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

Power pop to the people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a jangle out there…

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

Basement Instinct

 

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Michigan-based singer-songwriter Ryan Allen is back with this third solo album Basement Punk – an explosive collection of power pop songs about love, life and rock and roll that are influenced by Teenage Fanclub, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr, Sugar and early R.E.M.

I lured Ryan out of his basement for a chat about the new record and to find out what’s the most punk thing he’s ever done…

 

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about your brand new record – Basement Punk. It’s your third solo album. The title was inspired by the large amount of time you’ve spent in your basement. Should we be worried? What do you get up to down there?

Ryan Allen: Ha ha. Yeah, I guess the title does give the impression that I’m some kind of underground-dwelling troll or something.

In reality, I write songs in all sorts of places. My front porch, my living room, my wife’s home office…shit, sometimes melodies or even fully-formed compositions hit me when I’m out running, or in the shower. But once I bring a song down to the basement to start demoing, it’s really then that I get serious about making some commitments to all the elements that end up on the finished version.

I have my little corner in the basement with a little bit of recording gear, a drum kit, a few mics…it’s nothing special, but it gets the job done, and I feel like I’ve come up with some really good stuff down there.

What were you aiming for with this record? Did you approach it differently from its predecessor, 2015’s Heart String Soul? What sound did you want for the new album?

You’ve said you were listening to albums by Buffalo Tom, Slowdive, R.E.M and Sugar while you were making it…

RA: Ultimately I think this record is as much “me” as the last two. The big difference is that I didn’t have as many rules as the last one – like not using effects pedals, or recording the drums in a very “muted” style). This time, I really just cranked it all up and made the kind of album I’d want to hear in 1995 (and now pretty much, too).

The songs are still personal – about my life, my opinions, etc, but I wanted to tweak the sonic elements a little bit to pay homage to a certain sound that I really connected with growing up. That loud, jangly, melody-driven alternative rock sound that the aforementioned bands did really well.

 

 

One of the tracks on the record is called Chasing A Song. Did the songs for this album come easily to you?

RA: Yeah. For the most part, they really just started pouring out. I think once I figured out exactly what I wanted to do, a big chunk of the tunes seemed to appear almost out of thin air.

One reason why is that I was so encouraged and inspired after the positive reaction to my last solo record, that I wanted to really continue the streak.

It was so humbling to learn that there were actually people out there that were excited about what I was doing, and it really gave me that extra push to want to keep it going. So much love to all the power pop blogs and radio shows out there for giving a shit about this music that I’m making.

What was the songwriting and recording process like?

RA: Songwriting and demoing-wise, the biggest difference between this new one and Heart String Soul from last year is that I got a drum kit. So a lot of the songs I was writing, I would start working on a little riff and hear a drum part in my head; eventually I’d sit down on the drums and kind of bash out a part.

A lot of the faster, more aggressive songs were a result of thinking more about what the drums were going to be doing, and then sitting down and actually figuring it out.

I also didn’t really stop writing songs for the record once I hit 10 or 11 tunes. I kept going and ended up with 17 or so songs for the record. I demoed all of them, and then settled on 14 or so to go and record. From there I whittled it down to 11 (there are three or so tunes that didn’t make the record, that I might put out before the end of the year).

So that was kind of new for me, as opposed to just going in to record the album with the same amount of songs that end up on it. I wasn’t as precious about things this time around, and it gave me a chance to be more strategic about what I wanted on the album.

I recorded a chunk of the album – all the drums, most of the guitars and most of the vocals – at Big Sky in Ann Arbor with Geoff Michael and then took the rest to my dad’s [Brad Allen] studio and finished there.

Recording in a legit studio gave the songs a chance to be as big as I thought they should be in my head, and working with Geoff was wonderful. Then reconnecting with my dad and laying down bass, percussion and other bells and whistles was great because it’s just so easy and we get in there and get shit done.

Andy Reed mixed and mastered it, and he’s got such a great ear for things and already knows exactly where I was coming from, so, all in all, it was a perfect match each time.

 

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You played all the instruments yourself on this album. How challenging was that?

RA: I guess it would be challenging if I went into the studio and had no idea what I wanted to do. But my demo process is to basically make the entire record in my basement, and then go and make it again in a studio. That way I don’t waste time, money and energy trying to come up with stuff on the spot.

I’m pretty meticulous when I go in, and my plan is always to knock things out as quickly as possible. I don’t like to dick around.

The only thing that is maybe a bit of a challenge is the drums, as I think I’m a pretty good drummer, but nailing things in a full take can be tough sometimes when you don’t play drums as your main instrument. Thank goodness for Pro Tools.

You’ve said the songs on the new record are “deeply personal”. Can you elaborate on that? Can you tell us what inspired some of the songs?

RA: For songs to be considered for a solo album, there has to be some personal connection there.

Usually it’s either about somebody or something specific, or opinionated enough that I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing it into a band, for fear they might not feel the same way, which has never happened, but it’s just what goes through my head.

The songs on this one tend to either revolve around nostalgic things that happened in my past that sort of inform either who I am or who the people around me are (Basement Punks, Mal n’ Ange) or just ruminations on my perspective on certain things (Gimme Sum More, Without A Doubt). Love, life, and rock and roll. Those are the things I tend to write about, and there’s a lot of that going on here.


The track Alex Whiz sounds like it could be about someone you knew when you were growing up. Where did that song come from? Musically, it reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers – it sounds like it could’ve come from one of their late ’90s album. Do you agree?

