‘We were Britpop before Britpop’

The Kynd
The Kynd

What did you do during lockdown? Well, if you were ‘90s indie band The Kynd you reformed, decided to put out your long-lost third single and rerelease your debut album, from 1999, in a deluxe version with a bunch of extra tracks.

Not only that, but they’re also heading back into the studio to record the second album they never had a chance to make.

“We’re wondering if we’re going to break a record for the longest time between a debut album and a follow-up,” says guitarist Danny Tipping. “Even The Stone Roses only took five years…”

Lockdown has given us more time to reflect on our lives. Some of us have used it to embark on a nostalgia trip, whether that’s reconnecting with old friends over Zoom, or digging back into our record collections – or searching streaming services – to listen to music from our youth.

I’ve been indulging in the back catalogue of anthemic indie-rockers Gene – my favourite band from the ‘90s – but, sadly, I no longer fit into that skinny T I bought after a gig at the London Astoria in 1996…

Twin brothers Danny and Tristan Tipping, and their friend, Paul King, from Buckinghamshire, have taken things to the extreme – they’ve used their downtime to resurrect their ‘90s indie band The Kynd.

Back in the day, DJ Gary Crowley described their sound as “a gorgeous slice of Bucks beat.”  The group played shows supporting the likes of Hurricane #1, My Life Story and The Bluetones. Ride guitarist and future member of Oasis, Andy Bell, produced their debut single, Egotripper, which came out in 1996.

This month sees the release of their long-lost third single, Get What You Deserve, and the reissue of their 1999 debut album Shakedown, in a deluxe, repackaged CD version, with seven extra tracks. Oh and they’ve also reformed to play some gigs later this year and record their unfinished second album.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, they’ve given Say It With Garage Flowers an interview to tell us why they’ve decided to get back together.  So, over a socially-distanced pint outside a bar in Chesham – not far from where the band grew up – I have a chat with guitarist Danny, who is, er, one of The Kynd.

“We’re excited,” he says. “It’s been really fun…”

Q&A

I’ll be honest, even though I’m a veteran of the ‘90s indie scene, I hadn’t heard of The Kynd [Paul King – vocals, Danny Tipping – guitar, Tristan Tipping – bass, Bradley Hills – drums] until a few weeks ago. I’ve known you and Tristan for a few years, because of your Americana label, Clubhouse Records, but you’ve never mentioned the band before…

Danny Tipping: We didn’t talk about it for ages, because we did it so intensely during the mid-‘90s that when it all came to an end, we were all done with it.

How did the band come together?

DT: We were schoolmates – when we were 14, Paul went to the same senior school as Bradley and us at Chalfont St Peter.

We were all into music and our dads had all been in bands – like everyone does, we kept talking about being in one. In our last year of school, everybody else was forming either punk or metal bands. We decided not to do that – we played ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and we had turns-up and wore Converse. It felt quite rebellious. We were called Walk, Don’t Run after The Ventures song, which was one of the first things I learnt to play.

And then you became The Kynd and went indie…

DT: Once we stopped playing the rock ‘n’ roll stuff, we were done with covers and we started writing together. There was a lot of good guitar music around in the mid-‘90s – more and more guitar bands were getting into the charts and we were all listening to grebo, like The Wonderstuff, and we liked The Smiths and The House of Love, and a lot of the shoegazing stuff and the Thames Valley scene. We liked Blur and I loved Gene, and Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub.

‘We played ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and we had turns-up and wore Converse. It felt rebellious’

The demos we did in ‘92/’93, before we recorded Shakedown and did the Egotripper single with Andy Bell of Ride, were – without being wanky about it – Britpop before Britpop, because we were into The Who, The Kinks, The Stones and The Small Faces.

We’ve always been into classic ‘60s pop and we got lumped into the Britpop thing – we were playing at mod nights, like Blow Up. A lot of the people there weren’t strictly mods, but they were into a mix of indie and ‘60s pop. You could play in packed student unions from one end of the country to another – and that’s what we did, for about four years.

We were headlining university gigs and we were the perennial support band on that circuit – we supported anybody you care to mention. We had a pretty decent following – we had singles come out and we got some radio play, but we only got a smattering of press. We got a good review in Kerrang! once and we were mentioned in the NME and Melody Maker.

Do you wish you’d been more successful?

DT: I was never bitter that we weren’t bigger – we did it for a living, but we never really took off. My one regret is that if we’d known what we were doing, we’d have got the second album out.

How did you hook up with Andy Bell of Ride, who produced your first single, which came out in 1996?

DT: We played at the Marquee with Corduroy for a Small Faces tribute gig, raising money for the Ronnie Lane Foundation. Andy was there and we met him – he’s a big Small Faces fan. Ride were just finishing their Tarantula album.

We did our first single, Egotripper, with him, for a London label called Go-Go Girl/MGR, and then we did a follow-up single [World’s Finest] and an album.

‘I was never bitter that we weren’t bigger. My one regret is that if we’d known what we were doing, we’d have got the second album out’

We were supposed to release a third single, Get What You Deserve, but it never came out. It was our anthem – it’s one of our best songs – and we were building up to it. There was meant to be a trio of singles.

And now Get What You Deserve has finally come out this month, as a digital single. It’s a great, anthemic pop tune, but with some very vicious lyrics – it’s a revenge song…

DT: Yes – it is. Paul wrote the words – he says it’s the nastiest song we ever wrote.

The title is quite Morrisseyesque…

DT: Paul’s a big fan of The Smiths.

It reminds me of the Longpigs…

DT: It’s funny you should say that – other people have said that too. Paul’s really into the Longpigs…


Your debut album, Shakedown, is being released on April 23, as a deluxe, repackaged CD version, with seven extra tracks…

DT: The album has been out of print – you can buy a copy from Japan for 45 quid! We reissued it digitally in 2015, but people wanted to get hold of it physically, and, because there’s a bit of a ‘90s nostalgia trip going on and people have started to get interested in the band again, during lockdown we thought we should do something for this year, as it’s the 25th anniversary of the first single coming out. We talked about doing a gig and then we decided to put out the third single, and do a proper CD release of the album, with extra tracks, so that people who do want it don’t have to buy an expensive copy off Discogs.

So, you’ve gone from lockdown to Shakedown

DT: Yes [laughs].

Did the first album do well when it was first released?

DT: It sat on the shelf and didn’t come out until 1999 – by that time, we’d already moved on and we were playing a set of different songs, as we’d kept on writing and writing. We’d demoed the second album before the first one had come out – we’d lost some momentum. Our last tour was 1999.

And then, before you’d had a chance to make the second album, you split up…

DT: Yes – and before we were supposed to tour Japan and the West Coast of the States… We’d just had enough – everything took so long. We’d been doing stuff together for 10 years.

So during lockdown last year, you started listening to your old stuff…

DT: We all went through our boxes of tapes, CDs and MiniDiscs and we started to relearn our live set. Paul found the demos we did for the second album and so we listened to them too – there’s some good stuff. It’s been really fun.

We’re also going to go into the studio, record our second album in July and put it out on vinyl before the end of the year – depending on how things pan out. We’re going to be true to how we would’ve done it in 1999.

With the release of Get What You Deserve and the reissue of Shakedown, we’re clearing the decks for what comes next. We’re wondering if we’re going to break a record for the longest time between a debut album and a follow-up. Even The Stone Roses only took five years…

Is there a third album planned? Three of The Kynd?

DT: That would be amazing – that’s what we should call the trilogy of singles.

 

The Kynd’s debut album, Shakedown, has been repackaged and reissued on CD for the first time in 20 years. It’s out on April 23.

The limited edition, individually numbered package features an eight-page lyric booklet and seven bonus tracks, including B-sides, demos and rarities.

You can order it here: https://thekynduk.bandcamp.com/

For more info: https://linktr.ee/TheKynd

The Kynd will be playing two headlining gigs later this year at The Water Rats, in King’s Cross, London (Friday June 11 and Saturday June 12) – both shows are sold out.

They will also be on the bill at the Speakeasy Volume One festival at Bucks Students’ Union, High Wycombe: Dec 11-12, alongside Space, Thousand Yard Stare, My Life Story and a DJ set from Louise Wener of Sleeper.

Tickets are available here.

 

‘I don’t set out to make psychedelia… I like making music that’s a bit 3D’

Steve Cradock has been busy during lockdown. The singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist for Brit mod-rockers Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller and The Specials used the time to revisit his 2011 solo album, Peace City West, which he has remixed and remastered for its first ever vinyl release.

Not only that, but he’s also played on Weller’s brand new studio album, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which was recorded at the Modfather’s Surrey studio, Black Barn, last summer, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is due out next month. Say It With Garage Flowers has had a sneak preview of it and we’re pleased to say that it’s brilliant –  a worthy successor to last year’s On Sunset, which, alongside 2018’s True Meanings, has seen Weller hit a purple patch.

Coincidentally, Cradock’s Peace City West, which was the follow-up album to his 2009 solo debut, The Kundalini Target, started to take shape when he recorded the first song, Last Days Of The Old World, at Black Barn, shortly after the sessions for his first album. That track, which features Weller on bass and backing vocals, inspired him to make the rest of the record.

Cradock recruited fellow Weller band member/ The Moons frontman, Andy Crofts, to assist with some of the songwriting for the record. They demoed the songs while on the road and then recorded the album in December/ January 2010 at Deep Litter Studios, on a farm, in rural Devon.

The album, which features drummer Tony Coote (Ocean Colour Scene/ P.P. Arnold, Little Barrie), and actor James Buckley (The Inbetweeners) on guitar and guest vocals for one track, I Man, is a lost gem. It’s a collection of 10 really strong and highly melodic songs, from the infectious and jangly, Beatles and Jam-like power-pop of opener Last Days Of The Old World, to the ’60s psych of The Pleasure Seekers, the pastoral cosmic pop of Kites Rise Up Against the Wind, the gorgeous and folky ballad Finally Found My Way Back Home –  co-written with Crofts and ’60s soul singer P.P. Arnold, who Cradock produced a solo LP for in 2019  – and the country-tinged Lay Down Your Weary Burden.

‘Peace City West sounded bad because of the mix. It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing’

After Peace City West came out, Cradock decided he wasn’t happy with the final mix of the album, or the psychedelic instrumental interludes that he’d put in-between the songs, so, 10 years later, he decided to do something about it.

“We mixed it badly on a laptop in January 2011 and then it was finished, but listening back it just sounded bad because of the mix,” he says. “It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing for me.”

Working at his home studio, Cradock set about the task of giving the album a new lease of life. “The first track I tried mixing was The Pleasure Seekers, which is the second song on the record, and as soon as I heard the proper drums in it that’s what made me think it’ll be worthwhile doing it,” he says.

Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Cradock, who was at home in Devon, where he has his studio, Kundalini, to find out more about the album, and also gain an insight into his recording process, his influences and his collaborations with P.P. Arnold and Weller.

Q&A

I listened to the new version of Peace City West and then the old one. I think the psychedelic interludes on the original release detract from the songs a bit…

Steve Cradock: That’s what I think – the new version gives it more focus. I like the fact that it’s now simple – it’s just the songs. Hearing the vinyl test pressing made me smile, which was good.

There was a lot of meandering nonsense on the old version, but, at the time, that was where my head was at – I thought it was interesting. There were bits of road music on it, from when I was in Egypt. I recorded a guy saying a prayer. I was enjoying that self-indulgence, but, in 2020, I wasn’t.

Until you came to remix Peace City West, had you listened to it recently?

SC: No – I can’t remember the last time I listened to it. That’s why I was so shocked by the quality of it when I did. I thought it if was going to come out [again] it needed to be put into its own space.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. The opening track, Last Days Of The Old World, has a power-pop feel and it reminds me of The Jam…

SC: Musically, I was maybe copying a bit of Elephant Stone [The Stone Roses]. It’s also quite Beatlesy – it’s got a 12-string Rickenbacker on it. The last chord is like The Jam, or it could be a Beatles thing.

Lyrically, it talks about how the rise of social media and smartphone culture has affected society and how we communicate with each other. Are you a reluctant user of social media?

SC: Not – not at all. I wrote the chorus lyrics and the melodies, but Andy Crofts wrote the lyric in the verse. I like social media – I like Instagram and Twitter’s alright.

I guess if you’re a musician who’s stuck at home during lockdown, social media is crucial for getting your music and message out there, although, I’ll be honest, I think there are too many online concerts happening…

SC: Do you know what? Even when they first started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one.

The Pleasure Seekers was the first song you remixed for the album, wasn’t it? It’s got a good drum sound on it. Was that key? I think the track sounds a bit like The Who at times…

SC: The Who? Really? Oh right – the fast acoustic guitar… Yeah – it is a bit Who-y. It has Chris Griffiths from The Real People singing on it and his brother, Tony, sings on the chorus, which sounds really nice. Do you know the history of The Real People?

They were almost Oasis before Oasis, weren’t they?

SC: They wrote some great tunes and they helped to demo Oasis when they first got together. I think Liam Gallagher sings like Tony Griffiths because of that. Without being controversial, I don’t think Liam sang like that before they worked together. I know he tries to sing like Lennon but… anyway… blah-blah-blah.

‘When online concerts started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one’

Like several of the songs on the album, The Pleasure Seekers has ‘60s flute sounds on it…

SC: Yeah – it’s that ‘60s Mellotron sound, but I also love a real flute. At the time of the album, I had a new digi-Mellotron called a Memotron – everyone had one. Listen to The Moons from that time – it was everywhere, like a bad rash, because it was new. The title of The Pleasure Seekers  came from a ‘60s film poster at Weller’s place.

Kites Rise Up Against The Wind has more ’60s psychedelic flutes on it and it’s pastoral…

SC: That song was originally a backing track that Charles Rees, who is the engineer at Black Barn, recorded for a bit of fun. That was around 2007. We would play it and love it – there was something about it. He gave it to me to write a tune for it.

‘I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure’

There was a guy called Davo [Paul Weller’s keyboard tech] who had a typical Scouse wit. He used to say [puts on a Scouse accent]: “Kites rise up against the wind, la.” I was like, “fucking hell – say that again!”

It was borrowed and I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure.

Little Girl is a very pretty song, with acoustic guitar and a really nice string arrangement, and Lay Down Your Weary Burden has a country feel, with pedal steel…

SC: On Little Girl, I was trying to go for an acoustic Neil Young thing. The lyric for Lay Down Your Weary Burden came from a poem Weller gave me – I put chords to it and then wrote a vocal melody. It’s kind of a dark, bitter tune, but hopefully the melodic chorus gives it some light at the end of the tunnel – there’s something beautiful about it.

The last song on the album, Ring The Changes, is a lullaby. It has snoring at the start and your daughter, Sonny, sings on it…

SC: She is horrified about it now. My son, Cass, was sleeping and we mic’d him up. It’s a nice little ending to the album. The middle eight is in F-sharp. When we were recording, we visited the local church when the bells were being rung. I spoke to the guy who was ringing them – the bell master. He told me they were in F-sharp. I said: “no fucking way! Can I record them on my phone?” He said:  “Oh yeah – of course you can.” It was luck – right time, right place.

