Soul from the Deep South of London

5-MDC-landscape-retro-.jpg

Still Testifying, the new album from husband and wife country duo My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – sees the band building on the Southern soul sound that they explored on their 2013 record The Reconciliation.

More Delaney & Bonnie than George & Tammy, and with gospel leanings and luscious horn arrangements, it could’ve emerged from Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was actually made in Tooting, South London.

I spoke to Michael to find out more about My Darling Clementine’s love of sweet soul music and get the low-down on the stories behind the songs on Still Testifying

Q & A

On your last album, The Reconciliation, which was the follow up to your 2011 debut, How Do You Plead? you added some soul to your country sound. With the new record, Still Testifying, you’ve taken that even further and also thrown in some gospel for good measure.

What was your approach to this record? Why have you headed further down the Southern soul road, rather than gone back to your country roots?

Michael Weston King: We had a clear remit with How Do You Plead? – to make an album that sounded like George and Tammy in 1967.

How Do You Plead? was made up of old songs that had been deemed “too country” for either my former band, or my solo albums, along with some new songs written specifically for that album.

We didn’t really think beyond album one, but here we are, on album three, and our remit has changed. We didn’t want to stay still and make the same sounding record again, only with different songs.

We have both always loved soul music, and I have been driving Lou mad with all the old country soul stuff I have been listening to over the years, so it just felt a natural progression for us when making this new album.

We hinted at it with the song Our Race Is Run on our second album, but have given that country soul feel – and style of writing – to more songs on this album

‘We didn’t want to stay still and make the same sounding record again, only with different songs’

There are some great arrangements on the album – it’s a rich and full-sounding record that’s very rewarding.

I love the brass on the opening song, The Embers and The Flame – particularly the ‘bah-bah-bah’ instrumental break halfway through…

MWK: That was originally a guitar solo that I came up with when writing the song, but once we had added the brass to the arrangement, it was only natural they [the horn players] took the solo, too – the melody is the same, though.

The horns on Just A Woman sound like you’ve been listening to some old Burt Bacharach tunes…

MWK: Yes – that was producer Neil Brockbank’s idea and it was brilliantly brought to fruition by horn player and brass arranger Matt Holland.

The original piano and voice demo did not conjure up Bacharach & David to us, but it clearly did to Neil. And once the French Horns and trumpets went on there, well that was it, and we just fully embraced Burt!

Can you talk me through the writing and recording process for the new album? Did you do basic demos and then work out the full arrangements?

MWK: All our songs are demoed very simply, with voice and guitar or voice and piano. We then get together with the main core of the band and work through them. Most of the songs do tend to work themselves out – it is pretty clear how they should go. Also, working with guys that we have worked with for years now, and fully understand what we are striving for musically – and who share the same musical tastes and influences – makes coming up with the right approach and arrangements a lot easier

Did you have definite ideas for arrangements in your head before you went into the studio?

MWK: Yes – certainly for some of them, and then, as I just mentioned, more ideas came from kicking the songs round in rehearsals.

After that, once in the studio, the more fine-tuned arrangement ideas, and what additional instrumentation we felt was needed, came from the producer, Neil Brockbank.

‘Sometimes there was the occasional flounce out and teacups hitting the wall, but, generally, it was a fun album to make’

Was it a fun album to make, or was it difficult? 

MWK: Like with all albums, you go through a roller coaster of emotions – “it’s the greatest record ever made”, or “it’s awful”, but as you get older and the more records you make, you know it will be like this and you just try and let those highs and lows pass you by. Sometimes there was the occasional flounce out and teacups hitting the wall, but, generally, yes, it was a fun album to make.

How do you feel listening back to it now? 

MWK: Very pleased with it – especially its diversity. There really is an eclectic mix of styles on the album, which I love, but it still sounds like the same artist. It is held together by our voices.

MDC new

It sounds like a record that could’ve been made in Memphis, Alabama or New Orleans, but it was recorded in Tooting Bec – it’s Southern soul from South London. How did you capture that authentic vibe in the studio? 

MWK: Like we have done with all our albums – getting the right producer and the right team and the most suitable players. We used British musicians, but ones with a real love and understanding of Stax, Fame, Hi and mid ‘60s- era Atlantic Records. They’re players who, between them, have worked with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ben E. King, Van Morrison, Dr John and Doug Sahm.

