‘I wanted to get back to that rock sound…’

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Luke Tuchscherer – photo by Amanda Tuchscherer.

There’s a song on Pieces, the latest album by Americana singer-songwriter Luke Tuchscherer, called Batten Down The Hatches. It sums up the record perfectly – this time around, on his third – and best – solo album, Luke, former drummer with Bedford alt-country band The Whybirds, isn’t pulling any punches – he’s made an angry, heavy, often political album that rocks like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Batten down the hatches, indeed, for it’s like a hurricane out there… There’s even a nine-minute, epic rallying call (Requiem), which attacks social injustice in the UK and comes across like Luke’s very own Rockin’ In The Free World…

It’s not all big guitar anthems, though – there are some quieter moments in the eye of the storm, like the apologetic ballad Charing Cross and the gorgeous, Springsteen-like country-rock song Ghosts, which sees Luke revisiting his childhood haunts.

In an exclusive, in-depth interview, Luke, who now lives in New York, gives me the inside story on the making of Pieces and reveals that he’s already got his next five albums planned out…

Q & A

The last time we spoke was in the summer of 2017, for the release of your second solo album Always Be True.

You told me then that you’d already got the next four albums planned – track listings and all…. So I guess Pieces, which came out earlier this year, is the first of those albums. Is everything going to plan?

Luke Tuchscherer: Yeah – it’s going well. Pieces is the first of those albums. There’s another one, which will be called Widows & Orphans, that’s already been recorded. That just features Dave Banks and me on acoustic guitars, and is a really intimate, autumnal record and, as such, will be out in October 2019.

I have recorded my acoustic guitar and vocal parts for another record, provisionally titled Salvation Come, in Maplewood, New Jersey. We’re going to be adding some violin parts soon, with a Brooklyn musician I met called Steve May, then I’ll add the drums in the spring back home [in the UK], before adding the other parts as and when, including a baritone guitar player I met here [in New York] called Chris Tarrow. Widows & Orphans should buy us a bit of time before that one comes out, but I’d imagine it would be 2020.

So, the fourth of those records would actually be another full-band Penny Dreadfuls effort, akin to Pieces, which will have to wait until I’m back home [in the UK] again…
But, on top of that, I’ll be recording a solo Neil Young Hitchhiker/early-Dylan type album in New Jersey early next year, and I’ve had a folky/bluegrass album planned for years, akin to Steve Earle’s Train a Comin’ or something, but I just need to find the players for it.

The first thing that strikes me about your latest album, Pieces, is that it’s a much heavier sound than your last two records – quite frankly, it rocks, in a Neil Young and Crazy Horse style. What was your intention with this album? It has a big sound! 

LT: I’d already started moving things that way with the Shadows EP, which came out earlier this year and was mainly rockers. The reason is because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an acoustic artist. The first record was only that way because The Whybirds were still going, so my “electric” side was satisfied. You Get So Alone… [first solo album] was made up of songs that didn’t fit the band. But now the band is done, I wanted to get back to that rock sound.

‘I’ve actually written quite a few political songs, but they’ve never made it on to any albums before – I can see myself writing more about the wider world now, because my personal life is stable’ 

In 2017, you told me that classic ‘70s rock records like Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes informed your last album, Always Be True. What were you listening to when you made this album? A lot of Neil Young, I guess…

LT: Neil Young has always been an influence, and for sure, it comes out the most on this album compared with my others. But for anyone who heard The Whybirds’ Cold Blue Sky, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock.

I think there’s a bit of Pearl Jam on this album, too – and in fact the Neil Young/Pearl Jam album Mirror Ball was an influence in terms of how quickly they recorded it – and the Petty stuff is still there.

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Your song Requiem is a Neil Young-like protest anthem that bemoans the current state of the UK – high taxes, the challenges faced by the NHS and how the rich are getting richer and the poor are worse off… It sounds like your very own Rockin’ In The Free World, crossed with Like A Hurricane…

It’s great to hear a modern protest song. Considering the dire situation the world’s in, doesn’t it surprise you that more artists don’t write protest songs? You’re not afraid to tackle issues head-on, are you?

LT: I’ve actually written quite a few political songs, but they’ve never made it on to any albums before. The thing about them is that they tend to date quite quickly. If the NHS goes tits up, then so does Requiem – ha ha! A truly great political song, like Masters of War [by Bob Dylan] is always relevant, sadly enough. Some other reactionary songs are redundant as soon as whatever event they’re responding to is over. Requiem was written after watching the Noam Chomsky film Requiem For The American Dream and applying it to the UK.
As for other people not writing them… I dunno. Maybe they’re wimps. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they just don’t like political music. Personally, I can see myself writing more about the wider world now – though not strictly protest songs – because my personal life is stable. It’s kind of weird singing old break-up songs when I’m happily married, whereas I can see myself still feeling the things in Sudden Getaway or Ain’t That What They Say? in the future.

The first four tracks on the album don’t mess around – they rock out. Things don’t calm down until we’re halfway through, with the song Charing Cross. It’s quite an angry album in places, too. What frame of mind where you in when you wrote the songs and recorded them? Requiem, The MF Blues and Company Girl are angry songs – the latter is very vicious. It’s a put-down song. What inspired it? It sounds like a dig at the music industry…

LT: The only songs that were written shortly before recording were Requiem and Ghosts, but, because I have such a big backlog of songs, I basically choose the best batch to make a cohesive album, along with any new stuff I’ve got that fits. It’ll probably take me to the mid-2020s to clear my backlog!  The MF Blues was pretty old, probably 2007, but it fitted the theme of the record.

Company Girl was probably written in 2012 or so. And yeah, it’s angry. It’s about a lot of people, not just one, and they don’t have to be female at all… It’s just I was writing from the ‘company man’ perspective, so it made sense for the other part to be female, but it could’ve been Company Boy easily enough.

‘I have such a big backlog of songs – it will probably take me to the mid-2020s to clear it!’

I guess it’s a bit high horsey, but it’s a dig at the people who aren’t really artists – they’re just after fame. The kind of people who don’t love “Americana” or whatever, and would happily do an RnB album if they thought it would make them more successful. I won’t name names, but they’re not hard to spot. But they’re all doing better than me, so, what do I know?

Let’s talk about the recording sessions for Pieces… How was it making the album? You recorded the seven ‘rock’ songs live in one day, with a band – in June 2017, at The Music Centre, in Bedford. That must’ve been a long day? Talk me through it… 

LT: I had limited time before I moved to New York to get the album done. We knew the move was coming, so I wanted to maximise my minutes, so to speak. Between April and September 2017, we recorded PiecesWidows & Orphans and my hard rock side-project Herd Behaviour’s debut, which is called Animal Habitual, and I played drums on David Banks’ forthcoming solo debut. All were recorded by Chris Corney.

I don’t remember it being a long, or even particularly stressful, day. We’d rehearsed the songs in the weeks leading up to the date – with me on drums, Dave on guitar and Simon Wilson on bass. We set up the night before to get all that out of the way. Then we went in and did it.

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Luke in the studio – photo by Tom Peters

Requiem was one take – we didn’t complete a second one. Sudden Getaway was like second take or something. It was all easy as I recall. I think Batten Down The Hatches was the only one that was a slight struggle, but even then it wasn’t too hard. Dave’s an amazing guitarist – every single note he plays on those seven rockers is live – Simon’s a great bassist, and I’m more comfortable behind the kit than anywhere, apart from singing, I suppose.

Then I added my guitars, vocals and percussion in a couple of additional sessions. Chris did almost all the harmonies and did a great job on the vocal arrangements, and Tom Collison added his keys from his home studio – I’d already moved by that time. Done!

When we last spoke, you were gearing up to move to New York. Does the opening song on the album, Sudden Getaway, reference that?

LT: Sudden Getaway was written in 2015, I think, maybe 2014, when NYC wasn’t even on the horizon. It’s really about an existential crisis, I guess. About struggling to be happy with your lot and wondering when that struggle might end.

Why did you move to New York and how is it working out?

LT: Essentially my day job got us to NYC, but I’d never have gone if the band was still going. But once the writing was on the wall with The Whybirds, I felt like I’d given up all of my twenties to the band and had nothing to show for it.

All my holidays were used up touring and recording, as were my weekends and a lot of my evenings. And I felt like I’d never really done anything for myself, or – since I was married by then – for my wife and I as a couple.

A lot of people asked if the New York thing was a music career move, but it was the complete opposite. It was to do something that wasn’t music-related, so I could feel like I’d actually done something with my life. That sounds pretty negative, but if you listen to Waiting For My Day to Come or Outside, Looking In on Always Be True, you can tell that I wasn’t very happy with music anyway! That said, See You When I See You is a fond look back at the ‘birds days, with just a tinge of regret that things didn’t turn out better.

