‘I was really quite sad about never doing music again – I think it’s what I’m best at…’

“I’ve got pheasants following me around – they’re not pets, honestly,” says Matt ‘the Hat’ James, former Gene-drummer-turned-singer-songwriter, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers on the phone from his garden in the East Sussex countryside, shortly before the release of his debut solo album, Breaking The Fall.

Despite the local birdlife, he hasn’t turned into an eccentric rock star recluse, although after the demise of Gene and his next band, Palace Fires, several years ago, he did leave the music business to pursue a career as a wine merchant, but he’s recently been tempted back into it, and, in 2019, he started writing songs on his own for the first time and rekindled his passion. Three years later, the results are now out in the wider world.

“Having the record out there is the best feeling – I can’t stop looking at the vinyl,” he enthuses. “Musically, I think it’s strong enough to win over new fans.”

It’s hard to argue with him. Listening to Breaking The Fall, which is one of our favourite albums of the year so far, it’s clear that he’s got his mojo back.

Although it’s a debut record, it sounds like a best of collection – 10 memorable, varied and, at times, very personal and emotional, songs that embrace folk, country/ Americana, soul, indie-rock, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s pop. 

‘Having the record out there is the best feeling – I can’t stop looking at the vinyl. Musically, I think it’s strong enough to win over new fans’

Occasionally it recalls Gene –  the country-soul of A Simple Message and the anthemic ballad Different World – but most of the time, it’s the sound of someone experimenting with different styles and enjoying being in the studio again after a long time away.

“I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction,” he says. 

Stepping out from behind the drum kit to put himself in the spotlight for the first time, Matt has relied on some old friends to help him out.

Former Gene band mates Steve Mason (guitar) and Kevin Miles (bass) are along for the ride, as is keyboard player, Mick Talbot, (The Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played live with Gene and on radio sessions.

Production duties are taken care of by former Gene associate, Stephen Street, (The Smiths / Morrissey, Blur, The Cranberries) – sonically, the album is rich, colourful and diverse – and there’s some guitar work by James’s friend, Peredur ap Gwynedd (Perry for short), from electronic rockers Pendulum.

We got Matt to talk us through the writing and recording of Breaking The Fall, share some of his thoughts on the songs and let us know what it feels like to be back in the game… 

Q &A

I was expecting the album to open with a big song, but the first track, From Now On, is quite low-key, with a country/Americana feel. It’s stripped-back…

Matt James: I deliberately wanted that – it suits the nature of the lyrics, which are about coming home. It’s a little folky number and the song is a metaphor for me returning to do music. That’s a general theme on the album.

I didn’t want a big bang at the front – I wanted it to be like the Badly Drawn Boy album [The Hour of Bewilderbeast] with something little at the beginning, before one of the big tunes.

The song sounds like it has an accordion on it…

That’s Mick Talbot doing an accordion sound on the keyboard. He’s multi-talented and he’s good to hang out with – he’s so funny. He has a brilliant sense of humour and his stories are immense. He’s full of energy and the moment he plays, it lifts any room. It was quite a moment having Mick there, because I hadn’t really seen him since he played with Gene.

Champione was written about your dad…

MJ: Yeah – he was someone that I loved but he was plagued with problems, and it was quite difficult being his son. Throughout his whole life, he continued to go downhill, and he ended up getting quite desperate and being very needy of everyone else, without going into details.

‘I’m more likely to better communicate the things I want to talk about in my songs  if they’re about highly personal subjects. That’s the great thing about writing – it’s a cathartic experience’

He was a difficult character – the song starts off being quite angry. I call him “champione of none” but I end up forgiving him. When someone has passed away you have the choice to remember the good stuff – if you want – but it’s tempered with the difficulties. I now think of him fondly most of the time, but I really wanted to get it out in this song.

I’m more likely to better communicate the things I want to talk about in my songs if they’re about highly personal subjects that are unique to me. That’s the great thing about writing – it’s a cathartic experience.

High Time is another autobiographical song. It’s about the serious road accident that your pre-Gene band, Spin, were involved with, back in 1991, and it also mentions the first time you met Martin Rossiter – who went on to front Gene – in the Underworld, in Camden…

MJ: Yes – that song and Champione were two hard ones to write.  I’m quite glad I did it – I hadn’t done it before and I didn’t know how it would feel. I was determined to put some real emotions and some reality in them. On those particular songs on the LP, I think I’ve made that connection the best. There are touches of comedy in some of the lyrics.

High Time is dark and atmospheric…

MJ: It’s a difficult subject matter – I wanted a sombre, driving feel and I was thinking Johnny Cash. The song is about random events – good and bad. Things that you don’t have any control over, but they can completely change your life. It’s an interesting concept.

The title track is one of the darker and saddest songs on the record – a big, anthemic ballad. Why did you choose that one to name the album after?

MJ: It was mainly because of the lyric – me returning to music. I’ve never written songs completely on my before. I’m a pretty happy guy and I’ve got a good life… but I looked at myself and, under the exterior, I was really quite sad about never doing music again, because, if I’m honest, I think it’s probably what I’m best at.

People I knew were making a stand and doing their music, and I wasn’t doing anything, so I took a decision to reverse that. That’s what Breaking The Fall is about – it conjures up the sadness of it. I’m drawing under a line under it, but it’s a long journey back and I think I will improve a lot from here.

When did you first start writing songs on your own?

MJ: 2019. The first song I wrote was Snowy Peaks – it was a joyful one. I wrote the verse while I was on holiday and it was sort of a love song. I played it to Steve Mason and he said: ‘That’s really good, but you need another bit…’

That was the turning point. I wrote a lot of songs for the album. It was a bit like with Gene, when, for some albums, we would write 20 or 25 tracks. I remembered that you have to do that to have a strong record. After I finished the album, I had songs left over and I’ve written quite a few more.

The album is very varied in styles. Born To Rule has mariachi horns on it and a bit of a Spaghetti Western feel..

That’s me experimenting – I’m sort of trying everything out. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction.

 

I think the two songs that most remind me of Gene on the album are A Simple Message and Different World

MJ: Yeah – I didn’t want to do too much like that. I was aware of it. I was channelling Gene with A Simple Message – I had that kind of guitar style…

It was also the first single you released from the album…

MJ: Kev said that song was his favourite – I knew it was a strong song. It’s definitely one of the best on the album.

On Different World, I was channelling Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield – that’s sort of where I was coming from. Whether I succeeded or not, I don’t know…

I can definitely hear that.

MJ: It also has a strong and simple lyric.

Sad, which has a soul feel, is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has Mick Talbot on keys, which gives it a slight Jam and Style Council vibe. The chorus is great…

MJ: My niece, Olivia, who is still at school, sings backing vocals on it. She stepped up… she loves musical theatre. She’d never been in a recording studio before and it was really good fun. She came up to London and it was a great day – she sang on two tracks, Sad and Snowy Peaks.

‘On Different World, I was channelling Burt Bacharach and Dusty Springfield – that’s where I was coming from. Whether I succeeded or not, I don’t know…’

The last song on the album, Fireships, starts off stripped-down, but it soon builds and turns into an epic…

MJ: It’s a song about a breakup – I’m wallowing in self pity. Many people will understand that. I really do like the end section – it’s probably my favourite bit of music on the album. I’m a real sucker for an anthemic song that builds.

It’s a nice way to close the album. The whole record feels like a complete piece of work – 10 songs, bang-bang-bang and no messing around. It works well on vinyl too  – five songs on each side. Like the old days. I think too many acts make albums that are overlong. Ten or 12 songs, at a push, will do me just fine..

MJ: I agree – you don’t need to outstay your welcome. Put them on another album or an EP. I think 10 is about right. It felt good for this record. I don’t think I put even the best songs on there but it’s the 10 that worked at the time. I know I have some other really strong songs.

Let’s talk about recording the album. You made it at Stephen Street’s studio, in Latimer Road, West London, but do you also have a home studio?

MJ: I have my drum kit and guitars in my office, but the only thing I record on [at home] is my phone. I went to proper studios to record the drums – not at Streety’s because he doesn’t have a drum room.

Steve Mason and I tend to send things to each other via WhatsApp – he recently sent me an absolutely brilliant riff that’s really bluesy. I love it!

Steve, Kev and Mick all came to Streety’s studio in Latimer Road – Damon Albarn does his Gorillaz stuff there upstairs – we saw him around. He was nice. I haven’t been in that world for so long.

How did it feel being back in it?

MJ: It was really nice, but there were times when I felt a bit shy being back in a recording studio.

How was it working with Stephen Street?

MJ: He’s a real grafter – he puts a proper shift in and can put his hand to anything. He works his arse off until about six o’clock at night. I remembered that from when I worked with him in the Spin days – we were signed to his record label.

‘I’m basically a wine merchant who’s putting music out’

He took the demos for my album – he went through everything and picked what he wanted. Some we rerecorded completely. Streety produced the whole album, but it’s not a big-budget production – I couldn’t afford that.

Perry from Pendulum plays guitar on the record…

MJ: He’s a mate and is a super talent. For someone who is quite a metaller, he can play so much – he can shred it and go super-fast, but he was a session musician for many years, playing on so many different records, like Natalie Imbruglia.

Matt James performing at Shanklin Theatre, Isle of Wight. Picture by Embracing Unique with Laura Holme.

The album’s available on vinyl and digital. Any plans for a CD version?

MJ: Not at the moment – I’m basically a wine merchant who’s putting music out. I don’t have any management, but everyone’s helped out and stepped up. I feel that it’s very early days.

I think the album will be a word of mouth record…

MJ: Musically it’s strong enough to win over new people. Some Gene fans will be supportive but they’re fans of Gene – they’re not fans of me. They might wish me well, but they like to hear Martin singing! [laughs].

I’ve got to find my audience – I’ve drawn a line in the sand and I’m making my way back. Every little thing that comes in just cheers me up. It’s not like I’ve just been signed by a major label and they’re saying, ‘You’ve got to do bloody well, mate, or you’re out on your own…’ It’s a nice feeling – let’s see where it goes.

Breaking The Fall is out now on vinyl and digital (Costermonger Records)

https://musicmattjames.bandcamp.com/

https://musicmattjames.com/

https://gene.tmstor.es/

‘Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think these lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written’

The Hanging Stars

The last time I spoke to London’s kings of cosmic country, The Hanging Stars, it was late January 2020 – ahead of the release of their third album, A New Kind Of Sky, which was their best to date – a mix of cinematic sounds, psych, jangle-pop, folk and country rock.

We spent the evening in a pub in London’s East End, chatting about the record. While I was getting a round in, a man standing at the bar, who told me he worked for the NHS, said he and his colleagues were very worried about a new virus that had originated from China…

It’s now over two years later, in early February, and I’m back in a London pub, this time on the edge of the West End, in Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley and guitar-shopping destination –  with The Hanging Stars… well, one of them, frontman, Richard Olson.