I think too many UK artists want to run off to Nashville to record there – often out of vanity – just to say, “we made an album in Nashville”. I would have been guilty of that years ago.

Yes, there are some great studios and people there, but also lots of mediocrity – just churning out generic stuff. I like the fact we recorded here with the finest of British players and producers and still captured the spirit we wanted.

‘Too many UK artists want to run off to Nashville to record there – often out of vanity – just to say, “we made an album in Nashville”’

What were your main musical influences for this album?

MWK: Delaney & Bonnie, Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, Mickey Newbury, Jim Ford, Goffin & King, Elvis, Roy Orbison, and, if you listen closely to the middle eight of Since I Fell For You, The Searchers and Helen Shapiro!

Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear is a gospel-tinged track. What can you tell me about that song?

MWK: It was originally written for the German label, Bear Family Records, which celebrated its 40th anniversary with a triple album box set. They asked us to contribute a track – the caveat being all songs had to have the word ‘bear’ in the title. So I came up with that.

The version used on that album was just piano, guitar and vocals, but it did have a country soul / gospel groove to it, and I always planned to use it on this album. Lou took some convincing, but I think she really digs it now. The song has since been expanded and totally re-worked on our new album.

Lyrically, I had some old friends in mind when I wrote it. A shared history, a time when you did a lot together and then, as you get older, you drift apart and move on to other people and other places, but that bond you forged at an early age stays with you forever – even if you lose regular contact. Those shared times – both the good things and the bad things – are what bind you.

On your last album, there was a song called No Matter What Tammy Said – a retort to Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man – and on this record there’s Jolene’s Story –  a sequel to Dolly Parton’s song Jolene. Your song is written from Jolene’s point of view and we find out that she did take Dolly’s man…

I sense a theme going on. Can you think of any other classic country songs that deserve a follow-up? I feel a My Darling Clementine concept album coming on… 

MWK: On our debut, we had Going Back To Memphis – which kind of picked up where the great Tom T. Hall song, That’s How I Got To Memphis, left off.

I think The Grand Tour by George Jones is rife for a follow-up song. Maybe about the people who bought and moved into the house. Or where the wife is now – the one who “left me without mercy”.

How about a sequel to Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe? Isn’t it about time we found out what was thrown off Tallahatchie Bridge?

MWK: Yes – that could be a good one. Lou has actually performed that song live, and does a rather fabulous version of it, I must say.

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine performing The Other Half

When we last spoke, in 2015, you’d just released The Other Half album – your music and spoken word collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham. A couple of songs from that piece of work have ended up on your new record, albeit in slightly different guises – The Embers and The Flame and Friday Night, Tulip Hotel…

MWK: All the songs recorded for The Other Half album, either the older ones re-recorded, or the two ones written for the project, were recorded sparsely and acoustically, just guitars, mandolins, a bit of percussion, piano on one or two, but simple and sparse – the same as we performed them in the live show.

Both the new songs were very well received when played live and we always felt they could be enhanced even more by a fuller arrangement. We didn’t want them to remain just as acoustic recordings.

I am so glad we did that now, as they are both very different to the versions on The Other Half and we have also slightly changed the titles of them too for this album.

The Embers and The Flame was formerly called As Precious As The Flame. The fire burning out is an often-used country music metaphor for a relationship that has lost its spark. We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning and After The Fire Is Gone are just two prime examples. We have somewhat inverted it here, suggesting that you don’t always need the spark, the flame or the fire. Sometimes the embers are just as important, perhaps even more so.  

Mark Billingham wrote most of the original lyrics for it. We needed a “happy song” to end the story of The Other Half. The reworked version is bigger and bolder and brassier.

And the secret to a long and happy marriage? According to Mark it is “sticking around, no matter how shitty it gets”.

Friday Night, Tulip Hotel – formerly Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel – was written in the car park of The Golden Tulip Hotel, Rotterdam, while watching a couple check out very early, as indeed we had, though for different reasons. They were trying to be discreet about being there, about being with each other, but it was clearly a case of “same time, same place, next week”. We watched them drive off in opposite directions and drew our own conclusion as to how it ended.

Would you like to do another project in the same vein as The Other Half?

MWK: Yes, absolutely –  we would love to do another, though maybe starting from nothing this time, with all new songs, as well as a brand new story. Oh, that suddenly now sounds like a musical!

