‘Drinking and listening to music is fairly consistent throughout a lot of my work’

Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

One of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite albums of 2022 is Leo – the third solo record by former Case Hardin frontman, Pete Gow.

The trademark orchestral sound he debuted on 2019’s Here There’s No Sirens and its follow-up, The Fragile Line – from 2020 – was bolstered by some impressive, rich and soulful horn arrangements courtesy of his producer, multi-instrumentalist, Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires, Bennett Wilson Poole, Co-Pilgrim, Saint Etienne).

Leo feels like the natural successor to Gow’s previous two solo records, which were also created with Bennett (bass, piano, organ, vocals, strings, horns) and drummer, Fin Kenny, who, like Gow, are both workhorses of the UK Americana scene.

Reviewing the album for Americana UK earlier this year – I gave it 9/10 – I said: ‘Leo is Gow’s most accomplished and ambitious album yet, with Bennett taking his collaborator’s wry story songs about barrooms, booze, rock ‘n’roll and record collections and turning them into widescreen epics – the orchestral and brass arrangements perfectly complement these lyrically deft tales and the lives of the characters that inhabit them.’

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to Pete to get the full story about the writing and recording of the album and, to tie-in with a lyric from Leo’s opening song, Where Else Would We Be Going, I asked him to choose some of his favourite albums from the year that he was born.


You recorded the basics of the album in February 2020, just ahead of lockdown didn’t you?

Pete Gow: It was quite literally days before everything locked down. In the studio, Joe had these white sheets of paper up on the wall, that you write on with a Sharpie – song titles, album titles… Then he marks up what needs doing – backing vocals… then ticks them off.

When I went back and started doing other work on the album, we realised just how close to lockdown it was. In two days, myself, Fin and Joe worked through the songs – all the drums, the scratch guide vocals and guitar.

We had all sorts of plans for this record. We even talked about bringing in electric guitar – something that was different from the Here There’s No Sirens record – but then what happened happened… But it actually worked out in our favour, from the perspective that Joe’s studio is just down the road from his house, so he was able to work through lockdown and build the album up with nothing but the limits of his imagination.

You can hear that on songs like The City Is A Symphony – he went Brian Wilson nuts! I’m sure he was in a sandpit with a fireman’s helmet on when he did it.

It’s interesting that you said you had plans to do different stuff musically on this album, because the horns are more prominent this time around on some of the tracks, but there are still big string arrangements like on your first two solo albums. You’ve expanded the sound, but, apart from the guitar and drums, it’s Joe playing everything, isn’t it?

PG: Yes – everything.

It’s an even bigger sound on this album…

PG: Yes it is and that was a considered choice. We didn’t sit down before the album was recorded and say, ‘Let’s make this a horns record’, but we both knew we needed to do something different sonically.

The Fragile Line was a legitimate album, but it was never really intended as one, so, in my own mind, I don’t really count it as a proper record. It’s got a cover on it and a reworking of one of my own songs on it, so it’s kind of a companion piece to Here There’s No Sirens.

‘On The City Is A Symphony, Joe went Brian Wilson nuts! I’m sure he was in a sandpit with a fireman’s helmet on when he did it’

Horns were always part of the discussion – the tracks that I’d been writing just felt that they lent themselves to it.

Let’s Make War A Little Longer, off The Fragile Line, had some horns on it – Joe and I were thinking we could’ve really just done that as a horns track. Horns were definitely because of the necessity and there being no else to work on this record, so that took Joe down that road more firmly than we’ve previously discussed.

It’s a great sound, but I’ll avoid any ‘Pete Gow gets horny’ headlines…

PG: They’ve all been thrown around on various WhatsApp chats.

You’re a prolific songwriter, but were all the tracks on the record written for it, or do some date back from before your previous albums?

PG: It’s a mix.

‘I wrote Say It With Flowers specifically so I could get an interview with you’

There were a few songs written in the lead-up to making the album, but also included in that pile were Cheap and Shapeless Dress and Happy Hour At The Lobby Bar, which we decided to pluck from the pile and put out as a single during lockdown. That meant there were more songs needed writing, so the last two written for the project were the first two on the album, largely by coincidence – Where Else Would We Be Going and Say It With Flowers, which I wrote specifically so I could get an interview with you.