‘A lot of people asked if the New York thing was a music career move, but it was the complete opposite. It was to do something that wasn’t music-related, so I could feel like I’d actually done something with my life’

I was basically working two full-time jobs and it was slowly eroding my passion for music. Since moving to New York, it’s been like starting at the bottom again, and the gigs have been half good and half soul suckers. But it’s made me miss playing music just for the fun of it, and that’s just about the most positive thing that could’ve happened. When I went back [to the UK] for the Pieces gigs in the summer, they were the best and most fun solo shows I’ve ever played. Bar none. I’m already massively excited about coming back next year and firing up the Penny Dreadfuls again.

Let’s talk about one of the ballads on the album – Charing Cross. It’s a sad song – an apology to a loved one. Demons and drink are involved. What’s the story behind it? Is it set in Charing Cross? Surely that must be a first for a song… 

LT: Yeah, that was an old song – 2010. It was written after a night at The Borderline, which is obviously just off Charing Cross Road. Anyway… I’d had my wallet and phone stolen, I was in a terrible mood, I got very drunk and I was an arsehole. The song was the apology. I can’t actually remember what the original chorus line was, but it was more positive, as the relationship lasted a few months more. But since that particular relationship is long gone, I turned the lyric into “I know I’ve really blown it now”, to make the song make sense on its own, and give it some finality.

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Photo of Luke by Jez Brown

Ghosts is another quieter moment on the record – a gorgeous country-rock song about going back to where you grew up. What can you tell me about that song? 

LT: That’s probably my favourite on the album and one of my best ever songs lyrically. It was inspired by something quite personal that I won’t go into, but, hopefully, it was written in a fairly universal way, so that people can get their own meanings from it.

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

LT: Even though I was a year late to it, I can’t get enough of Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, let alone recently. Again, I was late to the party, but I finally watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston and I find his stuff pretty addictive. The latest Mudhoney album, Digital Garbage, is really good, too. I discovered a band on Spotify called Arliss Nancy, who have broken up now, I think, but I thought they had some good stuff.

So, finally, what’s next for you? There are all those albums to get out…

LT: I’d expect something like this:

2019: Widows & Orphans – stripped back acoustic album akin to Time (The Revelator) [by Gillian Welch].

2020: Salvation Come (Country-ish Southern Gothic album, with fiddle as the lead instrument.

2022: Luke Tuchscherer & The Penny Dreadfuls – another rock effort.

2023: Carousel – completely solo “session” album.

20??: Untitled folk/bluegrass album.

But I’m back for a solo show at the Green Note in London on April 11, then I’ve got full-band shows in Leicester, Bedford and London on July 18, 19 and 20, respectively. There’s also a European festival, but I don’t know if I can announce that yet, but I’m super-excited about that!

Pieces by Luke Tuchscherer is out now on Clubhouse Records.  For more information, go to: https://www.luketuchscherer.co.uk/

Worcestershire Source

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After 23 years living in Manchester, singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar moved back to Worcestershire, where he grew up. His relocation inspired him to write a concept album, Return of the Native – a brilliant collection of witty, reflective and deeply personal songs, featuring a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a burnt-out rock star, the ghost of a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast, Eminem hopelessly lost in Droitwich, ’70s M.O.R. singer Clifford T.Ward, DJ Tony Blackburn and comedian Rik Mayall.

Musically, the album takes the listener on a journey through Worcestershire that’s soundtracked by glam-rock, jangle-pop, psych, Pet Shop Boys-style electro and New Order-esque, Northern melancholy.

In an exclusive interview, I ask Vinny to give me a track by track guide to the record.  “It was a learning curve and cathartic,” he tells me. “I was putting some old demons to bed…”

Q & A

Hi Vinny. Let’s talk about your new album. The songs were inspired by you moving from Manchester back to Worcestershire, where you grew up. How and why did relocating inspire you when it came to writing songs and making this album, which is the follow-up to 2016’s Silver Meadows?

Vinny Peculiar: Hi Sean – good to speak with you. Moving back has been cathartic. Return of the Native was inspired by the changes, reflections and, up to a point, the memories I have of former times here. The ideas seemed to ebb and flow into songs soon after the move. I suppose, in some ways, I was writing to make sense of the changes, the end of a long-term relationship, the start of a new chapter…

How are you finding it living in Worcestershire? Is it good to be back?

VP: I’m settling in. It feels good, but it’s taken longer than I expected to connect. I still seem to spend a lot of time on the M6 – the lure of the North is never far away.

Is Return of the Native the first Worcestershire concept album? I can’t think of any others, can you?

VP: I’m not aware of any, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some obscure folk singer got there before me…

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Picture of Vinny Peculiar by Trust A Fox Photography

Where did you make the record and who worked on it with you?

VP: The recording of the drums and bass and some of the noisier guitars was done in Whitby Studios, Ellesmere Port, with my Liverpool band Paul Tsanos [drums] , Bobby Kewley [bass, cello] and Rob Steadman [ex-Parlour Flames] on keys. The vocals were recorded and edited at home, as were the acoustic guitars, percussion and keyboards.

The serious sheen was added in UNIT 31, in Pershore, by co-producer Dave Draper, who turned a half- decent record into a great sounding one, I like to think.   

Was it an easy album to make? 

VP: It was something of a learning curve for me at times – the challenge of mic placements, street noise and the neighbours’ dog were all sent to test me – but it felt emotionally cathartic, like I was putting old demons to bed, especially in the more intimate, confessional songs.

I thought it would be fun to do a track-by-track guide to the new record. Let’s talk about each of the songs individually – I’ll throw in a few of my own thoughts and you can tell me more about the tracks and what inspired them. Here we go…

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Track By Track Guide to Return of the Native

The Grove and The Ditch 

This is a glam-rocking start to the record. We’re taken back to teenage street gangs of the ’70s. What was the inspiration? It’s quite possibly the only pop song to name check Tony Blackburn…

VP: When I was at school, my Bromsgrove friends and I were routinely terrorised by the Redditch Mob – they’d come over to Bromsgrove and pick a fight with us after school. We weren’t very hard and got regularly chased – it became the norm, they’d accuse us of being in the Bromsgrove Gang and we’d leg it!  The song is set in 1974, when Tony Blackburn was dumped by his girlfriend and famously cried in public on Radio 1 – he really was in bits.  Many of the other references in the song are from that time – The Rocky Horror Show, winters of discontent were everywhere. Glam rock was just about alive and kicking, but punk rock was about to confine it to history…

Malvern Winter Gardener

I think this is one of the best songs you’ve ever written. It’s beautiful, wistful jangle-pop and is about an eccentric local character – a once famous rock star, who’s reflecting on the gigs he played in the ’70s, at the Malvern Winter Gardens, and the bands he saw back in the day…

VP: Thanks, Sean. I used to go to the Winter Gardens in Malvern as a young teenager – the bands I mention in the song were some of the ones I saw. It was a magical place to me. The song’s narration is from the point of view of a burnt-out rock star who lives in Malvern, working as a gardener and lamenting the glory days.

The idea of using that voice came from conversations with older musicians in the local music shop and the pub. I understand Ted Turner, who played guitar in Wishbone Ash and gets mentioned in the song, used to live in Malvern. I was also informed the cover of Argus [by Wishbone Ash] was shot in the Malvern Hills, but my subsequent research suggests otherwise…still I’ve included it in the song, anyway. 

Blackpole

The dangers of English Civil War battle re-enactment. Please discuss…

VP: There’s a Civil War re-enactment society just down the road from me – I walk past it when I go to town. I’m fascinated by people who a dress up to re-enact battles – time travellers, if you will. There’s a particular escapism – a kind of discipline that I admire. The song came from a  ‘what if?’ scenario – ‘what if your re-enactment became real and someone got hurt?’ and it grew from there.

The hero of the song dies in battle and returns as a ghost to haunt his girlfriend, who marries the undertaker. I wrote it as a picky little folk song, but it morphed into quite an epic – a twanging, jangling affair. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the record.

Golden City

What’s the story behind this song? It sounds like it’s named after a Chinese restaurant…

VP: I’d drive past Golden City – and you’re right, it’s a Chinese restaurant here in Blackpole – routinely, when I was in the process of moving from Manchester to Worcester. It’s a rather striking, modern, detached roadside building and I was intrigued. It’s also the name given to San Francisco, which is one of my absolute favourite places to be. The song is about change, hope and moving on, as well as addressing doubt and uncertainty…

Return of the Native 

This is the title track and it name checks Rik Mayall, alongside a whole host of other people and local characters who’ve come from Worcestershire…

VP: Yes – there are a lot of name checks in this song – they’re affectionate recollections. The song is derived from a ‘making a list’ approach, I’ve done this with a few songs before where there’s no linear story – a more random approach. Many of the characters are fabricated, but all have local reference points…and Rik Mayall was born just down the road from me, so that has to be worth celebrating. Many of the other landmarks were significant to me when I lived here, all those years ago. I suppose you could say it’s a spontaneous memory song, in the Kerouac tradition of bop prosody, or was it Ginsberg? I digress…

A Girl From Bromsgrove Town 

More jangle-pop… This is a sad tale of a girl who left you for the girl next door! Care to shed any more light on this affair?