RA: Yeah, it’s about a real person that I grew up knowing; he lived next-door to my best friend as a kid and was just a really unique person. He was eccentric before I really understood what that was, and I wanted to sort of pay homage to him as a person who was totally 100% himself from an early age.

Musically, it’s definitely indebted to Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and things like that, maybe with a little bit of early Radiohead and Superdrag thrown in. I never really got into the Manic Street Preachers, but now that you mention it, I’ll go back and check them out.

People Factory is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track?

RA: That was one of the first songs I wrote where I felt like, “OK, I’ve got something really good going here for album number three.”

Weirdly, it ended up being a little bit ‘out there’ on the album, as it’s more moody and vibey than some of the ‘bash it out’ punk songs.

At one point I considered maybe not putting it on the record, but I really love how it came out. I definitely wanted to do something in a sort of R.E.M. vein, and I think I achieved it…there’s a bit of a Spoon thing going on there as well.

Overall, I’m glad I put it on the record because I think it adds an extra dynamic to the thing that it really needed. I love albums that have left turns and weird moments; ones that divert from what might be seen as a clear path. Those are the most interesting to me and they continue to be the ones I come back to over and over again.

Lyrically, it’s a song about just being yourself. I feel like people are so afraid of embracing their inner weirdo, and instead would just rather blend in.

The idea that people would just be churned out factory-style is, of course, a bit absurd, but sometimes it really feels like that. Individuality needs to be embraced more in our society, and I feel like the song is kind of a commentary on that.

The final song on the album is called Everything (In Moderation). Is that advice that you agree with?

RA: Yeah, it’s advice I have had to pretty much begrudgingly agree with as I get older. I used to think I was invincible and could eat and drink whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.

I thought I could just come and go as I pleased without any regard to anybody else’s feelings. I made some mistakes in that regard, and now take great joy in having a bit more regimented thing going on. I need it, as otherwise I’d probably lose my mind.

I run four times a week, I go to bed early and I eat healthier. I have a little bit of fun on the weekends, but don’t over do it during the week. It’s helped me get a clearer head and become a happier person, that’s for sure.

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

RA: I’m kinda always listening to the same stuff, really. Lots of R.E.M., Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Sugar, Husker Du, Superchunk, the Replacements, Slowdive, Sloan, Big Star, Buffalo Tom… I just bought an original copy of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation and man does that thing still kill.

Some newer stuff I’ve been digging is the new Beach Slang record, as well as a band called Smile from San Francisco that have a short EP I stumbled upon online that is really great, the new Teenage Fanclub and Bob Mould records…

I like this band from Philly called Hurry that are nice and jangly. The new Nada Surf album is excellent and I’ve recently rediscovered a band from Canada called Doughboys – I’ve been listening to their 1994 album Crush a lot.

I think the new Dinosaur Jr album is really good, as well as the new one from TUNS, which is like a ‘90s Canadian rock supergroup, featuring members of Sloan, Superfriendz and The Inbreds. I like a band from Minneapolis called Fury Things – they are another recent discovery that I’m happy to have found.

The new Lees of Memory album is great and I’ve been jamming that all year long. So yeah, lots of stuff.

What are your plans for the rest of 2016?  Will you be playing in the UK anytime soon?

RA: My plans are just to play shows when I can and keep getting the word out about the record. I would love to play the UK again – I have played there three or four times with an old band of mine – but don’t really have a means to make it happen. But if there are any promoters out there who want to pay for some plane tickets and help book some shows, well, I’m all ears!

Finally, what’s the most punk thing you’ve ever done?

RA: The most punk thing I’ve done is never stop making music and releasing albums. Some people just peter out at a certain point; they give up and check out. But that is something I will never do. I’m here to stay, man.

 

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Basement Punk by Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms is released on September 30 on Save Your Generation Records.

https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

For more information: 

https://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com/

http://www.nickpiunti.com/

http://www.jemrecordings.com/

http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/ 

 

 

 

Golden Touch

jg

I first stumbled across US singer-songwriter Jacob Golden in 2007, when I reviewed his second album, Revenge Songs, for a London-based music magazine. I was impressed by the record, which, at times, reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Neil Young and Jeff Buckley.

Tipped for big things – Mojo magazine called Revenge Songs, “the most gorgeous break-up record since Beck’s Sea Change”, and his song On A Saturday featured in US teen drama series The O.C. – Jacob was signed to UK indie label Rough Trade (The Smiths, The Fall, Antony and The Johnsons). However, things didn’t work out for him and he dropped off the radar. Until now, that is…. He’s back with a brilliant new album of  “dark folk songs with psychedelic undertones”, The Invisible Record, which he has released on his own label, Zero Integrity Records.

Picking up where Revenge Songs left off, it’s a haunting record, which includes beautiful, fragile ballads (Wild Faye and Horse), perfect guitar pop (Tomorrow Never Knows On The 45), an unsettling torch song (All In A Day’s Work) and a starkly confessional, yet amusing, tale of his success and failure in the music industry, while battling his own personal demons (Bluebird).

Having read my 2007 review, Jacob, who is based in Sacramento, California and describes himself as “an indie singer-songwriter with an equal love for Nick Drake and The National”, dropped me a line to see if I’d like to chat to him about his latest album. How could I turn down this, ahem, Golden opportunity?

You released your last album, Revenge Songs, back in 2007 and then you disappeared – until last year. Where have you been?

