Russian Spy, the new single by Salisbury’s The Neighbourhood Strange, is based on real-life events that hit the headlines last year. Say It With Garage Flowers goes undercover to find out more…
They say truth is stranger than fiction… Last year, something truly strange happened in the neighbourhood of Salisbury-based garage-rockers, the aptly named The Neighbourhood Strange.
A former Russian spy and his daughter were found seriously ill on a bench in the Wiltshire cathedral city – they had been poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok.
The sinister plot inspired the thrilling – and controversial – title track of the band’s brilliant new EP Russian Spy, which opens with the lines: “Hush my love – I can’t take it any longer. Ten past five and the Novichok is stronger…”
With its groovy organ and a menacing, twangy guitar riff that sounds like it’s been stolen from the soundtrack to some long-lost, ‘60s Cold War film, the song will lodge itself in your brain like a bullet, quicker than you can say, ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E’…
“The song and the riff just came together at one of our rehearsals – we felt the local mood and we subconsciously created it from that,” says the band’s vocalist/ guitarist, Marcus Turner.
“It all felt too close to home – the weekend of the poisoning, our bass player was admitted to hospital. He believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…”
The 7in vinyl version of the single has a killer track called Many Secrets on the B-side – it’s been in the band’s live set for a while and has a ‘70s US punk / New Wave feel – the snarling vocals are pure Iggy Pop.
‘Our bass player believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…’
If that’s got you wanting to hear even more of The Neighbourhood Strange, you can get a five-track CD EP version of the Russian Spy single, which also includes three other tunes – the classic-sounding, heavy garage-rock of Mary Mary, the psychedelic Walk On Water and the exotic, Middle Eastern-flavoured instrumental, Desert Sand.
“Mary Mary is a song about an archetypal ‘60s girl who you might follow and end up somewhere where you never intended,” says Marcus, mysteriously.
Russian Spy is the band’s third single – so is there an album on the way? “Along with playing gigs and writing new songs, we are hoping to record an LP. A lot of our fans – in fact all of them – have been crying out for one,” says Marcus.
“It would be great if a label would help us with the costs etc, as long as they would also leave us to our own devices. We are really pleased that we have found our spiritual recording space. After experimenting with studios in London and Paris, we’re happiest with the sound from our rehearsal rooms – out here in the wilds of Wiltshire.”
So what are the band’s plans for the rest of 2019? Says Marcus: “We’re promoting the new single, although that’s been interesting, thanks to the response of the local media. Maybe the lyrics are ruffling a few feathers… Rock ‘n’ roll is still being censored.”
In the first in an occasional series of visiting – and writing about – record shops we love, Say It With Garage Flowers heads to Union Music Store in Lewes, East Sussex. We speak to co-owner Danny Wilson, who tells us why he won’t be stocking any Mariah Carey albums just yet…
Record Store Day is a chance for diehard music junkies to blow some serious cash on vinyl, but last year, Danny Wilson and Del Day took things one step further – they bought a record shop!
On RSD 2018, Danny, the frontman of alt-country, rock ‘n’ roll soulsters Danny & The Champions of the World, who is also one third of Americana janglers Bennett, Wilson, Poole, and music publicist and promoter Del, were announced as the new owners of Union Music Store, in the East Sussex market town of Lewes. They took it over from Stevie and Jamie Freeman, who opened the shop in 2010.
A short walk from the station, Union is small, but perfectly formed – new and secondhand vinyl albums are neatly filed in wooden boxes, band T-shirts are hung on the walls, alongside musical instruments, and there are a few CDs on shelves and a selection of rock ‘n’ roll biographies. Americana, folk, country, classic rock, jazz and alternative are the genres of choice – it’s a shop for music lovers, run by people who are passionate about what they do and really know their stuff…
The shop has a cosy, cabin-like feel – it’s very warm and inviting – and behind the counter there’s the ‘Wall of Sound’ – each week, Danny and Del fill it with records and then share the images on social networking.
On the morning Say It With Garage Flowers visits the shop, the wall is country rock and folk-flavoured, with LPs by Dillard & Clark, Nick Drake, Karen Dalton and Jackson C. Frank on display.
‘The Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!’
Say It With Garage Flowers does a spot of crate digging and is very pleased to find a limited edition, signed vinyl copy of Matt Deighton’s ‘horror folk’ album, Wake Up The Moths, which we duly purchase.
As we approach the counter to pay, Danny has just taken delivery of a pile of new records, including, much to Del’s displeasure, the Grease soundtrack. It turns out that Danny is threatening to include a musical theatre section in the shop…
“I’m really serious about it,” he says later, over a coffee in a nearby café. “Del is completely unhappy – the whole order that came in this morning was generally a variety of thorns in his side! If I’m being entirely honest, the Grease soundtrack is as good as any Americana record I’ve heard in the past 20 years, so why not sell it to people who want it? Grease is brilliant!”
So now you’re running a record shop can you afford to be a music snob, or do you have to sell what you think people will buy?
“In truth, we’re a bit more High Fidelity than we are HMV – we’re curating,” says Danny. “We only have a certain amount of space and we don’t just stock everything. There’s no pop music in there. You won’t find any Mariah Carey – not because I’m a snob about it, but it’s not what we’re into. We’ll see… If you come back in a year’s time and there are Adele posters all over the shop, you’ll know which way it’s been going! We’d rather sell a Miles Davis album than a Miles Kane one!
“If someone comes into the shop and asks us, ‘what’s that record like?’ we’d like to be able to say with confidence that it’s great, or that it’s OK, but you should buy this one instead – at the moment, it’s got to be stuff we love…”
Q & A
How did you come to own Union Music Store?
Danny Wilson: Stevie Freeman, the head honcho of the Americana Music Association (AMA) UK , ran Union for about seven and half years – I first went in there during the first couple of years it was open. I was camping with my kids, went into Lewes, saw the shop and thought, ‘wow – that’s crazy’. It was a folk and Americana shop – I bought a CD by The Long Ryders.
I got to know Stevie. Del lives in Lewes and he’s been involved in PR and promoting Americana, so he knew Stevie really well. Del and I started a record label, Maiden Voyage. Stevie was getting really busy with the AMA stuff and she approached Del and I, as she knew we ran the label and had a love of records – she asked us if running the shop would interest us. We had a conversation for about two minutes…
Shopkeeping runs in your family, doesn’t it? There’s a song on the Bennett Wilson Poole album called Wilson General Store, which is about your grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, Australia. It was called Wilsons Emporium…
DW: Yes – it’s in my blood. My mum and dad met in that shop – my mum was the Saturday girl.
One of my uncles from Melbourne found out about Union and he tracked down some old doo-wop 78s from Wilsons Emporium – when my dad was a kid, one of his jobs was to fill the jukebox in the shop. My uncle sent me the records, so we’ve put them up in the shop. The Wilson family is very happy that I’m continuing the shopkeeping… I have two teenage daughters – they’re both really interested in coming to the shop and helping out, but that’s possibly more about getting 20 quid than a fulfilling, artistic, cultural, community experience… Having said that, they’re both really into music.
So is it a dream come true owning your own record shop?
DW: Yeah – totally. About 20 years ago, I used to work in Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill and then I was in the Goldhawk Road shop in Shepherd’s Bush, which sold reggae and soul – it was brilliant. Del worked in the jazz section of HMV for 11 years – he loves all music and has a really serious knowledge of jazz.
How is it working in a shop with Del?
DW: It’s hilarious!
‘We have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – there’s no pressure to buy anything’
On a more serious note, retail is tough, so how are you finding it running a shop?
