‘We’re not trying to replicate a ’50s or ’60s sound – we haven’t got our rockabilly trousers on’

Guitarist James Walbourne is no stranger to Say It With Garage Flowers – we’ve interviewed him before about his folk-rock duo, The Rails, which he formed with his wife, Kami Thompson, but we’ve never chatted to him about his rock ‘n’ roll roots… until now.

Walbourne, who plays in The Pretenders – Chrissie Hynde calls him ‘the definitive guitar hero’ – has unleashed his new project, His Lordship, a kick ass, rock ‘n’ roll duo with drummer Kris Sonne. The pair of them share vocal duties and when they play live, they’re joined by bassist, Dave Page.

The band’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs.

It was recorded in Copenhagen – after a long day of recording a set of original material for an EP, His Lordship kept the tape rolling and, in one take, laid down some loose, high-octane versions of songs by the likes of Gene Vincent, Jack Scott, Link Wray and The Killer – Jerry Lee Lewis. 

‘His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs’

Available now digitally and on vinyl in the near future, it will be followed by an EP of self-penned songs, including the band’s latest single, All Cranked Up, a raw and ferocious rock ‘n’roll-meets-punk-anthem-in-waiting – ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’ – that clocks in at just over two and a half minutes, and sounds like it was written about the frustration of lockdown.

Next month, the band head out on a tour of the UK and Ireland – the dates were postponed earlier this year, but they’ve now been rescheduled. His Lordship literally were ‘all cranked up with nowhere to go…’

“We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do,” says Walbourne, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers.We’re dying to get out there…”

Q&A

How did His Lordship come about? Did it emerge from Mother’s Little Helper, your rock ‘n’ roll covers band, which played in North London, in venues like The Boogaloo, in Highgate?

James Walbourne: It came out of the ashes of Mother’s Little Helper – we wanted to do original songs. Mother’s Little Helper was just a thing we did for a bit of fun – we thought, ‘Oh, fuck it – let’s play some rock ‘n’ roll!’ It was playing things we love, with no pressure, and then it kind of morphed into His Lordship.

Mother’s Little Helper were a trio, but His Lordship are a duo. Aren’t you a three-piece when you play live?

JW: Yes – we have a bass player. He’s a guy called Dave Page and he’s fantastic. We’re a live trio, but, as a band, it’s me and Kris.

How did you meet Kris?

JW: We did a Chrissie Hynde solo tour of the States together – she’d made a record called Stockholm in 20014. We’ve been good friends ever since.

When Mother’s Little Helper wound up, Kris and me talked a lot about what we would do – the original [songs] aspect what always the way to go. If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go.

The aim was to have a bit of fun, but then we went, ‘Oh fuck – we’ve got this great song that we can play, let’s try it.’ Now we’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year. Doing rock ‘n’ roll covers was a great way to start a band, but, for us, it wasn’t enough.

‘If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go. We’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year’

Your debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release, with a vinyl version to follow. It’s an EP of covers… Did that come about by accident?

JW: Yes – we were in Copenhagen and we did a bunch of original recordings for an EP, but, right at the end of the session, we thought ‘Fuck it – let’s just leave the tape running, film it and do some rock ‘n’ roll songs.’ It’s all live – there were no second takes.  They’re songs that we’ve been playing for a long time – they’re some of our favourite tunes. It’s as simple as that – we just love playing them. We have a new EP of original songs coming out in July.

Will your new single, All Cranked Up, be on the EP?

JW: Yes – that’s right.

‘We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there’

One of the lyrics in the song is: ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’, which sounds like it could be a comment on lockdown…

JW: It was written before lockdown – we’re like an oracle. We can see into the future.

You’re a professional musician – how did you cope during lockdown?

JW: Initially, I was fine, because me and Chrissie did a Bob Dylan album [Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan], which was good, and we wrote another Pretenders record. I did a lot of writing for His Lordship too. It was fine up until Christmas time, which was when I wanted to kill myself.

‘Lockdown was fine, up until Christmas, which was when I wanted to kill myself’

Do you write all the songs for His Lordship?

JW: We write together – it’s very much a collaboration. I couldn’t do it without Kris. This is the first time I’ve been in a band where the drummer’s been so important! [laughs]. He brings something different to the table that I would never think of.  It’s just great. I’ve never had as much fun – me and Kris just laugh all the time. And cry… We laugh and cry, Sean [laughs].