Jacob Golden: I went through some low points. I did a lot of creative and professional soul-searching that, ultimately, brought me to a better place. I had to figure out how to – and even if I wanted to – keep pursuing a music career that, although it was exciting at times, could be really soul crushing.

I’m not saying I had it different than anybody else, but a lot of times I felt I was always climbing uphill and I got tied up in a very traditional model of failure and success. I shifted my focus away from my creative process and got more concerned about how other people perceived me, which never is a great place to make art from. I had to untangle that stuff in my head and hide out for a while, so I could find my creative true north again. Once I did, that’s when the new record started to come about.

When I reviewed Revenge Songs all those years ago, I said: ‘At times, Golden sounds like a stripped-down, darker take on Simon & Garfunkel (‘I’m Your Man’), a power-pop Cat Stevens (‘Church of New Song’), Harvest-era Neil Young (‘Shoulders) and Jeff Buckley (‘Love You’). Revenge never sounded so sweet…’

Was that a fair description?

JG: It was certainly a flattering one. I always aspire to the quality of songs of Simon & Garfunkel, as well as The Beach Boys. There is timeless, dark beauty in the sound and lyrics – Bookends [by Simon & Garfunkel] is one of my favourites. I think I absorbed a lot of that great music as a kid, via my mother and father’s record collection. It stuck with me, that sense of space and atmosphere, even as my influences expanded, I’ve always had that as my core. It’s the same with Neil Young and specifically After The Gold Rush, which is such a great vibe of a record.

Jeff Buckley was pretty huge for me when I was learning to sing, as was Thom Yorke. They showed me what was possible with just a voice and as I traced back their influences, I discovered the great Nina Simone, Tim Buckley, The Zombies and Scott Walker. But I can’t ignore Sparklehorse, PJ Harvey and The Flaming Lips, who all brought a great cinematic creativity, as well as intensity, to their records, which are still very influential on me.

One of my favourite tracks on your new album is Tomorrow Never Knows On The 45. It’s a killer pop tune that references The Beatles song from Revolver, which is one of my favourite albums of all time. How did that song come about? What inspired it? Is it about your teenage years?

JG: I do love a great, classic pop hook. I think Revolver may be my favourite Beatles record as well. I also remember discovering Big Star and feeling like I’d found this lost band when I was teenager, working in a record store.  I never heard on them on the radio as I was growing up, but they had such great hooks and melodies.

In general, the song is about that feeling of discovering something new and how you get to revel in that feeling – just you and the music. When I was a kid, I collected 45 records and I loved going down to the shop each week and forking out a couple of bucks for the latest song. It was a visceral joy. I’d pore over every detail of each song. It taught me a lot about music. So the song is about that vibe, but, more specifically, it’s about going into a dark room with a nice set of headphones and getting completely lost – in a good way – either in making, or listening to, music.

Bluebird, from the new album, is an autobiographical song. It references your musical influences and talks about your ‘big break’, when you got discovered by Geoff Travis, who signed you to the record label Rough Trade. It documents your subsequent experiences and how things didn’t work out. How do you feel looking back on those days now? Do you wish you’d been more successful and had hit the big time? Do you have any regrets about that? Why didn’t it work out? Did you really “throw it all away?”, as it says in the song?

JG: I’ve got some conflicting thoughts on that time. I have a lot of great memories and to have been a part of that Rough Trade musical heritage, for at least a little while, was such an honour. Geoff was always super kind to me – we had lots of great talks about music and he gave me good advice.

It’s hard to say what went wrong exactly. I’ve never been the obvious cool guy at the party; I was pretty earnest, maybe too much so. My label mates at the time were The Strokes and The Libertines and I was like this weird American living in Soho, who was obsessed with Sparklehorse and Nina Simone. It was just a weird mix. I was socially awkward and pretty much a loner. It was probably more about fashion and timing than anything else.

I think I had some raw talent, but I hadn’t truly discovered my identity as a solo artist. I could sing my ass off – and still can – but the climate just wasn’t right for me at the time.

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 preset

You’ve self-released the new album and you’re doing all your own PR and bookings. Is that difficult? How’s it working out for you?

JG: What’s that Bright Eyes lyric? “I’d rather make a pay check than win the lottery”.

I’ve had quite a few professional starts and stops over the last 15 years. I just wanted to get back to writing songs and sharing them, and winning fans as honestly as I can. I’m approaching my music more as an artisan small business now, which feels good.

When you hook up with a label – even an indie label – at least, in my experience, there’s always that idea that you could have a hit, and it takes the notions of success and failure to really perverted extremes. I would be signed on tour in some cool foreign country and yet I’d still get these stressed out emails that ‘things weren’t working out on the radio’ or ‘so and so isn’t feeling the record’… It really took me out of the creative process.

It’s hard to not get a lot of other people’s voices in your head too, which, for me, made it challenging to keep my motivations pure. I’ve had to work to get back to that again and again. I guess part of me wants to buy into that idea of success at least at some level. I mean, I look at bands like Spoon or Animal Collective and I think wow, that’s such a cool place and it probably is, but I bet they get a lot of those stressed out emails, too.

I’m just putting myself out there. Sharing my work, emailing people and trying not to be annoying. Self-promotion is probably the most difficult part for me. I’d really rather just play my songs, but, hey, there are worse problems to have.

How did you approach this album? How did you write and record it? What did you want to achieve with it? 