DW: The idea behind the shop wasn’t to start a business that would one day become a chain. We have the label, Del’s doing his PR and booking stuff and I’ve got the band, but we wanted a hub to hang everything else on. That’s what it’s becoming – we have an office downstairs.
We’ve been putting on shows in the town – we had the Lewes Psychedelic Festival in February, with The Hanging Stars and Emma Tricca playing in the shop. We’ve done some in-store events. There’s loads going on and people are coming in and buying records – we have a few regulars who just come in for a cuppa. It’s quite an arty little hangout – that’s what we want it to be. There’s no pressure to buy anything.
Stevie and Jamie have been very kind to us – they worked really hard to build up a database of people who are happy to go to rootsy and Americana gigs, so they’ve handed us an audience and it’s down to us what we do with it. I have no experience in running a shop or my own business, but I love it – I’m as happy as Larry. I play a gig, get in at 3am, get up, then drive the kids to school and drive here – it’s exciting.
Finally, any new releases planned on Maiden Voyage?
DW: Our label has a new record out [Reaper] by a band from Cardiff called ¡Que Asco! They sound a bit like Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, as well as Dinosaur Jr, with a bit of Fugazi – they’re really cool. We’ve put out 100 numbered LPs – it’s like a white label and it’s more DIY than the other stuff we usually do. We love the music!
For more information on Union Music Store and Maiden Voyage go to:
Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, River’s Edge, is a beautiful, pastoral record that’s influenced by the countryside, ’70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Waits.
He tells Say It With Garage Flowers why he’s had enough of the city and how he likes to write songs sat in his garden, strumming his acoustic guitar, listening to the birds…
When we last spoke to Nev Cottee, in 2017, the Mancunian singer-songwriter with a rich baritone voice that plumbs the same depths as Lee Hazlewood, had just made Broken Flowers – his darkest album to date.
Written in the aftermath of a failed relationship, it wasn’t an easy listen. Heavy at times, it was moody, melancholy and psychedelic, with lengthy songs swathed in dramatic orchestral arrangements and haunting vintage synth sounds.
This time around, for his fourth album, River’s Edge, he’s in a much better place emotionally, and the music reflects that. A pastoral record, it sees Nev getting back to nature and at peace with himself. It’s much lighter than its predecessor.
Produced by regular collaborator Mason Neely (Wilco, Edwyn Collins), it’s a beautiful album. Opener, the nocturnal, Tom Waitsian piano and brass lullaby Nightingale takes the listener down to the river’s edge and from there we’re on a journey into gorgeous, Nancy and Lee-style balladry with Roses, which is a duet with guest vocalist Veronica, who sounds like Nico; and then plunged into cinematic psych-rock, with the first single, Hello Stranger.
The sublime I’m Still Here is laced with late-night pedal steel by Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns), while The Hollywood Sign recalls vintage Neil Young, The country-folk of You Can Help Me, featuring James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders) on guitar, also mines ’70s Laurel Canyon, with its Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmonies, and the chilled-out, optimistic Morning Sun sees Nev leaving the darkness behind to embrace a brand new day… “Here I am, back in the game,” he sings, over a warm backing of simple acoustic guitar and tinkling piano.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers quizzes him about the making of the new record…
Q & A
This album is a lot mellower and much lighter than its predecessor, Broken Flowers. You sound more contented on this record…
Nev Cottee: If you compare it with Broken Flowers, this album is easier on the ear – it’s less arranged and orchestral, and the songs are shorter. It’s more concise – the songs follow a traditional pattern. I wanted to get away from that Broken Flowers thing – I’d done that – and the songs just came that way. It was time to move on.
The four albums are a bit of journey – out of a relationship and reaching a promised land, a place of sanctuary. I had that idea in mind – the river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by.
I’ve reached a plateau where I’m content, but that doesn’t necessarily create great art, does it? Let’s see… I can only do what I can do.
So how did you approach this record?
NC: In a way, I just wanted to make a Neil Young record. I was listening to Comes A Time, On The Beach, Zuma and After The Goldrush – that classic ‘70s Neil Young period.
Comes A Time is a really underrated album – it was a massive inspiration. Some of the songs aren’t finished on that record – on first listen, you think it’s a bit throwaway, but the songs are so good…
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.
With Neil Young, it’s all about the voice. Obviously the tunes are great, but once you put his voice on them… It would be interesting to see what his songs would sound like with a normal range vocal on them. Would they be as good? Probably not – they wouldn’t be as unique, would they? Anyway, I digress…
Would you say River’s Edge is a concept album?
NC: It’s not a concept album – they always run away from you… There are those classic ones, where the mood is maintained and it’s a concise piece that all adds up, but, if you’re just writing songs, you have to restrict yourself if it’s going to be a concept album. In the end you just go off in several directions… It’s loosely based on a pastoral, bucolic idea behind the songs, but then you’ve got Hello Stranger, which is completely different to the title track… You’ve just got to follow each individual song to where it takes you.
Let’s talk about Hello Stranger. It’s the first single from the album. Ironically, it’s one of the moodier songs on the record. It sounds like it could’ve come from Broken Flowers, with its cinematic, psych-rock feel…
NC: Yeah – I had a few two or three tracks that were quite acoustic and piano-based, but I wanted a few songs that we could go for it on and get the electric guitars out! In the end, I lost a couple of them because they didn’t sit well on the album – they’re in the vaults, so I might drag them out.
Hello Stranger really worked – I love it. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album. I like the lyric – it explains the moving on from Broken Flowers – it’s all about the past fading away and all those memories becoming less intense…
I think the song has real power. We got the guitar nailed on that – we were taking inspiration from Neil Young and trying to channel him. The guitarist is Alex Foote, who played on the last album. He’s American and a friend of Mason Neely’s – he just gets my thing.
Nick McCabe from The Verve played on the album sessions. Is he on the record?
NC: He’s on the two tracks that I dropped – he did some amazing stuff, that was classic McCabe, but he’s not on the album. I’ve spoken to him about doing some gigs – he’s always up to something. Fingers crossed – that could be one for the future. Get him up on stage and see what happens. Watch this space.
‘The river’s edge is a place where everyone wants to be, whiling away the afternoon, as the water trickles by’
Earlier, you mentioned the pastoral and bucolic feel that some of the songs have. You live in a city – Manchester. Are you a country boy at heart? Was this album a deliberate reaction to your urban living?
NC: It definitely was. I’ve lived in Manchester for 20 years on and off. I’ve had enough of the city – I think it’s an age thing. The city is a young man’s game – I want to get out. I don’t really go out much – I do like the hustle and bustle of the daytime, but more often than not, when it’s a decent day, I get out of Manchester. It’s a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – you’ve got to get on a bus or a train and get out of there. I’m a child of nature – I’ve got a garden and I love going walking in Derbyshire. It’s definitely more of an inspiration at the moment, but who knows?
You wrote some of Broken Flowers while you were in India. Where did you write this album?
NC: In Majorca and in my garden, which is out of town [Manchester] – there’s no river there, but that’s my equivalent place. I like playing the guitar outside – it’s different from strumming in a room and you get the birds singing. A lot of the songs were written out in the open, so maybe that was an unintentional influence.
‘Manchester is a very dark, foreboding and shadowy city – I want to get out. I’m a child of nature’
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album… Nightingale opens the record. It’s gorgeous and has a late night, Tom Waits feel. I love the brass and the piano…
NC: Yeah, Tom Waits, as well as Neil Young, is a massive influence. There’s a triple album he did called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. For me, it’s one of his best albums. The Bawlers part of the album is up there with anything else he’s ever done – there are some stunning tracks on there – loads of outtakes that he had never released. I always listen to it late at night. I kept listening to it and listening to it. He’s one of the great songwriters. I wanted the opening song to set the scene and take you down to the river’s edge, with the moon, the nighttime and birds singing.
