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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you be playing any live shows this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best albums of 2016

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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. 

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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

Cosmic Americana Music

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London’s The Hanging Stars have made one of the best albums of this year.

Recorded in LA, Nashville and, er, Walthamstow,  Over The Silvery Lake – their debut record – is a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock masterpiece 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.

Willows weep, ships set sail on the sea and songs are laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are 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. 

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to singer, guitarist and songwriter Richard Olson (The See See, Eighteenth Day of May) and bassist Sam Ferman (The See See and The Lightshines) about the making of Over The Silvery Lake and found out that its follow-up – due out next year – is almost done and dusted. Cosmic, eh?

Your debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, was released in March 2016. It’s one of my favourite records of the last 12 months. This year has been a bad one for the wider world, but how’s it been for The Hanging Stars?

Sam Ferman: We’re going to be a footnote to Trump…. It feels like 2016’s been a bit of a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel that long ago that Rich had an idea about taking the music that we were doing at the time somewhere different and creating a new band. From recording the album in LA, finishing it off, having it released and going round France and Spain and heading to Germany… We’ve packed a lot in.

Richard Olson: To be honest, I didn’t expect for us to get the kind of reception that we’ve been getting. There were so many bits that fell into place with the album. I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects and the best ones haven’t been too try-hard. Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard, but it’s a natural harmony.

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Can you tell me about the songwriting process behind the album? Do you all write songs?

Sam: Most of the record was ideas that Rich brought to us. We had the benefit of spending quite a lot of time working out what we wanted to do with them. Rich was quite keen on taking it somewhere different, which is where the pedal steel, violin and flute got involved. We broadened our horizons and didn’t restrict it to just a three person, guitar pop band. We made it more pastoral, folky and country-infused, which was really exciting.

Are you guys into the classic country-rock bands?

Richard: Of course – I’ve always been obsessed with The Byrds and Gram Parsons. Our guitar player, Patrick [Ralla  – banjo, guitar and assorted instruments] is a real country connoisseur – he really knows his shit.

Sam: It’s been exciting for me. As a kid, I was never that into country stuff – Rich got me into it. Me and Rich and Paulie  [Cobra – drummer] – and, maybe to a lesser extent, Patrick  and Joe  [Harvey White – pedal steel] are interested in psychedelic music. It’s been really interesting trying to see what you can do with a psychedelic twist on the country thing. When I was playing music seven or eight years ago, there were no psych bands around, apart from my one and Rich’s one – now there are dozens. It’s interesting to see how far you can push it and mix it with prog-folk and the Fairport Convention thing.

Richard: As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn.

Your album was made in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

Richard: We went to LA and said, ‘let’s do some recording’.

Sam: A lot of it crystallised there. There was a lot of talking about what we wanted it to sound like – quite often, it’s very easy to stumble into recording a lot of stuff and then it comes together in a patchwork at the end. We had a coherent vision for the album right from the outset.

‘As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn’

 

 

Did you write any of the album in LA?

Sam: We wrote a lot of the parts there. One of the songs – Ruby Red – is based on me and Rich having a jam on a porch in Hollywood. I came up with a riff – we thought it was going to be an acoustic instrumental, but we started messing around with it in rehearsals and it sounded good when it was heavy and electric. Rich went away and wrote the melody and the words.

 

The House On The Hill is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track? I love the twangy guitar riff and the Spaghetti Western vibe…

Richard: Our friend Christof [Certik], who is a bit of a LA/San Francisco legend, wrote that riff. The guys went out on the porch and drank beer and smoked weed, while I had to coach him for four hours. It was hard to get it out of him, but once he did it, it was incredible.

Sam: Like every brilliant guitarist, he’s a perfectionist, but we got there in the end.

Crippled Shining Blues is another highlight of the album. It was also featured on an EP with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires earlier this year…

Richard: I’m really pleased with the way that song came out – it was all done in Walthamstow.

Sam: Rich had the two-chord riff at the start and we just jammed over it and he came up with the guitar riff. There’s a lovely complementary pedal steel riff, too.

 

You’ve been recording your new album? How’s it going?

Richard: We’re almost done – we’re putting the finishing touches to it. We’ve got about 20 songs, we’ll whittle that down to about 11 and then we’ll see if it’s any good…

When do you hope to release it?

Richard: Only the gods know that. Everything is a bit up in the air regarding when the album’s coming out.  It’s a weird time – everything takes absolutely ages, because of bloody Record Store Day. We need to have our stuff out on vinyl. The people who buy our records like vinyl and it’s how we survive on the road – not by eating vinyl, but by selling it.

Your next record will be quite a quick follow-up to your first one…

Sam: I think we started recording the new one before the last one was even out – we like to keep things ticking over. We’ve been busy this year.

What can we expect the new record to sound like?

Richard: I think we’ve found our feet to be honest. The first album was a bit of a stab in the dark and it was very much me, Paulie and Sam…

Sam: We were the genesis of it.

Not the Genesis?