Thanks for that. Let’s talk about Where Else Would We Be Going, which was the first single from the album. It’s representative of the record – it’s a big song, with brass, strings and organ. It was a bold comeback statement…

PG: I know exactly what you mean. It was the last song written for the record and very quickly we knew it was the first song that we wanted everybody to hear, even before we’d finished putting it together.

‘Where Else Would We Be Going is reasonably joyous. It’s not often there’s that level of positivity in a Pete Gow lyric’

We’ve all gone through a lot of changes – there have been some fairly significant changes to my life, in what could be deemed as happening late in life, as I’m in my 50s now. Some of the song is about taking on those changes despite age, I guess – it’s a little Post-It Note of encouragement to my partner, and a note to self. It’s all of those things but I think it’s reasonably joyous. Where else would be going? What else have we got to do? We may as well do this. It’s not often there’s that level of positivity in a Pete Gow lyric.

That song is reprised at the end of the record, in a more sombre format, which is kind of the way it was written, then, before I got into the studio, it morphed into another version. We couldn’t decide between the two, but we’ve never bookended an album, so we thought we’d do that.

This record isn’t a concept album, but some of the songs share common themes, don’t they? You first solo album was very honest and personal, but this one has more character songs on it – albeit with your own personal touch. Leonard’s Bar, which is the centrepiece of the album and where the record takes its title from, reminds me of one of those Springsteen story songs, written about people and their small town lives, but with a hint of Nick Cave about it, too.

It’s about a former criminal who’s fallen on hard times and finds himself caught up in a difficult situation – one last job – thanks to his brother-in-law, Leo.

PG: That song was written about my first trip to the States with my partner and my first trip back to her hometown, which is Baltimore, or thereabouts. I had a notebook with me the whole time and I was jotting stuff down. At the time, her brother was going through a divorce and living at his mum’s – that’s where I met him.

The barman in the song with ‘This’ and ‘That’ tattooed on his knuckles was just a guy that served me, my partner and her cousin drinks one afternoon in a Baltimore bar. I saw it and wrote it down.

‘I can’t have too much positivity on my records – I need to bring it back down and appeal to base, with traumatised hitmen’

The narrative, the guy in the bar… it came together very organically and I just knew that it was going to be a reasonably big song. It took me a few weeks to pull it together – it’s quite long, but I think I edited it down. If I go through my notebook I’ll find verses that never quite made it – I wanted it to be expansive and to make a statement like Poets Corner, from previous albums, does. It has kind of movements to it – this one is telling a story, whereas Poets Corner doesn’t have a narrative. Leonard’s Bar has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Independent of each other, Joe and I realised it was a pivotal track. It’s the beginning of side two on the vinyl album, which is prime real estate for such a track.

There’s some great imagery in the song. I like the line: ‘I can still hear the screams and the smell of their fear, the piss in their pants and their hopeless tears.’  It has a dark twist, doesn’t it?

PG: Well, I can’t have too much positivity on my records – I need to bring it back down and appeal to base, with traumatised hitmen.

Know your audience…

PG: [laughs]

There are a lot of references to alcohol and music on the album. Say It With Flowers mentions getting drunk and playing the Derek and the Dominos song, Bell Bottom Blues, one of the tracks is called Side III of London Calling, and Where Else Would We Be Going references drinking while listening to your favourite albums that came out the year you were born. Was that a conscious thing?

PG: It wasn’t. It comes about because drinking and listening to music is fairly consistent throughout a lot of my work. These songs cover quite a long period of time, so without going in, editing and rewriting stuff, which I’m not really a huge fan of, that’s the consequence of that.

The second verse of Say It With Flowers is based on when Jim Maving and I got together to do some writing and, as what normally happens, we ended up drinking and pissing around on guitars. I sent my partner away for the weekend because I told her I needed some time with Jim to do some writing and then the two of just got drunk and ended up messing around with Clapton’s Bell Bottom Blues. It’s a true story.