Roses is one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a duet with a mysterious girl named Veronica and it reminds me of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. I also think the female vocal sounds like Nico…
NC:Roses is going to be the second single – a 7in on Wonderfulsound. I was going to get Tess Parks to sing on it. She did a vocal on an early incarnation of the song, but it didn’t have the right flavour. I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know very little, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid. I got her to sing on it – it’s a really delicate, sweet vocal. I really like the juxtaposition. It’s the first time I’ve done a duet, but there maybe more to come from Veronica…
I’m Still Here is a country song and features Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg, Ethan Johns) on pedal steel…
NC: This was originally supposed to be a Dylanesque jazz boogie like Spirit On The Water [from Modern Times]. We had a nice version and then Chris Hillman got his hands on it and ruined it! Hah! No – he slowed it all down and did an amazing version that was even better. It’s lovely and it’s a great performance – the best one on the album.
The song The Hollywood Sign mentions ‘prairie wind’ in the lyric. Is that a nod to the Neil Young album and song of the same name?
NC: It’s my homage to Neil Young – it also has a Crosby, Stills & Nash Helplessly Hoping vibe, with the guitar picking. It’s a nod to the great man, Neil Young – everyone goes on about Dylan, but if you look at Neil Young’s back catalogue, he’s definitely the greatest rock ‘n’roll singer-songwriter there is. No one else has written a song like Old Man and a song like Like A Hurricane – a well-crafted country tune and a rock ‘n’ roll song with amazing wig-out guitar.
‘I befriended the mysterious Veronica, of whom we know little about, other than that she is a Nico-inspired chanteuse from Madrid’
You Can Help Me has a Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash feel, too, and James Walbourne (The Rails and The Pretenders) plays guitar on it…
NC: I wanted to get that Crosby, Stills & Nash three-part harmony. James was playing in Manchester and he managed to whack an overdub down. I’d love to do something live with him, but he’s the busiest man in showbiz – he’s in about 40 bands! Let’s see, eh? One day…
You’ve been working with some great musicians recently….
NC: You’ve got to search out the great players – Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne… That’s not a bad line-up, is it? We need to get a supergroup off the ground and call it Hillman, McCabe and Walbourne – keep it old school.
You recorded the album in Manchester in two weeks. How were the sessions?
NC: I had the demos for quite a while. I’m quite meticulous, in that I’ll demo, then I’ll do another demo and fine tune it… I keep going, crafting it… I sent the songs to Mason and he said we had two weeks to do it – 9 to 5, clocking in. We worked throughout the day, drinking loads of tea – we worked really hard, we kept it real and we got a lot of stuff done. We did it at Vibe Studios in Manchester, which is owned by Martin Coogan [The Mock Turtles], who’s a mate of mine. It’s New Order’s old rehearsal room and Doves used to rehearse there, as well. It was great – Mason is a grafter and I trust him implicitly in that he will know where to take a song. That’s the job of a great producer – to make suggestions, throw you ideas and see if you can do them. The man came up with the goods.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs?
NC: Yes – there will be gigs. I’m hoping to play Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London. There’s a gig in Madrid lined up and I think I’m going to go to Paris.
You contributed to the recent Monks Road Social album, Down The Willows, – singing a Dr Robert [The Blow Monkeys] song called Still Got A Lot To Learn. Any more collaborations in the offing? How was the Monks Road Social project? The album has a lot of great musicians on it, including Matt Deighton (Mother Earth), Dr Robert, Steve White and Mick Talbot (The Style Council)…
NC: They’re a good crowd – all really nice people. We recorded it in Wales, in Monnow Valley Studio and I’ve also done another song with Dr Robert – he sent it over and I added the vocal. I don’t know what the plan is with that yet. I think there’s going to be another Monks Road Social album and there’s talk of doing a gig with guest singers. Robert’s great – it’s kind of weird, having grown up in the ’80s and seen him on Top Of The Pops. He’s a genuinely talented, warm and nice geezer.
What music are you listening to at the moment, old and new?
NC: Good question. I was listening to Aldous Harding the other day and getting into that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Gruff Rhys – he never gets the credit he deserves, does he? His last album [Babelsberg] was brilliant. I’ve also got into Kurt Vile’s last album [Bottle It In] and Kevin Morby, and I got into a bit of Joni Mitchell recently. Also, check out Matthew Halsall – a jazz guy from Manchester. He’s good.
Finally, you’re stood at the river’s edge – do you jump in?
NC: Never jump in – you don’t know what’s in there. It could be dangerous. For me, it’s safety first, fun later. I’m a side of the river guy – I’m sat there watching and listening. I’m not one of those wild swimmers. You won’t catch me naked in a river.
It’s been a year since Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger first came to the UK and Europe to promote his brilliant double album Nonsense and Heartache – a mix of raw, primal, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll and stripped-down, alt-country ballads.
Now he’s back on tour, has released a new retrospective compilation album called Too Broke To Die, and is gearing up for the release of his next studio album,Time Out For Tomorrow, later this year.
In an exclusive interview he gave Say It With Garage Flowers while he was on the road, he tells us about revisiting his back catalogue, the challenges he faces as a Canadian artist, why he loves coming to the UK and Europe, and how the sound of his forthcoming album was inspired by Nick Lowe and Lou Reed…
It’s been over 12 months since Toronto-based Jerry and his band, The Situation, who’ve been together for 12 years, first came to these shores, and now they’re back, to promote a new, limited edition, retrospective compilation album, called Too Broke To Die, which has been put together especially for the European market and is available to buy from his merch stall on tour.
It brings together 21 songs from the nine albums he’s made from 2005-2019 (eight studio albums and a live record), including some previously unreleased outtakes.
Highlights include the Dylan-esque rarity Beating The Storm; the gorgeous country shuffle of Wrong Kind of Girl; the moody and edgy Factory Made, which is an attack on the fake aspects of the music industry; the sad, reflective Nobody’s Angel; the cool, garage-rock strut of The Big Smoke Blues and the alt-country of Another Dead Radio Star, which was inspired by the 1930s radio show The Shadow, which was voiced by Orson Welles.
Off the back of last year’s successful tour, which introduced Jerry to a new audience outside of his native Canada, this return visit, coupled with Too Broke To Die, which serves as a handy introduction to his career, means 2019 could be the year that he breaks through in the UK and Europe.
One thing’s for sure – it’s certainly not for want of trying…. When Say It With Garage Flowers catches up with Jerry over a pint in a East London pub, in Leytonstone, ahead of a headline show at What’s Cookin’, it’s the fifth night of a gruelling, seven-week tour of almost 30 dates, including stints in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.
The tour kicked off with a storming UK festival slot at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and two appearances on Record Store Day, at Music’s Not Dead in Bexhill-on-Sea and Union Music Store in Lewes. I ask Jerry if he thinks his profile over here is getting bigger.
“I’m glad I did Ramblin’ Roots – it was great to see a whole bunch of people, some of whom I hadn’t met before. I hope my profile is building – it’s what I want, but it’s hard for me to gauge because some things happen very quickly and other things happen very slowly – every day is the same for me, so I’m not very aware of how everything is going,” he says, sipping his beer.
I want to reassure him that things are changing round here… With a brand new studio album on the way later this year and hopefully more UK dates planned in the autumn/winter, by the end of 2019, you’ll definitely be hearing a lot more of Jerry Leger…
Q & A
Your new album, Too Broke To Die, is a retrospective compilation album of songs from 2005-2019. How did it come about and how did you choose which songs made the cut?
