‘I always try to write with unflinching honesty – it’s quite therapeutic to be honest’

Matt McManamon
Matt McManamon

One of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite albums of the year so far is Scally Folk – the debut solo record by Matt McManamon, the former frontman of noughties Scouse ska-punkers The Dead 60s.

Don’t expect to be skanking to it, though – his first release in 13 years, it’s a strong collection of reflective and autobiographical songs that are steeped in the tradition of Irish folk music – Liverpool-born McManamon’s family are from County Mayo – as well as the jangly Scouse indie sound of The La’s, and the Wirral psych-pop of The Coral, who were former Deltasonic label mates of The Dead 60s.

McManamon’s new single, Mulranny Smile, is a haunting, folky ballad that’s shrouded in Celtic sea mist, and if Lee Mavers had had tunes like What About You?, Out Of Time and Every Time I Close My Eyes up his sleeve, that second La’s album might’ve actually come out and been another classic.

“Traditional Irish folk, Scouse power-pop, classic ‘90s indie, West Coast American pop-punk and Americana have all influenced this record greatly,” McManamon tells us, in an exclusive interview.

“I think anyone who is aware of my musical past, and the type of music I have been previously associated with, will definitely be surprised, but I’m fairly confident it will be a welcome one.”

Q&A

Where are you and how’s it going?

Matt McManamon: I divide my time between the west coast and east coast of Ireland, but today I’m currently on the east coast in County Wexford. And it’s all going mightily.

You’re just about to release your debut solo album, Scally Folk, which is your first new music since your previous band, The Dead 60s, split up in 2008. What have you been up to since then and why has it taken 13 years to put a record out? Did you give up on music?

MM: Quite soon after The Dead 60s split, I moved back to my family’s ancestral home, in Ireland, and have been here ever since. I wouldn’t say I gave up on music, but I definitely did take a somewhat unwanted hiatus. I was always chipping away behind the scenes, and attempting various musical projects and activities, but, to be honest, they never came to fruition and barely made it out of the bedroom. That was largely down to confidence issues, which stemmed from The Dead 60s being dropped. I was definitely suffering from two issues in particular: fear of failure and fear of completion.

Through lack of confidence, I was unable to get anything over the finish line. I did, however, avail of the wonderful opportunity that was presented to me a few years back, when I was asked to join The Specials, as a live touring guitarist. That proved to be the first step in me re-finding my confidence and passion for music. It was a long slow process, but I’m pleased to tell you, I’m now firing on all cylinders again.

‘I wouldn’t say I gave up on music, but I definitely did take a somewhat unwanted hiatus’

Scally Folk took 13 years to come out, but only 14 days to record. How were the recording sessions at the Transmission Rooms studio in Drumlish, County Longford, Ireland?

MM: The sessions were wonderful – extremely productive. The studio itself is a great place to work and to get creative. Confidence was high and the results were achieved effortlessly.

Mick Cronin (Shane MacGowan, Kodeline) produced the record. How was it working with him? What did he bring to the process?

MM: Mick is a dear friend of mine – we’ve known each other for many years. I definitely had a firm idea and vision of how I wanted it to sound, and, in truth, we achieved it and more. It’s fair to say it eclipsed my expectations.

This was down to the invaluable input and musicianship – not only from Mick, but also from guitarist Vinny Redmond, bassist Enda Mulloy, keyboardist Dave Cox, multi-instrumentalist Kane O’Rourke, and whistle and box player, Andy Nolan. All of those people massively helped to shape the vision and sound of the songs.

Did Covid-19 affect your recording plans?

MM: We started the record on July 2 2020, which also happens to be my birthday. I took that as a great omen. In-between lockdown and travel restrictions, due to Covid-19, we did four sessions, lasting three days each, and then a final two days to put it to bed. That accumulated to 14 days’ total recording. It was all signed off, fully recorded, mixed and mastered by November 2020.

 

‘We started the record on July 2 2020, which is my birthday. I took that as a great omen’

One of my friends, singer-songwriter, John Murry, sings backing vocals on the album. How did you hook up with him?

MM: John just happened to be hanging around the studio, as he had recently completed a session there himself. We quite quickly hit it off, and we have become good friends. We regularly hang out and have some wicked conversations about music. He was highly enthusiastic and complimentary about my songs, as I am of his, so it just made sense to get him singing backing vocals on the album. I asked and he agreed – job done!

The record has Irish and Liverpudlian influences – trad folk and psych-power-pop. There’s a big nod to your roots, isn’t there?