Sam: There’s no Phil Collins…

Richard: Even though I do like Genesis… We’ve taken shape as a live band, with Patrick and Joe on pedal steel. They’ve been very involved with the new album – Patrick’s been co-writing. It’s been much more of a collaborative effort. I do think that the new album is very different, but it’s very much in the same vein musically, I suppose.

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Sam: We’ve done all of it at Bark Studio in Walthamstow, which is where we did about a third of the first album. We’re working with Brian O’Shaughnessy – he’s fantastic. Me, Paulie and Rich live in Walthamstow.

It’s sounding really nice. We had the majority of the album – the core bits – done about nine months ago. We’ve spent the last few months sprinkling the fairy dust on it.  It’s been really nice to see how it’s come together.

Richard: A lot of the recording for the first album was done in LA and we did some overdubs in Nashville. This album has been purely E17, which has been great. Due to the way of the world, it’s so hard to get a two-week chunk of time for recording, so we do a weekend of basics and then we drop in with some other ideas. I’m so chuffed with some of the stuff that we’ve done for the new record. I think it’s bloody good and I really hope that people will be blown away by it.

If you’ll pardon the pun, Christmas is a good time for hanging stars… What are your plans for the festive season?

Sam: Our drummer will be on the other side of the world, but for New Year’s Eve we’ll probably be at the What’s Cookin’ night in Leytonstone, sinking in a Yuletide country vibe.

Richard: We’ll probably be getting slightly off our nuts in some way or another – we don’t mind that at all.

 

Over The Silvery Lake by The Hanging Stars is out now on The Great Pop Supplement/Crimson Crow.

http://www.thehangingstars.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a jangle out there…

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

‘I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G’ [Richard Hawley : Oct ’96]

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Before Richard Hawley found fame as a solo singer-songwiter, he was the guitarist in Sheffield indie rockers Longpigs. Back in October 1996, I spoke to him about the Sheffield music scene, the Longpigs’ debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, and touring America…

Imagine the clumsy and naughty fumblings of a young boy…

“My father said I couldn’t touch it, but I got it out one day and he came into the front room and I was playing with it – I was only six,” says Richard Hawley of Sheffield band Longpigs.

That was the day he first played his father’s guitar.

“He said, ‘do you like it, then?’, he showed me some chords and that was it,” says Richard. “When I opened the guitar case, it looked like a spaceship. I didn’t give a shit whether it caught rhinos, or made tea for me mum – it was what I wanted to do with my life. It was a good job it was a guitar and not something that you caught rhinos with, ‘cos I’d ‘ave had a bit of a job finding rhinos round ‘ere.”

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Sheffield may not be known for its rhino population, but it has become a breeding ground for Britpop acts such as Pulp and Babybird.

“Sheffield’s never been famous for anything except steel and Joe Cocker,” says Richard. “The thing that’s beautiful about the city is that you can isolate yourself really easily – you don’t have to be part of a scene. There’s us, Pulp, Babybird, Blameless… That’s a pretty eclectic bunch, really. Just recently, Sheffield has kind of popped its head up again in popular culture. Pulp and Babybird have been knockin’ around for a long time and we’ve been going for three years. Sheffield seems to be a city that produces old men of rock.”

Longpigs have had a pretty tough few years, due to a string of unfortunate events and record company wrangles, but they now seem settled and comfortable and things are finally looking up for them.

‘There was a very dark period where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal’

“We’re appallingly contented,” says Richard. “There was a very dark period in the past, where we all nearly got killed in a car crash and we lost our record deal. The company closed down in the UK after spending so much money on Police Academy 93 or whatever.

“In retrospect, all those things were quite cathartic. What was important to us was sticking together and making music. We believed that what were doing was good. I’m glad we did. I’d rather see us in the charts than Gina G.”

 

The band released their debut album, The Sun Is Often Out, earlier this year. The songs range from indie rock and pop to torch song ballads, folk and modern blues.

“Crispin [vocals/guitar and main songwriter] fancies himself as Cole Porter. He comes along with his nice songs and our job is ruin them. That’s it, really,” says Richard, who has also recently turned his hand to songwriting.

“Me and Crispin are co-writing stuff and that will probably flourish. It’s still mainly Crispin writing the songs. His twisted outlook on life is definitely something I couldn’t do.”

This December, Longpigs will be shutting themselves away to write new material for their second album.

“We’re looking forward to the next record,” enthuses Richard. “God knows what it’s going to sound like – it will just happen.”

Longpigs have recently returned from a tour of the US and also played in Canada with The Bluetones.

“We don’t hope to break America – we want to mend it,” says Richard. “The two main exports from the US are the beefburger and rock and roll. I definitely prefer rock and roll.”

 

The original version of this article first appeared in Splash! magazine in October 1996.