Jerry Leger: There are a lot of albums I’ve made that people are unaware of, so I put together a compilation with a few songs from each album and a couple of previously unreleased songs.
Initially, I thought about having some covers on it. We recorded a bunch of covers with Michael Timmins [producer – Cowboy Junkies] for a project that never came to fruition. We did Time by Tom Waits, Like A Hurricane by Neil Young and a medley of John Lennon songs – Well Well Well and his version of (Well) Baby Please Don’t Go from Some Time In New York City. It was a wide range of covers, but then I decided I didn’t want to have to deal with all the licensing issues – I had eight of my albums to dig from and a lot of outtakes, so there was already enough there… Each album had about five or six songs that didn’t make it onto the record.
You’re like Prince…
JL:[laughs]: Without the money and some other stuff that we won’t go into – and I’m still here…
Too Broke To Die is essentially a ‘Greatest Hits’ set but without any hits on it…
JL: Greatest Miss Hits!
Was it hard to choose which songs ended up on Too Broke To Die? How was it going through your back catalogue?
JL: It was a bit tricky and very strange – a lot of the albums I hadn’t heard for a long time, apart from revisiting them so I could bring some of the songs back into my live set and refresh my memory. Some of the songs I recorded when I was 20 or 21 – I’ve just turned 34. I remember being there and making the albums, but it’s strange…
The record takes the listener on a journey – from some of your earlier raw and folky stuff to more soulful sounds, and bluesy country and Americana from your last record, Nonsense and Heartache…
JL: It’s always however I was feeling at the time – and whatever record I wanted to make. I’m still like that.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the record. One of my favourites is Beating The Storm, which has a Dylan feel…
JL: Yeah – definitely.
Can you remember writing that song? What was the inspiration?
JL: I don’t remember the inspiration – I can remember writing it. I was living in a basement apartment and I wrote a few songs there, like Round Walls, for the album You, Me & The Horse. I’ve always loved Beating The Storm – I tried doing it for that album, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t make it. We tried it a few years later, for the album Some Folks Know, but it still didn’t make it. It stuck in my mind. When I was putting the new record together, it seemed like an obvious choice. It had never found a home…
What can you remember about Wrong Kind of Girl?
JL: That falls into that category of those songs that are a bit like magic – I don’t know where it came from or how it came here, but I happened to write it and I’m glad that I did, because I really like that song.
Is He Treating You Good? is a great song – it’s about a relationship gone wrong and it reminds me of something Elvis Costello could’ve written…
JL: I’m glad that you said that because I’m a big fan and he’s a big influence on me, but I never get that comparison. It’s one of my favourite songs I’ve written – it’s up there. It’s in my top three. The song speaks for itself.
Factory Made, from your album Early Riser, is one of my favourite songs on Too Broke To Die…
JL: I can remember writing that one. When Michael Timmins mixed it, it sounded like it came from a different world. We recorded it live and then he mixed it – his choices of which instruments came it and out, and his reverb and echo ideas… I wrote that song at home at 3 in the morning. I was really drunk and I was frustrated with everything – with how the music industry had gone and with some of the people around me who were full of shit. It was an attack on the real trend for making you think that things are legitimate when they’re not – I was frustrated by people getting sucked in by that. It’s a song about being a frustrated artist, but also a frustrated listener. Fortunately – and unfortunately – I think that song will be relevant for years to come.
‘Over a beer, I can talk all night about music I love. I can talk about Blood On The Tracks if you want me to…’
Nobody’s Angel feels like it’s one of your anthems…
JL: That was written when I’d started working in a hardware store in Toronto that my brother managed – I was a teenager in high school and I worked there for many years. You don’t want me to fix anything…
It was in an area where there were a lot of people who were suffering from different forms of abuse. I would see men and women – young people who’d had the life sucked out of them within a few years.
There was a coffee shop on the corner where there were drug dealers and pimps who were there all night… There wasn’t a lot of understanding – people’s lives got screwed up very easily for a variety of reasons, but they shouldn’t be looked down upon. The neighbourhood has now been gentrified – at the time, there was a lot of crack cocaine there.
Toronto features in quite a few of your songs, like Things Are Changing Round Here and The Big Smoke Blues – both of which are from Nonsense and Heartache and are also on the new compilation album…
JL: Yeah – I write about what’s around me. Obviously parts of me are in the songs, but there are also little conversations… Songs just come from anywhere – I don’t have a filter. Whatever I retain, I think could be a song…
Let’s talk about your next studio album, which is coming out later this year. What’s inspired some of your new songs?
JL: One song was written about a ghost town in Northern Ontario and the opening song is called Canvas of Gold – the first verse is: ‘Everything was almost decided when we were young. You stay poor like your family before and I’ll keep on hustling…’ I think I’ve become more aware recently of what a crazy life I’m living – it’s hard to survive as an artist in a big city, but it’s what I signed up for – it’s a hustle.
Is it hard trying to make it in the UK and Europe, outside of Canada?
JL: Hustling outside of Canada is more rewarding – Canada takes its own artists for granted – it’s always been that way. I want to keep working, so I have to build a profile here [in the UK and Europe]. I just want to keep reaching more people and I want to keep coming back here. We’ve had some of the most enthusiastic appreciation here – there’s more people here who are deeper music lovers than in North America. It’s been easier to get music listeners here. It became tiring in Canada – doing the same routes and travelling across the country. It didn’t feel like people were getting into it.
Canada’s really big and there’s not a huge population, so unless you’re playing the game according to somebody else, it’s very difficult to get anywhere. There’s a whole other world out there. I have my fans and supporters back home, but it’s really nice to be in a new market and have people dig what I’m doing. It’s a different appreciation – I’ve met way more people on the tours in the UK and Europe that listen to music in the way that I listen to it. When I get into a record, I dissect it – I listen very closely to it and it means something to me. Over a beer, I can talk all night about music I love. I can talk about Blood On The Tracks all night if you want me to…
‘It’s hard to survive as an artist in a big city, but it’s what I signed up for – it’s a hustle’
Earlier today, you told me that Canadian radio thought that your last album was too gritty…
JL: I thought that was great – it’s the best compliment they’ve ever given me.
Let’s talk more about your new studio album, which is out later this year. Like your two previous albums, you worked with producer Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) on it…
JL: What was different this time around was that we rehearsed a lot before going into the studio, trying out different arrangements, but there’s still spontaneity on this record… A lot of it was played live in the studio, but I had more of a clear idea about how it was going to be executed. I already had in my mind what the arrangements were going to be. It took about a week to make.
What does it sound like?
JL: 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 TheImpossible Bird and one of my favourite Lou Reed albums, Coney Island 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.
‘My next album is a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. I wanted to capture the sound of Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird and Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby’
Do you have a title for the new album?
JL: Time Out For Tomorrow, which I think really captures the whole album – I don’t know why, but the title feels right. I’m really excited about the new record – I’m very proud of it. I really think it’s the best record I’ve made so far. It’s a cross between Early Riser and Nonsense and Heartache sound-wise and it’s very concise – songwriting-wise, performance-wise, arrangement-wise and sequence-wise. We went in with 18 songs, focused on about 15, then cut it down to 12 and 10 made it. Some of the songs that didn’t make it are some of the best, but they didn’t fit. It was like putting together a puzzle. I like records that are rough around the edges, but with this one I took a little more care putting those puzzle pieces together.
I can’t wait to hear the new album and I’m looking forward to you coming back to the UK.
JL: I’ve got to keep coming here and that’s what I plan to do. I’m sure we’ll be back before the end of the year.
Jerry Leger & The Situation are currently touring Europe. For more information, please visit https://jerryleger.com/ .