JG: A lot of the songs were actually written quite fast. I have other songwriter friends and we would do these mad 12-hour writing sessions. It’s called the 20 song game. Everyone in the game starts writing songs at 7am in their respective studios. The goal is to write and demo 20 songs in 12 hours, which is no easy task. There’s no time to think, so you are forced to work on instinct, plus there is this friendly competitive part that pushes you on.

Of course, everyone writes some hilariously terrible songs during the day, but I ended up with Wild Faye and All In a Day’s Work, which is actually the recording you hear on the record. Everyone gets together at the end of the day and plays what they came up with and has a laugh.

As for the recording, a lot of the record started while I was living in Portland, Oregon. I had a little basement studio that I spent a lot of time in. A lot of the songs were born there – just me and an old four-track cassette recorder. It’s a homemade record. I made it with pretty modest tools – one decent microphone, my laptop, a four track, and a lot of old speakers and some guitar pedals and a lot of patience and experimenting. I didn’t really know what I was making, I was working on other projects in tandem, but I always ended up coming back it. I knew something was there. I didn’t have a grand vision for it, but each time I went back to it and pulled it up, I heard it differently and I eventually dug in and finished the bastard!

So, are you pleased with it?

JG: Yes, I feel like it’s me in the most definitive sense yet. My first record, Hallelujah World, had some good tunes, but it was sort of a mess, as I was coming out of being in a band. Revenge Songs had much more of my identity, and I feel a lot of those songs still really work. This one, though, feels like the balance between what I do – the songs, the voice and the atmosphere of the record are very definitive. I also feel like this album is a sort of ‘line in the sand’ that I want to build upon.

It’s a very stripped-down record in places. Why did you decide on that approach?

I mostly perform solo and I wanted the album to really represent that. There is still a fair degree of production and atmosphere going on, but I like to keep things understated. I wanted everything to ride on my voice and the songs and guitar. Everything sort of floats around those primary elements and if you took away the orchestration and just left the voice and guitar. the songs would still totally work. I’m not saying that’s how I always want to work, but, for this collection of songs, I feel like it’s the strongest way to present them.

Invisible Record

What music are you currently into – new and old? Who have been your biggest musical influences and what influenced your new album?

JG: Nina Simone, Chet Baker and a lot of the torch singers. What I mostly listen to personally, though, is instrumental music – Nils Frahm, Explosions in the Sky, Four Tet and Clark. I listen to a lot of this music because the approach is very creative and there is space in the music for the words in my head to still flow.

Listening to music is part of my creative process, so I need to leave room to come up with my own narratives. I do love experimental indie rock – Panda Bear, The National, The Notwist, Tame Impala, Deer Hunter and Viet Cong. The band Money, who are from Manchester, are great.

So, how’s 2016 shaping up for you? Can we expect you to play some gigs in the UK? Have you played in the US recently?

JG: Yes – I’ll definitely be coming back to the UK. I still have a lot of love there and the feeling is mutual. I’m still working out my plans for a visit this summer. I’m hoping to get into a cool festival and I’ve been promising folks a bunch of house concerts, which I love to do. I always encourage folks who write to me about wanting to see me live to get some friends together and host a house show. It’s the best way of experiencing what I do.

Finally, what’s next for Jacob Golden?

JG: I’ve been sharing a lot of B-sides and outtakes on my Patreon. It’s one of the ways I really see moving forward. The idea is to basically write my next album ‘in public’, building a community and sharing the new songs as I write them.

It gives folks a peek into my creative process and helps me build a sustainable income by folks pledging a couple of bucks for each song I share. I think it’s a pretty cool way of putting music out and I’m excited to build it and share more there.

Jacob Golden’s new album, The Invisible Record, is out now on Zero Integrity Records.

http://www.jacobgolden.com/

 

 

 

Best Albums of 2015

 

minesweeping

As we approach the end of the year and overindulge in festive celebrations, hangovers are a daily occurrence.

They also played a major part in the making of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite album of 2015 – Minesweeping by O’Connell & Love.

One of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of recent times, it’s a collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell.

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

Reviewing it earlier this year, I described it as, ‘a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.’

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

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

It’s an album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt – it’s like rifling through a record collection of classic rock and roll, folk, blues, country and soul.

There are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

I’m really looking forward to seeing O’Connell & Love play this record live in 2016 – according to Larry, there are plans for a UK tour.

In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a large glass of something dark and strong and lose myself in Minesweeping.

One for the road, anyone?

As albums of the year go, singer-songwriters, alt.country, power-pop and Americana dominate my list.

Richard Hawley turned in a classic with Hollow Meadows, which was less psychedelic than its predecessor, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and largely rooted in country, folk and the lush, late-night, ‘50s-tinged melancholy ballads that dominated his earlier albums. Although there was still room for some bluesy-garage rock (Which Way) and anthemic, widescreen guitar pop (Heart of Oak).

I was lucky enough to meet Richard after one of his gigs this year and when I told him that I preferred his new album to the one before, he simply said, ‘Well – you can’t please everyone, Sean…’

Other singer-songwriters who released great albums this year included Manchester’s Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun sounded like Lee Hazlewood on a spacewalk – and Vinny Peculiar, whose Down The Bright Stream was a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary.

Nev Cottee
Nev Cottee

John Howard’s new project – John Howard & The Night Mail – was a wonderful record, full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.

Detroit’s Nick Piunti – a Say It With Garage Flowers favourite – returned in a blaze of glory with Beyond The Static, which was the follow-up to his critically acclaimed power-pop record 13 In My Head, while Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, was his most political record yet.

