‘Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think these lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written’

The Hanging Stars

The last time I spoke to London’s kings of cosmic country, The Hanging Stars, it was late January 2020 – ahead of the release of their third album, A New Kind Of Sky, which was their best to date – a mix of cinematic sounds, psych, jangle-pop, folk and country rock.

We spent the evening in a pub in London’s East End, chatting about the record. While I was getting a round in, a man standing at the bar, who told me he worked for the NHS, said he and his colleagues were very worried about a new virus that had originated from China…

It’s now over two years later, in early February, and I’m back in a London pub, this time on the edge of the West End, in Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley and guitar-shopping destination –  with The Hanging Stars… well, one of them, frontman, Richard Olson.

We have a brand new album to discuss, the brilliant Hollow Heart, and it’s the first interview he’s given about the record.

Hollow Heart is even better than its predecessor and sees The Hanging Stars pushing themselves harder from both a songwriting and sonic perspective. It’s also the band’s first record on independent label, Loose.

There’s a lot that’s happened since we last met. We could be here a while…

Q&A

The last time we spoke was two years ago, just before Covid happened…

Richard Olson: And here we are again, when the clouds have passed.

In the wake of Brexit, several of the lyrics on your last album, A New Kind Of Sky, dealt with the idea of escaping and getting away to a better place. To make your new record, Hollow Heart, you did escape, decamping to Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in Helmsdale, in The Highlands of Scotland – it overlooks the North Sea – with producer and musician Sean Read (Soulsavers, Dexys Midnight Runners), whom you’ve worked with before. How did that come about?

RO: We’re not blessed financially – we do what we can when we can. Every record has been based on that. At the end of the day, we’re a grassroots band.

Edwyn offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed – and Sean is one of the two engineers who he lets work there – the stars aligned. That happened during the pandemic, so we had to find a window when we were allowed to do it. It was quite a project, transporting six people to Helmsdale, with a bunch of instruments.

“Edwyn Collins offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed”

We drove in two cars and we set to work – we grafted and we were so focused. It was magical from start to finish. When you’re standing in the studio, and the sun’s setting over the bay, and you’re singing Weep & Whisper, that shit makes you think that you’ve made it! We got given this chance and we had to deliver the goods.

It certainly shows – sonically, it’s rich and immersive, and I think it’s your most cohesive record. Hollow Heart feels like a complete album, from start to finish, and you can completely lose yourself in it. Did you have all the songs written before you went into the studio?

RO: I write constantly. With lockdown, I had more time than I ever had before and I also had the energy – I just wanted to do shit. That was a blessing – we sent demos to each other.

This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done – in the sense that we had some songs, we went to the studio to finish them off and we had x amount of time to make the record.

It was good for us and it was a joy to see everybody flourish in the studio in their own way. It brought out what we’re good at. We also wanted to think about the sonics – Sean came into his own and we had so much fun doing it. This is a cliché but we threw the rulebook out of the window – we had to. We had so much fun doing it – we just let go a little bit and we had to trust who we were as a band.

“This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done”

Hollow Heart feels like a more positive record than its predecessor, but there’s also a sadness to several of the songs…

RO: It was surreal – no one knew what was going to happen – and there was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written.

Halfway through recording, in early autumn, I got a phone call from my wife – I was standing on a balcony, looking out towards Scandinavia – and she told me her dad, David, was in a coma, after having a heart attack. I said I would pack a bag and take the first flight home tomorrow, but she said: ‘There’s nothing you can do…’

David has really been behind our music – he’s a huge music fan and we went to Nashville together. My wife said: ‘Do you think he would want you to come back? Stay there and make the best fucking record you possibly can!’

That must’ve been hard for you…

It was really hard and pretty emotional, but from then on, we just set to work – under quite a lot of distress.

How is your father-in-law now?

RO: He’s fine.

Has he heard the record?

RO: No, he hasn’t…

If Covid hadn’t happened, would you have made a completely different record?

RO: That’s a great question. Do you know what? I’m going to give you a boring answer – it would probably have been a similar record, but I don’t think it would’ve been as close to my heart as this record is.

Your hollow heart…

RO: [laughs]. There you go.

This is your first record for Loose. Did you sign to them after you’d made this record, or before?

RO: After. We came in well-prepared with a lovely little gift for them with a knot on top.

Did you consider any other labels?

RO: Tom [Bridgewater – owner of Loose] said, ‘Let’s stop dancing around our handbags…’ He’s the real deal and he’s been through it – he sees our grassroots.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new record. The first track, Ava, is a slow- building love song, but then it turns anthemic. It creeps up on you and we’re suddenly in big cosmic country territory…

RO: It’s all about the sonics – it’s nice to listen to. Your children would like it. It was one of those songs that just came… it needed to have a wistful, wanting, rejected feeling.

