‘We didn’t want any fiddles or sailors on this album’

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Husband and wife folk-rock duo The Rails – James Walbourne and Kami Thompson – are back. Their much-anticipated second album, Other People, is out on September 1.

Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ray Kennedy [Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams], it’s a darker, heavier and more electric record than their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Fair Warning. 

Moving away from the band’s traditional folk roots – it has ‘psychedelic’ tinges and groovy ’60s organ – it’s an album of 10 self-penned songs and isn’t afraid to speak its mind and deal with modern social issues.

The title track is a rallying call against those who are out for themselves, while Brick and Mortar is an angry protest song that laments the death of London – it’s part funeral march, part Kinks. 

The album feels like a record that’s about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

I took James [guitars, vocals, keyboards] and Kami [vocals and guitar] down the pub to find out more…

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Q & A

You recorded the new album in Nashville, at Room & Board Studio, with producer Ray Kennedy, who’s worked with acts including Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. Why did you decide to make the new album in Nashville?

James: It was because Ray was there – I just wanted to work with Ray. Nashville had no bearing or influence on the record in any way.

You haven’t made a ‘Nashville country album,’ have you?

James: It honestly had nothing to do with country – it was cheaper to make the record with Ray in Nashville than to fly him over to the UK. We didn’t see any of Nashville. We got there, we drove to a house where we were staying and then to the studio – and that’s what we did for about a week. It was bloody hard work.

Kami: It was quite stressful – we had a small budget and very little time.

Why did you want to work with Ray Kennedy?

James: We were struggling with whom we were going to get to produce it, as we wanted to do something different, and then he came to mind. One morning, I thought, ‘It would be great if Ray could do it’…

Ray had worked on a 1998 album called Domestic Blues by my friend Bap Kennedy – I spoke to Bap about him – and then Ray Davies also said that I should work with Ray. It all came together. Ray Kennedy is a genius…

And so is Ray Davies…

James: He is! Ray Kennedy had also worked on some of my favourite records, like Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues, which sounds heavy. We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky. We wanted this album to be more of a rock band approach – more of a psychedelic thing. Maybe ‘psychedelic’ is too much… we wanted a whittled-down approach, with two electric guitars, bass and keyboards. We didn’t want any fiddles on it…

Kami: Or sailors.

James: If you’re in Nashville, you’ve got to watch the fiddle because it then becomes a country fiddle…

There is a pedal steel guitar on the album…

James: Yes – Eric Heyward played on one track.

‘We wanted to do a heavier record that was less folky – more of a rock band approach’

Can you tell me about the musicians you worked with on the new album? They weren’t Nashville guys, were they?

James: It’s funny – I knew we were going to get asked about the Nashville thing, but everyone that was involved – apart from Ray – wasn’t from Nashville. Cody Dickinson was on our first record – he’s the drummer in the North Mississippi Allstars and he lives in Memphis – he’s an old friend, so it was a no-brainer.

Jim Boquist [on bass] is another old friend of mine and he was in the first incarnation of Son Volt – he’s from Minneapolis. He has a punk-rock edge, ‘cos he used to hang out with The Replacements – he’s a good friend of Paul Westerberg’s. We had a different mix of people – from Memphis to Minneapolis is a huge world away and then there was us with the English folk thing…. we wanted to see what it would sound like.

Your first album was recorded in London with Edwyn Collins as producer. How was it working with Ray on this album? How did it compare?

James: It was as bonkers – they’re both as bonkers as each other.

Kami: It was a whole different substrata of bonkers…

James: They’re both in analogue mode – everything’s old and analogue…. This time [in Nashville], there were compressors that were used at MGM for Hank Williams and there were thousands of guitars – it was amazing.

Kami: You couldn’t let your gaze rest on anything for too long, because Ray would say, ‘Are you looking at that compressor? That’s the compressor that The Beatles used…’

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album.

You’ve said that this record is a move away from the more traditional folk sound of your debut, but there’s still a folk feel to some of the tracks, particularly the opening song The Cally and the title track and first single, Other People…

JamesYes – that’s true.

Other People has a pretty, folk-pop melody, but, lyrically it’s quite an angry song, isn’t it?

James: (laughing) I keep hearing that from people – I didn’t mean it to be that angry!

The opening line is, ‘crazy people, money-grabbers, old religions and new regimes, back-stabbers, heart-breakers, psychopaths with evil schemes….’

It sounds to me like a comment on the state of the world – a rallying call against selfish people and those who are just using others to further their own means…

James: It started with me being pissed off about people who should get off their high horse. It’s when you walk down the street…

Kami: It’s that huge lack of social manners.