Dead Flowers – who topped Say It With Garage Flowers’ album of the year list back in 2013 with their debut, Midnight At The Wheel Club, didn’t disappoint with their new record – Minor & Grand, which was often louder and much more electrified than their first album.

Manchester band Last Harbour made Caul – a brooding, cinematic masterpiece that recalled Bowie’s Berlin period, the industrial, electronic atmosphere of Joy Division and the gothic splendour of Scott Walker and Nick Cave.

Steelism

Instrumental duo Steelism, with their spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, came up with a record (615 To FAME) that harked back to the glory days of ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also threw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic soundtracks.

UK Americana label Clubhouse Records had a great year in 2015, releasing superb albums by alt.country band Case Hardin (Colours Simple), whose singer-songwriter Pete Gow played a solo show that I promoted back in October, and The Dreaming Spires (Searching For The Supertruth)– Oxford’s prime exponents of ‘60s-style jangle-pop.

I must declare a vested interest in one of my favourite records of 2015 – The Other Half, a collaboration between top UK crime writer Mark Billingham and country duo My Darling Clementine.

Mark discovered My Darling Clementine by first reading about them on my blog, so, I’d like to think that I set the wheels in motion that led them to record their story of love, loss and murder that’s told in words and music and set in a rundown Memphis bar.

Sadly, not everyone who released superb albums in 2015 lived to tell the tale. Gifted, but troubled, singer-songwriter Gavin Clark (Sunhouse, Clayhill) died in February, but he left behind Evangelist – a project that was completed by James Griffith and Pablo Clements, members of UNKLE/Toydrum and the owners of the Toy Room Studios in Brighton.

Loosely based on Gavin’s life, it was a dark, edgy, atmospheric and psychedelic-tinged trip that made for uneasy – yet essential – listening.

And finally, here are some nods to acts who didn’t release studio albums this year, but put out some records that I loved.

I’m not normally a huge fan of live albums, but Johnny Marr’s Adrenalin Baby was brilliant and really captured the feel and atmosphere of his gigs – it’s worth it just to hear his outstanding, europhic version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It.

And talking of live shows, UK folk duo The Rails gave away a seven-track acoustic EP called Australia at their gigs this year.

It served as a good stopgap until their next album and featured a killer, stripped-down cover of Edwyn Collins’ Low Expectations.

Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Steve Roberts followed up his 2013 concept record Cold Wars Part 1 EP with the five-track sequel – What Would You Die For? [Cold Wars Part Two].

The standout track This Is A Cold War was a stately, Beatlesesque piano-led ballad. Lennon and McCarthy?

And while we’re on the subject of spies, being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed A Girl And A Guna 34-track tribute album of 007 songs and soundtracks by artists including Darren Hayman, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge.

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

Here’s a list of my favourite albums of 2015 and a Spotify playlist to accompany it:

  1. O’Connell & Love – Minesweeping
  2. Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
  3. Vinny Peculiar – Down The Bright Stream
  4. John Howard & The Night Mail – John Howard & The Night Mail
  5. Nev Cottee – Strange News From The Sun
  6. The Dreaming Spires – Searching For The Supertruth
  7. Dead Flowers – Minor & Grand
  8. Evangelist [Gavin Clark & Toydrum] – Evangelist
  9. Duke Garwood – Heavy Love
  10. Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine – The Other Half
  11. Nick Piunti – Beyond The Static
  12. Case Hardin – Colours Simple
  13. Last Harbour – Caul
  14. Steelism – 615 To FAME
  15. Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night
  16. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  17. Marc Carroll – Love Is All or Not At All
  18. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
  19. Gaz Coombes – Matador
  20. Wilco – Star Wars
  21. The Sopranistas – Cutting Down The Bird Hotel
  22. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  23. New Order – Music Complete
  24. GospelBeacH – Pacific Surf Line
  25. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  26. Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth
  27. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green
  28. Hurricane #1 – Find What You Love And Let It Kill You
  29. Jacob Golden – The Invisible Record
  30. Ian Webber – Year of the Horse
  31. Bill Fay – Who Is The Sender?

‘I approached this record like it would be my last’

Marc Carroll

Dublin-born singer-songwriter Marc Carroll’s latest album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is his most political record yet.

A collection of songs that ruminate on how love can triumph over adversity, it includes haunting, atmospheric ballads, a spoken word collaboration with Crass’s Penny Rimbaud and joyous, jangly power-pop.

I asked Marc about love, life and living in Los Angeles…

 

 

I’m really enjoying the new album. Several of the tracks are protest songs – the opener No Hallelujah Here is about four young boys who were killed while playing football on a beach in Gaza last year, while Ball and Chain is a call for unity and harmony in the world. Why did it feel the right time to make a record with a more political message than some of your previous albums?

Marc Carroll: I think at the moment there is a sense of possibility for change – a telling of truth to power. This is going on all over the world. People everywhere are saying enough is enough. This record is of its time and that hope and sense of protest is the zeitgeist of the time.

Recent events in the British political system also reflect this. I believe the tide is possibly turning and the few may well become the many.

Like all sane people, I was horrified by the killing of those little boys. I could barely move for several days. but we must remember that it is not an isolated incident. This happens to men, women and children all over the world on a daily basis – we just don’t see it and the media certainly don’t report it.

But I don’t equate politics with empathy, and essentially, this record – and some of the songs – is a calling for empathy and compassion.