The compilation album Too Broke To Die – a limited edition retrospective (2005-2019) is available to purchase at the gigs. It’s on Golden Rocket Records.
Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we’ve been fans of Wesley Fuller since we heard his debut EP Melvista, a killer collection of crunching power-pop, ’80s New Wave synth sounds and anthemic glam rock songs, when it was released in the summer of 2016.
The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter followed it up a year later with the album Inner City Dream , which was more of the same, but with some added ’60s psych and vintage electro pop.
On a cold, wet night in November last year, 28-year-old Wesley played his first ever show outside of Australia – in South London, at The Windmill in a Brixton backstreet. And we were there…
During an exclusive interview before the gig, he told us that he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he needn’t have worried, as he and his band played a storming set to an appreciative crowd. It was easily one of our favourite shows of last year.
We spoke to him about having great glam rock hair, growing up in Perth and moving to the ‘bright lights’ of Melbourne to pursue his inner city dream, and recording his debut album in his bedroom…
“I’ve never played a show outside of Australia – it’s very exciting and a little bit scary,” says Melbourne singer-songwriter Wesley Fuller, sat on a sofa in the tatty backstage area of The Windmill pub, in Brixton, South London, on a cold and wet night in late November. It’s a few hours before the first gig on his UK and European tour.
Say It With Garage Flowers apologises for the awful British weather, but, as Wesley points out: “Melbourne weather isn’t that much better to be honest – it’s quite like London. It’s interesting to get an experience of what a gig is like in a different country. A lot of music is the same, but the surroundings are different… I don’t really know what to expect…”
You were born in Perth, but you moved to Melbourne in 2013. The title of your debut album is Inner City Dream, from the song of the same name. Did the title come from the idea of you wanting to move from Perth to Melbourne to pursue your dream of becoming a successful musician?
Wesley Fuller: Spot on. The whole reason I wanted to leave Perth was to reach the bright lights of Melbourne. I left Perth at the start of 2013 – Perth is quite a small, isolated city and I lived out in the suburbs. I wanted to live in the entertainment area of Melbourne – the inner city – and move to a place where I didn’t know anyone.
What was the music scene like when you were growing up in Perth?
WF: There are a lot of great bands in Perth and a good music scene, but it’s on a small scale – the city is isolated, so you can’t really tour. I’ve always loved the idea of touring with a band – getting in a van and driving around to different places. You can’t do that in Perth – you have to fly across to the other side of the country.
So you moved to Melbourne…
WF: Yes. I lived in Fitzroy, which is an inner-city suburb of Melbourne, for a couple of years, but I realised that it was a little bit overrated. I was paying so much for my rent that I didn’t have any money to spend on going out to places…
The album is one where I’m at a crossroads – ‘what do I want to do? Do I want this inner city life, or is it just an illusion? Do I want a quieter life out in the suburbs?’
What’s the scene like in Melbourne? Do you feel a part of it, or are you out on your own?
WF: I’m definitely out on my own – I’ve never really felt part of a scene, but I’ve tried to create one. Melbourne is very much a trending city – trends come and go – but there are lots of different little scenes. I’ve found it a lot more promising than Perth because you can find an audience.
‘I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!’
Let’s talk more about the album. Was it written in Perth or Melbourne?
WF: Most of the songs were written in Melbourne in my first year there – I was in a new environment, feeling and experiencing new things. I had a very creative period there.
Did the album come together quite naturally?
WF: Most of it came together how I wanted it to because I was doing it myself from my bedroom studio – I produced it myself. I was lucky enough to have quite a large bedroom and I set up all my instruments in there, so it was like a mini studio. I did everything, apart from a few lead guitar parts, and some backing vocals. I wanted to do it by myself and, luckily, my band were very understanding. I’m not a trained sound engineer but there was an element of experimentation – I did have a clear idea of the sound that I wanted to achieve.
Your influences include power-pop, psych, New Wave, electronic music, glam rock and ’60s pop, like The Zombies, The Beatles and The Beachboys. When you were growing up were you into ’60s and ’70s music? Did your parents get you into old stuff?
WF: I’ve gone through different phases, but it certainly hasn’t come from my parents – we never had The Beatles playing in the house. My parents are still quite young – they were more into ’80s stuff, but I wasn’t into that. I got into ’60s music because no one else I knew was getting into it. Once I discovered it, I thought it was awesome!
You’ve also added some vintage electro sounds to the ’60s and ’70s influences…
WF: I’ve always loved ’60s music, but once I started DJing, that opened me up to a lot of different eras and sounds, like funk and New Wave and glam, so I started listening to songs in a different way – from a dancing and production perspective. I used to listen to songs for melodies or harmonies – that pure ’60s vibe…
There’s quite a groove on some of your songs…
WF: Yeah. I DJ’d for clubs most weekends and I run a night in Melbourne called KICKS.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Someone To Walk Around With is a great rock ‘n’ roll tune, with big guitars and organ, but Skyways and Morality are more electro-pop, with retro synth sounds… This isn’t just a power-pop album, is it? There are different styles on it?
WF: The album is hard to classify or label under one genre or sound. I’ve always liked those albums that have different styles. They have an overbearing sound that ties them together, but they showcase different influences. As this was my first record, I wanted to lay everything out on the table: ‘this is my sound and this is what I can do’…
‘I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair’
Morality came from listening to a lot of early ’80s New Wave and so did Skyways, with the synth on it, but there’s also a Motown beat on Skyways. When I recorded the EP, [Melvista] I was mainly listening to glam.
You have great glam rock hair…
WF: I went through a phase when I tried to be a mod, but it’s hard when you have curly hair.
Marc Bolan, who had curly hair, started off as a mod…
WF: Marc Bolan could’ve pulled anything off..
One of my favourite songs on the album is Wish You Would. It has a ’60s psych-pop feel and reminds me of The Zombies and The Beachboys…
WF: I wanted to have one song on the album that was almost like a tribute to The Mamas and the Papas – I’ve always loved ’60s harmonies. I began writing that song when I was in Perth, in the summer of 2012. It was hot and the song has that kind of summery vibe.
This is your first tour of the UK and Europe. Have you built up a good following in Melbourne?
WF: Yeah, but you’ve got stay active to keep them interested. I haven’t reached cult status yet!
You’re only young – you’ve only had one album out…
WF: Yeah – exactly. Hopefully by the second one…
Have you made plans for the next record?
WF: Yeah – I’ve written the bulk of it and I’ve already recorded the drums for some of the songs. I start with the drums and then I build it up from there, bit by bit. I have six or seven full songs written that I want to have on the next album, but there are three or four that I’m a bit iffy about, so I’ll see how they turn out. I’m definitely hoping to have a new record out in 2019 – I’ve got to start dedicating more time to it. That’s the hardest thing, because I have a full-time job. I work for a law firm. I used up all my annual leave to record the first album. I’m aiming to have a record out in late 2019. Fingers crossed that will work out.
What do you think it will sound like?
WF: It will still have the same kind of influences, but I’d like to try a few different things production-wise. We’ll just see what happens…
Case Hardin frontman Pete Gow’s first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens, is a brilliant collection of stripped-down, intimate and very personal songs, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, brass, piano, drums and organ.
For his first interview to promote the record, Say It With Garage Flowers met him for a pint. Subjects on the agenda included string sections, tattoos, relationships, Stormy Daniels and Shane MacGowan…
Pete Gow is sat in Trinity bar in Harrow, North West London, nursing a pint of lager. The last time he was here was in late 2017, when he played a solo acoustic We Shall Overcome anti-austerity charity show for Say It With Garage Flowers.