And right key…

SC: Right fucking key! You can’t put a capo on church bells, can you?

The album is a lot more psychedelic than I was expecting it to be. When you’re doing solo records do you feel you can afford to be more self-indulgent than when you’re playing in a band, like Ocean Colour Scene?

SC: No – there’s no difference really. I like making music that’s a bit 3D – I love using delays and reverb. I don’t set out to make psychedelia. Some people have a spliff and it opens everything up – I try and make music like that. You don’t get it all from the first listen.

‘I’ve been recording with Weller’s daughter, Leah. I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega’

You have your own home studio, Kundalini. What’s the set-up like?

SC: It’s in a double garage at the back of my house. It’s sweet, man. I’ve got a drum kit, a grand piano and timpani drums in there – there’s a vibe. I do it all in a box – I use Logic and UAD. It’s so good these days. I’m not a big fan of MIDI – I play everything and then record it in a box. That set-up works for me. I’ve been recording with Paul Weller’s daughter, Leah – I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega.

 

I love the 2019 album you made with P.P. Arnold – The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold. Any plans to do another one together?

SC: I don’t know – we haven’t really spoken about it. That record took us a long time – we were working on it from 2016 to 2019. It wasn’t continual, as I was out on the road, but… it’s a double album. Anytime she asks to work with me, I would, of course.

How did you end up working with her? You were obviously a big fan, as she was a mod icon…

SC: Ocean Colour Scene had a studio in Birmingham that was close to a theatre that she was working at. As a fan, I took my copy of her album, The First Lady of Immediate, to get it signed, and I gave her some flowers. I told her we had a studio down the road and I asked her if she fancied coming to do some singing. She gave me a look and said [he puts on an American accent]: “Well, actually I’ve got to get back…” I was thinking ‘oh fuck.’

The next time I bumped into her was when I was playing guitar with Paul and she came to do a backing vocals session – it might have been for the Jools Holland show or something. She came in and went, ‘oh – it’s you!’ She remembered me.

She sang on Traveller’s Tune and It’s A Beautiful Thing for Ocean Colour Scene – she’s great and she’s still got a really fantastic voice.

Talking of collaborations, is there anyone you’d like to work with?

SC: I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog – I’ve spoken to him quite a few times. I got into him through my son, Cass. I think he’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together. He’s really out there. I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit – it’s only four or eight bars and that’s it. It’s not like my generation and where I come from, which is all about songs and arrangements: intros, verses, bridges, middle eights and codas. He has a different take on it.

What music have you been enjoying during lockdown?

SC: There were two tunes. There’s a group called The Innocence Mission who have a song called On Your Side, which really resonated with me – I just think it’s so beautiful – and the other one was a track called The Poison Tree by The Good, The Bad & The Queen. I couldn’t stop playing it, like 20 times every day.

During lockdown, a lot of us have had time to reflect. How do you feel now about the height of your success with Ocean Colour Scene during the ’90s? Your album Moseley Shoals sold over 1.3 million copies around the world. Do you get nostalgic for that time?

SC: No. I don’t even think about it – the heyday. I’ve not listened to the record for many years – I don’t see the point really.

When did you first learn to play guitar? Were you self-taught?

SC: I’m self-taught. I was originally a bass player, from the age of 11. I had a really shitty classical guitar and I used to listen to the UB40 album Signing Off a lot. I’d pick up the saxophone melody parts, or the guitar parts that Robin Campbell would play. That’s what started me trying to play.

What other music were you listening to when you were growing up?

SC: My first three albums were all Greatest Hits : Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Booker T and the M.G.’s, but the first record that really did it for me was the B-side of The Jam’s The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) – it’s a song called Pity Poor Alfie. I listened to that tune every day throughout my teenage years and I still listen to it a lot now. It totally blew my mind.

I liked The Jam, UB40, Elvis Costello and Blondie, and I really liked pop stuff, like Marc Almond and Soft Cell – I thought they were great. It wasn’t until later that I started to get into Motown.

 ‘I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog. He’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together.  I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit’

You’ve played on almost all of Weller’s solo albums, haven’t you? That’s 15 out of 16 records, if you include the forthcoming one, Fat Pop (Volume 1.) You weren’t on his first one – the self-titled album. How did you first meet him? Didn’t you used to hang around his Solid Bond studio in London? 

SC: I did, but I don’t know about ‘used to’ – I went down once and managed to get in. I played him a demo of a group I was in called The Boys. He said: “It sounds like The Jam, don’t it?” I was like: “Ahhhh – yeah….” He was getting into house music. I went on a pilgrimage from my home in Birmingham – that’s the reason I did it.

Why and how have you managed to stay playing with Weller for so long? What’s the, er, solid bond, that you have?

SC: I don’t know. That would be a question for him, wouldn’t it? I do feel lucky that I’m still involved. He’s always been really lovely to me. He must like what I bring to the table.

 

The remixed and remastered version of Peace City West is out now on Kundalini Records – to find out more, visit http://www.stevecradock.com/.

Paul Weller’s Fat Pop (Volume 1), featuring Steve Cradock, is released on May 14 (Polydor Records).

‘The direction we were taking was ‘classic spaghetti-acid-western-spy-crime/blaxploitation-giallo-adventure-noir’

Whatitdo Archive Group

Say It With Garage Flowers talks Tarantino, vintage Italian film soundtracks, rare vinyl and ’70s funk and soul-jazz with hip US recording collective Whatitdo Archive Group. Nice!

To describe an album as “the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist” has become a music journalism cliché, but in the case of The Black Stone Affair by Whatitdo Archive Group it’s perfectly true.

For their latest record, the US recording collective (Aaron Chiazza, drums/percussion; Mark Sexton (electric guitar, percussion); Christopher Sexton (Hammond B3 organ, Rhodes, Mellotron, harpsichord) and Alexander Korostinsky (bass, electric guitar, mandolin, percussion), who are based in Reno, Nevada, wanted to create an album that encompassed everything they love and admire about old Italian film soundtracks and scores and bring that energy back into the spotlight.

They’ve certainly achieved it, as The Black Stone Affair is dramatic, atmospheric, exotic – even erotic at times – and very, very authentic sounding.

As well as musicians and recording engineers, the members of Whatitdo Archive Group are voracious vinyl collectors.  They spent nine months of research, digging through their records and studying the works of composers including the legendary Ennio Morricone, as well as Piero Piccioni, Stefano Torossi, François de Roubaix and Alessandro Alessandroni, before composing this imaginary cinematic soundtrack and working with over 24 other musicians – there are some superb orchestral and brass arrangements on the album.

‘The Black Stone Affair is dramatic, atmospheric, exotic – even erotic at times – and very, very authentic sounding’

In an exclusive interview, Say It Garage Flowers spoke to this bunch of dedicated crate-diggers and cult film soundtrack specialists to find out the story behind their latest project.

Q&A

Can you tell us about the origins of Whatitdo Archive Group? How did the collective come together?

Mark Sexton: We all got together in our college years. Alex and I were looking for a fill-in drummer for a gig, and reached out to Aaron Chiazza – we hit it off right away. There was a chemistry – not just musically, but in how we all got along.

We ultimately decided to create a side-project together, which we would use as a “musical outlet” to break free from the straightforward music we were playing in our other bands. That was the concept – a band where you can do whatever you want, and bending the rules is encouraged. From these early days as an avant-garde funk band, our tastes grew together, along with our musicianship.

In the beginning, we wanted to be like a strange version of The Meters – we idolised funk and soul-jazz music of the ‘70s. We would often incorporate the strangest chord progressions and time signatures into our playing, just because we could.

Once we got our jitters out, we shifted gears into a more mature sound, inspired by the groovy compositions of Italian soundtracks, library and soul-jazz recordings of the 1960s and 1970s.

You’re all big record collectors. How big are your record collections and what are some of your coolest, rarest or favourite records you own?

Aaron Chiazza: I can speak for all of us and say that our collections are big enough to be a pain in the ass when moving to a new home. Some of my favourites are Isao Tomita – Snowflakes Are Dancing; Coleman Hawkins – At Ease With Coleman Hawkins and Wings – Wings At The Speed Of Sound.

Alexander Korostinsky: My collection is about 600 deep right now. It’s all seriously curated stuff. I’m not the type of collector that just buys anything willy-nilly, I’ve spent over 10 years crate-digging and they’re all special to me.

In my opinion, some of the coolest records that I have are Indonesian and Thai funk and soul records. The rarest that I have are probably my library records and possibly my first pressing of D’Angelo‘s Voodoo. I’m on the lookout for all of the obscure and exotic Italian soundtracks and library records that there seem to be an endless supply of.

‘We wanted to be like a strange version of The Meters – we idolised funk and soul-jazz music of the ‘70s. We would often incorporate the strangest chord progressions and time signatures into our playing, just because we could’

MS: All of our collections are slightly different. Alex’s is heavy on soundtracks, library and exotica. Aaron’s has lots of ‘80s funk, and rock & roll oddities. My collection is full of Brazilian samba, disco and R&B 45s. My most prized record is actually one my wife found at a yard sale –an original mono pressing of Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul. I’m always on the lookout for new gems.

Do you have any favourite record shops?

MS: Groove Merchant in San Francisco is an amazingly well-curated shop for jazz, funk, and soul. Also, let’s get real… Discogs is very useful.

AK: Groove Merchant in San Francisco is definitely one of the coolest stores in the US, but during tours across Europe, playing music, we also got to see some very, very interesting record stores in Germany, France, Netherlands and Switzerland. The record store, 16 Tons, in Zürich is definitely one of my all-time favourites by far. It doubles as a mid-century modern furniture store, which really captured my heart.

What’s your preferred way of listening to music? Are you audio obsessives?

AC: Being a mixing engineer, you gain insight listening through poor gear and nice gear. When I’m listening through nice speakers, I always try to position my head where it sounds best.

MS: We all have great vinyl systems at home – I wish we could listen to that quality everywhere. I’m usually listening to Spotify on the go in my car, or through some decent headphones, but at home, it’s vinyl 90 per cent of the time.

Let’s talk about The Black Stone Affair album. How did the idea for the soundtrack come about? What was the inspiration and the starting point for the project?

AC: I think the idea truly came from our FOMO [fear of missing out] on smoke-filled, well-dressed studio sessions from a past era.  That mixed with the cinematic era of ‘70s Italian funk pumping out amazing records.

As far as The Black Stone Affair goes, we knew that we loved albums from that time, so we decided to make our own to go along with a coinciding movie plot.

AK: Around late 2015, we had all just starting to really get into listening to older European music. It was pretty obvious from the get-go that we all started gravitating toward Italian cinematic scores. So at one point Mark brought Blood Chief  [from The Black Stone Affair] to the table, and after we hashed that out, it kind of felt right to take everything we were doing in that direction. After we worked on that song, the rest of the music started to materialise, and before you knew it, we had an album’s worth of material.

The record is influenced by old Italian soundtrack scores. Can you tell us some of your favourite films / soundtracks and composers, and why you like them?

MS: It all started with us being fans of household names like Sergio Leone, Antonioni, Fellini and their collaborations with Ennio Morricone, Alessandro Alessandroni and Stelvio Cipriani, but you realise that is just the tip of the iceberg. These composers had such long careers making hundreds of scores. That’s a lot of music to listen to. It’s easy to fall in love with the exciting sounds of reverb-soaked baritone guitars, harpsichord melodies and lush string passages.

What kind of movie do you envisage The Black Stone Affair to be? From the music it feels part Spaghetti Western, part blaxploitation and part spy / adventure movie…

AK: Yeah, exactly. I’m glad you said that. That’s definitely the precise direction we were imagining this would be taking: a classic spaghetti/acid-western/spy-crime/blaxploitation type of giallo/adventure noir. That’s a mouthful!

‘It’s easy to fall in love with the exciting sounds of reverb-soaked baritone guitars, harpsichord melodies and lush string passages’

How did you write and score the tracks and what were the sessions like?

AC: The songs were written organically, either in a group setting or alone. We moved into scoring songs as needed, depending on instrumentation.

There was no block time that the album was recorded in. Some songs were from past sessions and some came closer to the final build-up of the process. Working like that takes a little longer, but it helps the album grow naturally. I think we accomplished that.

MS: Either Alex or myself brought most of the initial ideas to the table as demos. We would then work out arrangements and finalise the songs in rehearsal before hitting record. However, a lot of the time the songs would go straight to tracking without us ever playing the songs in a room together. Some of the songs evolved because we played them live and the live versions gave us ideas for the record.

‘The majority of the album was recorded in Alex’s home studio using tube preamps and ribbon microphones into his DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)’

You worked with 24 musicians and recorded the album in Alexander’s home studio. How was that?

MS: We had a great time recording the album and pulled in a lot of favours from many of our musician friends, and even a Hail Mary contacting Alessandro Alessandroni Jr. for him to do the whistle part on The Return Of Beaumont Jenkins.

The majority of the album was recorded in Alex‘s home studio using tube preamps and ribbon microphones into his DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The song Farewell Lola was recorded on a 1970s TEAC 1/4” tape machine and the non-album bonus track, La Pietra, was done on his Tascam 388.

Let’s talk about some of the tracks on the album. What can you tell me about them? The Black Stone Affair (Main Theme) is dark and moody, with psych guitars and a Morricone / John Barry feel. There’s harpsichord and organ, and then it gets all funky….

AK: I really admired the arrangement of Piero Piccioni’s Colpo Rovente soundtrack. I wanted to capture that swirling bassline vibe with this song and give it the ultimate David Axelrod treatment.

The angular harpsichord melody was definitely a nod to Alessandroni and Morricone’s work in the mid ‘70s. My concept for the song was to have a very engaging opening track that covered a lot of melodic territory. There are three main motifs in the song: there’s the heartbeat rhythm in the beginning, the swirling bassline in the middle and then the psych-guitar freak-out at the end. All of which are musical motifs that are quoted later in the record.

 

‘We wanted to write our own anthem, like the Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache, but with a more Italian-western vibe’

Blood Chief is a more soulful number, with a cool groove and some great Rhodes piano on it….

Mark Sexton: This song was conceptualised in my old apartment in Truckee. In fact, the demo and guitar part were written on an iPhone in the GarageBand app. It’s pretty funny, because I’ve never composed a song that way.

We wanted to write our own anthem like the Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache, but with a more Italian-western vibe. This is a song that got more intense as we played it live. We liked the live version, so we re-recorded it for the album, adding the guitar solo you hear.

Italian Love Triangle has a groovy bossa feel. It’s Easy Listening for European hipsters isn’t it? It’s one of the lighter numbers on the record…

AK: Italian composers and European music in general during that time had a sort of love affair with Brazilian bossa nova and so it seemed like a very appropriate thing to include one of those European-goes-bossa songs for this record. The nonsense vocals are by far my favourite part.

Last Train to Budapest is a thrilling chase theme – it’s very haunting, with some spooky vocal sounds…

MS: The “chase scene” was a box we knew we needed to tick as we wrote the album, but we kept putting it off. I had come up with a few ideas, but nothing felt like “it”. Alex showed me his demo, and I loved it. One important thing with a chase scene is tension… And I think the awkwardly stiff bongos, pounding bass and incessant wah-wah guitar puts it right where it needs to be.

