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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

Why did the time feel right to bring it out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca at Ardent Studios in Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’ve become more aware of what a crazy life I’m living…’

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Picture by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs https://www.lpphotographs.ca/Info

It’s been a year since Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger first came to the UK and Europe to promote his brilliant double album Nonsense and Heartache – a mix of raw, primal, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll and stripped-down, alt-country ballads.

Now he’s back on tour, has released a new retrospective compilation album called Too Broke To Die, and is gearing up for the release of his next studio album,Time Out For Tomorrow, later this year.

In an exclusive interview he gave Say It With Garage Flowers while he was on the road, he tells us about revisiting his back catalogue, the challenges he faces as a Canadian artist, why he loves coming to the UK and Europe, and how the sound of his forthcoming album was inspired by Nick Lowe and Lou Reed…

Things are changing round here. That’s the title of a song on Jerry Leger’s 2018 album Nonsense and Heartache – one of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of last year – but it could also apply to the Canadian singer-songwriter’s profile in the UK and Europe.

It’s been over 12 months since Toronto-based Jerry and his band, The Situation, who’ve been together for 12 years, first came to these shores, and now they’re back, to promote a new, limited edition, retrospective compilation album, called Too Broke To Die, which has been put together especially for the European market and is available to buy from his merch stall on tour.

It brings together 21 songs from the nine albums he’s made from 2005-2019 (eight studio albums and a live record), including some previously unreleased outtakes.

Highlights include the Dylan-esque rarity Beating The Storm; the gorgeous country shuffle of Wrong Kind of Girl; the moody and edgy Factory Made, which is an attack on the fake aspects of the music industry; the sad, reflective Nobody’s Angel; the cool, garage-rock strut of The Big Smoke Blues and the alt-country of Another Dead Radio Star, which was inspired by the 1930s radio show The Shadow, which was voiced by Orson Welles.

Off the back of last year’s successful tour, which introduced Jerry to a new audience outside of his native Canada, this return visit, coupled with Too Broke To Die, which serves as a handy introduction to his career, means 2019 could be the year that he breaks through in the UK and Europe.

One thing’s for sure – it’s certainly not for want of trying…. When Say It With Garage Flowers catches up with Jerry over a pint in a East London pub, in Leytonstone, ahead of a headline show at What’s Cookin’, it’s the fifth night of a gruelling, seven-week tour of almost 30 dates, including stints in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

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Jerry Leger & The Situation at this year’s Ramblin’ Roots Revue: picture by Sean Hannam

The tour kicked off with a storming UK festival slot at the Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and two appearances on Record Store Day, at Music’s Not Dead in Bexhill-on-Sea and Union Music Store in Lewes. I ask Jerry if he thinks his profile over here is getting bigger.

“I’m glad I did Ramblin’ Roots – it was great to see a whole bunch of people, some of whom I hadn’t met before. I hope my profile is building – it’s what I want, but it’s hard for me to gauge because some things happen very quickly and other things happen very slowly – every day is the same for me, so I’m not very aware of how everything is going,” he says, sipping his beer.

I want to reassure him that things are changing round here… With a brand new studio album on the way later this year and hopefully more UK dates planned in the autumn/winter, by the end of 2019, you’ll definitely be hearing a lot more of Jerry Leger…

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Your new album, Too Broke To Die, is a retrospective compilation album of songs from 2005-2019. How did it come about and how did you choose which songs made the cut?

Jerry Leger: There are a lot of albums I’ve made that people are unaware of, so I put together a compilation with a few songs from each album and a couple of previously unreleased songs.

Initially, I thought about having some covers on it. We recorded a bunch of covers with Michael Timmins [producer – Cowboy Junkies] for a project that never came to fruition. We did Time by Tom Waits, Like A Hurricane by Neil Young and a medley of John Lennon songs – Well Well Well and his version of (Well) Baby Please Don’t Go from Some Time In New York City. It was a wide range of covers, but then I decided I didn’t want to have to deal with all the licensing issues – I had eight of my albums to dig from and a lot of outtakes, so there was already enough there… Each album had about five or six songs that didn’t make it onto the record.

You’re like Prince…

JL: [laughs]: Without the money and some other stuff that we won’t go into – and I’m still here…

Too Broke To Die is essentially a Greatest Hits set but without any hits on it

JL: Greatest Miss Hits!

Was it hard to choose which songs ended up on Too Broke To Die? How was it going through your back catalogue?

JL: It was a bit tricky and very strange – a lot of the albums I hadn’t heard for a long time, apart from revisiting them so I could bring some of the songs back into my live set and refresh my memory. Some of the songs I recorded when I was 20 or 21 – I’ve just turned 34. I remember being there and making the albums, but it’s strange…

The record takes the listener on a journey – from some of your earlier raw and folky stuff to more soulful sounds, and bluesy country and Americana from your last record, Nonsense and Heartache

JL: It’s always however I was feeling at the time – and whatever record I wanted to make. I’m still like that.

Lets talk about some of the songs on the record. One of my favourites is Beating The Storm, which has a Dylan feel

JL: Yeah – definitely.

Can you remember writing that song? What was the inspiration?

JL: I don’t remember the inspiration – I can remember writing it. I was living in a basement apartment and I wrote a few songs there, like Round Walls, for the album You, Me & The Horse. I’ve always loved Beating The Storm – I tried doing it for that album, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t make it. We tried it a few years later, for the album Some Folks Know, but it still didn’t make it. It stuck in my mind. When I was putting the new record together, it seemed like an obvious choice. It had never found a home…

What can you remember about Wrong Kind of Girl?

JL: That falls into that category of those songs that are a bit like magic – I don’t know where it came from or how it came here, but I happened to write it and I’m glad that I did, because I really like that song.

Is He Treating You Good? is a great song – its about a relationship gone wrong and it reminds me of something Elvis Costello couldve written

JL: I’m glad that you said that because I’m a big fan and he’s a big influence on me, but I never get that comparison. It’s one of my favourite songs I’ve written – it’s up there. It’s in my top three. The song speaks for itself.

Factory Made, from your album Early Riser, is one of my favourite songs on Too Broke To Die

JL: I can remember writing that one. When Michael Timmins mixed it, it sounded like it came from a different world. We recorded it live and then he mixed it – his choices of which instruments came it and out, and his reverb and echo ideas… I wrote that song at home at 3 in the morning. I was really drunk and I was frustrated with everything – with how the music industry had gone and with some of the people around me who were full of shit. It was an attack on the real trend for making you think that things are legitimate when they’re not – I was frustrated by people getting sucked in by that. It’s a song about being a frustrated artist, but also a frustrated listener. Fortunately – and unfortunately – I think that song will be relevant for years to come.

‘Over a beer, I can talk all night about music I love. I can talk about Blood On The Tracks if you want me to…’

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Jerry Leger talks to Sean Hannam – picture by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs https://www.lpphotographs.ca/Info

Nobodys Angel feels like its one of your anthems

JL: That was written when I’d started working in a hardware store in Toronto that my brother managed – I was a teenager in high school and I worked there for many years. You don’t want me to fix anything…

It was in an area where there were a lot of people who were suffering from different forms of abuse. I would see men and women – young people who’d had the life sucked out of them within a few years.

There was a coffee shop on the corner where there were drug dealers and pimps who were there all night… There wasn’t a lot of understanding – people’s lives got screwed up very easily for a variety of reasons, but they shouldn’t be looked down upon. The neighbourhood has now been gentrified – at the time, there was a lot of crack cocaine there.

Toronto features in quite a few of your songs, like Things Are Changing Round Here and The Big Smoke Blues – both of which are from Nonsense and Heartache and are also on the new compilation album

JL: Yeah – I write about what’s around me. Obviously parts of me are in the songs, but there are also little conversations… Songs just come from anywhere – I don’t have a filter. Whatever I retain, I think could be a song…

Lets talk about your next studio album, which is coming out later this year. Whats inspired some of your new songs?