MM: Yes – 100 per cent. I grew up in south Liverpool, in an Irish family that stems from County Mayo. I’ve always considered myself Liverpool-Irish, or Scouse-Irish, and I was very keen to get that point across on the record.

Liverpool power-pop and traditional Irish folk music, have, from an early age, been a great influence on me. I wanted to reflect that in the songs musically and lyrically, which I think I’ve managed to successfully do. I love the idea of flying the flag for Liverpool and Ireland. Hopefully that comes across.

The songs are autobiographical, aren’t they?

MM: Yes – everything I write about is something I’ve done, seen, or experienced. I always try to write with unflinching honesty and, in part, write about difficult subjects or situations that life has a habit of throwing at us. It’s quite therapeutic to be honest.

‘Liverpool power-pop and traditional Irish folk music, have, from an early age, been a great influence on me’

What’s your songwriting process?

MM: I write the songs at home on acoustic guitar, and once the general structure and blueprint is in place, I then bring it to my dear friend, guitarist and musical partner in crime, Vinny Redmond. We then set about finessing the songs by coming up with extra melodies, guitar parts and backing vocals. Lastly, they’re then brought to the wider group of musicians, before we set about recording them.

Were any of the songs old ones, or did you write them all for this album?

MM: There was a mixture of both. There are a couple of songs that were first written approximately 13 years ago, after the dissolution of The Dead 60s, yet there are also songs that were written literally a week before I commenced recording.

I tend not to ‘try’ and write songs – when they come to me, they come to me. The second album is already written and has been partially demoed. As bizarre as this may sound, I never once sat down to ‘write’ the second album. The songs just came out of me super-quick and with the utmost of ease.

What were your main influences for this album musical, or otherwise?

MM: Geographically speaking, Liverpool and Ireland are huge influences, as well as personal life experience. Musically speaking, traditional Irish folk, Scouse power-pop, classic ‘90s indie, West Coast American pop-punk and Americana have all influenced this record greatly.

‘The second album is already written.The songs just came out of me super-quick and with the utmost of ease’

Do you think the record will surprise people?

MM: I think anyone who is aware of my musical past, and the type of music I have been previously associated with, will definitely be surprised, but I’m fairly confident it will be a welcome one.

Tell me about the title of the album. It has a nice double meaning…

MM: The title came out of a conversation I had with Mick Cronin, when I started doing music professionally again. I would find myself constantly being asked, “What does it sound like?” I always struggled to give any kind of definitive answer.

One day, Mick said to me: “It’s dead easy – it sounds like scally folk”, and with that, not only did I have an album title, but quite possibly a new genre of music. I particularly liked the way it also gave a firm nod to my Liverpool-Irish roots.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the record. What can you tell me about the first track, Gaslighting? It has some faint echoes of ska – a nod to your Dead 60s – past, doesn’t it?

MM: Yes it does, but that came about by accident. I’d initially intended that song to have a more straight-ish ‘indie’ feel to it, but once we started laying it down in the studio, Vinny came up with the idea of setting off a counter offbeat rhythm to my rhythm guitar, and it just worked fabulously.

I think that throughout the record there are some subconscious nods to The Dead 60s. That was never my intention, but The Dead 60s was a big part of me and who I am, so it stands to reason that hints of the past would invariably seep through.

What about the new single, Mulranny Smile? What can you tell me about that? It has a traditional Irish folk feel. What inspired it?

MM: Mulranny Smile is a dreamy, pure Celtic soul tribute to my grandfather, which also gives a firm nod to a place I came to call home – the picturesque coastal village of Mulranny. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my love for the west coast of Ireland and County Mayo, so the goal was also to immortalise the place in a song.

The song Liberty Shore is in a similar folky vein, isn’t it?

MM: Yes – it has a similar vibe. That song is actually about leaving London for a better future. It’s definitely inspired by some of the great Irish emigrant folk songs that I would’ve heard constantly as a youngster.

One of my favourite songs on the record is Out Of Time. It has a power-pop feel and a big, infectious chorus. I think there’s a La’s and Coral sound to it too. Jumpin’ The Gun comes from a similar place, doesn’t it, as does Every Time I Close My Eyes. I really like the sound of those songs – they’re great, melodic, jangly guitar pop.

MM: Out Of Time was one of the first songs to really spring into life while recording Scally Folk. It was originally intended to sound like a gypsy-esque folk song, but it took on a new lease of life – especially once we cranked up the guitars. It organically morphed into a Liverpool power-pop monster, as did Jumpin’ The Gun.

