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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

Why did the time feel right to bring it out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca at Ardent Studios in Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds of the New West

West on Colfax – left to right: Pete Barnes (guitar), Alan Hay (vocals), Mike Lambert (drums) and Scott Carey (bass)

Looking for something to help you cope with the post-Christmas comedown? New UK Americana label Greenhorse Records, which is based in Preston, Lancashire, has just the thing – Choke Hold, the debut single by alt-country four-piece West on Colfax.

Influenced by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco and Son Volt, it’ll put a jangle in your January. “The love we once found was just a fever going round,” sings vocalist Alan Hay, which is very apt, as it’s a highly infectious tune –  two and a half minutes of life-affirming guitar pop that sounds like a long-lost Creation Records release from the early ’90s. They may hail from Lancashire, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that West on Colfax grew up on a Glaswegian council estate, reared on a diet of Irn-Bru and Byrds records.

The band’s debut album, Barfly Flew By, will be released later this year, but, in the meantime enjoy Choke Hold. In these dark and uncertain times we’re living in, it’s solid, it’s reliable and it’ll make you smile –  it’s like catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen for ages. What a great way to start the New Year…

For more information, visit https://westoncolfax.bandcamp.com/

Power pop to the people

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Here at Say It With Garage Flowers we’re massive power pop fans and we always get excited when we get to hear new releases by UK-based label Sugarbush Records, which specialises in rare and limited edition vinyl, including power pop, psych and cool ‘60s stuff.

Over the last few weeks, Sugarbush has really been spoiling us, so we thought we’d do a quick roundup of some of its latest records.

Detroit singer-songwriter Nick Piunti’s superb 2015 album, Beyond The Static, has been issued on vinyl for the first time – it’s limited to only 250 copies on blue vinyl.

We interviewed Nick when the record was first released last year and you can read all about the making of it here.

Beyond The Static was the follow-up to Nick’s critically acclaimed album 13 In My Head, which we described as ‘an instant power pop classic’.

Fans of 13 In My Head will definitely love Beyond The Static. As we said when it first came out, it’s more of the same – infectious power pop songs with big guitars, harmonies and strong melodies.

There’s also a country influence on the song Six Bands and some vintage New Wave synth on Heart Stops Beating. Nick’s been compared to singer-songwriters such as Matthew Sweet, Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg.

Don’t forget to check out Nick’s latest album, Trust Your Instincts, which is currently available on CD. We’re hoping for a vinyl release of it on Sugarbush sometime soon…

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If you like Nick Piunti, you’ll also dig Dom Mariani’s Homespun Blues & Greens. Out on Sugarbush, this ‘lost’ album by the former frontman of Australian garage rock band The Stems is released on vinyl for the first time.

Limited to 300 ‘deep blue’ copies worldwide, it was recorded over a two-year period in the early noughties, but slipped under the radar when it came out in 2004.

Mixed by Mitch Easter (R.E.M and Velvet Crush) it’s top-notch power pop, with fuzzy riffs, crunching chords and some great hooks.

The title track has a brilliant soulful brass arrangement, gorgeous ballad Prove has cool ’60s-style backing vocals and tinges of country rock, thanks to its Faces-style guitar licks, while space-themed Yuri is, er, out of this world, and Bus Ride is power pop perfection.

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Finally this month, Sugarbush has another vinyl first – Irish band Pugwash’s second album, Almanac. Originally released in 2002, it’s now available on orange or white vinyl – there are 250 copies of each.

Pugwash’s main man, Thomas Walsh, is clearly a man who’s in love with vintage pop music – even  Almanac’s title is a nod to The Kinks.

For the most part, Walsh channels mid-to late ’60s Beatles and ELO – Everything We Need sounds like George Harrison meets Jeff Lynne, while the lovely acoustic ballad Sunrise Sunset could’ve come off  The White Album.

Keep Movin’ On reminds us of The Hollies and Apples sounds like English eccentrics XTC – it’s no surprise that, in 2002, XTC’s Andy Partridge said it was the most exciting track he’d heard all year.