I think me and Kris doing this was a reaction to everything around us – the number one thing is to have a really good time doing it.

Now you’re back playing live, how have the His Lordship shows been going?

JW: Brilliant: we’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there.

Where did the band’s name come from?

JW: We got the name from… [laughs]. I don’t even know how to explain it. We were playing a gig at Goodwood House – where the cars are…

The Festival of Speed?

JW:Yes – the Festival of Speed. The backstage area was in the house. It started as a joke – I started calling Kris ‘his lordship’ and it stuck. It was a nickname, but then we thought, ‘actually – it’s good. Fuck it – let’s use that!’ And there you go…

Is there an album planned?

JW: Initially it will be a series of EPs. You make a record and it takes a year to come out… We haven’t got that sort of time. We just want to get out on the road as soon as possible. We’re going to build it up and keep playing – we’re old school, really. The live shows are the thing – that’s where we thrive – and we make the EPs off the back of those.

‘It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art’

Every time I’ve interviewed you in the past, it’s always been about your folk-rock duo, The Rails, but this time we’re chatting about rock ‘n’ roll, which is your first love. How did you get into it? Were you a rock ‘n’ roll fan as a kid?

JW: Yeah – my took dad me to see everyone. When I was really young – six or seven – I went to see Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. They were my favourites – rock ‘n’ roll is still sort of my favourite music. It’s taken me until now to figure out a way of doing it – Kris has made it possible. I’m in cahoots with somebody else who has the same outlook – we both like that rock ‘n’ roll weirdness. All the great rock ‘n’ roll tracks have something strange about them – we’ve tried to get that. It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art.

You played guitar on a Jerry Lee Lewis album, didn’t you? What was it like meeting him?

JW: Indescribable. I’ve never got over it! [laughs]. I can’t top it!

How do His Lordship capture that authentic ’50s or ’60s sound when you’re recording?

JW: We’re not into that at all –  we’re not trying to replicate it. It’s not like a Civil War re-enactment! We want to make it modern. Without sounding like a cliché, we want to take it somewhere different. We like what The Black Keys and The White Stripes have done  – we’re haven’t got our rockabilly trousers on! It’s our attitude, more than anything – our spirit.

Let’s talk about some of your other projects. My favourite album of last year was Imposter by Soulsavers, which you played on. You recorded it in Rick Rubin’s studio, Shangri-La, in Malibu. How was that?

JW: We did it before lockdown – it was a brilliant experience and I met some brilliant people and made some great friends for life. Everyone on that session was great – it was a great musical experience.

Did you enjoy playing the songs in concert, too? I saw one of the London Soulsavers shows and it looked like you were having a great time…

JW: After not doing anything for so long, it was really cathartic. But then I got Covid… but that’s another story.

‘His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun’

So, what’s next? Will The Rails be doing anything new?

JW: Not really – we’ve got a live record that I’m putting together. We’re not as busy as we were, but when it’s right, we’ll do something else. His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun. Me and Kris are so into it.

Do you take turns at who is his lordship?

JW: No – we’re both lords all the time. And other people can be lords… You could be a lord, Sean, but it depends on what you’re wearing.

I won’t wear my rockabilly trousers…

JW: [laughs].

Finally, Chrissie Hynde calls you a ‘guitar hero.’ Who are your guitar heroes?

JW: When people ask me that, I never know what to bloody say. I’m very wary of being boring in interviews, but, this will surprise you… Probably, my guitar hero, who made me want to play, is Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s the guy who really spoke to me in my formative years. There hasn’t been another one like him.

Could he have been a lord?

JW: He’s the king.

 

His Lordship’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release. There will be a vinyl version out soon on Psychonaut Sounds.

His Lordship are touring the UK and Ireland in July – for tickets and more information, click here.

https://hislordship1.bandcamp.com/album/his-lordship-play-rocknroll-volume-one-2

‘It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s similar to being nine, except cooler’

 

Cool Ghouls

San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls (Pat McDonald – guitar/vocals; Pat Thomas – bass/vocals; Ryan Wong – guitar/vocals and Alex Fleshman – drums) turn 10 this year and release their fourth album, At George’s Zoo, in March.