 

Every Time I Close My Eyes came out exactly how I envisaged it. Being likened to The Coral or The La’s is definitely no bad thing – it’s something I welcome. And, of course, The Coral were my old label mates.

Here Comes The Fear could be a prequel to There Goes The Fear by Doves, couldn’t it?

MM: That song was actually my attempt to sound like Simon & Garfunkel – again it just organically grew during the recording process. It actually did play on my mind that the title was similar to the Doves song, but musically it isn’t, so I quickly put that out of mind.

I’m a big fan of Doves – they’re a great band. I really wanna catch then live soon, or, better still, I’d love to support them. If any members of Doves happen to read this, I’d just like to let you know that I’m here and I’m available. Ha-ha.

Any plans to play live this year? 

MM: Yes, there’s going to be a small UK tour in November – details to come very soon, I’m just in the process of getting it all signed off.

There may well be something a little sooner this year, but it’s still too early for me to book anything with confidence, especially as Covid and Brexit seems to have worked a number on the live music scene.

What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?

MM: Fontaines D.C., DMA’s, John Murry, Jagged Baptist Club, Paul Westerberg, and John McGlone and The Souls Of Emotion.

Can you recommend some other ‘scally folk’ to me? Music and/ or people?

MM: There’s nobody, to my knowledge, doing ‘scally folk’. It’s something that my crew and me have invented. I am the original and best scally folker. Ha-ha-ha.

‘One memory that springs to mind is meeting and hanging out with Paul McCartney in the studio, in New York, while we were recording our second album. That was pretty surreal’

A lot of bands from the era of The Dead 60s are reforming? Were you not tempted?

MM: At this moment in time, I’m too busy doing my solo stuff. I always say ‘never say never’ but, in all honesty, I can’t see it ever happening. The past is the past. Onwards & upwards – the future is scally folk.

Finally, any memories – good or bad – from your time in The Dead 60s that you can share?

MM: I have absolutely tons of good memories. One that springs to mind is meeting and hanging out with Paul McCartney in the studio, in New York, while we were recording our second album. That was pretty surreal. But, honestly, there are so many. I’d have to put them down in a book

‘A book?’ you say. Funny that!  I’ve been writing my memoirs and it’s very close to completion. It’s called: Giz A Gig… A Personal Journey Through The Liverpool Music Scene & Beyond. I’m hoping to get it published in the very near future. Watch this space.

Matt McManamon’s new single, Mulranny Smile, is out now on Fretsore Records. The album, Scally Folk, will be released on May 28.

https://mattmcmanamon.bandcamp.com/album/scally-folk

https://www.fretsorerecords.com/

 

‘Death has occupied my thoughts since I was a child…’

Daniel WylieThe last time Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Glasgow singer-songwriter, Daniel Wylie, the former frontman of late ’90s / early noughties, Alan McGee-endorsed jangle-poppers, Cosmic Rough Riders, he was going into the studio to record his 2017 album Scenery For Dreamers, which showcased his love of heavy Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like electric guitars and the chiming Rickenbacker sound of The Byrds.

This year, he’s releasing a new record, Atoms and Energy, which is much more stripped-down than its predecessor. Neil Young is still an obvious influence, but it’s the Young of After The Goldrush and Only Love Can Break Your Heart, rather than Cortez The Killer.

“I wanted to make a completely different album from [2015’s] Chrome Cassettes and Scenery For Dreamers. Both of those had a similar approach and vibe to them and I felt it was time for a change,” he says.

“I wanted to write a classic ‘70s acoustic record, lyrically based around what was currently occupying my thoughts, and musically like my favourite ‘70s Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Cat Stevens and James Taylor records. That was the plan and I think we pulled it off pretty well.”

Q&A

When and how was Atoms and Energy written and recorded?

Daniel Wylie: I always write my song ideas on an acoustic guitar. I write almost daily, and when it’s time to make an album, I go through hundreds of those ideas and try to choose 10 that have great melodies – some kind of lyrical spark that I can work from and that fit well together as a collection of songs.

Initially, the plan was to go in and record 10 acoustic songs over two days. Just two guitars, one lead vocal and one harmony, with a little bit of percussion, piano and harmonica on a couple of the songs. However, once I got into the studio [La Chunky in Glasgow]  and started recording, my co-producer Johnny Smillie, suggested that some songs deserved a bigger setting, so the record evolved into something else.

Who did you work with on the album?