James: It seems to be everywhere now. It’s about the internet and all the other stuff – it’s this (he points to his mobile phone) all the time…

But the song feels like it’s about bigger issues…

James: It grew into that – it got angrier and angrier as we were writing it. It’s a selfish world… I get the feeling that everyone’s out for themselves – they should care about their fellow man a little more.

Kami: It’s a theme on which you can easily zoom in and out.

It’s got a gorgeous tune, though…

James: You’ve got to be able to whistle it – you can’t give it all away.

‘There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional’

It’s lighter than some of the other songs on the album, which I think is a very dark record, lyrically…

James: I guess it is.

It’s darker than the first album…

James: There’s more of ourselves in this album… It definitely feels darker, but it wasn’t intentional.

Kami: I can’t remember the last time either of us wrote a particularly cheerful song.

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I think there are recurring themes on the record – the title track, Late Surrender, Leaving The Land and Brick and Mortar all seem to be songs about people who aren’t at ease with the world in which they live…

Kami: That’s a good way of summing it up.

There’s a line in the song Other People that seems to sum up the whole record for me – ‘we’re all strangers in our own time.’ Have the songs been shaped by current political and social issues?

Kami: Yes – absolutely. A lot of the album was written at a time when we were going to have to move out of London because we couldn’t afford to buy somewhere to live, so that was playing on our minds. And also maybe it’s the age we are – I think that plays a part. The song Leaving The Land was written about thinking we would have to leave London.

The album’s opening song, The Cally, is one of the more folky songs on the record. It’s about the characters who lived and worked on Caledonian Road in North London and it also mentions Pentonville Prison.

You like a prison song, don’t you? You had two on your first album – Send Her To Holloway and Borstal…

James: We love a prison song!

What was the inspiration for The Cally?

James: It was all down to my granddad, whose flat we’re now living in. He died a couple of years ago – he was 92. One day, we were in the kitchen and he was talking to me about when he lived and grew up around ‘The Cally’ and Almeida Street in Islington.

He liked to talk about the old days – he was telling me about a woman called ‘Woodbine Nellie’ who used to ‘work’ on the street. She was a lady of the night and I thought, ‘that’s a good name’.

I was walking down Caledonian Road one day and I started humming a song and I wrote it when I got home – I did it really quickly.

After The Cally, the next song on the record is Late Surrender. James – musically, it reminds me of some of the tracks you’ve played on with Pete Bruntnell…  [James has been a guitarist for several acts, including UK singer-songwriter Pete Bruntnell, Ray Davies, Son Volt, The Pernice Brothers, The Pogues and The Pretenders – he’s in the current Pretenders line-up]

It has a kind of Americana feel and jangly guitars…

James: Yes – it’s more rock. I can’t stand the term ‘Americana’ – I’ve never liked it.

Kami: I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On are both melancholy songs – the former has a country feel to it, which is down to the pedal steel guitar.Was that a little bit of Nashville rubbing off on you?

James: It was – we thought we’d better give it a nod and Eric [Heyward] was in town. He’d been up all night, drinking moonshine with Tony Joe White’s drummer and they both rolled in… but he played amazing. He’s one of the best – a pedal steel stylist. No one else sounds like that guy.

Drowned In Blue has some psychedelic moments on it, too…

James: Exactly. We wanted to do what Ray Kennedy had done on those Steve Earle records – suddenly go from country to a Beatles thing. It’s like ‘what the fuck?’ It’s different from the folk thing. I wanted him to do his thing and put his stamp on it.

Kami: With our first album, we set out to make a folk-rock record with a ‘70s vibe, but an updated version of it. The first record was more of a concept – we had an idea and we worked towards making that happen. We wrote a few songs for it that were in that vein and we arranged some traditional songs in that style. With the new album, we wanted to make a heavier record – it felt more natural to us and it’s more of a reflection of the things that we like to listen to. We don’t listen to any folk music.

‘I’m fairly allergic to the term ‘Americana’. It’s just English people playing American music – and, most of the time, quite badly’

So do you feel like you’ve been tarred with the folk brush?

James: Not now, because we’ve got the new album…

Is folk a dirty word?

Kami: Not at all… I just hate anything that hasn’t got balls – I like things to have a bit of grit.

James: That’s what it’s about. It doesn’t matter whether it’s folk, or rock… we just wanted to make some great songs that had some grit. We wanted to sound heavier and for it to be electrified.

Drowned In Blue and Hanging On both seem to share a common theme – they’re songs about people who are at the end of their tether… maybe even suicidal…

Kami: James is regularly at the end of his tether!

James: That’s how I feel constantly! It’s funny talking about the themes of the songs because I hadn’t given it that much thought – I didn’t think about how dark it was. You’re right.

