Britta Pop

Britta
Picture of Britta by Luz Gallardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, Scott died in 2013…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has she heard your version of her song?

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

I’m sure she’ll like it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BP: It’s motorik…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song has almost a funk groove…

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

So, are you a secret funk bass player?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Luna

Are there any plans to make a new Luna record?

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

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

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

So, what about making another Britta solo album?

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

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Pic of Britta by Shelby Duncan for The Standard Hotel

 

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

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

Who would be your dream musical collaborators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brittaphillips.com/

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more info: http://www.thedreamingspires.co.uk/

 

‘Making this record was intense – I was down in the basement on my own for long periods’

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National newspaper The Guardian recently described Peter Bruntnell as a cult hero – ‘an alt-country genius from Surrey’.

His new album, Nos Da Comrade, is one of my favourite records of the year so far and it’s also picked up rave reviews from publications including The Sun, The Mirror and Mojo.

Described by Peter as his most upbeat collection of songs ever, it opens with Mr Sunshine – a killer blast of Elvis Costello-like power-pop that’s an attack on Donald Trump: “an Agent Orange tan and a shiny suit.”

Elsewhere on the record, there’s an awesome, nine-minute, moody rock epic with heavy, Neil Young-style guitar riffing (Yuri Gagarin), the jangly, Teenage Fanclub-esque sounds of Rainstars and Fishing the Flood Plain and the gorgeous, melancholy, acoustic ballad End of the World.

Could this be the album that takes Peter Bruntnell into the mainstream? I spoke to him to find out…

 

How are you?  The last time we saw each other, I bought you the last pint of Guinness in the venue when you played a solo show upstairs at The Railway in Winchester, at the SC4M festival in 2014. You’re playing there again this year, on September 11. It’s always a good gig, isn’t it?

Peter Bruntnell: I’m fine thanks, Sean. Thanks for the Guinness! Yes, the Winchester gig with Oliver Gray [promoter / organiser] is always a highlight of any tour, what with the cheese, wine and whisky post-show party…

 

Congratulations on the new album – it’s superb. Let’s talk about the first single and the opening track, Mr Sunshine, which I first saw you play with your band at the 2013 SC4M festival.

It’s an anti-Donald Trump song and it deals with the issue of him destroying a Scottish fishing community in order to build a luxury golf resort. Can you tell me how the song came about? When and how was it written?

PB: I had the descending riff and a general idea of the tune before [co-writer] Bill Ritchie and I came up with the lyrics. It had an ‘anti-somebody’ vibe about it and I had recently seen the documentary about Trump and the golf course, so it was an easy decision to make.

It reminds me of classic Elvis Costello/New Wave power-pop. Is that the sound you were going for?

PB: I’m really glad people think it’s like Elvis Costello. I had The Kinks in mind, but I suppose it’s a similar comparison. It was an attempt to move to a sound that is less Americana and more Sixties guitar pop.

One of my favourite songs on the album is Yuri Gagarin. It’s almost nine minutes long – an epic. It’s very moody and features lots of loud, dirty, Neil Young-style electric guitar. Is that you on lead guitar? It’s an awesome sound…

PB: Yes – that’s me on guitar. First take luck, I think. It was just myself, Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass in a village hall – our mock studio.

We played all the songs live, together in the room, with headphones on, and my amp screened off in a cupboard. We played it once, listened back and knew I would never play the guitar like that again, so that was it. The vocals were overdubbed later.

What’s the background to the song, which is named after the famous Russian cosmonaut?

PB: Again, with this, I had the guitar riff first and the lyrics just came – eventually. Bill came up with a lot of them for this song and once we were in space, I had to make it about Yuri. I remember hearing about it when I was a little boy. What an amazing thing – the first man in space.

The opening riff dictates the vibe immediately – it’s atmospheric and stoned I suppose, although we weren’t…

I used a Valvepower 18 watt cage amp, which was made in Surbiton by a friend of mine. They are amazing amps – all hand-wired. I built most of it myself, with his supervision.

How did you approach the making of Nos Da Comrade? Did you have a bunch of songs written before you went to record the album? What kind of record were you setting out to make?