DW: Neil Sturgeon, Johnny Smillie and Stu Kidd are guest musicians. They are all great writers and artists in their own right and having them on board makes it easy work. They fully understand what I’m looking for and they’re just great players and good people.

Did Covid-19 mess up your plans for the record? How did you cope with lockdown? 

DW: Covid-19 totally messed with recording. However, lockdown turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Basically, I had to stop recording the album. My good pal Neil Sturgeon, had recorded his acoustic guitar parts, Stu Kidd had recorded his percussion parts and I’d recorded the vocals.  Eventually, Johnny Smillie began to work on some arrangements for me, in an attempt to get the record finished, which turned out to be a real blessing. Otherwise, it’s likely the record would still be sitting unfinished.

‘I was really ill for a while, with a dodgy heart. How do you conceive a plan for dying?’

Johnny would go in alone, do some work on arrangements, send them over to me and I’d relay back my likes and dislikes and any changes I wanted made. There’s a spontaneity about being in the studio, like instant ideas get put into action, so some of that is missing.

There’s also the fact that you suddenly have too much time on your hands to over-analyse stuff. There’s a madness to it all. Cabin fever played its part in the final outcome.

The record often feels melancholy, reflective and nostalgic. All the songs are either about relationships or death, aren’t they? Is it a kind of concept album? If you don’t mind me asking, have you had a tough time of it during the past few years?

DW: I almost called the album Relationship Songs. I can’t deny that I’m getting older and I was really ill for a while, with a dodgy heart. How do you conceive a plan for dying? I just thought it was time for reflection on relationships with people, time and events that shaped my life. A little bit of sadness for the things I got wrong along the way, and my thoughts on important people and events that brought me to where I am as a person and as an artist.

‘Alan McGee and Poptones found me the audience that has allowed me to continue to make music’

Dealing with the death of my mum five years ago from cancer, and, career-wise, being in the right place at the right time to get signed by Alan McGee, and also the negative side of that, which is being surrounded by the wrong people.

Another positive was the association with McGee and [his label] Poptones, which found me the audience that has allowed me to continue to make music. It’s really an album about what life has given to you and what it hasn’t.

The first song, The Bruises and the Blood, deals with a dark subject matter – domestic violence. It’s quite a shocking and unnerving start to the album – although, in typical Daniel Wylie style you’ve managed to mix a dark and powerful lyric with a great pop tune and some Beach Boys-style harmonies / vocal arrangements. What can you tell me about that song?

DW: When we were young, my wife and I lived in a flat in Castlemilk housing estate in Glasgow, and our upstairs neighbours were always fighting. It was terrible. He would beat her up and throw her out on the landing, naked. We’d take her in and call the cops on him, but nothing was ever done and at that time, she was scared to leave him, as she had nowhere else to go.

I kind of had that in my head when I was writing the song. On the outside, their relationship looked normal, and that’s what they presented to the world, but behind closed doors, it was an atmosphere of bullying, control and violence against the woman. Thankfully, I know that she escaped the situation and moved on to a better relationship. The melody is at odds with the lyrics, in the same way as their presentation to the world was at odds with what was really going on in their relationship.

What about the song Heaven’s Waiting Room? It deals with childhood friends, moving on and getting older…

DW: That song is referencing how quickly our childhoods pass and how much we cram into those formative, carefree years, and how many of our clearest and fondest memories are attached to those times…before we’re forced to grow up. For those who believe in something after death, Earth is basically heaven’s waiting room. We’re all sitting on this planet waiting and wondering what’s next.

Are you a nostalgic person?

DW: Yes. The older I get, the more I look back, and the more I look back, the more I realise how lucky I’ve been to have lived through so many historical moments, great inventions, avoiding wars on my doorstep, all the great scientific, technical and medical advances, films, art… and especially music. To have walked this planet in the same lifespan as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, R.E.M… How lucky is that?

How old are you? Do you worry about death and old age? Those themes crop up on the album a few times…

DW: I was born on January 2, 1959, so I’m 62. Death has occupied my thoughts since I was a child. It used to scare me, but as I get older, the inevitability of death is something I’ve come to terms with. I’ve noticed how younger generations come through and you no longer have anything much in common with them. Who wants to be here alone when all your friends have gone? There’s a line in my song Value Of Life, from the album, Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine: “while other people sleep, I lie awake and wonder why I’m here.” That was me singing about me worrying about death as a child, in my bed at night.

 

God is Nowhere, from the new album, is a song for atheists everywhere, isn’t it? You’re not a believer then? I love the fuzzy electric guitar sound on it it turns a sweet-sounding song into something more subversive. Was that the idea?