 

‘Britpop’s dead – it’s a rotten corpse lying on the floor’ [Sleeper: Feb ’98]

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Back in February 1998, it looked like it could all be over for Britpop band Sleeper. Their last few singles had hardly set the world on fire and some of their gigs had been cancelled, due to a lack of interest. But despite all this, when I spoke to frontwoman Louise Wener, she was adamant they weren’t splitting up… In fact, they called it a day a month after this interview…

Are Sleeper well and truly down the dumper?

Last month, rumours about the band’s demise appeared on the internet, and in the NME, a representative from their US record label hinted that there was tension between frontwoman Louise Wener and drummer Andy MacLure, who is also Louise’s boyfriend.

The rumours come as no surprise, though – Sleeper’s last two singles, She’s A Good Girl and Romeo Me, barely dented the Top 40 and two of the dates on their current tour were cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Despite this, Louise is adamant that Sleeper aren’t about to disintegrate…

“We haven’t got any plans to split up. The press are evil little shits – that’s my response to the rumours,” she says, talking to me on the phone from London.

“We’ve got various problems with our American record company, but it’s not as bad as some people would have you believe.

“Things appear on the internet all the time. The thing about me and Andy splitting up was utterly made up by the NME. I was angry about it for half an hour, but I’ve got used to things like that.”

‘We haven’t got any plans to split up. The press are evil little shits – that’s my response to the rumours’

So, there are no plans for a Louise Wener solo album, then?

“I’ve done 10 solo albums already,” she jokes. “No. I’d have to fight it out with the other pop star called Louise. I wouldn’t know what to call myself. Send your answers on a postcard…”

So is the current mood in Sleeper a healthy one, then?

“Yeah – it is. We’re making plans for the next thing we do, which will probably be quite radically different. We’re pretty up about it – we’re still relevant.”

I ask her if she’s disappointed by the poor performances of the band’s recent singles and the lack of interest in their gigs.

“It was kind of our turn,” she says. “Every band goes through up and down phases. It’s just life and you have to get on with it. We think that we made a really great album [Pleased To Meet You]. You have to go forward with your own belief in what you do. Things just go up and down – that’s the nature of most bands’ careers.”

Ironically, Sleeper’s latest album, Pleased To Meet You,  is their best yet. Although by no means a classic – and it could hardly be described as a massive departure for the band – it’s more eclectic than their past offerings.

She’s A Good Girl touches on soul, Romeo Me is all-out, Pretenders-style guitar pop, Firecracker is Alvin Stardust-esque glam, and Breathe and Because of You are haunted by the ghost of trip-hop.

Does Louise think that Sleeper should’ve overhauled their sound more dramatically to fit into the current post-Britpop climate?

“Britpop’s dead – it’s a rotten corpse lying on the floor,” she says. “I think it’s good that it has gone and that everything’s changing. It’s really interesting to see what’s going to happen next. That’s why music’s exciting.

“Maybe we didn’t change enough to go with it. We kind of thought we’d come back and everything would be exactly the same. Maybe we lacked some foresight.”

Pleased To Meet You did see a big shift in Louise’s lyric writing. No longer was she penning observational songs about commuters and office workers – instead she addressed more personal issues.

“I couldn’t keep writing about other people, ” she says. “It [observational songwriting] was the essence of what Britpop was about, but that kind of life is alien to me now. It’s not something that belongs to me anymore.”

‘We might just get an Uzi and kill a few people’

This month, Sleeper are heading out on a national tour and, after that, there’s going to be some serious rethinking on the musical front.

“Me and Andy are planning to go and live in America for six months to write and do some other stuff,” says Louise.

“Whatever happens next, it will be quite different. It will be a good thing. We’ll be shaking ourselves up a bit.”

So what can we expect?

“We might just get an Uzi and kill a few people.”

 

The original version of this article first appeared in Splash! magazine in February 1998.

Out of Order [Monaco: June ’97]

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I revisit a 1997 encounter with pop duo Monaco, during which I upset Peter Hook by asking him if their debut long-player, Music For Pleasure, was simply the album New Order never got round to making…

There is dissension in Monaco.

The duo, who are Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook – the bassist from New Order – and guitarist David ‘Pottsy’ Potts, are in dispute over their debut album, the sublime, all-out pop record Music For Pleasure.

I am backstage with them at Portsmouth Guildhall, shortly before they are due on stage to support The Charlatans.

“I don’t think it is pop,” says Hooky. “I think to call it ‘pop’ demeans it.”

But Pottsy doesn’t agree: “I don’t think it does.”

Hooky replies: “I think of it more as AOR.”

“Is that Any Old Rubbish?” quips Pottsy.

“Any Old Iron,” says Hooky.

 

To my ears, Music For Pleasure is undoubtedly a great pop album. It veers from chart-bothering romps like the hugely infectious What Do You What From Me? and the E’d up, hands-in-the-air, cheesy, hedonistic house of Sweet Lips, to classy, heart-melting ballads like Blue and Tender, and even finds time to stop off at a rave (Junk) and take its place on a football terrace for the big Beatles/Oasis-style sing-along that is Buzz Gum.