VP: After visiting my father in his Bromsgrove nursing home, I found myself loitering outside a former girlfriend’s house, waiting for my mother. It was a flashback-type moment, and it set me reminiscing. It’s a true story…

‘Clifford T. Ward taught me for a year – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music’

The Singing Schoolteacher 

This is a very poignant and reflective song, which is about your English teacher, who found brief fame as ’70s M.O.R. singer-songwriter, Clifford T. Ward. It talks about the influence he had on you and how pop music shaped your early life. I guess he was the first famous person you knew and he had a major impact on you… How did he inspire you?

VP: Clifford T. Ward taught me for just a year. He took a less than typical approach to teaching. If we didn’t fancy poetry, he gave us permission to opt out – nobody did – and he had long hair, very long hair, so he was immediately one of us. I don’t remember much about the actual lessons – we spent a lot of time distracting him and he was happy to talk music. He was on John Peel’s record label, Dandelion Records, and he wrote songs for Bronco. All of this was incredibly exciting. When I told him I had musical ambitions, he was the only teacher who took me seriously. I never got to know him as an adult. The song tracks my relationship at a distance, but it’s very much a tribute to his memory and his inspiration when I was young.

Detroitwich

The first time I heard this song, I laughed out loud! Eminem ends up in Droitwich by mistake and mayhem ensues when the locals get their hands on him. There’s even a ‘Vinny Peculiar-doing-the-Pet-Shop-Boys’ West End Girls’ rap vocal! How the hell did you come up with this? It’s bonkers… 

VP: I first heard the ‘Droitwich-meets-Detroit’ naming aggregation from my daughter. It amused me no end, setting off some flight of fancy, whereby Eminem, befuddled by endless touring, ends up in Detroitwich, where he’s abducted by the mob, before being rescued by P Diddy. I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich when I knew no better – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song somehow. It is sort of bonkers, yes – I can’t really argue with that…

‘I worked at a plastic mouldings factory in Droitwich  – it was rather grim and I suspect its influence has crept into the song’

 On Rainbow Hill

We’re plunged back into more familiar Vinny Peculiar territory – this is another poignant, reflective, melancholy ballad of lost love. Can you elaborate?

VP: It’s a readjustment song – it’s all about moving on. End of a relationship stuff.

David Swan Riverman

Another song about a local, eccentric character… David Swan Riverman regularly feeds the local swans and ducks and looks out for them. Do you know him? Is there a nod to Nick Drake’s Riverman in the title? I like the haunting, psychedelic feel of this song….

VP: There are a lot of guitars on this song and cellos, too – beautifully played by Bobby Kewley. The haunting Nick Drake-ish-ness is kind of accidental, but I can see what you mean. It’s a droning, root note affair. I don’t actually know David Swan, but I’ve seen him at work and it’s kind of mesmerising and dazzling seeing so many swans assembled at feeding time on the river. Crowds gather around – it’s a beautiful spectacle.

Game Over

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It sounds like your years living in Manchester have influenced this elegiac song of lost love. I think it has a Joy Division / New Order feel and it references Ian Curtis lyrically…

VP: This was a cathartic song to write, too. Sometimes songs write themselves and you look at them and think ‘is that really me?’ This was such a song. It’s a final acknowledgement – a song that’s hopefully fit to end a record. I wasn’t that aware of the Manchester influence, but I can hear it now you’ve mentioned it. I suppose it’s hard to ignore it after living there for the best part of 23 years.

‘I’ve started making demos for a new album –  it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record’

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Picture by Trust A Fox Photography

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the songs, Vinny. Finally, what’s next for you? Any projects in the pipeline?

VP: I’m currently working on a collaboration with the poet Anna Saunders, writing music for poetry. We hope to perform live in the future.

I’ve also started making demos for a new album, which we plan to record and mix live in just five days – the very opposite in many ways to how I typically put records together. It’s not going to be a singer-songwriter album – it’s going to be a very noisy, dissonant wreck of a record. It’s a collaborative project with the musicians formerly known as Parlour Flames – the file sharing has commenced. I have no idea how long it will all take, nor under which name it will emerge, but it feels kind of exciting and new, which is a good sign, I think…

Return of the Native by Vinny Peculiar is released on June 1 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records). 

http://vinnypeculiar.com/

https://vinnypeculiar.bandcamp.com/

 

 

‘I wanted to produce something that was a document of the times – the world through my eyes’

 

 

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British singer-songwriter Ian Webber, who is based in Nashville, Tennessee, has just released his most political album to date.

Op-Eds tackles social issues including women’s rights, fake news, war-torn Syria and the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. 

Musically, it’s very stripped-down – mostly just Ian and his acoustic guitar – and it makes for intimate and sometimes uneasy listening, as he shares people’s stories of hardship and struggle. 

Opener Follow Me and its parent song, The Regime, are haunting tales inspired by reading news stories about families suffering in Syria, while Frontline is a protest song that has its roots in ’50s rockabilly.

First single, Radio Zero, is an ode to the healing power of great music – while the world is going crazy, sometimes you just need to switch off from all the doom and gloom and crank up some classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Ian sings the song in a Bowie-like croon that sounds like it’s been beamed in from outer space.

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to Ian to find out why he’s made such an overtly political record and what it was like recording it in Nashville…

Q & A

Your new album Op-Eds totally surprised me, as it’s a lot darker and much more political than I was expecting. Did you deliberately set out to make a political record? And if so, why? What was the starting point for this album?

Ian Webber: The starting point for this album, and pretty much all my projects, was the music I was listening to and absorbing before I began writing it. This time it was The Velvet Underground and Lightnin’ Hopkins. That’s a strange combination, but both were essentially using blues-based chord sequences, keeping it fairly simple, so the vocal melody could take the priority.

The first couple of song ideas were very New York Warhol/Reed inspired. ‘Late night, up on the corner’-type songs, so that’s where my head was to begin with.

I also had a really great hallway with excellent reverb, so that was a good place to stand and sing ideas in a low vocal key.

I had no idea that the record would turn political at all – that really only started when I took breaks from strumming to catch up on daily news. I was intrigued by articles in the New York Times and Washington Post. I discovered really compelling stories, which in turn inspired me to create mini stories as lyrics.

Lyrically and thematically, the album deals with social and political issues past and present, including protesters affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline, women’s rights, the plight of families in Syria, politics in Virginia and immigration issues… This is heavy stuff.

Was it difficult to write such political songs? How did you tackle the issues without sounding trite, or patronising? Was it a worry or a risk?

IW: The universal theme was a common bond that I felt with other humans – all of us moving through life.We all start out the same way, wanting the simplest things, and that gets lost as we grow up.

The world as a whole is a small place. I’ve travelled a lot and you find, whatever language, whatever culture, people are generally the same. I wanted to express that in these songs and, in a small way, shed light on the bigger issues, too.

I don’t proclaim to be a learned scholar, but I really wanted to produce something that was a document of the times. This was the world through my eyes in 2017, living as a Brit in a very American, southern culture.

‘I’ve travelled a lot –  whatever language, whatever culture, people are generally the same. I wanted to express that in these songs and shed light on the bigger issues, too’

Musically, it’s a very stripped-down album –  it’s mostly just you and your acoustic guitar. Was that how you wrote the songs?

IW: Yes – I certainly had this idea that I would try to do the whole record alone.

I always have voice memos lying around, and when I played them in the car, or through headphones, they sounded great to me. I guess that made me want to make the album in essentially the same way, but obviously, with a better mic than the one on my phone.

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Historic RCA Nashville Studio A

Where and how did you record the album and who did you work with?

IW: I recorded the record at Historic RCA Nashville Studio A, thanks to my ex-band mate Dave Cobb, who runs the place, and who helped make time between projects for me to go in and record

There is a huge tracking room that’s big enough for an orchestra. I basically set up in the middle and sang live and played guitar. The natural reverb in the room is insane, and there were minimal overdubs. It was a cathartic way to record – no drums, no bass, no other souls around except me and Gena Johnson, Dave’s engineer, who produced the record.

‘It was a cathartic way to record – no drums, no bass, no other souls around except me and the engineer’

One of my favourite songs on the album is The Regime – it’s very haunting…

IW: The Regime started as a chord sequence that was similar to the ideas on my last record [Year of the Horse, from 2015] – walk down progressions and minor chords, of course!

The lyrics were based on an interview that a family in Syria gave to the New York Times, about trying to survive war in the city.

