garage Flowers turntable for the past couple of weeks and we’re loath to take it off. We just want to, er, dig deep and repeat…
“The title came from a remark that I made when it got to the point when I didn’t know what I was going to do next,” Warson tells us, in an exclusive interview.
“‘I guess I’ll have to dig deep and make another record – dig deep repeat.’ It was a working title, but when it came to it, I thought, ‘That’s the one – I’ll just go with it…”
Your first album, True Story, came out in 2021 – you finished it just before lockdown, didn’t you?
PM Warson: Yeah – the last session for the first album was almost the day before lockdown. I was really lucky, but it left me in a bit of a jam because it was recorded pretty old school, which is how I do my stuff… But I found a way to make it work and I managed to get the album out, which felt like a bit of an achievement to be honest.
You’d put out a few, self-financed 7in vinyl singles before then, hadn’t you?
PMW: Exactly – I did a run of singles and then Légère Recordings in Hamburg offered me the chance to work a full-length album, which I did just in the nick of time. I guess this one just follows on from that.
Did lockdown accelerate the process of making a second album? I guess if you hadn’t been locked down, you’d have been touring the first record, rather than making the follow-up…
PMW: Exactly. I lost a couple of great gigs – they disappeared – but then I pushed the first album through and that gave me a little bit more coverage than I was expecting for an unknown artist. I didn’t have any digital platform at all, apart from basic social media – I wasn’t on Spotify. I had an international following, but it was just guys who were into 45s.
The first album got quite a decent listenership – particularly in Europe – but I wasn’t able to capitalise on that. Things kept on getting cancelled, moved or not booked at all.
‘I didn’t have any digital platform at all, apart from basic social media – I wasn’t on Spotify. I had an international following, but it was just guys who were into 45s’
During that second lockdown, in January, when I could still go into the studio to work on stuff, I started playing around in a little room in Stoke Newington, which is where I had finished the first record. Initially, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to do, but when it became clear that I wasn’t able to tour, I was like, ‘I’m just going to make another record.’
I’m really pleased with the record, given the circumstances – it’s true to my ideal of what I think records should sound like, despite the fact it wasn’t an ideal time to try and do that kind of thing.
Did you have the songs for the second album already written?
PMW: This process was quite different. Before I put my first singles out, I was doing house band sets at Blues Kitchen and Old Street Records, playing for a couple of hours, doing R ‘n’ B covers with my band, and then I started slipping some of own tunes in – the songs developed and then I cut the 45s. They were written, performed and recorded.
This time, it was almost the other way round – the songs were developed in the studio. It was a completely different approach. There’s a lot of live recording on this album – guitar, bass and drums – but it built from there, rather than with more going on on the live track.
‘The first record had more of a late ‘50s approach, with more of the band in the room, but this one is more mid-‘60s, where you get the basic track down and add to it’
What’s your recording process like?
PMW: There are people who’ve made great records by layering things up, but that’s just not my thing… I’m a great believer in live tracking. I have a great rhythm section who’ve been with me since the beginning: Billy Stookes [drums] and Pete Thomas [bass]. Just the three of us recorded the basic tracks.
The first record had more of a late ‘50s approach, with more of the band in the room, but this one is more mid-‘60s, where you get the basic track down and add to it.
I think the new record sounds harder and edgier than the first one.Was that a conscious decision?
PMW: It kind of turned out like that, partly because of the situation – inevitably there was a bit of frustration. The other thing is that just the three of us were developing songs, so, just by the nature of it, is was a bit rockier. We were all in that small room in Stoke Newington, recording on an Atari 8-track, so it was a bit more guitar-driven.
Some of the songs, like the first single, Leaving Here, have a garage-rock feel whereas the first album is more soul, although, of course, this record is soulful too…
PMW: Yeah – the first record is more soul and swing, I guess. It’s a crossover between jazz and R ‘n’B. On this one, the jazz is still there, but it’s been slightly pushed out in favour of a more ‘60s rock kind of thing. That suited the material and we were jamming ideas – there’s a hint of jam band about it, but we’re not going in a My Morning Jacket direction. There are a few long outros, which is where we’re digging in on an idea.
What’s your fascination with ‘old school’ recording and using vintage gear?
PMW: I have that stuff, but I don’t know how to use it to its maximum potential. The main thing to take away from analogue equipment is that it gives you a certain sound, which some people argue could be emulated with software – maybe it can, maybe it can’t – but, the thing is, it just makes you play kind of differently. The directness of live tracking all together with no editing makes everyone a little bit more engaged. You’ve got to get it right and you don’t get precious – you’re serving the song and you’re not indulging. When you’re doing overdubs, you either play it and it’s right and you keep it, or you do it again.
Did you record the brass, backing vocals and keys in Stoke Newington, too?
PMW: Yes – it was all done in that room, apart from some of the Hammond organ, the Rhodes and the Wurlitzer, which were played by Stephen ‘Lord’ Large, who has an amazing collection of vintage gear, and a young American guy, called Jack McGaughey, who I picked up along the way. Once the tracks were down, and lockdown was lifted, everyone came in.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the record. The opening track, Insider, starts off having a slightly sinister, menacing feel to it, with guitar and piano, but when the soulful girl group backing vocals come in, they lighten the mood…
PMW: Yeah – I think that was the first idea that we worked on in the room and I think I played a six-string Fender bass on it, working that riff with the drummer. It’s a play on the standard blues form – it has quite a dark atmosphere, but it opens up when we go to the major chord in the chorus.
Leaving Here, the first single, is a cover of an early Motown song written by Holland-Dozier-Holland song. I don’t know the original…
PMW: Eddie Holland had a singing career before he started writing. The original song was a Motown release, but they hadn’t dialed in the Motown sound at that point – it’s quite a ropey recording. It’s got the vibe of a demo that’s been recorded for another artist to sing. The version that’s more well known is by The Who – that’s how I know it. The Birds – that Ronnie Wood was in – also did it. It’s been in rock circles, but I wanted to take it back… I started playing the riff in the studio and embellished it in my own way.
Game of Chance (By Another Name) and Out of Mind both have a dramatic ’60s pop feel…
PMW: Alongside the Ray Charles R ‘n’ B, which is the first world that I’m from, I also like ’60s pop records – there’s a bit of Phil Spector in there, but it’s still guitar-oriented because of the arrangements we were doing.
You didn’t use strings on the songs…
PMW: Exactly. What I like about this album is that there’s something authentic about only using what’s available to you – it encapsulates a certain era. It’s a nice ethos. Maybe I could’ve waited to do the record at a bigger studio, but I sometimes think pressing ahead is the way forward.
Never In Doubt has a late-night, bluesy feel…
PMW: That one’s been following me around for a while – it’s a variation on a classic blues thing and you can hear a bit of Green Onions or Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson in it, but we slowed it down and made it a little bit more brooding.
I love the instrumental, Dig Deep, as I’m a massive fan of twangy guitar and surf sounds, like Link Wray, Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. That track breaks up the record halfway through….
PMW: I wrote that tune when I was a teenager – I’ve had it for a long time. On the first record there’s a song called You’ve Got To Tell Me – that and the title track, True Story, were written when I was at secondary school – I played in a garage-rock-indie band – and a few of the songs were around then, but I never really found a home for them. Dig Deep was a late insert – we needed a lift on the record and I remembered that I had a surf instrumental. I rejigged it – our drummer, Billy, is so good that we did the full Wipe Out on it.