And Side III of London Calling – where did that song come from? I need to refamiliarise myself with that album, as I can’t remember what’s on Side III…

PG: Death or Glory, Koka Kola… When I was a teenager and I bought that album a couple of years after it came out, they were the songs. I can’t remember where that line came from – I’d probably put the album on for the first time in 10 years and thought, ‘That’s a fucking great side of music’ – and it is. There are four songs that haven’t really been bettered with regards to a side of vinyl. So, I related that to finding the perfect woman – my partner. It probably happened after a load of gin one night. See, drinking and music…

Casino is one of my favourite songs on the record – it sounds like a classic Pete Gow, late-night ballad. The organ gives it a soul feel…

PG: It’s a good song to talk about because it’s definitely a transitional one between Here There’s No Sirens, The Fragile Line and the new album. It still has the strings on it and it could’ve easily fitted on either of those first two records. It dates back to the Case Hardin days, but it had a slightly more country feel then. When I realised that I wanted to use it for this project, I went back to it but it didn’t feel big enough.

Since I’ve been working with Joe, I write with him in mind. It needed a section where it could suck the air out of your chest. The middle bit used to be a verse, so I looked at how I could make it something that Joe could work with. I rewrote it specifically for the recording. Jim Maving came up with the riff.

As you said earlier, on The City Is A Symphony, Joe embraces his inner Brian Wilson. There’s a surprising Beach Boys-style mid-section. I guess Joe took that song in a completely different direction to what you would’ve done with it…

PG: Very much so. I found the original demo of it the other day. Every time I hear The City Is A Symphony, I’m surprised at what he did with it, but that was renewed when I heard what I had originally given him.

If you go back to the raw product, the thought that he saw potential in it and took it there was quite staggering, but that’s what he does.

In Case Hardin I was pretty controlling – band leader and producer of records. I knew what I wanted. I would listen to other people, but I kind of got things the way I wanted them. I knew that by going with Joe, I was going to have to surrender some of that control – and that’s what I wanted.

‘In Case Hardin I was pretty controlling – band leader and producer. I knew that by going with Joe, I was going to have to surrender some of that control’

I wanted someone else’s input. Over the course of the three records we’ve done together, there’s stuff where I thought, ‘Oh – I wouldn’t have done it like that,’ but, most of the time I’m blown away by what Joe brings to the project. That’s why you’ll always see his name, ‘Produced by Joe Bennett’ prominently on my records. He really does have as much input to the material and the albums as mine – his contribution is just as important. I always refer to them as ‘our albums,’ even though it’s my name above the door.

Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen


And Fin Kenny played drums on the record, and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing and Bennett, Wilson, Poole) mastered it…

PG: Yeah – Fin is the only other musician on it. The first voice anyone hears on the record is Fin’s – at the start of Where Else Would We Be Going. The amount of time in any one eight-hour period or in a rehearsal room where he goes ‘OK?’ – to hear it every time you put that record on was essential to us. We’re glad that everything fell together and it worked out nicely that we could have it to be the first thing on the album.

Tony Poole masters most of Joe’s productions – those two are very much in tune with each other. Mastering is a dark art and I wouldn’t profess to understanding it or knowing the science of it, but you can just hear when something has been mastered well. Tony takes care and works his way through the tracks. He works in passages and frequencies – he’s a master of that.

In Where Else Would We Be Going, you mention albums from the year you were born. You were born in 1970 – do you have some favourite records from that year?

PG: I’m obsessed with anything that was released that year. There are some fairly obvious ones – Bridge Over Troubled Water, Déjà Vu, Loaded –  there are some huge records from 1970. Bitches Brew by Miles Davis came out that year  – there’s a great double album of his sets from Fillmore West, when he was opening for The Band. It’s just called Miles Davis at Fillmore – I picked that up. I bought it just because it came out in 1970. I spent a few weeks with that – it’s the peak of his avant-garde, with that John McLaughlin guitar sound.

‘I’m obsessed with anything that was released in 1970’

I know Eric Clapton has almost talked himself into being cancelled, but Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos is a fantastic record.  If you can make a record like that, with alcohol and drug abuse… It’s less cool than it’s made out to be, but sometimes it just comes together and works.

From beginning to end, it’s a terrific record – and I reference Bell Bottom Blues in Casino because, despite everything Clapton’s done to completely damage and destroy his reputation, I can’t get away from the fact that it’s one of my favourite songs ever.

Leo by Pete Gow is out now on Clubhouse Records – vinyl, CD and digital.




‘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)




‘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…


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).