JL: One song was written about a ghost town in Northern Ontario and the opening song is called Canvas of Gold – the first verse is: ‘Everything was almost decided when we were young. You stay poor like your family before and I’ll keep on hustling…’ I think I’ve become more aware recently of what a crazy life I’m living – it’s hard to survive as an artist in a big city, but it’s what I signed up for – it’s a hustle.

Is it hard trying to make it in the UK and Europe, outside of Canada?

JL: Hustling outside of Canada is more rewarding – Canada takes its own artists for granted – it’s always been that way. I want to keep working, so I have to build a profile here [in the UK and Europe]. I just want to keep reaching more people and I want to keep coming back here. We’ve had some of the most enthusiastic appreciation here – there’s more people here who are deeper music lovers than in North America. It’s been easier to get music listeners here. It became tiring in Canada – doing the same routes and travelling across the country. It didn’t feel like people were getting into it.

Canada’s really big and there’s not a huge population, so unless you’re playing the game according to somebody else, it’s very difficult to get anywhere. There’s a whole other world out there. I have my fans and supporters back home, but it’s really nice to be in a new market and have people dig what I’m doing. It’s a different appreciation – I’ve met way more people on the tours in the UK and Europe that listen to music in the way that I listen to it. When I get into a record, I dissect it – I listen very closely to it and it means something to me. Over a beer, I can talk all night about music I love. I can talk about Blood On The Tracks all night if you want me to…

‘It’s hard to survive as an artist in a big city, but it’s what I signed up for – it’s a hustle’

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Picture by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs

Earlier today, you told me that Canadian radio thought that your last album was too gritty…

JL: I thought that was great it’s the best compliment they’ve ever given me.

Let’s talk more about your new studio album, which is out later this year. Like your two previous albums, you worked with producer Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies) on it… 

JL: What was different this time around was that we rehearsed a lot before going into the studio, trying out different arrangements, but there’s still spontaneity on this record… A lot of it was played live in the studio, but I had more of a clear idea about how it was going to be executed. I already had in my mind what the arrangements were going to be. It took about a week to make.

What does it sound like?

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

‘My next album is a nice, short and sweet, lean and mean record. I wanted to capture the sound of Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird and Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby’

Do you have a title for the new album?

JL: Time Out For Tomorrow, which I think really captures the whole album I don’t know why, but the title feels right. I’m really excited about the new record – I’m very proud of it. I really think it’s the best record I’ve made so far. It’s a cross between Early Riser and Nonsense and Heartache sound-wise and it’s very concise songwriting-wise, performance-wise, arrangement-wise and sequence-wise. We went in with 18 songs, focused on about 15, then cut it down to 12 and 10 made it. Some of the songs that didn’t make it are some of the best, but they didn’t fit. It was like putting together a puzzle. I like records that are rough around the edges, but with this one I took a little more care putting those puzzle pieces together.

I can’t wait to hear the new album and I’m looking forward to you coming back to the UK.

JL: I’ve got to keep coming here and that’s what I plan to do. I’m sure we’ll be back before the end of the year.

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Picture by Laura Proctor: @lpphotographs

Jerry Leger & The Situation are currently touring Europe. For more information, please visit https://jerryleger.com/

The compilation album Too Broke To Die –  a limited edition retrospective (2005-2019) is available to purchase at the gigs. It’s on Golden Rocket Records. 

Thanks to Laura Proctor at https://www.lpphotographs.ca/ for the photography. You can follow her on Instagram here.

 

‘I hope this album will surprise people…’

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Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q & A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the backing vocals? I thought they were female…

PG: I’ll tell him that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you got any tattoos of girls’ names?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a character song, isn’t it?

PG: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we expect it to sound like?

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘The first thing I do when I wake up is put a record on – I don’t love silence…’

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Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger’s brilliant Nonsense and Heartache – out now on Latent Recordings and produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies – is a double album, but, essentially it’s two distinct collections of songs.  

The first half  – Nonsense – is a raw, primal, bluesy, electric rock ‘n’ roll record, while the second instalment – Heartache – is a stripped-down, alt-country affair, with intimate ballads, lap steel, piano and fiddle.

Put them together and you have an album that reminds me of those classic early Ryan Adams long-players Heartbreaker and Gold – yep, it’s that good. 

I spoke to Jerry, who with his band, The Situation, is on a tour of Europe and the UK, to find out why he decided to release a double album and to gauge if his current mood is nonsense, or heartache…

 

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Jerry Leger: photo credit – LPPhotographs

Q &A

Nonsense and Heartache is a double album of 18 tracks, which is quite a brave move, isn’t it? You don’t hear of many double albums being released these days…

Jerry Leger: Yeah, it’s usually the artist who fights for a double LP, not the label, but, in this case, it was Mike Timmins and Latent who suggested it.

I dug that and I had more than enough songs and we had a bit of a concept behind it. I think it was a cool move, I mean why not? It seems these days a lot of people are gonna listen to it, or they’re not, whether there’s two or 200 songs. A lot gets lost – I just wanna make albums I like while I’m here.

How were the recording sessions for the album? Was it an easy or a difficult album to make? Did you have a lot of songs written before you went into the studio?

JL: They were easy – we all knew what we were there to do. Heartache was recorded first – that took about four or five days. Nonsense was recorded four or five months later – I think that took two days. I can’t quite remember how many songs I had lying around, but we recorded about 29 and chose 18.

‘I just wanna make albums I like while I’m here’

The album has a raw, live sound – Michael Timmins , who produced, recorded and mixed it, also worked on my favourite album of last year John Murry’s A Short History of Decay, which is another raw, live-sounding record. How do Michael and you and your band manage to get that feel and sound in the studio? What’s your working relationship with Michael like?

JL: We just play live together in the studio. I also try to keep all the live vocals, but sometimes it’s not possible. There may be technical issues, or, if the band were cookin’ and I flubbed something that I really wanted to fix instead of leave in. Sometimes we just leave it in, though. Mike and I have a great working relationship – we like making the same kind of albums and we also like a lot of the same albums. He doesn’t get in my way creatively and when he makes a suggestion in the studio, it’s usually the right one. I respect what he does and what he has to say

One of my favourite songs on the Nonsense side of the album is Baby’s Got A Rare Gun – I think it channels ’65/’66 Dylan. Do you agree? It’s heavy, electric blues. What can you tell me about that track?

JL: Well, I love Chess Records – stuff like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf. I think it came from that sort of place, but, of course, I love Dylan, too, and that period is ingrained. When we recorded it, I wanted to get that over-driven vocal and band sound that’s on those records and early Bobby Bland.

The Big Smoke Blues – another of my favourite tracks on Nonsense – has a bit of a New Wave feel to it. It reminds me of Ryan Adams fronting The Strokes. Is that a fair comment?

JL: That’s fair, but I’d say it’s more Lou Reed and The Velvets rock ‘n’ roll, just ‘cos I listen to and love those records. I did really like the first Strokes album when it came out. I was 14 or 15 and thought they were here to save the day! I never really followed their career after, though. The Big Smoke Blues is a reference to Toronto, but it could be a lot of different places for the listener.  It’s a tune for outsiders.

‘I really liked the first Strokes album when it came out. I was 14 or 15 and thought they were here to save the day!’

Let’s flip the record over and talk about the Heartache side. It kicks off with the first single, Things Are Changing Round Here, which sounds like a classic country-rock song. What inspired that track?

JL: The East End of Toronto, where I grew up, was the initial inspiration. I’m only 32 and the area I grew up in is a strange land to me now. A lot of the personality is being sucked out of it – they’re knocking down blocks of old homes to build up to the sky. The unique shops and bars that can’t make the inflated rent are being replaced by boring chains.