We have a brand new album to discuss, the brilliant Hollow Heart, and it’s the first interview he’s given about the record.

Hollow Heart is even better than its predecessor and sees The Hanging Stars pushing themselves harder from both a songwriting and sonic perspective. It’s also the band’s first record on independent label, Loose.

There’s a lot that’s happened since we last met. We could be here a while…

Q&A

The last time we spoke was two years ago, just before Covid happened…

Richard Olson: And here we are again, when the clouds have passed.

In the wake of Brexit, several of the lyrics on your last album, A New Kind Of Sky, dealt with the idea of escaping and getting away to a better place. To make your new record, Hollow Heart, you did escape, decamping to Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in Helmsdale, in The Highlands of Scotland – it overlooks the North Sea – with producer and musician Sean Read (Soulsavers, Dexys Midnight Runners), whom you’ve worked with before. How did that come about?

RO: We’re not blessed financially – we do what we can when we can. Every record has been based on that. At the end of the day, we’re a grassroots band.

Edwyn offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed – and Sean is one of the two engineers who he lets work there – the stars aligned. That happened during the pandemic, so we had to find a window when we were allowed to do it. It was quite a project, transporting six people to Helmsdale, with a bunch of instruments.

“Edwyn Collins offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed”

We drove in two cars and we set to work – we grafted and we were so focused. It was magical from start to finish. When you’re standing in the studio, and the sun’s setting over the bay, and you’re singing Weep & Whisper, that shit makes you think that you’ve made it! We got given this chance and we had to deliver the goods.

It certainly shows – sonically, it’s rich and immersive, and I think it’s your most cohesive record. Hollow Heart feels like a complete album, from start to finish, and you can completely lose yourself in it. Did you have all the songs written before you went into the studio?

RO: I write constantly. With lockdown, I had more time than I ever had before and I also had the energy – I just wanted to do shit. That was a blessing – we sent demos to each other.

This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done – in the sense that we had some songs, we went to the studio to finish them off and we had x amount of time to make the record.

It was good for us and it was a joy to see everybody flourish in the studio in their own way. It brought out what we’re good at. We also wanted to think about the sonics – Sean came into his own and we had so much fun doing it. This is a cliché but we threw the rulebook out of the window – we had to. We had so much fun doing it – we just let go a little bit and we had to trust who we were as a band.

“This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done”

Hollow Heart feels like a more positive record than its predecessor, but there’s also a sadness to several of the songs…

RO: It was surreal – no one knew what was going to happen – and there was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written.

Halfway through recording, in early autumn, I got a phone call from my wife – I was standing on a balcony, looking out towards Scandinavia – and she told me her dad, David, was in a coma, after having a heart attack. I said I would pack a bag and take the first flight home tomorrow, but she said: ‘There’s nothing you can do…’

David has really been behind our music – he’s a huge music fan and we went to Nashville together. My wife said: ‘Do you think he would want you to come back? Stay there and make the best fucking record you possibly can!’

That must’ve been hard for you…

It was really hard and pretty emotional, but from then on, we just set to work – under quite a lot of distress.

How is your father-in-law now?

RO: He’s fine.

Has he heard the record?

RO: No, he hasn’t…

If Covid hadn’t happened, would you have made a completely different record?

RO: That’s a great question. Do you know what? I’m going to give you a boring answer – it would probably have been a similar record, but I don’t think it would’ve been as close to my heart as this record is.

Your hollow heart…

RO: [laughs]. There you go.

This is your first record for Loose. Did you sign to them after you’d made this record, or before?

RO: After. We came in well-prepared with a lovely little gift for them with a knot on top.

Did you consider any other labels?

RO: Tom [Bridgewater – owner of Loose] said, ‘Let’s stop dancing around our handbags…’ He’s the real deal and he’s been through it – he sees our grassroots.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new record. The first track, Ava, is a slow- building love song, but then it turns anthemic. It creeps up on you and we’re suddenly in big cosmic country territory…

RO: It’s all about the sonics – it’s nice to listen to. Your children would like it. It was one of those songs that just came… it needed to have a wistful, wanting, rejected feeling.

Some of the album reminds me of your old band The See See, around the time of the Fountayne Mountain album, which I once said was the record The Stone Roses should’ve followed up their debut with…

RO: One hundred per cent. We let our influences be our influences – we let our country love be our country love, we let our folk love be our folk love… We took our foot off the gas a bit, which we needed to do. That’s quite key to this record.

Ballad Of Whatever May Be sounds like The Stone Roses, if they’d gone country…

RO: I’ll take that, man. It came out different to how it was written –  it changed in the studio, for the better. It has a good riff. It’s just one of those ‘live your life like this’ sort of songs. I’m not standing with a megaphone, screaming, but, holy fuck, I am so angry!

Black Light Night has some great jangly guitars on it. Didn’t Patrick (Ralla – guitar / keys) write the music for it?

RO: Yeah – it’s an old song that’s been kicking around for ages.

I think it has a vintage R.E.M feel…

RO: Yeah.

Weep & Whisper is more melancholy and musically it’s a shuffle – you’ve described it as ‘a love song to youth.’ I like the harmonies and the backing vocals. It has a Simon & Garfunkel feel…

RO: I like that. Paulie [Cobra drummer], harmony-wise, had a newfound confidence and he stepped up to do it, beautifully. It was arranged by Joe [Harvey-Whyte – pedal steel] – it’s a stroke of genius.

Patrick and Joe did their guitars for it in one take – it wasn’t edited. Me and Sean were sat looking at them doing it and we were like, ‘Shit – this is what it’s all about.’ That was one of the finest moments in my musical career.

“Radio On is Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?”

The first single from the album was Radio On, and it’s radio-friendly…

RO: Not as much as I would like! It’s me trying to write a soul song and I think it has a bit of a Velvet Underground thing. It’s Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?

Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart is one of the heavier, more psych songs on the album…

RO: It’s us trying to be Fairport Convention, but it started out as me trying to write a krautrock song my demo had a drum machine on it. I was quite pleased with it – it was chugging along like a kraut-yacht-rock band, but Patrick had a different idea.

It’s a dark song…

RO: Yeah, but it’s also one of the most truthful ones. It’s about hiding things, whether that’s with alcohol or downers, or weed, or whatever. I think everyone in our scene is a little bit guilty of that. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but even before the pandemic, more people were struggling and in the abyss more than we’d like to acknowledge. I’m not the only one, but I did get a little glimpse of that shit, and, do you know what? I do not want to go there again and I’d do anything to avoid it.

“I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory”

You’re So Free is ’60s West Coast psych-pop: Love, The Doors, The Beach Boys, The Turtles…

RO: I always wanted to do You Showed Me – I guess that’s our version. It also has some piano on it that’s like Ethiopian jazz. Lyrically, it’s probably the song that I’m most pleased with. Because of the whole division thing, with Brexit and Trump, a lot of my good friends, who I love dearly, took a different route during the pandemic. It’s a little bit about that and it’s me trying to be funny: “Scroll your feed. You’re so free to believe in what you see…”

Your vocals sound really good on this album…

RO: I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory.

Edywn guests on Rainbows In Windows – he does a spoken word part…

RO: That’s Sam’s [Ferman – bass] song he wrote it.

It’s quite filmic…

RO: I’m really pleased with how it came out. I felt we could do it a Jackson C. Frank kind of way, but then, on the way up to the studio, I thought we could do it like The Gift by The Velvet Underground,  but it didn’t quite work out that way, but then Sean was mixing it in London and he came up with the other bit, and Edwyn was up for it. It’s playful.

“I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version”

I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore is ’60s-garage-meets-The-Byrds…

RO: We went all-out 12-string on it. It’s a bit Flying Burritos as well. It’s a song about being completely helpless in front of the Tory government someone who’s dead talking about what they really would’ve liked to have said: “Now I’m gone, I can tell you my thoughts on the queen and crown. Do take heed of your greed, as you choke on an appleseed.” 

The last song on the album, Red Autumn Leaf, is a sad one it’s about being discarded and tossed on the heap…

RO: Pretty much. It’s Spiritualized gone country. I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version. I pretty much based my whole career on Lazer Guided Melodies – it’s magical.

A lot of your new songs have a sad undercurrent, but the music is very uplifting…

RO: That makes me so happy to hear that.

Do you think Hollow Heart is your best record?

RO: Of course it is. You wouldn’t be making records otherwise… With this album, we had to be The Hanging Stars and I think we did a pretty damned good job of it.

Hollow Heart is released on March 25 (Loose).

https://www.loosemusic.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

‘This record sounds like who I am, but it’s a little deeper than some of the others – it’s more vulnerable’

Jerry Leger, photographed at Shamrock Bowl in Toronto by Laura Proctor.

Canadian singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, has described his latest album, Nothing Pressing, as his ‘deepest artistic statement yet’.

It’s also one of his strongest and darkest records. Largely written and recorded in the wake of a close friend’s death and with the shadow of Covid hanging over it, Leger says it’s an album about survival – mental, physical and artistic. 

Some of the songs, like the stark, stripped-down and folky Underground Blues and Sinking In, were recorded in his Toronto apartment, using two SM58 microphones fed into his vintage 1981 Tascam four-track tape recorder.

“I spent a lot of the lockdown writing and demoing using the four-track,” he says. “I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude.”

He adds: “It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends. I think it’s unavoidable that things like that seep in. It’s a surreal feeling losing someone close. I wasn’t consciously writing with him in mind, but I can now hear traces of me dealing with it in a few of the songs.”

New single, the raw and punchy Kill It With Kindness, anthemic rocker Have You Ever Been Happy?, the Neil Young-like Recluse Revisions, the classic country-sounding A Page You’ve Turnedand the Beatlesy love song With Only You were laid down in the studio with his long-time producer, Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), and Leger’s band, The Situation (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion). There are guest contributions on the album from Tim Bovaconti (pedal steel) and Angie Hilts (vocals).

“Other than my drummer and bassist/backing vocalist,  I sang and played almost everything,” says Leger. “This gave the sound a certain flavour and character that hasn’t quite been captured on previous studio albums. There is very little outside involvement, to avoid diluting the sound we were after, creating a more personal statement.”

“I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind  and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude”

The song, Nothing Pressing, which opens the record, and the tracks Protector and Still Patience are solo acoustic, recorded live in the studio with few embellishments, save for Mock’s overdubbed harmony vocals and, on the title track, Timmins’ ukulele. 

The follow-up to his 2019 studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, it’s a stunning collection of songs – and often painfully honest. On Still Patience, over a sparse backing of guitar and Wurlitzer, Leger sings: “I go drinking by myself, when I got nobody else, for misery is company.”