One of my favourite songs on the album is Matter of Time – it’s a big soul ballad, with some great organ and piano…
PMW: Exactly – it’s a real change of pace for me. I’m pleased with that one. I got really into a vocal group called The Sapphires. They had one song called Gotta Have Your Love that’s well known in Northern Soul circles, but they did some great, dreamy dark pop as well – a bit like The Shangri-Las but not as obvious. They influenced the chorus of Matter of Time.
I think Matter of Time sounds like a standard – a classic soul song that’s been around for years…
PMW: Oh, great – that’s very flattering. That’s the world I really love and the fact that I’ve managed to capture a little bit of that is what I’m aiming to do.
So, with two albums out since 2021, you don’t feel any pressure to do a third record yet, then…
PMW: I’m not sure – I’ve got a session coming up, so I’m already looking. I don’t know what’s coming up, but I love producing records like this – I’ll always be inclined to come up with something. Maybe I’ll do some 45s, or another LP. We’ll see.
How did you first get into ’50s and ’60s music?
PMW: Through my folks. They’re not quite of that age – they didn’t grow up with The Beatles and The Kinks and all that stuff, but I got fed that. I can remember us having a Sounds of the Sixties compilation – it had some real naff stuff on it, but it also had Working in the Coal Mine, Barefootin’ and You Really Got Me on it. They’re great tracks and they really stuck in my mind. I’m not a big Beatles worshipper these days – I went through a phase when I was at school – but, when I was a kid, we had all their films recorded off the telly.
‘I love linking records together, and seeing who produced what. I’ve always done that’
When I was older, I had a friend called Andy whose mum was really into ’60s soul – when she heard I was into it, she’d say, ‘Try this’. It was the CD era – things like The Best of Ray Charles, B.B. King, Muddy Waters or the Spencer Davis Group, so I got into that, and my dad was into New Wave, so I got into Elvis Costello and all that stuff.
My mind has always made connections between those records – I love linking records together, and seeing who produced what. I’ve always done that. If, when I was 16, someone said, ‘We’re really influenced by The Byrds,’ I would buy The Best of The Byrds.
Who are your musical heroes?
PMW: Ray Charles is a big one and Steve Cropper has always been up there for me. I also love being absolutely floored by a track I’ve never heard before. You get that when you dig around – whether it’s records or just going by recommendations. I’ve found a tune by Jimmy “Preacher” Ellis called Since I Fell For You – it’s amazing.
Dig Deep Repeat is out now on Légère Recordings.
PM Warson is playing at The Night Owl, Finsbury Park, London on June 1 and The Red Rooster Festival, Thetford, on June 4.
The Struggle, the new record by singer-songwriter, Michael Weston King, is his first solo album in 10 years.
It’s also one of the best albums of the year so far – a stunning collection of moving, well-crafted and wonderfully arranged songs, recorded in rural Wales, with producer, engineer and musician, Clovis Phillips.
The album sees Weston King stepping away from his day job, as one half of husband-and-wife country / Americana duo, My Darling Clementine (with Lou Dalgleish), and, instead, mining a rich seam of late ’60s/ early ’70s singer-songwriters, like Mickey Newbury, Dan Penn, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, Bobby Charles and early Van Morrison.
Mixed at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield with Weston King’s long-time collaborator/producer, Colin Elliot (Richard Hawley / Jarvis Cocker), musically, it embraces country-soul, Celtic folk and jazz, and lyrically it tackles subjects including the Trump presidency, mental health issues, loneliness, death and the tales of a wayfaring singer-songwriter.
Two of the songs are co-writes. Sugar was penned with US singer-songwriter, Peter Case, while Theory of Truthmakers sees Weston King putting music to unused lyrics by his friend, Scottish songwriter and musician, Jackie Leven, who died in 2011.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Weston King on the phone – he was at his home in Manchester – and asked him to tell us the stories behind the writing and recording of the songs.
He also got to ask us an all-important question: “Have you ever been to Southport?”
The Struggle is your first solo album in 10 years and it was recorded in a remote Welsh studio – Add-A-Band, in Newtown. How did the record and the sessions come about?
Michael Weston King: My friend, Jeb Loy Nichols, told me about a small studio in Mid Wales and the guy who runs it – Clovis Phillips. The name alone was enough to entice me. Anybody called Clovis has got to have something going for him.
I went down there, fell in love with the place and got on well with him. It was very cathartic for me – it got me out of the house. It’s about a two-hour drive from Manchester and it was a much-needed change of scenery. It was also a creative outlet – I didn’t do it because I felt like I needed to make a record. It was to stop myself going mad. I wanted to do something constructive.
‘It’s been a long time since a label’s been screaming at me for a new record. I’m not like Adele, or anything…’
And you recorded it between winter 2020 and spring 2021…
MWK: Yeah – I had little trips down there, for two or three days. I rented a cabin nearby. I didn’t have all the songs ready to go, so I went away and wrote a couple more once I saw how the album was going.
After that, we mixed it in Yellow Arch, Sheffield, with Colin Elliot. There was no sort of deadline that it had to be done by, so I just did it as and when – I set my own deadlines, which is what I’ve done for the past 20 years. I’m a great prevaricator – if I don’t set deadlines, I’ll put things off. It’s been a long time since a label’s been screaming at me for a new record. I’m not like Adele, or anything…
How did you approach writing and recording this album? It’s very much in the vein of singer-songwriter records from the late ‘60s/ early ’70, rather than ‘Americana,’ isn’t it? Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?
MWK: Yeah – if I’d had the budget, I wanted it to sound like Mickey Newbury in 1970, but that would’ve meant an orchestra on every track. One of the songs, Another Dying Day, was the starting point – it was the most Newburyesque song. We put strings on it and approached it in the same way that he’d recorded a lot of his stuff, with a lot of nylon-strung guitar. Some of the other songs happened organically and went off in other directions.
I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record, but country-soul was always at the heart of it – a bit of a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham vibe. We have some Wurlitzer on there.
‘I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record. If I’d had the budget, I wanted it to sound like Mickey Newbury in 1970’
Weight of The World has a country-soul feel, and I love the guitar break on it… There are some lovely arrangements on the record.
MWK: Thanks, man. I did the arrangements, but Clovis did all the playing from, apart from specialist stuff, like trombone. I sang it and he played it, basically. I didn’t want any drums on the record, but there is one track with drums on – he played those, as well as the bass and pretty much all the guitars. He takes a lot of credit for what he contributed.
Let’s talk about Weight of the World, which was the first song you shared from the album.It’s written from the point of view of a Washington D.C. policeman who votes for Trump due to peer pressure but regrets his actions. It was inspired by Trump’s horrible PR stunt outside St. John’s Church in Washington, wasn’t it?
MWK: Absolutely – you’ve summed it up perfectly. There were many grotesque things that happened during Trump’s presidency but for some reason I found that more grotesque than anything – the way protesters were swept off the streets like they were rioters.
I didn’t feel I could write about it as if was there – I wasn’t – and I’m not American, so I put the song and the voice in the hands of someone who was there. That day, a lot of people who voted for Trump might’ve thought better of their actions – it was a turning point for a lot of people.
The song Sugar is a co-write with Peter Case…
MWK: I was out at a songwriting retreat in Lafayette [Louisiana] – Peter was there too. We’ve known each other for years and done stuff together before. He kicked it off – it’s more his song than mine. He had an idea that he wanted to write a song about sugar. For me, that could be anything – is it drugs, or is it a woman? It’s vague – anything that intoxicates you is what sugar represents in the song. It’s got Peter’s stamp on it and I liked it. I started playing it with Clovis and it came together nicely. It’s one of those songs that kind of just plays itself, and it was nice to have a collaboration with one of my favourite songwriters on the record.