DW: I wrote it when I was angry. The lyric: “I said a begging prayer for your healing, but you still died,” is about my mother’s death. I’m not a believer in organised religion. I was brought up Catholic, but I knew I didn’t believe in all that, so I abandoned it. I do believe in a spiritual existence after death though, so I suppose I’m more of an agnostic rather than a complete atheist.

The song only has two chords. I tried to keep it to one chord, but the temptation to change got the better of me. I had the idea to try and make it sound like those late ‘60s/ early ‘70s Santana records, with Latin percussion and fuzz guitar. Johnny Smillie played the fuzz guitar, using a plectrum given to him by Carlos Santana, after a live show in which he used the plectrum to play with during the gig. How awesome is that?

Our Love Will Never Die is one of the more positive songs on the album, isn’t? It’s beautiful – a simple, honest love song. Did you write it for your wife? It reminds me of vintage Neil Young, circa his After The Goldrush album – it’s very like Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Was that intentional?

DW: I have no problem admitting my wife is the greatest person I’ve ever known and, yes, it was written for her. When I wrote the song, I had to double-check the Neil Young song to make sure I hadn’t ripped him off. When Johnny Smillie heard my home demo, he did the same, but after doing that, he told me it just sounded like me. There was never any intention to write a Neil Young song. I think because I’m such a fan of certain people, their influence will occasionally shine through.

‘I do believe in a spiritual existence after death, so I suppose I’m more of an agnostic, rather than a complete atheist’

In a just world, Our Love Will Never Die would be the soundtrack to lots of wedding first dances, wouldn’t it?

DW: One of my earlier songs, That Was The Day, has proved to be a favourite wedding song for a bunch of couples over the years. Funnily enough, it was also written for my wife. So, yeah, I’d be happy if Our Love Will Never Die became a wedding staple.

In total contrast, Ruth The Truth is a dark and sinister song lyrically, that’s tangled up in a web of lies. Musically, I think it has echoes of early R.E.M. What inspired it?

DW: I have a history of throwing out songs with girls’ names in the title. This is just the latest. It’s a story about how stupid men are when it comes to a beautiful lady – the shallowness of men who think with their dicks and whose brains are in their balls. The album needed a little pop tune, and I chose this song because of its catchy chorus.

‘I’d be happy if Our Love Will Never Die became a wedding staple’

One of my favourite songs on the album is the last one, Saddle Up The Horses. It deals with childhood memories – playing cowboys. What can you tell me about it?

DW: Children are dreamers. I had the cowboy hat, the gun belt, the gun – the children’s cowboy outfit – and as a child, I was a big fan of westerns. Back then, little boys of that age would play cowboys and Indians. I think the song captures that childhood innocence – to the point where you can’t fathom how dangerous a gun is.

Atoms and Energy - Daniel Wylie

Did you have a happy childhood? The pictures on the album artwork are of you as a kid…

DW: I had a pretty happy childhood. My dad took the album sleeve photo when I was around 12 years old. I didn’t realise how poor we were at the time, but you can see the poverty in that photograph.

Despite being poor, my parents did their best to make sure we knew our way around all the local parks and museums. We had an occasional holiday down the Ayrshire coast to Saltcoats or Troon, and, most importantly for me, our home was filled with great music. My parents had amazing taste in music – it was an education in itself.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will be you making another album? How about a return to big guitars?

DW: I hope to begin recording again later in the year. I’ve chosen 10 songs for my next album and finished writing them last week. It’ll be a full-band album with hooky choruses, loud guitars and harmonies. It might be called Shane, after one of my all-time favourite cowboy films. I even have the photo for the sleeve picked out.

Have you written many new songs during lockdown?

DW: Honestly, hundreds. I have 12 albums’ worth of really good tunes.I need a big lottery win, so I can afford to record them all. Do you happen to have the winning numbers?

I’m lucky – I can pick up a guitar, strum a few chords and a tune will be there in my head. I don’t know how or why it happens, but I’m not complaining. I genuinely think it’s just a gift I’ve been given, but it’s not to be questioned or analysed. Life and death inspires me, so does other people’s music, and the weather and nature.

You’ve been working with English singer-songwriter Ian M Bailey. Earlier this year, he released a great EP of songs you’d co-written together, called Shots of Sun. Do you have more songs with him coming out? How did you hook up?

DW: Yes – as well as writing a whole bunch of new songs for myself, I’ve co-written 12 songs with Ian. Last year, he sent me a couple of his videos of songs he’d written during the initial lockdown period. I thought they were excellent and told him so.