At that gig, one of the songs he aired was the folky Some Old Jacobite King, which now features on his first solo album, Here There’s No Sirens – albeit in a radically different version.
In fact the new record that we’re here to talk about is a surprising departure for Pete, who fronts UK Americana / alt-country band Case Hardin. Sure, lyrically it’s sometimes dark and often left of centre – like the songs we know him for – but this is a deeply personal and confessional record, and, musically, it explores new territory for Pete – gone are the big electric guitars, old fashioned rock and roll, Springsteen-like anthems and kicked-around country songs of Case Hardin’s 2015’s album Colours Simple. Instead, this is a record of stripped-down acoustic songs, with stirring string arrangements, fleshed out by piano, brass, organ and drums.
We’re reminded of when US Americana singer-songwriter Chris Mills – who just so happens to be a friend of Pete’s – made his 2005 album The Wall To Wall Sessions – a masterpiece that featured lush orchestration and horns.
Opener One Last One NightStand sets the tone for most of Here There’s No Sirens – it’s a big, honest, relationship ballad with a breathtaking cinematic backing, while the song Mikaela sounds like early Ryan Adams, but with mournful horns and sweeping violins.
There are also character songs – the majestic Some Old Jacobite King is steeped in the storytelling tradition and was inspired by a trip to the remote Isle of Skye, while Strip For Me centres on a guy who treats women in a thoroughly unpleasant way – and it name checks porn actress and stripper Stormy Daniels, who has been involved in a scandal with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Joe Bennett, (Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Raving Beauties / Paul McClure) at Farm Music Studios in Oxfordshire and out in April on Clubhouse Records, Here There’s No Sirens is a stunning record that’s both beautiful and unsettling.
At times, it can be uncomfortable to listen to, as Pete shares raw emotions and intimate relationship details over dramatic orchestral backing. Does he think it will surprise people who are used to hearing Case Hardin?
“I hope it will,” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers, sipping his pint. “So often when you hear a solo record by people who front bands where the lead singer is the creative force behind them – like the manner in which I front Case Hardin – the differences are quite marginal and it’s just a little bit more acoustic. I really put a lot of thought into how I wanted this album to be different. Even if people don’t like it, nobody can say that it’s just a Case Hardin-lite record…”
Q & A
This is your first solo album. What prompted the move to make a record on your own?
Pete Gow: I was trying to get Case Hardin to make a record last year. It was written – it was even overwritten – I had 15 or 16 songs, but we just weren’t able to make it happen for a whole world of reasons. Sometimes five grown men just can’t get their shit together to make a record happen.
So I started about thinking what I should do – the concept of making a solo record had never occurred to me. I thought about us doing an EP – something that would tide Case Hardin over, as it had been two years since we released our Colours Simple album. Bands like us live or die on new products – not to mention the fact that I’d been writing for a long time and needed to find an outlet for it.
When I realised that the Case Hardin thing wasn’t going to happen, there were three or four songs in that pile that I’d always wondered what the hell Case Hardin would do with them anyway?
The whole thing just came about in almost 24 hours. I spoke to Joe and he was into it, and I spoke to Clubhouse Records, who were expecting a new Case Hardin record, and they said that if I could turn the three or four tracks into an album, they’d be interested in it. So then I wrote the rest of the album in a couple of weeks.
This record is a big departure from the Case Hardin sound – it’s stripped-down ballads, with acoustic guitar, orchestral arrangements, piano, trumpet, piano, organ and drums…
PG: I’m the main songwriter in Case Hardin and we have a sound that’s reasonably distinctive, so I had to find a way of making the album a proper solo project.
I went to Joe and said, ‘here’s what I want to do’ – I didn’t want any guitars on it, but I wanted strings and piano and drums, with everything else stripped-out. Joe was brilliant – he listened to the demos and said, ‘I’ll meet you halfway’.
‘I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record’
He wanted to keep the acoustic guitar, because that’s how the songs were written and it’s what drives them along, but there’s no lead guitar on the record.
I didn’t want to short-change anybody – I didn’t want people who came to my solo record to find that it was just like a Case Hardin album, but with different musicians playing on it… I didn’t want to make a Case Hardin record and I knew that Joe could do strings – he’s done some wonderful work on albums that I’m familiar with. I play all the acoustic guitars on the record, the drums are by Fin Kenny and Joe plays everything else.
Even the backing vocals? I thought they were female…
PG: I’ll tell him that!
You made the record last year. How was the recording process?
PG: There were two short sessions of four or five days each in the middle of last year. We did it slightly differently to the way in which records are usually made – I laid down the guitar and then I’d put a guide vocal over the top of it. Then we brought Fin in, who had two days to work through the tracks. Joe wrote melody parts on a violin and then recorded the strings – it was all real instruments. He also wrote the various harmony parts.
The whole experience was very different – when we make a Case Hardin record, it always sounds like a 100 per cent better version of what I knew it was going to sound like in my head – a beautiful, shining, brilliant and more fully realised version.
With this record, I handed the acoustic guitar, vocals and drum tracks over to Joe and he then built the string arrangements. There are a few songs – One Last One Night Stand and TV Reruns – which have big, long, instrumental sections. If I were writing those for a Case Hardin record, I wouldn’t have made them so repetitive and so long.
‘I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29’
One Last One Night Stand was the first track Joe sent back to me and I knew then that it was going to be a great project. Joe has produced this album in the fullest and most traditional sense. He understood the content and took all of the songs to a place that was beyond my comprehension. That’s what he brought to this record. When Joe sent the tracks back to me, I was blindsided – they almost sounded like other people’s songs.
What were you listening to when you made this album? What were the musical influences?
PG: I told Joe that I wanted this record to sound like Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and most of Ryan Adams’ 29. He said, ‘I’ve heard neither of those records and I’m not going to listen to them!’ It sounds nothing like either of them.
Joe and I was a wonderful juxtaposition – I had these ideas of what I didn’t want it to sound like, and the influences I did want to draw on, but all he wanted to do was to make the best record possible. Sometimes that fell into line and sometimes it didn’t – sometimes I managed to persuade him to make changes and sometimes change for change’s sake wasn’t the right thing to do. It was a very fulfilling relationship.
It’s a very personal album – emotionally raw and confessional. It’s naked Pete Gow – often in more than one sense of the word, but we’ll come to that later…
Let’s talk about some of the songs. The opener, One Last One Night Stand, features the lines, ‘We don’t need to die here on this beach – we don’t need this sand to wipe blood off our hands…’ This is dark territory, isn’t it?
PG: It’s just my way into relationship songs. I’ve always tried to find that slightly left of centre way into any situation. If there’s anybody who likes the way I write, then I’m guessing it tends to be because of stuff like that.
One Last One Night Stand – like a lot of the album – shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in. I’m certainly in a place that I never expected to be in so comfortably that it would reflect in the music that I’m making.
One Last One Night Stand is just a slightly left of centre way of realising that that’s where I am. It was one of the songs that I wrote for the record – it hadn’t been written previously and it was one of the last ones I wrote. I realised where the record was going and it sets the tone for the project, which I why I put it at the beginning. ‘Here’s where I am – now go and listen to the rest of the record and you’ll realise…’
‘A lot of the album shows that I’m in a relationship and a place that I never expected myself to be in’
It’s an album that’s very relationship-heavy, isn’t it? Some of your Case Hardin songs feature characters, and, although there are characters on this record, most of the songs are personal, aren’t they? They’re about you and the relationship you’re in…
PG: Yes. Apart from possibly Some Old Jacobite King, which is a story song, this album is self-contained and doesn’t really stray from its mandate or remit. Over the course of 40 minutes you need something like Some Old Jacobite King to pull you away… nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship! [he laughs].