Kami: James is more the homicidal side of our marriage – I’m more suicidal! We should get some-T shirts made…

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We’re talking about how dark the album is – there’s actually a song on it called Dark Times. It’s about an abusive relationship…

James: Yes – it’s another abusive relationship song. It’s meant to be like one of those old ‘60s songs – a Dan Penn-type song. It’s Dann Penn-lite.

And it ends with some groovy ‘60s organ….

James: Organs are hip! It was meant to be like Cream doing a folk song.

Brick and Mortar is my favourite song on the album.

Kami: Mine, too.

It deals with how old London is being torn down by greedy property developers and it laments what’s happened to some of the old pubs, areas like Soho and famous places like Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley…

Kami: It’s the rich taking over the world…

It’s a song about the death of London and, appropriately, it’s a kind of funeral march…

James: It really is – a very fast one.

And it reminds me of The Kinks….

James: It is a bit Kinks-y, but it started out as slow and acoustic – like something from Oliver.

Brick and Mortar is a protest song – in fact several of the songs on the album could be seen as ‘protest songs’, couldn’t they?

Kami: I think the whole album is a rant!

James: It does feel like more of a rant…

Let’s talk about your songwriting process? Do you write together or separately?

Kami: For the most part, we write separately, but James will finish a middle eight or a chorus for me and I’ll write some lyrics for him – or vice versa. We tend to each have written most of the song before the other person gets involved.

James: The songs are mostly written – it’s just tweaking.

Kami: There’s only one of my songs on the new album – Leaving The Land. James had written loads and by the time I went to put my songs into the ring, they weren’t really in the same vein.

James: I wrote furiously for a long time…

‘I think the whole album is a rant!’

What music are you listening to at the moment?

James: I like the new albums by Jason Isbell and Randy Newman. The Randy Newman album is called Dark Matter and it’s bonkers – I listened to it in the bath last night. It’s pushing the boundaries – it’s mental. I’ve been listening to the Elvis album A Boy From Tupelo – it’s his early recordings re-mastered.

Kami: I’m having a funny couple of weeks. Do you ever get those weeks when you’re allergic to music? Nothing’s right.

The other day I went through every record that I thought I might want to listen to and I ended up listening to Radio 4. Maybe it’s because we’re gearing up to tour and I’m learning songs. I think my brain’s full.

Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?

James: That’s an interesting question. A lot of them are dead!

Kami: A palate cleanser for myself would be a non-collaboration – just to quietly do my own thing.

James: I think that’s true for both of us – I think I’m going to do it as well.

What are the pros and cons of being a married couple in a band? Is it hard?

James: Yes – you never want to do any work!

Kami: It’s very difficult to carve out time to work.

James: We have real arguments about it– we’ve got very different views on music and everything….

Kami: Music is all James does, but I go into a non-music mode between records – I sometimes have to switch that mode back on.

James: This year I haven’t stopped working – we’ve done the album, the rest of the year is solid and we’ve got stuff lined up for next year – we’re doing another Rails tour and there’s Pretenders stuff on the go. I’ve written a few songs with Chrissie Hynde and there’s a Pretenders live album coming out in a couple of months.

You’re heading out on a nine-day UK tour in September and then you’re supporting The Pretenders after that. What can we expect?

Kami: It’s stripped down – a four-piece band.

James: It’s two electric guitars, bass and drums.

James – you’ll be playing guitar in The Pretenders, too. How do you feel about supporting yourself on tour?

James: It’s not ideal… It will be a long time, but we needed to do it. Chrissie Hynde loves us – thank God – and she’s very vocal about us.

Kami: It will be like when A Mighty Wind opened up for Spinal Tap!

James: I might have a costume change…

So what’s a typical Rails tour like? Is it rock and roll?

James: Rock and roll? There aren’t many tours that are rock and roll anymore…

The-Rails back

Other People – the new album by The Rails – is released on September 1 on Sony / Red Essential.

The Rails are touring the UK in September:

September 11 – Glasgow, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut

Tues 12  – Leicester, The Musician
Tue 13 – Hull, The Adelphi
Thurs 14 – Hedben Bridge, The Trades Club
Fri 15 – Manchester, The Deaf Institute
Mon 18 – Cambridge, Junction 2
Tues 19 – Norwich, Arts Centre
Wed 20 – London,  The Borderline
Thurs 21 – Newbury, Arlington Arts Centre

http://www.therailsofficial.com/

 

 

‘I’m not a fan of streaming. As a music fanatic, I would prefer people to buy records and CDs…’

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Singer-songwriter Daniel Wylie, who was formerly frontman of Glasgow jangle-popsters Cosmic Rough Riders, has recently released a vinyl-only compilation album, Best of The Solo Years (2004-2014), on Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

As the title suggests, it brings together some of the highlights from his solo career, including the irresistible, Byrds-like Consoling The Girl, the gorgeous, unabashed love song That Was The Day, the folky strummer Brighton Beach, uptempo space-rocker Unwind and the jaunty Car Guitar Star, on which Daniel takes a swipe at those people who steal music rather than pay for it… 

It’s a superb collection that is soaked in ’60s California [melodic] sunshine pop and recalls the chiming, 12-string sound of R.E.M, Teenage Fanclub and, of course, Cosmic Rough Riders – some of the tracks were penned for Daniel’s old band, but ended up on his first solo album, 2004’s  Ramshackle Beauty.