Almanac is a Fab album and Pugwash are plundering pop pirates. Ahoy there, me hearties…

For more information on all of these albums – and to order them –  please visit http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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The sound of the 12-string guitar is celebrated on a great new compilation album – Twelve String High – which includes 23 jangle pop acts from all over the world, who share a love of Rickenbacker riffs and heavenly harmonies…

From The Byrds to Big Star and The Raspberries to REM, the 12-string guitar has always played an important part in rock and roll history.

The distinctive Rickenbacker jingle-jangle can be heard in folk rock, ‘60s beat, garage, power pop, the psychedelic Paisley Underground scene in ‘80s L.A and the British indie tunes of The Smiths.

There are also a huge number of current bands that owe a large debt to that classic 12-string guitar sound and the best of them are gathered together on an excellent new compilation album, Twelve String High, from Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

Available on double vinyl, single CD and download, it rounds up 23 acts from all over the world that are known for their love of 12-string guitars and heavenly harmonies.

Things get off to a great start with the brilliant opening track by US singer-songwriter Erik Voeks – the entirely apt and wonderfully euphoric She Loved Her Jangle Pop.

And, if, like the female protagonist in Erik’s song, you love your jangle pop, then Twelve String High is an essential collection. In fact, we’d go as far to say that it’s one of the best compilation albums we’ve ever heard.

The UK is represented by Say It With Garage Flowers favourites The Dreaming Spires (If I Didn’t Know You), as well as Kontiki Suite, Dropkick, The Carousels, The Junipers, The Higher State and The Hanging Stars – whose debut album Over The Silvery Lake is one of the finest records of 2016.

Some of these bands were already on the Say It With Garage Flowers radar, but listening to Twelve String High has opened our ears to a whole lot more acts that we’d love to find out more about.

Who are US band The Parson Red Heads, whose gorgeous ballad It’s Hard For Me To Say is included on the album? And what about Australia’s Wade Jackson, who pitches in with Coming Back, Elvyn from Canada, whose Lotta Lies is one of the highlights, or Sweden’s Arvidson & Butterflies, with their marvellous, organ-heavy Tired of Running?

It’s a jangle out there…

Twelve String High is available now from You Are The Cosmos and the vinyl version can also be bought on import from Sugarbush Records.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“I feel like we’ve been through some dark times and 2015 is going to be a big year”

Darkest Before Dawn EP - The Dreaming Spires - Robin & Joe Portrait-1

Fans of classic, jangly, guitar pop rejoice – Oxford band The Dreaming Spires are back with a gorgeous, brand new three-track EP, Darkest Before The Dawn, which is a taster for their second album, Searching For The Supertruth, due out next year.

Opening song  Hype Bands Parts I & II is a seven minute tour-de-force – a big blast of country-soul with horns, chugging rock & roll guitars and an irresistible, sunshine melody. Its wry, amusing lyric is about on-the-road antics in the USA and pokes fun at hipster indie bands who are more concerned about wearing the right clothes than writing great songs…

Second tune, House On Elsinore, is luscious. A hypnotic, hazy heat wave of a song, it’s set in LA’s dark underbelly and is soundtracked by chiming, psychedelic, Byrds-like guitars, while the title track is a positive, spiritual hymn that was written as a message of hope to a friend of the band, Danny, who went through some tough times, but, thankfully, came out the other side. It’s moving and very uplifting.

I spoke to Robin Bennett – who, with his brother Joe – forms the nucleus of  The Dreaming Spires, about Americana, hanging out in LA and how their new album has been influenced by shoegazing…

Let’s talk about your brand new EP, Darkest Before The Dawn, which is a great record. Musically, it feels like a step on from your debut album Brothers in Brooklyn. It has a richer, more expansive, widescreen sound. Musically, you’ve taken the jangle-pop feel of  The Byrds, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub, but also thrown in some Americana influences and themes…

Robin Bennett: Thanks. I’m excited to get some new material out after what feels like an age. We’ve always felt part of that lineage of bands, not so much by intention, but in how things seem to end up sounding.

