‘I’m out on my own – I’ve never felt part of a scene…’

 

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Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’ve been fans of Wesley Fuller since we heard his debut EP Melvista, a killer collection of crunching power-pop, ’80s New Wave synth sounds and anthemic glam rock songs, when it was released in the summer of 2016. 

The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter followed it up a year later with the album Inner City Dream , which was more of the same, but with some added ’60s psych and vintage electro pop.

On a cold, wet night in November last year, 28-year-old Wesley played his first ever show outside of Australia – in South London, at The Windmill in a Brixton backstreet. And we were there…

During an exclusive interview before the gig, he told us that he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he needn’t have worried, as he and his band played a storming set to an appreciative crowd. It was easily one of our favourite shows of last year. 

We spoke to him about having great glam rock hair, growing up in Perth and moving to the ‘bright lights’ of Melbourne to pursue his inner city dream, and recording his debut album in his bedroom…

“I’ve never played a show outside of Australia – it’s very exciting and a little bit scary,” says Melbourne singer-songwriter Wesley Fuller, sat on a sofa in the tatty backstage area of The Windmill pub, in Brixton, South London, on a cold and wet night in late November. It’s a few hours before the first gig on his UK and European tour.

Say It With Garage Flowers apologises for the awful British weather, but, as Wesley points out: “Melbourne weather isn’t that much better to be honest – it’s quite like London. It’s interesting to get an experience of what a gig is like in a different country. A lot of music is the same, but the surroundings are different… I don’t really know what to expect…”

 

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Q&A

You were born in Perth, but you moved to Melbourne in 2013. The title of your debut album is Inner City Dream, from the song of the same name. Did the title come from the idea of you wanting to move from Perth to Melbourne to pursue your dream of becoming a successful musician?

Wesley Fuller: Spot on. The whole reason I wanted to leave Perth was to reach the bright lights of Melbourne. I left Perth at the start of 2013 – Perth is quite a small, isolated city and I lived out in the suburbs. I wanted to live in the entertainment area of Melbourne – the inner city – and move to a place where I didn’t know anyone.

What was the music scene like when you were growing up in Perth?

WF: There are a lot of great bands in Perth and a good music scene, but it’s on a small scale – the city is isolated, so you can’t really tour. I’ve always loved the idea of touring with a band – getting in a van and driving around to different places. You can’t do that in Perth – you have to fly across to the other side of the country.

So you moved to Melbourne…

WF: Yes. I lived in Fitzroy, which is an inner-city suburb of Melbourne, for a couple of years, but I realised that it was a little bit overrated. I was paying so much for my rent that I didn’t have any money to spend on going out to places…

The album is one where I’m at a crossroads – ‘what do I want to do? Do I want this inner city life, or is it just an illusion? Do I want a quieter life out in the suburbs?’

What’s the scene like in Melbourne? Do you feel a part of it, or are you out on your own?

WF: I’m definitely out on my own – I’ve never really felt part of a scene,  but I’ve tried to create one. Melbourne is very much a trending city – trends come and go – but there are lots of different little scenes. I’ve found it a lot more promising than Perth because you can find an audience.

‘I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!’

 

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Let’s talk more about the album. Was it written in Perth or Melbourne?

WF: Most of the songs were written in Melbourne in my first year there – I was in a new environment, feeling and experiencing new things. I had a very creative period there.

Did the album come together quite naturally?

WF: Most of it came together how I wanted it to because I was doing it myself from my bedroom studio – I produced it myself. I was lucky enough to have quite a large bedroom and I set up all my instruments in there, so it was like a mini studio. I did everything, apart from a few lead guitar parts, and some backing vocals. I wanted to do it by myself and, luckily, my band were very understanding. I’m not a trained sound engineer but there was an element of experimentation –  I did have a clear idea of the sound that I wanted to achieve.

Your influences include power-pop, psych, New Wave, electronic music, glam rock and ’60s pop, like The Zombies, The Beatles and The Beachboys. When you were growing up were you into ’60s and ’70s music? Did your parents get you into old stuff?

WF: I’ve gone through different phases, but it certainly hasn’t come from my parents – we never had The Beatles playing in the house. My parents are still quite young – they were more into ’80s stuff, but I wasn’t into that. I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!