I spoke to Daniel, who’s off to record his brand new studio album, Scenery For Dreamers, this month, to find out the stories behind some of the songs…

Why did the time feel right to put out a new solo compilation album?

Daniel Wylie: It was the label’s idea [You Are The Cosmos]. They wanted to release a compilation focusing on the albums I released under my own name, rather than my Cosmic Rough Riders releases.

I hadn’t released a compilation album for eight years, so it felt like a good time to remind people that I’m still recording and releasing albums on a regular basis.

This Best Of… is my twelfth album release, counting Cosmic Rough Riders and solo records, since 1999. That’s a lot of music…

How hard was it to choose which songs went on the record?

DW: Pedro Vizcaino, who owns You Are The Cosmos, presented me with a track listing of his choice. I had a look at it and pretty much agreed with the songs he’d chosen…although I did insist on The Cello Player and Everything I Give You being on there.

When I released the last compilation, I got some interesting feedback from fans who were disappointed that I left off one of their personal favourites. I’m getting some similar feedback again with this new compilation, but you can’t please everyone.

The album is available on vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it in that format?

DW: I’m a big fan of vinyl, but because of the dominance of the CD era, much of my music never got a vinyl release. This was a good way for me to get more of my music out on vinyl. The artwork’s bigger and more aesthetically pleasing. I’m getting old and I can’t read the tiny text on CDs now…

The album has been released under license by Spanish label, You Are The Cosmos. Why have you teamed up with them? 

DW: I own the rights to all my own music, which means I get to choose whom I do deals with. It’s a good position to be in.

You Are The Cosmos released my last studio album, Chrome Cassettes, and they did a great job, so when they approached me with the compilation idea, I was happy to get involved with them again.

The label is a labour of love and Pedro Vizcaino is passionate about music. His enthusiasm rubs off on you and you want to be a part of what he’s doing. It’s a very cool label with a growing reputation for releasing quality music.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Opener, Consoling The Girl, is one of my favourite tracks. What’s the story behind it? It’s classic jangle-pop / country-rock and it’s very Byrds-like…

DW: That song is partly about the trials of separation – having to go away on tour and leave behind the ones you love.

Cosmic Rough Riders toured constantly. In fact, one year I was only home for 16 days and I really missed my wife and children.

I wrote Consoling The Girl for what was to be the follow-up to Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine [Cosmic Rough Riders’ third album]. When we were in Japan on tour, I played a bundle of my new songs to the Sony Music execs and they were all saying that Consoling The Girl sounded like a single – that and Unwind.

Car Guitar Star is a message song – it deals with the subject of people stealing music and ripping off musicians. What’s your current view on that issue? You’re not a fan of Spotify, are you?

DW: I would prefer people to buy records and CDs. As a music fanatic, I want the lot – the great music, the beautiful artwork… I want to read who produced, engineered and mixed the album and who wrote the songs. I want to read the lyrics of the songs while I listen – it’s a whole experience that shouldn’t be allowed to die out. A file is nothing and MP3 sounds terrible, too.

I’m not a fan of streaming. I understand that it makes it easier for people to listen to music on the move, but until it pays artists and songwriters a proper royalty rate, then it’s not something I would promote as a good idea.

It might be that one day, streaming services will offer good financial rewards for the music they use, but, at the moment, they’re giving your music away for free in the hope that someone might turn up at your gig, or buy a T-shirt.

Another one of my favourite tracks on your new album is Brighton Beach. Funnily enough, I saw Cosmic Rough Riders play in Brighton – on the beach – at The Concorde 2, back in 2000. If I remember correctly, you played the song Brighton Beach in your set that night. It eventually came out on your 2004 debut solo album, Ramshackle Beauty. What can you tell me about that song?

DW: I wrote Brighton Beach as a B-side for The Pain Inside single [by Cosmic Rough Riders], but decided it deserved better than B-side status.

To be honest, I think the tune is great and the harmonies in the end section are maybe the best I’ve done in any song, but there’s only one line of the lyric that actually says anything… “everybody wants something – that’s the way of the world.” The rest of the lyrics are just rubbish.

