Britta Pop


Picture of Britta by Luz Gallardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, Scott died in 2013…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has she heard your version of her song?

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

I’m sure she’ll like it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BP: It’s motorik…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song has almost a funk groove…

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

So, are you a secret funk bass player?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Are there any plans to make a new Luna record?

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

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

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

So, what about making another Britta solo album?

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

britta new

Pic of Britta by Shelby Duncan for The Standard Hotel


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

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

Who would be your dream musical collaborators?

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

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

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

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

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

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


britt cover

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



The sound of the summer is here! 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel’

ian webber 2

LA-based, Brit singer-songwriter Ian Webber, former frontman with The Tender Idols and The Idyllists, has just released one of Say It With Garage Flowers’ favourite albums of 2015.

Year of the Horse is a nostalgic, reflective, melancholy record that’s influenced by The Smiths, Chet Baker, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nick Drake, with stripped-back, gorgeous arrangements, strings, tinges of jazz and pretty, spiralling melodies.

I tracked Ian down to a snow-covered village in remote Idaho and asked him to tell me how his new record came about…

Hi Ian. How the hell are you?

Ian Webber: Hello – from a sub-zero ski village somewhere in deepest Idaho, quite possibly right out of a ‘60s Bond movie, where the villains are plotting their world domination.

The snow has settled, and I’m as far away from the no-season surroundings of Los Angeles as can be, but in a rather good way.

Your new album – Year of the Horse – is now out there in the world. How does that feel?

IW: Yes, my new record Year of the Horse is finally here – in the year of the goat! I think I’m allowed to call it horse, since it was technically written during the year of the horse [2014]. Either way, I think the horses and goats would approve. I’m very happy to have further evidence of my existence shoved out into the world.

It’s a very melancholy, nostalgic and wistful album in places. How did you approach this record? Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

IW: Melancholy and nostalgic would certainly be a good way to describe the overall theme of the record. I’d been living in Laurel Canyon [in LA] for six years before the inevitable, but welcome, influence of ‘60s Canyon music started to surround me. Not that I really wanted to – or aspired to – follow in those footsteps, but the songs all came out of me, like an exorcism one summer, during that sun-drenched year of the horse.

The opening track, An Unfinished Symphony, is one of my favourite songs on the record. It has a gorgeous, spiralling melody. Can you tell me more about it?

IW: An Unfinished Symphony was always going to be the pop song on the record.

I was used to writing band songs, with strumming chords, and I pictured this song in my head having a larger arrangement than just solo acoustic. That may have influenced the title, I suspect, with my grand dreams of an orchestra as willing participants.

The magic for me came when it was actually almost completely finished – when Danny Howes, who was playing electric guitar, came up with the entire melody line on the last day of tracking. The idea was to think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel, in some strange way.

I always love a song with no guitar solo – Girl Afraid by The Smiths is a prime example – and that’s the direction we headed in.

As for the words, I was living in a Chopin world that day, and images of libraries, grand pianos, large wooden desks and handwritten notes drifted through my head.

Ian webber

I think the song House On The Hill could be about your life in your home in Laurel Canyon. Is that right?

IW: House On The Hill was inspired in part by the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Our House and is also about the house where I live in Laurel Canyon. It’s where all of the record was written.

I’m lucky to live so close to Hollywood Boulevard – the grit and the grime and the Hollywood glamour is just a short stroll away, although nobody walks in LA…

In Laurel Canyon, I’m surrounded by nature, overgrown trees and trails and, at night-time, the sound of coyotes. Not having someone live underneath, beside, or on top of me, lent itself to the privacy of writing.

I’d say I had the majority of the songs written in bundles – two or three per day – not every day, but fairly quickly, over a period of a month and a half.

It’s odd, really, but it’s one of those things that stops you doing anything else in your regular life. When you’re on a mission, tunnel vision kind of takes over and suddenly you stop cleaning, you forget to go out for fresh air, you look up and morning has become night.

I had an idea that I wanted this album to be an acoustic record, and after a few songs were born, I typed them out – my way of making a composition final – and then transferred them to voice memos, so the melody ideas were intact.

The album has an almost jazzy, stripped-down feel at times. Is that your love of Chet Baker rearing its head?

IW: Ah, Chet Baker – my one true weakness. Yes, for sure he was on my turntable more often than not. I do have a love for a good, moody jazz-type song, and I would also include Robert Wyatt, early Everything But The Girl (Eden), Prefab Sprout (Swoon) Francoise Hardy and Sean Lennon’s first couple of records – jazz-infused loveliness.