But, despite the fact that I love the album dearly, at the back of mind there’s something that’s nagging me every time I listen to it…. Isn’t it simply the album that New Order never got round to making?

Let’s face it – sizeable chunks of Music For Pleasure do hark back to the glory days of the Manchester band. Hooky’s trademark bass sound is all over the new record and Pottsy’s vocals even recall those of New Order frontman Bernard Sumner…

“This is definitely the album that New Order never made ‘cos they weren’t fucking round when I was doing it – the lazy bastards!” booms Hooky.

He adds: “No – I think you might be looking for something a little too much. People might say that the music’s as good as New Order – and it does have slight leanings towards it – but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s New Order again.

“A lot of the songs are nothing like bleedin’ New Order,” he says, grumpily.

“They’re good, but the only thing that makes them sound like New Order is the bass, really.”

I’m sorry I asked…

‘This is definitely the album that New Order never made ‘cos they weren’t fucking round when I was doing it – the lazy bastards!’

Monaco were formed from the ashes of Revenge – the band that Hooky started as a New Order side project. Pottsy joined Revenge to augment their live shows, but the group soon fell apart and him and Hooky were left on their own.

Says Hooky: “The two guys I was working with dropped off. Pottsy was the only one that showed any interest. We started writing together – it was quite easy for the two of us to do it.”

So, Monaco were born.

Pottsy explains: “I wasn’t playing my songs in Revenge, so I couldn’t put my heart and soul into something that wasn’t mine.”

Hooky says that with Revenge, he deliberately tried to shy away from the New Order sound and do something different.

“I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want it to sound like New Order.”

He adds that he left behind the thing he was good at in order to learn something new.

Revenge didn’t work out, though, so is that why, with Monaco, he decided to return to the thing that he does best?

“Well – yeah, with a lot of coaching from Pottsy,” he says. “He was more into it than I was. There’s always that bit of a paranoid thing that I get whenever anyone says to me, ‘as soon as you start playing, we always hear New Order’.

“Sometimes I just think ‘cheers’,” he adds, sarcastically.

‘Everybody says that Electronic sounds like New Order without the bass. I bet Bernard fucking hates that, ‘cos he hated the fucking bass playing towards the end of New Order. He was sick of me!’

But returning to what he does best has certainly been a good move for Hooky. Monaco’s debut album is a triumph and it’s a stronger record than Raise The Pressure – the difficult second album by Electronic, the duo his New Order bandmate, Bernard Sumner, formed with former Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr.

“Bernard’s always got a little problem,” says Hooky. “Everybody says that Electronic sounds like New Order without the bass. I bet he fucking hates that, ‘cos he hated the fucking bass playing towards the end of New Order. He was just sick of me!”

Both members of Monaco seem thoroughly content at the moment and the band looks like being a long-term project.

“At the moment, it feels very natural,” says Hooky. “I’m quite happy to go out there and watch the kids have a good time. I’m just doing it for the kids, but I’m actually enjoying it myself.”

He adds: “The album simply is ‘music for pleasure’ and even though some people say it’s quite melancholic, I always find there’s a certain pleasure in being melancholy – especially as you get older.”

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The original version of this interview first appeared in Splash! magazine in June 1997.

 

Britta Pop

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Picture of Britta by Luz Gallardo

Britta Phillips, who, with her husband Dean Wareham (Luna and Galaxie 500) makes up US duo Dean & Britta, has just released her first solo album – Luck or Magic – a great collection of curious cover versions and self-penned tracks, from haunting ‘60s pop to Euro synth sounds. I talk to her about Bond songs, making the new record, playing bass in Luna and which she prefers, luck or magic?

I am sitting with Britta Phillips in the Martini Bar of London’s Barbican and, rather fittingly, we are talking about James Bond songs.

Daydream, which is the opening track on her debut solo album, Luck or Magic, is dramatic, moody and cinematic and sounds like it was inspired by ‘60s spy film soundtracks.

“I wrote that song in 2000 – after I’d joined Luna. I was really into Dusty Springfield then – Dean had given me a mixtape with Dusty on it and I wanted to write a song where I could sing it a bit like her,” she says.

“The song sat there for a while – it didn’t make it on to the first Dean & Britta album – but I really liked it, so I re-recorded it and added a Bond feel to it. It sounds a little bit like Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice.”

I suggest to Britta that her and Dean would be ideal for writing a Bond song.

“I would love to – if they ever want a Bond song, Dean and I are available,” she says.

I tell her that I could imagine a Dean & Britta Bond song that was in the same vein as those wonderful, haunting, orchestral ‘60s Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood ballads Some Velvet Morning and Summer Wine.

Britta agrees, adding: “They’re pretty, but they’re dark…”

Pretty and dark would be a good description of Britta’s Luck or Magic album – a record that is half original songs and half cover versions.