There are some sad songs on the record. The Hardest Thing Of All deals with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. Those themes also crop up on Another Dying Day, and the title of the album reflects those issues too…
MWK: Yeah – the daily struggle. We’ve all been through that in the past couple of years, but, equally, regardless of the pandemic, life is a struggle a lot of the time for a lot of people – and the older you get, sometimes it seems harder.
I’ve had problems with my mental health over the past few years. The Hardest Thing Of All is about that feeling when you don’t want to get up or do anything – you just want to hide away. It kind of all fell out and tumbled into that song. It’s not a new message, but I think it’s a commonplace one. Quite a lot of people I know who’ve heard the album have related to it.
Even though The Hardest Thing Of All deals with a dark subject matter, it has a lovely warm arrangement, with some great Southern soul organ…
MWK: It’s a very melodic and kind of uplifting tune set against some pretty dark lyrics – I like that juxtaposition. Clovis played some fantastic organ on it. When I listen back to that song, and when we play it live, I can imagine it with a bigger arrangement – it would really lend itself to drums.
What can you tell us about Another Dying Day? It has some wonderful, subtle strings on it…
MWK: Thanks. That’s an older song – it was written when I was still living in Birmingham. I used to have a neighbour who was always very hale and hearty – everything was “top of the morning”. If you looked at his garden, everything was growing and blooming, but mine was overgrown and needed weeding. It was a metaphor for his life and how I was feeling at the time.
If you’re a ‘pub person’, you see so many people who, the minute the door’s open, are there for the rest of the day. At times, I’ve almost got to that point – the song is about that battle to try and kill the day and do something constructive. It’s something we could all easily fall into if we let it.
‘Regardless of the pandemic, life is a struggle a lot of the time and the older you get, sometimes it seems harder’
The Final Reel is a folk song, with a Celtic feel. It reminds me of early Van Morrison…
MWK: That was the idea – it was written about Jackie Leven. He was hugely influenced by Van – Jackie had one large foot in the folk/ Celtic world and, if you were describing him, you could call him a “Celtic soul singer.” I wanted to try and write a song that was in his style.
I wrote it a long time ago – the week before Jackie died. I was doing a concert in Perth [Scotland] – on the way there, I was driving past Loch Leven, so I stopped, walked along the shore and gave Jackie a ring to see how he was doing – he was already in hospital at that point and it was clear he wasn’t coming out.
I thought I’d give him a ring and tell him where I was – we had a chat and a laugh and when I hung up, that was the last time I spoke to him. The song is a reflection of that – it sets the scene of where I wrote it and it’s also about what he and I did, as wandering minstrels. We did hundreds of shows together – the tales of the wayfaring singer-songwriter. That’s what I tried to convey in the song.
This seems like a good moment to talk about the song Theory of Truthmakers, which is based on unpublished lyrics by Leven, which you’ve set music to…
MWK: Yeah – we had a mutual friend, called Allan Black, who is a great painter who lives in Glasgow – a lovely, unassuming guy. Jackie used his art on one of his albums. They were travelling together one day and Jackie wrote some lyrics – for some reason, he gave them to Allan, who kept them as a souvenir. He mentioned it to me and I said, ‘I’d love to see them,’ so he sent them to me and I thought I would try and put them to music. The idea was that the song would go on a Jackie tribute album that I curated last year, but it didn’t get finished in time, so it’s on this record.
It has a cinematic feel and is slightly jazzy…
MWK: Yes, and the song The Old Soft Shoe on the record has a bit of a jazz feel… The chord pattern on Theory of Truthmakers isn’t the sort of thing I usually write. For the chorus, I was trying to write something big, like Heroes, or a song I could imagine Scott Walker singing.
You mentioned The Old Soft Shoe – that’s another sad song, with mournful trombone on it. It’s about loneliness – a man is lamenting the loss of someone, and he’s dancing alone, practising steps…
MWK: Exactly – it’s the guy’s memories of his wife or partner, and dancing was their thing. He doesn’t having a dancing partner any more, but he still dances on his own at home. I wanted to write a song like Jesse Winchester’s Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding. It’s just the most beautiful song – a few years ago, he sang it it on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV show and it killed everybody. Any songwriter who saw it must’ve just thought ‘oh my God – let’s see if I can have a go at writing something like that.’ I was the only one stupid enough to try it.
‘I wanted to write a song like Jesse Winchester’s Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding. It’s just beautiful’
And so to another sad song… Valerie’s Coming Home. It’s really poignant and is about the end of someone’s life and sorting through their possessions…
MWK: Valerie was Lou’s mum – she died just before Covid hit. It was a blessing in a way, because we didn’t have to go through all the estrangement that would’ve happened with Covid. The song just sort of happened – I had quite a close relationship with Lou’s mum. There’s a line in it about me opening a window – like a classic old person, her room was always boiling hot. It also says, ‘Oh, close it Frank, you’ll let the heat out’ – for some reason, even though I knew her for 23 years, she always called me Frank. Apparently he was some kind of old family member who was a bit of a wide boy – a ladies’ man. So, why she associated him with me…. Anyway, I was “Frank” for many years.
Funnily enough, the next song on the album after that one is called Me & Frank…
Lyrically, it’s a bit Springsteenesque – a story song about the antics of two young boys, which includes stealing a horse…
MWK: Yeah – it’s my attempt at John Prine, rather than Springsteen, but I know what you mean – that Nebraska feel. It has an American folk song narrative.
When I was in my teens, I used to hang out with a guy called Anthony. We lived in Southport – he lived very near the sea – and he always had these schemes about making money. Have you ever been to Southport?
No, I haven’t…
MWK: The sea hardly ever comes in – it’s a bit of a running joke. There’s a lot of grass on the beach – we used to collect grass seeds, bag them up and sell them door-to-door to make money. His family were fishing people – his dad was a shrimper – and they used to give us mackerel, which we sold.
‘Some of the things in the song are true and some are fictional for the sake of the storyline. We didn’t actually steal a horse’
We were scallywags, selling what we could to make a bit of money. I wanted to write a song about that, but it needed to be a bit more interesting than that, so some of the things in the song are true and some are fictional for the sake of the storyline. We didn’t actually steal a horse, but there was a horse at the back of his garden.
The funny thing is that Anthony has gone one to become a millionaire landscape gardener – one of his clients is Dave Gilmour. From selling grass seeds, all these years later gardening has become his chosen profession.
MWK: One of the reasons I did the solo album was because the songs I was writing didn’t feel right for My Darling Clementine. When I write for My Darling Clementine, I’m writing for two voices – it’s a very different song. These songs were for one voice, hence that’s why it’s a solo record. We’ll see – hopefully Lou has been grafting away and coming up with some songs too.
If we do any recording this year, it will be for My Darling Clementine, but I’m not sure in what guise. It could be full-blown, or we might make an acoustic record. I don’t know – I’ve got one or two songs that would work.
Maybe you could do an album of songs themed around people called Frank?
To Be Perfectly Frank? Actually, that sounds like the title of one of those awful Robbie Williams swing albums.
MWK: Yes – it does…
The Struggle by Michael Weston King is out now on Cherry Red Records.
The last time I spoke to London’s kings of cosmic country, The Hanging Stars, it was late January 2020 – ahead of the release of their third album, A New Kind Of Sky, which was their best to date – a mix of cinematic sounds, psych, jangle-pop, folk and country rock.
We spent the evening in a pub in London’s East End, chatting about the record. While I was getting a round in, a man standing at the bar, who told me he worked for the NHS, said he and his colleagues were very worried about a new virus that had originated from China…
It’s now over two years later, in early February, and I’m back in a London pub, this time on the edge of the West End, in Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley and guitar-shopping destination – with The Hanging Stars… well, one of them, frontman, Richard Olson.