Some of the album reminds me of your old band The See See, around the time of the Fountayne Mountain album, which I once said was the record The Stone Roses should’ve followed up their debut with…

RO: One hundred per cent. We let our influences be our influences – we let our country love be our country love, we let our folk love be our folk love… We took our foot off the gas a bit, which we needed to do. That’s quite key to this record.

Ballad Of Whatever May Be sounds like The Stone Roses, if they’d gone country…

RO: I’ll take that, man. It came out different to how it was written –  it changed in the studio, for the better. It has a good riff. It’s just one of those ‘live your life like this’ sort of songs. I’m not standing with a megaphone, screaming, but, holy fuck, I am so angry!

Black Light Night has some great jangly guitars on it. Didn’t Patrick (Ralla – guitar / keys) write the music for it?

RO: Yeah – it’s an old song that’s been kicking around for ages.

I think it has a vintage R.E.M feel…

RO: Yeah.

Weep & Whisper is more melancholy and musically it’s a shuffle – you’ve described it as ‘a love song to youth.’ I like the harmonies and the backing vocals. It has a Simon & Garfunkel feel…

RO: I like that. Paulie [Cobra drummer], harmony-wise, had a newfound confidence and he stepped up to do it, beautifully. It was arranged by Joe [Harvey-Whyte – pedal steel] – it’s a stroke of genius.

Patrick and Joe did their guitars for it in one take – it wasn’t edited. Me and Sean were sat looking at them doing it and we were like, ‘Shit – this is what it’s all about.’ That was one of the finest moments in my musical career.

“Radio On is Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?”

The first single from the album was Radio On, and it’s radio-friendly…

RO: Not as much as I would like! It’s me trying to write a soul song and I think it has a bit of a Velvet Underground thing. It’s Big-Star-meets-The-Velvets. What the fuck can go wrong?

Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart is one of the heavier, more psych songs on the album…

RO: It’s us trying to be Fairport Convention, but it started out as me trying to write a krautrock song my demo had a drum machine on it. I was quite pleased with it – it was chugging along like a kraut-yacht-rock band, but Patrick had a different idea.

It’s a dark song…

RO: Yeah, but it’s also one of the most truthful ones. It’s about hiding things, whether that’s with alcohol or downers, or weed, or whatever. I think everyone in our scene is a little bit guilty of that. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but even before the pandemic, more people were struggling and in the abyss more than we’d like to acknowledge. I’m not the only one, but I did get a little glimpse of that shit, and, do you know what? I do not want to go there again and I’d do anything to avoid it.

“I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory”

You’re So Free is ’60s West Coast psych-pop: Love, The Doors, The Beach Boys, The Turtles…

RO: I always wanted to do You Showed Me – I guess that’s our version. It also has some piano on it that’s like Ethiopian jazz. Lyrically, it’s probably the song that I’m most pleased with. Because of the whole division thing, with Brexit and Trump, a lot of my good friends, who I love dearly, took a different route during the pandemic. It’s a little bit about that and it’s me trying to be funny: “Scroll your feed. You’re so free to believe in what you see…”

Your vocals sound really good on this album…

RO: I’m really pleased with how I sing on this record. I think I’m finally entering Swedish Sam Cooke territory.

Edywn guests on Rainbows In Windows – he does a spoken word part…

RO: That’s Sam’s [Ferman – bass] song he wrote it.

It’s quite filmic…

RO: I’m really pleased with how it came out. I felt we could do it a Jackson C. Frank kind of way, but then, on the way up to the studio, I thought we could do it like The Gift by The Velvet Underground,  but it didn’t quite work out that way, but then Sean was mixing it in London and he came up with the other bit, and Edwyn was up for it. It’s playful.

“I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version”

I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore is ’60s-garage-meets-The-Byrds…

RO: We went all-out 12-string on it. It’s a bit Flying Burritos as well. It’s a song about being completely helpless in front of the Tory government someone who’s dead talking about what they really would’ve liked to have said: “Now I’m gone, I can tell you my thoughts on the queen and crown. Do take heed of your greed, as you choke on an appleseed.” 

The last song on the album, Red Autumn Leaf, is a sad one it’s about being discarded and tossed on the heap…

RO: Pretty much. It’s Spiritualized gone country. I am the natural heir to Jason Pierce, but I’m a country version. I pretty much based my whole career on Lazer Guided Melodies – it’s magical.

A lot of your new songs have a sad undercurrent, but the music is very uplifting…

RO: That makes me so happy to hear that.

Do you think Hollow Heart is your best record?

RO: Of course it is. You wouldn’t be making records otherwise… With this album, we had to be The Hanging Stars and I think we did a pretty damned good job of it.

