Doctor in the house

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[Photo by Michele Siedner]

 

Out There, the new solo album by Dr Robert, frontman of pop-soulsters The Blow Monkeys, is a stripped-down, acoustic affair that was recorded on an old eight-track Tascam tape machine at his home in deepest Andalusia, Spain. I had an appointment with the Dr to find out how this raw and rootsy record came about…

With the new album, you’ve said it’s all about the groove of the songs – there are no middle eights, key changes or bridges. Why did you take that approach to this record?

Dr Robert: It was because I used a lot of open tunings on the guitar, which deliberately restricted my options. I wanted to avoid my usual progressions. I might try an album of just middle eights next…

It’s a very rootsy and primal record in places. Tracks like All The Way Back Home and Rack and Ruin are down and dirty, bluesy grooves, and there are some jazzy vibes on the album, too. (Lost in Rasa). Were you influenced by artists like Tim Hardin and Fred Neil, whose work you’ve covered in the past?  

DR: Well, people like Hardin and Neil are part of my DNA now, so I tried not to edit myself. I just let it flow, like I was jamming in my kitchen.

 

One of my favourite tracks on the album is A Bottomless Pit. I think it sounds like Jacques Brel doing Johnny Cash. Can you tell me more about this song? Where did it come from?

DR: I don’t know where songs come from. That was an effortless one. Sometimes they come along fully formed. I was lucky.

For this record, you worked with drummer Richard “Snakehips” Dudanski, piano and accordion player Jos Hawken and saxophonist, Joe Degado. How did you hook up with those guys?

DR: They are friends. Richard goes way back. He’s a proper gent and an inspiration and he’s been in bands with both Strummer and Lydon, which is good enough for me! Jos is young and blessed with an innate calm and special talent. They both live nearby, so I always had them in mind.

What was the atmosphere like when you made this album? Was it loose and laid-back? From listening to the record, it certainly sounds like it…

DR: I tended to record the ‘takes’ in the morning. My voice works better then – especially on the low notes. I was alone most of the time. I was doing a take, then running to the tape machine to stop the tape unwinding!

How did writing and recording the album at home in Spain affect the sound of the record?

DR:I live in the mountains, south of Granada. Landscape and environment have always been a major inspiration. And smells. From the sugar beet on the Fens, to the orange blossom of the Lecrin Valley.

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[Photo by Michele Siedner]

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with acts including Paul Weller, Curtis Mayfield, PP Arnold, Beth Orton and Kym Mazelle.  Do you have any great memories from any of those collaborations? Is there anyone that you’d like to work with?

DR: They have all taught me something. Curtis was a humble soul. The best always are. I’d like to work with Tom Waits.

Out There is your tenth solo album. After more than 30 years in the business, do you feel like a prolific solo artist, or will you forever be a Blow Monkey? How does it feel now, looking back on your days as a ’80s pop star?

DR: I’m a prolific Blow Monkey. The ‘80s were the last great ‘pop’ decade. Things have changed. Mostly for the better.

How did it feel when you reformed The Blow Monkeys in 2007? Why did you decide to come back? Was it a case of unfinished business and how was it when you got back together to play and make new records? 

DR: I missed being in a band, but I wanted to make new band music. We are a strange mix. We all love different music, but we never argue. We’re a slightly dysfunctional family – like all the best bands.

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Any news on The Blow Monkeys? Do you have more new material or gigs planned?

DR: There are lots of gigs up on our website  and a new album proposed for spring 2017. I’m writing some punky soul anthems right now.

The Blow Monkeys were known for their left-wing political views. Does it seem strange to you that nowadays more mainstream artists don’t use their music to convey political views, or protest against wrongdoing or unjustness? 

DR: Some still do. PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was a masterpiece in my opinion and Beyoncé did a fine thing at the Super Bowl.

There’s a track on your new album called I Ain’t Running Anymore, yet, after more than 30 years in the business, you seem to be busier than ever. What’s your secret?  You had a health scare a while back and you quit drinking. What effect has that had on you? Are you in a good place?

DR: I don’t have a secret. Just keep your eyes open and your lips pursed. I try to remember how it felt to hear Ride a White Swan for the first time. My whole world opened up.

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

DR: Old – Bukka White. New – Kendrick Lamarr.

Finally, how ‘out there’ are you?

DR: Not enough, yet. I’m working on it.

 

Out There by Dr Robert is released on May 2 (Fencat Records).

For more information, go to http://www.theblowmonkeys.com/

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‘Think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel’

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.”