When you grow up, you have this romantic idea of the place you were born, and its streets and sounds, and fond memories. I could never imagine living somewhere you call home and watching it fall apart. That song is a kind of companion to Follow Me, which deals with leaving that kind of scenario behind and having to find a new home in a foreign land.IMG_1746

Another standout track for me is Frontline – it has a ’50s Sun Records feel.  It’s an acoustic, rockabilly protest song… 

IW: That’s a cool observation, Sean! The love of ‘50s rockabilly music seems to be a recurring theme on my records, but I can’t say I had it in mind when I was writing the song… I have been having a Lightnin’ Hopkins obsession lately, so certainly that was in my brain at the time…

The song Spirit of Houston comes from a similar place, doesn’t it? What’s the story behind it?

IW: That’s the only collaboration on the record. I started the year chatting, via email, to an old singer friend of mine, Sam Smithwick. I was inspired and jealous of his ability to write blues songs. We had been sending each other finished ideas, kind of like a pen pal would write letters. One song he sent had no vocal, just a guitar riff. I took the idea, added words, looped the riff, and sang to it live in RCA Studio.

Lyrically it’s about the 1977 National Women’s Conference for women’s rights. Last year, I went to the Women’s March in Nashville, and the signs I saw and the voices I heard made me want to become more educated.

‘When you grow up, you have this romantic idea of the place you were born, and its streets and sounds, and fond memories. I could never imagine living somewhere you call home and watching it fall apart’

In the last couple of years, you’ve moved from L.A. to Nashville and you’ve become a father – congratulations! How much did relocating and having a son have an influence on this album?

IW: There were a few reasons for the move from L.A. to Nashville. I started out in Atlanta, playing music in the ‘90s, before moving to Seattle and then L.A. Coming back to the South was a way to reconnect with the culture and some amazing musicians I had played with. I got to do some touring for the last record with some former bandmates that still lived here, so it was kind of a homecoming of sorts.

My son, Wilder, was still inside his mum Meg’s belly when I was writing and recording, so his influence was there, but in little kicks. He did get to hear Fire on the Water being recorded, when Meg sang the backing vocals while pregnant!

You’re an English guy living in the U.S. What’s your take on Brexit and US politics at the moment? Is this album your chance to try and make sense of it all?

IW: I have my British passport, my Green Card, and am hanging on to my accent. Living abroad definitely makes you more nostalgic and somewhat patriotic.

One thing about living here is that the news is generally US-based, so Brexit is something I feel like a tourist talking about. From what I hear, it’s going to affect a lot of musicians from touring as freely in Europe. I would rather see a world without boundaries and barriers.IMG_2153 (1).jpgOne of the least political songs on the album is the first single, Radio Zero. It’s about escaping fake news and bad news and listening to classic rock ‘n’ roll instead. I think your vocal on the track has a slight Bowie feel to it…

IW: At the end of it all, I am a music lover, and so Radio Zero is a nostalgic look back at when I was lying on my bed as a teenager, late at night, scanning the radio for a good song. John Peel was still around, and also some AM pirate radio stations, so cracking rock ‘n’ roll was something I tuned in to and fell asleep to. David Bowie was one of my first musical loves, so maybe he was sending me messages through the wavelengths on that one. I hope so.

Finally, on that note, it seems apt to ask you what music – new and old – you’re currently enjoying?

IW: I like that you added the old and new line there… Currently in my mind – new:

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest

Ryuichi Sakamoto – async

David Sylvian – A Victim of Stars

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Devendra Banhart – Ape in Pink Marble

And some older – and loved…

R.E.M – Reckoning

Prefab Sprout – Swoon

The Smiths – The Smiths

 

Op-Eds by Ian Webber is out now.

For more info, visit: https://ianwebber.bandcamp.com/album/op-eds

http://www.ianwebbermusic.com/

 

‘The first thing I do when I wake up is put a record on – I don’t love silence…’

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Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger’s brilliant Nonsense and Heartache – out now on Latent Recordings and produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies – is a double album, but, essentially it’s two distinct collections of songs.  

The first half  – Nonsense – is a raw, primal, bluesy, electric rock ‘n’ roll record, while the second instalment – Heartache – is a stripped-down, alt-country affair, with intimate ballads, lap steel, piano and fiddle.

Put them together and you have an album that reminds me of those classic early Ryan Adams long-players Heartbreaker and Gold – yep, it’s that good. 

I spoke to Jerry, who with his band, The Situation, is on a tour of Europe and the UK, to find out why he decided to release a double album and to gauge if his current mood is nonsense, or heartache…

 

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Jerry Leger: photo credit – LPPhotographs

Q &A

Nonsense and Heartache is a double album of 18 tracks, which is quite a brave move, isn’t it? You don’t hear of many double albums being released these days…

Jerry Leger: Yeah, it’s usually the artist who fights for a double LP, not the label, but, in this case, it was Mike Timmins and Latent who suggested it.

I dug that and I had more than enough songs and we had a bit of a concept behind it. I think it was a cool move, I mean why not? It seems these days a lot of people are gonna listen to it, or they’re not, whether there’s two or 200 songs. A lot gets lost – I just wanna make albums I like while I’m here.

How were the recording sessions for the album? Was it an easy or a difficult album to make? Did you have a lot of songs written before you went into the studio?

JL: They were easy – we all knew what we were there to do. Heartache was recorded first – that took about four or five days. Nonsense was recorded four or five months later – I think that took two days. I can’t quite remember how many songs I had lying around, but we recorded about 29 and chose 18.

‘I just wanna make albums I like while I’m here’

The album has a raw, live sound – Michael Timmins , who produced, recorded and mixed it, also worked on my favourite album of last year John Murry’s A Short History of Decay, which is another raw, live-sounding record. How do Michael and you and your band manage to get that feel and sound in the studio? What’s your working relationship with Michael like?

JL: We just play live together in the studio. I also try to keep all the live vocals, but sometimes it’s not possible. There may be technical issues, or, if the band were cookin’ and I flubbed something that I really wanted to fix instead of leave in. Sometimes we just leave it in, though. Mike and I have a great working relationship – we like making the same kind of albums and we also like a lot of the same albums. He doesn’t get in my way creatively and when he makes a suggestion in the studio, it’s usually the right one. I respect what he does and what he has to say

One of my favourite songs on the Nonsense side of the album is Baby’s Got A Rare Gun – I think it channels ’65/’66 Dylan. Do you agree? It’s heavy, electric blues. What can you tell me about that track?

JL: Well, I love Chess Records – stuff like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf. I think it came from that sort of place, but, of course, I love Dylan, too, and that period is ingrained. When we recorded it, I wanted to get that over-driven vocal and band sound that’s on those records and early Bobby Bland.

The Big Smoke Blues – another of my favourite tracks on Nonsense – has a bit of a New Wave feel to it. It reminds me of Ryan Adams fronting The Strokes. Is that a fair comment?

JL: That’s fair, but I’d say it’s more Lou Reed and The Velvets rock ‘n’ roll, just ‘cos I listen to and love those records. I did really like the first Strokes album when it came out. I was 14 or 15 and thought they were here to save the day! I never really followed their career after, though. The Big Smoke Blues is a reference to Toronto, but it could be a lot of different places for the listener.  It’s a tune for outsiders.

‘I really liked the first Strokes album when it came out. I was 14 or 15 and thought they were here to save the day!’

Let’s flip the record over and talk about the Heartache side. It kicks off with the first single, Things Are Changing Round Here, which sounds like a classic country-rock song. What inspired that track?

JL: The East End of Toronto, where I grew up, was the initial inspiration. I’m only 32 and the area I grew up in is a strange land to me now. A lot of the personality is being sucked out of it – they’re knocking down blocks of old homes to build up to the sky. The unique shops and bars that can’t make the inflated rent are being replaced by boring chains.

Another Dead Radio Star – I love that title – is one of my favourite songs on the album. What’s the story behind it? I’ve heard that it was inspired by the 1930s radio show The Shadow, which was voiced by Orson Welles…

JL: I was listening to a compilation of radio stars from the ‘30s. The song I’d Give A Million Tomorrows (For Just One Yesterday) was playing and it sparked the idea – it’s referenced in the song. I also had another record of old radio shows by The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks of Kansas City, so they got a plug.

Things come and go, but their shadows remain in one way or another, and I’m the kind of person that looks for them. My dad used to listen to The Shadow, The Creaking Door and others as a boy and that has always stayed with him. It’s theatre of the mind.

The last song on the album, Pawn Shop Piano, is a great way to close the record – a gorgeous piano ballad. Was it written and played on a pawn shop piano?

JL: Some of the lines and ideas I’d written down before, or had floating in my head just waiting to be used. The first time we toured in the States we stayed at a dingy motel called the Travel Lite Inn, or something like that… I just liked the way it sounded and we survived.

We played Johnson City in Tennessee a couple of times and I remember this pawn shop called Diamonds and Guns and it had this great hand-painted sign, too. I jotted that title down in a notebook and figured I’d use it for something some day. It’s one of my favourites on the record and it just has a lot of truth in it for me.

