‘Online concerts have proved one thing – that you cannot and never will beat the real thing’

My Darling Clementine – picture by Marco Bakker

UK husband and wife duo My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – are set to release the second four-track EP from their Country Darkness project next month. 

It picks up where Volume 1. left off and sees the pair reinterpreting the country and country-soul songs of Elvis Costello, aided and abetted by keyboardist Steve Nieve (The Attractions and The Imposters), as well as members of Richard Hawley’s backing band: Colin Elliot (bass), Shez Sheridan (guitar) and Dean Beresford (drums). 

In an exclusive interview, Michael talks us through the songs on the new record – Either Side Of The Same Town, I Lost You, Different Finger – the first single from the EP – and Too Soon To Know; reveals how he’s been occupying his time during lockdown and shares his hopes and fears for what will happen to live music when we emerge from the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Picture by Nick Small

 

Q & A

How are you? How have you been coping with lockdown? 

Michael Weston King: Up and down to be honest. Some days I feel okay with it – I rather like the fact the world is on pause – but then other days are met with an overriding ‘what’s the point?’ To quote Charles Bukowski, “I don’t know about other people, but when I wake up in the morning and put my shoes on, I think, Jesus Christ, now what?”

Any advice on how to get through it?

MWK: Advice? I’m not sure I am the man for that, but maybe try and achieve something by the end of the day. That could be anything – even if it’s just tidying a room, or clearing stuff out. Set a small task and do it. There is a sense of purpose to be gained from it. Little victories. And go for walks. It’s not always easy, depending on where you live, but natural light is important.

A close friend of mine lives in rural, idyllic Herefordshire and I am very jealous of him at times like these. I live in Manchester – it’s not the greenest of cities, but everywhere looks better when the sun is shining, and, thankfully, it has been of late.

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

MWK: I have mainly been listening to our daughter, Mabel, practising piano, recorder and drums, and singing at full volume, but when that subsides, it has been a mix of old and new: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Gill Scott Heron, early ‘70s Springsteen, Jessie Winchester, Crazy Horse (without Neil Young) and Jim Ford. I’ve also been getting back into Levon Helms’ Dirt Farmer album.

One of my favourite ever artists / songwriters is Roddy Frame and somehow I had missed out on his album The North Star, which is from 1998.

My pal Danny Champ reminded me about it, saying it was his favourite Roddy album, so that has been a fabulous (re)discovery. God, that album should have made him huge. It has some of his best songs on it – and that is saying something. And, of course, after the terribly sad news about John Prine, I revisited his whole back catalogue.

New releases? I have been enjoying the new Laura Marling album – she is a marvel. There aren’t many who are coming close to her right now. The new album, Song For Our Daughter, is yet to reach the heights of its predecessor, Semper Femina, yet. Maybe it will after a few more plays.

‘Some days I feel okay with lockdown – I like the fact the world is on pause – but then other days are met with an overriding ‘what’s the point?”

I’m also loving the new A Girl Called Eddy [aka Erin Moran]  album Been Around. Her debut – and last album – from well over 10 years ago, was coincidentally co-produced by Colin Elliot, who I have been working with for the last few years on My Darling Clementine releases. I recall Erin and I did a joint show many years ago, along with Peter Bruntnell and Thea Gilmore, for Mojo magazine. I have not seen her since but we reconnected again online recently.

I checked out new albums from Logan Ledger (produced by T. Bone Burnett) and Pokey LaFarge while I was out for a walk recently. The jury’s still out on both of those for me, though Logan has covered what I consider something of a lost country classic, Skip A Rope. Originally recorded by Henson Cargill in the late ’60s, it is a kind of a country protest song.

Have you written any new songs during lockdown? When we last spoke, in October 2019, you said you’d been suffering from writer’s block. Has that passed?

MWK: I wouldn’t say it has passed, but it has eased a little. I still have far too many unfinished songs, and now have an increasing number of new, unfinished ideas. I need a target, a deadline to make me get my ass in gear, a date for when things have to be ready by. I am currently living by the Irish mantra: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

I have written and completed a new song, called No One Comes Close. It’s about the way the NHS staff have been treated by the Tory government for the past 10 years, and how the likes of Johnson and Gove are now fawning all over the health workers.

It was not long ago they were cheering in the House of Commons, having won a vote not to increases nurses’ wages. It is hypocrisy on the grandest of scales. I feel sick every time I see them clapping on a Thursday night. The song is up on YouTube as part of the Artists4NHS campaign, and I hope it will raise a few quid.

You had plans for a new solo album. What’s the latest on that?

MWK: I don’t record at home – I always go into a studio with an engineer and a co-producer, so until we can do that again it remains just a plan and not a reality. I also have all those songs to finish, so I can’t say really, but I would like to at least record it this year. It has been a long time since I made a solo record, so maybe it could be a double album. One acoustic and one electric?

As professional musicians, how has Covid-19 affected you and Lou?

MWK: It has affected us greatly, as it has so many musicians, especially those of us who make most of our income from playing live. We have lost over 50 shows and I fear there is more to come. That is quite a chunk of change, and even though a good number of the shows have been rescheduled, it still means a long period without income.

Picture by Marco Bakker
Are you optimistic about the future? What will have to happen in the ‘new normal?’ Are you worried?

MWK: As for forward planning, the great uncertainty means many venues and promoters don’t want to commit just yet. Our next shows are in September and I am getting anxious that they might not happen too.

Long-term I do think it will get back to how it was. People like to commune and come together for things – there is nothing better than coming together for music. My fear is how many venues, promoters and even musicians will be out of business when things are ready to go back?

Even though it is proving a useful stopgap for musicians and music fans alike, online concerts have proved one thing – that you cannot and never will beat the real thing.

Last time we spoke, it was ahead of the release of Country Darkness Vol. 1 – your reinterpretations of country and country-soul songs written by Elvis Costello.
You recorded the tracks with Steve Nieve, keyboardist with The Attractions and The Imposters, and members of Richard Hawley’s band. Vol. 2 is out in June. What can you tell us about the new record? When and where was it recorded and how were the sessions?

MWK: We did exactly what we did with Vol 1. Lou, Steve and I got together to decide on the key, the tempo and the basic arrangement, then we left Steve to record a solo piano or keyboard track from his studio in Paris, setting the feel for the songs, before sending it to producer Colin Elliot back in England. We would then go into Yellow Arch Studio in Sheffield and complete the full arrangement with the band.

Once again, you’ve put your own stamp on the songs. How did you tackle the arrangements and decide on the feel and treatments?

MWK: We have tried hard to re-invent the songs and not just follow the original arrangements. It would be rather pointless to do so. Also for Steve, who played on some of the originals, he was keen to do something different.

Let’s talk about the songs. The first track is Either Side Of The Same Town

MWK: Without question, it’s one of our favourite Elvis Costello songs, of any style. I think Elvis must have been listening to a lot of Dan Penn when he wrote this. It is a song mined from the same seam as his song, The Dark End Of The Street, which was a hit for James Carr.

Either Side… was originally written for another great soul voice, Howard Tate, who recorded it before Elvis did.

In 2006, Lou was on tour with The Brodsky Quartet and they performed a version of this song, arranged for quartet and voice by Brodsky viola player, Paul Cassidy, which was based on the original demo Elvis had given to Paul. It’s quite a lot different from how it ended up on Elvis’s The Delivery Man album, and in turn, very different from our version.

We have kept the country-soul feel, but added an extra verse to accommodate a guitar solo and also gone with a more understated vocal approach to it.

‘We have tried hard to re-invent the songs and not just follow the original arrangements. It would be rather pointless to do so’

What about I Lost You?

MWK: That song comes from Elvis’s more acoustic, bluegrass album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, and is co-written by Jim Lauderdale, who was also part of the touring ensemble Costello put together at that time.

Lou and I shared a festival bill with Jim at the River Town Festival in Bristol in 2017 and our paths have crossed a few times, most recently at a festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. Jim is one of the sweetest and funniest guys, and a master of the high harmony. He’s a very fine songwriter too.

The original version of this opens with a guitar riff, which then reoccurs later. We replaced that with Steve’s arpeggiated piano motif. Although written originally for one voice, the song works particularly well as a conversational duet.

What about the first single from the EP, Different Finger?

MWK: It’s a song that just had to be done for this project. It’s one of Elvis’s most authentic honky-tonkers. Like Stranger in the House [which is on the first Country Darkness EP], it is a classic country song, although still with a few songwriting idiosyncrasies that are totally Costello, as opposed to the simplicity of say Harlan Howard or Merle Haggard.

Steve had played on the original, so we wanted to find a different approach, as we have tried with all of these songs, so for this we went with the Marty Robbins treatment. Hats off to Piero Tucci for some stunning accordion playing, and also the beautiful Spanish guitar styling of Shez Sheridan.

The final track on the new EP is Too Soon To Know

MWK: This song turned out much more moody and atmospheric than any of us thought. In 2016, Darlene Love recorded it, duetting with Bill Medley – she approached it in that true ‘60s soul style she is famous for.

I had initially thought we may also go in that direction, but once Steve had set the tone with his spooky keys, and sombre feel, the song went somewhere else altogether, and I would argue it’s all the better for it.

We have taken a more understated vocal approach to try and set it apart from previous versions. Of any of the songs we have cut so far, this track personifies the phrase ‘Country Darkness.’

Picture by Marco Bakker
You have one more Country Darkness EP to release – Vol. 3 – followed by an album of the same name, which will include all of the songs from the project.
What’s the latest on the third volume and when will the album come out?  Have you recorded the next EP?

MWK: Lou and I had got together with Steve in Manchester in March, on a day off during the recent Elvis Costello tour. We were due to go into the studio a few days later, but that turned out to be the week lockdown came into effect. It should have all been done by now. We have five more Costello songs to record, plus a new My Darling Clementine song. It’s so frustrating. I just hope we can resume ASAP.

Do you know if Elvis has heard the first EP?

MWK: We saw him very briefly after the Manchester show and he thanked us for the record. We didn’t really get chance to talk about it much, as he was being ushered out the venue, plus Lou was busy wisecracking with him about his choice of stage exit music – Ken Dodd’s We Are The Diddy Men!

Finally, this country – and many others – has experienced a lot of darkness recently. What are you most looking forward to doing when lockdown is lifted?

MWK: I have a list of five things:

1) Spending time with my grown-up kids and hugging my grandchildren.

2) Going to the pub with some male friends to drink Guinness and talk nonsense.

3) Getting back on stage.

4) Getting back in the studio.

5) Getting out of Manchester, well, the UK in general. We were due in Spain in June for some shows. I think we may head there!

I actually re-wrote the lyrics for Tom T Hall’s very sweet, but rather saccharine song I Like, and called it I Miss. I’m not sure it needs to be committed to YouTube or Facebook, or maybe it will be, one night, after a bottle of wine… I had a line about missing browsing in record shops, with you in mind, Sean, but I haven’t found the second line yet. Anyway, in answer to your question, here is what ‘I Miss.’

I Miss

I miss
going to her house, sitting on the couch, her upon my knee
and tea
I miss climbing up some hill, dragging them against their will, saying theirs legs ache
and cake
And I miss you too

——–

I miss
going to the game, walking home in the rain, calling out the team,
and dreams
I miss going to the pub, giving friends a hug, putting the world to rights,
curry nights
And I miss you too

——–

I miss getting on the stage, thinking I’m all the rage
Drinks in hotel bars, and cars
I miss driving through the night, crossing borders when it’s light, hearing another voice
and choice
And I miss you too

Country Darkness Vol.2 by My Darling Clementine is released on June 5 (Fretsore Records). The single, Different Finger, is available to stream and download now. 

You can pre-order the 12in EP here: https://linktr.ee/countrydarknessvol2

www.mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk

https://www.fretsorerecords.com/

‘I’m trying to avoid writing songs about the lockdown’

Robin Bennett

In an exclusive, in-depth interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, singer-songwriter Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires and Bennett Wilson Poole)  reflects on lockdown, looks back at the making of his 2005 solo mini-album Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror, which has just been made available online for the first time, and updates us on the eagerly-awaited second album from Bennett Wilson Poole.

One of the few positives to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis is that lockdown has given musicians more time to dig around in their vaults and release rare or unheard material online for their fans to enjoy while stuck indoors.

Oxford-based singer-songwriter Robin Bennett, who is one third of Americana and jangle-pop supergroup Bennett Wilson Poole and, with his brother Joe, is one of the main members of The Dreaming Spires, has made his hard to find 2005 solo mini-album, the eight-track Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror, available to stream or download from Bandcamp.

Released under the pseudonym Dusty Sound System, it was written and recorded over a week in Los Angeles, California, in January 2005, at the time of the Iraq War. The songs, which were laid down in a day, were composed with his friend Danny Black – aka Danny Power (The And/Ors).

Robin and Danny spent most mornings watching the Bob Dylan film Don’t Look Back before getting down to songwriting and it shows – album opener, the riotous, bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll  of The One And Only Lost Boy, sounds like a homage to mid-’60s electric Dylan, while Nation At War and I’m A Soldier are both folky protest songs.

Nothing I Can’t Do Without  is a lovely, fragile acoustic ballad, You Can’t Fool All The People (All The Time) is anthemic country rock, the sombre, piano-led ballad As I Lay Dying has a Lennon feel, and Don’t Sleep Alone is yet more raw, Dylanesque rock ‘n’roll.

The album was recorded in a studio owned by Rob Campanella ( Brian Jonestown Massacre) and features a cast of friends and local musicians, including Bobby Bones, Darren Rademaker (The Tyde) and Jason Anchondo (The Warlocks).

Mixed back in England with Rowland Prytherch, after the addition of harmony vocals by Piney Gir and Cat Martino, the album was mastered by Tim Turan in Oxford and originally released in 2005 on Truck Records.

Ironically, considering its title, Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror sometimes sounds like it’s gone for a great night out on the town – one of the songs is called It Takes No Talent To Party – but, more often that not, it’s waking up the morning after, bleary-eyed and melancholic.

“There certainly were a lot of parties, but I always found I could get by with very little sleep when in California –  it must have been the sunshine,” says Robin.

Q&A

How are you and how have you been coping with lockdown?