At times sad and reflective, it’s an album that doesn’t shy away from tackling personal issues, such as mental health, depression and seeking solace in alcohol, but it’s also a record that believes a problem shared is a problem halved.

“I really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting,” says Leger, talking to Say It With Garage Flowers from his apartment, in an exclusive interview.

“It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort.  I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.”

Q&A

It’s good to chat again – it’s been a while. How are you doing?

Jerry Leger: I’m good. It’s been a busy year so far, what with getting the record together and the tour. It’s definitely been a bit stressful – putting a new studio album out in the current climate, where we’re still dealing with the pandemic and everything else.

And now there’s a war on…

JL: Yeah – it doesn’t seem to be getting that much better, but it’s exciting to have something new to focus on. Putting this record has been different.

The last time we spoke was in March 2020 – Covid had forced you to cancel your European and UK spring tour for your album, Time Out For Tomorrow, and you’d hastily put together a brand new, digital-only album, called Songs From The Apartment.

Available to buy from Bandcamp, it was made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that you’d demoed and quickly forgotten about. Since then, it’s had a vinyl release.

You’ve also published a book of poetry, called Just The Night Birds, made a concert film, put out some non-album digital singles, and written and recorded the new record.  You’ve been busy…

JL: I know – I do like staying busy in general. I guess the healthy thing about all those projects I did was that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to create anything or put them out – it was helpful me to do that.

To make this album, we were trying to get into the studio as soon as possible because we knew that when we resumed touring and going overseas we couldn’t really tour Time Out For Tomorrow. It was definitely a smart idea to make a new record, but we had to work out how we could get into the studio.

“It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it”

The four of us – (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion) and Michael Timmins (producer) – wanted to make sure we were comfortable and safe.

I went to the studio in the summer (2021) and recorded some stark, acoustic numbers. Then, once we got the green light, we got the band in. It felt great making the record, but it was a strange feeling at first. That soon disappeared once we were rocking and rolling and getting into it.

Was it a quick album to record?

JL: It was a lot faster to make than I thought it would be. I did the songs Nothing Pressing, Still Patience and Protector in one session – just me and my guitar. I added some Wurlitzer to one of the tracks, and then when the band came in, we booked a week – a Monday to Friday – to record.

We were so determined to do a good job and not rush it, but that determination allowed us to do the songs in two / two-and-a-half days. There’s also five songs I recorded with the band that didn’t go on the album. I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions and I listened to the rough mixes. I thought it should be just a full-band album, but Mike brought me back to the original plan – he said that wasn’t the concept we should be going for. That was helpful – that’s why I still like working with a producer. He’s someone who can make sure I’m staying on-task.

Mike wanted some stark acoustic songs, a couple of tracks that were me at home, and then the band. There’s a story – the album is bookended by Nothing Pressing and Protector. Both those songs are saying certain things and in the middle you get everything else.

“I was starting to change the vibe of the record as we were into the sessions. I thought it should be just a full-band album”

I was having so much fun playing with the band and with what we were recording that it made me want to change what we were going for. Who knows if that would’ve been better or worse? It wouldn’t be worse – it would still be a great record…

Look at Dylan. When he started screwing with his records sometimes it went in a good way – like Blood On The Tracks, which he rethought and recorded, but other records, like Infidels, suffered. It could’ve been a certain record, but he had second thoughts.

You’re a prolific songwriter. Did you have all the tracks written before you went into the studio, and were any of the songs old ones you hadn’t put out before?

JL: They were all brand new, except for Wait A Little Longer, which I’d recorded with my side-project, The Del Fi’s – it came out on their second record, in 2018. You’ve got to dig for those albums – not a lot of people heard that song and I thought we could do a really good job on it and give it a different spirit and a wider audience.

It’s a song I love and the band also love it. I originally gave it to The Del Fi’s because when I played it live I never really got much of  a reaction to it. But after we played with The Del Fi’s, my band said: ‘Why did you give that song away?’ I thought I was the only one who liked it… There’s something jovial about it and I thought this album could benefit from it.

“I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean. I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard”

It’s a pretty dark record at times. Some of the songs are sad and deal with personal issues, like alcohol abuse, depression and wrestling with inner demons. You lost a good friend, called Sean, before you made the album, which influenced some of the songs and themes on it. You’ve described the record as your ‘deepest artistic statement yet’. There’s a shadow hanging over it, isn’t there?

JL: I think that’s a good description of it. There’s a shadow hanging over everything and I was trying to make an effort to not accept that or realise it. Everyone deals with it at various points – a resilience. What comes with that is trying to push certain thoughts away. I think this album has been the best way for me to cope with the loss of my buddy, Sean – I haven’t really dealt with it and the pandemic’s made it hard. I still haven’t seen a lot of my friends, or it’s been on a semi-regular basis. It’s a bit of a sad record – but it has moments that go off in other directions.

Did you have a feel for what this album should sound like? For Time Out For Tomorrow, you were influenced by Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby

JL: I just wanted it to sound like me and us – for this one, I didn’t have a concept of how I wanted it to sound. I think that’s why some of the tracks vary from one another. I think the record sounds like who I am, but it’s a little deeper than some of the others. It’s more vulnerable in places. Still Patience is a song that I wasn’t sure I wanted to release.

That’s one of my favourite songs on the record…

JL: Oh, thanks. It’s a song that at the time I was writing it, I wasn’t exactly thinking about what I was writing about – it was quite emotional to record, as it was the first song I recorded being back in a studio, after so long wondering whether if I’d ever be doing it again.

A couple of the songs on the record are just you singing and playing into a four-track recorder…

JL: I particularly love the sound of the four-track, which I used to record Underground Blues and Sinking In. I love the sound of those machines. If we hadn’t made this studio album, I was going to put out an album of just songs recorded on the four-track, because I was really excited about the sounds I was getting out of it and the different arrangements I was coming up with. Mike liked that too – he was the one who mentioned I should include a couple of those recordings on the album.

“Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska”

I’m not a great guitarist, but I played the electric guitar solo on Underground Blues – this was the first album where I played all the solos. Underground Blues is just me at home on a Tascam four-track – Springsteen used the model before it to do Nebraska. 

Underground Blues is folky and has a mid-’60s Dylan feel…

JL: One of my buddies is a big Dylan fan and he also loves Bert Jansch –  he thought it sounded like something he would do. That’s interesting because Bert Jansch is somebody I’ve listened to more and more over the years. I really dig him, but I could never play like that. There’s a certain feel in the acoustic playing that aligns itself to that kind of blues song that Bert would’ve played – there’s a bit of a folk element to it.

The album title, Nothing Pressing, is apt for a record that was written during lockdown…

JL: Yeah. Besides Wait A Little Longer, that was the only song that I wrote before 2020. It was written around the time of the release of Time Out For Tomorrow – in 2019. It’s just one of those songs that came to me – I was picturing somebody like John Prine or Butch Hancock.

I was going to call the album Recluse Revisions, but Nothing Pressing became the title track. Mike suggested Nothing Pressing because he felt it was a song that really set up the record well and that it was nice to start it off with an acoustic number and then, surprise, here’s the second song, Kill It With Kindness… It’s not the record you thought you were getting…

The phrase ‘Nothing Pressing’ could also be a comment on the current global vinyl shortage…

JL: That’s true – I actually received some surprising news that our vinyl has made it time for the album release date.

Well, Adele’s latest record is out now…

JL: Yeah – she gave us some room.

The first single you released from the album was Have You Ever Been Happy? I like the lyric ‘Something made me laugh, but the punchline was me…’

JL: [laughs].

That song has a great chorus and melody, and I love the backing vocals by Angie Hilts…

JL: She’s from Toronto – she also sings on Wait A Little Longer. She had sung on the original recording of that by The Del Fi’s. She came up with the vocal harmony. I worked with her before, on my Nonsense and Heartache album – she sang on The Big Smoke Blues, Pawn Shop Piano and Lucy and Little Billy The Kid. She’s a great singer and artist – she can go in different directions, above or below me, and it just blends.

Recluse Revisions – another favourite of mine – has some great pedal steel on it and the harmonica gives it a classic Neil Young feel…

JL: I hear that.

I like the line in the song about musicians playing ‘cowboy songs we know by heart’ on cheap guitars…

JL: I had that line leading up to the song – I liked the idea of musicians listening to it. It’s about when you have a cheap guitar and the action / the strings are really high up from the neck, but you can usually still play those cowboy song chords, like G and C and E.

I like that imagery – of being with a comrade, playing songs and it still being harmonious. There’s another line in it: ‘We’re young now that we’re old.’ That could be about losing time, but not… In some ways, it feels like we’ve lost the last two years, but in other ways, all this stuff has happened – you and I kept doing things. We all did. Recluse Revisions is about trying to figure out how we reemerge and join the rest of society again. How to socialise and how to be comfortable going out again.

“I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety, so I have to push myself even more now to get out”

Here in Toronto, certain mandates have started to be lifted and I know that in the UK that’s already happened. I’ve always been somebody that’s suffered from a bit of social anxiety to begin with, so I have to push myself even more now to get out. I want to get out, get on the road and play shows because that’s always felt like a different dimension or a different world. I can accept that.

“I’m a survivor – I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years”

You were getting a bit of a following in the UK, after playing gigs here and some decent press. Are you worried that you’ve lost some momentum due to the pandemic? How do you feel about coming back to play here? You’ve now got three albums’ worth of new material to play…

JL:I’m just excited to get back doing it. I’m a survivor –  I’ve had to deal with a lot of shit through the years, with my career and things not working out how I thought they would. Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher.

Time Out For Tomorrow had some good momentum and I was excited about touring it, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I just keep making albums and touring them, and, hopefully, people come out. We’ll be there and we hope that our audience feels comfortable about coming back out and supporting us.

Jerry Leger & The Situation at the 2019 Ramblin’ Roots Revue: picture by Sean Hannam

 

I also really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting. I can’t keep on making the same record every time – I’m not even capable of doing that.

“Spiritually, I’m unable to compromise. That’s made things a bit tougher for me, but it’s also made me tougher”

This record just happens to be what it is, but, song-wise, I think it’s a much stronger record than the last few. It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. There are records that are very great-sounding and bright – if I want to be in a better mood, I throw a Beatles record on – but then there are records for when I need a different type of comfort, like Blood On The Tracks. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.

Kill It With Kindness is a big-sounding song, with some raw guitar. Like some of the other songs on the record, it tackles alcohol use and depression – keeping demons at bay…

JL: Yeah – that’s true. It starts off with the enemy being in your mind – it’s about how you choose to react to certain things. If there are people and things around you that are having a negative effect, you have a choice – you can decide how you want to tackle that.