New:

Nils Frahm: re

Richard Hawley : Nothing Like A Friend

Ben Watt: Matthew Arnold’s Field

Old:

Sondre Lerche: Dead End Mystery

Kings of Convenience: Know How

Sean Lennon: On Again Off Again

Lovely

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: https://ianwebber.bandcamp.com/

http://www.ianwebbermusic.com/

‘We want to make London swingin’ again!’

Steelism

With their twangy, spy film guitar licks and surf-rock riffs, Nashville-based US/UK duo Steelism (Jeremy Fetzer – guitar and Spencer Cullum – pedal steel) hark back to the glory days of  ’60s instrumental rock & roll, but also throw in country, soul and blues – and even a touch of krautrock – to create their own dramatic and cinematic soundtracks.

I spoke to Jeremy – the US half of the band – about danger, mystery, movie music and the making of their debut album, 615 To FAME, which was co-produced by Ben Tanner from Alabama Shakes.

How did the two of you first meet?

Jeremy Fetzer: Spencer and I first met in Nashville – Spencer attended an Andrew Combs gig where I was playing. We then met up again in London a short time later, when I was touring with Caitlin Rose about five years ago.

Spencer took us out for drinks and got us all inebriated at a pub called Garlic & Shots in Soho. This led to him sitting in on pedal steel with us at our gig the next night in London and then joining the whole tour. We’ve been playing together since then.

You’ve both played as backing artists for several acts, including Caitlin Rose and Wanda Jackson. What made you want to come together and write and record as Steelism? Did you get fed up just being the guys in the background?

JF: We both still love being sidemen and playing in backing bands for other artists. It’s also our job. We’ve learned a lot playing with artists like Caitlin Rose and Wanda Jackson. It’s a completely different role, though. With being a sideman, it’s all about supporting the artist’s vision and musically contributing to their lyrics and melody. With Steelism, it’s completely our own monster and our own material – and it’s a blast.

Spencer had joked for a while about a fictional pedal steel group called Steelism that had a record deal. I intended to make it a reality.

While we were touring in Europe with Caitlin Rose, we started to work up instrumentals during down time and sound checks and when we got back to Nashville, we booked some studio time and recorded them. We ended up releasing them as a 7in vinyl single and did our first show in Nashville to promote the record at a venue called The Basement. The show was a success and it made us realise it was something that we could pursue seriously.

Why did you go down the path of being an instrumental group? I’m a big fan of ’50s/ ’60s instrumental rock & roll, like Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, The Shadows, The Ventures and Link Wray. Have you always been massive fans of that genre? Do you feel that it has been neglected and forgotten about?

JF: I grew up listening to groups like Booker T. & The MG’s and The Ventures, while Spencer’s favourite steel player, Pete Drake, released many very successful instrumental albums in the 1960s as well.

Our musical interests are very diverse, though – from soul to krautrock to country to folk to reggae to jazz. This project allows us to explore all those different musical avenues. You obviously don’t hear any instrumental music on mainstream American radio anymore and, strangely, there’s very few indie groups doing it either. It seems that it really has become a forgotten genre in the 21st century. Despite the obscurity of the instrumental genre, we’ve been enjoying the positive feedback and warm response to the release of 615 To FAME and our live shows.

There’s an air of danger, excitement, mystery and fun about instrumental rock & roll, isn’t there? I love the titles of your tracks, like Cat’s Eye Ring and Cuban Missile. They’re very much in the spirit of tracks from the ’50s and ’60s…

JF: Thanks.  It’s true – there’s loads of danger and mystery in Steelism!  Coming up with titles for instrumentals definitely brings a laugh.

A lot of the titles have been inspired by our travels  – Marfa Lights was inspired by Spencer’s trip to Marfa, Texas, Cat’s Eye Ring is named after a ring we saw while visiting the Alamo in San Antonio on a tour, while The Blind Beggar is our attempt at an English, gangster-inspired composition. It’s named after the pub on Whitechapel Road where Ronnie Kray shot a rival gang member.

Who are your main musical influences and inspirations?

JF: Our LP collections are constantly growing and taking over our houses. I’d say we are always sonically and melodically inspired by The Beatles, while we’re rhythmically inspired by the great American session musician teams including Stax, Area Code 615, The Wrecking Crew and The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. We are always referencing the great film composers like Ennio Morricone, John Barry and Lalo Schifrin. We also love taking our turntables to Germany, Brazil, and Jamaica with artists like Neu, Sergio Mendes and Jimmy Cliff.

Your debut album – 615 To FAME – is great. The tracks are very cinematic. Would you like to write music for films?  What are your favourite films and movie genres?

JF: We love making Steelism as musically dramatic as we can get away with. Film music is definitely a passion. Nothing beats the perfect piece of music paired with the perfect scene.