Robin Bennett: I live in a somewhat isolated spot anyway, so, in some ways, not a lot has changed, although my children are at home. Thankfully the weather has mostly been good and we are lucky enough to have a garden. A lot of the meetings I have to attend due to my council work (Robin is a cabinet member for development and regeneration at South Oxfordshire District Council) have moved online, so I’m pretty busy. I’ve also got a small home recording set-up to keep my musical side occupied.

What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

RB: I’ve definitely been drawn to listening to music, old and new. I bought a new record player from Danny Wilson’s [Bennett Wilson Poole, Danny and the Champions of the World] shop, Union Music Store, to help me make the most of my vinyl collection.

I’ve also joined in with a few of Tim Burgess’ Twitter listening parties – diverse selections from The Chemical Brothers to The Flaming Lips, which was stuff from when I was first getting into music and going out. My old band Goldrush supported The Flaming Lips in 2002 and went on to record with Dave Fridmann.

The other night I went back to some classics on vinyl that I haven’t listened to in a while, due to over-familiarity – like Neil Young’s After the Goldrush. I like the way the internet allows shared listening. I joined in with the Clubhouse Records crew, who were listening to The Band’s Stagefright last weekend. Opinion was divided on whether it’s a lost classic.

‘The lockdown seems to favour nostalgia. There has been space for things like the 17-minute Bob Dylan single, and also for plenty of looking back over one’s musical past’

We’ve also got a crappy Dansette in the shed, where we’ve been dancing to 7-inch singles with the kids, mostly The Beatles or stuff from the Britpop era, when I was buying 7-inches.

Although it’s a pain for artists – including Bennett Wilson Poole – that the release cycle has been disrupted, it’s created an interesting pause in the normal torrent of attention-grabbing. There has been space for things like the 17-minute Bob Dylan single, and also for plenty of looking back over one’s musical past. The lockdown seems to favour nostalgia.

Have you written any new songs during lockdown?

RB: Not really. I have demoed a whole pile of songs from my notebook though – some of them are going back years. I’m trying to avoid writing songs about the lockdown.

During lockdown, you’ve decided to make your 2005 Dusty Sound System mini-album, Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror available on Bandcamp. What was the thinking behind that?

RB: It was partly because of just having the time and space to do it. Although it was originally released in a pretty minimal way, it has a bit of a reputation in some circles, and I wanted people to be able to hear it – those who didn’t have one of the few original CD copies.

The album is 15 years old. How you do feel about it now? How old were you when you made it and what music were you into at the time?

RB: Um… I was 26! One thing I remember from the time is that Bright Eyes was just releasing his two albums on the same day, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. I was very impressed by that – the US press were calling him ‘the new Bob Dylan’ at the time.

Since first going to the US in 2003, to record and tour with Mark Gardener of Ride, my Goldrush bandmates and I had been introduced to a whole swathe of US independent acts, from Death Cab For Cutie to The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I met, or played with, many of them.

I was impressed how the scale of the US allowed these bands to have a viable career without signing to a major label, which was more or less impossible in the UK at the time.

There were also records that were more abundant in American record stores, like Songs for Beginners by Graham Nash, that I’d not really come across before. Big Star and Gram Parsons loomed large too. I also got into The Jayhawks around then –I’m not sure how I’d avoided them previously. We also listened to a lot of old Bob Dylan – especially The Bootleg Series Volume 2.

What’s the story behind the album? How did it come about? You went to L.A. and  you wrote the record in a week, with your friend Danny Black – aka Danny Power – and you recorded in it a day. That must have been a hell of a week!

RB: I’d always largely been the lyric writer in Goldrush – in the early days, songs used to come together in a somewhat miraculous way, without a lot of forethought, but, of course, that method can dry up. When we went to record with Dave Fridmann in 2003, I was still finishing lyrics in the studio, which stressed me out no end. I knew there had to be a more structured way of writing.

I worked with Mark Gardener on some of the songs for his solo album, and found that I could be useful as a co-writer. Then, with Danny, we found such a close rapport that extending into co-writing happened almost by default.

‘L.A. was a whole different world and very inspiring. Danny and I had a daily routine of watching Don’t Look Back, listening to records, buying doughnuts and coffee, and then trying to write’

Goldrush had US visas, so we took the opportunity to spend as much time there as we could, staying in Brooklyn, or at Danny’s house in L.A., even when not touring. I applied for a PRS grant, which gave me the chance to go over and do some writing with Danny in January 2005. He lived just off Sunset Boulevard, between Echo Park and Silverlake, in a shared house, with a few bohemian friends who were always welcoming.

It was a whole different world and very inspiring for me. Danny and I had a daily routine of watching bits of Don’t Look Back, listening to records, buying some doughnuts and coffee – vital – and then trying to write. I also had an obsession with Gatorade – the US version. I still do.

On previous visits we’d become good friends with Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who had an excellent studio in his house. We’d written enough songs for an album, so we thought we should get them down for posterity and we invited some of the aforementioned people along for a day in the studio, setting up live and rattling through the whole lot in one day, pausing only for sandwiches from the deli and the odd beer. It was all so much fun and we knew that we had something.

Danny Power and Robin performing together at Pappy & Harriet’s, near Joshua Tree National Park, California. in 2008

Danny Power has been a big influence on you musically, hasn’t he? He’s inspired several Dreaming Spires songs and he got you into Big Star. How did you meet him?

RB: Danny Power was initially our West Coast tour manager, but he was – is – a musician too and we wound up becoming close friends. Mark Gardener had discovered Danny after his band, The And/Ors, opened for Mark’s solo tour, so when we came over as Mark’s backing band, he asked Danny to supply a van and equipment, which he did – rickety vintage gear you’d rarely see in the UK.

Danny worked printing art posters for the famous artist, Shepard Fairey, in a large warehouse in downtown L.A., so that’s where we rehearsed. It was an amazing scene to be part of. It was next to the American Apparel factory, in an eerie industrial district patrolled by homeless people pushing shopping trolleys, and there were also furtive porn movie shoots in warehouses – or so we heard. The Dreaming Spires song Singing Sin City describes meeting Danny and his van, which was named Darla.

You said that you were watching Don’t Look Back most mornings in L.A. The first song on Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror is The One And Only Lost Boy, which is a mid-’60s electric Dylan homage, isn’t it?

RB: Yes, certainly – though one of my earliest influences, like Dylan, was Chuck Berry, and it has a bit of that about it too.

The song is about your experiences as a Brit in L.A. What did you make of it?

RB: My experiences of L.A. were completely overwhelming – I’d been there once, aged 18, but not really found any of its secrets, but going there again in 2003, even after the thrill of touring the East Coast, was something else. It seemed like another planet and we were lucky enough to be introduced to some amazing places and people. We were probably as exotic to the Californians as they were to us.

Jason Anchondo, Danny Power and friends at a party

I can’t remember writing The One And Only Lost Boy, but all the people mentioned in it are real people we used to hang out with. Bobby (Bones), Jason ‘Plucky’ Anchondo and Dave ‘The Kid’ Koenig all play on the record so it’s very self-referential. Caroline and Abigail lived in Danny’s house. I really did get called Lindsay after [film director] Lindsay Anderson on account of my British accent, and on that writing trip it rained for several days, which was a real novelty in L.A. It caused many plants to bloom and gave me severe hay fever, enough to somewhat affect the sound of my voice on the record.

Nothing I Can’t Do Without is a lovely song. It sounds like a more stripped-down version of what you went on to do with The Dreaming Spires, but minus the jangly guitars. What can you tell me about it?

Nothing I Can’t Do Without was written on Danny’s porch, throwing phrases back and forth in a rapid fashion. The house was in sight of Sunset Boulevard, which, of course, is named after the amazing California sunsets, which are made more spectacular by a layer of smog.

I was definitely moving away from writing verse-chorus type songs, and getting more narrative in style. I was probably listening to Another Side…era Dylan, which seeped into the guitar style. It does sound a bit like the cover of Girl From The North Country that The Dreaming Spires started our career with. I basically used the same chords under the Dylan lyrics for that, as I didn’t know the correct chords.

As I Lay Dying is one of the darker songs on the album. What can you tell me about it? The piano sounds quite Lennonesque, and it’s a sad song…

RB: As I Lay Dying was written after a trip, so to speak, to Joshua Tree National Park, on one of our regular pilgrimages to the desert. It provided a very different perspective on life and the song was written down pretty much directly as we experienced it.

Robin at the piano, recording the album

‘When we mixed the album back in England, we used plenty of WEM Copicat tape echo, which contributed to the Lennon-y vibe’

The title was from the William Faulkner novel. I was into trying to describe out-of-body or near-death experiences at the time, as also on the Goldrush album, The Heart Is The Place. The song There’s A World by Goldrush, on the Ozona album, is also based on being at Joshua Tree. It became one of our favourite places to go when in the US. We played at the famous Pappy & Harriet’s and stayed on Victoria Williams’ ranch and at number of other interesting spots. I seem to recall when Rowland Prytherch and I mixed the album back in England, we used plenty of WEM Copicat tape echo, which contributed to the Lennon-y vibe.

Where did the song It Takes No Talent To Party come from? Great title! I can imagine there was a lot of partying during your week in L.A… 

RB: The title was a saying from Dave Koenig, who, at the time, was the bass player in The Brian Jonestown Massacre, or he may have just left the band. He was kind enough to play bass on the album. He was a very funny guy and a master storyteller –  it was his phrase to describe some of the characters who populated the L.A. scene, which was to some extent surface over content. There certainly were a lot of parties, but I always found I could get by with very little sleep when in California –  it must have been the sunshine.

The record is one of highs and lows – there are musically upbeat songs, like The One And Only Lost Boy and Don’t Sleep Alone, but it’s often a melancholy, reflective record, isn’t it? What kind of frame of mind were you in when you made it? 

RB. My default song setting was melancholy, at least up to that point, so I’m glad I was able to produce some upbeat songs. It was a relatively carefree time if you could ignore all the wars and so on…

Let’s talk about that. The Iraq War was happening at the time you were making the album and it inspired some of the songs, like I’m A Soldier and Nation At War, which are folky protest songs. What was your take on the war at the time and what was it like being in the US while it was happening? 

RB: The TV was still filled with images of the post-9/11 Middle Eastern wars and Dubya was still President. The heavy post-9/11 security measures were very much in place and paranoia was in the air. We must have watched plenty of TV because the news filtered through into the songs. I remember sitting in a café and writing out the lyrics to Nation At War in a matter of minutes. I’m A Soldier covers the plight of returning veterans and is simple, but it holds up well, I think.

You Can’t Fool All The People (All The Time) is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a country rock feel…

RB: Country rock loomed large in our lives, having recently got deep into Sweetheart of the Rodeo [The Byrds] and The Flying Burrito Brothers, etc. We loved going to thrift stores and Mexican markets to pick up quirky shirts –  they were hard to get hold of back then. It fascinated me to be in the same spot, making records as those individuals, as indeed it did no doubt for excellent local bands like Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde.

Darren from The Tyde and Bobby Bones play excellent guitar lines on the track, which makes the song. Rob Campanella’s brother Andy stepped in on drums, and his more languid style suited the song, with its unpredictable timings. As I recall, I played piano and sang live vocals on almost every song, apart from the acoustic picking numbers.

There are quite a few guests on the album…

RB: Jason ‘Plucky’ Anchondo was one of two drummers in The Warlocks, who were staples of the shoegazey revival scene, alongside The Brian Jonestown Massacre – we encountered numerous members of both bands. We’d met on our first trip when The Warlocks and Mark Gardener/Goldrush played in New York and we all jammed a version of Tomorrow Never Knows. I’d like to hear a recording of that!

Bobby Bones was a mysterious but delightful character, who looked like he could easily have been in The Rolling Stones. Darren Rademaker from The Tyde joined us too and contributed some wonderful guitar lines.

Back in England, I felt some female vocals would improve things – I was perhaps enjoying Emmylou Harris’ contributions to the Bright Eyes album –  and asked Piney Gir, who was a friend, and part of our Truck Records roster, to come and sing on a few tracks. Furthermore, Cat Martino, another US singer from Brooklyn, who became a great friend, sang on Nation At War, which was actually recorded in England that summer, when she visited.

What happened to the album at the time? Did it have a proper release and did you tour to support it?

RB: It didn’t have a major release – it came out on the label Truck Records, which I ran with friends. Most of the effort in 2005 went on tours to support the US and European releases of Goldrush’s Ozona album. I did play some really fun shows, however, and put together a great UK band including Loz Colbert from Ride on drums, Andrew Mitchell from Ralfe Band, Garo and Nick (Growler) from Goldrush and Rowland Prytherch on bass. We often joined by Piney as well, and sometimes later on by Danny Wilson – we’d just started becoming friends. There were plenty of others who jumped in on occasion –  almost too many to list!

The songs were simple enough to show people in a few minutes and usually it came off well. We played at The Social and The Borderline [in London], at a festival in Devon with Mojave 3, and quite a few other places. There were also a couple of gigs in L.A. with some of the original band, or perhaps just one – it’s shown in the video for The One And Only Lost Boy.

The album was credited to Dusty Sound System, rather than Robin Bennett. Where did the pseudonym come from?

RB: ‘Dusty’ was a nickname given to me be a friend from the village where I grew up – it was short for Dusty Bookworm, on account of how I liked to read and my dad was a bookseller.

By the time of the album, quite a lot of people called me Dusty, so it seemed a suitable pseudonym. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to perform under my given name. I really can’t remember how Sound System got added – it meant that there didn’t have to be a fixed band, or it could just be me. The pseudonym gave me freedom to have fun.

Bennett Wilson Poole – photo by John Morgan

Let’s leave 2005 behind and fast forward to 2020, to talk about Bennett Wilson Poole.

Last year, you had to postpone your headlining London show, at the Islington Assembly Hall, as Tony Poole was unwell, and, this year, you were due to appear at the Ramblin’ Roots festival, which had to be postponed due to Covid-19. Are you hoping to gig later this year – all being well – and how’s Tony doing?

RB: Tony seems well currently, which is great. I’ve spoken to him a few times during lockdown. The first thing we did when we heard about the virus, even pre-lockdown, was cancel a Bennett Wilson Poole rehearsal – we need to look after Tony, in particular.