There are the usual helpings of infidelity and heartache on Still Testifying that we’ve come to expect from My Darling Clementine songs, but Two Lane Texaco sticks out because it’s more of a political / issues-based song – it deals with the effect of the oil industry on small town America.

Can you tell me more about the background and inspiration for that song? It’s also one of the more ‘traditional’ country songs on the album. I can imagine Nick Cave doing a cover of it…. 

MWK: That would be nice, I must send it to him. The opening verse for it came to me while driving along a very unromantic, English motorway, crawling along, due to roadworks. They were widening the road. The song remained unfinished for quite a while until I was watching the Pixar movie Cars with our daughter Mabel. It was all there –  this small town being bypassed due to a newly built highway and the town just dying.

‘The lyric owes a debt to my love of John Ford films, reading Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway, and my ongoing obsession with movies set in the ’50s’

The lyric also owes a debt to my love of John Ford films, reading Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway, and my ongoing obsession with movies set in the ’50s, such as American Hot Wax and American Graffiti, featuring the iconic DJs Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack, respectively.

Overall, the song is a hymn to the demise of small town America. In fact, small towns anywhere – Megawatt Valley is actually in Yorkshire. Towns that have been affected by an industry that was once its heart and soul, making it a thriving community. And then, that industry abandons the town, leaving the people left behind without work and without hope. And with a faith severely tested… “We’ve sold the family silver but there’s gold still buried underground.”

You’ve just come back from touring the States. How was that and where did you go?

MWK: We go to the US every April, during the school holidays, so our daughter Mabel can be with us too. Which is just as well, as she is now very much part of the show. She even made her New York debut this time, playing with us at City Winery, when we opened up for Ray Benson and Dale Watson.

The tour this time was along the eastern seaboard, from Rhode Island down to New Jersey, with some shows a little further west in Chicago, Detroit and over the border to London, Ontario [Canada].

MDC.jpg

You’re currently on a UK tour. What can we expect?

MWK: We are four days into an eight-date run of shows with the full band – they are going great. It’s always a joy, as they are such fine musicians, and for the London show [June 7 –  The Islington] we will have the horn section too. It will be spectacular. Then we’re doing a run of more acoustic shows.

What’s a typical My Darling Clementine tour like? How rock ‘n’ roll are you?

MWK: Not very these days. I have pretty much given up drinking and so has Lou, and touring with your daughter also curtails too many rock ‘n’ roll activities. In fact, she is the one that wants to order room service at 1am and stay up watching TV, while we want to sleep!

Finally, I’m giving you a chance to testify. What would you like to bear witness to?

MWK: Well, my testimony may have been very different had we done this interview a few weeks ago, but in the light of the tragic events in Manchester, a city I love (and I think you do, too), and where two of my children live, and the news a few days ago that Neil Brockbank, who produced this record and our debut album, died suddenly of lung cancer, it is simply this: to cherish as much time with your family, friends and loved ones as possible.

Still Testifying – the new album by My Darling Clementine – is out now on Continental Song City: http://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

The band’s UK tour dates are: 

June 7 –  The Islington, London 

June 9 –  The Met, Bury

June 10 – The Hut, Corby

June 11 –  The Old Stables, Crickslade

June 28 –  Catstrand, Dumfries

June 29 –  Clark’s On Lindsay, Dundee

July 1 –   Old Fire Station, Carlisle

July 2 –  Birnam Arts, Dunkeld

July 6 – Phoenix Arts, Exeter

July 15 – Americana Weekend, Bristol

 

 

‘I was furious writing this book’

 

51eMhWvs7HL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Best-selling crime fiction author Mark Billingham’s latest novel, Love Like Blood, deals with the controversial subject of honour killings.

It was a difficult book to write, he tells me, but has more twists and turns than any of his other thrillers…

Q & A

Your new book, Love Like Blood, is the fourteenth novel in the Tom Thorne series. It shares its title with a song by Killing Joke…

Mark Billingham: Yes – it does. I was sitting on a train with Martyn Waites [crime writer] and told him that I didn’t have a title for my book and that it was driving me crazy. We threw some titles back and forth – he knew what the book was about – and then he said, ‘what about the Killing Joke song, Love Like Blood?’ So, in the acknowledgements, I thank Killing Joke and Martyn Waites. It’s actually the first time I’ve named one of my books after a song title.