Hollow Heart is released on March 25 (Loose).

https://www.loosemusic.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

‘I have no problem with being compared to Nancy and Lee’

Daisy Glaze: picture by Vincent Perini

 

Daisy Glaze’s self-titled debut album is one of our favourite records of the year so far.

The New York duo – Louis Epstein (HITS, Jump Into The Gospel) and Alix Brown (Angry Angles w/ Jay Reatard, Golden Triangle) – have created a moody, psych-pop-meets-drone-rock soundtrack that’s heavily in debt to the druggy, haunting cowboy country sounds of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, as well as the film scores of Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone, and the narcotic-fuelled, art-rock weirdness of The Velvet Underground. There are also surf and electro influences at play – twangy guitar and spooky organ sit alongside synths, as well as strings.

Produced by the legendary Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum), the record was made in Sintra, in Portugal.

In an exclusive interview, we talk to the band about working with one of their heroes, their ambition to write film soundtracks and their new disco direction.

 

Q&A

You made the album in Portugal, with Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember). How did that come about?

Louis Epstein: Paul, who runs the label we put it out on [The Sound of Sinners] has a good friend I know, who is pretty good friends with Pete. I sent him some of the demos and I asked him if he’d reach out to his buddy – he said, ‘Sure – Pete is actually on a Lee Hazlewood kick right now, so it might be a really good match.’

Pete said: ‘Dude, this is great – let’s do something. Do you want to come to Portugal, or do you want me to come to New York?’

We both thought it made more sense to spend a concentrated amount of time on it, without all the distractions we would have if we were recording in New York. Pete knew a great studio [BlackSheep, in Sintra] and some great musicians out there, and we got to go to Portugal to do it.

How was that?

Alix Brown: It was fun. We were in a studio with nothing else around, so we got fully immersed in it. Next door there was a place to get chicken – we ate there every day and chilled. It was nice to be out of Lisbon.

We were in Sintra, near the castle [The Palacio Nacional da Pena]. We took acid and went there! It’s where they shot that Polanski film, The Ninth Gate.

How was Sonic Boom to work with? Was he a big hero of yours? There’s a big drone-rock influence in some of your songs…

AB: Yeah – I’ve always loved him. He worked with some friends of mine and did the MGMT album, Congratulations, which I was a big fan of. I used to live in Memphis and I love Jim Dickinson – he worked with him. There was so much of a connection, He was able to understand us and get our sound – he brings like a whole vibe. He’s like a shaman.

‘We were in Sintra, near the castle. We took acid and went there! It’s where they shot that Polanski film, The Ninth Gate’

You used some local musicians to play strings on the record, didn’t you?

LE: They were from a local conservatoire. We also brought our friends Erik [Tonnesen] and Rex [Detiger] to play keys and drums. We made the record in three weeks – Sonic Boom was going to mix it there in the last week, but that didn’t happen, as time got the better of us. I did the original mixes and would send them to him – he would send back notes. During Covid [lockdown], I remixed some of the tracks to help breath new life into them.

It’s a 10-track album – just over 30 minutes – and it starts with an instrumental and is broken up by another one halfway through. The vinyl version, which is coming out later this year, will have five songs on each side. It feels like a soundtrack album – it works as a whole piece, rather than just a disparate collection of songs. Do you agree?

AB: Definitely – that’s how I look at making a record. I see it as a record – Side A and Side B – not just 10 or 12 songs. The instrumentals that start each side set the tone.

LE: It’s not a concept album, but we thought of it as if it was a soundtrack – I’m glad you picked up on that, because that’s the point.

You sound like Nancy and Lee at times – there’s a contrasting darkness and sweetness to your sound –  and you also cite composers like Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone as influences. I can definitely hear that in your music…

AB: Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Italian library music and lots of soundtracks.

Do you have a favourite film or soundtrack?

AB: I like Danger: Diabolik.

LE: Jack Nitzsche’s The Lonely Surfer. I really wanted to emulate the guitar sound on that.

I don’t know if I quite got it, but that was definitely the guitar sound and style that was a big influence on me.

And Nancy and Lee? You’ve been compared to them…

LE: I  have no problem with that.

Ray of Light, which is the second song on the record, after the opening instrumental, Occasum, has a definite Nancy and Lee feel and a slight country vibe…

LE: That was the first song that was written when we decided to work together. We had played around with a few, but the sound wasn’t quite right – it was a little too punky.

After we did that song, I thought ‘this is the sound we’re going for.’ That’s why we put it towards the top of the album.

Strangers In The Dark has a great video, which highlights the dangers of hitchhiking at night…

AB: (laughs).

LE: When we wrote that song, it was also early on – there’s not much to say about it. It kinda speaks for itself.

AB: It’s definitely a rip-off of Nancy Sinatra’s Lightning’s Girl – I used to cover that song.