‘The second Bennett Wilson Poole album is written, recorded and mastered – we’re just waiting to work out how to release it in the present circumstances. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it’

I’m not very optimistic about indoor concerts taking place anywhere during 2020, so we may have to wait a little longer.

What’s the current state of play with Bennett Wilson Poole? Is your eagerly-awaited second album written and recorded?

RB: It’s written, recorded and mastered – we’re just waiting to work out how to release it in the present circumstances. We can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

One of the great things about Bennett Wilson Poole for me is the songwriting partnership Danny Wilson and I have developed. After it became impossible to write with Danny Power, I didn’t know if I’d find the same thing again, but we have struck up a similar ability to write songs and write them quickly. We both love the excitement of songwriting.

The Dreaming Spires: Robin and Joe Bennett

At this year’s Ramblin’ Roots, The Dreaming Spires were also due to play. Do you think there will be another Dreaming Spires record in the future?

RB: It’s hard to say. We are all still good friends and enjoying getting together to play now and then. We’re very proud of the albums we did. The songs all fit together as a set, so, if there was a new album, it would have to have some different subject matter.

As a professional musician and also a festival promoter what are you most worried about because of the Covid-19 crisis? Are you optimistic about the future? Will things get back to normal? What’s your take on it? What will have to happen in the ‘new normal?’

RB: I suppose, like most people, I am worried about my health and that of those close to me – and it’s clearly going to have a heavy impact on the live music business – indeed it already is. Looking for a positive, I think that connection and culture have grown in importance for us all as we’re stuck in our homes, and I have realised how precious those things are. That gives me confidence that we will find a way to rebuild the music scene. It’s hard to say exactly what that will look like, as we are still learning about how the virus operates.

‘Connection and culture have grown in importance as we’re stuck in our homes. I have realised how precious those things are. That gives me confidence that we will find a way to rebuild the music scene’

Clearly, some of the remote working and live streaming events will continue in the future, and we will be wary of cramped gatherings for a while. I’ve always been drawn to locally-oriented events, and perhaps there will be more of those as people resist long-distance travel. Also it’s opportunity to make sure all that back catalogue stuff is out there and available.

What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is lifted?

RB: Going to play, or watching a band in a cramped pub, preferably The Betsey Trotwood. I might have to wait quite a while for that to happen, so in the meantime a socially-distanced cup of coffee in a café will do.

Days of Splendor, Nights of Horror by Dusty Sound System is available to stream or purchase at:  https://dustysoundsystem.bandcamp.com/

For more on Bennett Wilson Poole, visit: https://www.bennettwilsonpoole.com/

‘I’m trying not to watch too much news – I’ve been playing a lot of guitar…’

Picture by Tim Meeks

Detroit power-pop singer-songwriter Nick Piunti’s new album has an apt title for these days of global lockdown – it’s called Downtime.

“It’s a bit too timely. My daughter, Megan, actually came up with it after listening to the record. In the song Never Belonged To Me there’s a lyric that says: “Don’t know what to do with the downtime.”

“The word ‘time’ also shows up in a few of the other songs,” says Nick, whose latest record – his sixth – is the first with his new band, The Complicated Men.

The album has all the usual Piunti hallmarks – raw vocals, infectious melodies, crunching guitar riffs and sweet, ’60s-style harmonies – but, this time around, the sound is fleshed out with Hammond organ.

First single, All This Time, is anthemic and urgent indie rock ‘n’ roll, the opening track, Upper Hand, is chugging and New Wavey, while Going Nowhere has some breezy ‘doo-doo-doo’ backing vocals and a killer, fuzzed-up, melodic guitar solo. There are also some quieter and more reflective moments – the ballads All Over Again and Good Intentions.

So what is Nick doing with his downtime and how’s he coping with lockdown and the COVID-19 crisis?

“For the first three weeks, I was working at our restaurant, as we transitioned into ‘carry-out’ orders only. The staff did a great job, but, as time went on, the stress was getting to everyone, so we decided to close up shop until we’re able to be a full-service restaurant again,” he says.

“I admit that I brought my amp and guitar to work and was making quite a bit of noise between orders. I’m happy to say that not one person on our staff became ill while we were still in business, and, so far, everyone has remained healthy.

“I’ve been trying not to watch too much news. I want to stay informed, but it can take a lot out of you. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I have our restaurant to worry about, as well as keeping our family safe.”

He adds: “Our oldest daughter has moved back in temporarily, as she’s working from home, and that’s been really nice. We’re hardly fighting at all! Our middle daughter is out-of-state, finishing up her senior year, so it’s been hard being away from her.

“Our youngest is running the household as usual, watching too much TV and telling us what she wants for dinner every night. I’m the only male in the house, so I look for a corner I can hide away in, to work on new songs.

“Back in February, when the consensus was that the virus was only dangerous for a portion of the population, it seemed manageable, but it really hit home when my friend, Chris Plum, came down with it.

“He contributed to the new album as a special guest, adding some great harmonies on a few of the songs and synth on another. He’s a super-talented guy. He became very ill with COVID-19, but, luckily, he’s recovered – he actually followed some alternative methods that saved his life.”

Q&A

Let’s talk about your new band, The Complicated Men. What’s the line-up?

Nick Piunti: The Complicated Men are officially: Jeff Hupp (bass); Ron Vensko (drums) and Kevin Darnall (keys), plus special guests Ryan Allen (harmony vocals, guitar, percussion) and Chris Plum (harmony vocals, synth, percussion).

It was cool having both Ryan and Chris guest on the album. Side one of the record is more Chris and side two’s more Ryan. Both of them are super-talented musicians who work really quickly. I loved hearing what they would add to the songs.

Where did the band name come from?

NP: Ryan came up with it – I think he had it in his back pocket for one of his bands, but he never used it. Are they really that complicated? Well, they’re a bunch of middle-aged dudes playing rock stars, so, yeah, I guess so.

Jeff Hupp actually brought the band together. Donny Brown and Andy Reed were my band for several albums, but we all live quite a distance from each other, so rehearsals rarely happened and we didn’t play many shows. Jeff asked if I wanted a bass player for an upcoming solo show. He then brought Ron in and, a bit later, Kevin. Ryan was in the band for a minute, but realised he couldn’t put the time in for rehearsals and shows.

‘With the addition of a keyboard player, I knew it would cover more sonic territory, but I still wanted the record to rock. That’s what I do’

How did you approach the writing and the recording for the new album?

NP: I wrote the songs pretty much like I always do, except I refrained from recording any demos – I worked them out with the band before we hit the studio.

The last four albums began with me in the studio, laying down a rough rhythm guitar track and a guide vocal, building the songs from there. It would usually be just Geoff Michael – the producer – and I to start with, and then Donny Brown would lay down the drums.

We’d work on the guitars and vocals and Andy Reed would add the bass guitar towards the end. I kind of have a sound – guitars and a few more guitars, and this voice I was born with. I said born, not blessed. And I like what I like, so there’s not a reinvention of the wheel by any means.

The Complicated Men (picture by Tim Meeks)

With the addition of a keyboard player I knew it would cover more sonic territory, but I still wanted the record to rock. That’s what I do, for the most part. Although I wrote the songs, the band were definitely integral to the arrangements and they all composed the parts they played on the record.

Some of the songs were more of a group effort in their arrangements, while others were pretty much like I wrote them. Ryan, who’s been a long-time contributor, had quite a bit to do with the first batch of songs we recorded as The Complicated Men.

Where did you make the album?

NP: Once again we did it with Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We started the record in March last year, took a break, recorded five more songs in late spring, added some overdubs in the fall, and mixed it at the end of 2019. You could make a baby quicker than I make an album!

Geoff and The Complicated Men are listed as producers. It was a team effort, but I know when to stay out of Geoff’s way.

The first single from the album was All This Time. It sounds like another classic Piunti ‘relationship gone wrong’ song. It has a great rock ‘n’ roll feel – the organ has really filled out your sound.

NP: Yeah! All This Time was written on a Sunday and recorded the following weekend, if I remember correctly. The band took to it really fast.

Yes – love gone wrong. Not that I know anything about that, as I’ve been happily married for 25 years. The song is not autobiographical – it’s actually about a friend of mine who was going through a tough time.

In fact, a few of the songs on the album were written standing in someone else’s shoes – enough to make my wife request a disclaimer on the album stating: ‘These songs are not about my wife.’ I forgot to add it, but all of the love songs on the album are about her. There are a few…

Kevin played a Hammond B3 on that song. There’s nothing like the real thing.

The latest single, Upper Hand, has a bit of a New Wave sound, with its chugging guitar. Where did that song come from?

NP: I actually wrote the chorus in the shower. It’s best not to picture that! I think it was the first song I wrote for the new album, so it was appropriate to kick the record off with it.

It’s about giving up control, which is something I’m getting better at as I get older. If you’re going to stay married for 25 years, I find that’s it not healthy to try and control everything.

New Wave? Yeah – I do like to rely on guitar riffs for a lot of my songs. I grew up in the ‘70s – it’s in my DNA.

Picture by Tim Meeks

You rock out on Going Nowhere, which is one of the heavier and ‘crunchier’ tracks on the album. I love the ‘doo-doo-doo’ backing vocals, the harmonies and the organ. It has a nice, melodic guitar solo, too.

What’s the song about? You sing: “The ship was going down… it looks like we might drown…. I’m the captain of this ship and we’re all on the same trip going nowhere.”  It sounds like it’s a comment on the state of US politics and the Trump presidency, or am I reading too much into it?

NP: That song was a total team effort. Chris came up with the harmonies, which were possibly suggested by Jeff, if I remember correctly.

I had the guitar solo in my head, but it still needed something, so we added some fuzz and an octave to it. I need to do more of that!

‘I actually wrote the chorus to Upper Hand in the shower. It’s best not to picture that!’

Going Nowhere was the last song on the album that needed lyrics. I was stuck, so I asked Ryan if he could help me with it. I sent him the basic tracks and hummed the melody and phrasing, and in about 15 minutes he came up with the first verse in a text. Half an hour later he sent me the rest of the lyrics. They were perfect – I didn’t need to change a word.

It does sound like it could be a Trump-inspired song, but Ryan says it’s about dealing with depression and trying to navigate your way through it, with some days better than others. I could see a video with a cartoon Trump singing it, but we’ll leave it to the listener’s imagination instead.

Nick Piunti and Ryan Allen (Picture by Tim Meeks)

All Over Again is one of the album’s slower and more laid-back moments – it’s a ballad…

NP: I actually recorded that song in the studio with just Geoff and myself. It was in November – a couple of months before the first Complicated Men studio date.

I wrote it really quickly and wanted to record it before the feeling passed. The song is different to the rest of the album, but I wanted to include it – it’s kind of sad, but still hopeful. It’s one of my songs that someone half my age should cover.

The final song on the record, Good Intentions, is another slowie. It’s lovely – a reflective way to end the album…

NP: I wrote that song as my mom was nearing the end of her life. She passed away in February 2019. I don’t know if I was writing it from her viewpoint, or from what I might want to say when the time came. It’s a song to my daughters, maybe? I intended to write a second verse, but the song really felt complete with just the one verse and chorus.

On that note, sadly, one of your musical heroes and influences, Adam Scheslinger, from Fountains of Wayne, recently died as a result of COVID-19 complications? How are you feeling about his passing? What did his music mean to you?

NP: I didn’t know Adam personally, but I met him at a show and actually asked if he would mix my album, 13 In My Head, to which he said “sure”…

Fountains of Wayne are not only one of my favourite bands, but it was the one group that my wife Kelli and I both loved to the same degree. The night we met Fountains of Wayne, Adam brought Kelli on stage to play tambourine during Hey Julie.

Picture by Chris Richards

Their songwriting is ridiculously clever – the funny lyrics, the sound, the hooks, Chris’s Collingwood’s vocals, the whole band… I love [guitarist] Jody Porter’s playing. I don’t have his chops, but I often find myself thinking: “what would Jody play?”

I loved every record Fountains of Wayne did. I admit I can’t always tell which is a Chris song and which is an Adam song, as they usually wrote separately, but it’s obvious they were both influenced by each other.

Adam was only 52. I heard that he was in hospital but would recover. It stopped me in my tracks when I read the news that he passed. I’ve been listening to a lot of Fountains of Wayne lately. I never tried to do what they were doing, but I’m sure being such a big fan helped me to become a better songwriter and recording artist.

Other than Fountains of Wayne, what music – new and old are you currently enjoying? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

NP: Before my recent Fountains of Wayne listening binge, my favourite recent album was Mo Troper’s Natural Beauty. He’s a fantastic indie-pop artist from Portland, Oregon. I was planning to see him on tour until he had to cancel.

‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Fountains of Wayne. I never tried to do what they were doing, but I’m sure being such a big fan helped me to become a better songwriter and recording artist’

The latest Pernice Brothers album is great. A new Chicago band called Rookie has been getting some spins and I also dig White Reaper. I love the new Brendan Benson single, Richest Man, and, of course, I’ve been going back to listen to John Prine.

Did you have any live shows planned around the launch of the new album? If so, what’s happened to those?

NP: We had two record release shows planned in May. We were going to do a ‘Side A’ and a ‘Side B’ show. It looks like those will have to be postponed for the time being. I don’t think anyone wants to be packed in like sardines for a while.

What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown has been lifted?

NP: I miss making noise at rehearsals with the band. I miss going outside without wearing a mask. I miss seeing people walk through the door of my restaurant. I’m hoping we all appreciate the little things we take for granted.

I’m praying they find a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, and also find out why some people are susceptible while others may not even be aware they have contracted the virus.

I hope to keep writing and being inspired. I have a few dozen new songs in the works and I’m looking forward to seeing what the band can do with them. I really hope we can have a show soon and we’re really looking forward to May 22, when the album is finally released.

I’m really happy I get to share this release with the band, as I’m really proud of it. It sounds like me, but I can hear the difference in the way it was recorded, with all of us tracking together. It really sounds like a band.

Downtime by Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men is released on May 22  (Jem Records).

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/album/downtime

https://nickpiunti.com/

 

‘Lockdown is a great opportunity to reboot and sort out your priorities…’

Dr. Robert

If you’re looking for a new album to transport your mind somewhere else during these anxiety-ridden days of lockdown, then may we recommend the soulful, jazzy and folky Humanism, which is the third record in a trilogy by Monks Road Social, a collaborative project overseen by Dr. Robert of The Blow Monkeys. 