L’Amour au Centre de la Terre is a romantic interlude, with lush strings and French vocals…

AK: This was a case where the song was written about a year before the idea for the album really appeared. It was just a song I was working on that I wanted to have a lot of fun with, and it ended up being so dramatic and so spooky that we couldn’t help but include it on the record.

‘We’d love to score for a real film. 007 would be fine, if they sent us some of that explosive chewing gum’

The melodies are actually quoted in other songs as well, so there’s this common string that’s woven through the entire fabric of the record that is the melodic motifs embedded in this track specifically. Listen to the string parts throughout the record and you’ll see what I mean.

Beaumont’s Lament is very Morricone Spaghetti Western. Agreed?

AK: Agreed.

The Return of Beaumont Jenkins is very funky and edgy, and it has some great whistling on it…

MS: This was a fun one to write. I wanted to have a song that mimicked the gritty bassline you here in Bob James’ Nautilus, but was more Spaghetti Western. It was imperative for it to feel like the movie’s “big moment”, when the hero, whom you thought was dead, emerges and rides off into the sunset.

Would you like to score the soundtrack for a real film? What kind of thing would you like to do? Do you have any interest in composing a Bond film soundtrack? Maybe you could do the one after No Time To Die? I think the modern 007 scores could do with a bit of freshening up…

AC: We’d love to score for a real film. 007 would be fine, if they sent us some of that explosive chewing gum. If a film were made for the music, I imagine we’d all be pretty involved. Music before film is quite a reversal of the status quo and we’re into it.

‘Quentin Tarantino should create the actual Blackstone Affair movie. The soundtrack is good to go – hell, we might even write a few more tunes for it if he picks it up’

Would you like someone to make the film that could go with The Black Stone Affair soundtrack? Who would you choose to direct it?

MS: Tarantino, or anyone crazy enough to go full out on this acid-western.

AK: That’s the biggest no-brainer of them all. Quentin Tarantino should create the actual Blackstone Affair movie. The soundtrack is good to go – hell, we might even write a few more tunes for it if he picks it up.

AC: That would be ideal. Tarantino seems to be the consensus.

The Black Stone Affair by Whatitdo Archive Group is released on April 9 on Record Kicks.

https://whatitdoarchivegroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-black-stone-affair

https://recordkicks.bandcamp.com/merch

 

‘This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff…’

Canadian power-poppers and retro-rockers Star Collector are back with a brand new album, Game Day –  their first record since 2006’s Hundred-Bullet-Proof.

Based in Vancouver, the band’s current line-up is: Vic Wayne – vocals and rhythm/acoustic guitars; Steve Monteith – lead guitar and vocals; Adam East – bass, vocals; Adrian Buckley – drums, percussion and vocals. 

Since Star Collector formed – their debut album, Demo Model 256, came out in 1999 –  they’ve had 17 bass players!

Comeback single, Rip It Off, is an infectious blast of crunching, guitar-fuelled, fuzzed-up rock ‘n’roll, with a killer chorus, but, like many of the highly melodic songs on Game Day, there’s a darkness lurking just beneath the surface, as Wayne tells Say It With Garage Flowers, in an exclusive interview.

“I wrote Rip It Off, which, for all its cowbell and riff-y splendour, is a damn serious song. It’s about climbing up the mountain of expectations, then sliding back down into the chaos… and the masks we all wear,” he says.

“This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album. I kept the major song cycle intact and we added some ‘stand-alone’ tunes towards the end, but I’m really pleased with the way they all flow together.”

‘Since Star Collector formed – their debut album, Demo Model 256, came out in 1999 –  they’ve had 17 bass players!’

New single and album title track, the swaggering Game Day, kicks off the record, which is their fifth, with a blast of feedback, and it has a great, Big Star-style guitar riff – think In The Street.

“Underneath the sweet bombast is a very personal lyric about facing up to demons, and making incredibly hard, life-defining decisions,” says Wayne. “It embodies the power and the pain, as it were.”

Hook, Line & Singer – great title – is an acoustic-led ballad with shades of early R.E.M, the jangly and soaring Green Eyes – one of the highlights – has a jangly, Matthew Sweet feel, and the epic Super Zero Blues has more of a groove than the other songs on the album, with a heavy bassline and a cool, vintage organ sound.

“I wrote Super Zero Blues from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion,” says Wayne.

“It does offer some hope though at the end: “Maybe we’re all born to lose… those Super Zero Blues” – maybe we can come out okay on the other side…. I know… heavy, right? And you thought you were getting a happy-go-lucky-pop-combo interview… Ha-ha.”

And what about those 17 bass players? “I’ll spare you the gory details…”

Q&A

How’s it going?

Vic Wayne: Hey, thanks a bushel for asking me to do this. Things are well here. Vancouver’s not the worst place in the world to be during a pandemic, or anytime, really) I think Canada’s done well compared to much of the world. Our British Columbia Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is a medical rock star!

How has lockdown affected you, as a person and also professionally, as a musician/band. Have you had to radically alter any of your plans?

VW: The lockdown hasn’t changed much for me personally. Professionally, band-wise, yeah, it definitely sucks that we can’t gig or properly rehearse but, glass half-full, it’s been good to focus on finishing the album, making videos, etc. I’ve actually found it’s allowed me dedicated time to write too. I think about two thirds of our next album is written already.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears? 

VW: Well, the future of live music certainly is a big black hole of a question mark, isn’t it? My hopes are that we can get back onstage before 2021 is out, but I’m fully prepared to keep writing, recording, and releasing music/videos, if that’s not realistic. I’m still holding on to my Squeeze concert tickets from last June!

‘Lockdown has allowed me dedicated time to write. I think about two thirds of our next album is written already’

How have you been coping with lockdown?

VW: I feel I’m coping well, but I do worry about my mom, who’s in a more precarious age group, and my three siblings and their families, who live in the US.

Let’s talk about your new album, Game Day. Was it written and recorded pre-Covid? When did you make it and where?

VW: Well, I started writing the album in 2017 and we had a final set of tracks in 2019. We recorded in a few places. I demoed songs acoustically in Seattle, Washington (pre-Covid), with Evan Foster (Boss Martians, Dirty Sidewalks, The Sonics) at a studio, No Count, that he co-owns, while we were gigging there.

We did a show or two with Boss Martians here in Vancouver a number of years back and Evan and I stayed in touch. I admire his music and loved working with him. He really tuned in to the emotion of the songs.  In fact, we used one, Hook, Line & Singer, on the album. The rest were done at Echoplant Studios, here in Vancouver, with engineer, Matt Di Pomponio, and then at our drummer Adrian’s home studio, Chez Meow, plus we did some bits at Steve and Adam’s home studios and in Portland, Oregon respectively.

One of the amazing things these days is you can record at home and send files around. As the producer I would get, say Ad’s bass parts, then we’d jointly make decisions, refine them and then forward to Adrian to add to the musical jambalaya. It took a year almost to the day to make Game Day and I’m extremely proud of it.

What were the sessions for the album like?

VW: They were great. The band was excited to be making a new record after a hiatus and, though it’s our fifth album, it was our first with Adrian, as our long-time drummer, Ringo, had a little boy and moved to another province.

We did part ways with our bassist, Shane, who’d played with us for about nine years, but my younger brother, Ad, who grew up with many of the same influences I have (The Jam, The Who, The Vapors, Echo & The Bunnymen, Julian Cope, the mod revival, The Fabs, Alice Cooper – yep, that’s not a mistake, his original band was wicked!) joined us, from afar, to record the majority of it.

‘Steve and I have always had a natural chemistry with our guitar playing. Basically, he plays the real stuff and I hack away like a bozo with a butter knife, trying to carve a pineapple’

We did use three of Shane’s tracks as they were top-notch. We also had Kevin Kane (The Grapes of Wrath – one of the best Canadian bands ever, in my humble opinion) who’d we’d worked with on two of our previous albums, play a wicked guitar duel with Steve on Funeral Party. Evan did some backing vocals, and on organ we had Derek MacDonald – he used to play with Adrian – and Reece Terris, who used to play with Steve and I. Great fellas and musicians – every one of ‘em.

What did you want to achieve with the new record. Did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like? What influenced it lyrically and musically?

VW:This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album. I kept the major song cycle intact and we added some ‘stand-alone’ tunes towards the end, but I’m really pleased with the way they all flow together.

Musically, Steve and I have always had a natural chemistry with our guitar playing. Basically, he plays the real stuff and I hack away like a bozo with a butter knife, trying to carve a pineapple – ha-ha! My only attribute as a player is that I used to be a drummer, so I do have decent rhythm and a sense of tempo. Ad is a killer bass player and, every time he’d send new ideas, I was like a kid in a four-string candy store. He also has a fabulous voice, so we had him sing too.

‘This album was influenced by some heavy, heavy stuff. I choose to leave the specifics out, but it was originally intended to be kind of a concept album’

Adrian just let the Keith Moon-hellfire break loose on tracks like Game Day and Super Zero Blues, cowbelled when cowbelling was needed on Rip It Off, and even did a bit of John Bonham on Funeral Party. Him joining us was a bit of an unexpected bonus. He also has a really strong voice, so Bob’s your uncle!

Steve was his usual easy-going, stellar self, playing and singing the shit outta the songs ’til he was hoarse, and his fingers bled. I added some acoustic and sang a bunch, et voila… Game Day was born.

Who writes the songs? What’s the process?

VW: They usually come about one of two ways, I write ‘em or Steve and I write ‘em together. On previous albums I co-wrote with others (Kevin Kane, Dave Lawson, who played with Ad and I in our mod band as teens and was actually the lead guitarist in Star Collector for our first album, Demo Model 256, but since [second album] Black-Eyed Soul that’s generally the way it happens.

I’m the words guy (“I told you that English degree would come to no good, Vic!”) and either I do the music myself as well, or Steve and I will hack away until, you guessed it, his fingers bleed and I get fed up with said pineapple…ha-ha!

On this album I wrote a lot of it on my own, as the aforementioned heavy-on-the-heavy took me away from Vancouver for a couple of years, so I had a lot of time to muse and reacquaint myself with my acoustic… and the songs just poured out. Steve and I did co-write a few, mind you, which is the perfect segue into your next question…

The title track, Game Day, is the opening song on the new record. What can you tell me about it?

VW: Steve and I wrote Game Day together, sitting knee to knee, à la Lennon and Macca, at a friend’s house in Seattle, while touring, and it is one of my favourite songs we’ve written together. It’s full of mod-flash bass and drums and Steve’s ‘tip of the chapeau to Big Star’ riff, but underneath the sweet bombast is a very personal lyric about facing up to demons, and making incredibly hard, life-defining decisions. It embodies the power and the pain, as it were. The words alternate between two voices as well, which is important.

The first single was Rip It Off. It’s classic-sounding power-pop, with a great guitar solo/sound…

VW: Why, thank you. That’s so kind of you, but the guitar solo/sound was all Steve. It’s melodic and kickin! *Note to self: design a t-shirt for Steve with that on the front*.  He did a really great video for it too. It’s on our new YouTube channel, along with our first video, Skyscraper, and lots of live/TV clips from touring Europe, the US and here at home.

‘Steve and I wrote Game Day together, sitting knee to knee, à la Lennon and Macca, at a friend’s house in Seattle, while touring, and it is one of my favourite songs we’ve written together’

I wrote Rip It Off, which is, for all its cowbell and riff-y splendour, also a damn serious song. It’s about climbing up the mountain of expectations, then sliding back down into the chaos… and the masks we all wear.

I found a brilliant quote, which we used on the album sleeve: “The Japanese have three faces. The first face you show to the world. The second face you show to your close friends and family. The third face, you never show anyone” (Unknown).  That’s Rip It Off right there.”

Super Zero Blues has more of a groove than the other songs on the album – at least on the verses – with a heavy bassline. It has a cool organ sound too.

VW: Super Zero Blues is our epic album track. We had Curtain Call on Hundred-Bullet-Proof  [ fourth album] and Start To Shine on Flash-Arrows & The Money Shot [third album],  so I guess it’s par for the course now to have something that spans my secret love for Alice Cooper, my not-so-secret love for Echo & The Bunnymen, and prog rock! Ha-ha. I think, musically, it really brings out the band members’ strengths.

‘I wrote Super Zero Blues from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion’

Steve’s minimalistic guitar, which comes crashing in on the choruses, and his melodic-amidst-the-bombast solo; Adrian’s steady Tomorrow Never Knows-ish playing, which disintegrates to chaos at the fade; and Reece, who guested on organ, doing a whacked-out solo in the middle, which you referenced.

Shane played bass on this one and his groove and tone are perfect for the song’s mood. This was one I wrote from a dark place of wanting to understand how beautiful relationships can break down to so much chaos, that we feel dragged around on a leash by our own love and devotion. It does offer some hope though at the end: “Maybe we’re all born to lose… those Super Zero Blues” – maybe we can come out okay on the other side…. I know… heavy, right? And you thought you were getting a happy-go-lucky-pop-combo interview… Ha-ha.

I really like Hook, Line & Singer – great title! It’s one of the slower songs on the record – a stripped-down, acoustic-led ballad, with some nice organ and an electric guitar solo on it too…

VW: So, this is the one we kept from the sessions I did with Evan in Seattle. I originally envisioned it with a full-band arrangement and me singing up an octave. This is the beauty of demoing and bouncing stuff off others you respect. Evan really felt it would be better with my lower Ian McCulloch baritone, which, frankly, is infinitely easier to sing with, as it’s like my talking voice.

‘To be honest, it’s hard for me to listen to  Hook, Line & Singer sometimes, but it’s fucking real’

He said he heard a little Johnny Cash in it, and the mournful lyric would really stand out if it stayed stripped-down. Once we ran it a couple times, I was like… “umm, yeah, agreed!”

Though it’s different from the rest of the album – no drums/bass, and minimal guitar/organ – it’s the emotional centrepiece of the whole thing. Derek played some beautiful organ and Steve’s solo hits the right tone emotionally and sonically. It’s the first new song I’d written after our hiatus and it got me back writing with a vengeance. To be honest, it’s hard for me to listen to it sometimes, but it’s fucking real.

Green Eyes is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a Matthew Sweet feel. Do you agree? There are some great, crunching, loud guitars and an infectious melody…

VW: I must admit, in our close circle of friends and family there are quite a few who agree with you and rate this one highly. It was the last one chosen for the record but there ya go… beauty is in the ear of the beholder. Or should that be belistener? Now I’m just making up words!

Steve and I wrote this together, around his guitar riff, and it’s about my dad and my three siblings. He was a wonderful guy, a doctor, who died far too young, at 62.

Musically, yeah, Matthew Sweet, and a couple of people have said The Who. I even hear a bit of R.E.M. in it… Ad’s bass carries the song along à la Bruce Thomas of The Attractions. Adrian and I did handclaps, and Steve played a bunch of really cool parts for the solo.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

VW: Well, we’ll promote Game Day as best we can, even if we can’t play it live for a while, We’ve made some brilliant connections within the power-pop community and already after only a few weeks of Rip It Off being out, the support has been super and duper – and much appreciated.