We have a brand new album to discuss, the brilliant HollowHeart, and it’s the first interview he’s given about the record.
Hollow Heart is even better than its predecessor and sees The Hanging Stars pushing themselves harder from both a songwriting and sonic perspective. It’s also the band’s first record on independent label, Loose.
There’s a lot that’s happened since we last met. We could be here a while…
The last time we spoke was two years ago, just before Covid happened…
Richard Olson: And here we are again, when the clouds have passed.
In the wake of Brexit, several of the lyrics on your last album, A New Kind Of Sky, dealt with the idea of escaping and getting away to a better place. To make your new record, Hollow Heart, you did escape, decamping to Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in Helmsdale, in The Highlands of Scotland – it overlooks the North Sea – with producer and musician Sean Read (Soulsavers, Dexys Midnight Runners), whom you’ve worked with before. How did that come about?
RO: We’re not blessed financially – we do what we can when we can. Every record has been based on that. At the end of the day, we’re a grassroots band.
Edwyn offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed – and Sean is one of the two engineers who he lets work there – the stars aligned. That happened during the pandemic, so we had to find a window when we were allowed to do it. It was quite a project, transporting six people to Helmsdale, with a bunch of instruments.
“Edwyn Collins offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed”
We drove in two cars and we set to work – we grafted and we were so focused. It was magical from start to finish. When you’re standing in the studio, and the sun’s setting over the bay, and you’re singing Weep & Whisper, that shit makes you think that you’ve made it! We got given this chance and we had to deliver the goods.
It certainly shows – sonically, it’s rich and immersive, and I think it’s your most cohesive record. Hollow Heart feels like a complete album, from start to finish, and you can completely lose yourself in it. Did you have all the songs written before you went into the studio?
RO: I write constantly. With lockdown, I had more time than I ever had before and I also had the energy – I just wanted to do shit. That was a blessing – we sent demos to each other.
This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done – in the sense that we had some songs, we went to the studio to finish them off and we had x amount of time to make the record.
It was good for us and it was a joy to see everybody flourish in the studio in their own way. It brought out what we’re good at. We also wanted to think about the sonics – Sean came into his own and we had so much fun doing it. This is a cliché but we threw the rulebook out of the window – we had to. We had so much fun doing it – we just let go a little bit and we had to trust who we were as a band.
“This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done”
Hollow Heartfeels like a more positive record than its predecessor, but there’s also a sadness to several of the songs…
RO: It was surreal – no one knew what was going to happen – and there was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written.
Halfway through recording, in early autumn, I got a phone call from my wife – I was standing on a balcony, looking out towards Scandinavia – and she told me her dad, David, was in a coma, after having a heart attack. I said I would pack a bag and take the first flight home tomorrow, but she said: ‘There’s nothing you can do…’
David has really been behind our music – he’s a huge music fan and we went to Nashville together. My wife said: ‘Do you think he would want you to come back? Stay there and make the best fucking record you possibly can!’
That must’ve been hard for you…
It was really hard and pretty emotional, but from then on, we just set to work – under quite a lot of distress.
How is your father-in-law now?
RO: He’s fine.
Has he heard the record?
RO: No, he hasn’t…
If Covid hadn’t happened, would you have made a completely different record?
RO: That’s a great question. Do you know what? I’m going to give you a boring answer – it would probably have been a similar record, but I don’t think it would’ve been as close to my heart as this record is.
Your hollow heart…
RO: [laughs]. There you go.
This is your first record for Loose. Did you sign to them after you’d made this record, or before?
RO: After. We came in well-prepared with a lovely little gift for them with a knot on top.
Did you consider any other labels?
RO: Tom [Bridgewater – owner of Loose] said, ‘Let’s stop dancing around our handbags…’ He’s the real deal and he’s been through it – he sees our grassroots.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new record. The first track, Ava, is a slow- building love song, but then it turns anthemic. It creeps up on you and we’re suddenly in big cosmic country territory…
RO: It’s all about the sonics – it’s nice to listen to. Your children would like it. It was one of those songs that just came… it needed to have a wistful, wanting, rejected feeling.
Some of the album reminds me of your old band The See See, around the time of the Fountayne Mountain album, which I once said was the record The Stone Roses should’ve followed up their debut with…
RO: One hundred per cent. We let our influences be our influences – we let our country love be our country love, we let our folk love be our folk love… We took our foot off the gas a bit, which we needed to do. That’s quite key to this record.
Ballad Of Whatever May Be sounds like The Stone Roses, if they’d gone country…
RO: I’ll take that, man. It came out different to how it was written – it changed in the studio, for the better. It has a good riff. It’s just one of those ‘live your life like this’ sort of songs. I’m not standing with a megaphone, screaming, but, holy fuck, I am so angry!
Black Light Night has some great jangly guitars on it. Didn’t Patrick (Ralla – guitar / keys) write the music for it?
RO: Yeah – it’s an old song that’s been kicking around for ages.
I think it has a vintage R.E.M feel…
Weep & Whisper is more melancholy and musically it’s a shuffle – you’ve described it as ‘a love song to youth.’ I like the harmonies and the backing vocals. It has a Simon & Garfunkel feel…
RO: I like that. Paulie [Cobra – drummer], harmony-wise, had a newfound confidence and he stepped up to do it, beautifully. It was arranged by Joe [Harvey-Whyte – pedal steel] – it’s a stroke of genius.
Patrick and Joe did their guitars for it in one take – it wasn’t edited. Me and Sean were sat looking at them doing it and we were like, ‘Shit – this is what it’s all about.’ That was one of the finest moments in my musical career.
“Radio On is Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?”
The first single from the album was Radio On, and it’s radio-friendly…
RO: Not as much as I would like! It’s me trying to write a soul song and I think it has a bit of a Velvet Underground thing. It’s Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?
Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart is one of the heavier, more psych songs on the album…
RO: It’s us trying to be Fairport Convention, but it started out as me trying to write a krautrock song – my demo had a drum machine on it. I was quite pleased with it – it was chugging along like a kraut-yacht-rock band, but Patrick had a different idea.
It’s a dark song…
RO: Yeah, but it’s also one of the most truthful ones. It’s about hiding things, whether that’s with alcohol or downers, or weed, or whatever. I think everyone in our scene is a little bit guilty of that. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but even before the pandemic, more people were struggling and in the abyss – more than we’d like to acknowledge. I’m not the only one, but I did get a little glimpse of that shit, and, do you know what? I do not want to go there again and I’d do anything to avoid it.
“I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory”
You’re So Free is ’60s West Coast psych-pop: Love, The Doors, The Beach Boys, The Turtles…
RO: I always wanted to do You Showed Me – I guess that’s our version. It also has some piano on it that’s like Ethiopian jazz. Lyrically, it’s probably the song that I’m most pleased with. Because of the whole division thing, with Brexit and Trump, a lot of my good friends, who I love dearly, took a different route during the pandemic. It’s a little bit about that and it’s me trying to be funny: “Scroll your feed. You’re so free to believe in what you see…”
Your vocals sound really good on this album…
RO: I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory.
Edywn guests on Rainbows In Windows – he does a spoken word part…
RO: That’s Sam’s [Ferman – bass] song – he wrote it.
It’s quite filmic…
RO: I’m really pleased with how it came out. I felt we could do it a Jackson C. Frank kind of way, but then, on the way up to the studio, I thought we could do it like The Gift by The Velvet Underground, but it didn’t quite work out that way, but then Sean was mixing it in London and he came up with the other bit, and Edwyn was up for it. It’s playful.