I often think we’ve gone on a radical departure, only to be told it still sounds like The Byrds. Maybe a different Byrds album… We’ve always been bracketed in with Americana acts in England too, which has never made much sense to me, unless you’re going to include The Kinks and The Beatles, etc. I read Ray Davies’ book Americana this year, which helped put it all in perspective for me.

I definitely share those ‘60s bands’ excitement at the exotic nature of many aspects of American culture, which is shaped by Beat books, cowboy films, rock & roll music, neon signage, cup holders, and all the other ephemera. Bands from The Byrds to Tom Petty to Big Star refracted the British beat music back again – so I see it as back and forth across the Atlantic. It’s tough on us British acts playing in that style, because it’s assumed we are trying to be American. To be British, you have to sound like Duran Duran, it seems. As a child of the ‘80s mostly, I never heard any music I liked until I discovered ‘50s rock & roll and soul via The Beatles. These songs [on our new EP] are mostly triggered by events that happened during visits to the US. In this case, mostly California – between 2003-2008.

The Dreaming Spires - Darkest Before Dawn EP Cover

So, what was the starting point for the new EP – musically and thematically? 

RB: The song Darkest Before The Dawn was written by me and a friend, Cat Martino, in Brooklyn. We were trying to write a letter to our friend Danny in the form of a song. I’d had the tune and the chorus line for a while, since our first ever band practice before the first album, but when it was expressed as a direct message it seemed to come together. We wanted it to have a positive message while acknowledging how bad things had got. Although we were talking to Danny about his life, the theme of darkness and redemption feels applicable to all of us. We worked hard to create the contrast between light and shade in the title song, while House on Elsinore has a paranoid air from the many drones and so on…

The songs are on the new EP are all thematically linked – based on real life experiences you had with your friend Danny. He sounds like quite a character! You’ve certainly got some good tales from your antics with him – he has been referenced in several of your songs.

RB: Danny certainly is a character. In fact, it’s him I’m talking about in Singing Sin City from our first album, “smoking cigarettes like a cowboy movie character”. On our first visit to the West Coast with [previous band] Goldrush and Mark Gardener [ex-Ride], he was officially our tour manager and collected us from LAX airport. The whole experience made a big impression on me and we formed a close friendship. At the time he had his own band, The And/Ors, and was working as a screen printer for the artist Shepard Fairey. You could say the music we were listening to on cassettes in his tour van – mostly Teenage Fanclub and The Byrds – set me off on the direction that ended up with The Dreaming Spires. Given that he also introduced me to Big Star and reintroduced me to Tom Petty, you could credit Danny with our whole sound.

Aside from the bands and tours, we unexpectedly struck up a songwriting partnership. In only a few sessions in LA and also on his visits to Oxford, we contrived to write over 50 songs together at a rate of two or three a day. Until then I’d been writing mostly alone and struggling with it. He taught me how to put method in the madness and to create almost on demand, which was an amazing change for me.

We wrote songs for Goldrush for the album The Heart is the Place, and a kind of solo album called Dusty Sound System, which was written in a week and recorded in a day, as well as numerous unreleased songs. Strength of Strings and Just Can’t Keep This Feeling In eventually made it onto the Brothers in Brooklyn LP [The Dreaming Spires’ first album].

How does Danny feel about having songs written about him? He sounds like he went through a bad patch, but, thankfully, is now in a much happier place…

RB: He did indeed hit a bad patch and it was no longer possible for us to write together. It was also a turbulent and busy time in my own life, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write again on my own – and for a year or so, there wasn’t much coming out. It was seeing him at such a low point, when we visited California for a friend’s wedding, that got me writing again – with him as the subject, instead of the writing partner. I don’t know why, but the ideas just kept coming, spilling out into numerous lyrics that I wrote at great speed. Some were finished in time for the first LP, some took longer and some form part of this new EP and the new album. I kept thinking, ‘now I should write about something else’, but I kept having more ideas from the same topic and often the lyrics would go off on tangents from a similar starting point.

I read something by Jay-Z, talking about writing lyrics by going back to the same point in your past for inspiration, so perhaps that’s what was happening. We spent a year recording these new songs, but I knew if Danny wasn’t happy with them, then I wouldn’t be able to release them, so I sent them to him before anyone else. His reaction was what I hoped it would be – he understood the intention of the songs, of course. I also didn’t feel right putting these songs out until I knew he was in good shape again, which he very much is now.