Your last book, Die of Shame, was a stand-alone novel. What was it like going back to Thorne and writing about him again, for the fourteenth time? Does he still excite you?

MB: Yes – he does. One of the reasons I write stand-alone books is that having taken a break from the series, I can come back to Thorne re-energised and keen to write about him again – that’s the theory. I was very excited to write about him again – especially putting him into this story, as it was one I was very fired-up to write about.

mark-billingham

Mark Billingham

This seems like an appropriate time to talk about the story in Love Like Blood. I’m not going to give anything away, so I’ll just refer to the promotional blurb that accompanies the novel…

‘As DI Nicola Tanner investigates what appears to be a series of organised killings, her partner Susan is brutally murdered.

‘Taken off the case, Tanner enlists the help of DI Tom Thorne to pursue a pair of ruthless killers and the broker who is handing out the deadly contracts.

‘As the killers target their latest victim, Thorne takes the biggest risk of his career and is drawn into a horrifying and disturbing world in which families will do anything to protect their honour…’

The central theme of the book is honour killings and it’s loosely based on a real-life crime – the killing of Banaz Mahmod – a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman, living in south-west London, who was raped, tortured and murdered by members of her family in 2006.

Banaz’s father and uncle were eventually sentenced to life in prison for ordering the killing, along with the three men who had been paid to carry out the act. Several other members of her family were also jailed for their involvement in the crime.

Banaz had been forced into an arranged marriage with a man who physically and sexually abused her, but she left him and fell in love with another man – Rahmat Sulemani. Her family killed her for doing so…

MB: They conspired to murder her and had already tried to kill her once before. She’d been to the police five times, but wasn’t taken seriously. There’s a heart-breaking clip, which you can watch on YouTube, of her being interviewed at the police station, describing her abusive marriage and how she was repeatedly raped, beaten and treated like a slave.

She tried to get away, because she’d met Rahmat Sulemani and fallen in love with him, but she was spotted kissing him outside Morden tube station. That was her death warrant.

She was lured to her grandmother’s house, where she was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered.

‘It’s the most brutal murder I’ve ever read about. I think it’s the only honour killing case in this country where people have been paid to carry it out’

There’s a brilliant documentary about the case, which is called Banaz: A Love Story. I remembered reading about the case and then I saw the documentary and started looking further into it it. It’s probably the most brutal murder I’ve ever read about. I think it’s the only honour killing case in this country where people have been paid to carry it out.

I then had this idea of writing a story about men who were paid to carry out such killings  – not just in the UK, but also overseas.

As Love Like Blood deals with such a controversial and sensitive subject matter, was it a difficult novel to write?

MB: Yes – it was. It was difficult in two ways. I was furious writing this book – very angry. It wasn’t just like making up a serial killer and trying to get inside their head – these are real and horrendous crimes. I also knew that it was something that needed to be treated with a degree of sensitivity. I was writing about cultures and religions that weren’t mine. I firmly believe that I have the right to do that – I’m writing about a multi-ethnic city [London] and not every book I write is about white, middle-aged men.

I was careful at every stage. The book was seen very early by a Muslim reader, a Sikh reader and a Hindu reader. I very much wanted to do that, because I didn’t want to make stupid mistakes and I also didn’t want to write anything that anyone might find offensive. At no point in this book am I attacking any religions or cultures. I’ve got nothing but respect for those religions, but I have no respect at all for people who murder in their names. It’s got nothing to do with religion – it’s just murder.

‘It wasn’t just like making up a serial killer and trying to get inside their head – these are real, horrendous crimes’

This isn’t the first time you’ve written about real-life, social issues in your books, is it?

MB: No – over the course of 17 books, I’ve occasionally written about things that are actually happening.

I’ve never done tub-thumping stuff, but Lifeless was about homelessness, Die of Shame dealt with addiction and In The Dark was about the pressure of joining gangs. It does feel different when I’m writing books like that, rather than the ones about serial killers or gangland slayings. I’m not saying I want to do it with every book – sometimes the story just doesn’t work like that. Don’t get me wrong – the story has to come first. Love Like Blood is still a thriller that has more twists and turns than anything I’ve ever written. I think it has two stonking twists in it, but I’m not going to give them away.

I hope it still works as a thriller, but obviously I want to draw attention to these atrocities, and the scale of them. There is a minimum of a dozen honour killings in the UK every year, but it is a massively under-reported crime.