I agree with you – I think the record is about tackling that and trying to fight some demons. With the pandemic and everything stopping, there was a lot more time to self-reflect and look in the mirror. Thinking about things and how you want to be perceived and how you want to be moving forward.

Sure there are some things that we use as a crutch. There are elements of that – using different things to help you cope and get by. Sometimes that can end up making things a bit more overwhelming. The record is a man with a worried mind – stress and anxiety – and it acknowledges that. I think the next record will be about tackling those things, but through meditation and stuff like that…

You’ve got the George Harrison moustache to do it…

JL: (laughs): Yeah – I have. Exactly. I’m gearing up for that. The next record will be about taking care of myself – I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on. It will be about finding that help to help myself.

Your song With Only You from the latest album has a very Beatlesy feel…

JL: Yeah – I really dig that one. It’s a love song – a break point on the album – but there’s an element of sadness to it, because you’re relying on someone else to help you through. You can’t make it without them, because you need more strength than you can create yourself.  But there’s also a beauty to it.

That song is very much the Beatles influence that’s been there all my life. It shows on that song. I actually worked out and wrote the guitar solo for it – I normally just do it and feel it out. It sounds like a cross between George Harrison and Mick Jones from The Clash. Mick Jones didn’t always have finesse, but he had confidence. It’s nothing super-fancy – it’s light and it’s melodic. A little brother to George Harrison.

“The next record will be about taking care of myself –  I knew that I had to do that in order to keep going on”

Your first live show for the new album will be in Toronto, at the Paradise Theatre, on March 31, which is my birthday…

JL: Yeah – I got you tickets to fly over for it. I wish!

It’s your big comeback show…

JL: I’m going to wear all leather.

Nothing Pressing is out now (digital) via Latent Recordings/Warner Music Canada/Proper Music. The physical release (CD and vinyl) is out on March 18. 

https://ffm.to/jerrylegernp


Tour Dates
03-05 Birkenhead, England – Future Yard
04-05 Winchester, England – The Railway Inn
05-05 London, England – The Green Note
06-05 Nottingham, England – The Chapel, Angel Microbrewery
07-05 Glasgow, Scotland – Broadcast

Home

 

Shanklin Theatre tribute concert for broadcaster John Hannam

Caroline and Sean Hannam – picture: Embracing Unique with Laura Holme

A plaque to commemorate the life of Island showbusiness journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, has been unveiled at Shanklin Theatre.

The official opening of the memorial took place at a tribute concert – Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – which was organised by John’s son, Sean.

The event (February 6) saw Island and mainland musicians and performers coming together to celebrate John’s life and raise money for charity. John died in September last year, following a short illness.

Sean and his sister, Caroline, unveiled the plaque, which is situated in the main foyer and was funded by Isle of Wight Radio in collaboration with Shanklin Theatre, ahead of the show.

Sean said: “Dad was a great supporter of local entertainment, and the theatre played a huge part in his life, so it was really important to hold the event in Shanklin. I’d like to thank Isle of Wight Radio and the theatre for donating the plaque. Now, whenever there’s a show at the venue, dad will always be there and people can share their memories of him when they’re going to the theatre.”

The tribute concert, which was hosted by Sean, was a huge success, with at least £1500 raised for the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.

My Darling Clementine. Picture: Embracing Unique with Laura Holme

Two mainland acts, country duo My Darling Clementine and singer-songwriter, Matt James, who was formerly in ‘90s indie-rock band, Gene, made their Island debuts at the show.

The line-up also included several local musicians and performers who were friends of John’s and whom he’d supported, including Bobby I Can Fly, Amy Bird and Andy Strickland.

Matt James. Photo: Embracing Unique with Laura Holme

“Music is my passion, and it was so important to my dad – he liked a wide range of styles – so I felt the best way to pay tribute to him was to hold a celebratory night with an eclectic selection of sounds – from ‘60s ballads to Americana, pop and rock. While I was organising and compering the show, I kept thinking to myself, ‘dad would’ve loved this’”, said Sean.

Andy Strickland. Photo: Embracing Unique with Laura Holme

The artists who appeared at the gig were: My Darling Clementine, Matt James, Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and Keith Roberts (Blue Moon), Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird and Bob and Bertie Everson.Singer-songwriter, Matt Hill, was unable to appear, due to ill health, but he recorded a video of himself singing a song by one of John’s favourite artists, Matt Monro. You can watch it here.

 

Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam

John Hannam – photo by Craig Sugden.

This is the first blog post I’ve written since September. For those of you who don’t know, my dad, show business journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, died that month, following a short illness. He was 80. 

Following his death, I decided to take a few months off, to deal with family matters and try to come to terms with his untimely passing. However, in true entertainment tradition, the show must go on, so today I’m updating Say It With Garage Flowers with some news that also acts as a tribute to my dad’s extraordinary career and his wonderful legacy.

On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life.

Dad loved the Island – he made a name for himself there and was never lured away by the bright lights of Fleet Street, or national radio, although his great reputation was known all over the UK and across the world.

During his amazing life – almost 50 years of it spent interviewing stars of stage and screen, as well as local people – he decided to stay on the Island, with his family and friends. Shanklin Theatre was a venue that my dad was very fond of – it’s where we held the wake for his funeral in November – so it’s very fitting that the tribute concert will take place there.

‘On Sunday February 6 2022, I am staging a charity concert in honour of my dad. It will take place at Shanklin Theatre, on the Isle of Wight, where my dad was born and bred and spent his life’

As a nod to the showbiz TV series, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, I’ve called the concert Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – A Tribute To John Hannam. The line-up of performers will include national and local musicians who dad liked, admired and supported – most of whom he interviewed at some stage during his career.

My Darling Clementine
Photo http://www.marcobakker.com

So, who’s on the bill? Headlining the night will be British husband-and-wife country duo, My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. Last year saw the release of their fourth album, Country Darkness – a project which saw them collaborating with Elvis Costello’s keyboardist and right-hand man Steve Nieve (The Imposters/ The Attractions) and reinterpreting some of Costello’s country and country-soul songs.

Also performing on the night will be singer-songwriter, Matt James – the former drummer of ’90s anthemic indie-rockers Gene.

Matt James

Earlier this year, Matt launched his solo career with his debut single, A Simple Message. The follow-up, Snowy Peaks, is released digitally on December 10, and there’s an album planned for next year.

Also on the bill will be another Matt – singer-songwriter, Matt Hill, a folk and Americana artist from the North of England, whose latest album, the politically-charged Greedy Magicians II  – Return of the Idle Drones, came out earlier this year.

Matt Hill

The consumer magazine Hi-Fi+ called Matt, ‘A very gifted songwriter and a master of telling stories.’

Local Isle of Wight musicians, or those with a connection to the area, will also be performing on the night. There will be appearances from Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race and The Chesterfields); professional singer and actress Amy Bird; reformed ’80s band Bobby I Can Fly; Chris Clarke, who was the bassist in UK Americana act, Danny & The Champions Of The World and runs Reservoir Studios in North London; local guitar legend, Brian Sharpe (The Cherokees) and, finally, local duo Bob and Bertie Everson.

Tickets are available here and cost £10. Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, Isle of Wight. Doors open at 7pm.

John Hannam

My dad loved music – of all different styles. Thanks to him, my sister Caroline and I are both big music lovers too. I have fond memories of him playing music in the house when we were growing up.

Through my dad, I got my passion for ‘60s music. For Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day, I always used to buy him albums by current bands and artists that I thought he might like. Luckily, he always did – usually because they sounded like ‘60s acts he’d got me into in the first place…. I shall really miss our listening sessions and chats about music.

John Hannam meets Duane Eddy

Dad got me into legendary twangy guitarist Duane Eddy – one of dad’s musical heroes and also one of mine.

In 2018, Dad and I were lucky enough to be invited to see Duane play a gig at the London Palladium. We sat in on the sound check – it was basically our own private Duane Eddy gig – and then we watched the show and met Duane backstage.

It’s a night I’ll never forget, especially as when I shook Duane’s hand, he said to me: “This night is all about heroes.” I was with two of mine, and dad was with one of his. It was truly special.

Let’s make Sunday Night At Shanklin Theatre: A Tribute To John Hannam a night to remember too.

Please email me – hannamsean95@gmail.com – if you need any more information about the concert.

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk

https://musicmattjames.com/

https://matthillsongwriter.com/

Tickets here.

Sunday Night at Shanklin Theatre – a tribute to John Hannam: Sunday February 6 2022.

A night of live music in memory of legendary Isle of Wight journalist and broadcaster, John Hannam, who died in autumn 2021.

Featuring My Darling Clementine, Matt James (Gene), Andy Strickland (The Loft, The Caretaker Race, The Chesterfields), Matt Hill, Brian Sharpe, Bobby I Can Fly, Chris Clarke, Amy Bird, Bob and Bertie Everson.

Proceeds will go to the British Heart Foundation and the Wellow Ward, St Mary’s Hospital.

‘I approached this record with a no-holds-barred attitude from beginning to end’

Brent Windler
Brent Windler

Kansas City singer-songwriter Brent Windler has made the album of the summer, but he only just snuck in with it – his  solo debut, New Morning Howl, which is soaked in the sunshine sounds of The Beach Boys and classic West Coast ’60s pop, but with a hint of Americana, came out in late August. 

It’s a lush and lavish record, with rich arrangements – warm and optimistic. One of the songs is even called Mr Sun – a harmony-laden, Beatles-like hymn to the healing powers of that big golden globe in the sky.

Opening song and first single, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop, with heavenly harmonies. Clocking in at around six minutes, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is a Brian Wilson-esque, widescreen epic that’s symphonic and dream-like, while the title track, with its sweeping strings, uplifting chorus, bouncy melody and twangy guitar, is pure Pet Sounds.

The spectral and folky Spanish Jasmine is the perfect song to listen to as summer turns to autumn: Windler sounds like Simon & Garfunkel – with synths.

The Glitter and The Roar, features some great Easy Listening horns, and closing anthem,  In My Daze is a big, Beatlesy, psych-tinged anthem, with piano, slide guitar and massed harmonies.

In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Windler about the new record.

“I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out,” he tells us.

Brent Windler

Q&A

Hi Brent. How’s it going? Where are you and what’s the vibe like?

Brent Windler:  I’m doing alright – thanks for asking. I’m in Kansas City and everything here is going alright. If I had to complain, it’s really hot here at the moment…

How was lockdown for you?

BW: It was pretty crazy, like it was everywhere. I was lucky enough to be able to work at home, so I had it better than a lot of folks. It was a strange blur of a year – lots of hanging out with friends and family through my computer screen, and the terrible feeling that everything was crumbling.

Congratulations on the new album. It’s a beauty. New Morning Howl is your first solo record. What took you so long? 