“I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version”
I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore is ’60s-garage-meets-The-Byrds…
RO: We went all-out 12-string on it. It’s a bit Flying Burritos as well. It’s a song about being completely helpless in front of the Tory government – someone who’s dead talking about what they really would’ve liked to have said: “Now I’m gone, I can tell you my thoughts on the queen and crown. Do take heed of your greed, as you choke on an appleseed.”
The last song on the album, Red Autumn Leaf, is a sad one – it’s about being discarded and tossed on the heap…
RO: Pretty much. It’s Spiritualized gone country. I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version. I pretty much based my whole career on Lazer Guided Melodies– it’s magical.
A lot of your new songs have a sad undercurrent, but the music is very uplifting…
RO: That makes me so happy to hear that.
Do you think Hollow Heart is your best record?
RO: Of course it is. You wouldn’t be making records otherwise… With this album, we had to be The Hanging Stars and I think we did a pretty damned good job of it.
Canadian singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, has described his latest album, Nothing Pressing, as his ‘deepest artistic statement yet’.
It’s also one of his strongest and darkest records. Largely written and recorded in the wake of a close friend’s death and with the shadow of Covid hanging over it, Leger says it’s an album about survival – mental, physical and artistic.
Some of the songs, like the stark, stripped-down and folky Underground Bluesand Sinking In, were recorded in his Toronto apartment, using two SM58 microphones fed into his vintage 1981 Tascam four-track tape recorder.
“I spent a lot of the lockdown writing and demoing using the four-track,” he says. “I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude.”
He adds: “It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends. I think it’s unavoidable that things like that seep in. It’s a surreal feeling losing someone close. I wasn’t consciously writing with him in mind, but I can now hear traces of me dealing with it in a few of the songs.”
New single, the raw and punchy Kill It With Kindness, anthemic rocker Have You Ever Been Happy?, the Neil Young-like Recluse Revisions, the classic country-sounding A Page You’ve Turned, and the Beatlesy love song With Only You were laid down in the studio with his long-time producer, Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), and Leger’s band, The Situation (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion). There are guest contributions on the album from Tim Bovaconti (pedal steel) and Angie Hilts (vocals).
“Other than my drummer and bassist/backing vocalist, I sang and played almost everything,” says Leger. “This gave the sound a certain flavour and character that hasn’t quite been captured on previous studio albums. There is very little outside involvement, to avoid diluting the sound we were after, creating a more personal statement.”
“I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude”
The song, Nothing Pressing, which opens the record, and the tracks Protector and Still Patience are solo acoustic, recorded live in the studio with few embellishments, save for Mock’soverdubbed harmony vocals and, on the title track, Timmins’ ukulele.
The follow-up to his 2019 studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, it’s a stunning collection of songs – and often painfully honest. On Still Patience, over a sparse backing of guitar and Wurlitzer, Leger sings: “I go drinking by myself, when I got nobody else, for misery is company.”
At times sad and reflective, it’s an album that doesn’t shy away from tackling personal issues, such as mental health, depression and seeking solace in alcohol, but it’s also a record that believes a problem shared is a problem halved.
“I really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting,” says Leger, talking to Say It With Garage Flowers from his apartment, in an exclusive interview.
“It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.”
It’s good to chat again – it’s been a while. How are you doing?
Jerry Leger: I’m good. It’s been a busy year so far, what with getting the record together and the tour. It’s definitely been a bit stressful – putting a new studio album out in the current climate, where we’re still dealing with the pandemic and everything else.
And now there’s a war on…
JL: Yeah – it doesn’t seem to be getting that much better, but it’s exciting to have something new to focus on. Putting this record has been different.
The last time we spoke was in March 2020 – Covid had forced you to cancel your European and UK spring tour for your album, Time Out For Tomorrow, and you’d hastily put together a brand new, digital-only album, called Songs From The Apartment.
Available to buy from Bandcamp, it was made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that you’d demoed and quickly forgotten about. Since then, it’s had a vinyl release.
You’ve also published a book of poetry, called Just The Night Birds, made a concert film, put out some non-album digital singles, and written and recorded the new record. You’ve been busy…
JL: I know – I do like staying busy in general. I guess the healthy thing about all those projects I did was that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to create anything or put them out – it was helpful me to do that.
To make this album, we were trying to get into the studio as soon as possible because we knew that when we resumed touring and going overseas we couldn’t really tour Time Out For Tomorrow. It was definitely a smart idea to make a new record, but we had to work out how we could get into the studio.
“It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it”
The four of us – (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion) and Michael Timmins (producer) – wanted to make sure we were comfortable and safe.
I went to the studio in the summer (2021) and recorded some stark, acoustic numbers. Then, once we got the green light, we got the band in. It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it.
Was it a quick album to record?
JL: It was a lot faster to make than I thought it would be. I did the songs Nothing Pressing,Still Patience and Protector in one session – just me and my guitar. I added some Wurlitzer to one of the tracks, and then when the band came in, we booked a week – a Monday to Friday – to record.
We were so determined to do a good job and not rush it, but that determination allowed us to do the songs in two / two-and-a-half days. There’s also five songs I recorded with the band that didn’t go on the album. I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions and I listened to the rough mixes. I thought it should be just a full-band album, but Mike brought me back to the original plan – he said that wasn’t the concept we should be going for. That was helpful – that’s why I still like working with a producer. He’s someone who can make sure I’m staying on-task.
Mike wanted some stark acoustic songs, a couple of tracks that were me at home, and then the band. There’s a story – the album is bookended by Nothing Pressing and Protector. Both those songs are saying certain things and in the middle you get everything else.
“I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions. I thought it should be just a full-band album”
I was having so much fun playing with the band and with what we were recording that it made me want to change what we were going for. Who knows if that would’ve been better or worse? It wouldn’t be worse – it would still be a great record…
Look at Dylan. When he started screwing with his records sometimes it went in a good way – like Blood On The Tracks, which he rethought and recorded, but other records, like Infidels, suffered. It could’ve been a certain record, but he had second thoughts.
You’re a prolific songwriter. Did you have all the tracks written before you went into the studio, and were any of the songs old ones you hadn’t put out before?
JL: They were all brand new, except for Wait A Little Longer, which I’d recorded with my side-project, The Del Fi’s – it came out on their second record, in 2018. You’ve got to dig for those albums – not a lot of people heard that song and I thought we could do a really good job on it and give it a different spirit and a wider audience.
It’s a song I love and the band also love it. I originally gave it to The Del Fi’s because when I played it live I never really got much of a reaction to it. But after we played with The Del Fi’s, my band said: ‘Why did you give that song away?’ I thought I was the only one who liked it… There’s something jovial about it and I thought this album could benefit from it.
“I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean. I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard”
It’s a pretty dark record at times. Some of the songs are sad and deal with personal issues, like alcohol abuse, depression and wrestling with inner demons. You lost a good friend, called Sean, before you made the album, which influenced some of the songs and themes on it. You’ve described the record as your ‘deepest artistic statement yet’. There’s a shadow hanging over it, isn’t there?
JL: I think that’s a good description of it. There’s a shadow hanging over everything and I was trying to make an effort to not accept that or realise it. Everyone deals with it at various points – a resilience. What comes with that is trying to push certain thoughts away. I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean – I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard. I still haven’t seen a lot of my friends, or it’s been on a semi-regular basis. It’s a bit of a sad record – but it has moments that go off in other directions.
Did you have a feel for what this album should sound like? For Time Out For Tomorrow, you were influenced by Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby…
JL: I just wanted it to sound like me and us – for this one, I didn’t have a concept of how I wanted it to sound. I think that’s why some of the tracks vary from one another. I think the record sounds like who I am, but it’s a little deeper than some of the others. It’s more vulnerable in places. Still Patience is a song that I wasn’t sure I wanted to release.