We obviously love a lot of ’60s film music, but there’s been some fantastic film scores recently – Jonny Greenwood has been doing amazing work with Paul Thomas Anderson films, and the same with Trent Reznor on recent David Fincher films. Quentin Tarantino is still the master of the perfect soundtrack. There will hopefully be many Steelism-produced soundtracks in the future.

On your album, there are nods to spaghetti westerns, surf-rock and ’60s spy film soundtracks – Cat’s Eye Ring, The Landlocked Surfer and The Spook – as well as blues, country and soul. What was your intention when you set out to make the record? What did you want to achieve?

JF: 615 To FAME is definitely an eclectic group of tracks that we recorded in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals [in Alabama]. We were inspired by the historical surroundings and also wanted to showcase all the different stylistic interests of the group with our first record. We plan to musically take Steelism to many strange places.

What was the album recording process like? What was it like working with Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) and what other musicians did you work with on the recording?

JF: We recorded the first half of the record in Nashville at a couple of different studios and eventually met Ben Tanner who offered to help us finish the record in Muscle Shoals. We tracked the rest of the record at FAME [in Alabama] and completed it in Muscle Shoals, with the help of Single Lock Records, who released 615 To FAME in the US. Going to FAME Studios for us was like a group of three-year-olds going to Disneyland.

We are extremely spoilt with some of the best young musicians in the world in Nashville. All of the players here are extremely professional and play way beyond their age. We try to use this band to showcase all the young sessions musicians in town, but we have had the rhythmic force of Jon Radford and Michael Rinne on drums and bass from the beginning. They are the best in town and we are thrilled they will be playing with us in the UK on this tour as well.

What are your plans for 2015? 

JF: We just kicked off 2015 with a couple of great shows in Nashville and next up is the UK, which we are thrilled about. We really hope to visit the UK a few times in 2015. We have plans to do some recording collaborations with a couple of great singers in Nashville.

This summer we will be doing festivals and also plan to head to the West Coast in The States.  We are also always working up and recording new instrumental material at our home studio.

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Steelism

Are you looking forward to playing in the UK? What can we expect from the live shows?

JF:  Yes – it might be my favourite place to tour. This will be my fifth or sixth time visiting the UK. English people are so receptive to American music and are such wonderful listeners. Sometimes English crowds are so polite and focused that it can make American performers nervous, but we love it. I love English radio, too. I hope that everyone who comes to the live shows is prepared to have a few pints and get down! We want to make London swingin’ again! We are bringing a fantastic rhythm section and are ready to have some fun.

So, what are your ambitions for Steelism?

JF:  For us to become a production team, session group, studio owning, film scoring and international, instrumental, touring live band machine!

Are there any musicians that you’d like to work with – either as Steelism, or as backing musicians?

JF: I think we should do a Steelism remix with Mark Ronson, or start on our ambient record with Brian Eno while we are in London this year. Perhaps we can see if Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley are around to put down some vocals.  We can dream…

Steelism’s debut album 615 To FAME  is released on Feb 9 – it’s on Names Records. The band will be playing UK dates in February:

London – The Windmill: Feb 19

Manchester – The Castle: Feb 22

London – The Social: Feb 23

http://steelismmusic.com

INTERVIEW: “I like clunky, odd records”

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Richard Warren’s new album Rich Black Earth – the third in a trilogy – is one of the most atmospheric, moody and nakedly emotional records of 2013, evoking Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen, with its stripped-down, dark, back to basics feel.

Drawing on raw blues, country, and eerie, echo-laden ’50s twangy guitar, it’s a perfect soundtrack for the wee small hours of the morning. I spoke to him about how he creates his ‘primitive soul’ music.

Congratulations on the new album, Rich Black Earth – it’s a brilliant record. Your last album, The Wayfarer, was my favourite long-player of 2011, so it’s great to be able to have a chat.

Can you tell me how you recorded the album and how you achieved such a raw, atmospheric sound?

Richard Warren: Thanks for the kind words on the album. I record all the songs in a small room at home. I’ve got a really primitive studio setup in there. I’ve been downsizing the equipment for years now. The less choice I have, the clearer and more focused the songs seem to be.

I’m down to just a two-track reel-to-reel tape machine, an old spring reverb and a tape echo. The tape recordings are pieced together in Pro Tools. It’s a very clunky, odd system, but I like clunky, odd records.

So, what was the recording process like? 

RW: It’s taken me about 20 years to fully realise that ‘the song’ is king. So I spend as much time writing and as little time recording as possible. I think the best producers understand that getting a record to ‘sound nice’ is not really that important. Essentially, we emotionally connect to words, melody and performance, not production values.

Like its predecessors Laments and The Wayfarer, it’s a very moody and dark record in places. How do you capture that vibe? 