We’ve received radio play from the States to the UK to Spain already and made it on to compilations and playlists. The lockdown has been good for one thing, and that’s writing. I’ve got a handful of new songs done, and Steve and I co-wrote a couple more, so our next album is in utero… now to be able to go rehearse and record it… *fingers crossed emoji*.

‘We’ve made some brilliant connections within the power-pop community and already after only a few weeks of Rip It Off being out, the support has been super and duper – and much appreciated’

What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

VW: Hmmm… let me do a quick mind scroll: The Rosenbergs, The Lucy Show, Hoodoo Gurus, Fountains Of Wayne, Odds, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Black Keys, BRMC, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smithereens, TPOH [The Pursuit of Happiness], Danny Michel, Elephant Stone, Big Star, Secret Affair, STP, Slydigs, and, of course, The Jam, The Kinks and The Who.

One new album I was really impressed with is The Psychedelic Furs’ Made of Rain. I also love Rock and Roll (Save My Soul) by Dirty Sidewalks, My Heavy Soul  by Plasticsoul, Kissing A Fool by The Pop Cycle, Heart Of Stone by Black Nite Crash, and The Gospel According To Saint Me  by Veruca Salt.

Here’s a few that might seem left-field for me: The Water Lets You In by Book of Fears, You Could Be Wrong by The Mastersons, Montreal Rock Band Somewhere by Happyness, and Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People. Plus, Spoon, Temples, Tame Impala, Mother Mother, New Pornographers and Jets Overhead.

I could fill up a couple page, but there’s a bunch. One project that kept me musically engaged during lockdown was I posted a Treasure Hunt on Facebook every day for 120 days straight. Each day I’d pick five – sometimes more – songs that I love by each artist, trying to focus on artists that aren’t commonly known. It was fun, nostalgic and had me discovering lots of stuff by these artists I didn’t previously know as well. Many are listed above. I’d often hear from the musicians themselves and their fans also replied – it had a great communal feel about it.

Star Collector at LoFi, Seattle.

What’s your preferred way of listening to music – and why?

VW: I love listening in the car, especially on long drives – though I haven’t taken many lately –  and late at night, in my AirPods, when I can totally zone out and drift in the wonder of other people’s vivid creativity. Not to sound like an ethereal surfer dude *Spicoli: “Then I’m winging off to London to jam with the Stones!”*

Funny, though, I also love cranking up a mix of stuff while cooking! Ha-ha… it just makes peeling the garlic so much more pleasant.

Finally, do you know one of my favourite Canadian artists, Jerry Leger? He’s an alt-country / Americana singer-songwriter from Toronto. You should check him out – he’s great!

VW: Well, to be honest, I wasn’t familiar with him, but, after that recommendation, I’d be a fool to not have checked him out,  so I did and yeah, good stuff.

I see that Michael Timmins [Cowboy Junkies] produced him, which really works for his authentic style. I really liked a home vid he did of the song Ticket Bought. Thanks for the tip. And thanks for your keen interest in my outfit – not my clothes, obviously, but my band.  Although I am writing this in my pyjamas, but, rest assured, with a wicked pair of shades on.

Game Day by Star Collector is out now on CD and digital / streaming platforms.

https://starcollectorcanada.bandcamp.com/

‘We have such a wide range of influences it can be hard to pin them all down – from Coltrane to Hawkwind’

Triptides – photo by Brad Danner.

Alter Echoes, the great new album from L.A-based trio Triptides (led by multi-instrumentalist Glenn Brigman, with drummer Brendan Peleo-Lazar and bassist/guitarist Stephen Burns) is a mix of sun-soaked, ’60s-sounding, psychedelic pop – think The Byrds and The Beatles – and far-out space rock. 

It was recorded prior to the pandemic, in Hollywood’s Boulevard Recording studio, which was previously the legendary Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and, er, Liberace made, or mixed, records. 

“Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there,” says Brigman, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers from L.A. “But I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!”

Q&A

How is it in L.A?

Glenn Brigman: It’s a very unique place and we love it for a lot of reasons. But one of the coolest parts is the amount of incredible music that has been made here over the years. We dig the history.

How has lockdown affected you as a band?

GB: We’ve all been affected one way or another. At this point we are just trying to make the most of our time off the road – we’re writing, recording and learning more about our craft.

I’ve started learning the Sarod [Indian stringed instrument], Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey. We had to cancel last year’s SXSW appearances and a European tour planned for last September. Hopefully we will be back in Europe before the end of 2021 to make up for it.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears for the rest of the year and beyond?

GB: I’m trying not to think about it too much… we’re just taking it one day at a time right now and hoping for the best. I hope that our ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations will help us pull through any difficulties that await us in the coming year.

‘I’ve started learning the Sarod, Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey’

How have you been coping with lockdown?

GB: We’ve been coping by working on every aspect of the music, apart from the live show. Taking care of each other and staying connected to our friends and family as best as we can.

Let’s talk about your new album, Alter Echoes. When did you make it?

GB: We recorded it in the fall of 2019; long before the word Covid was part of our lexicon.

It was recorded and mixed at Clay Blair’s Boulevard Recording studio in Hollywood. How was that? What were the set-up and the vibes like? How were the sessions? 

GB: Clay is a great guy. We had a blast working with him at such a legendary studio. The set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock.

The vibes were very good. Brendan has known Clay for years, but they sort of reconnected when Brendan moved out to L.A, so it was sort of like working with an old friend. Also, the fact that Clay is from North Carolina and Stephen and I are from Georgia made us feel even more at home. The sessions were great – we had rehearsed the material beforehand, but it still had a very spontaneous vibe to it.

‘The studio set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock’

The studio was formerly Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan made, or mixed, records. Did any of that history rub off on you?  Liberace also recorded in the studio. Is his piano still there?

GB: Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there! I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!

The new record definitely has a sun-soaked, psychedelic sound. What influenced it musically, or otherwise?

GB: There’s such a wide range of influences it can be hard to pin them all down – from Coltrane to Hawkwind. So many different groups. But I think being in L.A, working together as a band, touring together – it all influenced how the record came together. We knew each other’s strengths and made sure that we played to them.

Photo by Alex Bulli

The single, It Won’t Hurt You, is one of my favourite songs of the year so far. What can you tell me about it? It’s very Byrdsy. Where did it come from? 

GB: I wrote that one in the summer of 2018. It sat around as a drum machine apartment demo for a year or so. When I presented it to the group it worked perfectly with the three-piece arrangement and we decided to record it.

Hand of Time is another of my favourite songs on the record. I think it has a slight Stonesy feel a swagger, like Street Fighting Man, but crossed with English ’60s psychedelia. Is that a fair description?

GB: I can see that. I think Brendan was thinking about the stripped-down drum patterns from McCartney II. I was probably drawing on Hawkwind or Can. It was just one of those songs that came out of a jam. We were doing a sort of stream of consciousness demo night where we were recording everything to the Tascam 488 tape machine. Suddenly we just started playing it. Listening back afterwards we thought, well that’s going to have to be a song, isn’t it?

Was the spacey track Shining influenced by Pink Floyd? There’s a definite Dark Side of the Moon feel to it. I’m thinking Breathe

GB: Of course! Shining is a bit of our love letter to our favorite Floyd moments. The lyrics are supposed to be from a disoriented perspective – another realm where things aren’t what they seem. There’s a line where I say, “Relax, you weren’t meant to live,” which was sort of a reference to Nightmare of Percussion, the first track on the second Strawberry Alarm Clock album, where the narrator says: “Don’t worry about dying – you were meant not to live.” I always thought that was really weird and I wanted to include some of that weirdness in the song.

Having A Laugh is one of the lighter songs on the album. It’s poppy and has a McCartney / Beatles feel. Would you agree?

GB: It is and it isn’t. I was trying to comment on how much terrible news people see and hear everyday (“If you really believed half the things they said/wouldn’t be any need to get out of bed”). And this was before the pandemic! At the same time, I was thinking how we need to start taking care of the earth, of each other before it’s too late.

‘We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day’

Another lighter, poppier song is She Doesn’t Want To Know – it’s a kind of a bossa nova/ lounge/ Easy Listening tune. Laidback and quite ’60s…

GB: We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day.

The last song, Now and Then, is very ’60s. It reminds me of The Zombies and also Cream’s I Feel Free. What can you tell me about it?

GB: For that tune we wanted to go all out ‘60s. We were already in the studio with Clay, who is a huge Beatles fan and an authority on their recording techniques [see video below].

Paired with Brendan, who is an authority on Ringo’s gear, in particular, we couldn’t help but do our own Help-inspired UK beat song. We actually meant to use a Hohner Pianet on the track, like The Night Before, but it was giving us issues that day, so we settled on the Wurlitzer 200 [electric piano].

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

GB: We have some tentative tour plans, but I don’t want to jinx anything. We’ve also got more music to release. Like I said, we’ve been recording quite a bit.

‘I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006’

What music – new and old  – have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

GB: We’ve all been listening to a ton of music over the lockdown – even more than usual perhaps. I’ve been digging a lot of UK folk recently: Fairport Convention, Michael Chapman, Bridget St John. And digging into some jazzier stuff: Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Gábor Szabó. I also went on a big Bee Gees kick after seeing that new documentary [The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart].

Finally, what’s your preferred way of listening to music and why?

Photo by Alex Bulli

GB: Records. But driving around and listening to music is a close second. I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006.

Triptides’ Alter Echoes will be released on limited vinyl, and digital / streaming platforms on March 19, via Alive Naturalsound Records.

https://triptides.bandcamp.com/

 

‘We’ve already written the soundtracks – now we just need to find the films to accompany them. Anyone out there interested?’

XIXA – photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

Like all the best bands, guitar-slinging six-piece XIXA, from Tucson, Arizona, look like a gang. In some of their press photos, they’re all wearing black and posing against a mountain range, looking like they’ve just drifted out of the badlands and are intent on razing your little town to the ground.

It’s an image that suits their sound perfectly – XIXA cite some of their influences as ‘70s Spaghetti Westerns, Gothic horror / Edgar Allan Poe, ’80s horror films, Narco cumbia – cumbia is a type of Colombian dance music, like salsa – and Peruvian chicha group Los Shapis.

Formed in the deep American Southwest, the band also has Latin roots, which can be heard amidst the dark and cinematic, brooding, desert-rock sound of their latest album, Genesis – one of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year so far.

“We live and breathe this landscape, so with these songs we let loose and went as far into that world as we could,” says XIXA’s Gabriel Sullivan, who shares lead vocals and lead guitar with fellow outlaw, Brian Lopez. Both of them are / were also members of Howe Gelb’s alt-country rockers, Giant Sand. XIXA’s line-up is completed by bandmates Jason Urman (keys), Winston Watson (drums, percussion), Efrén Cruz Chávez (timbales, percussion), and Hikit Corbel (bass). 

Genesis is XIXA’s second album. Produced by Lopez and Sullivan and recorded in Tucson at the band’s Dust & Stone studio, it follows their debut Bloodline and 2019 EP The Code. It’s an extraordinary, exotic and often intense listen –  an intoxicating mix of Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western-style soundtracks, psych, rock, Latin influences, ’80s glossy pop and electronica. 

‘We live and breathe this landscape, so with these songs we let loose and went as far into that world as we could’

Guests on the record include the Uummannaq Children’s Choir from Greenland, Latin singer and guitarist Sergio Mendoza from “indie mambo” act Orkesta Mendoza, and Algerian Tuareg desert-rock quintet Imarhan.

Say It With Garage Flowers took a trip into XIXA’s dark, desert-rock world and spoke to Lopez and Sullivan about the genesis of, er, Genesis.

“We have spent years tweaking the recognisability of our sound. And Genesis is the best representation to date,” they tell us.

Q&A

Hi. Thanks for doing this. How’s it going? Where are you at the moment? In Tucson? What’s it like? Describe your surroundings and current mood.

Gabriel Sullivan: Thanks for having us. I am indeed in Tucson, in my Barrio Viejo home, looking out my window at my neighbour, Howe Gelb, unloading a Lowrey organ from his truck – it was from an outdoor gig we did in Tubac last weekend. That was quite a feeling – to play music for folks again!

Brian Lopez: I’m doing well, thanks. I just went for a hike with my mom at Sabino Canyon. T-shirt and shorts in February – I can’t complain.

How are you both coping with Covid and how has it affected you?

GS: Obviously Covid shoved us into very unfamiliar territory. This is the longest I’ve not toured in 15 years and I’m really starting to feel the bizarre effects of missing that routine. We’ve certainly tried to stay productive in our Dust & Stone studio and have created some great recordings with XIXA and other projects.

BL: For the first six to eight months, I was feeling great. I think my body and mind needed to recuperate from all the years of touring.  I’ve remained super-productive and have had no problem staying busy – mostly with music-related stuff, which is great. I’ve been recording, writing, collaborating with others and getting more efficient with relaying musical ideas online. All the things I hadn’t had time to do efficiently before.

That said, I also miss German winters now…I miss catering and cramped green rooms with my band. I’m ready for the reboot to be over. I wanna get back out on the road.

We’re here to talk about your brilliant new album, Genesis, which is one of my favourite albums of the year so far. It’s a great-sounding record: exotic, cinematic, psychedelic, dark and menacing at times. What was the starting point for it? Did you go in with a definite approach as to how you wanted it to sound and feel? It’s an epic album.

GS: I feel like Genesis evolved and came to fruition in a very organic way. We didn’t go into the sessions with a definitive approach or sound, but we did go into this record with a few years of touring. Our sonic identity was further realised after that much time on the road together.

We wrote and recorded around 25 songs in the Genesis sessions, with many different styles and vibes from song to song. The 10 that made the record were the songs that best complemented each other for a 40-minute LP.

BL: This is definitely not an overnight “we got lucky how it turned out” kinda story. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work, discipline, restraint…and maybe a .0003% of luck. By this point in our careers we’ve each carved out a space within this band’s organism. Everyone has an important place and job within it…otherwise this organism takes an unrecognisable shape. We need it to be recognisable. We have spent years tweaking the recognisability of our sound. And Genesis is the best representation to date.

Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez – photo by Julius Schlosburg

How do you write and create the songs? What are your songwriting, demoing, arranging and recording processes?

GS: Genesis, like all of our recordings, was recorded in our Dust & Stone studio and was produced by Brian and myself. We’re big advocates of writing and recording all in the same session. We generally crank out one song per day. Some are more fleshed-out and realised than others, but at the very least we end up with solid sketches.

From there it’s Brian and I spending countless hours in the studio composing lyrics, chopping and editing arrangements, reworking songs and generally just further crafting the sonic landscapes that you hear on the record.

BL: The band will block out writing days, and whoever is available comes in and works. From there we really try to keep it moving. We’ve really become efficient at catching the initial flicker of an idea, and recording it well enough, so that when Gabe and I circle back to it, months later, that magic from the initial session is still there.

You cite your influences as including Edgar Allan Poe, Gothic horror, Ennio Morricone, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, ’80s horror films, ’80s pop and Latin sounds – Narco Cumbia and chica. It’s certainly an exotic and eclectic mix of sounds and styles…

GS: The inspirations that go into XIXA are always evolving. We started as a covers band playing Peruvian chicha and that was definitely the foundation for the band. From there each members’ personal influences and identities began to seep into the music. We’re always looking for new things to influence our music, from literature, mysticism, rhythms, guitar tones… We have no boundaries as to what can guide our music.