Recorded in Spain last summer, it’s a warm and colourful collection of songs, featuring an impressive list of guests, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Mick Talbot (The Style Council), Sulene Fleming (Brand New Heavies) and actor Peter Capaldi. It could be just what the doctor ordered…

Monks Road Social, the loose musical collective headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert, made two of the most diverse and richly rewarding albums of last year – Down The Willows and Out Of Bounds. 

Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, both records made our best of 2019 list and we described them as: ‘two of the most eclectic collections of songs we’ve ever heard – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas.’

When we interviewed Dr. Robert last year, he was working on a third Monks Road Social album, which was recorded in Spain, at the height of the Andalusian summer.

The good news is that it’s now done and dusted, is out this month, and, like its predecessors, it’s a stunning and diverse record. It’s called Humanism and, this time around, the Spanish sunshine has worked its magic, as there’s a distinctly Flamenco feel to some of the songs. In these worrying days of lockdown, it’s a perfect soundtrack to ease your mind and take you to a better place.

Special guests include Sulene Fleming (Brand New Heavies), who belts out the frenetic, jazz-funk of Said Too Much and duets with Dr. Robert on the smooth, orchestral soul of Step By Step, and actor Peter Capaldi, who sings and plays guitar on the anthemic Britrock of first single, If I Could Pray, which he also wrote.

Keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council and Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis, also made the trip to Spain. Deighton sings on the warm, folky and pastoral ballad Apricot Glow and shares vocals with Dr. Robert on the gorgeous, acoustic, string-laden Egyptian Magic – both tracks feature Talbot on organ. Deighton’s daughter, Romy, lends her vocals to two songs – Stolen Road and Running Blind.

Also on the album are drummer Crispin Taylor and bassist Ernie McKone – both of whom played with acid-jazzers Galliano; percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk; flautist and saxophonist Jacko Peake (Push) and Neil Jones of Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation.

We spoke to Dr. Robert, who was on lockdown at his home in Andalusia, Spain he lives in the mountains, south of Granada – to get the lowdown on how Humanism was written and recorded, and find out how he’s spending his time in the house…

Dr. Robert (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke).

Q&A

How are you coping with the lockdown and isolation?

Dr. Robert: We are doing fine. It’s pretty isolated up here in the mountains anyway, to be honest. We are more concerned about our kids in London, but, thankfully, they are doing okay.

Spain has been hit very badly, especially in the cities. People are used to interacting socially here in a profound way. To take that away from them has been very tough, but they have responded magnificently and, like in the UK, you just have to marvel at the bravery and selflessness of the health workers. We must never call them ‘low-skilled’ and they must not remain ‘low-paid.’ Our value system is all wrong and we can’t go back there now.

Any advice for staying sane? What have you been up to during lockdown?

DR: It’s a great opportunity to reboot. I’m sure everyone says that, but it really does sort out your priorities. It’s the simple things – the way the light bounces off a whitewashed wall, or the birdsong in the morning. It’s like a veil has been lifted. This has changed us – let’s hope we stay awake…

During the lockdown, you’ve been playing some acoustic tracks online, including covers of Fred Neil, Marc Bolan and Tim Hardin songs. Any plans to do some more performances?

DR: Yes, I’ll do more, but I don’t want to flood a crowded market.

Have you been writing any songs during lockdown?

DR: Yes. I was already working on a new Blow Monkeys album for early next year, to coincide with our 40th anniversary, so it’s afforded me more time to really figure out what it is I want to say – without it turning into a triple concept album! And what do I have to say? “Love is all that remains of us,” to quote a poet from Hull.

Let’s talk about the new Monks Road Social album, Humanism – the third in a trilogy. What were the recording sessions in Spain like? 

DR: The album was recorded over about 10 days in the summer last year – August, to be precise. It was very hot – the wind blew in from Africa.

My friend, the producer Youth, has a studio out here, so we did it there. I produced the record, but with so many friends involved it’s never stressful – people like Crispin Taylor and Mick Talbot don’t really need producing. We communicate with a look these days.

The main task is organisation and preplanning. My wife, Michele, is amazing. She manages The Blow Monkeys too. We had a great engineer called Ivan Moreno, who I ended up mixing the whole album with, plus the label boss, Richard Clarke, [Monks Road Records] has a very good antennae and always pitches in with interesting ideas. I’m just the ringmaster.

‘I’ve been working on a new Blow Monkeys album. The lockdown has afforded me more time to figure out what I want to say – without it turning into a triple concept album!’

How do you think this album compares with the other two? There are fewer folk, country, blues and rock/psychedelic songs on it. It has more of a soul and jazz feel, with some Flamenco influences too…

DR: Well, yes – the fact that it was super-hot and we were here in Granada obviously flowed into the music. Plus we had a few local musicians involved: David Heredia, the amazing gypsy Flamenco guitar player, and Juan Carlos Camacho on trumpet.

Also Ibrahim Diakité from Mali played the kamalengoni. Some of the best stuff was after the session, when we were just jamming. It was an unbelievable vibe.

Did you write new songs specifically for this album?

DR: I did – songs like Egyptian Magic and Step By Step – and there were others that I had from before that I thought would work with different singers, like Sulene Fleming doing Said Too Much. 

We are always on the lookout for people to add to the mix. A friend told me his daughter, Belle McNulty, could sing. I said I’d have a listen, but I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. She blew me away.

She did a fantastic job on On The Wings of the Morning and then she wrote the lyrics to a piece of music I had and we ended up with I Wish You Well, which is one of my favourite things we have ever done with Monks Road.

I just love working with great singers like Belle, Sulene, Romy, who is Matt Deighton’s daughter, Ximena and Angelina. It’s such a joy.

Were there any songs on this record that were left over from the previous sessions for the other Monks Road Social albums?

DR: Well, Step By Step emerged out of an remix of I Ain’t Running Anymore, and we had plenty left over from this session too – enough for another album to be honest.

Mick Talbot and Matt Deighton (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke).

Egyptian Magic is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about it?

DR: Matt Deighton and I share a love of Tyrannosaurus Rex – the era when Steve Peregrin Took was still with Bolan, but just before he left. Songs like Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia and Blessed Wild Apple Girl – all that stuff.

Egyptian Magic was inspired by a tub of hair product that my wife ordered from duty free on a plane! The lyric is a true story, which is unusual for me. Matt is a great player and does amazing harmonies. It’s pretty effortless between us. We hope to do an album one day.

Another of my favourite songs on the record is On The Wings of the Morning. It has some cool, funky ‘70s flute on it…

DR: Jacko Peake played the flute. He’s amazing and was in Push with Crispin Taylor and Ernie McKone, so there was a natural bond there already. I knew Jacko from my time playing with Paul Weller too, so it’s an old friendship.

I’m happy that On The Wings of the Morning turned out that way. I don’t think anybody in the country could play that groove like Crispin and Ernie. They are the best.

The first single, If I Could Pray, was written by actor Peter Capaldi – he also sings vocals and plays acoustic guitar on it. How did that collaboration come about?

DR: I met Peter a few years ago, as he comes to the valley in the summer, with his family. We started to play acoustic together at a friend’s party and our friendship grew out of that.

He was hanging out at the studio and then one day his wife, Elaine, mentioned he had a song. I was thrilled and we did it really quickly, which is always a good sign. He’s a natural – very unaffected.

What was it like for Dr. Robert to work with Doctor Who? So many doctors in the house…

DR: Although he’s obviously well known as an actor,  Peter actually started out doing music, so there was nothing forced. He’s a delight to work with and very funny too.

Peter Capaldi and Dr. Robert (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke).

The song  Said Too Much is a great funk-soul-jazz track – the trumpet, which is played by Juan Carlos Camacho, is fantastic. Where did that song come from? What was the inspiration for it?

DR: Words that cut too deep – spoken out loud in drunken rages. Those days are behind me now – thank fuck! I love that trumpet too – it’s so Spanish. He gently seduces you.

Is Apricot Glow a Matt Deighton song? It’s gorgeous…

DR: Yes – that’s a lovely Matt Deighton composition. We double tracked his vocal and it really seems to suit the song. It’s a fragile beauty.

Any favourite tracks from the album? You mentioned I Wish You Well earlier…

DR: Well, it changes, but I love Sequiso, featuring Funk From Mali – it’s a proper groove. And, as I said, I Wish You Well is a personal fave. City Lights, too, with Neil Jones from Stone Foundation. I get to play bass on his tunes, which is one of my favourite things to do. That song has a great forward momentum and his girlfriend, Celia Carballo, sings really well on it too. Mick Talbot weaved his usual magic on it.

Mick Talbot (picture courtesy of Richard Clarke).

I managed to record a solo track with Mick when he was just warming up – New Arrivals. He was just sound checking my cheap car boot Casio and came up with this amazing piece. I asked him if it was okay to use it, as he wasn’t aware we had recorded it!

You said you had material left over from the sessions. Is there another Monks Road Social album planned?

DR: Yes.We have enough recorded material for a whole new album. It’s up to Richard how he wants to use it.

You were due to play the first Monks Road Social gig at the Jazz Café, in London, this May. Has it been rescheduled and what can we expect from the live show?

DR: It’s been rescheduled for August 25, but that may be optimistic – let’s see. If we have to delay it again, we will. It’s going to be fun – chaotic and possibly messy, but fun. There’s nothing else like it really.

The Blow Monkeys

There’s a new Blow Monkeys album due, too…

DR: Yes – it will be out early next year and will be crowdfunded, hopefully.

What music – new and old – are you listening to at the moment? What’s your lockdown soundtrack?

DR: I’ve been writing lots, so don’t tend to listen to too much, but that Nick Cave album, Ghosteen, is astonishing, and Paul Weller sent me his latest one, On Sunset, which is very special.

Other than that, just a drop of Fred Neil and a pinch of Van Morrison. Oh and the new Dylan single [Murder Most Foul] – all 17 minutes of it. Marvellous.

What are you most looking forward to doing when things return to normal?

DR: Seeing my family.

 

Humanism by Monks Road Social is released on April 17 (Monks Road Records). 

http://monksroadsocial.com/

https://www.theblowmonkeys.com/

For more information on crowdfunding the new Blow Monkeys album, click here.

‘I’m actually enjoying being indoors – I haven’t cracked up yet!’

Photo by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs

 

When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel his European and UK spring tour, Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger turned a negative situation into a positive one by hastily putting together a brand new, digital-only album called Songs From The Apartment.

Available to buy from Bandcamp, it’s made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that he’d demoed and quickly forgotten about.

It’s a brilliant collection of intimate Americana and Dylanesque folk-blues tracks.

The loose, raw and lo-fi recordings really hang together well as an album, and, if anything, it demonstrates that Jerry’s discarded songs are better than many artists’ officially released ones.

In an exclusive interview from his apartment in Toronto, Jerry tells Say It With Garage Flowers how he pulled the album together so quickly, reveals details of a series of forthcoming online gigs streamed live on Facebook and suggests a suitable soundtrack for these days of isolation…

Q&A

How’s it going? Are you safe? What’s the situation like in Toronto?

Jerry Leger: I’m well and doing what I can to stay safe and keep my distance during the handful of times I’ve had to leave my apartment. A state of emergency was announced in Toronto and everything is changing by the day – stores and other places are closing and there are more guidelines for what we need to do to protect ourselves and others. It’s a good thing to help us get through this as soon as possible.

Sadly the coronavirus has meant you’ve had to postpone your UK and European tour. How do you feel about that? What impact has it had on you financially?

JL: Well, it was a major blow, very disappointing and, as you can imagine, financially devastating. It’s being rescheduled for next spring – I’m hoping that things will have settled down by then. Of course, our health is the number one priority for all of us, but it is very stressful. You’re dealing with how the present has been affected and worrying about how the future looks.

After a few days I was able to calm my mind down a bit and not worry about things too far into the future. All it does is create more anxiety and I have enough of that already. The virus has put a lot of things into perspective for me. My girlfriend Laura has helped a lot and I’ve also been coping by staying busy and by thinking of creative things I can do from home.

I started the year off by catching up on a lot of reading and also writing more, so I’m gonna do more of that and get back to sketching, which I find stress relieving.

How are you coping with being indoors all the time?

JL: I’ve actually been enjoying it to some degree. I haven’t cracked up yet! After my big European and UK tour was postponed and Canadian dates were cancelled, the first few days of recommended isolation were spent dealing with that and what to do next.

I had started the year off writing a bunch of songs, but, of course, the pandemic put my creativity on hold. I’m easing back into the mindset for when the mood and inspiration strikes.

Can you recommend any songs for the period of isolation? What’s your soundtrack?

JL: I’ve had Gordon Lightfoot on – it’s comforting for me. It’s hard to say though, ‘cos I’m always listening to records if I’m home and now I’m home a lot, so a lot of records have been played.

I had Ray Charles, Irma Thomas and Kris Kristofferson on last night. For the first few days, I had a lot of Beatles and solo Beatles on, ‘cos I also find that comforting in moments of deep worry.

The first song I was ever obsessed with was In My Life, around the age of four. As I’m writing this, I have King Of America by Elvis Costello on.

Great choice! One of the positive things that’s emerged from the crisis is that you’ve released a new digital-only album, Songs From The Apartment, via Bandcamp. How did you manage to turn the project around so quickly?

JL: I thought it would be cool to release a surprise album and I had folders and folders of demos for songs that had never seen the light of day.

I think I needed a distraction last week after dealing with so much. I started listening to some of the tracks and heard a lot of merit in them. I also loved how relaxed, intimate and raw they were. I thought it was good timing, with a lot of us having to be indoors. We’re all in it together.

A fan sent me a message saying that he loved the sound of it – he said it sounded like I was right there in the room with him.

I put it together last Thursday [March 19] and chose 10 songs that I thought really worked. My buddy Aaron Comeau helped with EQing and doing the levels on them. The photo for the cover – by LPPhotographs – was one that I always loved. I always saw it as a cover and it worked perfectly ‘cos I’m sitting in my apartment with my acoustic guitar.The album is made up of unreleased songs you had lying around. Are there a lot of songs in your vaults? Was it easy to choose which songs to include? 