Another Dead Radio Star – I love that title – is one of my favourite songs on the album. What’s the story behind it? I’ve heard that it was inspired by the 1930s radio show The Shadow, which was voiced by Orson Welles…

JL: I was listening to a compilation of radio stars from the ‘30s. The song I’d Give A Million Tomorrows (For Just One Yesterday) was playing and it sparked the idea – it’s referenced in the song. I also had another record of old radio shows by The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks of Kansas City, so they got a plug.

Things come and go, but their shadows remain in one way or another, and I’m the kind of person that looks for them. My dad used to listen to The Shadow, The Creaking Door and others as a boy and that has always stayed with him. It’s theatre of the mind.

The last song on the album, Pawn Shop Piano, is a great way to close the record – a gorgeous piano ballad. Was it written and played on a pawn shop piano?

JL: Some of the lines and ideas I’d written down before, or had floating in my head just waiting to be used. The first time we toured in the States we stayed at a dingy motel called the Travel Lite Inn, or something like that… I just liked the way it sounded and we survived.

We played Johnson City in Tennessee a couple of times and I remember this pawn shop called Diamonds and Guns and it had this great hand-painted sign, too. I jotted that title down in a notebook and figured I’d use it for something some day. It’s one of my favourites on the record and it just has a lot of truth in it for me.

Who are your main musical influences?

JL: There’s a lot, but Hank Williams I’ve heard for as long as I can remember and I just don’t think it gets better than that. Bob Dylan changed the way I wanted to write, Lennon and The Beatles made me wanna start playing, and Lightnin’ Hopkins was the coolest. When I was 13, my grandparents’ neighbour was giving away blues records. I just thought Lightnin’ looked cool – I hadn’t heard of him. When I listened to it, it was just wild – so natural, no bullshit. Leonard Cohen was also an early influence – my dad came home one day and gave me the first Cohen album and a book of poetry called Death of a Ladies’ Man.

‘My dad came home one day and gave me the first Leonard Cohen album and a book of poetry called Death of a Ladies’ Man’

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Jerry Leger & The Situation: photo credit – LPPhotographs

You’re heading out on a European and UK tour. What can we expect?

JL: I’m really looking forward to it – it’ll be my first time overseas in general. They’re all full-band shows and this line-up has been together for over 11 years, so it’s nice to do this together for the first time. What can you expect? I don’t know – I’ll just be singing my songs. I’m not ready to do anything flashy yet.

What music – new and old – are you currently digging?

JL: Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone; Ronnie Lane – See Me; Graham Nicholas – Dial Tones And Pretty Notes, and Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain.

If I’m home I listen to a lot of music – the first thing I do when I wake up is put a record on. I don’t love silence.

So, what next? Can we expect a triple album?

JL: Why stop there?

Finally, what kind of mood are you currently in: Nonsense or Heartache?

JL: I’m in a Nonsense and Heartache selling mood.

Nonsense and Heartache by Jerry Leger is out now on Latent Recordings. For a full list of European and UK tour dates, go to https://jerryleger.com/

 

‘I’ve got the next four albums planned – track listings and all…’

 

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Whybirds drummer Luke Tuchscherer’s brilliant new solo album, Always Be True, is full of rough-hewn alt.country songs and anthems for the downtrodden, and its influences include Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Uncle Tupelo. 

Among the highlights are the rousing opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come,  the epic, tear-strewn ballad When The Dream Dies and These Lonesome Blues – a instant country classic that deals with death, drinking, cigarettes and the devil. ‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album, like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’, he tells me…

Q & A

Let’s talk about your new album – Always Be True. The title seems particularly relevant in these troubled times, where fake news is high on the agenda, wouldn’t you agree?

Luke Tuchscherer: I would certainly agree. Though, to be honest, we started recording it in late 2014 and I’ve had the title in mind since then, so I wouldn’t say that Trump and co had a direct influence on it, or the Brexit battle bus lies or any of that.

The title comes from the song Be True, which is a declaration of fidelity to my then girlfriend, now wife. But in a wider sense, it’s about being true to yourself, to your dreams and beliefs, as well as simply doing your best to be honest in day-to-day life.

It’s your second solo album. How does it feel to have it out there? 

LT: It’s a relief. It’s like an albatross has been lifted from me. I’m really thankful that it’s finally out and really happy that people like it.

 

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How long were you working on it?

LT: As I mentioned, we started in late 2014. It was due out in summer 2016. For various reasons – some good, like Tom (Peters, producer) getting married and some awful, like band members losing loved ones – it took longer than planned. But that’s not the story of the album, that’s simply what delayed it. And when those big life events happen, well, as much as I like music, I’m afraid they take precedent and the music takes a back seat. However – much like the first album actually – even though it took a couple of years to complete, in terms of actual recording, it was only a few days.

How do you feel this record differs from your debut? You’ve said it’s a collection of songs that you want to play live, whereas with the first album, that wasn’t the case. Can you elaborate on that?

LT: With the last album, you had to be careful which songs to play in which venues. Unless it was a “sit down and shut up,” type place, then you couldn’t play half the songs off it.

Trying to play Hold On or I Don’t Need You To Tell Me to a festival crowd wasn’t even worth attempting.

This time most of the tracks – though admittedly not all – can be played solo, or with the band, to pretty much any audience. Obviously I’m not gonna pluck out A Song For Jack Brown in a noisy venue, but for the most part, they work.

The new album has a much bigger, more full-on sound that its predecessor – 2014’s You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense – doesn’t it?  What did you want this album to sound like? How did you approach the songwriting and the recording?

LT: It certainly has more electric guitar! But if anyone followed what was happening in The Whybirds, they’d know that a large part of what I do is that rockier alt.country sound. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an acoustic artist just because of the first album, as that would be a great example of me not being true to myself… There’s that album title again!

‘I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least’

Regarding the songwriting, I’ve got such a big backlog of songs that it’s very easy for me to pick the 10 that best fit the theme. No bullshit, I’ve got the next four albums planned, track listings and all. Now, obviously they’re subject to change, should I write something new that fits in, but for the most part I know what I’m doing for the next few records. There won’t be such a gap between albums – for the next couple at least.

You made the record with Tom Peters at The Den, in Bury St Edmunds. How was that? What was the recording process like? Was it a quick album to make? 

LT: Other than the delays mentioned, the sessions went really well. Very smoothly. Tom’s brilliant. He’s a great friend of mine and an awesome producer. I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Did you have all the songs written before you went in to record the album? What were your musical  and lyrical  influences for this record?

‘I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes’

LT: Without being too anachronistic, or overly reverent of the past, I really wanted to make a ’70s rock album with this one. Something like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Damn The Torpedoes or something, If Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker was the template last time, I think those albums informed this one.

The opening track, Waiting For My Day To Come, is a bit of an anthem, isn’t it? It’s a big tune. What can you tell me about that song? Are you still waiting for your day to come? Could this album change all that?

LT: I wanted to write a song like Lodi by Creedence Clearwater Revival, where I could sing it at every shit gig I ever played, and now I open most shows with it. I dunno if that’s some sort of Freudian slip! I guess I am still waiting, and the song seems to suggest I always will be – ha ha! But really, that song was just what I was feeling in that moment, same as Outside, Looking In. It doesn’t mean I always feel that way about music. I don’t see Waiting… as a positive song whatsoever, but a lot of people find it optimistic, so good for them.

The legendary pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole played on your new album. How was he to work with?

LT: He was great. We sent him the songs, sent him some money and he sent back his tracks. Easy-peasy! One nice thing about having him playing on it though is that my wife and I had Tiny Dancer [by Elton John] as our first dance and BJ plays on that. It was very cool that he ended up playing steel on three songs about my wife.