That gig you speak of at Brighton Concorde 2…That day I had planned to take a guitar on to the beach and sing the song to the first pretty girl I saw…that was until we stepped out of the tour bus and felt how cold it was outside. There was no one on the beach…

Let’s talk about something happier. That Was The Day, which is on your new album, is a very pretty love song and the lyric mentions ‘that record by January’ – [I Heard Myself In You]. January were label mates of Cosmic Rough Riders when you signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones, weren’t they?

DW: I love that January album. It was my chill-out album on tour. I used to listen to it in the dark in my hotel room every night before going to sleep.

I intentionally wrote a song where I could fit that into the lyrics – that song was That Was The Day. There’s a funny thing about That Was The Day – four different couples have used it as their wedding song, but the song is about meeting my wife. It’s sentimental, I know, but what can I say – the day I met her was the single greatest day of my life.

January made a second album called Motion Sickness. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as their first…

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How do you feel about those days when you were signed to Poptones? Looking back on them now, do you have good or bad memories? 

DW: Poptones was a great label and it was amazing to be a part of it. There were some great people involved in that label and of course working with Alan McGee and Joe Foster is as good as it gets. It’s just a shame it didn’t last longer.

Maybe if I’d stayed in Cosmic Rough Riders and we’d released the follow-up to Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, things could have been different, as we were definitely on the rise.

We were the second biggest selling act on the label after The Hives and there was a big interest in what we would do next…then I left the band. A lot of people were angry with me and I can see why, but it’s never been about money for me.

I knew I would be selling less records and making music on a low budget and with a much lower profile, but at least it would be on my own terms without interference from people I couldn’t connect with musically – not the folk at the label, they were all great.

I’m proud of every album I’ve released since. I also loved some other bands on Poptones – Arnold were great and so were Oranger and Captain Soul.

Your latest studio album, Chrome Cassettes, came out in 2015. Are you working on a new record? What can we expect and when will it be out? Have you written any new songs recently?

DW: I begin recording a new album on February 9 – it’s going to be called Scenery For Dreamers.

There will be 10 songs on the album – seven full band tunes and three acoustic-based songs. Once I’ve got that album out there, I will be recording an acoustic album called I Am A Golden God.

I have 22 songs almost written for the acoustic record. I’m hoping that 14 or 15 of them will make it on to the album. By then I’ll be 60 years old and thinking about retiring, at which point my wife starts laughing…

Will you be playing any live shows this year?

DW: I get offered gigs a lot, but to be honest, I can’t be bothered. I’ve toured the world and it kind of wears you down after thousands of gigs. If I got offered enough money to make it worthwhile, then I would tour, but I think that ship has sailed.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying? What can we find on your hi-fi?

I listen to music every day – it’s my one and only drug. I’m teetotal, so I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs… and I’m a better person for all of that.

Redspencer’s Perks is an album I’ve been listening to a lot recently. They’re from Melbourne in Australia and they remind me of Real Estate meets Blur – when Blur were great. I also love a guy called Bibio – his  A Mineral Love album and his Green EP are so beautiful and melodic – it’s shimmering music.

I also love The Goon Sax album – they’re Australian and include the son of The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster in their line-up. They sound like early Orange Juice meets The Go-Betweens. I like Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe – they sing in German and have bits of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! in their music, but they’re so tuneful and edgy, too…

I also love the latest Black Mountain album, Black Mountain IV, and American band Astronauts, etc – their Mind Out Wandering album is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years.

Other stuff: case/lang/veirs – beautiful country/folk-tinged music that’s ultra-melodic and mellow, Heron Oblivion, Bryan Estepa, The Junipers, Radiohead, Gregory Porter, Murals, Lou Rhodes – great acoustic folk, like Joni Mitchell with a deeper voice – and C Duncan. Both his albums are beautiful.

Daniel Wylie’s new album, Best of the Solo Years (2004-2014) is out now on You Are The Cosmos .

Copies are also available in the UK from Daniel Wylie: wyliebaum@yahoo.co.uk and Sugarbush Records.

Doctor in the house

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[Photo by Michele Siedner]

 

Out There, the new solo album by Dr Robert, frontman of pop-soulsters The Blow Monkeys, is a stripped-down, acoustic affair that was recorded on an old eight-track Tascam tape machine at his home in deepest Andalusia, Spain. I had an appointment with the Dr to find out how this raw and rootsy record came about…

With the new album, you’ve said it’s all about the groove of the songs – there are no middle eights, key changes or bridges. Why did you take that approach to this record?

Dr Robert: It was because I used a lot of open tunings on the guitar, which deliberately restricted my options. I wanted to avoid my usual progressions. I might try an album of just middle eights next…

It’s a very rootsy and primal record in places. Tracks like All The Way Back Home and Rack and Ruin are down and dirty, bluesy grooves, and there are some jazzy vibes on the album, too. (Lost in Rasa). Were you influenced by artists like Tim Hardin and Fred Neil, whose work you’ve covered in the past?  