PB: Yes, all the songs were written and routined with drums, bass and myself. I wanted a live feel for the album, so we just set up. I miked all the instruments and played through the songs – simple.

It was different from my albums Peter and the Murder of Crows and Black Mountain UFO – they were more studio-produced and took much longer to make.

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You recorded and mixed the new album at home. Why did you go down that route, rather than use a producer and a studio?

PB: We used the village hall for one week, to get all the drums, bass and some guitar down. Then I went into my basement studio to overdub vocals and more guitars and keyboards etc. I did that because I have my own studio, so it’s economical and I like producing.

You worked with guitarist James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders, Son Volt, Pernice Brothers, The Pogues) on this album. He’s a regular collaborator, isn’t he?

PB: Yes. I used James and Dave Little on guitars. James came down for a few days and we went through the songs that I thought would suit him. He’s such a talent and a good friend – I had to use him. Similarly with Dave – I split the songs between the three of us, so I could have different flavours on different songs. Dave is a killer guitar player, too. I’m lucky to know them.

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So, are you pleased with the album?

PB: I was really excited about the songs I had for this album. I have never had a batch of songs that are so upbeat before.

Once I was making the record, it got a bit intense – being so immersed in it and being down in the basement on my own for long periods. I think I may have lost perspective a few times, but now that time has passed, I can listen to the record with fresh ears and it sounds really good to me.

The record has had lots of great press and reviews, including Mojo, The Sun, The Mirror & The Guardian. The latter called you a ‘cult hero – an alt-country genius from Surrey’. How does it feel to be called a cult hero and a genius?

PB: I know one thing – Brian Wilson is a genius, but I am not. It’s good to have people write positive things though, that’s for sure.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? 

PB: We’ve got a UK tour in July – the London show is at the 100 Club on the 20th, which I’m very excited about, as I love that place.

We’re going to Ireland in early June for a few shows – Kilkenny being one of, if not the best, towns in the world. In September, we’re off to Sweden. I can’t wait to get back there – it’s really beautiful – and in October, we’ll be in Spain. I think the places one gets to visit when touring is what makes doing what we do such a blast.

After years of playing gigs and making records in the UK alt-country scene, do you feel that your new album could be the one that takes you to a wider audience? Would you like more mainstream success, or are you happy doing what you do?

PB: I would love to reach a wider audience, but with zero marketing budget and mainstream radio being what it is, I can’t honestly see it changing that much. I’m doing my best though – I’ve got a lot of positives to work on and, as a band, we are on a high at the moment.

Peter Bruntnell’s new album, Nos Da Comrade, is out now on Domestico Records.

For more information and tour dates, please visit http://peterbruntnell.net/

 

 

Golden Touch

jg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that a fair description?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, are you pleased with it?

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

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

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

Invisible Record

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, what’s next for Jacob Golden?

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

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

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

http://www.jacobgolden.com/

 

 

 

‘Think Johnny Marr channelling Simon & Garfunkel’

ian webber 2

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

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

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

Hi Ian. How the hell are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian webber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

year of the horse new

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

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

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

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

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

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

New:

Nils Frahm: re

Richard Hawley : Nothing Like A Friend

Ben Watt: Matthew Arnold’s Field

Old:

Sondre Lerche: Dead End Mystery

Kings of Convenience: Know How

Sean Lennon: On Again Off Again

Lovely

Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding

Lou Reed: Berlin

Howling Wolf: My Troubles And Me

Billie Holiday : Willow Weep For Me

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

For more information, visit: https://ianwebber.bandcamp.com/

http://www.ianwebbermusic.com/

Best Albums of 2015

 

minesweeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

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

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

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

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

One for the road, anyone?

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

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

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

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

Nev Cottee
Nev Cottee

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

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

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

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

Steelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say It With Garage Flowers will return in 2016…

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

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

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

Marc Carroll

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MC: Punk is the best place to start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, finally, Marc: what is love?

MC: Something that defies ownership.