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You were the drummer in The Whybirds. How does it feel looking back on those days now? Why did you make the break and go solo?

LT: If it were up to me, The Whybirds would still be going all guns blazing with all four original members, and I’m pretty sure the other members know I feel that way. But it’s not up to me. The decision wasn’t mine. It was just a matter of life getting in the way. All of a sudden, my solo side-project became my main thing.

The Whybirds reunited for two tracks on your new album – Don’t Put Me Out and These Lonesome Blues. How was it being back in the studio with the band again? 

LT: It was great. We played those tracks back in the day but never got to record them, so I wanted everyone to play on them. Taff did his bass parts and backing vocals from Canada, where he lives now. We have our final gigs – for now – this summer. Everyone should come along!

These Lonesome Blues is a classic country-rock song, isn’t it? Depression, booze, cigarettes, women, death, the devil…. It’s got it all! What can you tell me about that track?

LT: I wrote that in 2006/2007, when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man. Hearing it now it sometimes seems like a pastiche, but I really felt all that at the time. If you look at the lyrics, without that barroom country backing, they’re actually pretty fucking bleak. But, I don’t feel that way anymore, so all’s well that ends well…

‘I wrote These Lonesome Blues when I was a lonely, boozing, smoking, depressed young man’

A Song For Jack Brown deals with the suicide of a young man. Why were you inspired you to write a song about Jack? Was it a difficult song to write? How have his friends and family reacted to the song?

LT: I was trawling through Facebook one night when I saw that a promoter The Whybirds used to work with had posted in a group called For Those Who Knew and Will Miss Jack Brown.

Seeing that group and reading those messages really got to me. Jack was a 21-year-old based in Leighton Buzzard. He was a super-talented rugby player, by all accounts the life and soul of the party, and it just seemed so tragic that he’d take his own life. The people left behind were devastated.

Anyway, I got choked up reading the messages and went away and wrote the song. I demoed it and sent it to the promoter saying that I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not, but that I’d written this song and thought I’d send it on. He liked it and asked if he could pass it on to Jack’s friends and family, and I said yes.

I started getting messages from people, including Jack’s mum, thanking me for the song. The next time we played in Leighton Buzzard, Jack’s dad came along to buy me a beer and say thanks. Now, as you can imagine, that’s quite a strange and humbling experience. Even though this was back in 2009, I thought I’d include the tribute on this record.

How’s the summer shaping up for you? What are your plans for the rest of 2017, music-wise?

LT: A few festivals, we’ve got some Whybirds ‘final shows’, and then the rest is a closely guarded secret – for the time being…

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently digging? 

LT: I try, wherever possible, to listen to things that aren’t necessarily close to what I do, otherwise I’d just write songs like Waiting For My Day To Come all the time… But jazz, grunge, rock, pop, blues… I listen to all kinds of music. I’ve been really digging into Paul Westerberg’s back catalogue at the moment. I’ve always liked his stuff from the Singles soundtrack and The Replacements of course, but I’ve been delving in a bit more. For obvious reasons, I’ve been listening to a lot of Soundgarden lately.

Always Be True by Luke Tuchscherer is out now on Clubhouse Records.  For more information, please visit http://www.luketuchscherer.co.uk/ .

The Whybirds will be playing three farewell shows:

June 30 –  Esquires, Bedford
July 7 – Portland Arms, Cambridge
August 11 – The Lexington, London

http://www.thewhybirds.com/

‘We jammed a version of The Ballad of El Goodo and I collapsed afterwards’

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The sound of the summer is here!  Oxford’s jangly-pop maestros The Dreaming Spires are back with a new eight-track EP/mini-album called Paisley Overground, which was partly recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios, in Memphis, where Big Star made their seminal albums.

The record features four songs from The Dreaming Spires (Paisley Overground, Harberton Mead, Silverlake Sky and The Road Less Travelled), as well as four from other acts – Sid Griffin & Tony Poole, Co-Pilgrim, The Hanging Stars and The Raving Beauties.

I asked Robin Bennett – who, with his brother Joe – are the main members of The Dreaming Spires – about the new EP, recording in Memphis and the band’s plans for the rest of the year…

 

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were talking about your last album Searching For The Supertruth, which was nominated for this year’s UK Americana Awards.  Now you’re back with another new record – the Paisley Overground EP. You’re unstoppable. What’s the secret to being so prolific?

Robin Bennett: Thank you for calling us unstoppable. We’re more like a swan, paddling frantically under the water. There are a few factors – I try to write songs every day, even if I only have a few moments, or I’m on the bus, typing things into my phone.

I also have a well of songs written a few years ago with my friend Daniel Power from New Orleans. Silverlake Sky [from the new EP]  is one of those, but updated. Our drummer, Jamie, has emigrated to the US, so when he is over here, or if by some good fortune we are there, we try to get some recording done.

Joe and I have our own studio – Truck Studios – where we recorded overdubs for this EP, and we are very lucky to have Tony Poole and Rowland Prytherch on hand to mix our recordings to the amazing standard that they do – it’s really a team effort. That said, we are nowhere near as prolific as Co-Pilgrim, Joe’s other band.

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Three of the new songs were recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios, in Memphis – the home of cult power-pop band Big Star. How was that experience?

RB: When we were in the US for AmericanaFest last September, we slightly extended our stay to fit in a visit to Memphis – our fans will know we had never been there before. It was viable to record for nearly a whole day at Ardent Studios, so we made sure we had rehearsed some material and cut it mostly live. When we got home, we added some overdubs to some of them, including Joe’s recently purchased pedal steel, finishing three tracks.

Big Star were a formative influence for The Dreaming Spires’ sound, undoubtedly. When our previous band Goldrush were in the US, we were introduced to Big Star via The Ballad of El Goodo, which I learned to play before I even knew who it was by. It became a really special song for us.

Soon enough we got into all the Big Star albums. For me, Memphis is the place where the music we love came together, whether it’s Chuck Berry, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Stax… All of that is hinted at in the music of Big Star, and their style is accessible for us because they were trying to emulate British groups.

Memphis has a very different style to Nashville – there’s more of an edge. It’s the melting pot of American music. All kinds of stuff has been recorded at Ardent, including REM’s Green, which was another formative album for us as teenagers. It’s a very well equipped studio, where you can set up and record live – which is what we did.

The room we used was actually designed for ZZ Top! Jody Stephens, the drummer and surviving original member of Big Star, is the studio manager. We thought perhaps he might drop by, and he did, even singing some backing vocals on a version of Dusty in Memphis, which we recorded the same day.

We kept teasing Jamie, our drummer, that Jody would have to step in if he didn’t play the songs right. Are we really that mean? Maybe that’s why he emigrated.

At the end, we jammed  a version of The Ballad of El Goodo with Jody and it was almost too much. I slightly collapsed afterwards.

Four of the songs on the EP are by The Dreaming Spires and four are by other artists. I’m confused… What’s the concept behind the new record?

RB: Paisley Overground was a throwaway phrase that almost demanded some kind of scene to be built around it. Much as the Paisley Underground was (mostly) LA bands reconstructing The Byrds’ sound with some modern attitudes, this is our British version in 2016.

We had also worked with Sid Griffin [The Long Ryders, Coal Porters ] on a gig showcasing the songs of David Crosby a couple of years ago, which was a really fun experience.

Tony Poole, who worked on our last album and mixed the first two tracks on this EP, had actually worked up a track with Sid called Tell Her All The Time, which is on side two. Rich from The Hanging Stars is an old friend, The Raving Beauties are on our manager’s label, and of course Co-Pilgrim is Joe’s excellent other band.

The proof of concept is that side two hangs together really well – it almost sounds like a Buffalo Springfield album, but with different singers.