RW: Thankfully it comes pretty naturally. I never dim the lights to ‘get the vibe going’ and all that kind of thing… There’s no science to getting the perfect take. You have to keep playing and listening until you hear something that makes one particular performance special.

In my experience that something special is usually a mistake – a crack in the voice, an out of time drum fill – anything that pulls your ear really. I tend to hang mixes on the string of errors in a performance.

There are some pretty out of tune guitars on old Stax records and that’s all part of the deal. Steve Cropper’s guitar solo on Green Onions [by Booker T and the M.G.s] comes in way too loud, for some, and you can hear the engineer whip the fader down. It would have taken another two minutes 55 seconds to fix, but I love that they left it on the final master. It’s the most exciting part of the song.

You get some extraordinary sounds from your guitar, such as on Ox and Rivington Street (eerie, ‘50s style, twangy instrumentals, which kick off the new album and its predecessor, The Wayfarer, respectively). What’s the trick to getting those effects and what inspired those tunes?

RW: The ‘surf’ instrumentals have become favourites with a lot of people, especially live, and, weirdly, they’ve been received well by radio. I initially included them to pull me away from being tagged as an acoustic folk-picker. There’s no real trick to the sound, though – an old guitar and amp, as much echo and wobble as you’ve got and crank it up!

This record is very stripped-down – more so than some of the songs on its predecessor. Was that your intention when you set out to make it? How did you approach this album?

RW: These days I record everything with the intention of it being a lone guitar and vocal performance. If they stand up on their own in that form I’ll leave them like that. It’s a tough discipline to crack – it’s much easier to throw the kitchen sink at everything.

My theory is that the stronger the composition and the better the basic root performance of the song, the more it will repel overdubbed instruments. They used to call it ‘sweetening’ a mix in the old days. Just give me the meat and potatoes…

There’s a soulful feel to this record. In places it reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, circa Nebraska – particularly on a track like Know.  Is that a valid comparison?

RW: Yes, primitive soul. I’m a big Springsteen fan and for me Nebraska is his masterpiece. There’s definitely a connection in the underlying blue-collar aspect of the songs. And I suppose in the fidelity of some of the recordings.

Is it true that the new album is intended to be the third in a trilogy? If so, please elaborate….

RW: I thought if I put that statement out there it might hold me to some sort of future musical shift. To me the first three albums are in black and white. I’d like to make a colour record.

Looking at some of the track titles on the new album – Flowers, Rot and Rust, Rich Black Earth, Ox, Weeping Tree, The Berry and The Thorn – I was wondering if this is your getting back to nature album?

RW: I’d not planned it that way, or, to be honest, even noticed the correlation. I like the idea though, and I have been downsizing recently, so maybe I am unconsciously getting back to the land…

Flowers is a gorgeous country shuffle and one of my favourite tracks on the album. Can you tell me more about that song?

RW: I got the opening lines, ‘I only tell of sunny hours, let others sing of storms and showers’ from an inscription on an old park sundial. It’s such an inspiring couplet. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across something as strong as that, the rest of the song will usually flow out really easily. It’s one of those songs that on a good night seems to plays itself.

What music are you currently into? What were you listening to when you were writing and recording Rich Black Earth?

RW: Nick Lowe’s The Convincer, At My Age and The Old Magic are top of the pile and always on constant repeat. I’m looking forward to his Christmas album. Also, Willie Nelson’s Teatro, Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, Elvis Costello’s The Delivery Man, Tom Waits’ Bad As Me, Mark Lanegan’s Blues Funeral and Dylan – from Time Out Of Mind to Tempest.

My best album of 2013 would be Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood’s Black Pudding – a 21st century blues album with no retro edge. It’s incredible.

So, what’s next for Richard Warren? Any live dates this year or next? What would you like the next record to sound like? Have you got any ambitions to fulfil?

RW: Just to hang in there making music full time would be enough, to be honest. I’d love to get on the road, but I don’t have an agent, manager or label, so it’s almost impossible to get any good live work in.

And finally, if you were the Lonesome Singer In The Apocalypse Band (a song from Richard’s second album The Wayfarer), who else would you want to be in the band with you?

RW: Nick Lowe on bass and Jim White on drums. Job done.

Rich Black Earth by Richard Warren is out now. For more information, visit http://www.richardwarren.info

Interview: The Hopelessly Devoted

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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.

http://soundcloud.com/thehopelesslydevoted

 http://www.reverbnation.com/thehopelesslydevoted


 

 

 

 

Sea shanties and storm ballads

Richard-hawley

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

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.

Greasy does it!

Image

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:
http://www.john-moore.net/greaser-2000-club-night-starts-thu-15th-april-every…