DR: Well, people like Hardin and Neil are part of my DNA now, so I tried not to edit myself. I just let it flow, like I was jamming in my kitchen.

 

One of my favourite tracks on the album is A Bottomless Pit. I think it sounds like Jacques Brel doing Johnny Cash. Can you tell me more about this song? Where did it come from?

DR: I don’t know where songs come from. That was an effortless one. Sometimes they come along fully formed. I was lucky.

For this record, you worked with drummer Richard “Snakehips” Dudanski, piano and accordion player Jos Hawken and saxophonist, Joe Degado. How did you hook up with those guys?

DR: They are friends. Richard goes way back. He’s a proper gent and an inspiration and he’s been in bands with both Strummer and Lydon, which is good enough for me! Jos is young and blessed with an innate calm and special talent. They both live nearby, so I always had them in mind.

What was the atmosphere like when you made this album? Was it loose and laid-back? From listening to the record, it certainly sounds like it…

DR: I tended to record the ‘takes’ in the morning. My voice works better then – especially on the low notes. I was alone most of the time. I was doing a take, then running to the tape machine to stop the tape unwinding!

How did writing and recording the album at home in Spain affect the sound of the record?

DR:I live in the mountains, south of Granada. Landscape and environment have always been a major inspiration. And smells. From the sugar beet on the Fens, to the orange blossom of the Lecrin Valley.

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[Photo by Michele Siedner]

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with acts including Paul Weller, Curtis Mayfield, PP Arnold, Beth Orton and Kym Mazelle.  Do you have any great memories from any of those collaborations? Is there anyone that you’d like to work with?

DR: They have all taught me something. Curtis was a humble soul. The best always are. I’d like to work with Tom Waits.

Out There is your tenth solo album. After more than 30 years in the business, do you feel like a prolific solo artist, or will you forever be a Blow Monkey? How does it feel now, looking back on your days as a ’80s pop star?

DR: I’m a prolific Blow Monkey. The ‘80s were the last great ‘pop’ decade. Things have changed. Mostly for the better.

How did it feel when you reformed The Blow Monkeys in 2007? Why did you decide to come back? Was it a case of unfinished business and how was it when you got back together to play and make new records? 

DR: I missed being in a band, but I wanted to make new band music. We are a strange mix. We all love different music, but we never argue. We’re a slightly dysfunctional family – like all the best bands.

blow monkeys.jpg

Any news on The Blow Monkeys? Do you have more new material or gigs planned?

DR: There are lots of gigs up on our website  and a new album proposed for spring 2017. I’m writing some punky soul anthems right now.

The Blow Monkeys were known for their left-wing political views. Does it seem strange to you that nowadays more mainstream artists don’t use their music to convey political views, or protest against wrongdoing or unjustness? 

DR: Some still do. PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was a masterpiece in my opinion and Beyoncé did a fine thing at the Super Bowl.

There’s a track on your new album called I Ain’t Running Anymore, yet, after more than 30 years in the business, you seem to be busier than ever. What’s your secret?  You had a health scare a while back and you quit drinking. What effect has that had on you? Are you in a good place?

DR: I don’t have a secret. Just keep your eyes open and your lips pursed. I try to remember how it felt to hear Ride a White Swan for the first time. My whole world opened up.

What music – new and old – are you currently listening to and enjoying?

DR: Old – Bukka White. New – Kendrick Lamarr.

Finally, how ‘out there’ are you?

DR: Not enough, yet. I’m working on it.

 

Out There by Dr Robert is released on May 2 (Fencat Records).

For more information, go to http://www.theblowmonkeys.com/

out there small

 

 

‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

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

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

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

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

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

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

MID cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

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

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

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

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

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

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

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

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

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

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

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

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

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com

Goin’ Down South

Gabriel Mesh

South London singer-songwriter/guitarist Gabriel Mesh runs regular Tooting live acoustic music night The Breathing Room and, this month, he’s organised the first ever Tooting Folk and Blues Festival, which takes place on August 8.

I spoke to him to find out more about his mission to bring music to the people…

You started your acoustic folk and blues night, The Breathing Room, in Tooting, South London, three years ago. How did it come about?

Gabriel Mesh: It’s all about bringing music to the people of South London. There exists this ‘Golden Triangle’ of North London – Camden, Islington – it all seemed to be happening up there… I’d always fancied running a place. I’d been playing open mic nights, writing and trying out material and I’d been getting a good response and networking and making friends – it seemed like a good idea.

I stumbled on this place called The Antelope – it’s run by a company called Antic, who take over ailing pubs and reinvent them.