You’ve also added some vintage electro sounds to the ’60s and ’70s influences… 

WF: I’ve always loved ’60s music, but once I started DJing, that opened me up to a lot of different eras and sounds, like funk and New Wave and glam, so I started listening to songs in a different way – from a dancing and production perspective. I used to listen to songs for melodies or harmonies –  that pure ’60s vibe…

There’s quite a groove on some of your songs…

WF: Yeah. I DJ’d for clubs most weekends and I run a night in Melbourne called KICKS.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Someone To Walk Around With is a great rock ‘n’ roll tune, with big guitars and organ, but Skyways and Morality are more electro-pop, with retro synth sounds… This isn’t just a power-pop album, is it? There are different styles on it?

WF: The album is hard to classify or label under one genre or sound. I’ve always liked those albums that have different styles. They have an overbearing sound that ties them together, but they showcase different influences. As this was my first record, I wanted to lay everything out on the table: ‘this is my sound and this is what I can do’…

‘I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair’

Morality came from listening to a lot of early ’80s New Wave and so did Skyways, with the synth on it, but there’s also a Motown beat on Skyways. When I recorded the EP, [Melvista] I was mainly listening to glam.

You have great glam rock hair…

WF: I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair.

Marc Bolan, who had curly hair, started off as a mod…

WF: Marc Bolan could’ve pulled anything off..

One of my favourite songs on the album is Wish You Would. It has a ’60s psych-pop feel and reminds me of The Zombies and The Beachboys… 

WF: I wanted to have one song on the album that was almost like a tribute to The Mamas and the Papas – I’ve always loved ’60s harmonies. I began writing that song when I was in Perth, in the summer of 2012. It was hot and the song has that kind of summery vibe.

This is your first tour of the UK and Europe. Have you built up a good following in Melbourne? 

WF: Yeah, but you’ve got stay active to keep them interested. I haven’t reached cult status yet!

You’re only young – you’ve only had one album out…

WF: Yeah exactly. Hopefully by the second one…

Have you made plans for the next record?

WF: Yeah  –  I’ve written the bulk of it and I’ve already recorded the drums for some of the songs. I start with the drums and then I build it up from there, bit by bit. I have six or seven full songs written that I want to have on the next album, but there are three or four that I’m a bit iffy about, so I’ll see how they turn out. I’m definitely hoping to have a new record out in 2019 I’ve got to start dedicating more time to it. That’s the hardest thing, because I have a full-time job. I work for a law firm. I used up all my annual leave to record the first album. I’m aiming to have a record out in late 2019. Fingers crossed that will work out.

What do you think it will sound like?

WF: It will still have the same kind of influences, but I’d like to try a few different things production-wise. We’ll just see what happens…

Inner City Dream by Wesley Fuller is out now on 1965 Records. For more info, go to: https://wesleyfuller.bandcamp.com/

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Wesley Fuller and his band at The Windmill, Brixton. (picture by Sean Hannam)

‘I hope this album will surprise people…’

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Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

Case Hardin frontman Pete Gow’s first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens, is a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.

For his first interview to promote the record, Say It With Garage Flowers met him for a pint. Subjects on the agenda included string sections, tattoos, relationships, Stormy Daniels and Shane MacGowan…

Pete Gow is sat in Trinity bar in Harrow, North West London, nursing a pint of lager. The last time he was here was in late 2017, when he played a solo acoustic We Shall Overcome anti-austerity charity show for Say It With Garage Flowers.

At that gig, one of the songs he aired was the folky Some Old Jacobite King, which now features on his first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens – albeit in a radically different version.

In fact the new record that we’re here to talk about is a surprising departure for Pete, who fronts UK Americana / alt-country band Case Hardin. Sure, lyrically it’s sometimes dark and often left of centre – like the songs we know him for – but this is a deeply personal and confessional record, and, musically,  it explores new territory for Pete – gone are the big electric guitars, old fashioned rock and roll, Springsteen-like anthems and kicked-around country songs of Case Hardin’s 2015’s album Colours Simple. Instead, this is a record of stripped-down acoustic songs, with stirring string arrangements, fleshed out by piano, brass, organ and drums.

We’re reminded of when US Americana singer-songwriter Chris Mills  – who just so happens to be a friend of Pete’s – made his 2005 album The Wall To Wall Sessions – a masterpiece that featured lush orchestration and horns.