Sadly, there was yet even more tragedy to come from Banaz Mahmod’s story. Her partner, Rahmat Sulemani, killed himself in May last year…

MB: Yeah, that happened while I was halfway through writing the book and fired me up even more. It’s odd – when you’re halfway through a book, you usually go into the doldrums and you worry about what you’re writing, whether it’s any good and if you’re doing the right thing.

Then Rahmat Sulemani hanged himself – 10 years after Banaz died – and I thought, ‘yeah – I really want to finish this book’. So I raced through the second half of it. It’s probably the quickest book I’ve ever written.

 

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine

Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine performing The Other Half

You’re a multi-talented man who always has plenty of projects on the go – including some music-related ones. In 2015, you collaborated with country duo My Darling Clementine on an album and live show called The Other Half. Any more musical collaborations in the offing?

MB: Well…I’m in a band called The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. It’s made up of a bunch of other crime writers – Doug Johnstone, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Val McDermid, with guest appearances from the likes of Christopher Brookmyre. We’re playing cover versions with a crime theme and we’ll be making our live debut in August.

I’m the only one in the band who isn’t a proper musician! I’ll be living out my rock star fantasies, playing guitar very badly and murdering Watching The Detectives.

On The Other Half album, you co-wrote a song with My Darling Clementine called As Precious As The Flame. A new version of it has also appeared on the latest My Darling Clementine album, Still Testifying. Would you like to do more songwriting?

MB: I’ve actually been doing a lot of songwriting. I’ve always enjoyed writing songs and playing guitar – however badly I sing and play. I’m keeping up with all my guitar lessons – as the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers’  expands, I have a new song to learn every week. Like any band though, we’re probably more interested in getting our photo done…

I’m also writing some songs with a musician and composer called Paul Joyce – he’s an old friend of mine.

I write the lyrics, with a few musical ideas, and then I work with Paul on them – he hammers a demo into shape and then we bring in session musicians. We’ve been working on six songs for about six months – we have half an album’s worth and now we’re going to put them out there and hopefully find someone who fancies recording them. I think we’ve written some good songs…

‘I’ll be living out my rock star fantasies, playing guitar very badly and murdering Watching The Detectives’

Would you like to work with My Darling Clementine again?

MB: We’re actually talking about taking The Other Half Back on the road – we’ve had some interest in doing some other dates at the end of this year and the beginning of 2018. Right now, we’re trying to work out when we can all be in the same place at the same time.

Like your fictional character, Thorne, you’re a huge country music fan and you’re currently working on a Radio 4 programme about Hank Williams. What can you tell me about that?

MB: It’s for a show called My Muse, in which people talk about someone that’s inspired them in one way or another. I picked Hank and I’m interviewing various people for it and talking about what his music means to me. I think it will be going out in August. Hank Williams was a mega-star in his time, with massive hits, but, at the same time, he was also putting out this weird, uncommercial gospel stuff under an alias – Luke The Drifter – that was completely different from Your Cheatin’ Heart or Jambalaya. For a long time, people didn’t even know Luke The Drifter was Hank Williams. Every so often, he just felt that he had to do these Luke The Drifter recordings. Maybe he felt guilty about the godless life he was living…

So when you write stand-alone novels, is that your Luke The Drifter period?

MB: Maybe (laughs) – no, that would be the equivalent of me telling my publisher I’m going to write a huge, erotic saga, or a romance novel. Even when Hank was writing hit songs like Cold, Cold Heart, they were really dark. How do you walk that line between being commercial and being very, very dark and edgy? That’s why I’ve always thought crime and country music go so well together.

Time of Death

The BBC has adapted two of your novels, In The Dark and Time of Death, for TV. When will the series – a four-part drama –  be shown?

MB: It’s all done – it was filmed in and around Manchester last year and I think it’s going to be on in the next couple of months.

You’re already working on the next Thorne book, aren’t you?

MB: Yes – I’m about three quarters of the way through it. One strand of the book deals with Spice abuse and the network behind smuggling drugs into prison. The other part of the story is based on a real-life, ongoing police investigation, which I can’t really talk about. So I’m writing about drugs and murder, and as usual there will be some country music thrown in. I’m not doing a Luke The Drifter change of direction just yet.