The title track is an instant, chiming jangle-pop classic, with a touch of country. It’s a paean to your love of the Paisley Underground scene and the 12-string guitar sound. How did the song come about? Why do you love the Paisley Underground scene so much?

RB: Ever since I heard Turn! Turn! Turn! And A Hard Day’s Night as a kid, I’ve instinctively loved the sound. You can hear it on some songs from the Goldrush catalogue too.

I think there’s something about a 12-string, where you have two strings for each note, which creates an automatic, psychedelically-enhanced effect – you get a drone from the low strings in octaves, and the high E and B strings are the same pitch, but tuned slightly differently. A lot of music from different cultures uses drones and resonant strings, and a 12-string guitar has a bit of that.

Growing up, we also loved the jangle of early The Stone Roses, REM, and Ride. We backed Mark Gardener from Ride between 2003-2006, including several US tours, and I usually played his Rickenbacker 12-string, a custom John Lennon version I believe, so we weren’t the first Oxford band to like them.

The first I heard about the Paisley Underground scene was from Danny  [Daniel Power]. He was also the road manager on those early tours with Mark Gardener and he lived in LA. We stayed with him a lot and got a feel for it, without becoming an expert on any of the bands.

I just liked the phrase, and what it stood for – a kind of contemporary revival of classic sounds and songwriting, sometimes with an edge of psychedelic exploration.

I’m sure in reality it was a pretty small scene, but with a big influence. We’ve done shows with Sid Griffin and Chuck Prophet in recent years and heard a bit more about it.

It’s easy to feel like you miss out on scenes or moments in music, especially when you read too many music books and watch too many documentaries, but I hope the song and the EP as whole create our own shared moment.

The 12-string electrics I use now both belong to Joe – as the song suggests, I still don’t own one. One Danelectro and one Rickenbacker.

You are right in spotting a touch of country in the recording too – Joe made a purchase from Pedal Steels of Nashville when we were there, and this was his first attempt to play it on record.

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Let’s talk about the other Dreaming Spires songs on the EP. What inspired Harberton Mead and The Road Less Travelled? 

RB: Harberton Mead is a road in Oxford. I lived in Oxford for years and never knew the road – it’s full of gated mansions.

Some friends ended up living in a shared house there owned by the university, and the name stuck with me. It has a mystery to it, like Itchycoo Park or Penny Lane.

The Road Less Travelled was a song I had left over from the last album, but I wanted to record it at Ardent because it had a hint of The Ballad of El Goodo about it. The lyric is quite mysterious – even to me.

I think it’s almost a conclusion to the narrative on the first two albums, but not in any obvious way. It’s quite a trippy lyric.

I’ve read that the song Silverlake Sky was written on Sunset Strip, the heart of The Paisley Underground, and recorded in Oxfordshire using a ’60s Eko 12-string acoustic guitar. Can you tell me about how you wrote and recorded the track?

RB: Between 2004-2007 I wrote a lot of songs with Danny, my friend mentioned previously. He lived between Echo Park and Silverlake, at “the house on Elsinore”.

Our whole band would often stay at his house, with much drinking and many evening sing-alongs, but we also developed a songwriting partnership – both there and when he’d visit the UK.

I found the lyric in my notebook from those sessions but I couldn’t remember the original tune properly, so I approximated it and added the vocal part at the beginning.

When we wrote it we were envisaging a struggling Hollywood actor or musician with too much of a focus on the lifestyle. There were plenty of those around.

I can still recall the warm aromas of a Silverlake evening, and the glory of the Californian sunsets. Pretty exciting when you’re from Oxfordshire.

The allure was too much for our drummer, Jamie, who has moved to LA. He actually lived there before, when he was in another band.

We found a moment to record the song when he was here last summer, and the acoustic 12-string ties it in nicely with the other tunes. I actually bought it on impulse at one of Clubhouse’s Record Store Day events in Amersham a couple of years ago. A real bargain.

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The new EP is coming out on 12in vinyl. Are The Dreaming Spires vinyl junkies?

RB: We’ve always loved it, whether playing our dad’s collection as kids, collecting singles in the ‘90s, or picking up $1 classic albums in American thrift stores.

Our music tastes would be completely different without vinyl – the way it has allowed us to stumble upon discoveries. It’s not that convenient, and I probably listen to CDs more, but there’s something that gives you an instant artistic feel from the object. You can pass it around. I don’t get that from streaming, convenient though it is, and I still find the choice overwhelming.

Twelve inch vinyl works so well as an art object – I love coloured vinyl, too. This EP is going to be translucent purple, I believe. It’s a really nice end point for a recording project to see it on vinyl. I don’t agree with those who say they love the crackle of vinyl, though. Modern pressings are usually much better.

How’s the rest of the year shaping up for you? Do you have any festival gigs planned and any shows gigs in the UK or elsewhere?

RB: We’re doing some Paisley Overground shows with the excellent bands from side two of the EP – Co-Pilgrim, The Hanging Stars and The Raving Beauties – in London, Brighton, Didcot and Winchester.There are more extensive tour plans for the autumn coming together.

As you’re so prolific, surely you must’ve written another album by now?

RB: I have, or perhaps two! It’s certainly a new chapter. I think this EP is my sign-off from jangle. But I’m probably wrong…

Finally, what music – old and new – are you currently listening to and enjoying?

RB: I’m enjoying lots of the current crop of US songwriters, like John Moreland, Austin Lucas, Jason Isbell and Sam Outlaw.

I’m also listening to the Simon and Garfunkel box set, The Everly Brothers. Jimmy Ruffin’s Greatest Hits – when I can get it not to skip). The Lovin’ Spoonful. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Byrds – Untitled.

I loved the music performed by all our fellow nominees at the UK Americana Awards – it was a special night.

And, of course, the new albums by The Hanging Stars, Co-Pilgrim and The Raving Beauties. There’s plenty of good music out there….

Paisley Overground is out on At The Helm Records on June 10 on coloured 12in vinyl and download.

For more info: http://www.thedreamingspires.co.uk/

 

‘Making this record was intense – I was down in the basement on my own for long periods’

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National newspaper The Guardian recently described Peter Bruntnell as a cult hero – ‘an alt-country genius from Surrey’.

His new album, Nos Da Comrade, is one of my favourite records of the year so far and it’s also picked up rave reviews from publications including The Sun, The Mirror and Mojo.

Described by Peter as his most upbeat collection of songs ever, it opens with Mr Sunshine – a killer blast of Elvis Costello-like power-pop that’s an attack on Donald Trump: “an Agent Orange tan and a shiny suit.”

Elsewhere on the record, there’s an awesome, nine-minute, moody rock epic with heavy, Neil Young-style guitar riffing (Yuri Gagarin), the jangly, Teenage Fanclub-esque sounds of Rainstars and Fishing the Flood Plain and the gorgeous, melancholy, acoustic ballad End of the World.

Could this be the album that takes Peter Bruntnell into the mainstream? I spoke to him to find out…

 

How are you?  The last time we saw each other, I bought you the last pint of Guinness in the venue when you played a solo show upstairs at The Railway in Winchester, at the SC4M festival in 2014. You’re playing there again this year, on September 11. It’s always a good gig, isn’t it?

Peter Bruntnell: I’m fine thanks, Sean. Thanks for the Guinness! Yes, the Winchester gig with Oliver Gray [promoter / organiser] is always a highlight of any tour, what with the cheese, wine and whisky post-show party…

 

Congratulations on the new album – it’s superb. Let’s talk about the first single and the opening track, Mr Sunshine, which I first saw you play with your band at the 2013 SC4M festival.

It’s an anti-Donald Trump song and it deals with the issue of him destroying a Scottish fishing community in order to build a luxury golf resort. Can you tell me how the song came about? When and how was it written?