What were some of your main lyrical influences for this album? I sense that you take a lot of inspiration from the Arizona landscape: the desert, coyotes, wolves, etc. Is that the case? A lot of the lyrics are dark. There’s a nocturnal, shadowy and otherworldly feel to many of the songs…

GS: I see the lyrics on Genesis as Brian and I painting landscapes for the listener to wander through. There are big broad concepts pulling from religion, spirituality, mythology, mysticism…

‘We’re always looking for new things to influence our music, from literature, mysticism, rhythms, guitar tones… We have no boundaries as to what can guide our music’

Would you like to write film soundtracks? If so, what kind of movies would you like to score?

BL: I think we’ve already written the soundtracks – now we just need to find the films to accompany them. Anyone out there interested?

Can you recommend any cool films – new and old – that I should watch? Seen anything good recently?

BL: The best new movie I have seen is Mank, which is about the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane. It’s amazing. I’d recommend watching it with subtitles though, as the audio is true to 1930s film, in that it is terrible.

The best old movie I have seen recently is Boogie Nights. I mean, that movie ages impressively. It’s maybe better now than it was when it came out. The cast is out of this world and the performances are stellar. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work, in my opinion.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. Genesis of Gaea has a definite Spaghetti Western / psychedelic feel…

BL: We wanted to find a darker sort of mood for Spaghetti Western. Something that had the same DNA as a melodic/playful Ennio Morricone, but a darker, more psych feel.  This is what we landed on. Lyrically we kind of get this “danger lies ahead” vibe to accompany the melodic passages. I was re-learning how to play this song recently, and I gotta say, musically-speaking, it is rather complex. More than you’d think from just hearing it.

I think Land Where We Lie sounds like Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill dragged through the Arizona outback. It has an ’80s pop feel, but it mutates into something much darker and also nods to Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys soundtrack…

GS: I wrote this song the morning before we recorded it – it originally had a very finger picky, southwest songwriter kind of feel. When we got to the studio we started falling into this sort of Rock The Casbah vibe and just kept pushing it further into that. We were all big into ‘80s New and Dark Wave when we were doing the initial tracking and I think it comes across huge in this song. We pulled from an obvious reference here – Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys soundtrack. The outro is sung by the Uummannaq Children’s Choir, who happened to be visiting Tucson while we were finishing overdubs. They definitely add the final haunting touch to this tune.

‘We wanted to find a darker sort of mood for Spaghetti Western. Something that had the same DNA as a melodic/playful Ennio Morricone, but a darker, more psych feel’

BL: The choir is actually a group of orphans from Uummannaq, Greenland that travel around the world and give performances. They were in Tucson, because our friend, Nive Nielsen, was in town from Greenland, and was sort of organising that portion of their trip. We had already thought to do a Lost Boys homage at the end of the song and had reached out to the local Tucson Boys Chorus to see if they were interested. And literally that same day we ran into Nive, who told us about the orphan choir. She said, “you should just have them do it. They love to sing.”  So we did exactly that. And we loved it so much we put them on a couple of other tracks while we had them in our studio.

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

The Uummannaq Children’s Choir also appear on Feast of Ascension. What can you tell me about that song? I think it starts off sounding like Mark Lanegan doing Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd…

BL:The original idea was a demo recorded by our French bass player, Hikit Corbel. He has tons of ideas that he composes at home. Perhaps he was listening to some Dark Side… when he composed this particular one.

Anyhow, we took this particular demo, which I believe was just the intro riff on loop, and totally fleshed it out together, live, in the studio, and tracked the arrangement that you hear now.

There are a lot of lyrical references rooted in religion on this album and I thought a song based around the Feast of Ascension might find a good home on a XIXA album. So we wrote lyrics around that theme. We had the Uummannaq Children’s Choir add the final touch, singing the choruses with us: “We sit at the table, with all we have loved. We sit at the table with all that we have feared and lost.” Hearing their voices sing this passage gives me chills every time.

Eclipse, May They Call Us Home and Eve of Agnes are the most Latin-sounding tracks on the album. Are they influenced by cumbia and chichi? They’re very exotic…

BL: Eclipse is more in the vein of Mexican cumbia. May They Call Us Home is one part Spaghetti Western, one part Peruvian chichi, and Eve of Agnes is “a Turkish street market,” as one of the members of Imarhan described it to us, as we were tracking it. Now, the first two cumbias make sense, given our sonic track record, but I can’t explain the Turkish street market part, but I like it.

Soma has some great, pulsing synths on it. It could be the soundtrack to a sci-fi cowboy film…

BL: It’s a song idea I’ve had in the back of my head for a while. Jason’s synths definitely take it to a new place, along with Hikit’s soulful bassline.

GS: The intro is one of my favourite moments of the record. We had the song nearly mixed but didn’t think the intro was quite there. We ended up bouncing the intro down to a 1/4″ tape machine at the lowest speed and played it back into Pro Tools while I held the reels to get that wobbling and crunching effect. Incorporating programmed drums on the outro was a first on a XIXA record. There’s a lot of fun studio trickery in this tune.

BL: The icing on the cake, for me, is again having the Uummannaq Children’s Choir take the outro of the song. The music fades and these beautiful resilient voices remain, walking the listener to the end of side A of the vinyl.

‘That’s so funny you mention Duran Duran – honestly I was hardcore going for Bananarama’s Cruel Summer when we were getting into the production’

Velveteen shares its name with a song and album by ’80s trash-pop band Transvision Vamp. I think it sounds like Duran Duran-meets-Morricone-meets psych-rock. There’s an ’80s pop thing going on, but with some great psychedelic guitar and a Spaghetti Western feel…

BL: That’s so funny you mention Duran Duran – honestly I was hardcore going for Bananarama’s Cruel Summer when we were getting into the production on this particular one. And I remember being disappointed afterwards because I thought we fell a bit short of the mark. Now, with plenty of time between listening, I absolutely love where the song ended up. It’s definitely one of my personal favorites on the album.

Lyrically, the song’s inception came about when I was reading Richard Price’s book Lush Life. He used the word ‘velveteen’ to describe the curtains inside a dilapidated building in New York City. I just remember thinking about the strong aesthetic grip the word ‘velveteen’ has.  So I wrote all the lyrics around that one word.

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

Are you pleased with the album?

BL: I’m definitely pleased with it. On a personal level, I feel the album’s stock will only rise when we are able to play these songs live in front of crowds, and begin making sense of it all. We haven’t even made it to that part yet. Which is both frustrating and exciting.

Was it made pre-pandemic? The record’s dark soundtrack feel suits the global mood, doesn’t it?

BL: It was conceived pre-pandemic, yes. But it certainly takes on more cultural relevance and significance in a Covid world. I’m glad we pushed the release back.

What are your plans for the rest of 2021? You’re obviously hoping to play this record live at some stage, aren’t you?

BL: I have no idea what to expect. Of course we’d love to go out and tour but that just isn’t on the cards, is it? Not any time soon at least. So we’ll just start writing new music and control what we can.

GS: We’ve played a couple of tunes from the record for some live streams and they were a blast to arrange for the stage. I can’t wait to see how songs like Soma, with its thick layers of production, translate to a live setting.

‘The album was conceived pre-pandemic, but it certainly takes on more cultural relevance and significance in a Covid world’

What’s been your lockdown soundtrack? What music – new and old – have you been enjoying?

BL: My favourite new album is Mexican Institute of Sound’s Distrito Federal. I’ve also been listening to Lowrider Oldies via a vinyl compilation called East Side Stories. I believe there are 12 volumes.

GS: I’ve been in a deep heavy music vibe lately. I’m loving the new EP from our Arizona brethren Gatecreeper and I’ve also been revisiting my all-time favourite band Pantera.

Finally, do you like the band Genesis?

BL: I prefer Peter Gabriel’s solo career. Sledgehammer was the shit. Also, the music video for Genesis’  Land of Confusion  seriously freaked me out as a child. That video is fucked up.

Genesis by XIXA is out now on Jullian Records/The Orchard. 

http://www.xixamusic.com/

https://xixa.bandcamp.com/

‘It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s similar to being nine, except cooler’

 

Cool Ghouls

San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls (Pat McDonald – guitar/vocals; Pat Thomas – bass/vocals; Ryan Wong – guitar/vocals and Alex Fleshman – drums) turn 10 this year and release their fourth album, At George’s Zoo, in March.

It’s their best and most diverse record yet – a mix of Byrdsy psych, ’60s-style garage rock and gorgeous, Beach Boys/Jimmy Webb-inspired pop, with harmonies, piano, horns and lush strings.

“We didn’t have any expectations going into this record – we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording,” they tell Say It With Garage Flowers.

Q&A

How’s it going? What’s it like in San Francisco and how has the city handled the pandemic?

Pat Thomas: It’s going pretty good. San Francisco is a little chilly outside. It’s been raining recently. I guess the city government here has done a decent job handling the pandemic compared with other governments, but they could do more. The vaccine rollout could be more aggressive and the mayor seems too eager to “restart the economy.”

How has lockdown affected you – as people and also as a band? Have you had to radically alter any of your plans?

PT: Plans weren’t altered that much, band-wise. Before 2020 we were already factoring in a lot of downtime, as our guitarist, Ryan, is living all the way in Denver at the moment. We wanted to release At George’s Zoo in June of 2020, but had to postpone it, obviously.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears? How have you been coping with lockdown?

PT: I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. Bands will tour, people will go to shows, etc. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that. Who knows, maybe people will be moved to open more venues in response. Lockdown is lonely – I think everyone feels that to some degree.

Cool Ghouls are 10 years old in 2021 – happy birthday! How are you celebrating? How does it feel to be 10? 

PT: We’re not really celebrating because we’re all in lockdown. I guess releasing a record is kind of like a celebration. It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s pretty similar to being nine, except cooler.

‘I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that’

Let’s talk about the new album. Was it written and recorded pre-Covid? When and where did you make it?

PT: Yep. We recorded it at our friend Robby Joseph’s house in the Outer Sunset neighbourhood in San Francisco, in the fall and winter of 2018.

What were the sessions like?

Ryan Wong: The recording environment was really important this time around. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to. Robby laid it down on an Otari MX5050 [tape machine].

What did you want to achieve with the new record? It’s your most expansive album yet, with bigger, richer arrangements, and horns and strings. What prompted that move?

RW: We didn’t have any expectations going into it. After recording Gord’s Horse [digital-only EP from 2017] by ourselves, we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording. Ryan was moving to Denver, so we just laid whatever ideas we had to tape before he left. As far as the arrangements, I think we’ve just grown over time and the music reflects that on this one.

Who writes the songs and how do you arrange them? What’s the process?

RW: We all write our own songs. So once the basic structure/idea is hashed out we bring it to the band to work on. Everyone has a hand in the final product.

I think At George’s Zoo is your best record yet. Where did the title come from? 

RW: Thanks. George’s Zoo is a liquor store in the Outer Sunset that we frequented while recording. Robby’s neighbour was also named George and he left some feedback on his garage door a few times…Ha!

Cool Ghouls in the studio – San Francisco.

‘The recording environment was really important. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to’

The opening track on the album, It’s Over, is wonderful. It has a great horn arrangement, a Beach Boys-style intro and some lovely harmonies. There’s also a bit of The Notorious Byrd Brothers about it – some psych-soul going on…

PT: Thanks. Yeah. The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a great record. I bought the Tibetan handbells you hear at the beginning of the song at one of those hippy gift shops on Haight St, not far from my apartment.

What can you tell me about the first single, Helpless Circumstance? There’s a psychedelic-rock feel to it, as well as more Beach Boys…

PT: It’s a pretty simple tune. One of those songs that sprouts from a dumb riff you play absent-mindedly at practice between actual songs you’re practising. Pat M was feeling lovey-dovey, so gave it some sweet and soft lyrics. He thinks the song sounds lavender in colour.

The new single, The Way I Made You Cry, is a great piece of soulful, Brian Wilsonesque piano pop, with horns and harmonies. It’s beautiful. Any thoughts on it?

PT: Thank you. No thoughts on it really. The song pretty much communicates everything about itself better than I could with words.

Land Song is gorgeous orch-pop. It has a Jimmy Webb / Beach Boys Pet Sounds-era feel. What can you tell me about it?

RW: We’re real proud of this one. The Pats actually wrote this song together. It was definitely pulling from the Jimmy Webb playbook, but we were also listening to a lot of Canterbury bands at the time. Early King Crimson was also in the mix. Dylan Edrich added the strings and Henry Baker laid down the piano. Props to those two.

It’s not even spring yet, but Surfboard is the song of the summer and I Was Wrong has a definite Pet Sounds Surf’s Up feel. You do sound like you’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys…

PT: Those songs rule. They’re so good. Surfboard started out as a joke song. I was going to change the lyrics but I just kept coming back to ‘surfboard…’

The song 26th St. Blues sounds more like the Cool Ghouls of old – it’s very ’60s garage rock.

Pat McDonald: It’s ‘60s garage rock for sure. And it was inspired by the dire housing crisis in San Francisco. It’s pretty wild to see a place change so rapidly before your eyes. There’s a lot of frustration and powerlessness in the song, which gives it its rougher edge.

What music new and old have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

PM: Fun House by The Stooges. Pretty much exclusively that.

What’s your preferred way of listening to music and why?

PM: In my headphones at work, so I don’t have to hear my dumbass co-workers talking about GameStop stocks.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

RW: We’re not really sure. This year kind of seems like a wash too. We’re looking forward to playing these songs live at some point.

At George’s Zoo by Cool Ghouls is released on March 12 Empty Cellar / Melodic Records (UK).

https://coolghouls420.bandcamp.com/album/at-georges-zoo

https://music.emptycellarrecords.com/

https://www.melodic.co.uk/

‘This record absolutely saved my life by giving me something to focus on’

Steve Drizos in his home studio, June 2020. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Axiom, by singer-songwriter, engineer and producer, Steve Drizos, who is based in Portland, Oregon, was one of the first new albums I listened to this year, when I was asked to review it for Americana UK.

Drizos is the drummer for Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons and he has his own studio, The Panther. He’s worked with artists including Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Chris Funk (The Decemberists), and Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., Minus 5, The Young Fresh Fellows).

Released in late January, Axiom is his debut solo album and it really took me by surprise when I first heard it. Due to his CV, I guess I was expecting an alt-country record, but it’s nothing of the sort. 

The title track and album opener is a spacey and trance-like instrumental, with female vocal samples, electric piano and soaring strings, which builds to an epic climax, while Juggling Fire, which is the first song he wrote after quitting alcohol, is a shimmering, psych-folk ballad with a hint of blues. 

Writing for Americana UK, I said: “Drizos isn’t easy to pin down – You Don’t See That Now is a reflective, keyboard-driven ballad with strings, and Softer, Please brings to mind soulful grungers The Afghan Whigs.