Who are your main musical influences?

JL: There’s a lot, but Hank Williams I’ve heard for as long as I can remember and I just don’t think it gets better than that. Bob Dylan changed the way I wanted to write, Lennon and The Beatles made me wanna start playing, and Lightnin’ Hopkins was the coolest. When I was 13, my grandparents’ neighbour was giving away blues records. I just thought Lightnin’ looked cool – I hadn’t heard of him. When I listened to it, it was just wild – so natural, no bullshit. Leonard Cohen was also an early influence – my dad came home one day and gave me the first Cohen album and a book of poetry called Death of a Ladies’ Man.

‘My dad came home one day and gave me the first Leonard Cohen album and a book of poetry called Death of a Ladies’ Man’

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Jerry Leger & The Situation: photo credit – LPPhotographs

You’re heading out on a European and UK tour. What can we expect?

JL: I’m really looking forward to it – it’ll be my first time overseas in general. They’re all full-band shows and this line-up has been together for over 11 years, so it’s nice to do this together for the first time. What can you expect? I don’t know – I’ll just be singing my songs. I’m not ready to do anything flashy yet.

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

JL: Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone; Ronnie Lane – See Me; Graham Nicholas – Dial Tones And Pretty Notes, and Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain.

If I’m home I listen to a lot of music – the first thing I do when I wake up is put a record on. I don’t love silence.

So, what next? Can we expect a triple album?

JL: Why stop there?

Finally, what kind of mood are you currently in: Nonsense or Heartache?

JL: I’m in a Nonsense and Heartache selling mood.

Nonsense and Heartache by Jerry Leger is out now on Latent Recordings. For a full list of European and UK tour dates, go to https://jerryleger.com/

 

‘I was convinced I’d be an international superstar by the time I was 21!’

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John Howard at Sala Apolo in Barcelona: photo : Eva Fraile

Singer-songwriter John Howard – who turns 65 this year – is publishing his autobiography, Incidents Crowded With Life, has his 1975 debut album, Kid In A Big World, being re-issued on vinyl, along with a collection of ‘70s rarities, and is planning a new album this summer. 

Earlier this year, he put out a five-track EP, Songs From The Morning, on which he paid tribute to some of his favourite songs by ‘60s and ’70s artists, including Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Sandy Denny.

In an exclusive interview, he tells me why he’s looking forward to becoming a pensioner and why recording music keeps him young and agile…

John Howard - Songs From The Morning

Q & A

Your latest release, Songs From The Morning, is a five-track EP, which features your versions of songs by artists that you admired when you were growing up. The tracks are Morning, Please Don’t Come (Tom Springfield), You Get Brighter (Mike Heron), The Lady (Sandy Denny), Morning Glory (Tim Buckley/Larry Beckett) and From The Morning (Nick Drake).

Can you tell me why those songs inspired you so much? What do you like about them and what memories do they bring back?

John Howard: They all bring back different recollections really, and all inspired me for different reasons. You Get Brighter, written by Mike Heron, was the first song I saw The Incredible String Band perform in Manchester in late ’69 – when I was 16 – at The Free Trade Hall. It was the first concert I’d ever been to. The song completely hooked me as soon as Mike sat at the piano and began singing it, and has always stayed with me. I’d been planning to record it for years.

From The Morning by Nick Drake blew me away the first time I heard it, on his final album, Pink Moon. Nick’s version features just him and his guitar, as does that entire album, but I always felt it was a great pop song that would suit a full backing. Some people refer to Nick as a ‘folk singer’, which is not entirely untrue, but he was also a great writer of hook-laden pop songs.

The truly uplifting lyric of  From The Morning, written when Nick was at his lowest ebb, touches me deeply. What spirit that boy had. I tried to capture that innate, feel-good vibe of the lyric – Nick’s sense of wonder at everything in nature around him – with my interpretation.

‘Some people refer to Nick Drake as a ‘folk singer’, which is not entirely untrue, but he was also a great writer of hook-laden pop songs’

Sandy Denny’s The Lady impressed me when I heard it on a friend’s LP in 1972, but when I got a CD box-set by Sandy, a live version was on there and I loved that even more. Her introductory comment to her audience that “this song has a lot of chords” made me smile. She wrote it, and yet it daunted her. It’s the perfect pianist’s song, having as it does some very strange chord changes and progressions.

Morning, Please Don’t Come was a 1970 single by Dusty & Tom Springfield, which I heard on the radio at the time. I thought it was truly lovely, displaying Tom’s great songwriting skills, but by then the pop scene in the UK had radically changed and artists like Dusty, Cilla, Lulu and Sandie Shaw, who’d been so huge in the ‘60s, seemed to have lost their market.

I heard the song again only a couple of years ago, when DJ Rodney Collins played it on his weekly show – on ABC Oldies – and that inspired me to have a go at recording my own version.

I actually met Tom Springfield in 1975, at his flat, with a friend of mine who knew him quite well. It’s a visit he would want to delete from his memory I would imagine as, in ’75 – ’76, I was going through a heavy drinking period and behaved appallingly, like a really ranty queen, which makes me cringe now when I think about it. Tom very quietly asked my friend to take me home, which he did. If anyone who knows Tom reads this, please convey my abject apologies! Mea culpa!

The Tim Buckley song Morning Glory is on an LP I’ve had for years, Goodbye and Hello, and its lyric has always intrigued me. I’m still not sure what it’s about – and even the lyric writer, Larry Beckett, couldn’t fully explain its meaning in an interview a few years ago.

I interpret it as about the way some people can’t settle anywhere – they always have to be on the move, like a hobo, going from ‘fleeting house’ to ‘fleeting house’. I’m probably wrong but that interpretation does for me. It’s a wonderful song, whatever it’s about…

How did you approach the songs on the EP? What did you want to do with them? Is it hard to strike a balance between being respectful to the originals and also wanting to put your own stamp on them?

JH: Yes – that’s always a slight dilemma when recording other people’s songs, especially songs that are rooted deeply in many people’s minds and hearts by the original writers. I treat any recording the same way – I routine it on the piano until it starts to take shape, and then ideas begin pouring into my head for arrangements, vocal approaches and harmonies.

It’s never clear what I want from a song – whether it’s one of mine or someone else’s – until I begin the process of getting to know it really well, playing it many times until it feels like it’s reached the point of initial completion, before I start to build up the backings in my studio. I always sing a song in my own way, never trying to imitate or copy the original versions.

You actually can’t be too respectful when covering songs, or else you’d be slightly frightened of them, so you have to believe what you’re doing is working as a track. Once you’re in the studio, it’s no longer the song, it’s the recording you’re working on, getting the best out of a track that you can. What came before is what came before. You can only do what works for you now.

‘I always sing a song in my own way, never trying to imitate or copy the original versions’

How was it recording the EP? How did you play, arrange and record the songs? 

JH: As all the songs were already very dear to me, I felt extremely close to them, like old friends. And, of course, as I record usually on my own, I can change things as I go along and try other things quite easily, I often spend weeks on a track, living with it for a while, then going back into the studio and either building on what I’ve done, or starting again from scratch. Happily, it’s the former usually…

Let’s talk about Nick Drake – one of my favourite singer-songwriters. A lot of people only discovered Nick’s music years after his death, which was in 1974 – a year before your debut album, Kid In A Big World, came out. Were you a fan of Nick’s during his lifetime? Isn’t it such a shame that he only got the recognition for his talent after he’d died? Why do you think that’s the case?

JH: I was aware of Nick’s music when I was at art college, as people played his stuff – certainly his first two albums – in the common room, and I liked what I heard. Back then he reminded me a little of Colin Blunstone [The Zombies] vocally.

‘I remember seeing Five Leaves Left in Javelin Records in Bury, pondered over whether to buy it, but then plumped for Joni Mitchell’s Clouds’

I never bought any of Nick’s releases, as funds were obviously limited at that time, and with the money I had, I was buying albums by my current heroes Roy Harper, The Incredible String Band, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and – belatedly – Dylan.

I remember seeing Five Leaves Left [by Nick Drake] in Javelin Records in Bury, pondered over whether to buy it, but then plumped for Joni’s Clouds instead, which my school friend Pauline had played me a few nights earlier.

I think that was Nick’s main problem – when his albums had just been released, in terms of getting his music across to people, you never heard him on the radio – or at least I didn’t. He didn’t perform live – again, if he did, I wasn’t aware of it – and I’ve since read he hated doing live performances. If I wanted to hear his albums they were usually lying in a pile beside the common room record player. The artists I spent my money on were those I’d seen and loved on stage, heard on the radio or watched on things like the In Concert TV series.