JL: Yeah – there are a lot of songs that I have recorded in demo form and also some studio outtakes for that matter. I just write all of the time – I don’t hunker down and write the next album in a cabin somewhere.

A bunch of the tunes I don’t even remember writing, which made it fun to listen to and put together. It also made it easier to choose certain ones ‘cos I’d have a less bias opinion coming back to them if they were good or not.

‘I write all of the time – I don’t hunker down and write the next album in a cabin somewhere’

I think they’re all from the period of 2015-2018, except Leaving Now, which is from 2013. There are some that stayed in the back of mind as being good, but I doubted I’d return to them for a future album ‘cos time changes that for me.

I’m more focused and excited about what I’m writing in the moment. This worked perfectly putting the collection together.

Your ‘lost’ songs are better than a lot of artists’ officially released songs, aren’t they?

JL: Well that’s a matter of opinion!

Songs From The Apartment is a lo-fi, stripped down album. How and where were the songs recorded?

JL: They were recorded in my apartment on just a little recorder with an internal microphone. Very rough. They were all songs that were demoed and either not chosen to go into the studio with, or tried in the studio but left off the albums.

Basically before making an album I probably would have 30 or so songs and we’d pick 15-18 to go into the studio with and then 10 or 12 would make the cut.

Some really great ones are never returned to after the initial demo and that’s because they may not fit the feel I’m going for at the time, or it’s a similar idea or sound to a different song that I prefer. For example we recorded Tomorrow In My Mind and Ticket Bought for Time Out For Tomorrow [2019 album] and I felt they both had a similar feel, so I decided on the former.

You’re doing some online gigs on Facebook in the next few days, streamed live from your apartment?What can we expect from the performances? 

JL: It’s gonna be interesting, I’ve never live streamed before and never had any interest in doing it.

I had thought about live streaming a show before ‘cos I found myself watching a couple of Lucinda Williams shows on her Facebook page and I loved them. It made me think ‘OK, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad’, but I never got around to doing it.

I think in these strange days we’re all trying to figure out what we can do in the meantime and also try and keep afloat in an industry that has already been suffering for years. I’m doing these online shows for the folks that can’t come and see me and they’re cool with the virtual version for now.

Anyone can watch and I hope they do, but each show will also have a special hello to a country that we no longer will be visiting this spring. I completely understand if it’s not up some people’s alley and they’d rather not tune in. For me, I’m gonna do what I usually do when I’m around the house – play some music. I’ll play some new and old songs, plus some covers if it strikes me.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. Traveler’s Prayer is one of my favourites. What can you tell me about it? I like the line – ‘trees blow in the Halloween air.’ It’s a very wintry song…

JL: That’s really interesting, as I got a couple of emails from fans in different countries that also love that song. I wrote the words first and set it to music, recorded the demo immediately afterwards and then completely forgot about. That recording is the only time I’ve ever played it. It’s so relaxed and unaffected.

That’s what I love about Songs From The Apartment. Nothing on it was intended to be heard by anyone other than myself or Mike Timmins, who produced the last few albums. It’s also why the guitar is out of tune – ha! I don’t remember the inspiration for that song, but I think the time period of Halloween recurs in my songs because I love that time of year.

‘In these strange days we’re all trying to figure out what we can do to try and keep afloat in an industry that has been suffering for years’

Hoodoo Brown has a Dylan feel. What was the inspiration behind it? It sounds like an outlaw blues song… 

JL: Yeah – it’s an outlaw song. I read about Hoodoo Brown who was the leader of a gang in the late 1800s. I just dug the name and made up the rest.

I remember working on that song longer than some of the others and I felt it never got off the ground with the band. I couldn’t get the sound I wanted. This solo version has much more of the energy and urgency that it needed. Actually, that’s probably the Dylan connection – that and the fact there’s a lot of words crammed into some of the lines. I dig a lot of the words and ideas in it.

It was written specifically for the Nonsense side of my album Nonsense and Heartache, so that’s why it has that bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.

Photo by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs

Poor Man’s Farewell is a beautiful and poignant folky song. Where did that come from?

JL: I don’t really remember, but I think it was on my mind how a lot of us look down on the poor or the homeless and never think about their story. Everyone has a story.

I actually had an idea that it would be a secret song at the end of Nonsense and Heartache. Kind of like Train In Vain from The Clash’s London Calling, which is not listed on the sleeve.

Leaving Now is a sad song that’s about the end of relationship. Can you shed any light on it? I think has an early Dylan feel. It’s folky – almost ragtime… 

JL: We tried that one for the Early Riser album, but I don’t think Mike Timmins felt it fitted, or was good enough. I always thought it was catchy, though – you could hear someone covering it. Yeah, you’re probably right. Dylan is such a big influence on me, that there are elements that have and always will continue to show up.

There are quite a few sad songs on the album. Is that a coincidence?

JL: The sad ones are always the best! It definitely wasn’t the concept, but I think I gravitate towards sad songs. So many Everly Brothers songs that I love are really just a drag, aren’t they?

What are you most looking forward to doing when things return to normal?

JL: Seeing my friends, family and the band and playing on stage again in front of people. It’ll be nice to have the UK and European tour and other shows rescheduled to make up for lost time.

The title of your last album, Time Out For Tomorrow, seems eerily prescient in the light of the current situation, doesn’t it?

JL: I know! I couldn’t help but instantly think of that. The album title now has a whole new meaning.

To buy or stream Jerry Leger’s latest album, the digital-only Songs From The Apartment, go to his Bandcamp page here.

For more information on how to watch his streamed live gigs on Facebook – from March 26-April 1, go to https://www.facebook.com/jerrylegermusic

To make a donation, use paypal.me/jerrylegermusic .

www.jerryleger.com

 

‘Making music feels like resistance – most of the songs on the record are about music and what it does for people…’

Country-folk-rock singer-songwriter Rebecca Turner is a serious music junkie. Her new album, The New Wrong Way – her first in 10 years – is essentially a love letter to records and music.

“It’s a record about records. I didn’t set out to do it that way at all, but it’s sort of the history of the past 10 years told in songs – music is always there for me,” she tells Say It With Garage Flowers.

“I’ve been embracing my musician-ness as well as my obsessive fandom more and more as I get older. It always seems to be what’s left at the end of the day.”

The New Wrong Way kicks off with the ’70s-rock of, er, Living Rock, which was written about a trip she made to Nashville – it describes how rock music has the ability to pull Rebecca through pretty much anything life throws at her.

The Cat That Can Be Alone was inspired by jazz singer Anita O’Day – Rebecca also covers O’Day’s Tenderly on the album, as well as an obscure, late ’60s Bee Gees B-side, Sun In My Morning, which she reinvents as a psych-tinged, country-rock song, with some lovely, haunting electric guitar.

Cassandra is about a Miranda Lambert gig that Rebecca saw in New York, What If Music? deals with how you can become obsessed with a song so much that you can’t get it out of your head, and Tom Tom recounts how a friend got through an alienating trip to Japan by watching a VHS compilation tape of XTC videos.

Rebecca, who lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, but has also resided in New York and L.A, was first influenced by ’70s FM radio and ’80s-era record stores. She says her musical allegiances have ranged over the years from Emmylou Harris to Liz Phair, from Doris Day to Tom Petty, from Goldfrapp to The Go-Gos. 

The New Wrong Way is her third album and was partly recorded at Storybook Sound, the home-based studio which she runs with her husband and bassist Scott Anthony (Fond Farewells, Nu-Sonics). Two cover tracks were laid-down at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis (Big Star, Al Green). Other musicians on the album include guitarist Rich Feridun (Tammy Faye Starlite, Jimmy LaFave, Amelia White) and drummer Sim Cain (Rollins Band, Chris Harford, Marc Ribot).

We asked Rebecca to tell us more about her musical obsessions and some of the stories behind the songs on her new album…

Q&A

The New Wrong Way is your first album in 10 years. Why did you have a hiatus and how does it feel to be back with a new record?

Rebecca Turner: There was a long hiatus, but I hardly noticed it. Lots of things happened – normal adult life things. I’ve always had a full-time non-music job – I’m an e-commerce copywriter. My mom needed taking care of – she had Alzheimer’s. Plus my stepson was living with us, and went through his teens and off to college. But during that time I kept playing out and writing songs.

Why did the time feel right to bring it out?

RT: Around three years ago I started to get panicky that I might not ever make another album, so I stepped up my efforts with a goal of 2019, since that was 10 years since the last one. Also, because I am squarely in my fifties now, and it is a weird and scary time in this world, it felt important and positive to celebrate music, and my identity as a person who loves it and makes it.

As Scott, my husband, bass player and co-producer – says, these days making music feels like resistance – to awfulness, and other things. And most of the songs on the record are about music and what it does for people.

‘Around three years ago I started to get panicky that I might not ever make another album, so I stepped up my efforts…’

Was it a difficult record to make? What were the studio sessions like and how was it getting the songs together for it? Do all of the songs date from over the past 10 years? When were they written and how did you approach the recording of this album?

RT: Recording went insanely smoothly. All the songs had been written over the past 10 years. Music begets music, and I actually wrote a bunch right after finishing the last record.

I wanted it to be mostly live and unfussy, and there were a lot of vocals where we kept the first takes. That is unheard of for me. On my last records I felt like I did 900 takes of everything. I think I can put this down to experience, and also just the laziness of old age…I just didn’t want to labour over it. Plus, all the musicians were just amazing and had the perfect vibe right out of the gate. I’m really proud of it.

Were you apprehensive about making a record after so long away?

RT: I was apprehensive. The musical part turned out fine. Better than “just like riding a bicycle,” as recording went smoother than it ever had before. But the thing I was scared about, and that is always really hard, is the interpersonal part.

I really wonder how other people who are not full-time musicians or artists – and maybe even the full-timers – deal with the fact that when you put forth your art on even a small public level, you risk sort of turning into another person…it is inherently, I think, a narcissistic act.

You ask a lot of the musicians and your friends, too, and it’s easy to get caught up in the process and the emotions. One minute I’m ‘Divas Live’ and the next I’m super-down on myself, and I can lose myself and not see everything clearly. – especially at my age, when everyone has so much going on. I’m trying to figure out a better approach for next time.

Let’s talk about some of the musical styles on the album. Living Rock, which kicks off the record, has a ’70s rock feel. What can you tell me about that song?

RT: Living Rock is probably the hardest I ever rocked, and it started with just a fun chord change that Scott added a rocking bassline to, and then Rich Feridun’s guitar riff and Sim Cain’s drums just took it to the next level.

Sim played with the Rollins Band, so he has owned this stuff for decades, and Rich has this way of somehow delving on the spot into my past musical obsessions and coming up with the perfect guitar sound, whether it’s rock or country or whatever.

The song is really fun to sing and in creating it, I felt like I had turned into someone who could rock. It kind of changed me! And it’s about rock, too, so that helped.

‘Sonically, the songs dictated what they wanted to sound like – we just knew we wanted the album to sound real and as live as possible’

The album has a jazz moment – you cover Tenderly by Anita O’Day – and there are songs that are country and indie-rock. How did you approach this album from a musical point of view? Did you have a definite idea of the sounds and styles you wanted on the record? What was your starting point?

RT: Sonically, the songs dictated what they wanted to sound like – we just knew we wanted it to sound real and as live as possible. There is a big range of styles on this record and that was not by design, it just reflects 10 years of song accumulation and different genres that I’ve always loved.

I’m like a little kid – when I’m listening to country, I think “OMG, I love country music more than anything”…and when I listen to ‘40s big band stuff, I think “Why do I not listen to this all the time? It just sends me flying…” This veering intensely between styles I like is just getting more intense as I get older.

 

There are songs on the album inspired by female performers. The Cat That Can Be Alone was influenced by Anita O’Day, and Cassandra is about a Miranda Lambert show you saw. What’s so inspiring about those two artists?

RT: Yeah, The Cat That Can Be Alone is about Anita, and Tenderly, the old jazz tune, is tacked on to the end, as I learned it off of her record Anita Sings the Most. I read her autobiography and was really knocked out by it.

She had a rough childhood, rough relationships, and a heroin addiction, but music kept her going, as well as her own persistence. She talked about having to rely on herself and not get lonely, and said “The cat that can be alone is one up on the cat that can’t,” which I put into the song.

Cassandra was inspired by seeing an early Miranda Lambert show at Terminal 5 in New York, in 2010. She was just a force of country-rock nature, and still is, even with all the tabloid coverage.

I have a pic on my phone I will never delete, of her at this show, just being a dancing blonde blur. OMG, and she covered Rock and Roll, Hoochie Coo! And killed it 100%! I have a video of that I will likewise never delete. And like Anita’s story, Miranda’s music has given me a lot of confidence. So the song I wrote was an attempt to capture the feeling of the show.

Rebecca at Ardent Studios in Memphis

Sun In My Morning is a cover of a Bee Gees song – it’s a great track and one I wasn’t familiar with. What’s the story behind choosing that song? I love the guitar solo on it…

RT: I am not usually an early Bee Gees fan…I’m more of a Jive Talkin’ person, with maybe with a little How Deep is Your Love thrown in, but somehow, among our pooled 45s was this record…. It was Scott’s and he’s not sure how it got into his collection.

We covered it once a long time ago, and Rich Feridun, who’d been playing guitar with us for a while, kept asking us to do it on this record. So we did, and he plays that absolutely stunning solo on it, on a beautiful vintage Gibson lent to us by beloved Memphian guitarist Robert Maché.

You recorded the song at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, which is managed by Jody Stephens, who was the drummer in Big Star. How was that? Are you a Big Star fan?

RT: Memphis came about because we were down South to see family, and yes, we are huge Big Star fans and wanted to see the studio, so we asked for a tour, not really thinking we’d ever record there. We made the appointment and the woman who answered the phone said, “Oh, Jody might be here to give you the tour himself!” Gulp! And he was and did…

Jody was so generous and spent hours taking us around and telling amazing stories, and everyone was so nice and the cost was really reasonable. So we came back exactly a year later with Rich and Sue Raffman, who sings beautiful harmonies on the record, and did the two cover songs and some overdubs on stuff we had started at home.

We were nervous, but our engineer, Mic Wilson, was the nicest, funniest person and put everyone at ease. The vibe is just mega-thick at Ardent and in Memphis in general…the food, the people, and the musicians.