There are gorgeous, haunting renditions of pop obscurities like Evie Sands’ One Fine Summer Morning from 1969 and Dennis Wilson’s 1970 b-side Fallin’ In Love, stripped-down, electronic takes on The Cars’ Drive and Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, as well as her own compositions, including the cold, Krautrock synth groove of Million Dollar Doll and the Velvets-like closer Ingrid Superstar, with its psychedelic guitars…

So, how does it feel to have released your first solo album?

Britta Phillips: It’s very exciting. I’m very happy with it. I knew I would do one someday, but time flies… My friend Scott Hardkiss [San Francisco DJ and producer], who I met about 10 years ago, invited me to lunch in 2012 and said, ‘you should do a solo album and I’m gonna produce it’. And I said,’oh, alright’…

Sadly, Scott died in 2013…

BP: Yes – a year after we’d started working together. We didn’t get that much done, [in that first year] because we were both so busy….

You’ve been writing solo songs throughout your whole career, haven’t you?

BP: Yes – the oldest song on the album [Daydream] was written in 2000, about six months after I’d joined Luna. One of the other songs [Million Dollar Doll] has music that was written for the Frances Ha film soundtrack.  The music for Ingrid Superstar was written for 13 Most Beautiful[Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Test] but I wrote the lyrics later.

You’re known for being one half of Dean & Britta and also the bassist in Luna, but what’s it like stepping out on your own and being a solo artist?

BP: It’s mostly very exciting, but I feel a bit naked…I’ve always been in bands.

Why did you decide to make an album that’s half original songs and half cover versions?

BP: Dean & Britta always did a couple of covers and so did Luna. I always knew I was going to do a couple of covers, but it didn’t know it would be half… When I started to talk to Scott about the record, he had about 10 or 15 ideas for covers, but, as it was my first solo album, I wanted it to be at least half original songs.

There were five covers that I really liked and there were some original songs that I didn’t put on it. I just picked the ones that went best together and that I liked best. I did a Dylan cover – Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – which I love, but I felt the flavour of it didn’t sit quite as well with the rest of the record. It pulled it more into a retro, ’60s thing – there were already a couple of things like that on the album.

I love your version of the Dylan song – it has a gorgeous country feel. In the end, you put it out on a limited double A-side vinyl EP with Dean’s version of the ’60s song Hey Paula, by Paul & Paula. I managed to buy a copy, but, if you don’t mind me saying so, the cover artwork is a bit rude…

BP: Dean picked that – I had nothing to do with it. He thought it was very funny. My mum pleaded with me to take the cover art off my Pledge campaign….

Are there any other songs you covered that didn’t end up on the album?

BP: I did Bang Bang [Nancy Sinatra], Daniel Johnston’s Honey I Sure Miss You and Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You. I’ve also got some original songs that I want to finish.

You’ve covered a ‘60s song on your album – One Fine Summer Morning by Evie Sands, which comes from her 1969 debut album. I must admit, I don’t know much about Evie Sands…

BP: Oh – She’s amazing. I believe she was Dusty Springfield’s favourite singer. She lives in LA and I met her recently.

Has she heard your version of her song?

BP: I’ve Facebooked her about it, but I haven’t heard back. I don’t know if she got my message…

I’m sure she’ll like it…

BP: She’ll be happy… Her version is a little more country sounding.

You’ve also covered an obscure Dennis Wilson song –Fallin’ In Love – which was a b-side to his first solo single in 1970…

BP: I can imagine the Evie Sands and the Dennis Wilson songs being huge hits, but they never were. They’re amazing songs.

I really like the haunting strings and the twangy guitar on Fallin’ In Love…

BP: Thanks – Dean’s on guitar and the strings are just me noodling on the MIDI [synth]. My version is like a girl group doing it – it has bigger drums.

Let’s talk about your song Million Dollar Doll. To me, it sounds like it could’ve come from the soundtrack to the film Drive. It has an ’80s electronic Europop feel…

BP: I’m so glad you think so – I love that soundtrack. When I started making my record I was really into the Drive soundtrack and Chromatics and Glass Candy – anything Johnny Jewel produced – as well as LCD Soundsystem. I was yelling the lyrics like I thought he [James Murphy] might.

I like the trance-like, nighttime groove on Million Dollar Doll…

BP: It’s motorik…

Which leads us nicely on to the track Drive. This time, you’ve chosen to cover a song by The Cars…

BP: It was a huge song and not a cover I ever would’ve picked. It was Scott’s choice. He also chose Landslide and a bunch of other big covers for me to sing – I picked the obscure ones.

You’ve stripped it right back and made it more minimalist and electronic…

BP: Yeah – it’s the robotic ARP arpeggiator [synthesizer] – that’s what made it for me. I wasn’t sure about doing a big cover, but then I loved it…

And you’ve covered Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide – a well-known song – and made it your own, with some burbling synth sounds…

BP: It came out great – we stripped it down. You’ve got to do something different, or what’s the point? I’m not going to beat Stevie Nicks’ version – no way… I love Dean’s guitar solo on it.

Why did you choose to do a version of Wrap Your Arms Around Me – a 1983 solo song by former Abba member Agnetha Fältskog?