He suggested we maybe write a song together and I had so many songs half-written that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use, so I sent him four and he liked them all – a song turned into an EP. Ian added his parts to complete the songs and we were both so pleased with the results that we decided to keep going and do an album.

I send him unfinished songs, sometimes a good chorus with no verse, or a verse and a chorus with no bridge, and sometimes he’ll write the chorus, and he adds his bits and then he records them himself. He’s a producer and one-man band. We’ll likely keep the songwriting thing going.

I’ve also been co-writing with other people. There’s a double A-side single I’ve written with Amanda Louise Thompson for her band The Big Believe. That’s more guitar pop-oriented, like an indie Blondie or something, and will be released before the end of 2021.

What music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?

DW: Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams;  Will Stratton – The Changing Wilderness;  Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – Texas Sun EP; Ray LaMontagne – Monovision; Fleet Foxes – Shore; The Milk And Honey Band – Songs From Truleigh Hill; The Chills – Scatterbrain; The Coral – Coral Island, and The Beatles – Esher Demos.

‘I do understand the convenience of streaming. Financially, though, something has to change. People need to eat’

The last time we spoke, you were anti-streaming – you told me you liked vinyl and CDs. Is that still the case?

DW: I love CDs and I love vinyl. I need the artwork with the music. I still don’t have Spotify, but I do understand the convenience of streaming. Financially, though, something has to change. People need to eat and need to be able to focus on creating the great music that the world loves. It costs money to do that.

Atoms And Energy is being released by Last Night From Glasgow records – they got their name from a line in the ABBA song Super Trouper. It’s on various formats. Green, yellow and black vinyl, CD and, eventually, the usual digital outlets.

At the end of this year, you’re reissuing the 2001 Cosmic Rough Riders compilation, Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, on vinyl. It’s a compilation of material from your first two, self-funded, Cosmic Rough Riders albums, Deliverance and Panorama, plus a few other songs, and it was put out by Alan McGee’s Poptones label. What’s prompted the rerelease? It was a lot of people’s introduction to your music, wasn’t it?

DW: Ian Smith, from Last Night From Glasgow, asked me if I’d be up for reissuing it. I felt the time was right, so I said yes. There’s been a lot of interest in a vinyl reissue, so that’s what’s happening, and I’ve added I Call Her Name, to the end of side one. It’s from the same sessions and I always regretted not putting it on the original album. Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine sold over 100,000 copies when it was first released, but only 1,000 vinyl copies were pressed and they’ve been changing hands for silly money.

How do you feel about those songs now? What’s it like revisiting them?

DW: I had to listen to the master a couple of weeks ago – it’s the first time in years that I’ve heard it from start to finish, uninterrupted.

I really enjoyed listening to it again. It brought back some great memories of recording it with Stephen Fleming. I wrote the songs, but we did everything else as a team. We put everything we had into making sure it was as good as it could be and to my ears, it still sounds great. I’m so proud of it and how it changed my life. So now it’s coming out on some nice coloured vinyl: blue, orange, white, and black.

Do you have any regrets about Cosmic Rough Riders? Do you wish you’d been bigger?

DW: My main regret is using a band name and not just using my own name from the start. That way there would have been no confusion as to whose music it was. But, hey, I did come up with a great name that was worth using.

‘The celebrity thing freaks me out. Sometimes you have to get off the rollercoaster, before it kills you’

If Cosmic Rough Riders had been a bigger band, it would probably have changed my life too – or at least more than I was willing to give or accept. I was already becoming unrecognisable to myself. One time, I came home after a tour and my wife asked me to wash up some dishes. I said to her: “I don’t do dishes”. It sounds funny, but it was an indication that I was losing myself. When you have massive exposure on a show like Top of the Pops, things change. People treat you differently. It’s not like you suddenly have super powers or become a gifted brain surgeon who saves lives, but the celebrity thing freaks me out. Five minutes of it was enough for me. It’s always been about the music for me and I prefer being normal. Sometimes you have to get off the rollercoaster, before it kills you.

Finally, it’s 2021. Do we need a revolution in the summertime?

DW: Hah! People don’t get that song. It was written about a day I spent with some college friends in Glasgow’s Queen’s Park. The weather was super-sunny and the army had set up some kind of recruiting show in the park. I was thinking: ‘join the army? Or sit in the park, in the sunshine, with some beer, and watch our beautiful Scottish girls’. Stuff that for a revolution!