BW: Thank you. I’m happy you’re digging it. I actually started to record some solo material about seven years ago – some of it was released in 2019 –  but life got in the way, as it does sometimes, and I refocused on other musical projects I was involved with at the time.

I actually have a whole other solo record that is just waiting to be finished that I started around that time, but I have been enjoying writing new material so much I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, if ever.

Did lockdown affect the record? The album feels warm and optimistic, despite the current state of the world…

BW: I definitely think it affected the album. The way it was made would have been completely different had lockdown never happened, but I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional, but we were definitely trying to stay as optimistic as humanely possible while recording it – even though we failed on a regular basis. I know we tried make it work the best we could, and I think it made for an interesting record.

What’s your musical background? You’re from the Midwest. How was it growing up there?

BW: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I didn’t have much of a musical background growing up. I’m self-taught –  a music obsessive –  and I just stuck with it. Kansas City was a great city to grow up in, but, like anywhere, it’s got its ups and downs. I would be lying if I didn’t say I wish we had a mountain range near us, or the ocean I could walk down to, but there is something beautiful, calm, and strange about the Midwest that I have grown to love.

‘I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional’

Brent Windler

What were your earliest music memories and influences?

BW: Hmmm…. Some of my earliest music memories are getting The Beatles and The Monkees Greatest Hits on cassette. Also I remember a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival being played on family road trips, as well as late ‘50s/ early ‘60’s rock n roll. I specifically remember loving the Monotones song The Book of Love – that always stood out to me when I was really little. As I got older, my influences definitely grew wider. I loved and still love everything from that era, but I got into a lot of punk and indie acts in my teens, and my palette grew to loving everything from Bob Dylan to My Bloody Valentine to Fugazi. There’s too many to name.

Have you been in many bands? When did you start writing songs?

BW: I have been in many bands over the years. I played in the indie rock group The Casket Lottery for a while, doing a record with them in 2012. I also played bass in the indie band The Republic Tigers, and I was putting out records with Sons of Great Dane, which was more of my songwriting vehicle.

I started really getting into songwriting in my early twenties and I became obsessed with the craft. I had dabbled in my teens, but there was really nothing worthwhile that came out of it. Honestly not until these past five or so years do I feel like I started to feel more comfortable as a songwriter.

Tell us about your group Sons of Great Dane…

Sons is a band that was started around 2007-2008 with my good friend and bass player, Nolle. I had just gotten off tour, and had been gone for about six months and needed a place to crash until I got my own place to stay.  He was nice enough to let me crash on his couch for a while, and I had written a batch of songs while I was out on tour, so we just started to play around with them and decided they were good enough to put together a band. We have released three records so far, and I’m sure we will get around to doing another in the future here if time permits.

Let’s talk more about your album, New Morning Howl. How did you approach the sound of the record? It often has a lush, widescreen, almost symphonic feel. The songs are layered, with rich arrangements. What were you aiming for from a sonic point of view? It has strings and horns – it’s a big-sounding record…

BW: I approached this record with a no-holds-barred attitude from beginning to end – every idea, whether it turned out good or bad, was tried.  On other albums I have made songs that were specifically written with a band or a time frame in mind, so there were lots of ideas that never got tried because it seemed like a bit much, or we just didn’t have enough time and/or money. I didn’t put a time frame on this record, which freed me up in a way. I enjoyed the idea of just writing whatever I wanted to, and not having any certain style or agenda in mind. Sonically it’s the type of record I have been wanting to make for a long while – big but not in the typical big guitar style. I have always been interested in other ways to colour songs with instrumentation, and I think I attempted that on this record. Not to say there aren’t a lot of guitars, because there are a shitload!

What were your influences for the record?

BW: I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out. It all came pretty naturally and glued together without a whole lot of thought at first. I think after we got the first few songs together, I started to see more of a vision of where the train was moving.

Brent Windler
Brent Windler at Courtesy Tone studio

How were the recording sessions? Where did you make the album?

BW: The sessions were done at a studio here in the city called Courtesy Tone, owned by a great engineer/mixer named Ryan Benton. We started to put together the record in early 2020, and when we really started to get going on it the pandemic hit and things slowed way down. We made it work the best we could though, doing things slowly and safely through the rest of the year. It was a very strange way to record a record, I would walk up to the studio and mask up, and then cut something quickly and then be on my way, so it was done in small pieces at a time. We also did a lot of things remotely as well. There are so many great musicians that played on the record that lived nowhere near us, and did an amazing job.

Were all of the songs written for the record, or are any of them old ones you’d been hanging on to?

BW: There were actually only a couple that were written during the recording process – all the others are songs had been floating around for quite a while. Some had been tried out for other projects, but were pulled away once I realised they were not going to fit. There was even one that I wrote in my early twenties that was revamped.

Let’s talk about some of the songs. If I pick a few and give you my thoughts on them, can you tell me yours?

BW: Sure – sounds good.

The first song on the record, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, melodic jangly guitar pop with a West Coast feel and also a Fountains of Wayne vibe. What can you tell us about it?

BW: This was the first song we started with at the beginning of 2020. It was actually a song that was written for another project I was working on called Dandelions, but as I was starting to think about what songs I wanted to do for the record, it seemed to fit with the batch I was imagining. The song was inspired by a friend lyrically and musically – he had been listening to a lot of jangle pop songs and I was inspired to write something in that vein. I really wanted to get a female vocal on it and was lucky enough to get the great musician, Heidi Gluck, to sing on it. She’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and vocals really give it a dream-like feel, which was perfect for the song.

On that note, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is also dream-like, and lush – an almost six-minute epic…

BW: This one was written a little while ago, and honestly, I thought was it pretty boring at first. I always really enjoyed the verse progression, but nothing really stood out to me about it outside of that and the melody. I had a friend that really liked the song and would always request that one at solo acoustic shows, so I started to think maybe there was something there. Once I started to add parts over the top of it, the song came to life for me and I got excited about it. The ending I really wanted to be trance-like, almost like a mantra, so you could get lost in the repetition. Then having things coming in and out as the song goes on, but never losing that melody playing over and over. Now it’s one of my favourites on the record. I’m happy I stuck with it.

Spanish Jasmine is very haunting. It sounds like Simon & Garfunkel, but with synths… What’s your take on it?

BW: This is the song I was talking about earlier that was written in my early twenties. It’s definitely the oldest song on the record. I was going back through a bunch of old songs I had demoed back in the day and ran across this one. I felt it would fit the record well. I wanted some synths of some sort on it, so we reached out to a great musician named Nate Harold. He did an amazing job, and in my eyes, what he added gives the song its uniqueness.

The title track is another lushly orchestrated song. It has a Beach Boys feel. Would you agree?

BW: I agree – it definitely has a Beach Boys vibe going on. I borrowed a tenor ukulele from my good friend’s daughter, mainly just for fun, as I was bored with playing guitar. While I had it, I started to write a song and this was what came out of it. This song sort of became an experiment. We laid down the uke part and drums and main vocals, then sent it over to an amazing violinist and string arranger, Kaitlin Wolfberg, to have her arrange some strings over it. I didn’t want to put anything else down until we got back what she put down, as I wanted to build the rest of the song around her strings. It was a different way than I had ever put together a song, and I really enjoyed how this one came together.

The Glitter and the Roar has some great Easy Listening horns on it…

BW: There is a great author named Seth Borgen, and he put out a collection of short stories called If I Die in Ohio. One of my favourite stories from it is called The Glitter and the Roar, so the lyrics were inspired by that. I really like the way this one turned out both musically and lyrically. I really wanted the music to carry the lyrics and give them a big cinematic feel. It ebbs and flows throughout – one of those songs I hope gets better with more listens.

In My Daze is a big finish to the record. It’s quite Beatlesy and a bit psychedelic, with slide guitar. I like the strange ‘whistling’ sound on it. What’s that?

BW: This song is another old one. It was originally played by and written for Sons of Great Dane, but I never felt it was finished or fit very well. The whistling sound is me drenched in reverb. I’m not a great whistler, so that was a huge pain in the ass and took me forever to get right. The slide part was originally put down as a reminder of what I wanted the whistle to be, but I ended up really liking it in the mix, so we kept it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted this song to end the record, and I think it turned out well and wrapped things up nicely.

Brent Windler

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs planned?

BW: I’m playing some shows here and around the Midwest this fall and winter. I hope to get out and do a lot more in 2022, but will see how everything turns out. I’m also going to hopefully have a few more songs to share by the end of this year as well.

Can we expect to see you play in the UK one day?

BW: I would love that. Hopefully all the stars align and everyone can get back out there and touring on a more regular basis. If I can get over there, I’ll definitely come play some shows.

Finally, what music – new and old –  have you been enjoying recently?

BW: Hmmm… Here is a handful I have been listening to as of lately:

Liam Kazar – Due North

Mini Trees – Carrying On

The Beach Boys – Sunflower

Supergrass – Road to Rouen

New Morning Howl  by Brent Windler is out now on Goldstar Recordings.

https://brentwindler.bandcamp.com/

https://goldstarrecordings.bandcamp.com/music

 

 

‘Sometimes, when we have opposing opinions, it can get too close for comfort, but we always work it out…’

Starlight Cleaning Co.
Starlight Cleaning Co.

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we aren’t fans of the summer. In fact, when we first started publishing, in 2009, our tagline was, and still is, ‘musical musings from the dark corner of a pub’…

We love autumn / winter, and during the summer months you’re likely to find us sat indoors in a boozer, not the beer garden, discussing music, or hiding away indoors, listening to new and old albums. We’re staying in for the summer…

However, we do like our summer soundtracks, and this month we’ve been enjoying the new, self-titled album from Mojave Desert duo – and couple – Starlight Cleaning Co., who are Rachel Dean and Tim Paul Gray.

It’s a wonderfully melodic record that’s in love with ’70s/’80s New Wave guitar music, glossy L.A. pop, country rock, Americana and soft rock.

Opener, Don’t Take It Away, is jangle-pop perfection, with harmonies ringing out high over the desert landscape; the chugging, organ-fuelled and anthemic Train Wreck is like Tom Petty doing Springsteen’s Atlantic CityThe Race is melancholy and reflective dream-pop, with a superb haunting guitar solo by the late Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, Circles Around The Sun), and Joy Killer and The Current have the swagger and style of vintage Pretenders.

Dean fronted two bands prior to Starlight Cleaning Co – War Children and The Hot Fudge Sunday, while Gray was a member of Orange County-based groups The Delusions and Charles Mansion.

As a duo, Dean and Gray have toured with Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Bash And Pop, Guns ‘n’ Roses) and on their own. Two years ago, they did something they had wanted to do for a while – they turned their solo act into a full band and recorded their debut album.

Dean has previously played under her own name, having released an album titled Indian Summer, produced by Rob Campanella (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Casal, who plays guitar on two songs on the Starlight Cleaning Co. album. Sadly, he died last year.