“Similarly, the moody, ‘90s-style alt-rock of Static has crunching guitars, a driving bassline and some seriously powerful drumming, but throws in a proggy synth solo that sounds like it was found nestling under one of Rick Wakeman’s old capes.

“Drizos doesn’t shy away from tackling the issues he’s had to deal with though – on Juggling Fire he sings: “When you’re all alone, begging for night.”

I added: “Axiom is a diverting and often surprising listen – the sound of a man coming to terms with himself and capturing it in an honest and strong collection of songs.”

The album was written, recorded, produced and mixed by Drizos, at The Panther. He set out to play as many instruments as he could on the record, but ended up using some guest musicians, including his wife, Jenny Conlee-Drizos of The Decemberists, and local session player Kyleen King for string and vocal arrangements.

 

Drizos says that making the album took him out of his comfort zone – he’s suffered from depression and anxiety, and also fought a battle with booze and drug addiction, but he started working on the record once he’d got sober. Some of the songs had been kicking around for years, but his new-found sobriety gave him the motivation to finally record them.

Having achieved his biggest goal for the album – to finish it – he says his next ambition is to have people hear it and relate to it: “If someone can find something relatable in the lyrics, especially someone who might be struggling with some of the things I sing about on the record, and not feel so alone and isolated, that’s the biggest goal.”

In an exclusive, honest and very revealing interview, I speak to Drizos to find out how he overcame his personal demons to make his debut album, and also get his thoughts on what lies ahead for live music in a post-Covid world.

“Even as I’m answering these interview questions, there’s a big part of me thinking: “Don’t they know I’m not really a singer-songwriter?” Like I’m going to be found out. That’s my insecurities yelling at me,” he says.

Q&A

How’s your new year going so far?

Steve Drizos: How’s 2021 going? Well, it feels the same as 2020 so far, minus the daily spewing of our former “con-mander”-in-chief. And the constant, varying levels of anger, anxiety, and disbelief that went with it. So that’s a good start.

How has Covid affected you as a musician / producer? Has it messed-up any of your plans?

SD: It’s interesting that you worded the question that way. As a touring/gigging musician, it has obviously brought everything to a screeching halt, with little to no conversation about things moving again, at least in the States. I feel like in the beginning, everyone was trying to predict when things would open back up again and try to plan accordingly, only to be discouraged over and over again.

My bandmates and other colleagues have stopped trying to predict and just sit tight and wait. We were able to do a few live shows this summer when we could play outdoors, so that was a nice reprieve from missing the live show experience. However, I do hear a lot of my fellow musician and crew friends saying how amazing this year has been, not having to pack their suitcases and leave home on a regular basis, and being able to spend time with family and loved ones. Covid has certainly forced that hand.

As a producer/engineer, it has been very fortuitous. I finished a major remodel on my studio, The Panther, in December of 2019. I have been able to keep busy with remote recording and mixing projects, as well as safely running in-person sessions. People still have the need to create and now have the time to work up new material and are looking for a place to record them. So that business has been booming and is the thing I’m most excited and passionate about at this point in my career. So the pandemic has given me the time to really dive into it – time that I wouldn’t have had if I was still steadily on the road. I’m extremely lucky in that respect.

‘I hear a lot of my fellow musician and crew friends saying how amazing this year has been, not having to pack their suitcases and leave home on a regular basis, and being able to spend time with family and loved ones. Covid has certainly forced that hand’

What’s it been like for you in lockdown in Portland? How have you coped?

SD: Lockdown hasn’t been terribly brutal. I have an amazing wife that I love spending time with. As I mentioned, my studio has kept me busy, both with outside clients and working on my own music. And the band I’ve been with for 15-plus years – Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons – has been doing weekly live stream shows, so I get to perform on a regular basis. We just hit week #44 I believe. It’s called Jerry Joseph’s Happy Book, every Thursday. In general, I don’t mind spending time alone. I’m a natural introvert. I definitely miss going to my favourite restaurants, seeing live shows, and hugging my family and friends. But, overall, it’s been okay.What are your main concerns for the future of live music in the wake of the pandemic?

SD: My biggest concern at this point in time is the survival of the venues themselves, especially the smaller independent rooms that I not only play in the most, but prefer to see shows at. Not just here in Portland but nationwide. And I guess worldwide for that matter.

That said, I’m actually amazed that more venues haven’t shuttered their doors at this stage of the game. Maybe things won’t be so dire as I originally thought. I also wonder how long it will take for audiences to feel comfortable gathering en masse again.

There’s a big psychological barrier that people will have to get past, vaccinated or not, to feel normal being on a sweaty dance floor with a few hundred strangers. Although I just read that an 80-person orgy got busted up outside of Paris, so maybe not everyone holds the same reservations. There’s your glimmer of hope.

‘I’m amazed that more venues haven’t shuttered their doors. I wonder how long it will take for audiences to feel comfortable gathering en masse again? There’s a big psychological barrier that people will have to get past’

Let’s talk about your debut solo album, Axiom. Why did the time feel right to put out a solo record? Some of the songs on the album have been kicking around for a while. How did you get everything together for the record? Did you have a big plan, or did it just kind of happen?

SD: The entire process of this record has been pretty organic. I have wanted to release a record of my own for some time, but I never seemed to be able to focus enough on the task at hand to reach the finish line. I have hard drives filled with half-finished ideas. Once I gained some clarity in my life, I was able to put the necessary attention and intent into getting something finished.

From the actual start to the finish of Axiom, it was about a four-year timeline. I certainly would not consider myself a prolific songwriter, and because I took on most of the performing, recording, and mixing roles, the whole thing took its own sweet time. I never felt rushed or pressured to put it out by a certain date.

Having a studio in your home presents a certain amount of obstacles when it comes to calling a song or a mix “finished.” Plus the record had stretches of being on the backburner, due to touring or other clients in the studio. The pandemic gave me the time to finally wrap things up and get it done.

Steve Drizos in his home studio, June 2020. Photo by Jason Quigley.

You’ve battled drug and alcohol addiction, and you’ve had to deal with anxiety and depression, but you’re on the road to recovery. You’ve got sober and focused. How did you do that? Was it a challenge? 

SD: That’s a big question. Let me see if I can sum it up in a relatively concise answer. To answer the how part, I reached out for help, finally, after years of knowing I had a problem.

In the music business, it’s very difficult to discern where the party stops and the problem begins. It’s an environment where drugs and alcohol are not just condoned, but encouraged. And most anything is easily available.

So after years of trying to change things on my own with no success, I finally reached out to a friend who I saw doing what I wanted to do, be sober and happy in the music industry. That started me on the long road to recovery that I continue to walk today.

My story and experience is certainly not unique, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you if you truly want it. Was it a challenge? Absolutely. It’s one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve been through, next to my wife’s cancer battle. It does get easier over time, but it’s something that I need to be aware of and work on everyday. The pay-off however is unexplainable.

In the music business, it’s very difficult to discern where the party stops and the problem begins. It’s an environment where drugs and alcohol are not just condoned, but encouraged. And most anything is easily available’

Has making a solo record helped you to focus on something? Would you say it has been cathartic? What were the good and bad parts of making the album? Was it a difficult experience?

SD: The record absolutely saved my life by giving me something to focus on, especially in the early days of my sobriety. It’s such a cliché to say music can save your life, but once again, there it was for me during one of the most challenging periods of my life.

It really is an amazing thing to have this constant force with me to help get me through. The hardest part of making the record was finding the balance between believing you are making something important and, at the same time, remembering it’s just another record in a long line of records, so just get on with it. The hours spent obsessing over a snare sound or a single lyrical line is crazy. At some point, all perspective is lost and it’s hard to take a step back and hear anything with objectivity.

The best part was the feeling of accomplishment getting the masters back, and listening to the entire record from beginning to end. I will never forget that evening in May, walking around my neighbourhood with headphones on. I certainly learned a lot from making Axiom and know what I need to do to make a, hopefully, better follow-up.

‘My entire life, for a certain period of time, was nothing but recovery and facing uncomfortable truths in myself – it was pretty all-encompassing’

Lyrically some of the songs deal with personal issues you’ve faced. Was it hard to revisit those experiences when you were writing the record? What effect did it have on you?

SD: Very early on in the making of the record, I made the decision to be really honest about what I was going through. I have always been a private person and so it was really stepping out of my comfort zone to let my guard down. On the other hand, my entire life, for a certain period of time, was nothing but recovery and facing uncomfortable truths in myself – it was pretty all-encompassing. So it wasn’t that difficult to tap into those raw emotions that were right there on the surface.

You’ve said that the album took you out of your comfort zone. Can you elaborate on that?

SD: Besides what I stated earlier, about being open and honest about a very personal topic and experience, the other thing that really pushed me into unfamiliar territory was having a body of work with my name front and centre. I’ve spent my entire musical career in a supporting role – and been very happy in that position. I’ve seen first-hand the kind of pressure and stress that comes with fronting a band and it never looked appealing to me.

Even once I realized that Axiom was becoming a reality and would get released, I never had the desire to put a band together to tour the record. I’m very uncomfortable in the spotlight. Even as I’m answering these interview questions, there’s a big part of me thinking: “Don’t they know I’m not really a singer-songwriter?” Like I’m going to be found out. That’s my insecurities yelling at me.

‘I’ve spent my entire musical career in a supporting role – and been very happy in that position. I’ve seen first-hand the kind of pressure and stress that comes with fronting a band and it never looked appealing to me’

What kind of record did you want to make and do you think you’ve achieved it?

SD: I think I am came pretty close to hitting the mark on making the record that I heard in my head. I unapologetically wanted to tap into my ‘90s influences.

I started touring extensively in 1995 and feel in some ways my musical tastes cryogenically froze at that time. With the introduction of music streaming services, I was able to go back and revisit all that music, and a bunch that I missed. And that was the jumping off point.

I’m also a huge fan of “produced” records, where the studio is used as an instrument to manipulate, distort, and stretch sounds. So the expanding of my studio coincided with the making of Axiom. There’s no way I could have afforded to make the record I wanted to make in a commercial studio, paying by the hour. So I built one that would fit my needs. I’m not so sure if it was any cheaper looking back, but I know it’s a fully functioning studio space that other people seem to enjoy working in.

‘Even as I’m answering these interview questions, there’s a big part of me thinking: “Don’t they know I’m not really a singer-songwriter?” Like I’m going to be found out. That’s my insecurities yelling at me’

What’s your studio, The Panther, and set-up like? What’s the vibe like there and what kind of gear do you use? And where did the name come from?

SD: The Panther is a tricked-out basement studio in the house my wife and I own. A friend recently said: “You don’t have a home studio, you have a studio in your home.”

It’s a hybrid set-up of analogue and digital gear. My wife and I have a decent collection of keyboards, drums, guitars, etc. to cover the needs of most clients. We have a grand piano in the living room and the entire house is wired up to plug in mics anywhere. The Panther certainly has its limitations, but most people seem to be pretty happy with the vibe and, most importantly, the final results.

The name came from a black velvet panther painting that lives in the control room. When I needed a name for album credits on one of the first projects I did there, The Panther was it.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on Axiom. What can you tell me about the title track? It has female vocal samples, electric piano and soaring strings, and it builds to an epic climax…

SD: That track started with the drumbeat. It was an interesting rhythm that I had just started tapping out on my lap one day, so I tracked it on the drums, looped it a few times, and started writing the music around it. It’s in an unconventional time signature and I was having a hard time finding a melody to go over the top of it.

I wanted to call the song Axiom because I thought it was a cool-sounding word and its definition embodied a lot of the concepts and challenges about truth that I was witnessing in the world and also realising in myself. So I did a little research and found a collection of poems written on the topic of truth by Samuel Johnson. So using the text-to-speech feature on my computer, I created the samples in lieu of a melody.

The second half of the song was a complete rip off the Mogwai record Young Team that I was listening to at the time.  It wasn’t until much later that I decided to call the record Axiom as well.

My favourite song on the album is Juggling Fire. What inspired it? It has a psych-folk feel…

SD: Thank you. Watching this one particular homeless woman, who was a regular in our neighbourhood for a little while, inspired the lyrics. I would watch her stroll through the streets and scavenge for the things she needed to survive.

The homeless situation is Portland is quite dire and this was not an uncommon occurrence to witness, but at that particular time I felt acutely aware of the fact that most of us are just a few circumstances away from being in that same position, especially when viewing it through the lens of addiction.

It was the first song I wrote after getting clean – it was more a test to see if I could be creative in my new skin. It came about fairly quickly. When it came time to mix it, I wanted to give it a real ethereal vibe. I’m glad that comes across.

Softer, Please reminds me of the Afghan Whigs and Static has a ’90s alt-rock thing going on….

SD: As I mentioned before, these songs are more than a nod to my rock past, but a full-on embodiment of the music I still want to hear.

With those two songs in particular I was aiming for more of a Gutter Twins-meets-The-Verve-meets-Pearl Jam kind of vibe. So the fact that you picked up on an Afghan Whigs feel is a huge compliment.

When you mentioned that in your Americana UK review, I was so stoked! With Static, I think I was trying to emulate some of the production ideas from Gomez records I love so much.

Softer, Please was just a straight up burner – Troy Stewart’s ripping guitar solo at the end just sent it over the top.

Talking of solos, there’s a great, unexpected synth solo on Static – it’s a bit prog rock. How did that happen?

SD: The synth solo was impeccably executed by Jenny [Drizos’s wife, Jenny Conlee-Drizos of The Decemberists]. I wanted a sound that was granular and well, static-y. And we both share a love for prog rock, so it was not a stretch for her at all to come up with exactly the right part for that solo. It never gets old for me hearing that section.

On the album, you set out to play as many instruments as you could, but ended up using some guest musicians, including your wife, Jenny, and local session player, Kyleen King, for string and vocal arrangements. Why did you decide you needed some help?

SD: Good question. At some point early on I realised I had to let go of my pipe dream of playing everything, and quite frankly my control issues, and bring in players much more qualified than I am on certain instruments.

Kyleen King and I had been working closely together on a few studio projects prior to the recording of Axiom, and so I knew she was going to be a perfect fit for the backing vocals and string ideas I had.

Plus we try to work in trade. I had recorded and mixed a few projects for her, under the name A Cat Named Grandpa, so I was cashing in my favour chips with her. She’s so amazing to work with and has developed quite the résumé over the last few years.

At some point early on I realised I had to let go of my pipe dream of playing everything, and quite frankly my control issues, and bring in players much more qualified than I am on certain instruments’

Adding Jenny to the mix was a no-brainer. Why hack through piano and keyboard parts when you have one of the best keyboard players in the world as your wife? I can’t even begin to get into the amount of support and patience she had through the making of the album. I’m also not a particularly strong bass player, so I brought in Nate Query (The Decemberists) and my long time tour mate, Steven James Wright (Jerry Joseph and The Jackmormons).  I filled in the rest of the sounds as I went along, with players from the rich soil of Portland talent.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

SD: In the immediate future, I have been busy rehearsing these songs with a small acoustic band to do a few live stream shows over the course of the next couple months.