BP: It was obscure to me. I had never heard it, but I guess it was a hit somewhere. A friend, Chris Hollow from The Sand Pebbles, who are an Australian band, suggested it to me. He sent it and said, ‘Britta should cover this’.

I’m always fascinated when people really want to hear me sing a song. If somebody takes the time to tell me I should cover something, then I’ll try it.

Wrap Your Arms Around Me is a great Europop tune – it has a killer chorus…

BP: I cut out one line. Agnetha sings, ‘make love to me now like never before.’ It makes the song a little bit too silly or kitsch… Those words would not come out of my mouth.

Is the title track of your album, Luck or Magic, an old song of yours?

BP: No – it’s a new song. I was looking through my old diaries for inspiration. Back then, I was very emotionally distraught and I think that makes for better writing material.

So, lyrically, it harks back to the time when you first met Dean?

BP: Yes – we were having this torrid romance and I was feeling very vulnerable. The lyrics are trying to be tough about it – me saying, ‘I know it’s gonna last – I don’t give a shit – let’s go!’

The song has almost a funk groove…

BP: I never played anything funky on bass before this, but I was listening to slightly funkier and dancey things.

So, are you a secret funk bass player?

BP: Yeah (she laughs). Well, I love Sly Stone and Chic/Bernard Edwards and Tina Weymouth [Talking Heads]. I’ve been dabbling – getting my toes wet.

There’s also a funky feel to your song Do It Last. It sounds a bit like Daft Punk…

BP: That was the very last song I wrote. I had a piano sketch that was bouncy and very McCartney. I went through about eight different demos of that song and I just wanted to get away from that, so I rearranged it and I changed the chords.

I was listening to the Daft Punk song Something About Us and I thought I would try something like that, with the bass and the drums… It’s weird – I was hearing some kind of solo Lennon influence, but I don’t imagine anyone else hears it. It’s sort of ‘70s – a bit Hall & Oates and a little bit funky. It’s kind of light and sexy, but there’s a dark edge to it.

The closing track on the album is Ingrid Superstar – the title sounds like the best song Lou Reed never wrote… Musically, it has a very Velvet Underground sound to it and features Luna’s Sean Eden on ‘guitar swells’.

BP: It’s mostly me playing guitar, trying to play like Dean and Sean, who’s doing some trippy backwards bits on it. It’s a kind of T Rex groove.

Let’s talk about Luna – the band is coming to the UK in October and you’ll be playing the Penthouse album in full… On your gigs in the States, you’ve been opening for Luna, too. How is it being your own support act?

BP: It’s a little bit tiring, but Luna is my backing band, too, so it’s pretty good.

We’re going to play the whole of Penthouse and then do all the other songs that people usually want to hear.

 

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Luna

Are there any plans to make a new Luna record?

BP: We’re recording covers – we’ve been in the studio with Jason Quever. He produced Dean’s last solo record. We’ve recorded six covers and we’re probably going to record six more – I don’t know about originals at this point. It’s been a good way to ease us into the studio.

How is it being in Luna for the second time around – you split up in 2005, but reformed in 2015…

BP: We’re really enjoying it – there’s no pressure. We’re not trying to be the next new thing and get on the radio and sell a shitload of records. We’re just playing because it’s a great band and it’s fun to play with Luna and reconnect with the fans – Luna fans are amazing. There are some upsides to getting older – part of that is the history with the audience and a band. Rather than a band on stage performing and showing off, it’s much more of a communal thing, which sounds very hippie…

So, what about making another Britta solo album?

BP: I would like to do another one for sure, but I don’t know when. I haven’t thought about it. I feel like it will be a lot less confusing this time. It was so shocking when Scott passed away – I was slow to want to start on the record again.

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Pic of Britta by Shelby Duncan for The Standard Hotel

 

Did you feel like you owed it to Scott to get the record out there?

BP: I definitely did, but it was hard – I didn’t know when would be the right time to start working on it again. Then I heard from Scott’s widow, who sent me a mix of one of the songs that’s not on the album, and she really wanted me to finish it, so I thought, ok – it’s not too soon…

Who would be your dream musical collaborators?

BP: Oh, boy – there are so many… There are electronic and dance people like Johnny Jewel and also indie – the guy from Tame Impala [Kevin Parker] is great and I like Cate Le Bon, but I’d be afraid to work with her. I wouldn’t be able to speak to her because I have such respect and admiration for her. She’s one of my favourites.

What other music are you currently enjoying – old and new?

BP: I like Kamasi Washington, the jazz guy who plays with Kendrick Lamar. I’m always discovering old stuff. I’m enjoying James Last! Have you ever heard of him? He does great covers.

So, finally, if you had to choose, which would it be: ‘luck’ or ‘magic’?