 

Your new single, The Ghost of Elvis Presley, is one of my favourite songs on the album. It has a really cool video too…

AB: We shot it in Memphis – I used to work in the restaurant and bar we used. My friend, Karen Carrier, owns a few of the best bars there – she’s a Memphis legend and a culinary master. I had a lot of friends who came to help.

‘I wrote the opening riff for The Ghost of Elvis Presley when I was around 15 years old. The lyrics were driven by Alix wanting to capture that Memphis mystique’

Picture by Georgia Mitropoulos

That song has some great twangy guitar on it. In fact, there’s a lot of really good twangy guitar on the whole album, as well as some brilliant organ sounds…

LE: I wrote the opening riff for The Ghost of Elvis Presley when I was around 15 years old. We needed an intro for the song and I had this thing that could work, so we tweaked it to fit the song. The lyrics were driven by Alix wanting to capture that Memphis mystique, for want of a better word.

Mary Go Round is psych-pop. Did Sean Lennon co-write it? 

AB: Yeah – he helped with some of the lyrics.

I like the guitar solo on it…

LE: That was my little surf guitar.

Statues of Villains has almost an electro feel, but with strings too. I think it sounds Middle Eastern…

LE: I hear it as being more Russian…

That’s very topical…

AB: It’s a Russian war song!

The last song, How The City Was Lost, has a spoken word part and reminds me of The Gift by The Velvet Underground…

AB: Yeah.

Will there be another single from the album?

LE: I’d like to do another video in time for when the vinyl is released. I think we’re debating between Mary Go Round and Statues Of Villains – we’re leaning towards Mary Go Round. 

‘We could do the soundtrack for a psychological thriller – in the desert, with some aliens’

Picture by Vincent Perini.

 

Would you like to write a soundtrack?

AB: That would be the goal.

What sort of movie?

AB: A psychological thriller – in the desert, with some aliens.

Like Gram Parsons, outside of LA, hanging out with Keith Richards, looking for UFOs and taking Peyote?

AB: Yeah, but they already did a movie like that, with Johnny Knoxville.

It was called Grand Theft Parsons.

AB: It was a great idea, but… It’s a crazy story.

So, what’s next for you? Any live shows planned?

LE: We want to start playing again – hopefully in the spring – and we have a backlog of another record – well, maybe not a whole record, but a whole bunch of songs. The stuff that we have written is in the same vein, but I secretly want to do an Amanda Lear record. How do you feel about that, Alix?

AB: Let’s go disco!

LE: It would be great.

 

Daisy Glaze’s self-titled debut album is out now on The Sound of Sinners.

https://daisyglazenyc.bandcamp.com/

 

‘We have such a wide range of influences it can be hard to pin them all down – from Coltrane to Hawkwind’

Triptides – photo by Brad Danner.

Alter Echoes, the great new album from L.A-based trio Triptides (led by multi-instrumentalist Glenn Brigman, with drummer Brendan Peleo-Lazar and bassist/guitarist Stephen Burns) is a mix of sun-soaked, ’60s-sounding, psychedelic pop – think The Byrds and The Beatles – and far-out space rock. 

It was recorded prior to the pandemic, in Hollywood’s Boulevard Recording studio, which was previously the legendary Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan and, er, Liberace made, or mixed, records. 

“Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there,” says Brigman, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers from L.A. “But I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!”

Q&A

How is it in L.A?

Glenn Brigman: It’s a very unique place and we love it for a lot of reasons. But one of the coolest parts is the amount of incredible music that has been made here over the years. We dig the history.

How has lockdown affected you as a band?

GB: We’ve all been affected one way or another. At this point we are just trying to make the most of our time off the road – we’re writing, recording and learning more about our craft.

I’ve started learning the Sarod [Indian stringed instrument], Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey. We had to cancel last year’s SXSW appearances and a European tour planned for last September. Hopefully we will be back in Europe before the end of 2021 to make up for it.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears for the rest of the year and beyond?

GB: I’m trying not to think about it too much… we’re just taking it one day at a time right now and hoping for the best. I hope that our ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations will help us pull through any difficulties that await us in the coming year.

‘I’ve started learning the Sarod, Brendan has been working on learning more piano and Stephen has been writing a series of musical suites about his cat, Jeffrey’

How have you been coping with lockdown?

GB: We’ve been coping by working on every aspect of the music, apart from the live show. Taking care of each other and staying connected to our friends and family as best as we can.

Let’s talk about your new album, Alter Echoes. When did you make it?

GB: We recorded it in the fall of 2019; long before the word Covid was part of our lexicon.

It was recorded and mixed at Clay Blair’s Boulevard Recording studio in Hollywood. How was that? What were the set-up and the vibes like? How were the sessions? 

GB: Clay is a great guy. We had a blast working with him at such a legendary studio. The set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock.