‘My next book will be about drugs and murder, with some country music thrown in’

Finally, will you be appearing on any more celebrity TV quiz shows? You’ve been seen on Mastermind, Pointless and Eggheads…

MB: I’m actually doing The Chase in a couple of weeks. I think I will have pretty much done all of them by then – unless there’s Celebrity Tipping Point. God, I am such a tart…

 

Love Like Blood – the new book by Mark Billingham – is out on June 1, published by Little, Brown. For more information, visit: https://uk.markbillingham.com/love-like-blood

 

 

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

daniel5158_93576458317_553803317_1973584_4454532_n

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…

DanielWylie3.3.jpg

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.

Best albums of 2016

005189101_500

Uneasy listening was the musical genre that defined 2016.

The spectre of death loomed large over several of the year’s best albums, namely David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker – both artists died in 2016, shortly after releasing their records – and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which, in places, dealt with the grief and sadness he felt following the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015.

All three albums were masterpieces and highlights in their creators’ impressive back catalogues, but were difficult to listen to.

Songs such as Bowie’s vulnerable, jazzy Dollar Days – my favourite track on Blackstar – and Cohen’s twangy, twilight ballad, Leaving The Table, were undeniably beautiful, but eerily prescient.

I defy anyone not to shed a tear while hearing Bowie croon “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me”, or Laughing Len intone, “I’m leaving the table – I’m out of the game.”

When Danish soprano Else Torp duets with Cave on Distant Sky, her beautiful vocals could break even the hardest of hearts.

On a personal note, I had a difficult 2016, having to cope with illness, anxiety and family bereavements, so these three albums often suited my mood, but, strangely, I haven’t chosen any of them as my favourite record of the year.

I so nearly opted for another dark album as my top choice – Richmond Fontaine’s brilliant You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To – the final long-player from Willy Vlautin’s Portland-based, alt-country band who’ve now split up – but I didn’t.

Instead, I went for a record that always made me smile and cheered me up whenever I listened to it, thanks to its wonderful arrangements, sublime melodies and unashamedly retro vibe. 

My favourite album of 2016 is Over The Silvery Lake – the debut record from London’s The Hanging Stars. 

Released in March, Over The Silvery Lake was recorded in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. It’s a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock record that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

It’s laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are songs where willows weep and ships set sail on the sea, hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

the-hanging-stars-637x358

The Hanging Stars

Earlier this year, I interviewed The Hanging Stars about the writing and recording of the album – you can read the article here.

The band have just finished making the follow-up and it will be released next year. I’ve already reserved a place for it in my Best Albums of 2017 list… 

Here’s a list of my favourite 35 albums from this year and a Spotify playlist to accompany it, where possible – some of the albums aren’t available to stream.

This year, I interviewed several of the artists featured, so I’ve linked to the articles below. Happy Christmas – all the best for 2017 and I’ll see you on the other side…

  1. The Hanging Stars Over The Silvery Lake
  2. Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
  3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Key
  4. Peter BruntnellNos Da Comrade
  5. Vinny PeculiarSilver Meadows
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  8. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  9. Ben Watt – Fever Dream
  10. Quiet Loner – The Battle For The Ballot
  11. Britta Phillips Luck Or Magic
  12. Nick Piunti Trust Your Instincts 
  13. Cotton MatherDeath of The Cool
  14. Robert Rotifer Not Your Door
  15. Papernut Cambridge – Love The Things Your Lover Loves
  16. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  17. The Senior Service – The Girl In The Glass Case
  18. Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House
  19. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust
  20. Teenage Fanclub – Here
  21. Wilco – Schmilco 
  22. Dr Robert Out There
  23. The Explorers Club – Together
  24. Cool Ghouls – Animal Races
  25. John HowardAcross The Door Sill
  26. The Junipers – Red Bouquet Fair
  27. 8 X 8 – Inflorescence 
  28. Ryan Allen & His Extra ArmsBasement Punk
  29. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis
  30. The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
  31. Paul McClure Songs For Anyone 
  32. The Monkees Good Times!
  33. The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  34. Hurricane #1 – Melodic Rainbows [Japan only release]
  35. The Hosts – Moon

‘Most of these songs either started, or finished, at my kitchen table’

smallIMG_0343.jpg

Nick Piunti has hit a power pop purple patch. Trust Your Instincts – the new album from the Detroit singer-songwriter – is his third long-player in just under four years and it doesn’t disappoint. 