 

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

http://www.marccarroll.com/

‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

I speak to songwriting duo O’Connell & Love to find out how a stormy winter week in Hastings, afternoon drinking, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and some serious hangovers all helped to create one of the best albums of the year…

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell
Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

Minesweeping – the new record by O’Connell & Love – is one of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of 2015.

A collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell, it’s a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.

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

An album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt, there are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

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The essence of the album came together when you were holed up in the Sussex seaside town of Hastings, writing songs one stormy week in winter. Can you tell me more about that time? What was the writing and recording process for the record like?

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

We’re pretty quick at getting ideas down. We’re too long in the tooth to fuck around, in terms of working out structures and the basic platforms of rock and roll.

We’re not meandering around like 17-year-olds, listening to fucking Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Ann Peebles records, trying to work out what the formula is. We have our formula very organised.

If anything, we had too many ideas – the challenge was to get them to coalesce. Hopefully that comes across on the record. It has a certain homogenous quality to it.

It does – it feels like a complete album, from start to finish. 

You’ve said that the album was seven years in the making, due to other commitments… Were all of the songs written during that week you spent in Hastings?

Brendan O’Connell: A couple came after that and some had been hanging around for years.

You might recycle an idea that you tried to write 25 years ago, but that never really came to anything. You leave it and then come back to it years later, use it with someone else’s idea and it suddenly gets finished.

You might have an idea where the verse is really good, but you can’t get the next bit together… Then one day it suddenly comes from somewhere and you know it’s right.

LL: It was a bit like a pit bull that gets impregnated by a breeder. Eight little puppies come out and you think all the litter has been delivered. Then another five arrive two weeks later, in the ectoplasm!

So, Brendan, do you bring your musical ideas to Larry?

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

LL: A lot of them he might find in a charity shop. Sometimes the clothes don’t fit on that particular day – especially as you get older…

Lyrically, the album has a recurring nautical theme running through it…

BO’C: That must’ve come from Hastings.

The record was produced by Greg Fleming – aka Wizard – who’s worked with the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal and Chase & Status.Why did you choose to use a dance music producer on a country, blues and folk album?

LL: I really liked Rick Rubin’s recordings with Johnny Cash.

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

LL: He brought cynicism, pessimism and downright depressiveness to it because he’s generally used to doing this: (Larry suddenly makes loud, squelching dance music noises with his mouth!)

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

LL: Far too many – they generally involved me having rows with Brendan, who said I was irresponsible for staying up all night drunk. But, over the years, he has accepted that me getting drunk does add to the joie de vivre.

There are quite a few special guests on the album, including Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Doherty and Rumer. How did you come to work with them?

LL: Whatever technology has taken away from us as musicians in terms of revenue, it’s also opened up many doors for collaborations – it’s not like you have to have a long, drawn-out scenario where you have to have everyone together in the same studio.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album – Power In The Blood – was named after a song I wrote. I went to see her when Morrissey was curating Meltdown at the South Bank [in 2004] and I got invited backstage. I asked her if she fancied doing a song.

I’ve known Pete Doherty for years – he used to come and see Alabama 3 gigs back in the day. I got hold of his manager and said, ‘He fucking owes us one, so Pete, get down here.’

B’OC: We knew Rumer from Brixton, but she disappeared off to America and became a big star. My brother bumped into her in the street – she was a fan of the album we did before this one [Ghost Flight – released in 2006, under the name Robert Love] and she was keen to come and sing on a few songs.

 

Let’s talk about some of the songs from the new record. The opener, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds like Johnny Cash…

LL: I thought you said Clash! Yeah – what Rick Rubin did at the end of Johnny Cash’s career was very inspiring. It’s the same as when Bob Dylan worked with Daniel Lanois. Grizzled voices and ‘hip-hop’ production.

BO’C: To me, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds Spanish, rather than country, but Larry’s voice sounds like Cash.

LL: It has a ‘you’re on death row’ kind of vibe – I used to know someone who was on death row and I got quite involved with the campaign to release Albert Woodfox, who was from the Angola Three. He was one of the longest incarcerated members of The Black Panthers. It was around that time that I wrote the song. He was waiting on death row for years, but he’s now been reprieved.