Opener One Last One Night Stand sets the tone for most of Here There’s No Sirens – it’s a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounds like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping violins.

There are also character songs  – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King is steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centres on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checks porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who has been involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and out in April on Clubhouse Records, Here There’s No Sirens is a stunning record that’s both beautiful and unsettling.

At times, it can be uncomfortable to listen to, as Pete shares raw emotions and intimate relationship details over dramatic orchestral backing. Does he think it will surprise people who are used to hearing Case Hardin?

“I hope it will,” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, sipping his pint. “So often when you hear a solo record by people who front bands where the lead singer is the creative force behind them – like the manner in which I front Case Hardin – the differences are quite marginal and it’s just a little bit more acoustic. I really put a lot of thought into how I wanted this album to be different. Even if people don’t like it, nobody can say that it’s just a Case Hardin-lite record…”

Q & A

This is your first solo album. What prompted the move to make a record on your own?

Pete Gow: I was trying to get Case Hardin to make a record last year. It was written – it was even overwritten – I had 15 or 16 songs, but we just weren’t able to make it happen for a whole world of reasons. Sometimes five grown men just can’t get their shit together to make a record happen.

So I started about thinking what I should do – the concept of making a solo record had never occurred to me. I thought about us doing an EP – something that would tide Case Hardin over, as it had been two years since we released our Colours Simple album. Bands like us live or die on new products – not to mention the fact that I’d been writing for a long time and needed to find an outlet for it.

When I realised that the Case Hardin thing wasn’t going to happen, there were three or four songs in that pile that I’d always wondered what the hell Case Hardin would do with them anyway?

The whole thing just came about in almost 24 hours. I spoke to Joe and he was into it, and I spoke to Clubhouse Records, who were expecting a new Case Hardin record, and they said that if I could turn the three or four tracks into an album, they’d be interested in it. So then I wrote the rest of the album in a couple of weeks.

This record is a big departure from the Case Hardin sound – it’s stripped-down ballads, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, piano, trumpet, piano, organ and drums…

PG: I’m the main songwriter in Case Hardin and we have a sound that’s reasonably distinctive, so I had to find a way of making the album a proper solo project.

I went to Joe and said, ‘here’s what I want to do’ – I didn’t want any guitars on it, but I wanted strings and piano and drums, with everything else stripped-out. Joe was brilliant – he listened to the demos and said, ‘I’ll meet you halfway’.

‘I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record’

He wanted to keep the acoustic guitar, because that’s how the songs were written and it’s what drives them along, but there’s no lead guitar on the record.

I didn’t want to short-change anybody – I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record and I knew that Joe could do strings – he’s done some wonderful work on albums that I’m familiar with. I play all the acoustic guitars on the record, the drums are by Fin Kenny and Joe plays everything else.

Even the backing vocals? I thought they were female…

PG: I’ll tell him that!

You made the record last year. How was the recording process?

PG: There were two short sessions of four or five days each in the middle of last year. We did it slightly differently to the way in which records are usually made – I laid down the guitar and then I’d put a guide vocal over the top of it. Then we brought Fin in, who had two days to work through the tracks. Joe wrote melody parts on a violin and then recorded the strings – it was all real instruments. He also wrote the various harmony parts.

The whole experience was very different – when we make a Case Hardin record, it always sounds like a 100 per cent better version of what I knew it was going to sound like in my head – a beautiful, shining, brilliant and more fully realised version.

With this record, I handed the acoustic guitar, vocals and drum tracks over to Joe and he then built the string arrangements. There are a few songs – One Last One Night Stand and TV Reruns – which have big, long, instrumental sections. If I were writing those for a Case Hardin record, I wouldn’t have made them so repetitive and so long.

‘I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29’

One Last One Night Stand was the first track Joe sent back to me and I knew then that it was going to be a great project. Joe has produced this album in the fullest and most traditional sense. He understood the content and took all of the songs to a place that was beyond my comprehension. That’s what he brought to this record. When Joe sent the tracks back to me, I was blindsided – they almost sounded like other people’s songs.

What were you listening to when you made this album? What were the musical influences?

PG: I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29. He said, ‘I’ve heard neither of those records and I’m not going to listen to them!’ It sounds nothing like either of them.