From the title track, to some of the other lyrics on the album, it feels like you’re trying to say that love can conquer all – it can overcome adversity. This feels like a positive, hopeful record. Would you agree?  How did you approach this album? What frame of mind were you in when you wrote it?

MC: The title of the song and the album is almost a blanket of protection. Who would possibly argue against it?

I certainly hope it is perceived as a positive record, but we live in very cynical times. I suspect any negativity aimed at this record will inevitably reflect back on the critic, so they should choose their words very carefully. I approached this record like it would be my last.

As for the frame of mind I was in, well, it was the same frame of mind I always have when I make a record  – is it any good? Will anyone listen? Will anyone care?

But those concerns were duly trumped when I realised that does it actually matter. Is there a cure for cancer?

There are some very atmospheric, haunting and widescreen/ panoramic songs on the record – it has a big, epic sound in places. What were you aiming for with tracks like No Hallelujah Here and Oh, Death, Don’t Yet Call Me Home?

MC: That panoramic, almost filmic, quality came naturally to many of the songs. I love drones and other atmospherics in any music.

I am particularly drawn to the music of Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh – imaginative soundscapes. That was something of a conscious approach to the record.

Apart from that, I’m never sure of what I want to hear when I record my songs, but I do have a relatively good idea of what I don’t want to hear. I really don’t plan anything out or have a grand plan of how things should be. The songs themselves dictate the way forward.

Both the songs you mention were sung in one take. I knew what they were about and how they should be expressed. The music and title for No Hallelujah Here actually goes back to 2005 for the World On A Wire album, but only realised itself as an actual song of substance with this new record.

On the songs I just mentioned, there are also traces of your Irish roots. There’s a slight Celtic mood or atmosphere…

MC: Being Irish and using a minor chord every now and then means I am never far from the aesthetics of that music whatever actual style the song might be.

I have a strong, and natural, gravitation towards melancholy. It’s a very big part of the Irish DNA. Although I don’t think melancholy is specifically an Irish trait.

Ball and Chain and Lost and Lonely – my favourite song on the album – return to the power-pop sound of some of your earlier records…

MC: Ball and Chain was page after page of dialogue with myself. The lyrics simply followed the melody, which to me anyway, seemed very uplifting, and I wanted the words to reflect that and I believe they do. They came from a very internal place because I don’t watch the television or read the daily horror from the print media.

Lost and Lonely – that’s simply back to the previous melancholic reference, but minus the minor chords.

To be honest, I had never heard of the term ‘power- pop’ until quite recently. It always confused me as to why I would be associated with it. I’m still not sure. Is it powerful pop?

Jody Stephens from Big Star plays drums on Lost and Lonely. How was it working with him?

Like me, are you a huge Big Star fan? Did they influence you – especially early on in your career, with your band The Hormones?

MC: Jody is a lovely man. I met him at the opening of the Big Star documentary in Los Angeles a few years ago.

It was one song that I thought he would be perfect for, and, of course, he was. I have always loved Big Star and I suppose their influence comes through on several songs over the years.

Let’s talk about the title track of the new record, which is a departure for you. It features a spoken word part from Penny Rimbaud of the punk band Crass.

How did you come to work with him? Are you a Crass fan?

MC: It started off as an instrumental piece, which is something I do every now and then. I’d actually like to make an instrumental record.

I’ve known Crass for 30 years of my life. They were – and still are – a huge influence on the minds of millions of people around the world, including mine. I asked Penny would he like to contribute to the record and maybe read one of his poems over the piece of music. He agreed and he delivered something spectacularly beautiful.

He is one of the great poets and writers of our time and one day will be recognised for that I am certain. Gee Vaucher [Crass designer] also designed the artwork for the album. They are very kind, generous, warm-hearted people to be around and I love them dearly.

In the early days, you used to play in punk bands in Dublin? What you can remember about those times? 

MC: Punk is the best place to start.

What was the writing and recording process for the new album like? Where did you make it and did you have all the songs written before you entered the studio? 

MC: The writing process is as it always has been – part joy, part anxiety but mainly mind-crushing frustration.

The recording process was initially problematic – the record was recorded twice. The first sessions in Los Angeles ended up sounding like some dreadful American FM dirge. It was recorded by somebody whose only cultural reference was that fool, Howard Stern. All I heard were things like ‘Hell yeah, Pink Floyd, dude’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required.

In the end, you co-produced the album with Graham Sutton (Bark Psychosis, These New Puritans). How was that?

MC: Graham mixed a record of mine back in 2009 and he was the first person I called when things went so badly wrong in America.

Graham is the type of producer/musician that wants to help you make the record you want to make, as opposed to thinking it is his record, his vision and his opinion that counts.

That is the problem with most so called ‘record producers’. How could any of these people possibly know more about the songs than the person who wrote them? Having said that, I care only about serving the songs.

marc new size

There are guest appearances on the record from drummer Pete Thomas (The Attractions), jazz trumpeter Noel Langley (Bill Fay) and keyboardist Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), who played on your last album. How did these collaborations come about?

MC: Again, I try and work with people that I think will serve the songs. Pete could provide that full on, powerful repetition and machine gun precision that was essential for Ball and Chain. He was in Los Angeles when I started this record, so the schedules worked out.

Bo is someone I worked with before – a good fellow. I wanted the keyboards to have the sensitive, melancholic quality that he provides.

Working with Noel was most fortuitous. I heard some of his work on the recent Bill Fay record, which I love, and knew it was the sound we were looking for on the particular songs. He was fun to work with, very creative and completely understood what was needed for the songs he played on.