That’s one of my favourite songs on the record…
JL: Oh, thanks. It’s a song that at the time I was writing it, I wasn’t exactly thinking about what I was writing about – it was quite emotional to record, as it was the first song I recorded being back in a studio, after so long wondering whether if I’d ever be doing it again.
A couple of the songs on the record are just you singing and playing into a four-track recorder…
JL: I particularly love the sound of the four-track, which I used to record Underground Blues and Sinking In. I love the sound of those machines. If we hadn’t made this studio album, I was going to put out an album of just songs recorded on the four-track, because I was really excited about the sounds I was getting out of it and the different arrangements I was coming up with. Mike liked that too – he was the one who mentioned I should include a couple of those recordings on the album.
“Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska”
I’m not a great guitarist, but I played the electric guitar solo on Underground Blues – this was the first album where I played all the solos. Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska.
Underground Blues is folky and has a mid-’60s Dylan feel…
JL: One of my buddies is a big Dylan fan and he also loves Bert Jansch – he thought it sounded like something he would do. That’s interesting because Bert Jansch is somebody I’ve listened to more and more over the years. I really dig him, but I could never play like that. There’s a certain feel in the acoustic playing that aligns itself to that kind of blues song that Bert would’ve played – there’s a bit of a folk element to it.
The album title, Nothing Pressing, is apt for a record that was written during lockdown…
JL: Yeah. Besides Wait A Little Longer, that was the only song that I wrote before 2020. It was written around the time of the release of Time Out For Tomorrow – in 2019. It’s just one of those songs that came to me – I was picturing somebody like John Prine or Butch Hancock.
I was going to call the album Recluse Revisions, but Nothing Pressing became the title track. Mike suggested Nothing Pressing because he felt it was a song that really set up the record well and that it was nice to start it off with an acoustic number and then, surprise, here’s the second song, Kill It With Kindness… It’s not the record you thought you were getting…
The phrase ‘Nothing Pressing’ could also be a comment on the current global vinyl shortage…
JL: That’s true – I actually received some surprising news that our vinyl has made it time for the album release date.
Well, Adele’s latest record is out now…
JL: Yeah – she gave us some room.
The first single you released from the album was Have You Ever Been Happy? I like the lyric ‘Something made me laugh, but the punchline was me…’
That song has a great chorus and melody, and I love the backing vocals by Angie Hilts…
JL: She’s from Toronto – she also sings on Wait A Little Longer. She had sung on the original recording of that by The Del Fi’s. She came up with the vocal harmony. I worked with her before, on my Nonsense and Heartache album – she sang on The Big Smoke Blues, Pawn Shop Piano and Lucy and Little Billy The Kid. She’s a great singer and artist – she can go in different directions, above or below me, and it just blends.
Recluse Revisions – another favourite of mine – has some great pedal steel on it and the harmonica gives it a classic Neil Young feel…
JL: I hear that.
I like the line in the song about musicians playing ‘cowboy songs we know by heart’ on cheap guitars…
JL: I had that line leading up to the song – I liked the idea of musicians listening to it. It’s about when you have a cheap guitar and the action / the strings are really high up from the neck, but you can usually still play those cowboy song chords, like G and C and E.
I like that imagery – of being with a comrade, playing songs and it still being harmonious. There’s another line in it: ‘We’re young now that we’re old.’ That could be about losing time, but not… In some ways, it feels like we’ve lost the last two years, but in other ways, all this stuff has happened – you and I kept doing things. We all did. Recluse Revisions is about trying to figure out how we reemerge and join the rest of society again. How to socialise and how to be comfortable going out again.
“I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety, so I have to push myself even more now to get out”
Here in Toronto, certain mandates have started to be lifted and I know that in the UK that’s already happened. I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety to begin with, so I have to push myself even more now to get out. I want to get out, get on the road and play shows because that’s always felt like a different dimension or a different world. I can accept that.
“I’m a survivor – I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years”
You were getting a bit of a following in the UK, after playing gigs here and some decent press. Are you worried that you’ve lost some momentum due to the pandemic? How do you feel about coming back to play here? You’ve now got three albums’ worth of new material to play…
JL:I’m just excited to get back doing it. I’m a survivor – I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years, with my career and things not working out how I thought they would. Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher.
Time Out For Tomorrow had some good momentum and I was excited about touring it, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I just keep making albums and touring them, and, hopefully, people come out. We’ll be there and we hope that our audience feels comfortable about coming back out and supporting us.
I also really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting. I can’t keep on making the same record every time – I’m not even capable of doing that.
“Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher”
This record just happens to be what it is, but, song-wise, I think it’s a much stronger record than the last few. It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. There are records that are very great-sounding and bright – if I want to be in a better mood, I throw a Beatles record on – but then there are records for when I need a different type of comfort, like Blood On The Tracks. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.
Kill It With Kindness is a big-sounding song, with some raw guitar. Like some of the other songs on the record, it tackles alcohol use and depression – keeping demons at bay…
JL: Yeah – that’s true. It starts off with the enemy being in your mind – it’s about how you choose to react to certain things. If there are people and things around you that are having a negative effect, you have a choice – you can decide how you want to tackle that.
I agree with you – I think the record is about tackling that and trying to fight some demons. With the pandemic and everything stopping, there was a lot more time to self-reflect and look in the mirror. Thinking about things and how you want to be perceived and how you want to be moving forward.
Sure there are some things that we use as a crutch. There are elements of that – using different things to help you cope and get by. Sometimes that can end up making things a bit more overwhelming. The record is a man with a worried mind – stress and anxiety – and it acknowledges that. I think the next record will be about tackling those things, but through meditation and stuff like that…
You’ve got the George Harrison moustache to do it…
JL: (laughs): Yeah – I have. Exactly. I’m gearing up for that. The next record will be about taking care of myself – I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on. It will be about finding that help to help myself.
Your song With Only You from the latest album has a very Beatlesy feel…
JL: Yeah – I really dig that one. It’s a love song – a break point on the album – but there’s an element of sadness to it, because you’re relying on someone else to help you through. You can’t make it without them, because you need more strength than you can create yourself. But there’s also a beauty to it.
That song is very much the Beatles influence that’s been there all my life. It shows on that song. I actually worked out and wrote the guitar solo for it – I normally just do it and feel it out. It sounds like a cross between George Harrison and Mick Jones from The Clash. Mick Jones didn’t always have finesse, but he had confidence. It’s nothing super-fancy – it’s light and it’s melodic. A little brother to George Harrison.
“The next record will be about taking care of myself – I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on”
Your first live show for the new album will be in Toronto, at the Paradise Theatre, on March 31, which is my birthday…
JL: Yeah – I got you tickets to fly over for it. I wish!
It’s your big comeback show…
JL: I’m going to wear all leather.
Nothing Pressing is out now (digital) via Latent Recordings/Warner Music Canada/Proper Music. The physical release (CD and vinyl) is out on March 18.
03-05 Birkenhead, England – Future Yard
04-05 Winchester, England – The Railway Inn
05-05 London, England – The Green Note
06-05 Nottingham, England – The Chapel, Angel Microbrewery
07-05 Glasgow, Scotland – Broadcast
Daisy Glaze’s self-titled debut album is one of our favourite records of the year so far.