Joe and I was a wonderful juxtaposition – I had these ideas of what I didn’t want it to sound like, and the influences I did want to draw on, but all he wanted to do was to make the best record possible. Sometimes that fell into line and sometimes it didn’t – sometimes I managed to persuade him to make changes and sometimes change for change’s sake wasn’t the right thing to do. It was a very fulfilling relationship.

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Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

It’s a very personal album – emotionally raw and confessional. It’s naked Pete Gow – often in more than one sense of the word, but we’ll come to that later…

Let’s talk about some of the songs. The opener, One Last One Night Stand, features the lines, ‘We don’t need to die here on this beach – we don’t need this sand to wipe blood off our hands…’ This is dark territory, isn’t it?

PG: It’s just my way into relationship songs. I’ve always tried to find that slightly left of centre way into any situation. If there’s anybody who likes the way I write, then I’m guessing it tends to be because of stuff like that.

One Last One Night Stand – like a lot of the album – shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in. I’m certainly in a place that I never expected to be in so comfortably that it would reflect in the music that I’m making.

One Last One Night Stand is just a slightly left of centre way of realising that that’s where I am. It was one of the songs that I wrote for the record – it hadn’t been written previously and it was one of the last ones I wrote. I realised where the record was going and it sets the tone for the project, which I why I put it at the beginning. ‘Here’s where I am – now go and listen to the rest of the record and you’ll realise…’

‘A lot of the album shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in’

It’s an album that’s very relationship-heavy, isn’t it? Some of your Case Hardin songs feature characters, and, although there are characters on this record, most of the songs are personal, aren’t they? They’re about you and the relationship you’re in…

PG: Yes. Apart from possibly Some Old Jacobite King, which is a story song, this album is self-contained and doesn’t really stray from its mandate or remit. Over the course of 40 minutes you need something like Some Old Jacobite King to pull you away… nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship! [he laughs].

The second song on the album, Mikaela, is my favourite track, largely for the great line: ‘Songs are like tattoos – you should think before you name one after a girl…’ That’s a rare moment of humour in one of your songs…

PG: It is – if you listen to my records, you’ll know that.

Have you got any tattoos of girls’ names?

PG: I haven’t, but it’s that famous thing, isn’t it? Get a tattoo of a girl’s name that been spelt wrong…

That song was never intended to be put on a record, but it suddenly became indicative of this whole album, which is relationship-based, more than anything else I’ve ever done. The song was written for her [Mikaela]There are references in it that you might think shouldn’t be put on an album for people to hear…

The sexual stuff? Well, I did say it was a naked record…

PG: Literally and figuratively. That’s why that song sits so beautifully next to One Last One Night Stand… ‘Hold on, what’s he saying here? Oh – OK, this is why…’

That was a song that was written for the Case Hardin record, but when I sent it to the band I thought, ‘what the hell are we going to do with this?’ I just didn’t want to throw a load of guitars over the top of it and turn it into alt-country by numbers.

I really like the brass on it – it’s mournful, like a New Orleans funeral band…

 PG: Yes, but slightly Mariachi as well – the trumpet was slightly buried in the string section originally, but it got pulled out and pushed front and centre in the final mix.

‘Nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship!’

From one sexual song to another… Next up we have Strip For Me, which could possibly be the first song to name check Stormy Daniels…

PG: It could well be. The song is nothing to do with her, but it’s about the underbelly of the male perspective of relationships – something I’ve written about at other points in my career.

It’s a character song, isn’t it?

PG: Absolutely.

The opening lines are very uncomfortable. There’s a fictional male protagonist who says to a woman: ‘Do you think you’re one of those girls too beautiful to hurt, too beautiful to cheat on? There’s no girl too beautiful for that’…

 PG: That horrible guy would quite easily just see a porn star and remember her name – ‘Strip for me, like Stormy Daniels’ – without really realising who this woman is.

It’s a pop culture reference – it’s had an odd reception already. It’s one of the few songs I’ve played live – I did some acoustic shows with Jason McNiff and I road tested some songs. Whenever I played Strip For Me, people burst out laughing… I was like, ‘shit!’

I obviously don’t think through the consequences of these things when I’m writing, but it will be interesting to see if people can peel back the layers, rather than just hearing that woman’s name. I wouldn’t want it to turn into some kind of joke or parody song – it’s not. I used her name to underline the stupidity of the guy in the first verse.