Scott Anthony, Rich Feridun and Mic Wilson at Ardent Studios, in Memphis

Your song What If Music? is about being obsessed with a song. Can you tell me some of the songs you’ve been obsessed with – and why? And, on that note, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?

Hah! I’ve basically lived my life from song obsession to song obsession. The first song I was ever nuts about was Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul, and Mary. My teacher played it in our nursery school classroom and I just stopped in my tracks. The harmonies! The rousing chorus!

‘In high school I would blow my ears out listening to Finding Out by Tom Petty on headphones in my ‘80s Los Angeles bedroom’

I’ll pick a random teenage obsession that has lasted forever Finding Out, by Tom Petty, from Long After Dark. It’s typical of his mind-boggling ability to encompass punk, power-pop, classic rock, and a million other things in one super-fast little song.

In high school I would blow my ears out listening to it on headphones in my ‘80s Los Angeles bedroom. But you know how they say you shouldn’t meet your idols? One shouldn’t always sing your obsessions. I tried this at a recent Petty tribute show and it was fun, but very difficult. Now whenever I hear it, I remember struggling with the sneers and yells. I’m an OK singer, but I’m not sure I should sneer or yell.

One of the cool things about the last couple years is I’ve been going back and getting into music that I missed from oh, the last 50 years or so! The last old song I can think of getting obsessed with is So Begins the Task by Manassas…and also the Judy Collins version.

For a contemporary obsession I’m gonna say the mesmerising rocker Marathon, from the new Chuck Prophet album The Land That Time Forgot, and also the super-fun video they made for it, which Scott just showed me recently, in which he and Stephanie Finch dance and wear great outfits. It’s also one of the best male/female rock duets I’ve heard since John Doe and Kathleen Edwards’s Golden State – another obsession.

Do you collect vinyl? What’s your preferred way of listening to music?

RT: Yes, it’s all about vinyl for us now. Especially used vinyl, which is a cheap and harmless obsession. Unless you’re out of town in someplace like, say, Memphis, living out of a suitcase, and then you have a huge weight to carry home.

If we’re listening in the car, it’s satellite radio, or if I’m at work, I streaming internet radio archives – WFMU. If we’re in Scott’s truck, it’s cassettes! The vinyl obsession meant we had to make vinyl for the new record…and it’s such a colourful cover it looks extra-special nice on vinyl, if I do say so myself.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any other projects and gigs? You and  Scott run a home-based recording studio – Storybook Sound, in New Jersey. What are you working on?

Rebecca at Storybook Sound studio in New Jersey – with pizza…

RT: We have a bunch of smaller gigs lined up for my band this spring, and Scott is a bassist in a band called The Fond Farewells with Megan Reilly, Chris Mills and Steve Goulding – they’re playing around a bunch and recording too.

I run a songwriters’ series out here in New Jersey called the Saturday Afternoon Song Swap with another local artist, Deena Shoshkes. We feature six songwriters in the round, and we’ve been doing it off and on for around 10 years and we have one coming up in April.

I’m singing a Linda Ronstadt song in a voting rights benefit show in April, too. The bumper crop of tribute shows and benefits over the last few years has been a lot of fun to see and be a part of.

Our studio is primarily a mastering studio, but we do some mixing and recording too. Scott has his usual hodgepodge of mastering projects coming up, from The Feelies, to a new Alex Chilton reissue, to a double album of some crazy deep dub, and some classic jazz reissues.

Finally, will we have to wait 10 years for the next album?

RT: Nope, it’s started. I have four songs already. It’s going to primarily be a sort of jazz album. After we recorded Tenderly, all I wanted to do was wander around to bars singing old stuff. So the new one will be mostly a bunch of old covers –  a Doris Day medley, for sure – and a new song or two made to sound old, but there will probably be a few rockers on it. Or, I’ll release the rockers separately to keep things thematically intact.

In any case, like I said, music begets music, and since the world’s kind of messed up, I’ll need to make a lot more of it to feel better.

The New Wrong Way by Rebecca Turner is out now on FRED. More info at: https://rebeccaturner.bandcamp.com/album/the-new-wrong-way

‘I’m going to drag Americana into the future, kicking and screaming…’

Brighton-based singer-songwriter M.Butterfly (aka Martyn Lewis) describes himself as a ‘sadcore Americana artist’, but his latest single, Bughunt – available as a limited edition, lathe-cut 7in on the indie label Eyeless – is a departure from his usual sound. It’s harsh and abrasive – an industrial blues protest song, with distorted, howling vocals and a clanking rhythm. For a singer of sad country music, it’s a very angry record…

To listen to the track, click here.

“It is quite abrasive, but hopefully under all the noise and drum machines, you’ll hear the heart of an angry country-blues song,” he says.

“It was written on guitar, but I found playing it that way was restricting me. The song is more rhythmic than melodic – when I perform it live, I sing it a cappella, with handclaps and foot stomps.

“When I came to record it, I started with the drum machine beat and fed it through some effects pedals to dirty it up. I knew I’d have to treat the rest of it the same and it came out like a Nine Inch Nails song! It was a lot of fun to do.”

The song has a political message – he describes it as: “a warning to the world on the dangers of fascism.”

Elaborating on this, he says: “I guess it’s a reaction to our times, as all protest songs are. I think extreme views are creeping back into the spotlight, and people only need to look the other way for it to become centre stage. We must stay vigilant and challenge this sort of thing when we see it.”

He adds: “The title of the song comes from something Private Hudson says in James Cameron’s film Aliens: “Is this going to be a stand-up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?”

“He delivers the line with such disdain and malaise – almost annoyance. It’s exactly how I feel about seeing far-right groups rising up in the UK. How is this happening? What the f*** is going on? Don’t we have better things to do than to deal with these idiots?”

Q&A

Do you play and record everything yourself? What’s your set-up like?

M.Butterfly: I usually play everything myself and record to a four-track tape recorder. When I started making music in the early Noughties, you could buy a brand new Tascam for about 50 quid, since digital was the new thing – that made it the cheapest option for recording at home.

What sound are you aiming for with your records? They’re lo-fi, stripped-down, intimate and raw…

M.B: I went to college and became enthralled with digital production, but over time I felt lost in the endless possibilities of digital. I had no idea when a song was finished, because you could always add more or take it away.

I went back to tape because I found I really thrived in the limitations of it. Everything has to be considered – sounds have to be found and captured, performances have to be complete, and that really works for me. That raw and lo-fi sound just comes with my preference for minimalism and restraint.

Your first album – 2017’s M.Butterfly I – had synths on it, as well as guitars, but your second album, M.Butterfly II, from last year, was largely more guitar-based, with slide and banjo, too. Is the sound of Bughunt representative of the musical direction you’re heading in next?

M.B: Bughunt is actually one song from a little family of harsher, more industrial songs. I also have another family of songs that sound great just on the acoustic guitar, with no other accompaniment.

I’m hoping I’ll settle on something in the middle – noisy and droney, but also acoustic and vulnerable. I’m writing about masculinity a lot at the moment, men’s mental health and the problems with machismo.

I have a song called The Sacred Art of the Wedding DJ, and another called Last English Elephant – they are both about masculinity.

Picture by Bryony Bird

You describe yourself as a singer of slow and very sad Americana, with outsider influences. Can you elaborate on that?

M.B: I like just about every genre of music. I’m convinced that every genre has at least one album you’ll like in it. I find myself drawn to country and Americana because of the emphasis on lyrical content and the simplicity of the music, but in that simplicity I think there is space to push it a bit, and bring in sounds and influences that you wouldn’t expect to hear.

I like music that is distorted and messy and I like music that is sparse and tiny. I like hip-hop beats and I like theatrical post-rock. I want to bring all of that into the space that country songwriting provides.

You don’t really fit into the country / Americana scene, do you? Are you happy about that?

M.B: It’s an odd thing really. I both love and hate being a bit of a sore thumb in the country scene. I’d love to be accepted into it and be a part of such a loving community – one that can have an audience as quiet as death one moment, and then laughing with rapture the next.

I’d love to be in a community where you know your lyrics are going to be listened to and loved. On the other side of that, I don’t want to have to follow the rules and well-worn paths to get there. I kind of want to bring whatever I like with me and have it be accepted.

I’ve had differing results so far. At times I’m told I’m too moody, or don’t have enough fiddle, etc. Other times I’m just told I’m too country sounding, and in the wrong place.

What is for certain though is that I’m not going to give up, and I’m going to drag Americana into the future, kicking and screaming. I’m going to play the AMA (Americana Music Association) UK showcase with a synthesiser and drum machine, I promise you!

I’d love to be signed to a label like Loose, I think they’d know what to do with me and they’d also take a chance on someone who doesn’t want to just regurgitate the country music canon.

‘I’m going to play the Americana Music Association (AMA) UK showcase with a synthesiser and drum machine, I promise you!’

Who or what are your main influences – musical or otherwise…

M.B: That’s so hard… trying to find the main threads of what I am. I love Townes Van Zandt – I think he was the greatest songwriter who ever lived. I love Low – what they are able to do with minimalism is unmatched, and they are also the most beautiful sounding band in the world.

PJ Harvey is a huge influence, with her disregard for trends and her artistic endeavour – she’s always done her own thing. Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, King Crimson, Gillian Welch, Earl Sweatshirt, Sparklehorse, Vic Chesnutt, Jason Molina… I’m going to try and avoid just reeling off a list of my favourite artists, as we’d be here forever.

I love hip-hop. I like the rhythms and how it’s complex and simple at the same time – a beat and a vocal, but both are difficult to get right.

Outside of music I love Hideo Kojima – the video game developer. I think he’s an artist before anything else and he’s used video games like an artist uses a canvas – it’s something you live rather than play.

I love the films of modern directors like Ari Aster and Yorgos Lanthimos – they are like moving poetry. It’s unbelievable. I love authors and poets like Sylvia Plath, JG Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs, Alan Moore and Yukio Mishima.

Lyrics are the part of songwriting I take the most seriously. I write every song about something, I don’t really buy in to the idea of vague lyrics that people attach their own meaning to, I want everything to have a story to it, even if it seems unclear at first.

My favourite lyricists are Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen and David Berman of the Silver Jews. Emmylou Harris is a f***ing poet and never seems to get enough credit for it. Nina Simone is an astounding lyricist and she had the voice to match the ugliness she was singing about – just listen to Four Women or Mississippi Goddamn.

I have a lot of love for pop music, I love what Billie Eilish is doing – it’s so minimal and sparse and her voice is otherworldly. I love Beyoncé – her last record, Lemonade, was just phenomenal. I think pop artists get a lot of flack for not contributing enough to the music, but you need to think of someone like Beyoncé or Rihanna as film directors. They may not actually be behind the camera, or writing the script, but they’re choosing the people who are, and they’re making it all work together. They are in charge of every decision and I think the end result speaks for itself and can be seen alongside any record by Bob Dylan.

One of my favourite songs of yours is Flowers from Hell, which is from your second album, M.Butterfly II. It’s a simple, dark country song. What can you tell me about it? The title resonates with me, as my blog is called Say It With Garage Flowers, which takes its name from a country song I wrote with a friend…

MB: Flowers from Hell is about the late bisexual porn star Jon Vincent. I found him to be a fascinating man – his life seemed to be a series of wonderful moments ruined by something awful. He battled relentless drug addiction and originally wanted to be a baseball player, but his dreams were shattered when he was arrested for carrying drugs and was kicked off the team. It’s like the dream was always just out of reach for him – sure you can have some flowers, but they’re from Hell…

Bury The Living, also from your last album, is a beautiful, sad and haunting song. Where did that come from?

The main inspiration for the song was seeing a photo of a child refugee, who who washed up on a beach. The song is about the despair I feel for the human race. Everyone alive today could become a refugee, the chances may be low, but it could happen to absolutely anyone.

Looking at the lengths people go to escape a situation, what would you do? Would you cram yourself into a fuel tank on a boat to save a loved one? Would you cling to the underside of a lorry just for a taste of freedom? Everyone has a line that they would cross, and they don’t often have any say in it. Ultimately the song comes from my love of the world, and my frustration at the way we treat each other.

Can we expect a third album from you soon? M.Butterfly III?

M.B: I’m actually working on an album with a band – The Glass Saint Country Apparition Band. It’s a semi-improvised country noise outfit. The songs are long and noisy and the lyrics are dark. It’s an awful lot of fun to make a racket with some like-minded musicians.

Sam Collins, who played the slide guitar on Bury the Living, is one of the members. The album is being recorded slowly, on digital, would you believe. We just finished off the drums the other day. All of the songs swing in and out of time. It sounds like a beautiful mess.

As for M. Butterfly, I have so many songs and so many ideas, so there will absolutely be M.Butterfly III, but I have no idea when.

Tom House, who produced my first two albums, no longer lives in Brighton, so I’d need to find a new producer who gets my sound and what I’m trying to do. I’ve done some bits on my own, but I can get quite lost. I’d much rather have another person to play stuff to and have them say:”This is great, you are the best songwriter in the world,” or: “Get the f*** away from me!”

‘I’m working on an album with The Glass Saint Country Apparition Band. It’s a semi-improvised country noise outfit. The songs are long and noisy and the lyrics are dark’

You’re based in Brighton. How is it living and playing there? Do you get involved in the local scene?

M.B: I often gig in Brighton and I absolutely love the scene here. I’ve managed to get involved with the underground, more experimental part of the scene. I’m always surprised that my music goes down so well when I’m sandwiched between two post-rock bands.

I’ve learned the obvious truth that people are never what you perceive them to be, people are open-minded and just because they look like a goth or indie kid or whatever doesn’t mean they don’t like hip-hop, or country.

Brighton is expensive as hell to live in, and there are a lot of sayers and not many doers, but I love it and I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life here. The sea is the ultimate healer and we could all do with some healing.

What are your plans for the rest of this year?

M.B: I’d really like to finish the album with The Glass Saint Country Apparition Band, and I’d really like to have another M. Butterfly release ready too. One thing I am determined to do is release a small ‘zine of the lyrics from my first two albums. I’ve had so many people ask for them and I think it would be a nice little project to do. I’m proud of those lyrics and I’d love to see them in a physical format.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?