You now live in L.A. Do you like it there? Do you miss the UK?

MC: I have spent the majority of my time – the last seven years anyway – in Los Angeles. It’s full of narcissistic, self-obsessed, dangerous, psychotic lunatics, and that’s just the police!

I like it a lot. It’s a fascinating place and a very beautiful city. I find most of the people to be open and extremely trusting, but if you are white, living in Silver Lake and doing yoga 29 times a day, then I’m sure life must be wonderful. If you are Mexican and washing the yoga mats, it may be a different story…

I spend enough time in London not to miss it. It’s one of the great cities of the world. I haven’t lived in Dublin for over 20 years, but it’s still in my heart, somewhere…

 

Love_Is_Artwork new

This is your seventh solo album. How does it feel to be seven albums into your solo career and how do you feel about the new album now it’s (almost) out there? It’s released on November 6…

MC: I don’t think about it too much to be honest. It’s what I do and I feel no different about this record coming out than any of the previous one…other than time to move on.

Throughout your career, you’ve had great critical acclaim, but not broken through into the mainstream? Why do you think that is? Does it bother you?

MC: I don’t really look at music or creativity in that way. I removed myself from the industry of music a long time ago.

There are some very good people in it, but most operate in a way I can’t relate to. I like to communicate with people, not the business of people … hence, perhaps, my anonymity. The music on the other hand, speaks for itself.

I first came across you in The Hormones, back in the late ‘90s. Do you have fond memories of those days? Any good stories?

MC: We toured a lot – the Japanese loved it.

And, finally, Marc: what is love?

MC: Something that defies ownership.

 

Marc Carroll’s new album, Love Is All or Love Is Not At All, is released on One Little Indian on November 6. 

http://www.marccarroll.com/

‘I love jangly guitars!’

Nick Piunti
Nick Piunti

Detroit power pop supremo Nick Piunti tells me about the writing and recording of his new album Beyond The Static – the follow-up to his critically acclaimed record 13 In My Head

It’s great to chat to you again, Nick. When we last spoke, back in 2013, you’d just released 13 In My Head – your second solo album. It was one of my favourite records of that year. And now you’re back with the follow-up – Beyond The Static. Did you feel any pressure when you were writing and recording the new album?

Nick Piunti: Thanks, Sean. I think there’s always the hope that the next album will be better than the previous one, but I wouldn’t call it pressure, just the desire to make a good album. And, of course, the hope is that the new album will be as well received as the last one, but, ultimately, we made an album that I like and am proud of.

13 In My Head really raised your profile in the UK, didn’t it? It picked up some great press…

NP: The attention and press that 13 In My Head received in the UK and Europe was amazing. And there are a lot of people to thank for that. Having a song on the Mojo magazine compilation CD Songs in the Key of Paul definitely raised my profile in the UK and beyond.

And for Markus Holler from Sugarbush Records to release the album on vinyl, that was a boost as well. Yourself, Robin Wills, Wayne Lundqvist Ford, the Madrid power pop community, Luis deOry, Power Pop Pedro and Rock and Roll Circus – all were instrumental in spreading the word.

Rest assured, fans of 13 In My Head will definitely love Beyond The Static – it’s more of the same; infectious power pop songs, with big guitars, harmonies and strong melodies, isn’t it? Like its predecessor, it’s very instant. The first three tracks don’t mess around – Things don’t really slow down until track four, Six Bands…

NP: I’ve been recording for so long and have pretty much stayed true to the music that initially inspired me. I think the trick is to not be too obvious with your influences, but to meld them into something of your own. If it’s not catchy it doesn’t usually end up on one of my albums.

I noticed a country influence on Six Bands – is that pedal steel on it? Musically, it reminds me of REM. Can you tell me more about that song? I love the opening lines: ‘’She’s in six bands – none of them good. Tries to sing, only if she could. But she’s drowning in a talent pool – chasing dreams can be so cruel.”

Is it aimed at anyone in particular? Is it a comment on the shallow and ruthless nature of the music industry?

NP: Thanks – yep, pedal steel courtesy of Dave Feeny, who owns a great studio called The Tempermill. He’s produced some of my favourite Detroit artists who also are my friends (Chris Richards, Ryan Allen, Friendly Foes, American Mars) and he plays pedal steel. I felt that he could add a cool vibe to the song, which he obviously did.

The song isn’t about anyone in particular. I was reading a local paper, The Metro Times, and there was an article with a story about a girl who was in four bands. So I exaggerated it a bit. But the song isn’t about her – it’s about the struggle that bands and artists have these days and how many are a bit delusional. When I was in my early twenties I moved to L.A. with my childhood band, so maybe some of the lyrics were autobiographical, but I only had one band and we were pretty good.

Where did the album title – Beyond The Static – come from?

NP: Well, I was struggling to find the right title for the album. The phrase “beyond the static” comes from the song Something’s Wrong. My daughter Megan picked up on that line, so there you go.

I love the song Time Machine – I had a sneak preview of it last year, as a teaser to the new album. If you had a time machine, where would you travel to?

NP: That’s a good question. It would have to be the future, wouldn’t it? If we travelled too far back in time, I think we would find that the good old days weren’t what we thought they would be. Except for maybe seeing The Beatles at The Cavern.

Your song Heart Stops Beating has some vintage synth sounds on it, doesn’t it? It has a bit of a New Wave feel to it. Did you wear a skinny tie while you were recording it?