In the ‘80s, I think it was, I bought the four-CD set of Nick’s albums and outtakes and fell in love with him. What a talent and what a waste of a talent – to lose him so young. His songs really touched me and still do. When you read his life story – his sister Gabrielle’s biography of him [Remembered For A While] is superb – you realise what a fascinating guy he was.

I loved how he performed impromptu for The Rolling Stones in Tangiers in the late ‘60s, and he was a huge fan of Donovan’s – when Mr Leitch was no longer very cool to Nick’s mates. He’d been a really happy ambitious lad until the ‘black dog’, as he called it, came to rest on his young shoulders. Very sad.

His music has now benefitted from social media spreading the word among a wide, record buying-public, and is happily now loved by a large slice of lovers of good music. Good songs will out. Talent will out. I believe that. Sadly, we can never predict how long that will take…
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I mentioned your ’75 debut album, Kid In A Big World, earlier. It’s being re-released on vinyl soon, isn’t it? How do you feel about that and how’s it come about? There’s also an album of John Howard rarities – from’73-‘79 – coming out, too, isn’t there? What can we expect? 

JH: Yes! You Are The Cosmos, a great and highly-respected Spanish label, run by Pedro Vizcaino, is releasing Kid In A Big World and The Hidden Beauty – a new compilation of demos, outtakes and singles from my ‘70s back catalogue, both on LP. I’m, to say the least, thrilled. For many years people have been asking me if Kid… would ever be re-released on vinyl, and at last I can reply, “Yes, it is.”

Pedro contacted me last year about releasing Kid… on LP and then he suggested an additional vinyl album of some of the demos and stuff I’d recorded from ’73 – ’79. The LPs look really great – Pedro and his designer have done a stellar job.

‘For many years people have been asking me if Kid In A Big World would ever be re-released on vinyl, and at last I can reply, “Yes, it is”.’

The Hidden Beauty is a very interesting compilation, with some fascinating tracks on there – recordings that, in most cases, have never been available on vinyl before. There’s a Trevor Horn production from 1977 called Stay, which has never had a proper release (apart from online about 10 years ago) – it was the first track I recorded with Trevor and features a storming guitar solo by Bruce Woolley.

There are some of the demos I recorded in 1973, when I arrived in London, at Chappell’s studios in Hanover Square. There are also some late ‘70s demos, too –  a song called Loving You, which I demoed in 1979, and which gets regularly downloaded, so that’s a great inclusion on the LP. Also, there are a couple of tracks I did with Trevor Horn in 1978 – Don’t Shine Your Light and Baby Go Now, which were released on a double A-side single in late ’79. Those two tracks feature the musicians who a year or so later formed Buggles and then The Art Of Noise (Geoff Downes, Luis and Linda Jardim, Anne Dudley, and, of course, Trevor).

Bruce Woolley is also on those two tracks, doing backing vocals with Linda. He co-wrote Video Killed The Radio Star with Trevor in 1979, and was signed to CBS when I returned to the label in 1980.

Kid… will have the original LP artwork, even including the same lyric sheet that came with the 1975 album. Pedro has done an amazing job – he’s showed a lot of love and respect for the recordings and that’s very nice to see.

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John Howard in Vienna – photo: Georg Cizek-Graf

It’s a busy time for you. … You’re working on your new album – your eighteenth –  which will be out this summer, and you’re already working on the album after that! You’re very prolific. What’s your secret? 

JH:  Ha! If I knew the secret I’d probably stop doing it. I have no idea why I am still so prolific. Songs simply arrive out of the ether into my head and I write down loads of sketched notes and ideas until I’m ready to start recording. The fact is I love recording. I love the whole process, and working as I usually do on my own, I have all the time in the world to work on ideas and try things out, with no pressure from anyone.

‘I have no idea why I am still so prolific. Songs simply arrive out of the ether into my head and I write down loads of sketched notes and ideas until I’m ready to start recording’

I’m not sure yet who will release the new album. If I can’t find a label to put it out, I’ll do a self-release. I did several self-releases – 2009 – 2014 – before the John Howard & The Night Mail album came out on Tapete. Self-released albums don’t get the same exposure, of course, but at least they’re out there if people want to find them. I’ll keep putting stuff out while people want to hear it and – bless them forever – buy it.

A label release would be lovely, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not always easy to get deals with new material, which is by its very nature, and lack of history or a back story, not as immediate or immediately recognisable as a back catalogue release. I was very happy with how my last studio album, Across The Door Sill, was received. I can only hope this new one will also appeal. But about that I can do nothing. Only hope!

So what can we expect the new album to sound like? How’s it going?

JH: The new album was completed about two weeks ago. It contains ten new songs, and is probably more instantly ‘accessible’ than the stream-of-consciousness material on Across The Door Sill, in that the songs are basically pop songs (i.e. with a verse/chorus structure in most cases), but of course done in the John Howard pop way.

People who’ve heard the tracks in progress so far – friends like Kenji Kitahama from Friedrich Sunlight, Robert Rotifer, Ian Button – who will be mastering the album – and my ‘70s producer Paul Phillips – have all commented how I seem to have a new sound with these tracks, a ‘new palette’ as Paul put it recently. I don’t really – I just use what I have in my studio [in Spain] in different ways, putting together different combinations of instruments and percussion.

I record everything in real time, using real instruments wherever I can – obviously I don’t have an orchestra standing by in my tiny casita! I play everything – the drums, the percussion, the guitars, accordion, and keyboards, but as I’m not a guitarist, or a drummer, it takes me weeks to do just one track, slowly building up sounds. But I love this acoustic way of recording. It’s as old school as it can be using a digital recording set-up – a 15-year-old Yamaha AW16G workstation – and I mix everything in real time, too.

‘I record everything in real time, using real instruments wherever I can – obviously I don’t have an orchestra standing by in my tiny casita!’

If a mix isn’t quite right, I scrap it and start again, I don’t ‘save’ mixes and just tweak things – it’s always instinctive and quite intense, often going to 12 or 13 mixes before I feel it’s right. It’s obviously very time-consuming – ask my husband, Neil, who hardly sees me when I’m in the middle of recording – but I love it and still look forward to trotting across our courtyard and opening the casita door. I say ‘hello’ to all the instruments and pieces of percussion sitting on various shelves, and begin the process of starting work on a new track, selecting this and that, trying them out, deciding what works and what doesn’t on that particular song. It’s a delight that I can still do it, still love doing it, and that people seem to like the results.

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You’ve written your autobiography, too. It’s called Incidents Crowded With Life. When’s it coming out? How was it to write and should anyone be worried? Is there any scandal?  

JH Oooh! Scandal, such a scandal! I don’t think anyone needs to be particularly concerned by Incidents Crowded With Life. My approach throughout the book – which covers my life from childhood to 1976 – was that I would tell things as I saw it and experienced it. I never write about hearsay or situations from anyone else’s points of view. I also don’t comment. That’s for the reader to do as the stories unfold. So I haven’t said things like “What a bastard!” about anyone, I’ve just told what happened and leave the reader to decide what they think.

‘My approach throughout the book – which covers my life from childhood to 1976 – was that I would tell things as I saw it and experienced it. I never write about hearsay’

The book basically covers my life working towards and preparing for what became the recording and release of Kid In A Big World, the build up to it, and the aftermath of its failure to make an impact, up to when I broke my back in an accident at home in late ’76, just as things seemed to be indicating a turnaround for the better.

The only chapter that is constructed as a third-party observation is where I discuss glam rock, its stars, and their career paths and how their music affected and inspired me. I wasn’t sure whether an autobiography needed such a chapter, but I decided that, as glam made such an impact on me and my music, then I should talk about that. It truly changed the way I wrote songs from ’71 – ’73, and how I saw myself in the scheme of things.

The book is due out in the spring, published by Fisher King. I’m pleasantly surprised that the book has found a publisher, to be honest. I never expected that, as I never considered myself well known enough to warrant a publishing deal. I’d been posting it online, chapter-by-chapter, for about 18 months when a friend suggested I should get it published in book form. My reply was “How?” and he duly sent the online links to the managing director of Fisher King, and the rest is my history in print! How fabulous is that? Will there be a second book? Well, I’ve just begun writing it, so we’ll see…

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John Howard in Vienna – photo: Robert Lettner

This year, you turn 65 and you’re showing no sign of slowing down – you’re busier than ever! How does it feel becoming a pensioner?

JH: My husband is thrilled that I’m finally going to be bringing in some proper money! Being a ‘niche recording artist’ means I earn very little from my music, so that monthly cheque from April onwards will be extremely welcome.

I’ll continue to stay as busy as I want to be. As long as my voice holds up – and it seems to have done so far – I’ll carry on recording. I’m physically aware that I’m older, I get tired more quickly, the usual 60-years-plus aches and pains are quite bad some days – due, in part, to my injuries in ‘76 of course – but when I’m recording, I feel extremely young and agile, especially vocally. I can probably sing better now than I did in my 20s. The higher range is not so stratospheric as it once was, but my lower range is much richer now. People tell me I sound very young when I sing, and that’s because I feel young when I sing. 