“His death profoundly affected me,” Dean tells us, in an exclusive interview with the band. “It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record.”

Adds Gray: “Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.”

‘Neal Casal’s death profoundly affected me personally. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record’

Recorded at Dean and Gray’s home studio, Starlight Sound,  Starlight Cleaning Co. was produced by L.A./San Francisco blue-eyed-soul and soft rock troubadour, Bart Davenport, (The Bedazzled, The Loved Ones, The Kinetics) and engineered by L.A.’s “indie king” Joel Jerome (Dios, Cherry Glazerr, La Sera).

This record is a reflection of our life together as well as the individual paths that led us here: the struggles, uncertainty, the hopefulness and love,” says Dean.

“We hope that it resonates with others in their lives and brings us together as we all seem to deal with these common themes. We dedicate this album, in loving memory, to our dear friend Neal Casal.”

 

Q&A

How’s it going? Where are you and what’s it like?

Rachel: Hi there. We are currently at home in Yucca Valley, California – right next to Joshua Tree. It’s a beautiful day and we are sitting outside enjoying the weather.

Congratulations on your debut album –  it’s one of my favourite records of the year so far, and it’s my album of the summer. How do you feel about that?

Rachel: Thank you. That’s so nice to hear. We are excited you like it and hope that other people are connecting with it as well.

Tim: Very kind. Thank you.

How did you two first meet? You were both solo artists and this is your first full-band collaboration, as you were performing as a duo before, right?

Rachel: We first met when I booked Tim’s previous band at Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. I used to do all their music/cultural programming. We ended up talking more and he hopped on a show with me at Pappy and Harriet’s –  a now famous roadhouse out here – as well. The Pappy’s show happened first. I really loved his music and voice, and we started talking about playing music together. The following week, we were already on it… me joining Tim on a solo acoustic show.  The rest is history.

Tim: Even as a duo we knew that the kind of music we wanted to make would call for a full-band and the songs were written with that intention, so really the current situation is just an extension of those early duo days. We still enjoy a stripped-down show now and again.

What’s it like being in a band together, and also in a relationship with each other? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Rachel: It’s honestly a lot of fun. It can be stressful at times, but overall it’s really something special. We are able to share all these amazing experiences together. Also we both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative. Sometimes, when we have opposing opinions, it can get too close for comfort, but we can always work it out.

‘We both take very different roles. I’m way more the business side of things and the front person when performing, while Tim is the primary writer and the true creative’ 

Do you write collaboratively? What’s your songwriting process?

Tim: The closest we have come to collaborative writing is Don’t Take It Away, where we tossed around lyrical content, took inspiration from our dog and surroundings, and had a good time making a song of it, but the truth is, it is very difficult for us to do. We’ve found making small suggestions for each other’s work is what works best for us.

Rachel: Yes, Tim is definitely the writer in this band.  He writes everyday and it’s part of who he is.  I just write when I have something in my head that I can’t escape.

Starlight Cleaning Co.

You’ve said that the album is dedicated to the late Neal Casal, who plays guitar on it. How did you get to know and work with him, and how has his death affected you? Was it hard to put the record out after his passing, or did it feel like the right thing to do? Is it difficult to listen to?

Rachel: Neal was one of my dearest friends. We met in 2006, through mutual friends. We became close and he was a big part of my life. When it came to music, he really guided me. He produced my last record, Indian Summer, and he helped me so much with it. He played on it, sang, arranged all the songs and even took the photograph for the album artwork.

His death profoundly affected me. It’s so hard to cope with the loss of a dear friend, especially when it’s sudden. That’s why it meant so much to us that he played on this record. He actually took time out of his tour schedule and rented a studio to do some guitar parts. Putting the record out with his parts on there was celebratory. It was a way to celebrate Neal and thank him. I actually love listening to his parts. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile.

‘Putting the record out with Neal Casal’s parts on there was celebratory. It’s something we’re proud of, and it always makes me smile’

Let’s talk about the recording of the album. How were the sessions? When did you make it?

Tim: We recorded this album pretty quickly in October of 2018. With a lot of unexpected events that year and the next, we were slow to wrap the mixing process, but once [producer] Bart Davenport suggested [engineer] Bill Faler, it took shape pretty quickly. The sessions took place at our home – Bart, [engineer] Joel, Dan [Sandvick –  bass]  and Sal [Salvatore Romano – drums] came out to stay at our house for five days and we just got it done. We cooked every night. Bart had a birthday. It was fun and low-key and an honest representation of our sound at the time.

You recorded it at your home studio, Starlight Sound. What’s your set-up like?

Tim: We were inspired after watching Thom Monahan and Vetiver do a record in our living room for the album Up On High in April of 2018. Like Thom, Joel brought all the gear and we just holed up and tracked it in our living room and the adjoining studio/office. I have a very basic set-up that I use for demos.

You worked with Bart Davenport and Joel Jerome on the album, as well as Neal Casal. What did they all bring to the process and the sound and feel of the record?

Tim: We thought of Bart for the role of producer, because we love his records. In particular, [his album] Physical World  gave us the impression that he would be an excellent fit both creatively and for sonic and aesthetic reasons. He used a lot of similar tones on that record and shares the 1980s quality we were after. He’s also a great person and a calming voice of reason.

Joel brought the entire studio out to the desert. He is incredibly talented and has an amazing pop sensibility that made his input invaluable. He was also comic relief when we needed it most and an excellent DJ. Neal brought his unmistakable sound to a couple of the tracks. You know it’s him the second you hear it and I think that goes for everything he’s done. The fact that he left his stamp on it is something we are forever grateful for.

The desert moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring’

The record has an ’80s soft-rock and New Wave feel, as well as jangle-pop and Americana. What influenced it, musically and lyrically? Do you think being in the Mojave Desert rubs off on you musically? 

Tim: We love so much music. A jangly guitar says something an aggressive guitar can’t and vice-versa. It’s a very sensitive-sounding album and the lyrics reflect that, so more often than not, the jangle won the battle with the lyrics coming from such inward places.

The ’80s thing is just part of what we love and who we are. We listen to a lot of that decade –  The Replacements, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and ’80s hits. It’s just stuff we like. And there is a lot under the Americana umbrella we love too: Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt… the list goes on.

Rachel: I moved to the desert back in 2007, after countless trips to Pappy and Harriet’s. I’ve been in love with Bakersfield country and California cosmic country like Buck Owens, The Byrds, and Linda Ronstadt, and have been inspired by those sounds almost as much as I am Chrissie Hynde or The Motels. So I guess the desert just moves me: the people, the weather, the music that has been part of this place, is all inspiring.

Although everyone seems to be catching on to it, back when I first moved here, this area felt very secret and special. Certain types of people were drawn to it. Weirdos, artists, and musicians mixed in with the sun-worn blue collar workers and it made for an interesting energy.

‘Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys’

Can we talk about some of the songs on the record? What can you tell me about Don’t Take It Away? It’s one of my favourites –  I love the harmonies and the killer melody –  it’s perfect, jangly guitar pop. Where did that song come from?

Tim: Thank you. The uptempo songs always come about after too many cups of coffee early in the day. Just walking around the house, strumming the guitar. I like to imagine playing songs live and that sometimes helps them take shape.

Don’t Take It Away is loosely based on our dog, Otis, who will lose his mind and get depressed if you take away his toys. So that’s where the idea came from, and Rachel and I had a laugh making it.

 

What inspired The Race? It feels like it’s about your relationship… There’s a brilliant haunting guitar solo from Neal Casal on there too, isn’t there?

Rachel:  Yes. The Race is about our relationship and about the short time we spent in the south. Back in 2015, shortly after Tim and I started dating, my job moved us to New Orleans to open a new hotel and book the music venue on the property. It was a rough time. Although there is a sleepy, slow-paced feel to that place, there was a sort of ‘rat-race’ mentality in what I was dealing with there.

The song is about the hard time I was having fitting in, that both of us were having with each other, and still figuring out who we were together, and socially fitting in as well. It’s about struggle and overcoming it, when the going gets tough. We got through that life hurdle and it made us realise we were meant to be together and if we could get through that, we can probably get through anything. Once we started playing the song, we both agreed a Neal Casal guitar solo would be the icing on that cake.

I love the organ sound on Train Wreck – another of my favourite songs on the record. Ryan Adams would kill to have written it. I think it sounds like a classic Springsteen or Tom Petty tune…

Tim: That’s Bobby Furgo on organ. He played with Leonard Cohen throughout the ’90s and he’s an incredible musician living out here in the Joshua Tree area. He and Rachel both played together in the Pappy and Harriet’s Sunday band a while back.

Train Wreck definitely sounds like Atlantic City, but I realised that too late and there’s no going back now. Tom Petty’s writing style was more of an influence on that one than Springsteen though. There’s something really challenging and fun about trying to get something to resemble a ‘hit’. It’s like a different part of the brain and Tom Petty was a master at that.

I wrote the song in 2015. I had been living and travelling in an RV and broke down in Ozona, Texas. I was in a tow yard for three weeks and worrying and thinking a lot about the people in my life with substance abuse problems. Train Wreck came out of that experience.

I think Like A Shadow has the feel of The Smiths at times –  it’s the jangly, Johnny Marr-like guitars…

Tim: I am a fan of The Smiths Johnny Marr’s playing, in particular. That is probably Bart’s playing you’re hearing though, as I was strictly rhythm on that track. It is one of my personal favourites that I’ve written just due to its simplicity and how quickly it came to me. It was a little valentine for Rachel.

Sooner Than You Learn has an ’80s pop/ soft rock vibe –  a touch of Fleetwood Mac…

Tim: Fleetwood Mac definitely crossed my mind when writing that song. It was built around that opening guitar part and the realisation that not only myself, but so many others, are just kind of going too hard and drinking too much after the party’s over..

Joy Killer is one of the heavier songs on the record – it’s kind of ’80s indie-rock and it reminds me of The Pretenders. The Current feels like it’s coming from a similar place, too… 

Tim: Joy Killer was a song I had before I met Rachel that I never properly recorded. We just liked having a rocker in the set and so it became part of the album, although the lyrical content dwells on the relationship issues I was having before I met Ms Dean.

Rachel: The Current was another song from the past. I wrote it back in 2007 with my friend Rick Boston, who was sort of mentoring me at the time. It was one of the first real songs I ever wrote and it started out as a slow song.

Chrissie Hynde has always been a huge influence on me and I could always hear her in the song, so I guess it kind of shows up a bit.  It’s so funny to think that Tim and I were both writing these songs that would mesh so well together, years before we ever met.