The vibes were very good. Brendan has known Clay for years, but they sort of reconnected when Brendan moved out to L.A, so it was sort of like working with an old friend. Also, the fact that Clay is from North Carolina and Stephen and I are from Georgia made us feel even more at home. The sessions were great – we had rehearsed the material beforehand, but it still had a very spontaneous vibe to it.

‘The studio set-up was fantastic – a beautiful live room that looks like it’s straight out of the ‘70s. There’s a comfortable control room and a little lounge area. Everything one could need to rock’

The studio was formerly Producer’s Workshop, where Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan made, or mixed, records. Did any of that history rub off on you?  Liberace also recorded in the studio. Is his piano still there?

GB: Liberace’s piano is unfortunately no longer there! I think some of the energy from those groups still lingers. Whether it rubbed off on us… well, you be the judge!

The new record definitely has a sun-soaked, psychedelic sound. What influenced it musically, or otherwise?

GB: There’s such a wide range of influences it can be hard to pin them all down – from Coltrane to Hawkwind. So many different groups. But I think being in L.A, working together as a band, touring together – it all influenced how the record came together. We knew each other’s strengths and made sure that we played to them.

Photo by Alex Bulli

The single, It Won’t Hurt You, is one of my favourite songs of the year so far. What can you tell me about it? It’s very Byrdsy. Where did it come from? 

GB: I wrote that one in the summer of 2018. It sat around as a drum machine apartment demo for a year or so. When I presented it to the group it worked perfectly with the three-piece arrangement and we decided to record it.

Hand of Time is another of my favourite songs on the record. I think it has a slight Stonesy feel a swagger, like Street Fighting Man, but crossed with English ’60s psychedelia. Is that a fair description?

GB: I can see that. I think Brendan was thinking about the stripped-down drum patterns from McCartney II. I was probably drawing on Hawkwind or Can. It was just one of those songs that came out of a jam. We were doing a sort of stream of consciousness demo night where we were recording everything to the Tascam 488 tape machine. Suddenly we just started playing it. Listening back afterwards we thought, well that’s going to have to be a song, isn’t it?

Was the spacey track Shining influenced by Pink Floyd? There’s a definite Dark Side of the Moon feel to it. I’m thinking Breathe

GB: Of course! Shining is a bit of our love letter to our favorite Floyd moments. The lyrics are supposed to be from a disoriented perspective – another realm where things aren’t what they seem. There’s a line where I say, “Relax, you weren’t meant to live,” which was sort of a reference to Nightmare of Percussion, the first track on the second Strawberry Alarm Clock album, where the narrator says: “Don’t worry about dying – you were meant not to live.” I always thought that was really weird and I wanted to include some of that weirdness in the song.

Having A Laugh is one of the lighter songs on the album. It’s poppy and has a McCartney / Beatles feel. Would you agree?

GB: It is and it isn’t. I was trying to comment on how much terrible news people see and hear everyday (“If you really believed half the things they said/wouldn’t be any need to get out of bed”). And this was before the pandemic! At the same time, I was thinking how we need to start taking care of the earth, of each other before it’s too late.

‘We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day’

Another lighter, poppier song is She Doesn’t Want To Know – it’s a kind of a bossa nova/ lounge/ Easy Listening tune. Laidback and quite ’60s…

GB: We were going for a sort of A Hard Day’s Night meets João Gilberto thing. Something you could listen to on the beach while the sun is setting. The first evening wind after a warm, summer day.

The last song, Now and Then, is very ’60s. It reminds me of The Zombies and also Cream’s I Feel Free. What can you tell me about it?

GB: For that tune we wanted to go all out ‘60s. We were already in the studio with Clay, who is a huge Beatles fan and an authority on their recording techniques [see video below].

Paired with Brendan, who is an authority on Ringo’s gear, in particular, we couldn’t help but do our own Help-inspired UK beat song. We actually meant to use a Hohner Pianet on the track, like The Night Before, but it was giving us issues that day, so we settled on the Wurlitzer 200 [electric piano].

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

GB: We have some tentative tour plans, but I don’t want to jinx anything. We’ve also got more music to release. Like I said, we’ve been recording quite a bit.

‘I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006’

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

GB: We’ve all been listening to a ton of music over the lockdown – even more than usual perhaps. I’ve been digging a lot of UK folk recently: Fairport Convention, Michael Chapman, Bridget St John. And digging into some jazzier stuff: Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Gábor Szabó. I also went on a big Bee Gees kick after seeing that new documentary [The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart].

Finally, what’s your preferred way of listening to music and why?

Photo by Alex Bulli

GB: Records. But driving around and listening to music is a close second. I still rock an iPod like it’s 2006.

Triptides’ Alter Echoes will be released on limited vinyl, and digital / streaming platforms on March 19, via Alive Naturalsound Records.

https://triptides.bandcamp.com/

 

‘We’ve already written the soundtracks – now we just need to find the films to accompany them. Anyone out there interested?’