The New York duo – Louis Epstein (HITS, Jump Into The Gospel) and Alix Brown (Angry Angles w/ Jay Reatard, Golden Triangle) – have created a moody, psych-pop-meets-drone-rock soundtrack that’s heavily in debt to the druggy, haunting cowboy country sounds of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, as well as the film scores of Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone, and the narcotic-fuelled, art-rock weirdness of The Velvet Underground. There are also surf and electro influences at play – twangy guitar and spooky organ sit alongside synths, as well as strings.
Produced by the legendary Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum), the record was made in Sintra, in Portugal.
In an exclusive interview, we talk to the band about working with one of their heroes, their ambition to write film soundtracks and their new disco direction.
You made the album in Portugal, with Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember). How did that come about?
Louis Epstein: Paul, who runs the label we put it out on [The Sound of Sinners] has a good friend I know, who is pretty good friends with Pete. I sent him some of the demos and I asked him if he’d reach out to his buddy – he said, ‘Sure – Pete is actually on a Lee Hazlewood kick right now, so it might be a really good match.’
Pete said: ‘Dude, this is great – let’s do something. Do you want to come to Portugal, or do you want me to come to New York?’
We both thought it made more sense to spend a concentrated amount of time on it, without all the distractions we would have if we were recording in New York. Pete knew a great studio [BlackSheep, in Sintra] and some great musicians out there, and we got to go to Portugal to do it.
How was that?
Alix Brown: It was fun. We were in a studio with nothing else around, so we got fully immersed in it. Next door there was a place to get chicken – we ate there every day and chilled. It was nice to be out of Lisbon.
We were in Sintra, near the castle [The Palacio Nacional da Pena]. We took acid and went there! It’s where they shot that Polanski film, The Ninth Gate.
How was Sonic Boom to work with? Was he a big hero of yours? There’s a big drone-rock influence in some of your songs…
AB: Yeah – I’ve always loved him. He worked with some friends of mine and did the MGMT album, Congratulations, which I was a big fan of. I used to live in Memphis and I love Jim Dickinson – he worked with him. There was so much of a connection, He was able to understand us and get our sound – he brings like a whole vibe. He’s like a shaman.
‘We were in Sintra, near the castle. We took acid and went there! It’s where they shot that Polanski film, The Ninth Gate’
You used some local musicians to play strings on the record, didn’t you?
LE: They were from a local conservatoire. We also brought our friends Erik [Tonnesen] and Rex [Detiger] to play keys and drums. We made the record in three weeks – Sonic Boom was going to mix it there in the last week, but that didn’t happen, as time got the better of us. I did the original mixes and would send them to him – he would send back notes. During Covid [lockdown], I remixed some of the tracks to help breath new life into them.
It’s a 10-track album – just over 30 minutes – and it starts with an instrumental and is broken up by another one halfway through. The vinyl version, which is coming out later this year, will have five songs on each side. It feels like a soundtrack album – it works as a whole piece, rather than just a disparate collection of songs. Do you agree?
AB: Definitely – that’s how I look at making a record. I see it as a record – Side A and Side B – not just 10 or 12 songs. The instrumentals that start each side set the tone.
LE: It’s not a concept album, but we thought of it as if it was a soundtrack – I’m glad you picked up on that, because that’s the point.
You sound like Nancy and Lee at times – there’s a contrasting darkness and sweetness to your sound – and you also cite composers like Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone as influences. I can definitely hear that in your music…
AB: Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Italian library music and lots of soundtracks.
Do you have a favourite film or soundtrack?
AB: I like Danger: Diabolik.
LE: Jack Nitzsche’s The Lonely Surfer. I really wanted to emulate the guitar sound on that.
I don’t know if I quite got it, but that was definitely the guitar sound and style that was a big influence on me.
And Nancy and Lee? You’ve been compared to them…
LE: I have no problem with that.
Ray of Light, which is the second song on the record, after the opening instrumental, Occasum, has a definite Nancy and Lee feel and a slight country vibe…
LE: That was the first song that was written when we decided to work together. We had played around with a few, but the sound wasn’t quite right – it was a little too punky.
After we did that song, I thought ‘this is the sound we’re going for.’ That’s why we put it towards the top of the album.
Strangers In The Dark has a great video, which highlights the dangers of hitchhiking at night…
LE: When we wrote that song, it was also early on – there’s not much to say about it. It kinda speaks for itself.
AB: It’s definitely a rip-off of Nancy Sinatra’s Lightning’s Girl – I used to cover that song.
Your new single, The Ghost of Elvis Presley, is one of my favourite songs on the album. It has a really cool video too…
AB: We shot it in Memphis – I used to work in the restaurant and bar we used. My friend, Karen Carrier, owns a few of the best bars there – she’s a Memphis legend and a culinary master. I had a lot of friends who came to help.
‘I wrote the opening riff for The Ghost of Elvis Presley when I was around 15 years old. The lyrics were driven by Alix wanting to capture that Memphis mystique’
That song has some great twangy guitar on it. In fact, there’s a lot of really good twangy guitar on the whole album, as well as some brilliant organ sounds…
LE: I wrote the opening riff for TheGhost of Elvis Presley when I was around 15 years old. We needed an intro for the song and I had this thing that could work, so we tweaked it to fit the song. The lyrics were driven by Alix wanting to capture that Memphis mystique, for want of a better word.
Mary Go Round is psych-pop. Did Sean Lennon co-write it?
AB: Yeah – he helped with some of the lyrics.
I like the guitar solo on it…
LE: That was my little surf guitar.
Statues of Villains has almost an electro feel, but with strings too. I think it sounds Middle Eastern…
LE: I hear it as being more Russian…
That’s very topical…
AB: It’s a Russian war song!
The last song, How The City Was Lost, has a spoken word part and reminds me of The Gift by The Velvet Underground…
Will there be another single from the album?
LE: I’d like to do another video in time for when the vinyl is released. I think we’re debating between Mary Go Round and Statues Of Villains – we’re leaning towards Mary Go Round.
‘We could do the soundtrack for a psychological thriller – in the desert, with some aliens’
Would you like to write a soundtrack?
AB: That would be the goal.
What sort of movie?
AB: A psychological thriller – in the desert, with some aliens.
Like Gram Parsons, outside of LA, hanging out with Keith Richards, looking for UFOs and taking Peyote?
AB: Yeah, but they already did a movie like that, with Johnny Knoxville.
It was called Grand Theft Parsons.
AB: It was a great idea, but… It’s a crazy story.
So, what’s next for you? Any live shows planned?
LE: We want to start playing again – hopefully in the spring – and we have a backlog of another record – well, maybe not a whole record, but a whole bunch of songs. The stuff that we have written is in the same vein, but I secretly want to do an Amanda Lear record. How do you feel about that, Alix?
The event (February 6) saw Island and mainland musicians and performers coming together to celebrate John’s life and raise money for charity. John died in September last year, following a short illness.
Sean and his sister, Caroline, unveiled the plaque, which is situated in the main foyer and was funded by Isle of Wight Radio in collaboration with Shanklin Theatre, ahead of the show.
Sean said: “Dad was a great supporter of local entertainment, and the theatre played a huge part in his life, so it was really important to hold the event in Shanklin. I’d like to thank Isle of Wight Radio and the theatre for donating the plaque. Now, whenever there’s a show at the venue, dad will always be there and people can share their memories of him when they’re going to the theatre.”
The tribute concert, which was hosted by Sean, was a huge success, with at least £1500 raised for the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.
The line-up also included several local musicians and performers who were friends of John’s and whom he’d supported, including Bobby I Can Fly, Amy Bird and Andy Strickland.
“Music is my passion, and it was so important to my dad – he liked a wide range of styles – so I felt the best way to pay tribute to him was to hold a celebratory night with an eclectic selection of sounds – from ‘60s ballads to Americana, pop and rock. While I was organising and compering the show, I kept thinking to myself, ‘dad would’ve loved this’”, said Sean.