 

 

One of my favourite songs on the album is Hangover Me, featuring Rumer. It has a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood feel to it…

LL: Yeah – it ended up that way. We wrote it with Seggs Jennings (The Ruts DC), with hangovers. It nails our colours to the mast. We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring.

It was originally called The Ballad of Martin Lambert and was written about a friend of ours who died from a morphine overdose on Christmas Day at his mother’s. It was a tragic way to go. I sang at his funeral. We surround ourselves with people who are on the edge – they’re not living comfortable lives and selling houses to fucking yuppies.

 

 

The track It Was The Sweetest Thing has a great Stonesy country-soul swagger… It’s a good story song – a tale of lovers embarking on a European adventure…

LL: Lyrically, it’s about the inevitable nostalgia that comes from when you’ve lost something that you realise you should’ve held on to. I like to think that I’ve lost a lot of things I should never have lost and found things I should never have found…

BO’C: Or that you never deserved to have in the first place.

LL: Exactly. I had an Italian girlfriend, but things didn’t work out. I’d never been to Europe before – I flew to Bologna with a pocketful of Ecstasy! I didn’t know you couldn’t take it on the plane. It was inspired by that – as lovers, you can traverse continents.

In this day and age, with the refugee crisis, love does transcend boundaries. The nature of the song implies that we went everywhere, looking for love, but, ultimately, we found it nowhere.

The Man Inside The Mask, which started out as a very long poem, reminds me of late ‘70s Dylan…

BO’C: When I first played it on my own and sang some of the words from the poem, I thought it was going to end up sounding like Leonard Cohen, but it turned out quite Dylanish…

Let’s go back to your roots. How did you meet and start writing songs together?

LL: About 20 years ago, I was a recovering heroin addict. I haven’t done it since – touch wood. Brendan was in a band called Past Caring – I thought they were very innovative. If you’re familiar with narcotic withdrawal, it’s quite highly sensitised. I was in an Irish bar called Brady’s and I was really impressed by the strength and the quality of Brendan and the band’s performance. I used to sing Uncertain Harbour [the penultimate song on Minesweeping] as a guest vocalist. We were both habitués of South Londonwe knew the same pubs and the same problems.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

LL: We’re letting the album gestate in people’s minds. I’m busy – I’ve got an Alabama 3 tour in October/November. We’re looking at doing an O’Connell & Love tour in January/February – up and down the country, with some skirmishes in-between. We’re definitely taking the band out on the road.

BO’C: And we’re writing some more songs.

LL: We’re going to do the next album in seven days – like the Lord. Doing Minesweeping has given us more confidence for the next phase. I don’t think it will have a nautical theme – it will be rain and Northern towns.

So, finally, what’s the secret of writing a great country song?

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com

‘I’m a Methodist atheist lesbian trapped in a man’s body!’

 

Vinny Peculiar
Vinny Peculiar

 

Down The Bright Stream – the new album from Manchester singer-songwriter Vinny Peculiar – is a witty, funny and moving collection of brilliantly observed pop songs, steeped in childhood nostalgia, teenage memories and wry social commentary. I asked him about growing up in an English village in the ’70s, catalogue trousers and poking fun at sculptor Antony Gormley.

The last time I interviewed you was in 2013, to promote your compilation record, The Root Mull Affect. At that time, you were also working on your new studio album – Down The Bright Stream. Now it’s finished and it’s out in March. How do you feel about the new record?

Vinny Peculiar: It feels really good to have finished it – a sense of relief even. I ended up using a few studios in the never-ending quest for sonic perfection…

It’s a fantastic album – wry, amusing and very moving at times. The record is steeped in nostalgia and memories – several of the songs deal with your childhood and growing up in the ’70s. The opening song English Village, which reminds me of  The Kinks, is all about the place where you spent your early years. Where did you grow up?

VP: I grew up in a little place called Catshill – an English village in north Worcestershire. Well, it was more of a village back then, but it’s acquired a new estate since and an Indian takeaway, so it’s expanding.