M.B: I love Earthen Sea, who is a sort of ambient electronic guy. The album An Act of Love is great. I’ve just broken through with Tangerine Dream, I’m loving a live album they have called Logos. It has a section of music that they wrote for a film called The Keep, which is how I got into them. I revisited Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe recently – it’s a hell of a comeback, with such wonderful textures.

Dr. Octagon, otherwise known as Kool Keith, has been a more recent obsession. The album Dr. Octagonecologyst is like nothing else. It’s hip-hop, but it’s messy and weird and the lyrics are like some bizarre theatre performance. My partner hates it and won’t be in the room with me when I listen to it.

Bughunt by M.Butterfly will be available soon as a limited edition, lathe-cut 7in single on the indie label Eyeless.

For more information, visit:

https://eyelessrecords.bandcamp.com/

https://mbutterfly.bandcamp.com/

 

‘I’ve been having these really vivid dreams about a post-apocalyptic town…’

Three years ago, West Country singer-songwriter Alex Lipinski released his second album, Alex.

One of our favourite records of 2017, it was a collection of stripped-down, raw and bluesy, autobiographical songs, recorded in Berlin with Anton Newcombe from The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and it reminded us of Bob Dylan singing The La’s.

Now he’s back with not one, but three new singles! Jigsaw is a haunting ballad – imagine Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game crossed with classic ’70s Neil Young; Everyday is a cover version of a Buddy Holly song – Alex has slowed it down and added some gorgeous, Richard Hawley-style, twangy guitar – and Hurricane is a re-recorded, full-band version of one of the standout tracks from his last album, with a jangly 12-string sound, organ and a wailing, Springsteen-esque sax solo.

In an exclusive interview, we sat down with Alex for a chat to get the lowdown on his new songs, and find out how his next album, which is being recorded this year, is shaping up. He also found time to tell us about his crazy dreams and a scary mushroom trip he once had…

Q&A

Hi Alex. How are you doing? The last time we spoke was in 2017, after the release of your last album, Alex. What have you been up to since then?

Alex Lipinski: I’m good, thanks. I’ve pretty much been playing all over the UK and writing songs since we last spoke. I’ve played a bunch of festivals, which were great. More recently, I’ve been playing some shows with Matt Owens (Noah and the Whale), which have been fun.

Late last year, you released a new single – Jigsaw. It reminds us of Chris Isaak and vintage Neil Young…

AL:I wrote most of Jigsaw one morning at my friend’s house, in Washington D.C, where she was living at the time. I picked up a guitar that was lying around and the chords and melody instantly came out – it’s always nice when it happens that way. I actually heard Neil Young’s Harvest-era drums in my head when I was picturing how I wanted it to sound.

The song is accompanied by a mysterious video, in which you walk around a deserted coastal town, bury a briefcase on the beach, get picked up in a car and bump into a strange masked character. What does it all mean and where did you film it?

AL: The idea for the video stemmed from a mushroom trip I had at some point over the past couple of years – Hawaiian cubensis mushrooms, to be precise. I was in the middle of the trip and going through a bit of an ordeal. I can laugh now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.

The scenario I was in kept repeating itself – I was stuck inside this loop and couldn’t work out how to break out of it. With the video, I wanted to make something weird.

Around the same time I had the idea for the story, I had watched The Wickerman, so that may have had some influence. The video was filmed around Sand Bay Beach in Weston-super-Mare. We had quite a few confused and concerned stares from dog walkers and nosy neighbours when myself and my nephew, who was wearing a rubber rabbit mask, were digging and burying a suitcase! I don’t think anyone called the police. The large white building is a psychiatric hospital. The video was shot completely on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Your new single is a cover of Buddy Holly’s Everyday – you’ve slowed it down and the guitars have a Richard Hawley feel…

AL: Everyday came about from a jam at a soundcheck. I had been playing around with the song previously, slowing it right down – almost crooner-style.

Graham Nicholls, the lead guitarist, was setting up and he had this Richard Hawley- style tremolo sound he was trying out, so I started singing and playing the song and he joined in. Adam, my brother, sings the other main vocal on the recording, so it gives it that Everly Brothers feel. It was the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death on February 3, so we thought it would be a fitting tribute to release the song as close as we could to that date, to mark the occasion.

There’s another new single on the way soon – a re-recorded, full-band version of Hurricane, from your last album. It has a much bigger sound than the original, with jangly guitar, Springsteen-like sax and some organ….

AL: The new version of Hurricane is how I actually heard the song when I first wrote it. I had this upbeat, 12-string Byrds/Big Star sound in my head. It wasn’t until I slowed it down and lowered the key at a gig, almost by accident, that I decided to record that version on my last album. I wanted this big Clarence Clemons/Bobby Keys-style tenor sax solo during the instrumental.

‘The new version of Hurricane is how I heard the song when I first wrote it. I had this upbeat, 12-string Byrds/Big Star sound in my head’

We recorded the new songs at Canyon Sound Studios, in Bristol. Nic Dover, who runs the studio and engineered the sessions, is also a great sax player, so he stepped up and nailed it in two takes. The latest recordings act as a kind of bridge between the last album, which is completely stripped-down, and the next album, which will be recorded with the full band.

Let’s talk about your next album. Is it written? If so, when do you plan to record it and release it?

AL: The next album is written, but there’s always new songs that are being added to it, so it’s a case of working out which direction I want to take it. I’ll be recording it this year and, hopefully, it will be out by the end of 2020, however it may be an early 2021 release. Making a body of work to be proud of is more important to me than trying to rush it out.

You made the last album with Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, at his studio in Berlin. Any ideas about how you’re going to record the new one? Who are you going to work with?

AL: Working with Anton in Berlin was a great experience. He’s a ridiculously talented guy and also a great person. The album was completely stripped-down – the songs were presented in their raw, skeletal form and recorded live.

Myself and Adam [on guitar] were set-up facing each other, almost in a circle, with a bunch of mics around us and a giant RCA ribbon mic in the middle –  the same microphone they used to use on the old Frank Sinatra recordings.

‘The next album will be heading in a different direction. There are elements of blues, soul, Americana, power-pop, ’60s psych and country’ 

Adam was kind of learning the songs as we went along – I’m left-handed and he’s right-handed, so it was easy for him to see which chords I was playing. In eight hours we had the main nucleus of the record done.

The next album will be heading in a different direction, as I’ll be recording it with my band. The singles that are coming out were recorded at Canyon Sound in Bristol, with Nic Dover, and he’s also great and easy to work with. He has a great ear and the studio has great gear. So we’ll see what’s possible and figure it out.

What’s going to influence the sound of the new album?  

AI: Recording with the full band immediately gives the music a new direction and approach. There are elements of blues, soul, Americana, power-pop, ’60s psych and  country –  all these small glimpses of influences that seep out and merge together. That’s down to each individual player who brings something to the band.

Jon Whitfield (drummer) is a top jazz player, so he has his style, which allows us to take a song dynamically wherever we want it to go. Paul Quinn (keys/organ) and Graham Nicholls (lead guitar/lap steel) are both great players that sprinkle their magic dust, giving each song what it needs and, more importantly, knowing when to allow the song space where it needs it. And myself and Adam have been singing and playing together since we were teenagers, so we have this weird brotherly connection and understanding. So everything gels nicely.

Lyrically, the next record is going to be slightly less autobiographical than that last album, which was quite a personal record. I’ve tried to make things slightly more ambiguous, leaving it up to the listener to think for themselves, and not spelling it out.

Some of the songs could mean various things for different people and I guess that’s the beauty of creating something.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, it’s highly unlikely to not have been affected by what’s been going on politically in the UK, and if what’s been going on doesn’t make you angry, then you haven’t been paying attention. So I guess parts of that anger and frustration have slipped into some of the lyrical content.

Some of the themes also stem from dreams I’ve had over the past couple of years. I’ve been having these really vivid dreams, which are centred around a kind of post-apocalyptic town that feels both alien and familiar at the same time. A kind of blend of the future and nostalgia, and the line between reality and fantasy. I have absolutely no idea why I’ve been having these dreams, but I’m keeping a note of them.

‘The next record is going to be slightly less autobiographical than the last album, which was quite personal. I’ve tried to make things slightly more ambiguous’

What music are you listening to at the moment – new and old? Did you have a favourite album of last year?

AL: I’ve been listening to Townes Van Zandt quite a lot recently, especially the Live at the Old Quarter album. It’s a great live recording from 1973. The audience is crammed into this tiny venue. You can hear the cash till and the beer glasses – you can almost smell the sweat and cigarette smoke coming off the record.  It reminds me of the 12 Bar Club, on Denmark Street in London, where I used to play a lot. Full of character and characters, and a great jukebox. Sadly developers moved in and the venue is no more, but it used to be a magical place.

I’ve also been listening to Gene Clark’s No Other album, which was re-released at the end of last year, and Andy Shauf’s latest record [Neon Skyline], which I’m enjoying.

There were some great albums that came out last year. I thought Michael Kiwanuka’s record [Kiwanuka] was a masterpiece. Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars was great – Moonlight Motel  is one of the best songs he’s written over the past few years. I loved Wilco’s Ode To Joy. The Purple Mountains album [Purple Mountains] was amazing and also tragic, due to the circumstances. I loved Devendra Banhart’s Ma and I thought  Bill Callahan’s Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest was beautiful.

I played Son Volt’s Union a lot. I also really enjoyed Sharon Van Etten’s last album, Remind Me Tomorrow. I saw her live at the Green Man Festival last August and she blew me away. Her song Seventeen, from the latest album, is a killer.

What are your plans for the year ahead? 

AL: The plan for this year is to record the new album. I also want to play live as much as possible. Since the last album was released, I’ve been playing all over the UK and in Europe, and, even now, people are still discovering the record, which is great. So I’ll be playing shows, both solo and with the band.

Last year I helped my sister arrange and put on a series of gigs to raise money for the Save The Children Yemen Crisis Appeal. The first set of gigs were ‘Songs of Dylan’ – we invited a bunch of local, and not so local, artists to perform a couple of Dylan songs each. The first gig was in Hebden Bridge, and we also arranged concerts in Bath and Bristol. We’ve had some great musicians come and play at those shows and the response has been amazing – we’ve managed to raise over £2,000 so far. We’ve also hosted  ‘Songs of Simon & Garfunkel’ and ‘Songs of Joni Mitchell’ concerts in Hebden Bridge, too. The situation in Yemen is horrific and we’ll be arranging more Songs For Yemen gigs this year, with a big one in London being planned in the coming months.

‘If you’re in Bristol, you should make a visit to Friendly Records – it’s a great independent record shop and it’s got its own bar. What more do you want?’

I’ve also started a night in Bristol with my friend James Maclucas. It’s called Wolfmoon. It’s an evening doused in the spirit of the New York coffee houses of the 1960s, set in the intimate setting of Friendly Records Bar, on North Street. Three artists play a 30-minute set, completely unplugged. There are guest DJs and plenty of ale on tap. The next one is on Thursday February 27.

If you’re in Bristol, you should make a visit to Friendly Records – it’s a great independent record shop and it’s got its own bar. What more do you want? I haven’t been paid to say that by the way…

Jigsaw and Everyday by Alex Lipinksi are out now on A Recordings. Hurricane will be released on March 20.

Alex plays The Water Rats, London, on February 12, with Matt Owens (Noah and the Whale) and Sadie Jemmett. Tickets are available here. 

http://alexlipinski.co.uk/

Twitter: @alexlipinski1

Instagram: @alexlipinskli1

Sounds of the New West

West on Colfax – left to right: Pete Barnes (guitar), Alan Hay (vocals), Mike Lambert (drums) and Scott Carey (bass)

Looking for something to help you cope with the post-Christmas comedown? New UK Americana label Greenhorse Records, which is based in Preston, Lancashire, has just the thing – Choke Hold, the debut single by alt-country four-piece West on Colfax.

Influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt, it’ll put a jangle in your January. “The love we once found was just a fever going round,” sings vocalist Alan Hay, which is very apt, as it’s a highly infectious tune –  two and a half minutes of life-affirming guitar pop that sounds like a long-lost Creation Records release from the early ’90s. They may hail from Lancashire, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that West on Colfax grew up on a Glaswegian council estate, reared on a diet of Irn-Bru and Byrds records.

The band’s debut album, Barfly Flew By, will be released later this year, but, in the meantime enjoy Choke Hold. In these dark and uncertain times we’re living in, it’s solid, it’s reliable and it’ll make you smile –  it’s like catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen for ages. What a great way to start the New Year…

For more information, visit https://westoncolfax.bandcamp.com/

Best Albums of 2019

From a haunting and cinematic masterpiece about love, loss, grief and existentialism to power-pop, New Wave, pastoral country-rock, Americana, lo-fi Beachboys sounds, psychedelic blues and dark disco, Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2019…

2019 was an emotional year for me – I became a dad for the first time. In March, my wife, Susie, gave birth to beautiful twin boys, Ronnie and Roddy, and our world changed forever… I’ve always been over-sensitive, but such a major life event left me feeling even more sentimental and soft-centred, which undoubtedly had a major influence on which album I would choose as my favourite record of the year – Ghosteen by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

The first record he’d wholly written since the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015, and the third album in a loose trilogy, Ghosteen is a haunting and cinematic masterpiece.

Its lyrics tackle love, loss, grief and existentialism and are set to minimalist, otherworldly and ambient soundscapes for synth, piano and strings. At times, the songs are extremely harrowing, but also moving, beautiful and optimistic. A double album, Cave said of the record: “The songs on the first album are the children. The songs on the second album are their parents. Ghosteen is a migrating spirit.”

When I first heard it on an overcast October morning, I was astounded by the stunning opener, the mesmerising Spinning Song, reduced to tears by the second track, the piano ballad Bright Horses, and by the third song, the plaintive and hymn-like Waiting For You, I was in bits…

The album’s closing epic, Hollywood, which clocks in at just over 14 minutes, is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background – like waiting for an oncoming storm to strike…  Ghosteen is truly stunning – a career high point.