XIXA – photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

Like all the best bands, guitar-slinging six-piece XIXA, from Tucson, Arizona, look like a gang. In some of their press photos, they’re all wearing black and posing against a mountain range, looking like they’ve just drifted out of the badlands and are intent on razing your little town to the ground.

It’s an image that suits their sound perfectly – XIXA cite some of their influences as ‘70s Spaghetti Westerns, Gothic horror / Edgar Allan Poe, ’80s horror films, Narco cumbia – cumbia is a type of Colombian dance music, like salsa – and Peruvian chicha group Los Shapis.

Formed in the deep American Southwest, the band also has Latin roots, which can be heard amidst the dark and cinematic, brooding, desert-rock sound of their latest album, Genesis – one of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite records of the year so far.

“We live and breathe this landscape, so with these songs we let loose and went as far into that world as we could,” says XIXA’s Gabriel Sullivan, who shares lead vocals and lead guitar with fellow outlaw, Brian Lopez. Both of them are / were also members of Howe Gelb’s alt-country rockers, Giant Sand. XIXA’s line-up is completed by bandmates Jason Urman (keys), Winston Watson (drums, percussion), Efrén Cruz Chávez (timbales, percussion), and Hikit Corbel (bass). 

Genesis is XIXA’s second album. Produced by Lopez and Sullivan and recorded in Tucson at the band’s Dust & Stone studio, it follows their debut Bloodline and 2019 EP The Code. It’s an extraordinary, exotic and often intense listen –  an intoxicating mix of Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western-style soundtracks, psych, rock, Latin influences, ’80s glossy pop and electronica. 

‘We live and breathe this landscape, so with these songs we let loose and went as far into that world as we could’

Guests on the record include the Uummannaq Children’s Choir from Greenland, Latin singer and guitarist Sergio Mendoza from “indie mambo” act Orkesta Mendoza, and Algerian Tuareg desert-rock quintet Imarhan.

Say It With Garage Flowers took a trip into XIXA’s dark, desert-rock world and spoke to Lopez and Sullivan about the genesis of, er, Genesis.

“We have spent years tweaking the recognisability of our sound. And Genesis is the best representation to date,” they tell us.

Q&A

Hi. Thanks for doing this. How’s it going? Where are you at the moment? In Tucson? What’s it like? Describe your surroundings and current mood.

Gabriel Sullivan: Thanks for having us. I am indeed in Tucson, in my Barrio Viejo home, looking out my window at my neighbour, Howe Gelb, unloading a Lowrey organ from his truck – it was from an outdoor gig we did in Tubac last weekend. That was quite a feeling – to play music for folks again!

Brian Lopez: I’m doing well, thanks. I just went for a hike with my mom at Sabino Canyon. T-shirt and shorts in February – I can’t complain.

How are you both coping with Covid and how has it affected you?

GS: Obviously Covid shoved us into very unfamiliar territory. This is the longest I’ve not toured in 15 years and I’m really starting to feel the bizarre effects of missing that routine. We’ve certainly tried to stay productive in our Dust & Stone studio and have created some great recordings with XIXA and other projects.

BL: For the first six to eight months, I was feeling great. I think my body and mind needed to recuperate from all the years of touring.  I’ve remained super-productive and have had no problem staying busy – mostly with music-related stuff, which is great. I’ve been recording, writing, collaborating with others and getting more efficient with relaying musical ideas online. All the things I hadn’t had time to do efficiently before.

That said, I also miss German winters now…I miss catering and cramped green rooms with my band. I’m ready for the reboot to be over. I wanna get back out on the road.

We’re here to talk about your brilliant new album, Genesis, which is one of my favourite albums of the year so far. It’s a great-sounding record: exotic, cinematic, psychedelic, dark and menacing at times. What was the starting point for it? Did you go in with a definite approach as to how you wanted it to sound and feel? It’s an epic album.

GS: I feel like Genesis evolved and came to fruition in a very organic way. We didn’t go into the sessions with a definitive approach or sound, but we did go into this record with a few years of touring. Our sonic identity was further realised after that much time on the road together.

We wrote and recorded around 25 songs in the Genesis sessions, with many different styles and vibes from song to song. The 10 that made the record were the songs that best complemented each other for a 40-minute LP.

BL: This is definitely not an overnight “we got lucky how it turned out” kinda story. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work, discipline, restraint…and maybe a .0003% of luck. By this point in our careers we’ve each carved out a space within this band’s organism. Everyone has an important place and job within it…otherwise this organism takes an unrecognisable shape. We need it to be recognisable. We have spent years tweaking the recognisability of our sound. And Genesis is the best representation to date.

Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez – photo by Julius Schlosburg

How do you write and create the songs? What are your songwriting, demoing, arranging and recording processes?

GS: Genesis, like all of our recordings, was recorded in our Dust & Stone studio and was produced by Brian and myself. We’re big advocates of writing and recording all in the same session. We generally crank out one song per day. Some are more fleshed-out and realised than others, but at the very least we end up with solid sketches.

From there it’s Brian and I spending countless hours in the studio composing lyrics, chopping and editing arrangements, reworking songs and generally just further crafting the sonic landscapes that you hear on the record.

BL: The band will block out writing days, and whoever is available comes in and works. From there we really try to keep it moving. We’ve really become efficient at catching the initial flicker of an idea, and recording it well enough, so that when Gabe and I circle back to it, months later, that magic from the initial session is still there.

You cite your influences as including Edgar Allan Poe, Gothic horror, Ennio Morricone, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, ’80s horror films, ’80s pop and Latin sounds – Narco Cumbia and chica. It’s certainly an exotic and eclectic mix of sounds and styles…

GS: The inspirations that go into XIXA are always evolving. We started as a covers band playing Peruvian chicha and that was definitely the foundation for the band. From there each members’ personal influences and identities began to seep into the music. We’re always looking for new things to influence our music, from literature, mysticism, rhythms, guitar tones… We have no boundaries as to what can guide our music.

What were some of your main lyrical influences for this album? I sense that you take a lot of inspiration from the Arizona landscape: the desert, coyotes, wolves, etc. Is that the case? A lot of the lyrics are dark. There’s a nocturnal, shadowy and otherworldly feel to many of the songs…

GS: I see the lyrics on Genesis as Brian and I painting landscapes for the listener to wander through. There are big broad concepts pulling from religion, spirituality, mythology, mysticism…

‘We’re always looking for new things to influence our music, from literature, mysticism, rhythms, guitar tones… We have no boundaries as to what can guide our music’

Would you like to write film soundtracks? If so, what kind of movies would you like to score?

BL: I think we’ve already written the soundtracks – now we just need to find the films to accompany them. Anyone out there interested?

Can you recommend any cool films – new and old – that I should watch? Seen anything good recently?

BL: The best new movie I have seen is Mank, which is about the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane. It’s amazing. I’d recommend watching it with subtitles though, as the audio is true to 1930s film, in that it is terrible.

The best old movie I have seen recently is Boogie Nights. I mean, that movie ages impressively. It’s maybe better now than it was when it came out. The cast is out of this world and the performances are stellar. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work, in my opinion.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. Genesis of Gaea has a definite Spaghetti Western / psychedelic feel…

BL: We wanted to find a darker sort of mood for Spaghetti Western. Something that had the same DNA as a melodic/playful Ennio Morricone, but a darker, more psych feel.  This is what we landed on. Lyrically we kind of get this “danger lies ahead” vibe to accompany the melodic passages. I was re-learning how to play this song recently, and I gotta say, musically-speaking, it is rather complex. More than you’d think from just hearing it.

I think Land Where We Lie sounds like Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill dragged through the Arizona outback. It has an ’80s pop feel, but it mutates into something much darker and also nods to Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys soundtrack…

GS: I wrote this song the morning before we recorded it – it originally had a very finger picky, southwest songwriter kind of feel. When we got to the studio we started falling into this sort of Rock The Casbah vibe and just kept pushing it further into that. We were all big into ‘80s New and Dark Wave when we were doing the initial tracking and I think it comes across huge in this song. We pulled from an obvious reference here – Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys soundtrack. The outro is sung by the Uummannaq Children’s Choir, who happened to be visiting Tucson while we were finishing overdubs. They definitely add the final haunting touch to this tune.

‘We wanted to find a darker sort of mood for Spaghetti Western. Something that had the same DNA as a melodic/playful Ennio Morricone, but a darker, more psych feel’

BL: The choir is actually a group of orphans from Uummannaq, Greenland that travel around the world and give performances. They were in Tucson, because our friend, Nive Nielsen, was in town from Greenland, and was sort of organising that portion of their trip. We had already thought to do a Lost Boys homage at the end of the song and had reached out to the local Tucson Boys Chorus to see if they were interested. And literally that same day we ran into Nive, who told us about the orphan choir. She said, “you should just have them do it. They love to sing.”  So we did exactly that. And we loved it so much we put them on a couple of other tracks while we had them in our studio.

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

The Uummannaq Children’s Choir also appear on Feast of Ascension. What can you tell me about that song? I think it starts off sounding like Mark Lanegan doing Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd…

BL:The original idea was a demo recorded by our French bass player, Hikit Corbel. He has tons of ideas that he composes at home. Perhaps he was listening to some Dark Side… when he composed this particular one.

Anyhow, we took this particular demo, which I believe was just the intro riff on loop, and totally fleshed it out together, live, in the studio, and tracked the arrangement that you hear now.