It picks up where his last record, 2015’s Beyond The Staticleft off and it’s also a worthy companion piece to his 2013 classic – 13 In My Head – a firm favourite here at Say It With Garage Flowers.

I spoke to Nick to find out the story behind the writing and recording of Trust Your Instincts – an album that was made with the help of a kitchen table, coffee, wine, an iPhone and a trusty Fano JM6 guitar…

 

With the title track, which opens the album, we’re immediately plunged back into classic Piunti power pop territory. What can you tell us about that song and why did you decide to name the album after it?

Nick Piunti: The title track was written for my oldest daughter, who is 20 and was going through a tough time with her boyfriend – now ex-boyfriend.

Most of the songs on this album – if not all of them –  had the good fortune of the lyrics and the melodies coming at the same time. That’s not always the case. For me, if the lyrics come later, they sometimes never come at all.  I always end up with several unfinished songs because the lyrical inspiration wasn’t there in the first place.

When recording the song, Geoff Michael (producer) and I encouraged Donny Brown (drummer) to summon his inner Keith Moon. It took a little bit of prodding, but it paid off. The acoustic guitars also seem Who-like to me.The song really came together for me when Ryan Allen added his double tracked guitars. Ryan played guitar on five songs from the album. He came up with some great parts, as he always does, and it really propelled this song.

I had several working titles for the album, but Ryan suggested calling it Trust Your Instincts.  I initially didn’t want one of the song titles to also be the album title, for the reason of not wanting to bring too much attention to just one track, but the title definitely fits this album.

I pretty much do trust my instincts when making records and, as my wife would tell you (or is that I tell her?), I’m almost always right…

 

 

How did you approach this album from a writing and recording process? You used the same studio and core musicians as the last album, didn’t you?

NP: Yes – we used the same studio, Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor, with Geoff Michael engineering and producing. Also Andy Reed recorded all of his bass parts at his studio, Reed Recording Company, and Donny Brown tracked his drums to Fade Out in his own studio.

We also did a few overdubs at both Andy’s and Donny’s. Ryan Allen recorded a few harmonies in his basement and David Feeny, who owns The Tempermill Studio, recorded the pedal steel parts on Dumb It Down at his great studio.

Rachael Davis, who sings the beautiful harmony vocal on Dumb It Down, recorded her part in Nashville. With today’s technology, it is so easy to just send tracks from one studio to another. It opens up some options and saves a lot of driving. But most of the sounds were recorded at Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

As far as writing the album, most of the songs either started, or finished, at my kitchen table. There’s something about that setting that works really well for me. In the morning, it’s me, with my acoustic guitar, coffee, and my iPhone to capture the ideas.

In the evening, I substitute the coffee with wine. My house is hardly ever empty, so somehow my family puts up with my process. They would probably rather have me in the basement, but I like the sunlight and the acoustics and I like them close by.

What were you listening to while you made the record? Did any of those influences filter through into the sound of Trust Your Instincts? What sound were you aiming for with this album?

NP: I listened to a lot of guitar pop. I do remember listening to Paul Westerberg’s album Eventually, Mac McCaughan’s Non Believers, Love Axe’s South Dakota, Ryan Allen’s demos, Guided by Voices, Nada Surf, Weezer, Beach Slang and Nude Beach.  You wouldn’t believe how many bands have Beach in their name!

I don’t ever try to make an album that is directly influenced by one band or sound.  The song usually dictates the direction. I do remember telling Geoff, after the album was recorded, to make it sound like Nada Surf, but I changed my mind afterwards, so we settled on making it sound like a Nick Piunti record.

 

One Hit Wonder is one of my favourite songs on the album – it has a slight Beatles-esque feel. The intro is a bit Dear Prudence/ psych – and the melody is great – very infectious. I also love the killer guitar solo.What was the inspiration behind it?  

NP: Yeah – One Hit Wonder seemed like the obvious ‘single’ to me.  I originally wrote it with a simpler muted eighth note progression, but I thought it was too simple and obvious.  So I came up with the riff played through a pedal that emulates a Mellotron. That adds to The Beatles sound for sure.

The lyrics are about a relationship that was more about lust than love, but I used the musical reference of a one hit wonder to sum up the affair:  “We were a one hit wonder couldn’t follow it up”.  That kind of says it all.