How did you record this album? Where was it made and which musicians did you use? 

IW: The record was demoed on voice memos – just voice and acoustic guitar at home in Laurel Canyon – and shared via dropbox to my former band The Tender Idols, who live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Danny Howes [guitarist] and myself worked out the rough arrangements, and shared track and ideas via Pro Tools/Logic software, leading up to a week of tracking at The Quarry, a fantastic large and airy studio, owned by Georgia band Third Day. TJ Elias, who was resplendent in his black cowboy boots and with a southern accent, recorded it…

The band that played on the record was Danny Howes, Guy Strauss on drums and percussion and anything else that would shake or rattle, Michael Lamond on upright bass, and Matthew Barge – from my LA band The Idyllists – on piano and organ.

I returned to the scene of the crime to mix in the same studio in Atlanta, and mastered it in Los Angeles, with my good friend Mark Chalecki.

Highwire Dancer is another of my favourite songs on the record – it’s beautiful. Can you tell me about that track?

IW: That’s a pretty personal song – a sort of autobiography of a singer, or in the case of the song, a dancer, who starts out living life to the full, only to have things stripped away, by no real fault of his own.

I would definitely say I had Idol, a song by Elton John about a ‘50s star in mind, and also I had just watched Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, so that was the high wire connection. Together, I thought it made for an interesting narrative.

The song Years is also very personal – and nostalgic. It looks back at your childhood and reflects on your life and it has a lovely string arrangement. It reminds me of Nick Drake…

IW: Years is a life story – I always felt the need to write something like it, but I never did because I was too shy… At some point you have to say, well here’s what I did in this world, how it came to be, how I turned out and how I experience life.

I’m lucky to have the support of my family – I was always a traveller, a loner and a dreamer. If you have a creative side, which I feel most people do, you have to just throw it out there, and let it out. I applaud anyone who can make something of their life – in book form, lyrics, words, or art, painting and fashion. It’s an expression of oneself.

You mentioned Nick Drake, and he is up there with the greatest – so sad, yet personal and soul-baring. One day someone will unearth an old Super 8 film of him playing live. Please let it be so!

You’ve played with bands including The Idyllists and rockabilly outfit The Hopelessly Devoted. Are they on hiatus?

IW: So here I sit, a songwriter alone. Sometimes I miss the gang-like mentality of The Idyllists and my ‘50s rockabilly guys in The Hopelessly Devoted. I never like breakups. We all still get along like twin sisters, so I’d like to say that we are together apart, until the next time…

year of the horse new

What are you plans for 2016? Can you play some gigs in the UK, please?

IW: Well, you know, come February, it’s the year of the monkey! To celebrate, in a mischievous way I’m getting ready to move once again.

I’m moving to Nashville – in February – in the heart of the winter. I’m going back to my southern American roots. I am from Devon in England, so that’s the south, right?

So, yes, I’m travelling again – trading Laurel Canyon for the land of Johnny Cash. I certainly would love to do a show in the UK – green card in hand, if you’ll let me back…

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

IW: I do have a few golden nuggets that I’m currently listening to. This goes out to Oscar Wilde who said: “Music makes one feel so romantic – at least it always gets on one’s nerves, which is the same thing nowadays.”


Nils Frahm: re

Richard Hawley : Nothing Like A Friend

Ben Watt: Matthew Arnold’s Field


Sondre Lerche: Dead End Mystery

Kings of Convenience: Know How

Sean Lennon: On Again Off Again


Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding

Lou Reed: Berlin

Howling Wolf: My Troubles And Me

Billie Holiday : Willow Weep For Me

Year of the Horse – the second solo album by Ian Webber is out now.

For more information, visit:

Interview: The Hopelessly Devoted



During 2011, I fell in love with the debut album by Los Angeles-based retro rock and rollers The Hopelessly Devoted. It harks back to a time of Brylcreem, rockabilly riffs, trips to the fairground, hanging out in cool coffee bars and simple romantic gestures.
Ian Webber, the band’s British-born front man and songwriter, shares my passion for ‘50s sounds and be-quiffed acts including Billy Fury, Buddy Holly, Richard Hawley and The Smiths. I had a quick chat with him about how to write the perfect vintage pop song, why he’s sad about Morrissey and if he’s got any plans to play live in the UK in 2012.

Sean: What is it about ’50s music that you love so much?