The Breathing Room is a family affair – it’s run by me and my daughter, Ellen, primarily, but my son does some of the mixing and my wife helps out, too. I came up with the name – it’s a place where you can leave your cynicism at the door and breathe in the good vibes of authentic music.

People are now talking reverentially about The Breathing Room – we have such a great sound and we always choose who we think are the best and most worthy players. We specialise in contemporary and traditional acoustic folk and blues, but now and then we push the boundaries.

It’s my residency – I open the show and my daughter is the MC. We’ve had some great, unforgettable evenings of fantastic music. Chaz Thorogood played – he’s making waves and he was at Glastonbury this year and the year before.

It’s reached a stage where people really want to play The Breathing Room – it’s once a month and we only have three acts on. We’re looking at branching out to other venues – I would like to run a blues club. I’ve got my eye on a venue in Balham, which I want to kick off with in the autumn. It would be the Balham Blues Club.

That would be the BBC…

GM: Exactly.

 

 

And this month, you’re staging the first ever Tooting Folk and Blues Festival…

GM: There’s nothing else like it in the area – Clapham is up the road, but it’s become this rarified scene with lots of high-flying sponsors…

We’ve got one stage and all the music is outdoors. There will also be food vendors there and Antic, who run The Antelope, are doing the beer tent.

We approached Wandsworth Council [for funding] and they were very encouraging to begin with – we realised there was money available for community-spirited events – and we put in an application, after jumping through hoops of fires. We waited until the end of June and we got through the first round of talks – but, after the second round, they said ‘sorry’… We weren’t asking for much money. I think it’s a bad decision, but I’m hoping to exercise a little bit of sangfroid next year and show them what we did this year off our own back and ask them for some help.

We’ve got Wizz Jones playing – he’s the elder statesmen of folk and blues and was there when it all started in Soho, in London, in the late ‘50s. He was rubbing shoulders with Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen has covered one of his songs.

How did you get into folk and blues?

GM: When I was at school, I had a maths teacher called Harry who used to come into class with a guitar and play songs by Big Bill Broonzy. I learnt to play – Harry had a huge vinyl collection of blues. It was a journey of exploration. From there, I used to listen to folk and blues icons from the ‘70s – like John Martyn.

Your musical style reminds me of John Martyn at times… Is he a big influence?

GM: Indeed. I also used to listen to Joni Mitchell and then I discovered Ry Cooder – there’s so much…

gabriel album new art

Your debut album, The Circle, is coming out this month…

GM: I’m hoping that I will have copies to sell at the festival – it’s been a long, overdue project. It’s been very difficult – I’m not sure whether I enjoyed the recording process, as I’m too much of a perfectionist. But part of me was thinking, ‘for God’s sake – just do it and get it out’.

I ended up recording it live – directly to analogue tape – in Soup Studio in Limehouse, East London. There’s a lovely guy I met there called Sam Beer, who’s a guitarist in his own right.

I see this album as a bit of an experiment – I don’t know how people will react to it. Most of the time I get a positive reaction – people are interested in my music and fascinated by my guitar style.

I’m not what you’d call a prolific writer – I have to force the songs out… A great song doesn’t have to contain lots of fancy words. There’s a slide guitarist I really like called Bob Brozman. When he talked about the blues, he said that you didn’t need to write it down – you just had to sing it. It’s all about singing the blues…

 

Tooting Folk and Blues Festival

Twitter: @TootingFolkFest

More info here

The Breathing Room takes place every month at The Antelope, 76 Mitcham Rd, London SW17 9NG.

Its third birthday party will be on September 20, featuring music from US duo Lost Hollow and Gabriel Mesh.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBreathingRoomTooting

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: “I like clunky, odd records”

Jpeg

Richard Warren’s new album Rich Black Earth – the third in a trilogy – is one of the most atmospheric, moody and nakedly emotional records of 2013, evoking Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, with its stripped-down, dark, back to basics feel.

Drawing on raw blues, country, and eerie, echo-laden ’50s twangy guitar, it’s a perfect soundtrack for the wee small hours of the morning. I spoke to him about how he creates his ‘primitive soul’ music.

Congratulations on the new album, Rich Black Earth – it’s a brilliant record. Your last album, The Wayfarer, was my favourite long-player of 2011, so it’s great to be able to have a chat.

Can you tell me how you recorded the album and how you achieved such a raw, atmospheric sound?

Richard Warren: Thanks for the kind words on the album. I record all the songs in a small room at home. I’ve got a really primitive studio setup in there. I’ve been downsizing the equipment for years now. The less choice I have, the clearer and more focused the songs seem to be.

I’m down to just a two-track reel-to-reel tape machine, an old spring reverb and a tape echo. The tape recordings are pieced together in Pro Tools. It’s a very clunky, odd system, but I like clunky, odd records.