Several of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite artists put out great albums in 2019. We’ve highlighted just a few of them below. There’s also a list of our 40 best albums of the year at the end of the article and an accompanying Spotify playlist – we’re really spoiling you…

English husband and wife duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – released their best long-player yet. Cancel The Sun – their third record – was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur) and saw them moving further away from their folk-rock roots – Kami is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson – cranking up the electric guitars and embracing power-pop and New Wave, (Call Me When It All Goes Wrong, Ball and Chain, Waiting On Something); ‘60s-style country-soul (Something Is Slipping My Mind) and Beatlesy psychedelia (the title track).

Hollywood is one of the most astonishing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s stripped-down, brooding and atmospheric, with eerie electronic effects, a ghostly choir and low, rumbling bass in the background’

Their gorgeous trademark harmonies were still in place and there were some folky ballads (Mossy Well and Leave Here Alone), but this time around, James, whose other job is as the guitarist in The Pretenders, really cut loose and pushed his extraordinary playing to the fore.

Cancel The Sun was very instant and direct – it didn’t mess around and had a harder, poppier feel than their last two records. Speaking to us earlier this year, Kami said: “This time, we didn’t rule anything out – we just wanted to make a bigger record.”

Commenting on working with Stephen Street, James said: “We wanted someone a bit different – who would take it forward – and who had perhaps more of a rock edge. We were thinking of the sound of Graham Coxon’s [Blur guitarist] solo records – in-your-face guitar.”

When we told James that we thought they’d made their best yet, he said: “That’s very kind of you – I appreciate that. After you make a record, there comes a point when just you don’t have a f***ing clue about what you’ve just done. This record is a truer reflection of what we listen to.”

James also cropped up on two of Say It With Garage Flowers’ other favourite albums of 2019 – he played guitar on two tracks on Spread The Feeling, the long-awaited new record by the Pernice Brothers, which was a brilliant mix of Smiths and New Order-like jangle-pop, ’80s US  New Wave and melancholy Americana, and also turned in a neat guitar solo on the country-folk song You Can Help Me, which featured on Manchester crooner Nev Cottee’s latest album – the superb River’s Edge, which was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel. Produced by Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), River’s Edge was a beautiful album. Highlights included Nightingale, a nocturnal, Tom Waitsian lullaby with piano and brass, and the Nancy and Lee-esque ballad Roses – a duet with mysterious guest vocalist Veronica, who sounded like Nico. The first single, Hello Stranger, was cinematic psych-rock, with a [Cortez the] killer, Neil Young-style electric guitar solo.

‘Nev Cottee’s latest album, the superb River’s Edge, was influenced by ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits, and had an optimistic, mellow and pastoral feel’

Talking to Say It With Garage Flowers about the album, Nev said: “I wanted to do something that was acoustic-based and had a few piano songs – to take it into Neil Young territory, but, in the end, it didn’t end up like that, as other influences got in the way. Ultimately, what I found out is that only Neil Young can do Neil Young songs and I’ve got to do mine…”

Cottee was part of the stellar cast of artists who contributed to this year’s two albums by the Monks Road Social collectiveDown The Willows and Out Of Bounds – headed up by Blow Monkeys frontman Dr. Robert. 

Recorded over two 10-day sessions in the residential Monnow Valley Studio in Monmouth, Wales, the records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas and feature a seriously impressive line-up of guests.

Over the two albums, Dr. Robert’s collaborators include – wait for it, take a deep breath… singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams; Matt Deighton, guitarist and frontman of ‘90s acid-jazz outfit Mother Earth, who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; keyboardist Mick Talbot of The Style Council; drummer Steve White (The Style Council and Paul Weller); UK blues singer Angelina; Dick Taylor of ‘60s rockers The Pretty Things; Northern Irish artist Pat Dam Smyth; Brand New Heavies vocalist Sulene Fleming; London-based singer Samantha Whates; Midlands mod-soul band Stone Foundation; Nev Cottee; orchestral arranger Ben Trigg (Richard Ashcroft and Dexys Midnight Runners) and percussionist and programmer Steve Sidelnyk – to name but a few…

Dr. Robert oversaw the production of the albums and was also responsible for writing – and co-writing – many of the tracks, some of which are new versions of songs that have appeared on his solo albums, while others were penned especially for the project, or brought to the table by those involved. The Monks Road Social collective are playing their first ever live show, in London, at the Jazz Cafe, in 2020, and Say It With Garage Flowers hopes to be there.

‘The Monks Road Social records are two of the most eclectic collections of songs you’re ever likely to hear – from jazzy comedown ballads to Balearic beats, to soul, psych-rock, folk, drum and bass, country, blues, indie-rock and funk, they’re a melting pot of musical ideas’

Telling us about the making of both the records, Dr. Robert said: “We recorded both albums in separate 10-day sessions in Monnow Valley Studios, down in Monmouth.

“They were pretty intense sessions, but since my only vice these days is coffee, I was up for it! I did quite a bit of preparation beforehand, because I knew it would be crazy, and, if I didn’t have a plan, it could have all gone a bit Pete Tong…”

Dr. Robert

He added: “As we began to assemble the players, something kicked in and we were drawn together by intrigue and a mutual love of playing music for its own sake. That bit was important – there has to be joy and a spark – the gold dust is in the groove…”

Isle of Wight-based singer-songwriter Angelina – part of Monks Road Social – released her second album, Last Cigarette, this year.

Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice.

Scorching opener, Throw Petrol At The Sun, had an oily, clanking rhythm and manic, trippy flute, first single, Devil’s Wishing Well, was built on a funky, Beck-like groove, See Through Dress was a smouldering, late-night tale of getting revenge on a soon-to-be ex-lover – she takes his last cigarette and stubs it out on the dress he bought her – and the riotous, rock ‘n’ roll gospel-soul of God Bless The Road was inspired by playing a gig in a Berlin biker bar, with bonfires burning outside.

‘Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, Last Cigarette was raw, visceral, menacing and angry – a heavy and psychedelic, garage-rock blues record that was a lethal cocktail of dirt, dust, diesel and Louisiana swamp juice’

The album saw Angelina reunited with Rupert Brown (drums, percussion, auto harp and backing vocals), who worked on her debut album, 2016’s folky and rootsy Vagabond Saint, but this time around she recruited ace electric and slide guitarist Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins), and The James Hunter Six’s Jason Wilson on double bass.

Session musicians Joe Glossop (keys) and Gary Plumley (flute) were also along for the ride, as were five singers from the People’s Choir of St Louis.

Speaking about the influences behind the album, Angelina said: “I love the sound – and the truth – of those early blues artists, like Blind Willie Johnson, Ma Rainey and Charley Patton, but it wasn’t a conscious design to make a blues record – that was just what came out naturally…”

She added: “I always try and walk on the sunny side of the street, but I do have a habit of finding the shadows…”

Another artist who is no stranger to the darker side of life is gravel-voiced Mark Lanegan, who released his eleventh studio album, Somebody’s Knocking, in 2019.

On the track Penthouse High, he sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, as the Manchester post-punk band – and the outfit they morphed into, New Order – were two of the most obvious influences at work on this record. Name and Number was powered by a doomy, Peter Hook-style bassline, which also sounded like The Cure, Playing Nero was all ’80s synths and drum machines and Dark Disco Jag had a sinister electro groove.

Lanegan also made another album this year – Downwelling, which was attributed to Not Waving and Dark Mark. A collaboration with experimental producer Alessio Natalizia, it explored dark electronic territory and served as a great companion piece to Somebody’s Knocking. 

Now for something a bit lighter… Summer Deluxe, the fifth solo album by Hampshire-based, UK singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Gale, was one of the most gorgeous records Say It With Garage Flowers heard this year.

‘On the track Penthouse High, Lanegan sang: “There’s ghosts inside this house…” It sounded as if the place was haunted by the spectre of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis…’

Adding samples of strings, piano and organ to drum machines, synths, guitars and harmonies, Mike, formerly of Americana band Co-pilgrim and, before them, cult noughties indie-slackers Black Nielson, crafted a blissed-out, lo-fi summer soundtrack that was heavily influenced by The Beach Boys.

There were pure pop moments (Jump Start My Heart and Shoot Shoot The Needle), wonky synth sounds (You Know How I’m Feeling Now) and jazzy tinges (Every Cloud Has A Cloudy Lining), but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness.

Say It With Garage Flowers has been championing Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger since we first heard his brilliant double album, Nonsense and Heartache, which came out in 2018. It was one of our favourite records of that year.

‘There were pure pop moments and jazzy tinges, but lurking beneath the sunny, surf’s up melodies, there was an undertow of sadness and world-weariness’

This year’s follow-up, Time Out For Tomorrow, was another album that we fell in love with. From the Dylanesque country-rock of first single Canvas of Gold – with slide guitar and organ – to the melancholy, piano-led ballad That Ain’t Here, the blues-folk of Burchell Lake – inspired by a ghost town in Ontario – and the haunting and cinematic mountain tune, Survived Like A Stone – with fiddle and saw – these were raw, powerful and emotional songs.

Asked about the sound of the new album, Jerry told us: “It’s a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. Two records I really dug the sound of that I wanted to capture on this record were Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Islnd Baby – I love that dry drum sound and the real directness of it. Some of the songs just coast along. I also like a lot of Nick Lowe’s older records with Rockpile, where he doubled the electric guitar solos. I doubled my vocals on some songs.”

Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow (ex-Case Hardin) was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.

Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and released on Clubhouse Records, it was both beautiful and unsettling. Opener One Last One Night Stand set the tone for most of the record – it was a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounded like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping strings.

‘Here There’s No Sirens, the debut solo album by Pete Gow, was a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ’

There were also character songs  – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King was steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centred on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checked porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who was involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump. Pete Gow also released a limited edition seven-track mini album called The Fragile Line in 2019 – it too was one of our favourite records of the year.

Another Americana album we enjoyed this year was Carousel, by UK singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer. A stark and moody solo acoustic record – guitar, voice and harmonica – that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, it didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues and was inspired by Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

Opener, My Darling England, dealt with social issues, including class and national identity – the song was written 15 years ago, but, in these troubled times and with the spectre of Brexit looming over us, it was eerily prescient: ‘Now the streets are filled with shadows, every house has its own ghost. The people are growing restless – never getting what they want the most…’

Violets tackled domestic abuse, Potash was penned during the Iraq War and The Night Tom Petty Died  documented how one of Luke’s musical inspirations passed away just as he’d moved to New York from the UK: ‘Sitting at the bar in the Tribeca Tavern, on the jukebox was Learning To Fly – a beer cost more than I could spend. I wished that I was home…’

‘A stark and moody solo acoustic record that was laid down in one day at a studio in New Jersey, Carousel didn’t shy away from addressing political and social issues’

Luke cited Neil Young and Dylan, specifically The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, as his reference points for the record, as well as Townes Van Zandt and Elliott Smith, but, at times, it also reminded us of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 masterpiece Nebraska – our favourite album by The Boss.

2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK, as West Midlands-based singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in. This time around, he made a harder, darker and rockier record with a political edge and plenty of social commentary, but he didn’t dispatch with the vintage pop culture references that we know – and love – him for.

Man Out Of Time was rollicking country-blues with a lyric about the ’70s glam rock years of his youth, while Culture Vulture’s Led Zep-inspired riffs were a nod to his Black Country rock roots. The synth-heavy Ministry Of Fate concerned itself with government media blackouts, Scarecrows was Bowie-esque, robotic funk meets plastic soul and the post-punk, heavy indie-rock of Pop Music For Ugly People tackled political opportunism and personal greed.

‘2019 was a decent year for new music, but a bad one for politics, however, some good did come out of the current dire state of the UK Vinny Peculiar was inspired to write While You Still Can – a socio-political album that took a wry look at the situation the country found itself in’

Question Time – Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite track – was a Smiths-like, jangly pop song, but with a lyric about a missing female politician, told from the point of view of a suspect under interrogation.

In an interview with Say It With Garage Flowers, Vinny said: “It’s impossible to avoid politics nowadays – things are so polarised, opinions so righteous, news feeds ever omnipresent… This album is a reaction, in parts, to all that and from speaking to people on the sharp end of this Government’s austerity programme – teachers, nurses and shop workers. These are torrid times.”

With Brexit looming, who knows what 2020 will bring, but, rest assured, I’m confident that, like 2019, it will be another great year for new music. I’ve already had a sneak preview of three albums that are due out in 2020 – no spoilers here – but it’s safe to say that they’ll be high up on Say It With Garage Flowers’ list of our favourite records of next year…. In the meantime, here’s our 40 best albums of 2019 and a Spotify playlist to go with them. It’s been emotional…

Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2019

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  2. The Rails – Cancel The Sun
  3. Nev Cottee – River’s Edge
  4. Pernice Brothers – Spread The Feeling
  5. Peter Bruntnell – King of Madrid
  6. Richard Hawley – Further
  7. Pete Gow – Here There’s No Sirens
  8. The Delines – The Imperial
  9. Jerry Leger – Time Out For Tomorrow
  10. The Lilac Time – Return To Us
  11. Morrissey – California Son
  12. Pete Gow – The Fragile Line
  13. Vinny Peculiar – While You Still Can
  14. Those Pretty Wrongs – Zed For Zulu
  15. Monks Road Social – Out of Bounds
  16. PP Arnold – The New Adventures of PP Arnold
  17. Angelina – Last Cigarette
  18. Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
  19. Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking
  20. Monks Road Social – Down The Willows
  21. Mike Gale – Summer Deluxe
  22. Luke Tuchsherer – Carousel
  23. The Rockingbirds – More Rockingbirds
  24. RW Hedges – The Hills Are Old Songs
  25. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  26. Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between
  27. Nocturum – The After Life
  28. Wilco – Ode To Joy
  29. The National – I Am Easy To Find
  30. Elbow – Giants of All Sizes
  31. Jeremy Squires – Poem
  32. Whoa Melodic – Whoa Melodic
  33. Not Waving & Dark Mark – Downwelling
  34. John Howard – Cut The Wire
  35. Edwyn Collins – Badbea
  36. Iggy Pop – Free
  37. GospelBeacH- Let It Burn
  38. Lucette – Deluxe Hotel Room
  39. Hannah Rose Platt – Letters Under Floorboards
  40. Hurricane #1 –  Buddha At The Gas Pump

•Please note – at the time of writing, Spread The Feeling by Pernice Brothers, The Fragile Line by Pete Gow and More Rockingbirds by The Rockingbirds are not available on Spotify.