After that, my plans for the year ahead are doing more of the same as I did in 2020. Try to keep The Panther as booked as possible, keep going with the weekly Jerry Joseph live streams, hopefully be able to play a few outdoor shows this summer, and patiently wait until things open up again and see what the landscape looks like as far as venues and touring. I’ve already started demoing out some new ideas for a follow-up to Axiom.

Any musical recommendations – old and new? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack? What are you currently enjoying listening to?

SD: My musical tastes have been all over the place during the pandemic. The one new to me artist I fell in love with is Samantha Crain from Oklahoma. Her record, A Small Death, just floored me.

I’ve been listening to The Glands from Athens, Georgia a lot lately. Quilt out of Boston is a regular listen of mine. I’m really digging Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate.

I know people complain about the evils of music streaming services, and their arguments are valid, but I can’t imagine what life would be like without it. I can wake up every morning and pick my record for the day, and dive deep into catalogues of artists – both new or long-forgotten’

As far as older stuff, I’m enjoying some ‘90s music that I missed or wasn’t that into at the time. Superchunk for one. I’ve been blasting Hole’s Celebrity Skin as of late. It’s so good!

I know people complain about the evils of music streaming services, and their arguments are valid, but I can’t imagine what life would be like without it at this point. I can wake up every morning and pick my record for the day, and dive deep into catalogues of artists – either new or long forgotten about.

Abso-fucking-lutely directly support the artist when you can, especially the indie artists. Buy all the merch. But as a fan, it’s an amazing time to have access to all of it. And I’m a music fan above everything else.

Oh, I should also note that a close friend of mine here in Portland sent me a message the other day saying his brother’s band Star Collector was on the same Best of 2021 So Far Spotify playlist you put together that I was included on. How random and cool is that?

Axiom by Steve Drizos is out now on Cavity Search Records. You can buy it here.

www.stevedrizos.com

‘I’m probably going to go to jail for these songs, aren’t I?’

Have you kept yourself busy during lockdown? Ryan Allen has. The Detroit power pop/punk rock singer-songwriter, who is also the frontman of band Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms, has written, recorded and released two solo albums.

The first, which came out last year, Song Snacks, Vol.1, was a collection of 20 two-minute and under songs, influenced by The Who, The Beatles, Guided By Voices and Olivia Tremor Control, while this month he puts out What A Rip – a record that’s a homage to ’60s pop, psych and garage rock.

Allen recorded the new album himself, in his home studio, and played all the core instruments, but there are a few special guests, including his dad, Brad Allen, who plays the very George Harrison-sounding lead guitar on Only Son. The whole thing was mastered by Justin Pizzoferrato, who has made records with Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies and Sonic Youth

Talking about the record, Allen says: “What A Rip  is my tribute to rock ‘n’ roll. The influences are probably pretty obvious: The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Monkees… All the foundational stuff that you hear as a kid that just kind of sticks to your brain like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth. Hopefully these songs stick to yours in the same way.”

They certainly do – here at Say It With Garage Flowers we’ve been cranking them up for the past few days. In an exclusive interview, we ask Allen to tell us how he’s managed to be so prolific during the pandemic, get his thoughts on the current political situation in the US and find out how he writes and records his music. 

“I didn’t plan on writing a million songs, recording them at home and releasing a bunch of stuff last year and now this year, but I’m just going with the flow and trying to make the best of a shitty situation,” he tells us. “This whole thing reminds you that life is short. Why wait? “Fuck it! Get the shit out there!”

Q&A

How are things?

Ryan Allen: Things are…weird, ya know?

What kind of mood are you in?

RA: If you’d asked me this around the time of the election, it would be a bit different than it is now. I’m trying to be hopeful and positive as much as I can. Some days are harder than others, but when I get into a slump, I try and remind myself of all the good around me. I have an amazing son. I have a wonderful girlfriend. My parents have been vaccinated. I’m still working. I’m writing music. I have things to look forward to. I’m just counting my blessings I guess.

We’re treading completely new waters as a collective society, and for the majority of it there’s not really been anybody around to throw us a lifejacket. But with the incoming administration in the US, I am feeling hopeful that we will be out of the darkest parts of this soon. Personally, I feel very lucky, as, touch wood, the people I’m closest to are all healthy and doing alright. But I know that isn’t the case for a lot of people, and it’s heartbreaking to think about how much loss folks have experienced since the pandemic hit.

I mean, I definitely miss playing shows and having band practice, but I can live without it when you compare that to losing a loved one. So I kind of have to put everything in perspective – this whole thing sucks, but it could be worse as well. Like I said, I feel lucky right now, all things considered.

How has Covid affected your plans?

RA: I didn’t plan on not being able to play shows to promote the last Extra Arms album, nor did I plan on writing a million songs, recording them at home and releasing a bunch of stuff last year and now this year, but I’m just going with the flow and trying to make the best of a shitty situation.

 ‘I didn’t plan on writing a bunch of songs, but they just kept showing up to the party, so I kept letting them in the door. Needless to say, the house was getting pretty full!’

 You’ve been busy during lockdown – you’ve recorded and released two new solo albums: Song Snacks, Vol.1 and What A Rip. Did you really write all of the songs during the past year?

RA: Yeah – every song on both solo albums was written in 2020, after the pandemic hit. Like I said, I didn’t plan on writing a bunch of songs, but they just kept showing up to the party, so I kept letting them in the door. Needless to say, the house was getting pretty full! But it’s been a lot of fun, playing around with different styles, teaching myself how to make better home recordings, and just keeping my songwriting muscle exercised.

Why do you think lockdown has made you so prolific? What’s been influencing and inspiring you? How have you managed to write and record so many songs?

RA: Well, I’m always working on music. Before the pandemic hit, I probably had another 20 or so songs I was working on for whatever Extra Arms was going to do next.

That’s on top of the two solo albums I’ve done and a few other projects I cranked out – a shoegaze EP with some friends, called Soft Wires, and a pandemic-inspired hardcore album called Quaranteen Idles.

I think the difference is that instead of waiting to get into a studio, I decided to use the tunes I was writing, independent of what I knew was already set aside for Extra Arms, to really try and improve my home recording prowess. I downloaded Logic and bought a few mics. I tried to home in on good guitar tones. I wanted to play drums again. I love playing bass and it gave me an excuse to do that. And, to be honest, all my demos were always rushed.

I wanted to learn more about processing and adding things like compression and other effects to improve the quality of what I could do at home. I was pleasantly surprised that I could make things sound pretty decent, so hence all of the music that may have been kept under wraps and waiting in the wings for a real studio deal has instead been tossed out into the world. Also, I should say, this whole thing reminds you that life is short. Why wait? “Fuck it. Get the shit out there,” was my thought.

‘I’m an amateur, but my crude home studio set-up is similar to what Guided By Voices were working with. They just had a four-track, a couple of SM-57s mics, a Memory Man delay pedal and a fuckton of great songs!’

What’s your writing and recording process? Do you have a tried and tested method of penning songs? What’s your set-up like at home for playing and recording?

RA:I think I just sort of go into a trance, if I’m being honest. I lose track of everything around me, and the ideas just flow.

Sometimes I feel like the songs choose me, instead of me trying to find them. They just show up.  I try not to labour over things too much, and I like to start and finish an idea in one sitting if I can. The songs for Song Snacks were very much written and recorded in the same moment – some three or four at a time.

I’m lucky that I have a space in the house to make some noise. In my previous homes I had that, but not like I do now. I have a ton of space and all my gear set-up – all I really need to do is flip a few switches and I’m ready to roll. I would never be able to record anybody else here, ‘cos I don’t have any nice outboard gear or anything like that, but for what I’m trying to do it works. It still doesn’t compare to a real studio, or somebody who has amassed a bunch of great gear and knows their way around Pro Tools.

I’m very much an amateur, but I think my sort of crude set-up is similar to what a band like Guided By Voices was working with. They just had a four-track, a couple of SM-57 mics, a Memory Man delay pedal, and a fuckton of great songs! It didn’t need to sound perfect, cos the songs were so good. So that’s what I’m aiming for, I guess.

Let’s talk about some of your new songs – from both of your recent albums. I’ll pick a few of my favourites and you can tell me a bit about them…

Song Snacks, Vo1.1 

You can listen to the album via Bandcamp below:

Here Comes The Rain: This is a cool, stripped-down, Beatlesy psych-ballad. It sounds like it has a Mellotron on it…

RA: Yep – it’s very Beatles, right down to the name – instead of Here Comes the Sun… It’s in an alternate tuning, which I stole off Swervedriver’s website. When I played chord structures in the tuning it felt very drony, similar to Love You To, so I tried to channel some of that George Harrison mysticism.

‘Getting your legs tattooed and growing your hair long is something not a lot of 40-plus year-old-guys are probably doing, but as Bon Jovi sang, “It’s my life” ‘

I’m A Wizard Now: Another song that sounds like The Beatles – particularly Across The Universe. Are you actually a wizard now? Please explain yourself.

RA: Yeah – more Beatles and it’s clearly very indebted to Across The Universe, which is one of my favourite songs ever. If I was a wizard, I guess the spell I would cast on myself is to keep writing more tunes.

Leg Tattoo: You have a leg tattoo, don’t you? What inspired this song? I think it sounds like a more fuzzed-up Fountains of Wayne…

RA: I have two leg tattoos, actually. It’s a pretty dumb song, but sometimes I’ll just sing stupid stuff around the house while I’m doing things. This is kind of one of those, but I ended up turning it into a real song. I guess it’s mostly about doing whatever makes you happy, no matter what people think you should be doing.

Getting your legs tattooed and growing your hair long is something not a lot of 40-plus year-old-guys are probably doing, but as Bon Jovi sang, “It’s my life.”

Got any tattoos you regret?

RA: I’m good with all of my tattoos.

‘I was trying to channel some sweaty, coked-out Lennon session vibes à la How Do You Sleep? I think I pulled it off’

You’ve Been ElectrocutedThis one rocks! Any thoughts on it? It’s a heavy stomp, with loud, crunching guitars…

RA: Thank you, man. I was trying to channel some sweaty, coked-out Lennon session vibes à la How Do You Sleep? I think I pulled it off.

What A Rip

You can pre-order the album from Bandcamp here.

Already Gone: a great nugget of noisy ’60s garage rock, but with a nice, unexpected Beatlesy mid-section…

RA: This is one of the first ones I came up with for the record. I wanted to do something with a seventh chord carrying the tune along, similar to Taxman, or something like that. But after playing the riff for a while I felt like it really needed to go in another direction entirely – it was almost like a different song was spliced-in from a different session. I like the juxtaposition and I feel like it kind of catches you off guard. I’m just trying to keep the people on their toes.

Feeling You Feeling Me: This is your new single and, once again, it’s very Beatlesy and psychedelic…

RA: This was the first song I wrote for the record, without actually intending to make another album. A friend let me borrow a Mellotron guitar pedal, and since there are no shows happening, I thought it would be fun to write something and use it on the recording.

This was a rare song that I kind of had to fight with to bring into existence, since I felt like it had to have a certain vibe for the Mellotron pedal to sound good.

I kept messing with things and then getting frustrated and stopping. I probably did that for a few hours. Then I sat down at the drums and started to play the beat that you hear on the song, and I liked the kind of wistful sway that it had going on. So I grabbed my guitar and tried to write something with that beat in mind, and then it all just came together immediately. I’m really proud of this one, for sure.

‘What A Rip is my tribute to rock ‘n’ roll. The influences are pretty obvious: The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Monkees… All the foundational stuff that you hear as a kid that just kind of sticks to your brain like peanut butter does to the roof of your mouth’

On My Mind: This reminds me of The Monkees. It’s a cool pop song and it has a Last Train To Clarksville feel, doesn’t it?

RA: Yep – you nailed it. It’s The Monkees meets Tom Petty. I just love riffs like this. There’s something about hearing that Last Train To Clarksville riff or Paperback Writer… It sounds so heavy, but it’s not necessarily intended to be. It just hits a sweet spot.

Shannon Cake: This has some nice harmonies and it’s very like The Beach Boys and The Zombies. Who is Shannon Cake? 

RA: Yes – it’s very Beach Boys and Zombies. I’m probably going to go to jail for these songs, aren’t I? Shannon Cake is a real person. She’s a reporter who was interviewed in a documentary I watched about Jeffrey Epstein. I just loved the name and knew I needed to use it in a song. It was actually written in more of a Guided By Voices indie-rock style, but I re-interpreted it and gave it the Brian Wilson treatment. I also used a basketball for percussion.

‘I felt compelled to document this wild time, and do so through the eyes of my nine-year-old son, who has basically had everything taken away from him this year’

Only Son: That Beatles / Mellotron sound is back again… This song sounds like it’s a comment on the past year – the Trump situation and Covid. Is that the case? I love the feel of this track. There’s a definite Lennon thing going on – and some lovely George Harrisonesque guitar on it.

RA: Man, you’ve really got me figured out. Yes to all of that. I just felt compelled to document this wild time, and do so through the eyes of my nine-year-old son, who has basically had everything taken away from him this year. It’s kind of a sad song, but the chorus is meant to be encouraging, saying, like, “Hey, shit sucks right now, but it’s going to be okay because we have each other.”

It seems like you’ve been on a bit of a ’60s psych trip recently – as we’ve discussed, there are some very Beatlesy songs on both of your new albums….

RA: I’m just a fan of music, you know? I think I’ll always do the aggressive power pop thing for sure, but I just wanted to indulge a different side of my songwriting. Also, it’s really fun to go down the rabbit hole and discover bands that are completely new to you, even if they’re old. So if you like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and The Stones, you’re bound to also love The Nazz, The Creation, Fire, Les Fleur De Lys, and The Pretty Things…you just have to search a little harder to find them. I guess the plus side to Spotify is that you can pretty much listen to anything ever and discover something daily. So I kind of started doing that and, you know, being a songwriter, inspiration was bound to hit me.

What are your plans for the rest of 2021? Is there another album in the pipeline?

RA: The rest of 2021 will be pretty active. I have an EP that I recorded quickly over the course of a weekend that I’m kind of holding on to right now. It’s a totally different vibe than the last thing – kind of heavier and inspired by the songs I was writing when I was 14 and recording on a four-track.

I also have a project I’ve been working on with my friend Kathleen Bracken, where I wrote the songs but she’s coming up with vocals, lyrics and melodies. So we’re kinda chipping away at that. And Extra Arms is hitting the studio – safely – very soon to work on the follow up to Up From Here. We’re kind of piecing it together remotely and will be in the studio one or two at a time to record it. We’ve never done it this way – we’re usually in the room together, bashing it out, even if we’re working from one of my demos, so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out.

‘It’s sad that Trump and his administration did nothing to help anybody and were happy to just let people and businesses die. It’s sick. He deserves to be thrown in jail for the rest of his pathetic life, and I hope he rots there’

What are your hopes and fears for 2021? Are you worried about the future of live music?

RA: I just hope people get vaccinated and can get the help they need – financially, mental health wise, etc. This whole thing will have such long-lasting effects – some of which we won’t even see until years and years later. It’s sad, to say the least, that Trump and his administration basically did nothing to help anybody and were happy to just let people and businesses die. It’s sick, honestly. He deserves to be thrown in jail for the rest of his pathetic life, and I hope he rots there.