‘I feel extremely young and agile, especially vocally. I can probably sing better now than I did in my 20s’

Do you still have many musical ambitions left? Are there any songs by other people that you’d like to record, or anyone that you’d like to collaborate with?

JH:  Ambitions? I don’t really have any. Back in my teens, of course, with the arrogance of youth, I was convinced I’d be an international superstar by the time I was 21! That didn’t happen of course, and the realisation that things are not that easy was a big part of my ‘Further Education In Life’ from thereon in. But now, I have no expectations, no ambitions, I just enjoy what I do. Most things tend to happen while I’m busy doing other things.

Kid… was reissued on CD in 2003 because people were discussing it on the internet, which piqued RPM and Cherry Red’s interest. The John Howard & the Night Mail album happened because Robert Rotifer encouraged me to start performing in public again and have a think about us doing something in the studio together.

John Howard & The Night Mail

John Howard & The Night Mail

Across The Door Sill was issued by Occultation because Nick Halliwell told me he thought it deserved to be out on LP and that he’d like to release it. Kid… is being re-released on vinyl because Pedro contacted me to say he would like to do it, and the autobiography is being published because a friend sent it to a book publisher. I’m very lucky that people seem to want to encourage me to do things. They – God bless ‘em – want to spread the word about my music and writing.

Robert Rotifer and I sometimes talk about recording another Night Mail album with Ian Button and Andy Lewis, and I’d love to, but getting us all together at the same time is the difficult bit!

‘I’m very lucky that people seem to want to encourage me to do things. They – God bless ‘em – want to spread the word about my music and writing’

I did contribute backing vocals and piano to The Granite Shore album, Suspended Second, last year, which was fun, and I’ve also contributed piano to other friends’ projects over the last few years – Papernut Cambridge’s Nutlets, Alex Highton’s Nobody Know Anything, Darren Hayman’s Secondary Modern, and Anthony Reynolds’ British Ballads. That’s always a nice thing to do, especially when you hear the finished tracks and go “Oooh! That’s me on that one!”

I’m sure there’ll be more EPs featuring covers of other people’s songs. I quite fancy doing an EP of Rufus Wainwright songs – and even a Marc Bolan EP – gosh! That would be fun. We’ll see…

Finally, what music – new and old – are you enjoying at the moment?

JH: I’m very into Judee Sill – I have been for months. I loved what she did back when I was a teenager in the ‘70s – Jesus Was A Crossmaker was a particular favourite when I was at college, but recently I’ve been given her lovely CD set by a friend and it’s gorgeous. What a superb songwriter and singer she was.

I still play Roy Harper’s astonishing Stormcock album – it still sends shivers down my spine. I recently bought the new version of Sgt Pepper… it’s very good. Giles Martin’s done a great job – he’s really brought the tracks to life again – though, note to Giles, Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite is far too loud compared to the other tracks. What’s that about then?

New stuff? Well, there’s a wonderful singer songwriter on You Are The Cosmos called Daniel McGeever – his album, Cross The Water, is one I play a lot. Excellent songs.

Daniel Wylie’s latest, Scenery For Dreamers, is fab, too, Ralegh Long’s Upwards of Summer is very uplifting guitar pop for the 21st century, and Alex Highton’s newie,Welcome To Happiness, is a synthesiser-fest of loveliness.

John Howard’s Songs From The Morning EP is available to download from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc, and to stream on Spotify, Apple Music and Rhapsody.

For more information, please visit: www.kidinabigworld.co.uk 

Kid In A Big World and The Hidden Beauty – 1973-1979 will be released on vinyl by You Are The Cosmos on April 20: visit http://www.youarethecosmos.com/ for more details.

John Howard’s autobiography, Incidents Crowded With Life, will be published by Fisher King on March 26: http://www.fisherkingpublishing.co.uk/

 

‘I never have the mass market in mind when I write anything’

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John Howard – picture by Magdalena Lepka

Singer-songwriter John Howard’s 2015 album, John Howard & The Night Mail, was one of my favourite records of last year.

A collaboration with musicians Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Andy Lewis, it was a wonderful album – full of quirky, witty, intelligent, theatrical and nostalgic songs, from Zombies-like psych-pop to slinky retro mod-soul, glam-rock and observational Ray Davies-style tales of people’s everyday lives.

This month, John releases his brand new long-player,  Across The Door Sill, but it’s a very different beast from its predecessor. 

His latest offering is a solo voice and piano record that comprises only five songs – three at which clock in at just under 10 minutes – and it was inspired by poetry and childhood dreams. 

I spoke to him to find out how the record came about…

 

Hi John. The last time I interviewed you – summer 2015 – you were just about to release your album John Howard & The Night Mail, which went on to have some great reviews.  I saw you and your band play the album launch show in London at the Phoenix Artist Club. It was lovely to meet you after the gig. How do you feel about that record a year on? Has it been a good 12 months for you?

John Howard: It was great to meet you too, Sean, though I always feel I never have enough time after a gig to chat properly to people, so apologies if I was whisking around all over the place and looking distracted. I am still very proud of The Night Mail album. It was a delightful project to be part of – Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Andy Lewis are so creative and responsive. Gigging with them earlier this year in Germany and Austria was a blast, but then, every time I appear on stage with them, I love it. The last 12 months have been mainly taken up with promoting The Night Mail album, but I’ve also been writing the Across The Door Sill album, too.

Your last album was very much a band record – collaborations with Andy Lewis, Ian Button, & Robert Rotifer – whereas your new album – Across The Door Sill – is a solo project. Why the decision to go it alone for this record?

JH: I’d started to write songs for Across The Door Sill before The Night Mail recording sessions in late 2014. I’d spent that year co-writing The Night Mail songs with Robert, Ian and Andy, but once they were finished, demoed and ready to record, new songs started coming through the ether. I knew as soon as the new songs started to come along they were going to be for a solo album, and of course The Night Mail songs were all co-writes with the other band members – save for our cover of Roddy Frame’s Small World.

I never plan anything really – projects tend to come to me, like The Night Mail did. It grew organically during months of conversations with Robert, initially. But all four of us do our own thing too, Robert has Rotifer, Ian has Papernut Cambridge, Andy has The Songwriters’ Collective and his solo material, plus his work with Paul Weller, so The Night Mail was never a band per se, in the way that touring bands are. We fancied writing some songs together, we were pleased with how they came out and decided to record them. It was a happy outcome that [the record label] Tapete liked them enough to sign the album. The Across The Door Sill songs came along out of the ether unbidden. Who Cares – the opening track on the album – was the first to ‘arrive’, and I knew immediately it wasn’t a ‘band song’.

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Across The Door Sill is a brave album. There are only five songs – three of which are almost 10 minutes long – and it’s just your multi-layered vocals and pianos. It’s fair to say that you’re not aiming for the mass-market with this record, isn’t it?

JH: I never have the mass market in mind when I write anything. It became obvious 40 odd years ago, when I began recording, that one never puts the words ‘mass market’ in the same sentence as ‘John Howard’, unless the sentence reads ‘John Howard is never going to be a mass market artist.’

In the years since I returned to recording, since 2004, I have always written and recorded what I want to, with no regard for whether it will sell. I just want to write good songs. I believe I write at my best that way. This of course means my music will never make it to Radio One-derful Land…

How did you approach this record? What did you have in mind when you were writing and recording it?

JH: When the words for Who Cares started to come to me and I wrote them down, a long-form, stream of consciousness poem resulted, and I fancied the idea of seeing what happened when I sat at the piano and just wrote what came to me, as I sang the words. I recorded the eventual piano piece, which was inspired by the words, then tried out various ways of singing a melody to the track, recording several takes over many days, sung in different ways. Over a few weeks, I decided which parts of the different recorded vocals worked best and put them all together in a final mix, then built that up with more pianos and backing and harmony vocals. I lived with each mix for a few days before carrying on and building on what I’d done. All through the process I didn’t know if it would work out. It was an experiment, which could have ended up as tuneless nonsense. Some people may think it did!

I knew I’d come up with something different, and liked what I heard, so I carried on working that way, with no mind as to the lengths of the songs, or whether they had choruses, verses or hooks. I just wrote words, which came to me, and then put a melody and chords to them in a free-form, very relaxed way.

 

 

I was writing and recording the album right up to the spring of this year, though as I say, I actually began writing Who Cares towards the end of 2014. I’d never worked this way before, literally seeing what happened as I went along, blindly diving in and hoping a song, a track, would come out of it.