So, what was the recording process like? 

RW: It’s taken me about 20 years to fully realise that ‘the song’ is king. So I spend as much time writing and as little time recording as possible. I think the best producers understand that getting a record to ‘sound nice’ is not really that important. Essentially, we emotionally connect to words, melody and performance, not production values.

Like its predecessors Laments and The Wayfarer, it’s a very moody and dark record in places. How do you capture that vibe? 

RW: Thankfully it comes pretty naturally. I never dim the lights to ‘get the vibe going’ and all that kind of thing… There’s no science to getting the perfect take. You have to keep playing and listening until you hear something that makes one particular performance special.

In my experience that something special is usually a mistake – a crack in the voice, an out of time drum fill – anything that pulls your ear really. I tend to hang mixes on the string of errors in a performance.

There are some pretty out of tune guitars on old Stax records and that’s all part of the deal. Steve Cropper’s guitar solo on Green Onions [by Booker T and the M.G.s] comes in way too loud, for some, and you can hear the engineer whip the fader down. It would have taken another two minutes 55 seconds to fix, but I love that they left it on the final master. It’s the most exciting part of the song.

You get some extraordinary sounds from your guitar, such as on Ox and Rivington Street (eerie, ‘50s style, twangy instrumentals, which kick off the new album and its predecessor, The Wayfarer, respectively). What’s the trick to getting those effects and what inspired those tunes?

RW: The ‘surf’ instrumentals have become favourites with a lot of people, especially live, and, weirdly, they’ve been received well by radio. I initially included them to pull me away from being tagged as an acoustic folk-picker. There’s no real trick to the sound, though – an old guitar and amp, as much echo and wobble as you’ve got and crank it up!

This record is very stripped-down – more so than some of the songs on its predecessor. Was that your intention when you set out to make it? How did you approach this album?

RW: These days I record everything with the intention of it being a lone guitar and vocal performance. If they stand up on their own in that form I’ll leave them like that. It’s a tough discipline to crack – it’s much easier to throw the kitchen sink at everything.

My theory is that the stronger the composition and the better the basic root performance of the song, the more it will repel overdubbed instruments. They used to call it ‘sweetening’ a mix in the old days. Just give me the meat and potatoes…

There’s a soulful feel to this record. In places it reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, circa Nebraska – particularly on a track like Know.  Is that a valid comparison?

RW: Yes, primitive soul. I’m a big Springsteen fan and for me Nebraska is his masterpiece. There’s definitely a connection in the underlying blue-collar aspect of the songs. And I suppose in the fidelity of some of the recordings.

Is it true that the new album is intended to be the third in a trilogy? If so, please elaborate….

RW: I thought if I put that statement out there it might hold me to some sort of future musical shift. To me the first three albums are in black and white. I’d like to make a colour record.

Looking at some of the track titles on the new album – Flowers, Rot and Rust, Rich Black Earth, Ox, Weeping Tree, The Berry and The Thorn – I was wondering if this is your getting back to nature album?

RW: I’d not planned it that way, or, to be honest, even noticed the correlation. I like the idea though, and I have been downsizing recently, so maybe I am unconsciously getting back to the land…

Flowers is a gorgeous country shuffle and one of my favourite tracks on the album. Can you tell me more about that song?

RW: I got the opening lines, ‘I only tell of sunny hours, let others sing of storms and showers’ from an inscription on an old park sundial. It’s such an inspiring couplet. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across something as strong as that, the rest of the song will usually flow out really easily. It’s one of those songs that on a good night seems to plays itself.

What music are you currently into? What were you listening to when you were writing and recording Rich Black Earth?

RW: Nick Lowe’s The Convincer, At My Age and The Old Magic are top of the pile and always on constant repeat. I’m looking forward to his Christmas album. Also, Willie Nelson’s Teatro, Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, Elvis Costello’s The Delivery Man, Tom Waits’ Bad As Me, Mark Lanegan’s Blues Funeral and Dylan – from Time Out Of Mind to Tempest.

My best album of 2013 would be Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood’s Black Pudding – a 21st century blues album with no retro edge. It’s incredible.

So, what’s next for Richard Warren? Any live dates this year or next? What would you like the next record to sound like? Have you got any ambitions to fulfil?

RW: Just to hang in there making music full time would be enough, to be honest. I’d love to get on the road, but I don’t have an agent, manager or label, so it’s almost impossible to get any good live work in.

And finally, if you were the Lonesome Singer In The Apocalypse Band (a song from Richard’s second album The Wayfarer), who else would you want to be in the band with you?

RW: Nick Lowe on bass and Jim White on drums. Job done.

Rich Black Earth by Richard Warren is out now. For more information, visit http://www.richardwarren.info