It’s their best and most diverse record yet – a mix of Byrdsy psych, ’60s-style garage rock and gorgeous, Beach Boys/Jimmy Webb-inspired pop, with harmonies, piano, horns and lush strings.

“We didn’t have any expectations going into this record – we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording,” they tell Say It With Garage Flowers.

Q&A

How’s it going? What’s it like in San Francisco and how has the city handled the pandemic?

Pat Thomas: It’s going pretty good. San Francisco is a little chilly outside. It’s been raining recently. I guess the city government here has done a decent job handling the pandemic compared with other governments, but they could do more. The vaccine rollout could be more aggressive and the mayor seems too eager to “restart the economy.”

How has lockdown affected you – as people and also as a band? Have you had to radically alter any of your plans?

PT: Plans weren’t altered that much, band-wise. Before 2020 we were already factoring in a lot of downtime, as our guitarist, Ryan, is living all the way in Denver at the moment. We wanted to release At George’s Zoo in June of 2020, but had to postpone it, obviously.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears? How have you been coping with lockdown?

PT: I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. Bands will tour, people will go to shows, etc. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that. Who knows, maybe people will be moved to open more venues in response. Lockdown is lonely – I think everyone feels that to some degree.

Cool Ghouls are 10 years old in 2021 – happy birthday! How are you celebrating? How does it feel to be 10? 

PT: We’re not really celebrating because we’re all in lockdown. I guess releasing a record is kind of like a celebration. It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s pretty similar to being nine, except cooler.

‘I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that’

Let’s talk about the new album. Was it written and recorded pre-Covid? When and where did you make it?

PT: Yep. We recorded it at our friend Robby Joseph’s house in the Outer Sunset neighbourhood in San Francisco, in the fall and winter of 2018.

What were the sessions like?

Ryan Wong: The recording environment was really important this time around. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to. Robby laid it down on an Otari MX5050 [tape machine].

What did you want to achieve with the new record? It’s your most expansive album yet, with bigger, richer arrangements, and horns and strings. What prompted that move?

RW: We didn’t have any expectations going into it. After recording Gord’s Horse [digital-only EP from 2017] by ourselves, we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording. Ryan was moving to Denver, so we just laid whatever ideas we had to tape before he left. As far as the arrangements, I think we’ve just grown over time and the music reflects that on this one.

Who writes the songs and how do you arrange them? What’s the process?

RW: We all write our own songs. So once the basic structure/idea is hashed out we bring it to the band to work on. Everyone has a hand in the final product.

I think At George’s Zoo is your best record yet. Where did the title come from? 

RW: Thanks. George’s Zoo is a liquor store in the Outer Sunset that we frequented while recording. Robby’s neighbour was also named George and he left some feedback on his garage door a few times…Ha!

Cool Ghouls in the studio – San Francisco.

‘The recording environment was really important. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to’

The opening track on the album, It’s Over, is wonderful. It has a great horn arrangement, a Beach Boys-style intro and some lovely harmonies. There’s also a bit of The Notorious Byrd Brothers about it – some psych-soul going on…

PT: Thanks. Yeah. The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a great record. I bought the Tibetan handbells you hear at the beginning of the song at one of those hippy gift shops on Haight St, not far from my apartment.

What can you tell me about the first single, Helpless Circumstance? There’s a psychedelic-rock feel to it, as well as more Beach Boys…

PT: It’s a pretty simple tune. One of those songs that sprouts from a dumb riff you play absent-mindedly at practice between actual songs you’re practising. Pat M was feeling lovey-dovey, so gave it some sweet and soft lyrics. He thinks the song sounds lavender in colour.

The new single, The Way I Made You Cry, is a great piece of soulful, Brian Wilsonesque piano pop, with horns and harmonies. It’s beautiful. Any thoughts on it?

PT: Thank you. No thoughts on it really. The song pretty much communicates everything about itself better than I could with words.

Land Song is gorgeous orch-pop. It has a Jimmy Webb / Beach Boys Pet Sounds-era feel. What can you tell me about it?