NP: My skinny tie days are behind me, but, yeah, I think I was going for a Cars feel with the muted guitar – Rickenbacker – and the synth, which is actually doubled with guitars, as well. It also has a Weezer vibe, which makes sense since Ric Ocasek [from The Cars] produced a few of their albums.

Something’s Wrong is a rocker. It has a swagger to it, with heavy guitars and plenty of attitude…

NP: I almost left that one off the album, because I thought it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the songs, but I’m glad my rock side prevailed.

There’s some jangly, chiming guitar pop on the album, too – like Quicksand. Didn’t you record an alternative version of Time Machine, with a different guitar sound? Will that alternative take come out in the future?

NP: I love jangly guitars – there’s a bit of 12-string on the album, but mostly capos and the right kind of six strings – Matchless and Vox amps get the job done. We did record another version of Time Machine with a more jangly feel, and I was going to include it on the album, but I didn’t want one song to be featured more than once.

Can you tell me about the writing and the recording of the new album? How did you approach making Beyond The Static? What did you want to achieve with it?

NP: World domination – ha! The writing process stays the same. Some days you hammer away for a couple of hours and nothing comes of it, while on other occasions the minute I pick up my guitar a lyric, melody or a riff come together at the same time, and those are the songs that make it on the album. I wrote all the songs, but Geoff Michael [producer] spent some time deconstructing a couple of the songs, so he was credited as a co-writer on those.

Donny Brown re-arranged It’s A Trap – he turned the second part of the original chorus into the bridge, so he’s credited on that song as well. And the other co-writer is my 16-year-old daughter Megan. She didn’t actually sit down and write with me, but I stole her line, “I fell for you and I can’t get up” and turned it into a song [Fell For You]. I didn’t want her to be denied the writing credit like Ringo – he came up with the phrases “hard day’s night” and “eight days a week”. That’s what I think I read anyway.

Who was involved with the record this time around? Was it the same guys who worked with you on 13 In My Head?

NP: Once again, Geoff Michael produced the album – at Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also added guitar and keyboards on two songs. Donny Brown – again – played drums on all but one song. He also recorded the drums for a couple of the tracks at his home studio, as well as adding some awesome background vocals and synth lines on Time Machine.

For this album, Andy Reed played bass on every track, which he recorded at his own studio, Reed Recording Company. Andy’s studio is a two and a half hour drive for me, so it’s easier to send the tracks to him. He lays down the perfect basslines and sends them back to Geoff – they’re always great.

Andy and I also tracked some guitars, keyboards and noises on Head in the Clouds, at his studio. Ryan Allen sang on four songs and added guitar on Something’s Wrong.

Chris Richards also sang on a couple songs as well. Steve Mullan played keys on a song and a young drummer named Billy Harrington appears on Anything But Easy.

One thing that I don’t do is to tell any of these amazing guys what to play. I like to see what they bring to my songs. Since they’re such great songwriters in their own right, they instinctively know what can make a good song better.

I didn’t actually rehearse with anyone individually before the recording. I would either send demos or tracks from the studio and they each came up with their own parts. Despite what some may say, I’m really not that much of a control freak. For this album I even decided not to be there for the mixing sessions.  Geoff did the mixing, would send the tracks to me, and I would make a few minor suggestions and he would tweak away. So, ultimately, I had the last word, but relied on the talents of many.

Nick Piunti & Ryan Allen
Nick Piunti & Ryan Allen

Which albums and bands were you listening to when you were writing and recording the new album. Have you heard anything new that you’d recommend?

NP: I’m always looking for something new that inspires me. My friend Ryan Allen has just released a new solo album called Heart String Soul that I love. He sent me the original demos as he was writing them, so I was there for the inception.

Chris Richards, Andy Reed, and Keith Klingensmith recorded their debut album, The Legal Matters, which is a great pop album that found its way on to a lot of Best of 2014 lists. I even played guitar on a couple of songs.

There’s a Brooklyn band called Nude Beach that I really dig. Their new album is called 77 and, yeah, it sounds like it could have been recorded in 1977.  The new Spoon album, New Pornographers, The Both, New Mendicants (a handsome chap named Sean Hannam introduced me to them!) and Jason Narducy’s band/solo project Split Single is right up my alley. It’s indie-rock and power pop influenced, as well.

Will you be playing some gigs to promote your new album? Do you think that you’ll get to play in the UK? We’d love to have you over here…

NP: There will be a few shows – for sure. The UK and Europe would be awesome, but it would have to make financial sense. Making music and financially responsibility don’t usually mesh in the independent music world, unfortunately.

Good luck with the new album – it’s a great record. What are your plans for the rest of the year?

NP: I’m halfway done with songs for the next album and maybe I’ll collaborate with a friend or two on something new as well.

I’m fortunate to be able to keep making new music and really lucky to be hitting my stride when most sane people would have given up years ago.

I still have the passion and I have friends that inspire me, so why would I stop? Oh, and most importantly, I have the most incredible wife in the world. That is not to be underestimated.

Beyond The Static will be released on March 14 (Two Brains Recording Co.). There are plans for a vinyl version later this year. 

http://www.nickpiunti.com

https://soundcloud.com/nick-piunti

http://nickpiuntimusic.bandcamp.com

10931225_10203421569402520_6001303865988711727_n Beyond Static

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dreaming Spires - Darkest Before Dawn EP Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the EP representative of the new album? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.thedreamingspires.co.uk

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk

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