BP: Magic. Growing up in the ‘70s and having really kooky parents, I did believe that magic was real for quite too long a time. My parents believed in UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and ESP – all that stuff. I had very magical thinking. Even though I don’t believe in it now, there’s a part of me that emotionally believes in it. To me, science is magic – you can explain it, but it’s still pretty magical…

Britta Phillips’ Luck or Magic is out now on Double Feature Records. Luna will play the O2 Academy in London on October 7.

http://brittaphillips.com/

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Welcome To The Institution

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Silver Meadows (Fables From The Institution) –  the new record by singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar – is a tragi-comic masterpiece that tackles the issues of mental health and care in the community.

A concept album that’s set in a ficticious long-stay institution called Silver Meadows, it’s an eclectic collection of songs that were inspired by working as a nurse and visiting his schizophrenic brother in hospitals during the 1980s and early ’90s.

It opens with the stately piano ballad The Institution and takes us on a journey through the corridors, offices and wards of the facility, introducing the characters who live and work in Silver Meadows.

There’s drug-dealing Gerald The Porter,  controversial new member of staff Andy, who’s ‘The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour’, and Albert – a troublesome inmate who causes all sorts of problems.

Musically, the record is richly rewarding, with New Wave pop, jangly, country-tinged guitar tunes, ’80s disco and psychedelic leanings.

I spoke to Vinny to get the full story behind the making of his new album…

 

Congratulations on Silver Meadows – it’s a wonderful record. Can you tell me about the background to it? Why did you choose to make a concept album about mental health issues?

Vinny Peculiar: Thanks for those nice comments – I’m so glad you enjoyed the album. The songs arrived out of nowhere in a two week spell at the start of 2014 – 20 in a three-week period, cut down to the 14 tracks on the record. I was on a bit of a roll. It was, of course, the last thing I expected to write about, after finally leaving the NHS after years of planning to. It’s set in a fictitious 1980s long stay institution – the kind of place I used to work in as a nurse.

The album opens with The Institution and the song addresses hospital gossip, nursing home parties, illicit band rehearsals, an abusive charge nurse, a drug-addled psychologist and women patients who were incarcerated just for getting pregnant. That’s a lot of issues for one song!  It was the first one I wrote for the album – it sets the scene and kick-started the rest of the writing.

So we also get new treatments and behaviour modification techniques  – Room Management and Self Help Skills Unit – and changes in practice – Community Care and Everyone Has Something to Say.

There are a couple of love stories – The Wednesday Club and Waiting Games – and in The Saviour of Challenging Behaviour, new staff polarise the workforce and challenge the old ways.

The song Hospital Wing was inspired by a young man I met when I started nursing. He was visiting his brother, who was dying on the hospital wing from a rare genetic condition. I can’t recall exactly which one, but, three years later, he was admitted to the same ward, where he too died, peacefully. He had so much dignity –  his story has never left me. I have made a video for Hospital Wing with a wonderful group of actors in Bream, in the Forest of Dean – they did a great job. It was fabulously directed by regular Vinny Peculiar collaborator Andy Squiff.

 

Considering the sensitive subject matter, was it difficult to write the songs? You don’t want to come across as patronising, or cruel, do you? How did you approach the record?

VP: It wasn’t a difficult subject to write about, but, on the other hand, it’s not an easy subject to explain in a succinct, press release kind of way. You’re right – the last thing you want to do is to patronise the people who actually lived through the era and experienced life in those places.

I’ve a lot of mixed memories – good and bad – from that period. I’ve tried to set out a balanced stall and stick to the plot, so when it’s sad, it’s sad and when it’s funny, it’s funny.

There are so many characters in the songs. Are they based on real people you knew? 

VP: The characters are stolen from memory, with requisite name changes, and they sort of wrote themselves. It’s a record of extremes, highs and lows, kindnesses and cruelties. I’ve changed names and switched a few details around to protect identities, but the essence of the songs are all true….

Your brother had mental health issues, didn’t he?

VP: My brother died in 2001 – he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and he spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I’ve written songs with mental health themes in the past.

Big Grey Hospital, which is on my album Whatever Happened to Vinny Peculiar? is about my brother’s admission to hospital and the powerlessness of families trying to make sense of it all.

Operation from Ironing the Soul has hospital overtones, as does Nurse of Year, so I have skated with mental health imagery in the past, but Silver Meadows is a more concentrated work.

What did you want to achieve musically with this record? It has a full-band sound and great arrangements. There are even some New Wave synths. Can you tell me about the recording process? 

VP: I’m really proud of the way it sounds – lots of experimental layers and instruments that I’ve not really used before. It was more of an experimental approach – even proggy in places – and it was crafted with love by David Marsden, in his Southport Studio.

I first met Dave when he managed Pearl Studios in Liverpool in the early ‘90s. Nowadays he has a successful career in film and TV music. We always said we’d do something together. It took us 20 years to get there, but here we are, and we’re exceedingly proud of the album.

Recording started with home demos, then band rehearsals with the rhythm section Bobby Kewley (bass) and Paul Tsanos (drums). They are both great friends of mine and are lovely players.