RW: We’re real proud of this one. The Pats actually wrote this song together. It was definitely pulling from the Jimmy Webb playbook, but we were also listening to a lot of Canterbury bands at the time. Early King Crimson was also in the mix. Dylan Edrich added the strings and Henry Baker laid down the piano. Props to those two.

It’s not even spring yet, but Surfboard is the song of the summer and I Was Wrong has a definite Pet Sounds Surf’s Up feel. You do sound like you’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys…

PT: Those songs rule. They’re so good. Surfboard started out as a joke song. I was going to change the lyrics but I just kept coming back to ‘surfboard…’

The song 26th St. Blues sounds more like the Cool Ghouls of old – it’s very ’60s garage rock.

Pat McDonald: It’s ‘60s garage rock for sure. And it was inspired by the dire housing crisis in San Francisco. It’s pretty wild to see a place change so rapidly before your eyes. There’s a lot of frustration and powerlessness in the song, which gives it its rougher edge.

What music new and old have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

PM: Fun House by The Stooges. Pretty much exclusively that.

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

PM: In my headphones at work, so I don’t have to hear my dumbass co-workers talking about GameStop stocks.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

RW: We’re not really sure. This year kind of seems like a wash too. We’re looking forward to playing these songs live at some point.

At George’s Zoo by Cool Ghouls is released on March 12 Empty Cellar / Melodic Records (UK).

https://coolghouls420.bandcamp.com/album/at-georges-zoo

https://music.emptycellarrecords.com/

https://www.melodic.co.uk/

Never say Novichok again…

Russian Spy, the new single by Salisbury’s The Neighbourhood Strange, is based on real-life events that hit the headlines last year. Say It With Garage Flowers goes undercover to find out more…

They say truth is stranger than fiction… Last year, something truly strange happened in the neighbourhood of Salisbury-based garage-rockers, the aptly named The Neighbourhood Strange.

A former Russian spy and his daughter were found seriously ill on a bench in the Wiltshire cathedral city – they had been poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok.

The sinister plot inspired the thrilling – and controversial – title track of the band’s brilliant new EP Russian Spy, which opens with the lines: “Hush my love – I can’t take it any longer. Ten past five and the Novichok is stronger…”

 

With its groovy organ and a menacing, twangy guitar riff that sounds like it’s been stolen from the soundtrack to some long-lost, ‘60s Cold War film, the song will lodge itself in your brain like a bullet, quicker than you can say, ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E’

“The song and the riff just came together at one of our rehearsals – we felt the local mood and we subconsciously created it from that,” says the band’s vocalist/ guitarist, Marcus Turner.

“It all felt too close to home – the weekend of the poisoning, our bass player was admitted to hospital. He believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…”

The 7in vinyl version of the single has a killer track called Many Secrets on the B-side – it’s been in the band’s live set for a while and has a ‘70s US punk / New Wave feel – the snarling vocals are pure Iggy Pop.

‘Our bass player believes that his accident was orchestrated to get him off the streets when the Novichok appeared…’

If that’s got you wanting to hear even more of The Neighbourhood Strange, you can get a five-track CD EP version of the Russian Spy single, which also includes three other tunes – the classic-sounding, heavy garage-rock of Mary Mary, the psychedelic Walk On Water and the exotic, Middle Eastern-flavoured instrumental, Desert Sand. 

Mary Mary is a song about an archetypal ‘60s girl who you might follow and end up somewhere where you never intended,” says Marcus, mysteriously.

Russian Spy is the band’s third single – so is there an album on the way?  “Along with playing gigs and writing new songs, we are hoping to record an LP. A lot of our fans – in fact all of them – have been crying out for one,” says Marcus.

“It would be great if a label would help us with the costs etc, as long as they would also leave us to our own devices. We are really pleased that we have found our spiritual recording space. After experimenting with studios in London and Paris, we’re happiest with the sound from our rehearsal rooms – out here in the wilds of Wiltshire.”

So what are the band’s plans for the rest of 2019?  Says Marcus: “We’re promoting the new single, although that’s been interesting, thanks to the response of the local media. Maybe the lyrics are ruffling a few feathers… Rock ‘n’ roll is still being censored.”

Stranger things have happened…

The Russian Spy EP by The Neighbourhood Strange is out now on Strange Recordings: https://theneighbourhoodstrange.bandcamp.com/