In terms of live music – it’ll come back. It might not be the same, but people persevere, you know? We adapt. We figure shit out. There are a lot of idiots out there, but there are also lots of brilliant people. It will be back. And I hope people don’t take it for granted like they did before the pandemic. Hopefully people will go out and support the arts with fervour, and the musicians who do it as a full-time thing can reap the rewards of that.

Are you more hopeful now that Trump isn’t in power? How does that make you feel? Fittingly, there’s a song on your new album called Election Night, which can’t be a coincidence, and Only Son has some social commentary in the lyrics…

RA: Hell, yeah. He was this close to becoming a full-on dictator. How fucked up is that? And people wanted it! Insanity. I am just glad we are back to a place where we can trust the administration – more or less – know they are operating on facts and science, and try to get us the fuck out of this mess.

Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms

Do you have any music recommendations – new and old? What have you been listening to during lockdown?

RA: Oh man. I could go on forever. Lately I have been listening to a lot of funk – Funkadelic, Betty Davis – some Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, and the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack. So not my usual Bob Mould, Bob Pollard, power-pop, Superchunk rock-type stuff. But I’m always spinning Sloan and stuff like that too.

Finally, what were your favourite records of last year?

RA: Here’s my list:

  1. Lees of Memory – Moon Shot
  2. The Lemon Twigs – Songs for the General Public
  3. Coriky – S/T
  4. Guided By Voices – Surrender Your Poppy Field / Mirrored Aztec / Styles We Paid For
  5. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers
  6. Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna
  7. Hum – Inlet
  8. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor
  9. Supercrush – SODO Pop
  10. Fleet Foxes – Shore

What A Rip by Ryan Allen is officially released on February 5: you can stream, download or purchase it here. 

https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/

‘I am someone who has historically thrived in isolation’

Straight Songs of Sorrow by US singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) was our favourite album of 2020.

His twelfth solo record, it served as a companion piece to the gravel-voiced grunge survivor’s autobiography, Sing Backwards and Weep, which also came out last year.

The book, described as ‘a brutal, nerve-shredding read, recounting his journey from his troubled youth in eastern Washington, through his drug-stained existence amid the ’90s Seattle rock scene to an unlikely salvation at the dawn of the 21st century’ was brilliant – often harrowing and painfully honest, but shot through with black humour. 

Its accompanying soundtrack, Straight Songs of Sorrow, was one of the best – and darkest – records Lanegan’s ever made.

Reviewing it last year, we said: ‘It’s a sprawling, 15-track masterpiece that takes in the folk and blues sounds of his early solo recordings, as well as the electronic influences that have dominated his more recent releases. Like the book, the shadow of death hangs over these songs, and there’s plenty of drugs and [self] destruction thrown in for good measure too.’ 

Earlier this month, via social media, we contacted Lanegan, who’s recently relocated from his home in L.A. to live in Ireland, told him we’d chosen Straight Songs of Sorrow as our best album of last year, and asked if we could interview him. A day or so later, he dropped us a line and told us to send him some questions.

So here’s our exclusive chat – a no-holds-barred interview in which we cover a lot of ground, including his thoughts on the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, the future of live music, collaborating with other artists and his approach to songwriting. He also gave us an update on some of his future projects.

“I am most settled when I’m unsettled,” he tells us… so settle down and enjoy our one-on-one encounter with Dark Mark.

Q&A

How’s it going? How are you coping with the Covid crisis and lockdown? What kind of frame of mind are you in at the moment?

Mark Lanegan: I can’t complain. What can you do when shit is out of your control, except roll with the punches? My frame of mind is a surprisingly good one, given the global situation. I’m taking this time of enforced lockdown to get work done, which is what I enjoy most anyway. I am someone who has historically thrived in isolation.

As a professional musician, you’re used to being on the road a hell of a lot. What effect has Covid had on you? How was 2020? 

ML: 2020 was the slowest year in my adult life – by a thousand miles. That’s one of the very few reasons why I appreciated it. When you are my age, the years just fly by, and, for me, 2020 stopped time.

Are you worried about the future of live music? What needs to be done to address the situation? What are your hopes and fears for gigs and the year ahead?

ML: Well, it goes without saying that I would like to be on the road. That’s been the lifeblood of my existence for 30-plus years and I don’t want to stop moving now. Never mind the fact that nearly all of my meaningful income is from live shows. But honestly, if I’m concerned about anything, it’s how this thing is going to impact society as a whole. Might this possibly be that moment in history where a giant global crisis is the excuse for the powers that be to finally eradicate civil rights and personal freedoms? Governments love, and have been known to create, such opportunities. I think that’s what people should be keeping an eye on, not when they can get back to normal. Because let’s face it, things might likely never be ‘normal’ again.

‘Might this possibly be that moment in history where a giant global crisis is the excuse for the powers that be to finally eradicate civil rights and personal freedoms? Governments love, and have been known to create, such opportunities’

You recently relocated from L.A. to Ireland. What prompted the move and how are you settling in? What effect has it had on you?

ML: Well, I’ve been to Ireland many times and I’d thought about moving here for years, but some commitment or another always prevented it. When it became obvious that I would not be allowed to work as I am accustomed to for an indefinite period of time, it became the ideal window for other change as well.

Has moving to Ireland inspired you musically?

ML: I don’t really need inspiration to write music, or anything else really. It’s something I’m hardwired to do. Like breathing or fucking.

Whereabouts in Ireland are you living and what’s it like?

ML: I’m in County Kerry and it’s as physically stunning a place as I’ve ever been. More so probably, but it’s the people here who make it so great. They are the best.

‘I don’t really need inspiration to write music, or anything else really. It’s something I’m hardwired to do. Like breathing or fucking’

Have you moved all your possessions and your studio etc. to Ireland, or did you just up and leave?

ML: I came with the three 70 pound bags that my frequent flyer status on United allowed. I had one bag of clothes and two bags of recording equipment, small synths and drum machines. Everything else I left in storage in California. I’m renting at the moment, waiting to get into this house I’m trying for, and if that happens I suppose I’ll get my stuff shipped over in a container. But I’d just as soon start again anyway. You don’t own things – they own you.

You’re a very prolific songwriter and artist. In the past four years, you’ve released three studio albums, a Christmas album – half of which was new recordings – and a remix album, plus you’ve collaborated with Duke Garwood on the record With Animals, and you’ve worked with other artists, like Humanist, as well as touring the world. Are you a workaholic? Do you constantly write and think about your next musical projects? 

ML: I am most settled when I’m unsettled, so to speak, and there is something about being in a constant state of creation that keeps me engaged with life on a level that nothing else does, so I keep working. Most people never even get the opportunity to find out what it is they truly love. Most people are locked into a job they either hate, or simply tolerate, so they can keep eating and have a place to stay those few hours they’re not at the job.

I have been incredibly blessed to live the life I have and I feel like I would be pissing on that gift if I didn’t work everyday. And I only call it ‘work’ for the sake of answering this question. For me it’s something else altogether.

 

What’s your songwriting process like? How does stuff come to you? Which instruments do you write on and do you write music or lyrics first, or does it differ?

ML: I’ve only known two people whose music I love that take words written previously and then make them fit a piece of music. Simon Bonney, [Crime & the City Solution] who I consider to be one of the all-time greats as far as voice, phrasing, melody and lyrics, which in my opinion are the four keys to a great singer, and my 15-year- old nephew, David, who is advanced to a degree I never got until my forties. So I guess what I’m saying is, in my experience, it takes a genius, or someone who has developed in a different way than most guys I know, to write words first.

‘Most people never get the opportunity to find out what it is they truly love. I have been incredibly blessed to live the life I have and I feel like I would be pissing on that gift if I didn’t work everyday’

I make a melodic/rudimentary lyric map by instinct the first time I am hearing a piece of music I’m supposed to be writing, either for someone else or myself, and then I fill the words in later. It’s the music and the melody map, plus whatever words I might throw into that first round off the top of my head that indicate to me what the next words should be, and so on. My method is far from scientific – it’s more like building a fence.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

You’ve collaborated with so many great artists. How do you choose who you work with and do you have any favourite collaborations? Which are you most proud of?

ML: I’m proud of every collaboration I’ve been a part of, because I have been blessed to have made music with so many artists whose work I admire, either for them, or myself.

For a guy like me who came into music by accident and who is still one of the least musically proficient musicians around, I have had incredible good luck. And my only criteria for doing something is: ‘can I get it done in the time frame required, is it something I can do to a degree of self-satisfaction and to the satisfaction of whoever it’s for, or is it outside my comfort zone and challenging?’

‘I often turn things down if what they want is a boring, rote performance. People who can’t see past the basement floor deserve to be enlightened. That low, low voice is old hat and so uninteresting. I can actually sing, if anyone wants to know’

I always say “yes” to things I initially perceive as outside my box because that is the shit I really get off on. I often turn things down if what they want is a boring, rote performance in what some people think of as my most compelling voice. But when I am asked to sing something in my lowest, low baritone I either turn it down, or do it how I think it should be done. I then give it back and come up with a reason why I can’t redo it. People who can’t see past the basement floor deserve to be enlightened. That low, low voice is old hat and so uninteresting. I can actually sing, if anyone wants to know.

Is there anyone you’d like to work with? Who would be your dream collaborator?

ML: Brian Eno. The same answer I always give to this question.

Straight Songs of Sorrow was my favourite album of last year. I gave it some very favourable reviews. I think it’s your masterpiece. How do you feel the record was received?

ML: I usually don’t pay too close attention to how a record is received because it’s really none of my business.

The only reason I really give a damn if anyone enjoys what I do is in how it impacts my ability to make another one.

What I’m saying is that because I am being given money to make these records and a large part of my personal income is a result of the music, it’s not a bad thing if a certain percentage of people who hear it connect to a degree where they are willing to put down cash to buy the next thing, or to come to a show, because that is what ultimately allows my continued existence as a pretend artist on this plane.

How did you approach Straight Songs of Sorrow? Did all the songs come quite naturally to you once you’d written your book? What was the writing and recording process like? 

ML: It was all done extremely fast because it didn’t even hit my radar until a month before my previous record was to be released, and I was booked on a three-month tour for that. Jeff Barrett, the boss at Heavenly, [record company] dreamed it up and once I had agreed, it had to be done before I left on that tour, if it was going to come out around the same time as the book it was meant to be a companion piece to. Luckily I had already been writing, playing and recording songs myself that were influenced by the sort of brutal experience of writing the book, so I had a lot of the bones of the album already recorded.

Which was more cathartic – making the album, or writing the book? 

ML: I don’t know if I’ve received catharsis from anything I’ve done. For me, more often the process of creating does the opposite – it brings shit out into the light I would rather not think about. But that’s the price you gotta pay I guess.

Some of the songs on your last album, and parts of your book, are very dark and harrowing. What was it like going back to those dark places?

ML: Not great, as you might imagine. As a rule I try to stay in the here and now, not looking back or future-tripping. I feel as though that’s been one of the keys to my survival.

By its nature that kind of book requires a shitload of backtracking and with it came a lot of grief, pain and self-reflection over things I had never thought about once they were done. I have pretty fierce powers of denial, but faced on a daily basis with things I had done, people I’d hurt, friends no longer here, youthful trauma, generational sickness, damage, all that, it almost buried me. I’m not gonna lie. I would never do it again.

‘I don’t know if I’ve received catharsis from anything I’ve done. For me, more often the process of creating does the opposite – it brings shit out into the light I would rather not think about. But that’s the price you gotta pay I guess’ 

Straight Songs of Sorrow is a very eclectic album – more so than your previous two records, Gargoyle and Somebody’s Knocking, which were mostly more electronic-based/ influenced. Was that intentional, or did it come about quite organically?

ML: I had started writing on an acoustic guitar for some of the songs, which was something I’d not done in quite a while. One of the things asked of me for this record was that I try to incorporate elements of my early Sub Pop records into it. So it ended up being sort of a combo of those old records and the records I make today. People are forever saying I should make acoustic records again and I find that to be a bit sad and short-sighted. Imagine how fucking boring your life would be if you only ever got to do the very first thing you ever did and never progressed beyond that? That would be like being Chubby Checker and only ever playing The Twist. Fuck that, thank you very much.

I really enjoyed your Black Phoebe 12in EP, which came out last year – it was a collaboration with your wife, Shelley Brien. Can we expect an album? What’s it sounding like and when will it come out?

ML: Yes and it should be out next year, sounding like more of the same. Before that, Ecstatic records boss Alessio Natalizia – Not Waving – is putting out another version of the EP, all of it remixed by him. It’s rad.

‘People are forever saying I should make acoustic records again I find that to be a bit sad and short-sighted. Imagine how fucking boring your life would be if you only ever got to do the very first thing you ever did and never progressed beyond that? That would be like being Chubby Checker and only ever playing The Twist. Fuck that’

What are your plans for 2021? Are you working on a new solo record? What’s inspiring you?

ML: My plans are to finish the novel I’m working on and finish a book of uncollected poetry, writings, drawings and ephemera that I’m currently doing, in addition to two other poetry books I’ve finished this month. One is out next month, the other later this year.

My friend Wesley Eisold, of Cold Cave and American Nightmare fame, is the guy who encouraged me to start writing poetry. His publishing house, Heartworm Press, is putting out my next two books of poetry, in addition to the split book we did together last year, Plague Poems. When he first read these two new books, he rightly pointed out that in a way these were part two to the memoir.

‘I hope to start my own record in the summertime. I can’t say how it’s going to turn out, but I know how I’d like it to be, and that’s as fucked up as possible’

Poetry can be just as revealing as bio stuff but way more beautiful and mysterious, which is the kind of thing I most like to read, listen to in music, and write and record myself when I am able to. I’m working on a couple of records right now, as well as Black Phoebe, and I hope to start my own record in the summertime. I can’t say how it’s going to turn out, but I know how I’d like it to be, and that’s as fucked up as possible.

Are there any more musical collaborations in the offing?

ML: Yes, I’m always doing stuff with and for other people – usually one or more tunes a week.

I really like the new single you’ve just made with Wax Tailor – aka French hip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût – which is called Just A Candle. How did that collaboration come about and can you tell me something about the song?

ML: JC got hold of me via email and sent me an early version of the music. I sent him back something – I want to say that it was the same day. Then we met up when I was doing my last tour of France, hit it off and discussed the song, music and life in general.

Over the course of several months, maybe even a year, I continued to do different versions and try different things on the song. It might seem really straightforward when you hear it, but JC and I tried a truckload of different approaches and things to finally hit upon what you hear.

I really appreciate his artistry and attention to detail. It’s a pleasure to be involved in a process with someone who cares as much as I do about making music.

Thanks, Mark. Finally, what music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? Any recommendations? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

ML: Today I was listening to John J Presley and Fields of The Nephilim. Yesterday it was Iggy, Jim Ghedi and the From Brussels With Love comp. It’s always something – new, old, whatever.

Mark Lanegan’s latest album, Straight Songs of Sorrow, is out now on Heavenly Recordings. His book, Sing Backwards and Weep, is published by White Rabbit.

To listen to a Mark Lanegan Spotify playlist, please click here.

https://www.marklanegan.com/