Ian: My love of ’50s music comes from getting my first tape player one childhood Christmas. I was eager to record things and it just so happened that the BBC was playing a load of Elvis movies. I can remember sitting right in front of the TV, waiting for each song to start, when I would hastily switch the tape player to record. 

From there I discovered Buddy Holly in the local library’s LP section, and, much later, Billy Fury, mainly due to him being one of the influences on The Smiths.

I think I heard a lot of Buddy Holly on a Butlins holiday I had when I was aged eight or nine, possibly before the Elvis movies, but I can’t quite remember. To me, Billy Fury is like a British Chet Baker, with his voice and mannerisms.

Sean: Can you tell me how The Hopelessly Devoted first got together?

Ian: I had been working on Sunset Strip, when I made the move to Los Angeles, six years ago. I got a job at The Cat Club – Slim Jim Phantom’s [from The Stray Cats] bar. My job there was bartending and running the sound and also booking acts twice a week, so I got to see a lot of live music. What actually happened was I saw this rockabilly band play, and my lord, the guitar player [Eitaro Sako) was just too good! I made sure that I got his number after the gig. While I was serving drinks, I got talking to a guy who played upright bass [Derek McGill], so I got his details, too. The drummer [Sam Gallagher] and keyboard player [Daniel Dempsey] were part of my previous band The Idyllists – a ‘60s inspired group.

Sean: Tell me about your debut album – Introducing The Hopelessly Devoted, which came out earlier this year. What was the songwriting process like? How did you nail that authentic ‘50s sound?

Ian: I had written the basis of the album – six or seven songs  – and then gathered everyone together to record them before we had even played a show!

The songwriting process was fairly quick and easy, actually. I put the basic ideas down and recorded vocals/acoustic guitar and gave copies to the rest of the band. I remember immersing myself in ‘50s songs, so as to make sure I wasn’t drifting off into indie land and minor chords.

Writing for The Hopelessly Devoted is fairly similar to my other projects, in that I come up with the basic ideas on an acoustic, but the main difference is that most  ‘50s songs have all major chords, so that’s kind of a cool challenge. If you listen to the great pop hits from ‘58-62, most go straight to the chorus off the top – no intro, verse etc. It’s brilliant! Oh and don’t forget the key changes.

Sean: How did you record the album?

Ian: We rented a rehearsal space for a few practices and then recorded the first eight songs in a single day, at our keyboard player’s studio. The process was that we recorded live – all in the same room – and then came back later to do another six songs and overdubs of backing vocals, hand claps etc. It was a really great way to get the band to gel, and to create a vibe. The fact that we could all see each other while recording the songs made for a really good way of creating the sound that we wanted. There were no click tracks and I really didn’t mind if we messed up a bit. It was all part of the cool process for getting songs that had feeling.

Sean: Obviously you’re a big fan of ‘50s sounds, but what new music are you currently grooving to?

Ian: I’m going through a lean period as far as new music is concerned. I am eagerly waiting on Richard Hawley’s thing with Duane Eddy and also a possible new Prefab Sprout album. Albums and acts I love include Elliott Smith, The Dears – No Cities Left, Everything But The Girl’s first album, Ben Kweller – Sha Sha, The Divine Comedy and Sondre Lerche – check out the Duper
Sessions: amazing!

Sean: Like me, you’re a big fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, aren’t you? Do you like Morrissey’s new material?

Ian: I’m rather sad with Morrissey right now, as I adore him, but feel his band is too heavy and thrashy for his voice. I would love him to do an album – or play live with – a band like The Divine Comedy, Belle and Sebastian or another rockabilly band. Hint, hint!

Sean: What are your plans for The Hopelessly Devoted in 2012?

Ian: We’re heading into the studio in December to do a single, so that will keep us busy ‘til the New Year, I’m sure.

Sean: Any plans to play in the UK?

Ian: We would love to do some UK dates – we’ve been selling a lot of CDs to Europe via our Band Camp website, so we shall see. If we could only get a support slot for the right band, but that could be a challenge. I’m thinking, thinking…

Sean: I’ll try and come up with some ideas.

Ian: Let’s talk soon, sir.





Sea shanties and storm ballads


Those of you who are familiar with velvet-voiced crooner
Richard Hawley will know that the sea is a recurring theme in his

Sheffield’s answer to Roy Orbison even recently hosted a Radio 2 show
called The Ocean, which was named after his song of the same name and
looked at the history of seafaring towns in the UK.