We recorded the rhythm section at Whitby Studios in Ellesmere Port, with Ian Lewis and Dave overseeing, and then I added most of the electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, and mandocello at Whitby, where I could crank up the volume. We did a few of the main vocals and took everything to Dave’s studio where the parts were edited and new vocals recorded. Dave added a few more guitars and other exotic bits and bobs, including the Moog parts. He’s a proper Moogaholic.

The title track is one of my favourite songs on the album. It has a lovely country-tinged sound and I really like the twangy guitar licks and the gorgeous melody. Can you tell me more about the song, which sees a former patient from the institution returning to Silver Meadows, as he’s unable to cope with normal life?

VP: In the early days of community rehabilitation, it was typical for people to leave hospital and be left to fend for themselves in the outside world. However, without the right support, people would fail and return.

If someone has lived in an institution most of their lives, then they are going to need help to adjust, but they didn’t always get what they needed.

In the song Silver Meadows, a patient returns to what is familiar and where he feels safe – it offers some kind of counterbalance to the bad stuff that’s going on.

I’m glad you like the country twangs. Without wishing to go all Guitarist Magazine on you, that’s my Fender Telecaster Custom 1978 through a Silverface Fender Twin Reverb amp, circa 1976. Although, the star guitar on the record for me has to be my Rickenbacker 360 and what Dave christened the  ‘walls of jangle’. It gives it a psychedelic edge. Drummers, do please forgive my ramblings…

The song The Wednesday Club is a nod to ’80s disco, both musically and lyrically. I like the synths and the backing vocals. What were you aiming for with that track?

VP: The Wednesday Club is set in a learning disabilities hospital disco. It’s actually quite a sad song – in spite of its dance-ability. It’s a song about a couple that live in the institution. They do lots of jobs around the place and they’re really able, but no one is quite sure how they ended up there. They fall in love at The Wednesday Club – the hospital disco – but are ultimately separated when they are forced to move to different parts of the country in separate group homes, far away from each other. This happened in the early days of community care and the legislation that drove the hospital closure programme. When we recorded the backing vocals, it was like we’d joined The O’Jays….

There are some dark tracks on the album. The Back Wards is very menacing and disturbing… 

VP: In the old-style institutions there were always ‘back wards’, with the reputation of turning a blind eye to bad stuff.

By the time I was working in hospitals, these were much less prevalent, but cruelty and abuse is never far away when you have poorly trained and under-resourced staff with power over vulnerable people.

These things still go on today – look at Winterbourne .

I witnessed some abuse when I was a student nurse – there’s a reference to it in the song The Institution. It was an assault, but no one would sign witness statements, so the case was dropped and I was moved to another hospital to finish the module.

Are you planning to do a stage show / musical based on the album? How’s that project coming on?

VP: The stage play is, as they say, in development. We have characters and narrative and I’m working on the first draft with Liverpool writer Ian Salmon.

It’s very early days. We’ve had a couple of meetings and Ian is fleshing out the dialogue, so I’ve taken something of a back seat these past few weeks.

I’ve no idea how long it will take to finish the musical. We hope that by March 2017 things will have moved from concept to concert hall, but we’ll see…

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Will you be touring this album with a full band?

VP: Yes. I’m really looking forward to playing the album from start to finish with a full band. We have a couple of band shows in September, then, hopefully, more towards the winter. And the band will feature in the stage play musical too, if I can prize them away from their respective tribute bands…

Since the last time I interviewed you, sadly, David Bowie has passed away. You must have been very upset. He was a huge influence on you, wasn’t he?

VP: I was really saddened by his death. My generation is the Bowie generation – the alien on Top of The Pops generation. It was impossibly sad knowing his final album was a farewell gift – and that he was orchestrating his own finale, which was just so humble and so brave. He was a consummate artist – always exploring and reinventing – and I doubt we will see anyone else to compare him to in our lifetime.

And now Prince has gone, too… Were you a fan?

VP: I was a fan – not of everything he did, but there was so much to love, and he was such a prolific talent.

Sign of The Times and Sometimes It Snows in April… there are so many more songs. He was also an independent – his own person – and he stood up to the corporate music mogul world of exploitation and refused to play by Tickemaster’s rules. I loved him for all that, too.

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

VP: I like The National – Trouble in Mind is a beautiful record. I know they are not that new, but they are new compared to most of what I listen to. The new Coral album sounds interesting. The last album I bought was, rather predictably, Bowie’s Black Star on CD. I still buy CDs…

So what’s next for Vinny Peculiar? Would you like to make another concept album? Do you have any ideas for the next record?

VP: I hope to complete the recording project I started last year with Mancunian performance poet Tony Walsh – aka Longfella. I’m a big fan of his work.

I’ve also started writing songs based on local place names. I moved house last year and perhaps it’s my way of trying to make sense of it all…

 

Vinny Peculiar’s new album, Silver Meadows (Fables From The Institution)  is released on June 6 on Shadrack & Duxbury Records.

For  more information, go to http://vinnypeculiar.com/