My early childhood was based around church life  – my family are Methodists – granddad was a lay preacher, dad a church organist and my cousins taught at Sunday School. I was in the Boys’ Brigade and I did Bible studies. Hymns were the first music I really heard and took part in – I still really enjoy singing hymns. I’m an atheist who enjoys the rituals of religion, if that makes sense. I’m a Methodist atheist lesbian trapped in a man’s body!

Where did the title of the album come from?

VP: It’s from a lovely little book by B.B  – the story of the last gnomes in England. We had it read to us at primary school – happy days. I name check the book in English Village, along with Stig of the Dump, another school days classic…

There’s so much detail in your songs… Do you keep diaries, or do you just have a great memory for recalling experiences, people and places?

VP: I kept diaries as a teenager, but they were nothing to write home about, mostly just day to day activities – ‘I went to school, had a bath’ – that kind of thing. I’m often writing from memory – my memory is fairly good, although not always as accurate as I imagine. Of course, I have a propensity towards exaggeration. Don’t all writers?

As an observational singer-songwriter, you’re up there with Ray Davies. Are you a fan?

VP: Sure – yes. He’s such a great observer – still writing, still working and still believing. He’s truly inspiring and his newer stuff is great too, not just the classics. Have you heard Working Man’s Cafe? It’s wonderful.

Your song The King of Pop is a tribute to Michael Jackson – were you a fan of him, too?

VP: I was a fan of sorts – yes. Not a massive, full-on, love is blind kind of a fan, but more an appreciative, at a distance, respectful outsider fan – especially Off The Wall and Thriller.

The song The King of Pop is really a comment on the freak show that his life became and how we were all party to it – the public and the media. We killed him…

Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?  You’ve always been a big Bowie fan, haven’t you? Do you like his new stuff?

VP: My first love was Simon & Garfunkel, then came Bowie, Slade and T.Rex.  Then I got into harder rock – Wishbone Ash and Black Sabbath. I then got into The Kinks and Joni Mitchell – Joni was a revelation.

The new Bowie stuff is great, although I wish he’d ditch those huge ‘80s drum sounds – they really annoy me. I love writers, too – Charles Bukowski, Keith Waterhouse, Richard Brautigan, Rick Moody, Alan Bennett, Henry Rollins… There are so many.

Your song Catalogue Trousers celebrates the mail order catalogue and name checks pianist entertainer Bobby Crush. The Internet has killed off the mail order catalogue, hasn’t it? Discuss…

VP: I wrote Catalogue Trousers after reading a piece on the demise of the mail order catalogue industry and the relentless march of the Internet. It just set me thinking about how important the catalogue was to our family, and to young boys’ emergent sexuality. Clothes, records and cameras – you could get anything from the catalogue. My grandma really did say I looked like Bobby Crush – she was a big fan of the crimplene crooner.

What has been your worst fashion faux pas?

VP: A cravat in bright orange, with a curtain ring neckpiece, circa 1974.

Your song Antony Gormley is a tongue-in-cheek, Pythonesque dig at the sculptor and his nude male statues on Crosby Beach, near Liverpool. Do you really hate his work? What do you think he’d make of the song?

VP: I think he’s an interesting artist. I don’t hate his work. I think the impact of the men on the beach is kind of spectacular. In the song, I’m just looking at it from a simplistic viewpoint, devoid of all artistry and cool. I’m sure he’d see the funny side…

Is Girl At The Bar – one of my favourite songs on the album – aimed at anyone in particular? Is it based on a real encounter?

VP: It’s loosely based on a night out I had a couple of years ago, when I met a girl with a lust for life – some way beyond by own limitations. I felt like Billy Fisher [from Billy Liar] loitering on the platform by the milk machine. I never saw her again…

Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted the new album to sound like and what its themes would be?

VP: I was unhappy with some of the initial recordings, so that impacted on newer songs being added. It started off as one collection of songs but morphed into another record over time – I think it’s stronger for that.

I Only Stole What I Needed, The Saddest Summer of Samuel S and Antony Gormley were recorded some time after the rest of the album, in a different studio. Three songs from the initial sessions didn’t make the cut. I ended up doing the production myself in collaboration with various engineers, so it took longer than expected.