PB: I had the descending riff and a general idea of the tune before [co-writer] Bill Ritchie and I came up with the lyrics. It had an ‘anti-somebody’ vibe about it and I had recently seen the documentary about Trump and the golf course, so it was an easy decision to make.

It reminds me of classic Elvis Costello/New Wave power-pop. Is that the sound you were going for?

PB: I’m really glad people think it’s like Elvis Costello. I had The Kinks in mind, but I suppose it’s a similar comparison. It was an attempt to move to a sound that is less Americana and more Sixties guitar pop.

One of my favourite songs on the album is Yuri Gagarin. It’s almost nine minutes long – an epic. It’s very moody and features lots of loud, dirty, Neil Young-style electric guitar. Is that you on lead guitar? It’s an awesome sound…

PB: Yes – that’s me on guitar. First take luck, I think. It was just myself, Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass in a village hall – our mock studio.

We played all the songs live, together in the room, with headphones on, and my amp screened off in a cupboard. We played it once, listened back and knew I would never play the guitar like that again, so that was it. The vocals were overdubbed later.

What’s the background to the song, which is named after the famous Russian cosmonaut?

PB: Again, with this, I had the guitar riff first and the lyrics just came – eventually. Bill came up with a lot of them for this song and once we were in space, I had to make it about Yuri. I remember hearing about it when I was a little boy. What an amazing thing – the first man in space.

The opening riff dictates the vibe immediately – it’s atmospheric and stoned I suppose, although we weren’t…

I used a Valvepower 18 watt cage amp, which was made in Surbiton by a friend of mine. They are amazing amps – all hand-wired. I built most of it myself, with his supervision.

How did you approach the making of Nos Da Comrade? Did you have a bunch of songs written before you went to record the album? What kind of record were you setting out to make?

PB: Yes, all the songs were written and routined with drums, bass and myself. I wanted a live feel for the album, so we just set up. I miked all the instruments and played through the songs – simple.

It was different from my albums Peter and the Murder of Crows and Black Mountain UFO – they were more studio-produced and took much longer to make.

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You recorded and mixed the new album at home. Why did you go down that route, rather than use a producer and a studio?

PB: We used the village hall for one week, to get all the drums, bass and some guitar down. Then I went into my basement studio to overdub vocals and more guitars and keyboards etc. I did that because I have my own studio, so it’s economical and I like producing.

You worked with guitarist James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders, Son Volt, Pernice Brothers, The Pogues) on this album. He’s a regular collaborator, isn’t he?

PB: Yes. I used James and Dave Little on guitars. James came down for a few days and we went through the songs that I thought would suit him. He’s such a talent and a good friend – I had to use him. Similarly with Dave – I split the songs between the three of us, so I could have different flavours on different songs. Dave is a killer guitar player, too. I’m lucky to know them.

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So, are you pleased with the album?

PB: I was really excited about the songs I had for this album. I have never had a batch of songs that are so upbeat before.

Once I was making the record, it got a bit intense – being so immersed in it and being down in the basement on my own for long periods. I think I may have lost perspective a few times, but now that time has passed, I can listen to the record with fresh ears and it sounds really good to me.

The record has had lots of great press and reviews, including Mojo, The Sun, The Mirror & The Guardian. The latter called you a ‘cult hero – an alt-country genius from Surrey’. How does it feel to be called a cult hero and a genius?

PB: I know one thing – Brian Wilson is a genius, but I am not. It’s good to have people write positive things though, that’s for sure.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? 

PB: We’ve got a UK tour in July – the London show is at the 100 Club on the 20th, which I’m very excited about, as I love that place.

We’re going to Ireland in early June for a few shows – Kilkenny being one of, if not the best, towns in the world. In September, we’re off to Sweden. I can’t wait to get back there – it’s really beautiful – and in October, we’ll be in Spain. I think the places one gets to visit when touring is what makes doing what we do such a blast.

After years of playing gigs and making records in the UK alt-country scene, do you feel that your new album could be the one that takes you to a wider audience? Would you like more mainstream success, or are you happy doing what you do?

PB: I would love to reach a wider audience, but with zero marketing budget and mainstream radio being what it is, I can’t honestly see it changing that much. I’m doing my best though – I’ve got a lot of positives to work on and, as a band, we are on a high at the moment.

Peter Bruntnell’s new album, Nos Da Comrade, is out now on Domestico Records.

For more information and tour dates, please visit http://peterbruntnell.net/

 

 

“I’m hugely in love with the new Richmond Fontaine album”

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Crime writer Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, is released in May and is based on murderous goings-on in a therapy session. I spoke to him about addiction, country music and sitting around in his pyjamas all day…

 

The last time we spoke, you’d just released The Other Half – your spoken word album with country band My Darling Clementine – and your most recent Tom Thorne novel, Time of Death, had come out.

Now your new stand-alone novel, Die of Shame, is about to hit the shelves. Without giving too much away, what we can expect?

Mark Billingham: It’s a stand-alone psychological thriller and in some ways it’s a very modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, but my locked-room is a therapy group for recovering addicts.

There are six people in a circle who meet every Monday evening to talk about shame, which their therapist is convinced is the key to their problems with addiction and crucial in aiding their recovery.

One person in that group will die at the hands of another. Writing about addiction – a subject I’m fascinated by – enabled me to create a cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds, which is always an enjoyable challenge.

My best friend is a recovering addict and his experience and advice was hugely helpful. It’s a very different sort of novel from those in the Thorne series, but the bottom line is that it’s still a murder mystery and one I’m enormously proud of.

 

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Tom Thorne usually makes a cameo appearance in your stand-alone books. Will he crop up in Die of Shame?

MB: Yes, of course he will. And Phil Hendricks is in there as well…

Music is never far away from you and some of the characters in your books – particularly Tom Thorne. What were you listening to while you were writing Die of Shame? Have you heard any new albums that have blown you away? I’m loving Richmond Fontaine’s latest record and I know you’re a big fan of them…

MB: Well, like you, I’m hugely in love with the new Richmond Fontaine album [You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To].

It might even be their best yet, which is ironic considering that it’s almost certainly their last.

I’ve recently discovered Margo Price, who is just wonderful, and I’ve been really enjoying Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

I’ve been playing a lot of M. Ward too, and when I really need to get into a dark place, I put on Gorecki’s Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs. That stuff makes Hank Williams sound like The Wombles!

There’s not too much music in Die Of Shame, because there isn’t much Tom Thorne, but like you say, it’s never very far away…

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I recently picked up the My Darling Clementine Record Store Day EP, which features As Precious As The Flame – a song you co-wrote with the band. It must be great to have a track you worked on out on vinyl?  

MB: Absolutely – it’s a real thrill. I’m very proud of that song, which I think is a wonderful ending to the album and the live show of The Other Half. It’s fantastic to see it on the My Darling Clementine EP.

You’ve been touring The Other Half with My Darling Clementine. How was it going out on the road?

MB: The tour was a lot of fun, but bloody exhausting. Whenever I complained about all the travelling, Michael and Lou from My Darling Clementine would just say, “welcome to our world”.

I drove somewhere close to 7,000 miles doing the show, so now I’m appreciating the luxury of sitting at my desk all day in my pyjamas and not having to go further than the kitchen. I adored doing it, though. Michael and Lou remain a joy to work with and I’m very proud of the show we did.

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine
Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine perform The Other Half

Do you have any plans for some more musical collaborations?

MB: Collaborating is something I would highly recommend for anyone who works on their own most of the time.

Aside from the artistic benefits, it’s great to have someone to go for a beer and a curry with at the end of the day. I’m certainly up for doing something similar in the future, should the chance come along. Obviously I’m still waiting for Elvis Costello to call…

It’s going to be a busy year for you, as you’ve got some more gigs with My Darling Clementine planned, you’re promoting your new book in the UK and US and your novels In The Dark and Time of Death are being filmed for TV by the BBC. Can you tell us more about the TV adaptations?