There are a lot of lyrical references rooted in religion on this album and I thought a song based around the Feast of Ascension might find a good home on a XIXA album. So we wrote lyrics around that theme. We had the Uummannaq Children’s Choir add the final touch, singing the choruses with us: “We sit at the table, with all we have loved. We sit at the table with all that we have feared and lost.” Hearing their voices sing this passage gives me chills every time.

Eclipse, May They Call Us Home and Eve of Agnes are the most Latin-sounding tracks on the album. Are they influenced by cumbia and chichi? They’re very exotic…

BL: Eclipse is more in the vein of Mexican cumbia. May They Call Us Home is one part Spaghetti Western, one part Peruvian chichi, and Eve of Agnes is “a Turkish street market,” as one of the members of Imarhan described it to us, as we were tracking it. Now, the first two cumbias make sense, given our sonic track record, but I can’t explain the Turkish street market part, but I like it.

Soma has some great, pulsing synths on it. It could be the soundtrack to a sci-fi cowboy film…

BL: It’s a song idea I’ve had in the back of my head for a while. Jason’s synths definitely take it to a new place, along with Hikit’s soulful bassline.

GS: The intro is one of my favourite moments of the record. We had the song nearly mixed but didn’t think the intro was quite there. We ended up bouncing the intro down to a 1/4″ tape machine at the lowest speed and played it back into Pro Tools while I held the reels to get that wobbling and crunching effect. Incorporating programmed drums on the outro was a first on a XIXA record. There’s a lot of fun studio trickery in this tune.

BL: The icing on the cake, for me, is again having the Uummannaq Children’s Choir take the outro of the song. The music fades and these beautiful resilient voices remain, walking the listener to the end of side A of the vinyl.

‘That’s so funny you mention Duran Duran – honestly I was hardcore going for Bananarama’s Cruel Summer when we were getting into the production’

Velveteen shares its name with a song and album by ’80s trash-pop band Transvision Vamp. I think it sounds like Duran Duran-meets-Morricone-meets psych-rock. There’s an ’80s pop thing going on, but with some great psychedelic guitar and a Spaghetti Western feel…

BL: That’s so funny you mention Duran Duran – honestly I was hardcore going for Bananarama’s Cruel Summer when we were getting into the production on this particular one. And I remember being disappointed afterwards because I thought we fell a bit short of the mark. Now, with plenty of time between listening, I absolutely love where the song ended up. It’s definitely one of my personal favorites on the album.

Lyrically, the song’s inception came about when I was reading Richard Price’s book Lush Life. He used the word ‘velveteen’ to describe the curtains inside a dilapidated building in New York City. I just remember thinking about the strong aesthetic grip the word ‘velveteen’ has.  So I wrote all the lyrics around that one word.

Photo by Puspal Ohmeyer

Are you pleased with the album?

BL: I’m definitely pleased with it. On a personal level, I feel the album’s stock will only rise when we are able to play these songs live in front of crowds, and begin making sense of it all. We haven’t even made it to that part yet. Which is both frustrating and exciting.

Was it made pre-pandemic? The record’s dark soundtrack feel suits the global mood, doesn’t it?

BL: It was conceived pre-pandemic, yes. But it certainly takes on more cultural relevance and significance in a Covid world. I’m glad we pushed the release back.

What are your plans for the rest of 2021? You’re obviously hoping to play this record live at some stage, aren’t you?

BL: I have no idea what to expect. Of course we’d love to go out and tour but that just isn’t on the cards, is it? Not any time soon at least. So we’ll just start writing new music and control what we can.

GS: We’ve played a couple of tunes from the record for some live streams and they were a blast to arrange for the stage. I can’t wait to see how songs like Soma, with its thick layers of production, translate to a live setting.

‘The album was conceived pre-pandemic, but it certainly takes on more cultural relevance and significance in a Covid world’

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

BL: My favourite new album is Mexican Institute of Sound’s Distrito Federal. I’ve also been listening to Lowrider Oldies via a vinyl compilation called East Side Stories. I believe there are 12 volumes.

GS: I’ve been in a deep heavy music vibe lately. I’m loving the new EP from our Arizona brethren Gatecreeper and I’ve also been revisiting my all-time favourite band Pantera.

Finally, do you like the band Genesis?

BL: I prefer Peter Gabriel’s solo career. Sledgehammer was the shit. Also, the music video for Genesis’  Land of Confusion  seriously freaked me out as a child. That video is fucked up.

Genesis by XIXA is out now on Jullian Records/The Orchard. 

http://www.xixamusic.com/

https://xixa.bandcamp.com/

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

 

Cool Ghouls

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the sessions like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Ghouls in the studio – San Francisco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://music.emptycellarrecords.com/

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