I usually write in a much more pop way, à la McCartney – I sit at the piano, see what starts to happen, chords arrive, sometimes sounds accompany them, which become words as the song develops, and a hook emerges, which is what the song hangs on. So, writing in such a free-form way for Across The Door Sill was an experiment from start to finish. I loved working this way though – it was very liberating

What became obvious early on in the process was how the poems were very much made up of images from dreams I’d had since childhood. The closing track, Stretching Out, is made up of many images from dreams I had as a kid, which recurred for years. I have a personal attachment to that track – it affects me each time I hear it. The images and the characters feel as real to me as real life in many ways. And the older I get, the more real they feel, like revisiting old friends.

 

The songs were also inspired by 13th century poet Rumi’s Quatrains. Can you tell me more about that? How did that influence manifest itself on the record? Is Across The Door Sill a concept album?

JH: I wouldn’t say it’s a concept album – the songs aren’t linked together in a story and there is no narrative linking each one chronologically, but there is a theme – dreams, my dreams, and how I put them into words, albeit words which together seem to make no sense, but as a whole song they do start to form a picture.

Scenarios unfold as you listen to each song. Rumi’s Quatrains was something I found on the internet. I was searching for a phrase which encapsulated what I was trying to do – that is to give myself a new challenge, not stick to methods I’d used before, and put myself out there in a new environment creatively. I found the phrase ‘Across The Door Sill’, which led me to Rumi’s poem, where that phrase basically sums up his poem. It seemed the perfect title for the album.

You’ve said it’s an album that will take a few listens for people to get into…

JH: Oh, several listens I would imagine. Be patient, folks. Stick in there.

 

Outward is my favourite track on the record – it’s stunning – very moody, nostalgic and reflective. What can you tell me about that song?

JH: Thanks, Sean. Outward was written around a dream I had of waiting for a train, then, as in all dreams, the situation changed without explanation and I was travelling by car into the hills, meeting various people along the way, turning a corner and landing on a beach, turning another corner and being in the midst of a fiesta in full swing, and then finally ending up at the station again, kind of asleep, hearing the platform porter blowing his whistle. It was a dream within a dream really. Again, the vocal was recorded very loosely. I was playing the backing track over and over again, trying different vocal approaches, recording them all, and then choosing what I considered the best bits of various takes and mixing them together into the final mix.

I could hear a kind of old film vibe to the track, and recorded the ‘spooky’ falsetto voice in the background, to add some film noir atmosphere. My old 1970s producer, Paul Phillips, said he thought it sounded like a theme to a ghost or mystery thriller film, so that was a result.

 

Can you talk me through the other songs? There are funny moments, there are wistful recollections and stories and some wry observations…

JH: Pigs ‘n’ Pies, the shortest song on the album, brought in imagery from my growing up into a teenager through the ‘60s, my hippie years of the early ‘70s, then into working in a music business in the ‘80s, which was a decade (and a business) full of confidence, money and arrogance, then seeing a kind of realisation that, by the 21st century, we’d lost something along the way.

I liked the idea of a chorus of voices coming back as each decade ended, singing ‘It’s a crazy mixed-up world!’ each time – the mantra of the human race down the decades. My dad used to say that, my grandmother used to say it, and now I hear my own generation saying it. The difference now is that, whereas my peers poo-pooed our parents moaning about the state of the world, we were all believing back then that we were entering a golden dawn, the Hunky Dory belief in the human race, and now we too sit aghast at things like Brexit, racism becoming once more a horrific norm in our daily papers, and on our streets, the ghastly and once unbelievable possibility of a Trump presidency. It seems utterly crazy, but the 1930s, and Nazism, were equally round the bend, and similarly came from giving a voice to people who felt ignored and who were looking for scapegoats for their situation, following utter nutcases pointing them the way to the scapegoat of their choice. The blame game has been the human balm for centuries.

 

Preservation, as soon as I’d written it, reminded me of late 1960s/early ‘70s folk songs – the kind I’d listen to in my bedroom on a record player. It’s very much a questioning of who we are, where we are, why we are, and positioning us as floating aimlessly through a space full of dangers and unsolved mysteries. If we are part of that unsolved mystery, then where are we headed? Is there a solution? Probably not, if I am honest. Fifty years ago I would’ve said, “Of course there is, and my generation will provide it!” Now I feel rather hopeless about things, but somewhere deep down I’m thinking we could possibly avoid the precipice staring at us. There have been times in recent years that I wonder if the human race is worth preserving. It seems to have gone out its way to destroy everything it comes into contact with. Name me one good thing human beings have done for the natural world, apart from a few good people trying to right the wrongs of generations’ destructiveness? Heavens – this is getting rather heavy!

Let’s lighten things up… You’ve worked with Ian Button again on this record – he mastered it. What did he bring to that process?

JH: Ian has great ears. I’d loved what he did when he mastered Live at the Servant Jazz Quarters for me in 2014 and then, of course, The Night Mail album last year. He gets a great warmth, while also giving things an oomph sonically. I wanted Across The Door Sill to sound very warm, wide and big, and he got that – especially his work on the piano sound. He worked hard at that and I literally cheered when I heard what he’d done.

The new album is released on Occultation – how did that deal come about? Wasn’t the album going to be released on your own label?

JH: Yes, originally I was going to put it out on my own kidinabigworld.co.uk imprint and I actually had some CDs manufactured with that in mind. When I sent out review copies to you, and several other reviewers and journalists, I also sent a copy to Nick Halliwell at Occultation, simply as a thank you for all the word-of-mouth spreading he did for The Night Mail last year. I was really surprised when he emailed me a few days later to say he would like to release the album. I hadn’t expected that. I love his label and many of his other acts on Occultation are superb, so to be part of that ‘family’ is truly special. I was very flattered too that he liked the album enough to want to release it.

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The new album will be released on vinyl, won’t it?

JH: Yes it will, in fact one of the reasons Nick gave for wanting to put it out on Occultation was that he thought it should be released on vinyl.

“This is an album which should be available on LP,” was what he said to me. That in itself was pleasing, and I’ve seen the artwork for the LP and it’s fabulous. Christian Cook of thinctanc design has done it – the same chap who designed the CD for me earlier this year, when I was going to release the album myself. Christian also designed my 2014 album Hello, My Name Is. Nick asked him to design the LP artwork and it is beautiful.

What are your plans for the rest of 2016 and 2017? Can we expect any live shows and any more records?

JH: I rarely plan, and as regards live shows, that depends if I get invited to do any and whether it’s feasible to do any of them, as I live in Spain. I don’t like being away from home for long periods anymore, so any gig would have to be a one-off, rather than a series of shows.

Nick and I are currently discussing another album for Occultation next year and I’ve started writing songs for it in the last week or so. It will again be different from what I’ve done before, and some of it will be recorded in the UK. Hopefully I’ll start recording it next year, probably for a 2018 release.

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

JH: I recently got hold of Judee Sill’s double album set, featuring her first two LPs. I totally adored her in the early ‘70s but hadn’t listened to her for years. It was Nick Halliwell who reawakened my love for her work when he told me he could hear Judee Sill in Across The Door Sill. I hadn’t actually considered that when I was recording it, feeling it had touches of Roy Harper and Laura Nyro in there (I don’t get through a month without listening to Harper’s Stormcock album at least once), but I also knew there was another sound, another voice in there, at the back of my mind while I was recording, which I couldn’t quite grasp. When Nick mentioned Judee to me it was like a light went on in my head – “Yes! That’s who I could hear somewhere in my memory during the Across The Door Sill sessions!” She has hardly been off my hi-fi since I got the double album recently. Glorious glorious talent.

I’ve also been enjoying Dylan’s Cutting Edge ‘65/’66 outtakes CD too. I had many of those on bootleg vinyl. which I bought in the early ‘70s, but hadn’t listened to for years, and it’s great to have those amazing tracks again. She’s Your Lover Now, I Wanna be Your Lover, wow, genius. And unreleased at the time! Amazing.

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Not so new, from last year, Ralegh Long’s Hoverance album is lovely, very pastoral and rather gorgeous, Robert Rotifer’s Not Your Door is excellent, some lovely songs on that, very emotional songs, and of course Ian’s Papernut Cambridge album Love The Things Your Lover Loves is fab. He writes songs you are sure you heard back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but they don’t sound like anybody else’s songs. Only Jeff Lynne is as good at that.

Nick has been playing me some of the new Distractions tracks, and they are lovely – some really great songs on there.

I recently acquired a record deck again – I hadn’t had one for years. An LP I have had since the mid-‘70s, Orchestra Luna, was one of the first I put on the turntable and it took me back to my days at CBS when a press lady there gave me the LP. I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it and have treasured it ever since. Their songs are full of Hollywood, Broadway, the Great American Dream, comedy, whimsy and theatrical camp, but with an air of wryness which overcomes the whimsy. It’s fun, but with a mild snarl, and it’s tremendous. As someone once said, it’s like watching a Hollywood musical you’ve never seen…

Across The Door Sill by John Howard is available this month on Occultation. For more information, please visit: http://www.occultation.co.uk/

Basement Instinct

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

What was the songwriting and recording process like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/