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

Rachel: Well, I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Burt Bacharach, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, Divinyls, Richard Ashcroft, Travis, Jesse Ed Davis, Doug Sahm, and Marcos Valle for summer vibes.  And for newer stuff.. well I guess some of this isn’t exactly “new”, but I love so much of our friend’s music like Brian Whelan  he used to play with Dwight Yoakam, and he’s just an incredible songwriter and singer , Vetiver, The Tyde, Cass McCombs, Howlin’ Rain, Beachwood Sparks, as well as the Curation Records bands – GospelbeacH, Pacific Range, FD and the Wizards of the West, Trevor Beld Jimenez –  and so many others.

‘I’m a really nostalgic person, so I get lost in music memories from my past’

Tim: What she said… Also I’ve just recently doing a dive into Nick Lowe’s new(ish) stuff – Stoplight Roses from The Old Magic is an amazing song, as is pretty much anything he does.

The first record Rachel got me was his Labour of Lust, early in our relationship. A friend turned me on to Richard Hawley and I’ve been enjoying his music. I had a moment with Funkadelic,  Zappa and the like during the pandemic, which always lifted my spirits. I run the gamut with my musical taste. It’s all over the place. I love a lot of our friends’ records as well.

How has Covid affected your plans? Any live shows coming up? Will we get to see you play in the UK?

Rachel: Our plans for the rest of this year are to get out and play as much as possible. Out here on the West Coast, venues are opening slowly but surely and I hope that by the fall, we’ll be playing more regularly. As of right now, it’s a lot of unconventional outdoor shows, private parties and things like that. We’re really hoping to get to the UK next year, and we’ve actually been talking to a friend out there about setting up a tour, so fingers crossed. We really love the UK and can’t wait to get back.

The self-titled debut album by Starlight Cleaning Co. is out now on SofaBurn Records, on vinyl and digital.

http://www.starlightcleaningco.com

https://www.sofaburn.com

‘I wanted to make more of a solo record – it just happened to coincide with the pandemic’

Peter Bruntnell

 

When Say It With Garage Flowers last spoke to UK-based, Americana singer-songwriter, Peter Bruntnell, he’d just emerged from the basement studio in his Devon home, where he’d been making his 2016 album, Nos Da Comradewhich was one of our favourite records of that year.

Now, five years later, he’s been busy in his basement again, working on his latest album, Journey To The Sun, which is his twelfth, and the follow-up to last year’s sublime King Of Madrid. Written and recorded during lockdown, it’s a more sparse and stripped-down sounding set than his last few releases – gorgeous, haunting and folky, but with some vintage electronica sounds and even a couple of spacey sci-fi instrumentals. Yes  that’s right, Americana fans, don’t choke on your pale ale, but there’s a lot of synth on this record…

Opener, the stunning, Dandelion, is an atmospheric folk-horror song, like Matt Deighton, or Pink Moon-era Nick Drake being produced by Brian Eno; the lovely Lucifer Morning Star has warm, burbling synths and chiming 12-string guitar, while Heart of Straw is classic Bruntnell – an aching, acoustic, country-tinged ballad – and recent single, You’d Make A Great Widow, is laced with his trademark wry humour and melancholy, but wrapped up in one of the prettiest melodies you’re likely to hear all year.

Some of the songs were co-written with Bruntnell’s long-time collaborator, Bill Ritchie, while US musician and mastering engineer, Peter Linnane, lays down some Hammond and pump organ, concertina, Mellotron and piano, and Iain Sloan plays pedal steel guitar on the track Dharma Liar. 

‘Americana fans, don’t choke on your pale ale, but there’s a lot of synth on this record…’

“I felt like I wanted to make more of a solo record, which just so happened to coincide with the pandemic,” says Bruntnell. “That meant more acoustic guitar, and I bought a bouzouki in March last year, which really was a catalyst for quite a few songs being written in a very short timeframe. Oh, and I got a drum machine and a new synthesiser too.”

So is he going through an electro phase? We spoke to him to find out…

Q&A

How have you coped during the past year and a bit? Has it been tough making a living as a musician?

Peter Bruntnell: At first it was tough, but then I started doing a live stream every Thursday, which seemed to go quite well, so that was one gig to look forward to each week – once I got used to it. Oh, and then I started writing, and before I knew it, I’d written an album’s worth of stuff.

Did Covid affect your plans to make the new album?

PB: Well, it just meant that I had to record and produce it all myself, but that sort of suited the vibe of the songs.

Opener, the stunning, Dandelion, is an atmospheric folk-horror song, like Matt Deighton, or Pink Moon-era Nick Drake being produced by Brian Eno’

You recorded and self-produced the album at your home, in Devon, where you have a basement studio. Peter Linnane, who plays keyboards on the record, and is based in Boston, sent you his parts, didn’t he?

PB: Yeah – I sent the first song to Pete, to ask him if the light compression I had on the mix was okay for the mastering job. He came back to me saying it was fine, and he sent some pump organ and concertina parts, in case I might like to mix them in. I had a listen and liked all his parts, so I kept them, and that became the pattern for nearly every song thereafter.

Peter Bruntnell - Journey To The Sun

Let’s talk about the sound of the record – it’s more stripped-down than some of your last few albums, with acoustic guitar, bouzouki, keys – organ, synth, Mellotron – and a drum machine. Did you set out to make a ‘back to basics’ album? Was it a reaction to your last couple, which have had more jangly, electric guitar and a fuller band sound?

PB: I did feel like I wanted to make more of a solo record, which just so happened to coincide with the pandemic. That meant more acoustic guitar, and I bought a bouzouki in March last year, which really was a catalyst for quite a few songs being written in a very short timeframe. Oh, and I had bought a drum machine and a new synthesiser too.

What inspired the album, musically?

PB: Apart from a bit of Brian Eno, I’m not sure what other influences directly inspired the songs. Maybe some Brian Wilson…

What about the synth? Are you going through a Kraftwerk, or Bowie Low phase, or doing a Neil Young Trans?

PB: Sort of. I’d been listening to Another Green World by Eno and had been thinking about doing some more ‘electro’-style stuff for a while now, so it all just fell into place. And Low has been one of my favourite records for years.

Tell me about the bouzouki? Is there a story behind it?

PB: I bought it hoping it would inspire some songwriting, which it did. Because I don’t know how to play one, it forced me to be more experimental than when I write on a guitar.

What can you tell me about the first song on the album, Dandelion, which is one of my favourites on the record? I love the arrangement – it has a haunting, folky feel, but with some lap steel on it, too. It’s a very striking and atmospheric song…

PB: It was written on the bouzouki and was maybe the first one. It has atmosphere, with just vocals and bouzouki, so I didn’t have to think too hard about its production. I have a piano in the hall which I can’t play that well, but for sparse two or three finger chords it sounds great.

Lucifer Morning Star is another one of my favourites on the album. What can you tell me about that song? It’s a lovely track… 

PB: Thanks. It’s one of my favourites for some reason too. Bill Ritchie came up with most of those lyrics. It was the last song written – maybe the feel of the record was already established, so I kept it similar when arranging the parts for it.

‘I’d been listening to Another Green World by Eno and thinking about doing some ‘electro’-style stuff for a while, so it all just fell into place’

You’ve done a great cover of the traditional folk song Wild Mountain Thyme on the record. What prompted that and why did you include it?

PB: I recorded it about five years ago, because I love the song and wanted to keep busy recording. It seemed to fit among these new songs, so it made the album.

Your last album, King of Madrid, had a song called Widows Walk on it and this record has You’d Make A Great Widow. Are you now intending to have one widow-themed track on each record?

PB: Hah! No – that’s just a coincidence. My wife was talking one day about what would happen if I died and jokingly said, “I’d make a great widow”. That’s where the idea came from.

There’s a great video for the song, in which you get to play a zombie. How did that come about?

PB: I thought it would be fun to get loads of ‘widows’ in it, so I wrote a post on Facebook to see if people would film themselves miming to one of my songs, and I got a great response. And then the ghost and zombie idea just came to me.

Heart of Straw is a gorgeous track. Where did that one come from, and why did you decide to use a line from it as the title of the album?

PB: It’s another anti-government song – yawn. I just stumbled around until I found the right words. It could easily be Etonian rather than Utopian, and ‘Head of Straw’ rather than ‘Heart’. I was just looking for an album title that I liked the sound of and ‘journey to the sun’ seemed like a good idea at the time.

‘Lockdown meant that I focused on writing more than normal, as there wasn’t much else to do’

The album feels melancholy and reflective, with themes of loss, longing, regret and death. Do you think the Covid crisis affected the songwriting lyrically and also the mood of the record?

PB: Maybe – it’s difficult to say. Lockdown meant that I did focus on writing more than normal, as there wasn’t much else to do. I wasn’t really expecting to have an album written and recorded by the end of the year.

You’ve recorded some instrumentals for the album – the spacey The Antwerp Effect and Moon Committee. I think they sound like incidental music from a ‘70s sci-fi TV show, or a film soundtrack. Would you ever consider making an instrumental record, or writing and recording a soundtrack?

PB: Yes – I’d like to do more. I might go more ‘electro’ for the next album. I really don’t know yet…

‘I wasn’t really expecting to have an album written and recorded by the end of the year’

What was your lockdown soundtrack and what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying?

PB: Over lockdown I watched more TV than listening to music – all the usual stuff, like Netflix, etc. I have an Alex Chilton live in Baton Rouge album in my car at the moment, along with Jordan the Comeback by Prefab Sprout.

What are your plans for the rest of the year, now things are slowly returning to some kind of ‘normal?’

PB: To play live as much as I can and travel – even if it’s in the UK.

On that note, when all travel restrictions are lifted, and you’re allowed to take a ‘journey to the sun’, where would be your ideal destination – and why?

PB: Italy, Spain or France – anywhere in Europe would be great. I love Europe and hate Brexit!

Journey To The Sun is released on June 11 (Domestico Records). You can pre-order a signed copy here.

https://peterbruntnell.net

 

‘I wear my songs on my sleeve, so anything that happens in my life will come out in them’

Ryan Martin

Wandercease, the title of the latest album from Hudson Valley, New York-based singer-songwriter Ryan Martin, is very appropriate for these days of lockdown, but funnily enough, the name wasn’t intended as a comment on the Covid-19 crisis. 

“I never made that connection!” he tells Say It With Garage Flowers. “The title comes from my great grandmother, who was a poet. When she found the home that she knew she would settle in and raise my grandfather in, she gave it the name ‘Wandercease’. It represents the dream that I’m always searching for.”

The record came out late last year and soon found its way on to our ‘Best Albums of 2020′ list, thanks to its stunning and infectious pop melodies, rich and layered symphonic sounds, loops and electronic touches, and occasional nods to Americana.

Epic opener, At Dusk, has a glorious ’70s AM radio/ soft rock and pop feel, I Just Wanna Die is a galloping country song, with twangy guitars, and the shuffling groove of Fathers To Daughters is fleshed-out with pedal steel, organ and horns.