New from Hawley this month is False Lights From The Land – a limited
edition EP that’s made up of four tracks that are all
inspired by the sea.

Comprising two original Hawley compositions
(Remorse Code and There’s A Storm A Coming) and two cover versions of
sea shanties (The Ellan Vannin Tragedy and Shallow Brown), it’s a
great little record that has drawn me in like, ahem, false lights from
the land.

Remorse Code was featured on Hawley’s last album, the wonderful
Truelove’s Gutter, and at nearly 10 minutes long is a spiralling,
twilight ballad that’s loaded with nautical imagery, but is also about
a friend who has gone off course and sunk to unimaginable depths,
driven by drink and drugs. It’s a beautiful song, laced with gorgeous
twangy guitar and slightly eerie atmospherics.

The other original song could have been lifted from his
Coles Corner album. There’s A Storm A Coming is yet another sublime
Hawley ballad, but lighter than his latest work, it’s a shuffling,
sentimental ’50s-style pop tune that sounds like it’s been around
forever. One for the mums and dads. And for melancholy muso journos in
their late thirties. Lovely.

Both of the remaining two tracks feature female folk duo The Smoke
Fairies (terrible name). Shallow Brown is a traditional acapella
number, but the real gem is The Ellan Vannin Tragedy.

A mournful, haunting folk song written by Hugh E Jones of The Spinners,
it tells the tale of a ship that sank in ferocious waters just outside
Liverpool after leaving Ramsey on the Isle of Man on 3 December 1909,
losing all 21 crew and 14 passengers.

Hawley’s version sounds like he’s set sail on a ship bound for hell,
with Nick Cave as the captain, while a funereal cello drones in the??background.??

Careful – it’ll drag you under and you’ll never be seen again.

Storming stuff, indeed.

The twang is the thang!


I’ve always had a thing (or should that a be a thang?) for twangy guitars.
And no-one does twangy guitar better than Duane Eddy.

When I was a kid, my dad often used to play Duane’s records in the??house, so I grew up with his unique baritone sound.??

However, I didn’t know that back in 1965, Duane made a whole album of
instrumental Bob Dylan songs.

The amusingly entitled, ahem, Duane Does Dylan, which I recently
stumbled across on iTunes, is a real rock and roll curio, from its
cool cover – Duane sat in a lounge cradling his guitar alongside two ‘dolly
birds’ – to its quirky takes on Dylan tunes – the blistering version
of House of the Rising Sun is awesome – all big, bad boss man guitar
and wailing blues harmonica.

Confusingly, there’s also a great cover of Barry McGuire’s Eve of
Destruction (one of my favourite songs of all time) included, although
it wasn’t ever recorded by Dylan. However, it was penned by songwriter
PF Sloan, who wrote Dylan-like material.

Anyway, it’s twang-tastic, all the same.

And while we’re on the subject of twangy sounds, here’s Jack
Nitzsche’s sublime The Lonely Surfer – an epic, cinematic track from
1963 that features plenty of cool baritone guitar.

Greasy does it!


Rock and roll has returned to West Hampstead!

This pleasant part of London has always played its part in musical
history, from The Beatles and Billy Fury at Decca studios,
to Joy Division’s legendary gigs at the Moonlight Club.

Now eccentric musician, writer and all round good egg John Moore
(Black Box Recorder & former drummer with The Jesus and Mary Chain) is
taking his place alongside The Fab Four, Fury and Ian Curtis with his
latest musical venture – a rockabilly/retro band & club night – the
brilliantly named Greaser 2000.

In the dark and dingy surroundings of The Lower Ground Bar, on West
End Lane, The John Moore Rock and Roll Trio (also featuring former
Jesus And Mary Chain musicians Phil King and Loz Colbert) play cover
versions of rock and roll classics from the likes of Bo Diddley, Marc
Bolan and Eddie Cochran. (The John Moore Rock and Roll Trio’s debut
album Roll Your Activator Volume 1 is out now). The fun doesn’t end
there – before and after the band, disc jockeys spin popular discs
from bygone days.

I turned up my jeans, greased up my quiff and headed down there last
night and I must say I had a great time. I even ended up doing rock
and roll dancing with a lovely couple from Leeds who were on their
holidays – yep, it’s that kind of night.

Simply Bryliant!

Greaser 2000 takes place at Lower Ground Bar, West Hampstead – every
fortnight (the first one was April 15).

More info here:…