‘I hope history will be a lot kinder to Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency’

I guess the reason I left the reference in is because I hope history will be a lot kinder to people like Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency. The second verse is supposed to be the woman talking about the guy…

Strip For Me is going to be the preview digital single from the album, so let’s really see what people make of it…

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The title track, Here There’s No Sirens, contains a lyrical reference to the Pogues song, A Rainy Night In Soho, playing on the radio, and there’s also a snippet of the song in the outro…

PG: It’s a song about just finding yourself in the kitchen, with a radio playing your favourite song. I’ve given Shane MacGowan a co-writing credit – the song was originally intended for the Case Hardin record and I think they could’ve done something with it.

When I was finishing writing it and demoing it, I thought, ‘what key am I in? This is almost A Rainy Night In Soho’, so I slightly changed the guitar pattern and the style of the strum. I put a little bit of swing into it and changed the key.

The original demo was me playing it into my phone, with the last verse of A Rainy Night In Soho playing on my stereo. I’m a huge Pogues fan – that song is the one to slap people around the face with when they say the Pogues are just a bunch of drunks and that MacGowan is not a good writer…

Why is Here There’s No Sirens the title track?

PG: On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album – never titling a record after a song and never having our images on the front cover. I wanted to name the record after a song and the cover art is a picture of me by an artist from Edinburgh called Veronica Casey – she painted it many years ago. This album is a case of me unticking a lot of boxes for reasons only known to myself…

‘On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album’

You’re launching the album at a special London show in the Network Theatre, Waterloo on April 6, where you’ll be joined by The Siren Strinqs quartet…

PG: It’s a community theatre and it’s a beautiful space. Clubhouse Records and Joe wanted people to realise that this album is something different, so we have the Siren Strings – it’s not just me and a guitar. The show will be me, Joe, Tristan Tipping [Clubhouse Records and Paul McClure and The Local Heroes] on bass, Fin on drums, and the string quartet.

There are two supports – Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole [Starry Eyed and Laughing and Bennett Wilson Poole]. Tony mastered my record. We’re going to play the album and there will be one or two little surprises on the night.We’re also going to play at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue [April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe].

Finally, let’s talk about Case Hardin. Any plans for a new album?

PG: It’s written – we’re going into the studio as soon as we can. I think we’re going to start recording it in June and then get it out by June the following year.

What can we expect it to sound like?

PG: Looking at the solo project and knowing that I didn’t want electric guitars on it – and looking at the songs I’ve taken away from Case Hardin for my record – you’re left with something that will quite organically be a collection of much shorter, punchier, louder songs.

There won’t be anything on there as expansive as Poets Corner [the eight-minute album opener from Colours Simple], and I also won’t feel the need to put on tracks like High Rollers and Cheap Streaks From A Bottle [also from Colours Simple].

I think the next Case Hardin album, will, by default, be louder and punchier, and we can zone in on what many people think Case Hardin do best.

Pete Gow’s Here There’s No Sirens will be released on April 5 on Clubhouse Records. There will be an album launch show with The Siren Strings quartet on April 6 at The Network Theatre, London Waterloo, with support from Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole. Tickets are available here. 

Pete Gow and The Siren Strings will also be playing at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival (April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe).

 

‘It’s not a man’s world – women need to take their fair share of the gold’

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Gun-slinging singer-songwriter Sarah Vista’s debut album, Killing Fever, was one of our favourite records of last year.

It’s a hell of a ride, mixing Cash-like country with a fistful of Spaghetti Western songs, Mariachi brass, haunting harmonica and Morricone moodiness.

Say It With Garage Flowers invited her to an Italian café in North London to talk retribution and revenge, women in cowboy films and her favourite Western soundtracks and movies, and to tell us how her and her gang of outlaws made the album. 

We wanted to go to Nashville, Almeria or Cinecittà, but we couldn’t afford it – if only we’d had a few dollars more…

Over a cup of tea in an Italian café in North London – Mario’s in Camden – Sarah Vista is telling Say It With Garage Flowers where her love of Spaghetti Westerns and cowboy culture comes from. And, just to clarify, she hasn’t brought her guns to town…

“There are photos of me when I was three years old, sat on a rocking horse, in front of a Western film. I liked the music and I thought I was in the movies. That’s a strong memory for me. When I was a child, I used to think, ‘why is it always men in Westerns?’ It’s a little fantasy I had…” she says, smiling.