The second song on the album, Mikaela, is my favourite track, largely for the great line: ‘Songs are like tattoos – you should think before you name one after a girl…’ That’s a rare moment of humour in one of your songs…
PG: It is – if you listen to my records, you’ll know that.
Have you got any tattoos of girls’ names?
PG: I haven’t, but it’s that famous thing, isn’t it? Get a tattoo of a girl’s name that been spelt wrong…
That song was never intended to be put on a record, but it suddenly became indicative of this whole album, which is relationship-based, more than anything else I’ve ever done. The song was written for her [Mikaela]. There are references in it that you might think shouldn’t be put on an album for people to hear…
The sexual stuff? Well, I did say it was a naked record…
PG: Literally and figuratively. That’s why that song sits so beautifully next to One Last One Night Stand… ‘Hold on, what’s he saying here? Oh – OK, this is why…’
That was a song that was written for the Case Hardin record, but when I sent it to the band I thought, ‘what the hell are we going to do with this?’ I just didn’t want to throw a load of guitars over the top of it and turn it into alt-country by numbers.
I really like the brass on it – it’s mournful, like a New Orleans funeral band…
PG: Yes, but slightly Mariachi as well – the trumpet was slightly buried in the string section originally, but it got pulled out and pushed front and centre in the final mix.
‘Nobody wants to just sit and listen to me and my relationship!’
From one sexual song to another… Next up we have Strip For Me, which could possibly be the first song to name check Stormy Daniels…
PG: It could well be. The song is nothing to do with her, but it’s about the underbelly of the male perspective of relationships – something I’ve written about at other points in my career.
It’s a character song, isn’t it?
The opening lines are very uncomfortable. There’s a fictional male protagonist who says to a woman: ‘Do you think you’re one of those girls too beautiful to hurt, too beautiful to cheat on? There’s no girl too beautiful for that’…
PG: That horrible guy would quite easily just see a porn star and remember her name – ‘Strip for me, like Stormy Daniels’ – without really realising who this woman is.
It’s a pop culture reference – it’s had an odd reception already. It’s one of the few songs I’ve played live – I did some acoustic shows with Jason McNiff and I road tested some songs. Whenever I played Strip For Me, people burst out laughing… I was like, ‘shit!’
I obviously don’t think through the consequences of these things when I’m writing, but it will be interesting to see if people can peel back the layers, rather than just hearing that woman’s name. I wouldn’t want it to turn into some kind of joke or parody song – it’s not. I used her name to underline the stupidity of the guy in the first verse.
‘I hope history will be a lot kinder to Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency’
I guess the reason I left the reference in is because I hope history will be a lot kinder to people like Stormy Daniels and realise that she’s quite a significant character in the theatre that is the Trump presidency. The second verse is supposed to be the woman talking about the guy…
Strip For Me is going to be the preview digital single from the album, so let’s really see what people make of it…
The title track, Here There’s No Sirens, contains a lyrical reference to the Pogues song, A Rainy Night In Soho, playing on the radio, and there’s also a snippet of the song in the outro…
PG: It’s a song about just finding yourself in the kitchen, with a radio playing your favourite song. I’ve given Shane MacGowan a co-writing credit – the song was originally intended for the Case Hardin record and I think they could’ve done something with it.
When I was finishing writing it and demoing it, I thought, ‘what key am I in? This is almost A Rainy Night In Soho’, so I slightly changed the guitar pattern and the style of the strum. I put a little bit of swing into it and changed the key.
The original demo was me playing it into my phone, with the last verse of A Rainy Night In Soho playing on my stereo. I’m a huge Pogues fan – that song is the one to slap people around the face with when they say the Pogues are just a bunch of drunks and that MacGowan is not a good writer…
Why is Here There’s No Sirens the title track?
PG: On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album – never titling a record after a song and never having our images on the front cover. I wanted to name the record after a song and the cover art is a picture of me by an artist from Edinburgh called Veronica Casey – she painted it many years ago. This album is a case of me unticking a lot of boxes for reasons only known to myself…
‘On this album I deliberately set out to do a few subtle things that I wouldn’t have done on a Case Hardin album’
You’re launching the album at a special London show in the Network Theatre, Waterloo on April 6, where you’ll be joined by The Siren Strinqs quartet…
PG: It’s a community theatre and it’s a beautiful space. Clubhouse Records and Joe wanted people to realise that this album is something different, so we have the Siren Strings – it’s not just me and a guitar. The show will be me, Joe, Tristan Tipping [Clubhouse Records and Paul McClure and The Local Heroes] on bass, Fin on drums, and the string quartet.
There are two supports – Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole [Starry Eyed and Laughing and Bennett Wilson Poole]. Tony mastered my record. We’re going to play the album and there will be one or two little surprises on the night.We’re also going to play at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue [April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe].
Finally, let’s talk about Case Hardin. Any plans for a new album?
PG: It’s written – we’re going into the studio as soon as we can. I think we’re going to start recording it in June and then get it out by June the following year.
What can we expect it to sound like?
PG: Looking at the solo project and knowing that I didn’t want electric guitars on it – and looking at the songs I’ve taken away from Case Hardin for my record – you’re left with something that will quite organically be a collection of much shorter, punchier, louder songs.
There won’t be anything on there as expansive as Poets Corner [the eight-minute album opener from Colours Simple], and I also won’t feel the need to put on tracks like High Rollers and Cheap Streaks From A Bottle [also fromColours Simple].
I think the next Case Hardin album, will, by default, be louder and punchier, and we can zone in on what many people think Case Hardin do best.
Pete Gow’s Here There’s No Sirens will be released on April 5 on Clubhouse Records. There will be an album launch show with The Siren Strings quartet on April 6 at The Network Theatre, London Waterloo, with support from Lucy Kitt and Tony Poole. Tickets are available here.
Pete Gow and The Siren Strings will also be playing at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue festival (April 12-14, Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe).
It’s a hell of a ride, mixing Cash-like country with afistful of Spaghetti Western songs, Mariachi brass, haunting harmonica and Morricone moodiness.
Say It With Garage Flowers invited her to an Italian café in North London to talk retribution and revenge, women in cowboy films and her favourite Western soundtracks and movies, and to tell us how her and her gang of outlaws made the album.
We wanted to go to Nashville, Almeria or Cinecittà, but we couldn’t afford it – if only we’d had a few dollars more…
Over a cup of tea in an Italian café in North London – Mario’s in Camden – Sarah Vista is telling Say It With Garage Flowers where her love of Spaghetti Westerns and cowboy culture comes from. And, just to clarify, she hasn’t brought her guns to town…
“There are photos of me when I was three years old, sat on a rocking horse, in front of a Western film. I liked the music and I thought I was in the movies. That’s a strong memory for me. When I was a child, I used to think, ‘why is it always men in Westerns?’ It’s a little fantasy I had…” she says, smiling.
“The hero – the person who strides in and saves the day – is always male. It’s not a man’s world anymore, it’s a man’s and a woman’s world – there should be a fair amount of women taking their share of the gold…”
Q & A
Women are often portrayed as victims in Westerns, rather than heroines, aren’t they? Do you feel they’re misrepresented in cowboy films?
Sarah Vista: I do, but there are a couple of strong women, like Calamity Jane [Doris Day] and Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, who’s incredible – I was heavily influenced by her when I was a kid. There are also some softer female characters, like Helen Ramirez, who is played by Katy Jurado in High Noon, and Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time In The West, who comes across as having a hard time, but is actually a strong central character [Jill McBain].
‘My songs are delivered with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek – contrary to popular belief, I’ve never actually killed anyone!’