And thanks, the guitar solo is one of mine. I usually hear the solo in my head then try to find the notes on the guitar. I used a Fano JM6 for a lot of the guitar parts on this album. It seems each album I make has one starring guitar. The verse melody evolved a bit and my phrasing reminded me of something that Mike Viola would do. I never intentionally try to write like one of my influences, but if it comes out that way innocently, then I’m fine with that.

smallTYI Back cover.jpg

 

Dumb It Down is another highlight for me. It’s a gorgeous pop song. Where did it come from? It has a slight country feel in the latter part of the song, with some pedal steel…

NP: That song was a tough one to write, in the sense that it was very personal. The first line, “another day without fiction, I keep it to myself,” came to me after leaving a friend who was slowly succumbing to cancer.

His name was Merle, he was our band’s manager, when we were a bunch of snotty 12-year-olds, and he was really instrumental in my musical journey.

Though the song changes perspective, I felt like the verse was from Merle’s point of view and the chorus was mine, or any of his many friends that would miss him when he wouldn’t be around any longer. The second verse was about how our band Dwarf didn’t make it. Merle wanted to know that I was ok with all those years we put into the band.  I assured him that it wasn’t a waste of time at all. And that I would do it all again…

I know you like pedal steel, so I threw that in for you. David Feeny happens to play great pedal steel. He sent several tracks played through the entire song and Geoff and I picked the parts we liked the best. David recorded a really nice solo, but Geoff thought I should try something as well. And Geoff suggested a female voice in the chorus. The song came out prettier than I expected it to be, which balances out some of the more rocking moments.

There’s a song on the album called This Ain’t The Movies. What’s your favourite movie and who would you like to play you in the Nick Piunti biopic?

NP: My favourite movie? The easy answer would be The Godfather, but these days most of my movies are of the animated variety that my youngest daughter wants to see.

Comedies are easier for me to watch over and over again: Me Myself and Irene, Caddy Shack, Blazing Saddles, Animal House.

Who would play me in a movie?  My wife says George Clooney, but I’m not sure how George sings… If the movie was about a younger me, then there’s an actor named Logan Lerman who my wife says would be a good fit.

The final song on the album, Stay Where You Are, takes things down a notch – it has a more of an acoustic, mid-paced feel. What can you tell us about that song?

NP: Stay Where You Are is loosely based on a past relationship, where it’s obvious to one that the best days are behind them. It’s a simple chord progression, I have probably written this type of song many times before, but it really seems to connect with quite a few people.

It seemed to be the perfect closing song for the album. And I kept the album to ten songs, because I feel that’s enough. I would like for people to listen to the album in one sitting and 36 minutes seems like enough time to ask.

How’s the rest of the year shaping up for you? Knowing you, you’re probably working on your next album already… Can you give us any clues?

NP: The album has just been released on September 9 on Jem Records and I’ve been getting several songs played on The Loft Sirius XM radio, as well as countless smaller stations. WDET in Detroit has always been a great promoter of my music.

There are so many internet radio stations that play my music, from The Ice Cream Man Power Pop Show in Sweden, Jeff Shelton’s Power Pop Show in California, Alan Haber’s Pure Pop, Jim Prell, Howard Byrne, Pop That Goes Crunch, Craig Leve, Dave the Boogieman… so many guys that pour their hearts into promoting power pop for those of us that have never outgrown it. I can’t thank them enough, or the reviewers out there that really make my day when they post their articles. So, getting the music out there is a priority.

Playing live is awesome. It’s hard to do a lot of that, but there’s nothing else like it. I’m always writing, so there are new songs in the works, but I’m not rushing back into the studio yet. Three albums in four years took a lot of work. I may take a bit of a breather before the next one. Of course, I’ve said that before…

 

 

Nick Piunti’s new album, Trust Your Instincts, is available now on Jem Records. Its predecessor, Beyond The Static, has just been reissued on limited edition coloured vinyl by Sugarbush Records.

 

For more information: 

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/

http://www.nickpiunti.com/

http://www.jemrecordings.com/

http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/ 

 

 

 

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

ATH197810

 

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.

ARDENT-CONTROLROOM.jpg

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.

LITTLEROCK.JPG

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.

ARDENT-LIVEROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

peter_bruntnell22mar16

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peter-bruntnell

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

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

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

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

51nT1GMBAFL

So, are you pleased with the album?

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

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

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

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

What are your plans for the rest of the year? 

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

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

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

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

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

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