MB: They’ve been filming for a week now and everything’s going well. Danny Brocklehurst has written four brilliant scripts and the BBC have put a fantastic cast together, so it’s really exciting.

Fans of Peep Show will be familiar with Matt King, who plays Super Hans, and it’s brilliant that we’ve got him playing Phil Hendricks.

Obviously, I’m going to spoil everything in a couple of weeks when I rock up to do my cameo, but I’m sure it will be fun.

The stories have changed a bit, as they should when you move from page to screen, and there’s no Thorne at all. The series focuses on Helen Weeks, and MyAnna Buring, who is playing her, is fantastic.

I’m sure some readers will be up in arms because the TV show is not exactly the same as the books, but how can it be? They are different animals and should be judged differently. I’m closely involved with the scripts and as an executive producer, so there’s nothing going on that I don’t completely endorse. We’re just trying to make the best TV show we can.

I fully expect my cameo to wind up on the cutting room floor, especially as I plan to ham it up shamelessly…

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Have you started writing the next Thorne novel yet? When can we expect it to be released and can you give us a teaser?

MB: Yes, I’m halfway through the next one. There’s a new detective in Die Of Shame called Nicola Tanner. In many ways she’s the ‘anti-Thorne’, so I’m having a lot of fun putting her and Tom together in the book I’m currently writing.

Fun is perhaps the wrong word, as I’m actually writing about a subject that is very dark. I don’t want to say too much at this stage – I don’t even have a title yet – but I’ve never felt angrier writing a book. I hope that turns out to be a good thing…

Following on from your appearances on TV quiz shows Pointless and Celebrity Mastermind, you’re going to appear on Eggheads, as a member of a team of crime writers. When can we see that? 

MB: I think it’s due to go out in September. I was part of a team of crime writers, alongside Val McDermid, Martyn Waites, Doug Johnstone and Chris Brookmyre. It was a lot of fun. I’m not allowed to say how we got on against the Eggheads, but I would urge people to watch!

Finally, can you recommend any good books, other than Die of Shame?

MB: Chris Brookmyre’s newest book Black Widow is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971 – Never A Dull Moment.

Another non-fiction recommendation would be Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari. It’s a brilliant history and detailed dissection of the war on drugs and I guarantee it will change everything you ever believed about addiction.

It’s absolutely fascinating and a huge eye-opener.

I’m currently reading John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker novel, A Time Of Torment, which is as sickeningly brilliant as usual. If I didn’t like him as much, I’d hate him…

Mark Billingham’s new novel, Die of Shame, will be published in the UK by Little, Brown on May 5 and in the US by Grove Atlantic on June 7.

For more information, visit http://www.markbillingham.com/

 

 

 

Best Albums of 2015

 

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As we approach the end of the year and overindulge in festive celebrations, hangovers are a daily occurrence.

They also played a major part in the making of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2015 – Minesweeping by O’Connell & Love.

One of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of recent times, it’s a collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell.

As Larry told me when I interviewed him about the making of the record: “What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.”

Reviewing it earlier this year, I described it as, ‘a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.’

The record opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duet Hangover Me (feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of  It Was The Sweetest Thing,hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk of Shake Off Your Shoes (feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspired Where Silence Meets The Sea.

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

It’s an album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt – it’s like rifling through a record collection of classic rock and roll, folk, blues, country and soul.

There are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

I’m really looking forward to seeing O’Connell & Love play this record live in 2016 – according to Larry, there are plans for a UK tour.

In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of something dark and strong and lose myself in Minesweeping.

One for the road, anyone?

As albums of the year go, singer-songwriters, alt.country, power-pop and Americana dominate my list.

Richard Hawley turned in a classic with Hollow Meadows, which was less psychedelic than its predecessor, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and largely rooted in country, folk and the lush, late-night, ‘50s-tinged melancholy ballads that dominated his earlier albums. Although there was still room for some bluesy-garage rock (Which Way) and anthemic, widescreen guitar pop (Heart of Oak).

I was lucky enough to meet Richard after one of his gigs this year and when I told him that I preferred his new album to the one before, he simply said, ‘Well – you can’t please everyone, Sean…’

Other singer-songwriters who released great albums this year included Manchester’s Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun sounded like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk – and Vinny Peculiar, whose Down The Bright Stream was a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary.

Nev Cottee
Nev Cottee

John Howard’s new project – John Howard & The Night Mail – was a wonderful record, full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.

Detroit’s Nick Piunti – a Say It With Garage Flowers favourite – returned in a blaze of glory with Beyond The Static, which was the follow-up to his critically acclaimed power-pop record 13 In My Head, while Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, was his most political record yet.

Dead Flowers – who topped Say It With Garage Flowers’ album of the year list back in 2013 with their debut, Midnight At The Wheel Club, didn’t disappoint with their new record – Minor & Grand, which was often louder and much more electrified than their first album.

Manchester band Last Harbour made Caul – a brooding, cinematic masterpiece that recalled Bowie’s Berlin period, the industrial, electronic atmosphere of Joy Division and the gothic splendour of Scott Walker and Nick Cave.

Steelism

Instrumental duo Steelism, with their spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, came up with a record (615 To FAME) that harked back to the glory days of ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also threw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic soundtracks.

UK Americana label Clubhouse Records had a great year in 2015, releasing superb albums by alt.country band Case Hardin (Colours Simple), whose singer-songwriter Pete Gow played a solo show that I promoted back in October, and The Dreaming Spires (Searching For The Supertruth)– Oxford’s prime exponents of ‘60s-style jangle-pop.

I must declare a vested interest in one of my favourite records of 2015 – The Other Half, a collaboration between top UK crime writer Mark Billingham and country duo My Darling Clementine.

Mark discovered My Darling Clementine by first reading about them on my blog, so, I’d like to think that I set the wheels in motion that led them to record their story of love, loss and murder that’s told in words and music and set in a rundown Memphis bar.

Sadly, not everyone who released superb albums in 2015 lived to tell the tale. Gifted, but troubled, singer-songwriter Gavin Clark (Sunhouse, Clayhill) died in February, but he left behind Evangelist – a project that was completed by James Griffith and Pablo Clements, members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton.

Loosely based on Gavin’s life, it was a dark, edgy, atmospheric and psychedelic-tinged trip that made for uneasy – yet essential – listening.

And finally, here are some nods to acts who didn’t release studio albums this year, but put out some records that I loved.

I’m not normally a huge fan of live albums, but Johnny Marr’s Adrenalin Baby was brilliant and really captured the feel and atmosphere of his gigs – it’s worth it just to hear his outstanding, europhic version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It.

And talking of live shows, UK folk duo The Rails gave away a seven-track acoustic EP called Australia at their gigs this year.

It served as a good stopgap until their next album and featured a killer, stripped-down cover of Edwyn Collins’ Low Expectations.

Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Steve Roberts followed up his 2013 concept record Cold Wars Part 1 EP with the five-track sequel – What Would You Die For? [Cold Wars Part Two].

The standout track This Is A Cold War was a stately, Beatlesesque piano-led ballad. Lennon and McCarthy?

And while we’re on the subject of spies, being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed A Girl And A Guna 34-track tribute album of 007 songs and soundtracks by artists including Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge.