Atoms and Energy by Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders is available to pre-order on vinyl and CD from Last Night From Glasgow here. The physical albums will be officially released on July 2, but pre-orders will ship this month.

You can pre-order the reisssue of Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine on vinyl here.

 

Fat’s Entertainment

 

Paul Weller
Photo: Sandra Vijandi

Paul Weller’s latest album, Fat Pop (Volume 1) – his sixteenth – is one of his best. A collection of short, sharp and instant songs, its influences include soul, funk, Krautrock, synth-pop, dub and punk. Say It With Garage Flowers gets a sneak preview of its ever-changing moods.

When Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Paul Weller’s long-term guitarist, Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene, The Specials), earlier this year, he’d just emerged from Black Barn Studios in the village of Ripley, Surrey, where the Modfather and his band had been rehearsing a bunch of new songs.

“Weller’s made an album during lockdown – it’s called Fat Pop and it’s coming out in May,” he told us.

It’s fair to say that lockdown has been good for Weller. In just under 12 months, the elder statesman of Britpop has released two albums – the summery and soulful On Sunset and now its follow-up, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which, like its predecessor, is one of the strongest records he’s ever made.

In fact, it’s the latest in a purple patch that started with 2018’s True Meanings – his stripped- back and orchestrally-aided, introspective folk-rock album, which coincided with him turning 60. That was a career highlight and, along with his self-titled solo debut, from 1992, it’s easily one of our favourite Weller records.

Work on Fat Pop (Volume 1) began in spring 2020, when he needed something to focus on after his tour dates were postponed due to Covid-19. He had plenty of ideas for new songs stored on his phone, so he started to record them on his own, with just vocals, piano and guitar.

These were then sent to his core band members, Cradock, drummer Ben Gordelier, and bassist Andy Crofts (The Moons), who added their parts. “It was a bit weird not being together, but at least it kept the wheels rolling. I’d have gone potty otherwise,” says Weller.

When Covid restrictions were lifted, the group reconvened at his Black Barn Studios to finish the work.

Highlights of the new album’s predecessor, On Sunset, included the shimmering disco of Mirror Ball and Old Father Tyme; the uplifting, radio-friendly pop-soul of Village; the Kinks-ish Equanimity and the Bowiesque Rockets.

Some of Fat Pop (Volume 1) is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that came before it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop.

“After True Meanings I thought I wouldn’t have any acoustic guitars for a little while, so I’ve largely avoided those with On Sunset and with Fat Pop,” says Weller. “But more than anything I wanted something vibey – something we could play live. God knows when that will be, bearing in mind where we are with the virus. But in the imaginary gig in my mind I can see us playing all of the songs on Fat Pop live, along with the songs from On Sunset, blending them with some of the old favourites too. What a great set that would be.”

He adds: “On Sunset was quite lavish in places, whereas with this one I wanted to limit it in some ways – make the production less expansive.”

It’s a rich-sounding and eclectic record – vibrant and colourful – and, considering the wide range of influences and styles, it hangs together really well. It feels like a complete piece of work, rather than just a collection of songs.

‘Some of Fat Pop is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that preceded it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop’

Fat Pop (Volume 1) sees Weller continuing his working relationship with producer Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert, who’s been at the helm since 2012’s Sonik Kicks album.

Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes,  isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment. Lyrically, it concerns itself with a keyboard warrior: “I’m a sleeping giant, waiting to awake/I stumble to the fridge/then back to bed”, but to be fair, that does sound a lot like lockdown…

 

Weller says the song was written about a person who is constantly brainstorming ideas, but never gets around to doing them. With two strong albums under his belt in the past year, that’s not something you could accuse him of.

The punky True features an unexpected jazzy sax break, as well as guest vocals by Lia Metcalfe of Liverpool alt-rock band The Mysterines, while the dramatic, soaring and symphonic Shades of Blue was co-written by his daughter, Leah, who shares vocal duties on the song.

‘Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes, isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment’

The title track, a paean to the power of music, has a heavy, dubby bassline – Weller describes it as “Cypress Hill doing something that sounds like a DJ Muggs production”.

He adds: “It’s a celebration of music and what it’s given us all. No matter what situation you are in, and we’re in one now, music doesn’t let you down, does it? It’s my favourite song on the album, I think – it’s about all the times music’s been there for me.”

Glad Times is beautiful and melancholic  – space-age soul with strings. “It’s been around for a while  – it nearly made it onto On Sunset, but I didn’t quite fit,” says Weller. “I really liked it, though, so I’m really glad it made it onto this album instead.”