The album is full of irresistible melodies, but there’s an underlying sadness to many of the songs, like the achingly beautiful chamber pop of the title track, on which Martin sings, “My love, here is the song I meant to give you long ago, but I just couldn’t find the words – a songwriter’s curse”, and the first single, Coma Kiss, which is a bouncy, soulful, retro pop tune, but was written about a failed relationship.

“I wear my songs on my sleeve, and so anything that happens in my life will come out in them,” says Martin.

Described as his ‘most musically adventurous and emotionally dynamic record to date,’ Wandercease took shape after his relocation to the Hudson Valley from New York City. It was produced by Kenny Siegal (Langhorne Slim, Joseph Arthur, Chuck Prophet) at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, NY and mixed by Paul Kolderie (Pixies, Radiohead, Dinosaur Jr.).

Siegal called on a whole host of local musicians to play on it —some of whom were fresh from working with artists such as David Byrne, Cibbo Matto, and Lana Del Rey. Guests include singer-songwriter and classically-trained harpist Mikaela Davis, who sings harmony vocals on Coma Kiss and also appears on several other songs.

“Kenny brought in Mikaela because they’re friends,” explains Martin. “Her voice blended with mine in a way I hadn’t heard before and it was exciting. She’s a massive talent and I’m grateful she was a part of this record.”

Q&A

How was 2020 for you and how has the Covid-19 crisis affected you?

Ryan Martin: Things are OK, more or less. I haven’t missed a meal. I get to see my family. I have good friends around me. The pandemic made it harder for the release of Wandercease, I think. I can’t tour, so that’s a bummer, but I’m happy it came out when it did. I just hope to continue writing songs and recording, and hopefully play some shows in 2021.

Are you worried about the future of live music? Will it ever get back to normal, or will it just have to adapt?

RM: I worry, yes. I think it may take some time to get back to the way it was. I hope there aren’t minds at work trying to establish live streaming as the standard in performing – it’s a poor substitute. I’m looking forward to doing my part and playing a lot when I can and when it’s safe.

Let’s talk about Wandercease. It’s your most musically adventurous record yet – it has a lovely, rich, lush and layered sound. How did you approach the record? Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like? 

RM: Thanks. I kinda brought the songs and let the sounds come to the group and have everyone collaborate. I’ve kinda had the chance to make the records I wanted, and now I felt like opening the door to other ideas. A lot of the credit goes to Kenny Siegal and the musicians, but I think you’ll find my ideas there too, like the woodwind and strings.

‘I hope there aren’t minds at work trying to establish live streaming as the standard in performing – it’s a poor substitute’

On that note, there are some great arrangements on the album. What influenced and inspired the treatments of the songs? The record has a warm feel and is heavy on melodies. There are strings, horns, woodwind, synths, vibes, organ, pedal steel, loops, backing vocals…

RM: Yes I’m a melody guy I think, above all other things. I hear that first usually. And then you get to find other melodies within the songs, as you start to record and arrange. I think Jared Samuel [keys player ] is also great at that. He and I have a similar production sensibility – we both kept feeding each other’s enthusiasm for trying new ideas.

How were the sessions for the album? It was produced by Kenny Siegal at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, New York, and mixed by Paul Kolderie. What was Siegal like to work with? Did you enjoy making the record? Was it an easy record to make?

RM: It was a really great experience. Kenny has become a friend and I would work with him again any day. Old Soul is a special place. There’s so much there in terms of instruments and the rooms all bleed together, so it inspires musicians to play together and record live, which we did for a lot of the record. It was easy, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself to be on it and to rise to the level of talent I was surrounded by.

There are a lot of musicians on the album…

RM: Bringing everyone in for overdubs was great. Most of the musicians were Kenny’s friends and musicians from up in the Hudson Valley.

‘I like being out of the city and up in the woods to write and create – the Hudson Valley is so beautiful. I’ll sing for the foxes, the birds and the snow over the sounds of sirens and traffic and yelling any day’

You’ve relocated from New York City to the Hudson Valley. How’s that working out and did it have an influence on the new record, from a sonic point of view, or from the songwriting and the subject matter?

RM: Yeah – well the move was a part of a larger change, so I think it influenced the music and the songs. I wear my songs on my sleeve, and so anything that happens in my life will come out in them. I like being out of the city and up in the woods to write and create. It’s helpful and the Hudson Valley is so beautiful. I’ll sing for the foxes, the birds and the snow over the sounds of sirens and traffic and yelling any day.

What’s your approach to songwriting? What process works best for you?

RM: My approach is to try and keep the channel open and hope that something comes out that inspires me. Once it moves me I can keep it around and hopefully finish it sooner rather than later. Sometimes they come quick, but some I’ve been sitting on for months and years. It’s not something I can force. It loses its power to me if I try and finish lyrics for the sake of finishing a song. But at the same time there’s something to be said for completing it as an exercise, but I’m not that good at that. I usually have to care deeply to be motivated.

Let’s talk about some of the songs and get your thoughts on them. At Dusk is an epic way to start the album – it feels almost like a symphonic, ’70s pop/soft-rock song, but in a good way! What can you tell us about it? It’s a big-sounding song…

RM: I’ll take that! Thanks. I think this song was about embracing the pop elements – bringing attention to the hooks and the big moments. I’m happy with how the band came together on that one and how the vocals were arranged. Also Paul Kolderie did an outstanding job realising the true nature of the song in the mix.

Coma Kiss is a great, instant pop song. Where did it come from and what inspired it musically? It has a kind of breezy, retro, soulful feel…

RM: The core of the song came out quickly and flushing out what I wanted to say came further down the road, which is usually the process. I think Kenny was big on making it feel really good and danceable, which I was on board with.

I Just Wanna Die is one of my favourite songs on the record – it has more of a traditional Americana / country-rock feel than some of the other tracks…

RM: That came about quickly – it’s a fun song that has a heavy topic. That’s kinda been my calling card I guess – you can dance to it, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s anything but carefree and easy to swallow. We experimented with the arrangement of that song – there’s a great version where we slowed it down and wrote a bridge, but in the end I thought that the fast-paced, ‘train beat’, ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach was the way it should be and it was the way it was written.

Orphan Song is another Americana-type song. What inspired it? 

RM: That song was inspired by growing older and witnessing my friends stumble and fall, lose themselves and, at worst, die. Once you start entering your thirties, that’s when your behaviour and your mind really start taking a toll on you. I was in the group too, but somehow I got out.

Fathers To Daughters sticks out on the record, as it has loops and is more rhythmic than some of the other songs. Did becoming a dad for the first time inspire the lyric?

RM: Yeah – wandering around New York with my daughter, when she was two and three inspired it. Watching her experience all the joy and magic of the world, and the innocence she had. My role as her father hit me profoundly and still does. I’m gonna be a big part of this person’s life and I need to take responsibility for that. And also the overwhelming, overflowing love I have for her and creating that bond in her earliest years of life. Falling in love is the best thing in the world and it makes me wanna sing about it!

Orphan Song was inspired by growing older and witnessing my friends stumble and fall, lose themselves and, at worst, die. Once you start entering your thirties, that’s when your behaviour and your mind really start taking a toll on you. I was in the group too, but somehow I got out’

What music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently? Any recommendations?

RM: Yeah. I’ve listened to a lot of Mark Kozelek, Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters, and also some instrumental music like Hammock, as well as Sigur Ros – heavy, melodic, beautiful music. Right now I’m listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 a lot.

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

RM: My preferred way would be to listen to vinyl records in the living room with no distractions, because it’s the best way to get absorbed by the music. A second way would be to listen to CDs in my car. I played a CD on my computer for the first time in over a year or two and after listening to MP3s for so long I was blown away by how good it sounded. I like to listen with intent and be captivated, as opposed to a passive kinda background thing. Though I do that too.

So what’s next for you in 2021?

RM: I’m gonna keep writing and finishing some songs and recording at home. Maybe I’ll tour in the fall and spend some time in Europe, when the pandemic calms down.

Wandercease by Ryan Martin is out now on High Moon Records.

https://ryanmartin.bandcamp.com/

 

 

‘This project has been such an interesting learning curve for both of us – it’s exciting’

 

Until the End of the World – Meg Olsen and Ian Webber

Nashville-based duo Until the End of the World – husband-and-wife singer-songwriters Ian Webber and Meg Olsen – have a name that’s very apt for these dark times we’re living in, but they actually took their moniker from the 1991 Wim Wenders film of the same name. In fact, their debut single, Just Let Go, which came out this summer, was influenced by Wenders’s road movies, as well as the films of David Lynch.

It’s a gorgeous, stripped-down, six-minute ballad, with Olsen on lead vocals and Webber on guitar and backing vocals, that recalls the fragile, dreamy, country-psych-folk of Mazzy Star.

 

New single, another slow song, the equally lovely Stars Fall Down, has a slight ‘50s feel, thanks to its twangy, late-night guitar sound. “I was imagining Richard Hawley-esque guitar tones and I’ve been inspired by a French band called The Limiñanas – it’s like lo-fi Velvet Underground meets Serge Gainsbourg and I love the vibe,” says Webber.

Adds Olsen: “When I first heard the music for Stars Fall Down, it set an immediate tone and mood for me. I gravitate towards melancholy themes – love gone wrong, etc. The lyrics flowed really easily from that initial mood that was set by Ian’s guitar. I think I wrote the first draft in an hour and we finessed it slightly from there. I was genuinely happy with it, which is rare for me.”

The Until the End of the World project began in April this year, during lockdown, as Olsen explains: “We started very superficially working on ideas together on piano and guitar in our living room, but then Ian started composing things up a storm. He encouraged me to sit down with the piece of music that would become Just Let Go and he just kept it really low-key and simplistic. We liked the end result, so we kept going from there.”

Talking about Just Let Go, Webber says: “It was a lot of me figuring out how to record everything myself, without a producer or engineer. When I was recording the basic tracks, I wasn’t sure if I had reached three minutes or not, so I kept going, so that’s why it ended up a six-minute song.”

‘I’ve totally upended my process as a songwriter. It seemed daunting, but it’s been really good for me’

The duo are planning to release an album in the first part of next year – hopefully in the spring. “It’s a little over halfway done and it’s been an interesting and exciting process,” says Olsen. “And it’s something that I’m not sure would have happened without the lockdown.”

She adds: “This project has been such an interesting learning curve for both of us. Ian has had to navigate recording and producing, and I’ve totally upended my process as a songwriter. I normally go into the studio with finished, or almost finished, songs. In this case, I was coming into fully-formed music and having to work out melodies and lyrics from there. It seemed daunting, but it’s been really good for me and for both of us as artists.”

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but they feel fine…

 

For more information, visit: https://untiltheendoftheworld.com/