“The hero – the person who strides in and saves the day – is always male. It’s not a man’s world anymore, it’s a man’s and a woman’s world – there should be a fair amount of women taking their share of the gold…”

Q & A

Women are often portrayed as victims in Westerns, rather than heroines, aren’t they? Do you feel they’re misrepresented in cowboy films?

Sarah Vista: I do, but there are a couple of strong women, like Calamity Jane [Doris Day] and Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, who’s incredible – I was heavily influenced by her when I was a kid. There are also some softer female characters, like Helen Ramirez, who is played by Katy Jurado in High Noon, and Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time In The West, who comes across as having a hard time, but is actually a strong central character [Jill McBain].

‘My songs are delivered with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek  – contrary to popular belief, I’ve never actually killed anyone!’

With that in mind, some of your songs, like Madame Moustache and Belle Starr, feature strong and violent women, who don’t suffer fools gladly and are out to get revenge on men who’ve wronged them. Should I be worried?

SV: [She laughs]. My songs are delivered with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek  – contrary to popular belief, I’ve never actually killed anyone! Putting stuff in songs is a form of therapy for me. It’s nice to be able to express myself in a fantasy way – anyone who’s been wronged or treated badly probably has those feelings from time to time. The theme of the album is about retribution rather than revenge. I’m not bitter – I’m just holding people to account for their bullshit and putting it out there.

I’ve had so many women approach me about my songs and lyrics – they get it. I had a difficult past and upbringing and with the Sarah Vista character, I wanted to set some things straight.

SVMH

When you’re performing on stage, you go into character, don’t you?

SV: Yeah – I guess so. When I was growing up, I struggled with confidence and I wanted to turn the tables on that. I’ve finally found a character that I’m comfortable with exploring and I’m going to stick with it.

When you were growing up, did your parents like music and films?

SV: My dad was a film buff and my mum was a massive music fan – she was obsessed with Elvis – and she has the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard. As a child, I used to sing with her.

Music’s always been there – when I was growing up I used to steal my mum’s guitar all the time and try and play it. I really wanted my own guitar. I started learning to play on her guitar when I was 12 – my mum bunged me a Bob Dylan album and said, ‘if you can work out how to play that, I’ll get you a guitar’. Four or five hours later, I’d worked out the chords by ear. She said, ‘four hours? I was hoping it would be four years – I haven’t got any money to buy you a guitar’. That went on for ages.

About a year later, after I’d worked out some Hendrix licks, she saw that I was serious about it and she bought me one – she saved up for a long time. I locked myself in my room for the rest of my childhood and started writing songs.

‘I had a difficult past and upbringing – with the Sarah Vista character, I wanted to set some things straight’

In the late ‘90s, I joined a band called Suck Baby Suck as a guitarist – I played with David Scinto, who wrote the scripts for the film Sexy Beast, Gangster No.1 and 44 Inch Chest.

I started writing songs with him – we were a great band. We had a good adventure together – it was garagey. I kind of outgrew it – I was young and naïve and I wanted to do more and move faster, so I walked away from it.

I tried a load of bits and pieces, but nothing came together, so I wrote my own album and I released it independently, but it fell on deaf ears – it was punk, but it had my stamp on it. We all have to start somewhere…

I also did a single with Paul Kaye called Live Sex On Stage – he did it as his character, Mike Strutter – we had a great laugh doing that.

When I first met you, five or six years ago, you were fronting a rockabilly band called Viva Le Pink…

SV: I set that up with the intention of having an all-female rhythm and blues / rockabilly band, with a horn section, but it didn’t quite pan out… I wasn’t feeling it, so I quit my own band. The Sarah Vista thing had been bubbling under for a long time.

Let’s talk about your debut album as Sarah Vista – Killing Fever…

SV: I decided I was going to make a Western soundtrack, in the style of my favourite records – the ultimate project.

Cleverly, the album is split into two different genres – Country and Western. One side is country songs, but the other is Spaghetti Western-flavoured…

SV: I didn’t set out to do that – I set out to make a Western record. I wrote about 26 songs in the space of four of five weeks! It was natural – the songs kept coming out. I was, like, hold your horses!