Testify, with guest vocals by Andy Fairweather Low of ‘60s Welsh pop band Amen Corner, is a great, ‘70s-style, funk-soul strut, with flute and sax supplied by acid jazz veteran Jacko Peake.

“We had actually done it live two or three years ago,” says Weller, “but while I loved the groove, I never really got a grip on the song. Then I did this charity gig in Guildford, one of the last things I’ve done probably – some Stax songs with Andy Fairweather Low. Our voices sound so good together and he’s such a lovely fellow, so I sent him the backing track. As soon as lockdown was lifted, he came down to the studio for the afternoon. We cut it live and that was it.”

 

Pastoral and acoustic guitar-led ballad, Cobwebs/Connections, which could’ve come off True Meanings, features a lovely string arrangement by Hannah Peel, who worked on that album. She also scores the gorgeous closing song, Still Glides The Stream – another reflective moment that was written as a remote collaboration between Weller and Cradock.

If it’s angry Weller you’re after, don’t worry, as he hasn’t completely mellowed with age. On the choppy, ska-tinged rallying call, That Pleasure, which was written as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter campaign and is swathed in lush, ‘70s Marvin Gaye-style strings, he urges us to “Lose your hypocrisy… lose your prejudice, lose this hatred,” adding, “It’s time to get involved.”

Photo: Sandra Vijandi.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) – Weller is keeping his options open for a second volume – is aptly named, as each of the 12 tracks is instant and any one of them could be a standalone single.

“That was a conscious design,” he says. “I even thought about putting every song as a single first then gathering them all on an album, but that wasn’t practical. They all have that strength and immediacy, I think, and they’re all short – three minutes or so maximum.”

Apparently, producer Kybert was so taken with the concept that he half-jokingly suggested that the album be called Greatest Hits, but, wisely, Weller decided against it.

“I quite liked the idea and every song does stand up as a single, I think,” says Weller, “but no, we couldn’t do that really.”

Ahead of making the album, Weller set himself the same task as he does before any recording. “Whenever I make an album I’m always just trying to at least match what’s gone before because each time I think the bar’s been raised. If all goes to plan, sometimes I manage to go over that bar too,” he says.

He’s done it again. Here’s to Volume 2 and plenty more fat pop content.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is released on May 14 (Polydor Records). It’s available in a variety of versions and formats:

  • Standard CD
  • Individual exclusive cassettes for Indie Record Stores and Paul’s artist store
  • Individual exclusive coloured vinyl for Amazon, Indie Record Stores and Paul Weller’s artist store
  • Black Heavyweight vinyl
  • Exclusive picture disc vinyl
  • Deluxe Formats which include Fat Pop, Mid-Sömmer Musik (the live special from November last year) and bonus tracks:
  • Three-CD Box Set
  • Three-LP Box set – heavyweight black vinyl

www.paulweller.com

Please note: part of this review, although heavily edited, originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of Hi-Fi+ magazine, which Sean Hannam contributes to.

 

 

‘We were Britpop before Britpop’

The Kynd
The Kynd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

How did the band come together?

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

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

And then you became The Kynd and went indie…

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

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

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

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

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

Do you wish you’d been more successful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The title is quite Morrisseyesque…

DT: Paul’s a big fan of The Smiths.

It reminds me of the Longpigs…

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


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

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

So, you’ve gone from lockdown to Shakedown

DT: Yes [laughs].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets are available here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And right key…

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What music have you been enjoying during lockdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Whatitdo Archive Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any favourite record shops?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AK: Agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://recordkicks.bandcamp.com/merch

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

How’s it going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have you been coping with lockdown?

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

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

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

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

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

What were the sessions for the album like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who writes the songs? What’s the process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Collector at LoFi, Seattle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://starcollectorcanada.bandcamp.com/

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

Triptides – photo by Brad Danner.

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

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

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

Q&A

How is it in L.A?

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

How has lockdown affected you as a band?

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

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

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

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

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

How have you been coping with lockdown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alex Bulli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

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

‘I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006’

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

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

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

Photo by Alex Bulli

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

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

https://triptides.bandcamp.com/

 

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

XIXA – photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez – photo by Julius Schlosburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

Are you pleased with the album?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, do you like the band Genesis?

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

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

http://www.xixamusic.com/

https://xixa.bandcamp.com/

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

 

Cool Ghouls

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the sessions like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Ghouls in the studio – San Francisco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://music.emptycellarrecords.com/

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