The artists who appeared at the gig were: My Darling Clementine, Matt James, Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and Keith Roberts (Blue Moon), Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird and Bob and Bertie Everson.Singer-songwriter, Matt Hill, was unable to appear, due to ill health, but he recorded a video of himself singing a song by one of John’s favourite artists, Matt Monro. You can watch it here.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers talks to our new favourite band, Melbourne’s Best Western.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to review the self-titled, four-track debut EP by Australian alt-country band Best Western for Americana UK and I fell in love with it after the first listen.
Best Western is a collaboration between songwriter Zack Buchanan (The Outdoor Type) and fellow Melbourne musicians Kieran Ebert, Harry Cook and Georgia Knight.
The record opens with the wonderfully cinematic Home – as I said in my review, it’s ‘a sublime and atmospheric male/ female duet with great twangy guitar and tinges of electronica,’ which builds to a psychedelic climax.
It’s also a reflective, nostalgic and observational song, with a lyric that, like Richmond Fontaine or The Delines, recounts tales of people’s everyday lives in the suburbs: “Could you pick me up from my place? She’s out of town for her brother’s birthday – the car’s broken down again.” Musically, it’s very haunting, with echoes of Mazzy Star.
Second song, Peace of Mind, is similarly gorgeous, but more stripped-down – acoustic guitar and pedal steel – while the third, the mildly festive-themed Lemon Tree – “Christmas lights and drunken fights…” conjures up the same kind of mood as its predecessor, but adds some subtle orchestration.
Final track, the folky and pastoral Freedom Song, is set in the last days of autumn, as the low winter sun threatens to creep up and cast shadows on the landscape.
After listening to the EP, I contacted Buchanan and asked if he’d up for an interview. He said ‘yes’, so here’s our chat. When we spoke, he’d just come back from recording their new EP, which is due out later this year.
How’s it going?
Zack Buchanan: I’m good, thanks. I’ve just arrived home from a few days recording our second EP in the countryside. We worked with producer Josh Barber on his wonderful property in a converted church – bliss.
Great – I can’t wait to hear the results. How did Best Western come together?
ZB: I began writing the music that ended up becoming Best Western in mid-late 2019. At the time, The Outdoor Type was wrapping up and I was excited to explore some more story-based songs in a style that felt comfortable for me.
I had been making music with Harry and Kieran for a little while, so they were a natural fit for the band. Georgia on the other hand didn’t come along until we began recording the EP. We had decided that the song Home should be a duet and a friend sent me Georgia’s music. We were completely enamoured by her voice so invited her to sing on the track – she has sung on every song since.
‘Much of Best Western is informed by the characters and places of my youth’
Congratulations on your debut EP. I can’t stop playing it – it’s a great record. My favourite song on it is Home. What can you tell me about that track? How did you write it and what inspired it?
ZB: Thank you so much – that’s really lovely to hear. Home was sort of the genesis of Best Western. It was one of the first songs I wrote with a new project in mind. I would say that the song is inspired by my observations growing up in country Victoria. Much of Best Western is informed by the characters and places of my youth.
The song was originally going to be recorded with an acoustic guitar, strummed and a little more ’standard’. However, we found the more we stripped away from the song the better it sounded. The drum beat was inspired by some of Sharon Van Etten’s music – that gentle hypnotic pulse is something I keep coming back to.
Where did you record the EP?
ZB: The EP was recorded at Sound Park studios in Melbourne. We self-produced the EP with engineer Andrew ‘Idge’ Hehir. Aside from the core band, we had our good friends, Holly Thomas and Claire Cross, on drums and bass, respectively.
Toward the end of the sessions we brought in Madeline Jevons (violin) and Matt Dixon (pedal steel) to complete the sound. The EP was recorded in about four days, and as mentioned, Georgia was originally brought in as a session singer for Home, so we were really flying blind to a degree – Best Western became a sort of happy accident.
The EP is digital-only. Will it be coming out as a physical release? A vinyl copy would be most welcome…
ZB: We are hoping so for sure. The plan may be to put our forthcoming EP out with the self-titled EP on vinyl.
What can you tell me about the song Peace of Mind, which is more stripped-down, with acoustic guitar and pedal steel?
ZB: We played around with different ways of recording Peace of Mind – the arrangement was certainly more dense initially. As with many of the Best Western songs, we found that less was more.
Peace of Mind is the only track that is truly ‘live’ on the record – we all sat in a circle and played. It’s a restless song full of restless feelings. It’s about dealing with a lack of direction but an urge to act.
The song Lemon Tree is vaguely festive – I like the line about “Christmas lights and drunken fights…” Where did that track come from? It has some subtle orchestration on it….
ZB: The orchestration of that song – and on the rest of the EP – was written by Harry, who also plays keys. He is a bit of a musical force. This song in particular perhaps reflects the imagery of growing up in my home town. I wrote that song last, leading into the EP sessions around Christmas time, so, yes, I guess it has been imbued with that festive spirit.
‘Peace of Mind is a restless song full of restless feelings. It’s about dealing with a lack of direction but an urge to act’
The final track on the EP, Freedom Song, is folky and pastoral, and it starts with an organ drone and what sounds like a guitar being plugged in. It has an autumnal / wintry mood, doesn’t it? Any thoughts on it?
ZB: Yes, I suppose you’re right. I would say it’s another yearning, or searching, song. We loved layering the harmonies on that one.
The songs on the EP tell stories and are influenced by real life, aren’t they?
ZB: Yes – I would say that I am inspired by my life experiences. Nothing I write is directly taken from my life – some things are perhaps quite close, but everything is fiction. I guess I’m inspired by people and relationships, rural life and the inherent struggles that come with that, and by class.
Who are your musical influences?
ZB: Oh, there are too many to list. All the usual ones I guess. If I had to list a few: Paul Kelly, Dylan, Lou Reed, Billy Bragg, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, The Go-Betweens. More contemporary artists might be Waxahatchee, Sharon Van Etten and Big Thief. Harry and Kieran love Sufjan Stevens.
I think Best Western have echoes of Mazzy Star and The Delines? How do you feel about those comparisons?
ZB: I love Mazzy Star and am very humbled that you would make that comparison. I must confess, I wasn’t familiar with The Delines, but have just given them a listen. They’re a great band and I’ll definitely be coming back to them. That song The Oil Rigs At Night … what a tune!
So, what’s the plan for 2022? There’s a new EP on the way… Is there an album coming, or live shows?
ZB: Hopefully all of that. We are in the midst of recording another EP now, which may turn out to be an album – we will have to wait and see.
I would hope the first track from that will come out around April/May. We are certainly wanting to do live shows. Things are a little touch and go due to Covid, but we will be out on the road as soon as we are able and it is safe to do so.
Please can you come and play in the UK?
ZB: Hey, if you can hook us up with a few shows, we’ll be there!
What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
ZB: It’s a year or two old now, but I have not stopped listening to Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud album – beautiful. I’ve also been going way back lately and digging into some Hank Williams. Also, Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and lots of Townes Van Zandt. Oh and one last one, Adrianne Lenker’s Songs album.
‘If you can hook us up with a few shows in the UK, we’ll be there!’
Have you ever stayed in a Best Western hotel? If so, where, and what was it like?
ZB: I must admit, I have never stayed in a Best Western hotel. But believe me, after 10 years of touring in various bands, I’ve stayed in my fair share of Best Western-style hotels. Maybe we can get some sort of sponsorship going, then I can report back to you.
The self-titled debut EP from Best Western is available now digitally.