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2015 and a Spotify playlist to accompany it:

  1. O’Connell & Love – Minesweeping
  2. Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
  3. Vinny Peculiar – Down The Bright Stream
  4. John Howard & The Night Mail – John Howard & The Night Mail
  5. Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun
  6. The Dreaming Spires – Searching For The Supertruth
  7. Dead Flowers – Minor & Grand
  8. Evangelist [Gavin Clark & Toydrum] – Evangelist
  9. Duke Garwood – Heavy Love
  10. Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine – The Other Half
  11. Nick Piunti – Beyond The Static
  12. Case Hardin – Colours Simple
  13. Last Harbour – Caul
  14. Steelism – 615 To FAME
  15. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
  16. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  17. Marc Carroll – Love Is All or Not At All
  18. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  19. Gaz Coombes – Matador
  20. Wilco – Star Wars
  21. The Sopranistas – Cutting Down The Bird Hotel
  22. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  23. New Order – Music Complete
  24. GospelBeacH – Pacific Surf Line
  25. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  26. Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
  27. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
  28. Hurricane #1 – Find What You Love And Let It Kill You
  29. Jacob Golden – The Invisible Record
  30. Ian Webber – Year of the Horse
  31. Bill Fay – Who Is The Sender?

‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

I speak to songwriting duo O’Connell & Love to find out how a stormy winter week in Hastings, afternoon drinking, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and some serious hangovers all helped to create one of the best albums of the year…

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell
Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

Minesweeping – the new record by O’Connell & Love – is one of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of 2015.

A collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell, it’s a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.

It opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duet Hangover Me (feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of  It Was The Sweetest Thing, hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk of Shake Off Your Shoes (feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspired Where Silence Meets The Sea.

An album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt, there are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

MID cover

The essence of the album came together when you were holed up in the Sussex seaside town of Hastings, writing songs one stormy week in winter. Can you tell me more about that time? What was the writing and recording process for the record like?

Larry Love: What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.

We’re pretty quick at getting ideas down. We’re too long in the tooth to fuck around, in terms of working out structures and the basic platforms of rock and roll.

We’re not meandering around like 17-year-olds, listening to fucking Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Ann Peebles records, trying to work out what the formula is. We have our formula very organised.

If anything, we had too many ideas – the challenge was to get them to coalesce. Hopefully that comes across on the record. It has a certain homogenous quality to it.

It does – it feels like a complete album, from start to finish. 

You’ve said that the album was seven years in the making, due to other commitments… Were all of the songs written during that week you spent in Hastings?

Brendan O’Connell: A couple came after that and some had been hanging around for years.

You might recycle an idea that you tried to write 25 years ago, but that never really came to anything. You leave it and then come back to it years later, use it with someone else’s idea and it suddenly gets finished.

You might have an idea where the verse is really good, but you can’t get the next bit together… Then one day it suddenly comes from somewhere and you know it’s right.

LL: It was a bit like a pit bull that gets impregnated by a breeder. Eight little puppies come out and you think all the litter has been delivered. Then another five arrive two weeks later, in the ectoplasm!

So, Brendan, do you bring your musical ideas to Larry?

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

LL: A lot of them he might find in a charity shop. Sometimes the clothes don’t fit on that particular day – especially as you get older…

Lyrically, the album has a recurring nautical theme running through it…

BO’C: That must’ve come from Hastings.

The record was produced by Greg Fleming – aka Wizard – who’s worked with the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal and Chase & Status.Why did you choose to use a dance music producer on a country, blues and folk album?

LL: I really liked Rick Rubin’s recordings with Johnny Cash.

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

LL: He brought cynicism, pessimism and downright depressiveness to it because he’s generally used to doing this: (Larry suddenly makes loud, squelching dance music noises with his mouth!)

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

LL: Far too many – they generally involved me having rows with Brendan, who said I was irresponsible for staying up all night drunk. But, over the years, he has accepted that me getting drunk does add to the joie de vivre.

There are quite a few special guests on the album, including Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Doherty and Rumer. How did you come to work with them?

LL: Whatever technology has taken away from us as musicians in terms of revenue, it’s also opened up many doors for collaborations – it’s not like you have to have a long, drawn-out scenario where you have to have everyone together in the same studio.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album – Power In The Blood – was named after a song I wrote. I went to see her when Morrissey was curating Meltdown at the South Bank [in 2004] and I got invited backstage. I asked her if she fancied doing a song.

I’ve known Pete Doherty for years – he used to come and see Alabama 3 gigs back in the day. I got hold of his manager and said, ‘He fucking owes us one, so Pete, get down here.’

B’OC: We knew Rumer from Brixton, but she disappeared off to America and became a big star. My brother bumped into her in the street – she was a fan of the album we did before this one [Ghost Flight – released in 2006, under the name Robert Love] and she was keen to come and sing on a few songs.

 

Let’s talk about some of the songs from the new record. The opener, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds like Johnny Cash…

LL: I thought you said Clash! Yeah – what Rick Rubin did at the end of Johnny Cash’s career was very inspiring. It’s the same as when Bob Dylan worked with Daniel Lanois. Grizzled voices and ‘hip-hop’ production.

BO’C: To me, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds Spanish, rather than country, but Larry’s voice sounds like Cash.

LL: It has a ‘you’re on death row’ kind of vibe – I used to know someone who was on death row and I got quite involved with the campaign to release Albert Woodfox, who was from the Angola Three. He was one of the longest incarcerated members of The Black Panthers. It was around that time that I wrote the song. He was waiting on death row for years, but he’s now been reprieved.

 

 

One of my favourite songs on the album is Hangover Me, featuring Rumer. It has a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood feel to it…

LL: Yeah – it ended up that way. We wrote it with Seggs Jennings (The Ruts DC), with hangovers. It nails our colours to the mast. We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring.

It was originally called The Ballad of Martin Lambert and was written about a friend of ours who died from a morphine overdose on Christmas Day at his mother’s. It was a tragic way to go. I sang at his funeral. We surround ourselves with people who are on the edge – they’re not living comfortable lives and selling houses to fucking yuppies.

 

 

The track It Was The Sweetest Thing has a great Stonesy country-soul swagger… It’s a good story song – a tale of lovers embarking on a European adventure…

LL: Lyrically, it’s about the inevitable nostalgia that comes from when you’ve lost something that you realise you should’ve held on to. I like to think that I’ve lost a lot of things I should never have lost and found things I should never have found…

BO’C: Or that you never deserved to have in the first place.

LL: Exactly. I had an Italian girlfriend, but things didn’t work out. I’d never been to Europe before – I flew to Bologna with a pocketful of Ecstasy! I didn’t know you couldn’t take it on the plane. It was inspired by that – as lovers, you can traverse continents.

In this day and age, with the refugee crisis, love does transcend boundaries. The nature of the song implies that we went everywhere, looking for love, but, ultimately, we found it nowhere.

The Man Inside The Mask, which started out as a very long poem, reminds me of late ‘70s Dylan…

BO’C: When I first played it on my own and sang some of the words from the poem, I thought it was going to end up sounding like Leonard Cohen, but it turned out quite Dylanish…

Let’s go back to your roots. How did you meet and start writing songs together?

LL: About 20 years ago, I was a recovering heroin addict. I haven’t done it since – touch wood. Brendan was in a band called Past Caring – I thought they were very innovative. If you’re familiar with narcotic withdrawal, it’s quite highly sensitised. I was in an Irish bar called Brady’s and I was really impressed by the strength and the quality of Brendan and the band’s performance. I used to sing Uncertain Harbour [the penultimate song on Minesweeping] as a guest vocalist. We were both habitués of South Londonwe knew the same pubs and the same problems.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

LL: We’re letting the album gestate in people’s minds. I’m busy – I’ve got an Alabama 3 tour in October/November. We’re looking at doing an O’Connell & Love tour in January/February – up and down the country, with some skirmishes in-between. We’re definitely taking the band out on the road.

BO’C: And we’re writing some more songs.

LL: We’re going to do the next album in seven days – like the Lord. Doing Minesweeping has given us more confidence for the next phase. I don’t think it will have a nautical theme – it will be rain and Northern towns.

So, finally, what’s the secret of writing a great country song?

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com