With that in mind, some of your songs, like Madame Moustache and Belle Starr, feature strong and violent women, who don’t suffer fools gladly and are out to get revenge on men who’ve wronged them. Should I be worried?
SV: [She laughs]. My songs are delivered with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek – contrary to popular belief, I’ve never actually killed anyone! Putting stuff in songs is a form of therapy for me. It’s nice to be able to express myself in a fantasy way – anyone who’s been wronged or treated badly probably has those feelings from time to time. The theme of the album is about retribution rather than revenge. I’m not bitter – I’m just holding people to account for their bullshit and putting it out there.
I’ve had so many women approach me about my songs and lyrics – they get it. I had a difficult past and upbringing and with the Sarah Vista character, I wanted to set some things straight.
When you’re performing on stage, you go into character, don’t you?
SV: Yeah – I guess so. When I was growing up, I struggled with confidence and I wanted to turn the tables on that. I’ve finally found a character that I’m comfortable with exploring and I’m going to stick with it.
When you were growing up, did your parents like music and films?
SV: My dad was a film buff and my mum was a massive music fan – she was obsessed with Elvis – and she has the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard. As a child, I used to sing with her.
Music’s always been there – when I was growing up I used to steal my mum’s guitar all the time and try and play it. I really wanted my own guitar. I started learning to play on her guitar when I was 12 – my mum bunged me a Bob Dylan album and said, ‘if you can work out how to play that, I’ll get you a guitar’. Four or five hours later, I’d worked out the chords by ear. She said, ‘four hours? I was hoping it would be four years – I haven’t got any money to buy you a guitar’. That went on for ages.
About a year later, after I’d worked out some Hendrix licks, she saw that I was serious about it and she bought me one – she saved up for a long time. I locked myself in my room for the rest of my childhood and started writing songs.
‘I had a difficult past and upbringing – with the Sarah Vista character, I wanted to set some things straight’
In the late ‘90s, I joined a band called Suck Baby Suck as a guitarist – I played with David Scinto, who wrote the scripts for the film Sexy Beast, Gangster No.1 and 44 Inch Chest.
I started writing songs with him – we were a great band. We had a good adventure together – it was garagey. I kind of outgrew it – I was young and naïve and I wanted to do more and move faster, so I walked away from it.
I tried a load of bits and pieces, but nothing came together, so I wrote my own album and I released it independently, but it fell on deaf ears – it was punk, but it had my stamp on it. We all have to start somewhere…
I also did a single with Paul Kaye called Live Sex On Stage – he did it as his character, Mike Strutter – we had a great laugh doing that.
When I first met you, five or six years ago, you were fronting a rockabilly band called Viva Le Pink…
SV: I set that up with the intention of having an all-female rhythm and blues / rockabilly band, with a horn section, but it didn’t quite pan out… I wasn’t feeling it, so I quit my own band. The Sarah Vista thing had been bubbling under for a long time.
Let’s talk about your debut album as Sarah Vista – Killing Fever…
SV: I decided I was going to make a Western soundtrack, in the style of my favourite records – the ultimate project.
Cleverly, the album is split into two different genres – Country and Western. One side is country songs, but the other is Spaghetti Western-flavoured…
SV: I didn’t set out to do that – I set out to make a Western record. I wrote about 26 songs in the space of four of five weeks! It was natural – the songs kept coming out. I was, like, hold your horses!
I see what you did there…
SV: My imagination ran away with me. The Western thing was natural, but the country thing… Someone once said, ‘you don’t choose country music, it chooses you’… I thought that was lovely. I definitely didn’t set out to make a country record, but there’s a lot of darkness in country music and that fits with me… Everyone was doing country, but no one was doing the Western side of it.
‘I definitely didn’t set out to make a country record, but there’s a lot of darkness in country music and that fits with me’
You rounded up a gang of outlaws to help you make the album, didn’t you?
SV: I worked with Adie Hardy, who produced it – he’s a friend and I’ve worked with him a lot. I also found a drummer who’s a country fan [Tom Meadows] – he’s actually Kylie Minogue’s drummer – and my friend, Philip Doyle, recommended a lapsteel player called Jeff Mead. Jeff and I have started writing together.
Emma Goss [double bass] was also recommended by Philip Doyle – she’s great. I also worked with Terry Edwards [trumpet and baritone sax], who’s played with Nick Cave and Tom Waits – he’s an incredible musician and he’s really added something to the record. Johnny Trouble [harmonica] recorded his parts in Germany, where he has his own studio.
Was it an enjoyable album to make?
SV: It was fantastic! It took two years to make. I had no money, so we did it in studio downtime at Unit 2 Studios in Acton, London.
You released the album on your own label, Gallow Romantic. Are you going to put out records by other artists?
SV: That’s my plan. There’s so much good stuff that goes under the radar because the industry is so up its own arse, it’s chasing its tail.
You’ve also been working on a soundtrack for a Spaghetti Western film, haven’t you?
SV: Yes, but you’d actually class it as a Paella Western, as the director’s Spanish. He’s a guy called Danny Garcia – he did the music documentaries The Rise and Fall of The Clash and Looking For Johnny – the Johnny Thunders biopic.
A friend of mine, Ray Gange, who was lead actor in Rudeboy, got a part in a Western film that Danny was doing. I was like, ‘what the fuck? Get me on the soundtrack!’
‘For me and my music, this year is going to be good, but for my naysayers it’s going to be very bad and, politically, it’s looking pretty ugly’
He said, ‘he’s already done the soundtrack’. I said, ‘no – he hasn’t!’ So I sent Danny some short clips of three songs and he said he wanted them in the movie and he’d make room for them. The film’s called The Price of Death and my song Killing Fever is the opening track. You can see the back of my head in the film… It’s due out soon.
I got to go to Almeria in Spain, where Sergio Leone shot his classic movies – the sets from the ‘70s are still there. It’s amazing! I’ve also been asked to do something else, but I’m keeping that firmly under my Stetson at the moment…
So, is the year ahead going to be good, bad or ugly?
SV: For me and my music, it’s going to be good, but for my naysayers it’s going to be very bad and, politically, it’s looking pretty ugly. You’ve got to hold on to what’s good in the world, do cool stuff, keep people entertained and stay close to the good folk.
Can I ask you to choose your top five favourite Spaghetti Western films and Top five Western soundtracks?
SV: I can’t put them in order, but my favourite films are A Fistful of Dollars– it has a revolutionary soundtrack and it created the Spaghetti Western sound; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – it’s a tense epic and if you don’t like it, you must have something missing; Django by Sergio Corbucci – it’s a classic – and Once Upon A Time In The West – another classic. The last film is The Great Silence from 1968 – Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a mute gunfighter and Klaus Kinski is the bad guy – a bounty killer. He’s so creepy. It’s an epic film and it’s set in the snow.
For my soundtracks, I’m going to choose A Fistful of Dollars; Once Upon A Time In The West – for the harmonica and Jill’s Theme, with the operatic female vocals; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for The Ecstasy of Gold; The Great Silence, which is an overlooked Morricone masterpiece – I think it’s one of his best works – and here’s a wild card, the Django soundtrack by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. It has Rocky Roberts vocals, electric guitar and a ’60s and ’70s feel to it. Tarantino used it in Django Unchained.
Do you think your next album will have a more expansive and experimental sound?
SV: For the first one, I had to rein it in a bit, but for the next album I might let it all hang out and disappear down a Spaghetti Western rabbit hole!
Sarah Vista’s Killing Fever is out now on Gallow Romantic. For more info, visit https://www.sarahvista.com . See the Spotify playlist below for some of her essential Spaghetti Western soundtracks.