I see what you did there

SV: My imagination ran away with me. The Western thing was natural, but the country thing… Someone once said, ‘you don’t choose country music, it chooses you’… I thought that was lovely. I definitely didn’t set out to make a country record, but there’s a lot of darkness in country music and that fits with me… Everyone was doing country, but no one was doing the Western side of it.

‘I definitely didn’t set out to make a country record, but there’s a lot of darkness in country music and that fits with me’

You rounded up a gang of outlaws to help you make the album, didn’t you?

SV: I worked with Adie Hardy, who produced it – he’s a friend and I’ve worked with him a lot. I also found a drummer who’s a country fan [Tom Meadows] – he’s actually Kylie Minogue’s drummer – and my friend, Philip Doyle, recommended a lapsteel player called Jeff Mead. Jeff and I have started writing together.

Emma Goss [double bass] was also recommended by Philip Doyle – she’s great. I also worked with Terry Edwards [trumpet and baritone sax], who’s played with Nick Cave and Tom Waits – he’s an incredible musician and he’s really added something to the record. Johnny Trouble [harmonica] recorded his parts in Germany, where he has his own studio.

Was it an enjoyable album to make?

SV: It was fantastic! It took two years to make. I had no money, so we did it in studio downtime at Unit 2 Studios in Acton, London.

You released the album on your own label, Gallow Romantic. Are you going to put out records by other artists?

SV: That’s my plan. There’s so much good stuff that goes under the radar because the industry is so up its own arse, it’s chasing its tail.

SVRioGrandebyGB

You’ve also been working on a soundtrack for a Spaghetti Western film, haven’t you?

SV: Yes, but you’d actually class it as a Paella Western, as the director’s Spanish. He’s a guy called Danny Garcia – he did the music documentaries The Rise and Fall of The Clash and Looking For Johnny – the Johnny Thunders biopic.

A friend of mine, Ray Gange, who was lead actor in Rudeboy, got a part in a Western film that Danny was doing. I was like, ‘what the fuck? Get me on the soundtrack!’

‘For me and my music, this year is going to be good, but for my naysayers it’s going to be very bad and, politically, it’s looking pretty ugly’

He said, ‘he’s already done the soundtrack’. I said, ‘no – he hasn’t!’ So I sent Danny some short clips of three songs and he said he wanted them in the movie and he’d make room for them. The film’s called The Price of Death and my song Killing Fever is the opening track. You can see the back of my head in the film… It’s due out soon.

I got to go to Almeria in Spain, where Sergio Leone shot his classic movies – the sets from the ‘70s are still there. It’s amazing! I’ve also been asked to do something else, but I’m keeping that firmly under my Stetson at the moment…

So, is the year ahead going to be good, bad or ugly?

SV: For me and my music, it’s going to be good, but for my naysayers it’s going to be very bad and, politically, it’s looking pretty ugly. You’ve got to hold on to what’s good in the world, do cool stuff, keep people entertained and stay close to the good folk.

Can I ask you to choose your top five favourite Spaghetti Western films and Top five Western soundtracks?

SV: I can’t put them in order, but my favourite films are A Fistful of Dollars it has a revolutionary soundtrack and it created the Spaghetti Western sound; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly –  it’s a tense epic and if you don’t like it, you must have something missing; Django by Sergio Corbucci – it’s a classic – and Once Upon A Time In The West – another classic. The last film is The Great Silence from 1968 –  Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a mute gunfighter and Klaus Kinski is the bad guy – a bounty killer. He’s so creepy. It’s an epic film and it’s set in the snow.

For my soundtracks, I’m going to choose A Fistful of DollarsOnce Upon A Time In The West –  for the harmonica and Jill’s Theme, with the operatic female vocals; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for The Ecstasy of Gold; The Great Silence, which is an overlooked Morricone masterpiece –  I think it’s one of his best works – and here’s a wild card, the Django soundtrack by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It has Rocky Roberts vocals, electric guitar and a ’60s and ’70s feel to it. Tarantino used it in Django Unchained. 

Do you think your next album will have a more expansive and experimental sound?

SV: For the first one, I had to rein it in a bit, but for the next album I might let it all hang out and disappear down a Spaghetti Western rabbit hole!

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Sarah Vista’s Killing Fever is out now on Gallow Romantic. For more info, visit https://www.sarahvista.com . See the Spotify playlist below for some of her essential Spaghetti Western soundtracks.