I like the wry, witty lyrics on your song Hype Bands Parts I & II. Are the words aimed at any bands in particular? I also like the rocky guitar sound on the track and the big brass arrangement. It has a soulful feel…

RB: I think we’ve ended up with a contrast between the brittle sound of the intro, which is a warm parody of any number of ‘hype bands’, and the looser feel of the second half, where music helps you to let go – which is what ‘soul’ music usually does. Because we’ve been playing in bands since the late ‘90s, we’ve come across many bands that have shot to fame before disappearing, but, in a way, it’s more of a comment on how the music industry has treated bands in the last 15 years. There’s a wave of hype to get them going, before a rapid tail-off into obscurity. Of course, if you’re a writer or an artist, this bears no relation to your development. The attributes to being a good ‘hype band’ are different to being a good writer, as your window of opportunity is so short. You have to chime with the trend of the moment.

When we did have a major label push for our old band, Goldrush, we coincided with the appearance of The Strokes, who must be the ultimate hype band. We didn’t stand a chance! Shortly afterwards we left Virgin Records, who replaced us with The Thrills – who, I should add, were a good band with some excellent songs. They did a similar thing, but in a much more presentable way. We crossed paths with them a few times during our LA visits, including an incident where we found out that a friend of Danny’s was acting as their stylist. When he asked Conor, the singer, about it, he denied everything. We really did play them at pool, too. We won!

Will any of the songs from the new EP end up on your next album – Searching For The Supertruth – which is out next year?

RB: We recorded 13 tracks in all – three of which form this EP and the other 10 make up the album. We tried to make it work as a double album, but, ultimately, it worked better separating these three songs as an EP – it’s too much to process at once. All 13 tracks will be on the vinyl release across two discs.

Is the EP representative of the new album? 

RB: I think the EP is a good pointer towards the album. We’ve finished the album. It’s been mastered by Tony Poole, a great musician and producer who played in the cult ‘70s band Starry Eyed & Laughing. We worked with our long time associate Rowland Prytherch to create as much detail in the sound as we can, so that further listening is rewarded. Something we’ve picked up more on since the first LP is trying to create an atmospheric undercurrent to the tracks, often using lap steel washes and string pads through numerous FX pedals. You could call it our shoegaze influence. I think it sounds positive and transcendent, overall.

So, what we can expect from the new album. Can you give us a few teasers? 

RB: We’ve been playing some songs live already. The autobiographical song Dusty in Memphis is already a crowd favourite, complete with a sing-along. We’ve also played the title song, with a backwards guitar part by Tony Poole, and the ballad We Used to Have Parties, which has a backing vocal from Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne.

Is it a concept album and  part of a trilogy? Where did the title  –  Searching For The Supertruth – come from?

RB: It definitely feels like a concept album, without being overbearing. It is the final part of the trilogy, where the narrative resolves, at least for now. The title came from a scientist friend called Rich Blundell. It’s to do with cosmic evolution and the universe becoming conscious of itself.

What music are you currently into and what are your favourite new albums of 2014? 

RB: This year I have enjoyed new stuff from The War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, and Arcade Fire, as well some great music by friends including Common Prayer, Sugar Magnolia and Paul McClure. I’m enjoying The Flaming Lips and friends’ take on Sgt Pepper more than I expected too! I’ve also been listening to lots of soul compilations, dreaming of being in Booker T & The MG’s, plenty of Jackson Browne and new and old Tom Petty albums. Getting a car with a tape-only stereo has meant I’ve listened to cassette versions of Tunnel of Love [Bruce Springsteen] and Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner more times than I care to mention.

So, how you do feel as we head into 2015?

RB: I feel like we’ve been through some dark times and 2015 is going to be a big year

Darkest Before The Dawn – the new EP from The Dreaming Spires – is released on November 24. It’s on ClubHouse Records.

http://www.thedreamingspires.co.uk

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk/artists/the-dreaming-spires