Special thanks should go out to The Gadget  – aka Jonathan Hurst  – who played a blinder in the patience and fortitude department. I very nearly drove him over the edge. David Marsden mastered the album  – his attention to sonic detail is something else.

How was the recording process? Can you tell me more about making the record? 

VP: The drums [Che Beresford] and bass [Ollie Collins] were recorded at Eve Studios, Stockport and then I took the files away and I added guitars, keys and vocals at home and in various studios. Rob Steadman also added keys and a couple of tracks were recorded using my Liverpool band Paul Tsanos [drums] and Bobby Kewley [bass, cello].

The recording process was a bit disparate and the majority of the mixes I settled on were completed at Gadgets Lab, Manchester – three tracks were recorded mixed at Whitby Studios in Ellesmere Port, with resident engineer Ian Lewis.

Jah Wobble [PIL] plays bass on the last track The Doo Kum Inn. How did that collaboration come about? 

VP: Neil McDonald [ex-Puressence] plays on three tracks. He was adding guitar parts to his Roland machine at South City Music in Altrincham, when Jah Wobble came in the shop. Jah liked the track and ended up playing bass on it. I need to thank him properly…

So, what are your plans for the rest of this year?

VP: We’re doing a festival headline show in June at Fylde [FRRfest – Lytham, Lancashire – June 18-21: www.frrfest.com]. I’m excited about that – an extended band show. There will also be more gigs and recording.

The next album is written – it’s called Silver Meadows – Fables from the Institution. It was inspired by me working in learning disability and psychiatric hospitals in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I start recording soon and it should be finished by the summer.

I’m hopeful Silver Meadows will also become a stage play. I’ve drafted some basic script ideas and I’m looking around for collaborators/backers. It’s early days, but I’m excited by what I have so far, so we’ll see what transpires.

In 2013 you released an album with ex-Oasis guitarist Bonehead [Paul Arthurs] under the name Parlour Flames. Can we expect another Parlour Flames record in the future?

VP: Unlikely in the short-term, but you can never say never for sure. I did write several songs with a new Parlour Flames record in mind. One of them, which is called The End, made it into my solo shows for a while and will emerge on future Vinny Peculiar recordings, I’m sure.

Finally, are there any artists that you’d like to write and record with?

VP: I’d love to collaborate with John Cooper Clarke. He’s a bit of a hero of mine and he only lives down the road. I quite fancy myself as a bit of an Invisible Girl, if you follow…

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Down The Bright Stream by Vinny Peculiar is released on March 30 (Shadrack & Duxbury Records).

www.vinnypeculiar.com

 

Forthcoming Vinny Peculiar UK shows

Feb 18 – RMA Tavern, Portsmouth

Feb 27 – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Mar 21 – The Crescent, Salford (album launch)

Mar 25 – Death 2 Disco, Silver Bullet, Finsbury Park, London

Apr 10 – The Cinnamon Club, Bowden

May 2 – John Peel Centre, Stowmarket

June 19 – Macbeth, London 

June 20 – Fylde Rock ‘n’ Roots Festival 2015, Fylde Borough

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW- Lucette: “When I was little, I dreamt of being Shania Twain”

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Last year, I saw 21-year-old singer/songwriter Lucette play at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester, where she was supporting The Secret Sisters. 

I was knocked out by her gorgeous voice and the way in which she turned her hand to country, pop, folk and blues.

For someone so young, she has an impressive list of  influences, from Bobbie Gentry to Ryan Adams, Townes Van Zandt and traditional murder ballads.

Now she’s gearing up for the release of her debut album, which is due out later this year. I spoke to her recently to find out more about it.

It’s been a while since we met each other in Manchester. What have you been up to since then?

Quite a bit actually. I’ve written and recorded a brand new album. Just after I left the UK and Ireland last year, I flew down to Nashville and recorded six new songs. Also, in the summer of last year, I made a music video for my song Bobby Reid.

I was really impressed by your live performance. You reminded me of Bobbie Gentry, vocally. Is that a good comparison?

It’s funny you say that, as I’d actually cite her as one of my biggest influences, especially in my writing. Her Ode to Billie Joe record is one of my favourites and it’s a good clue as to what my album will sound like.

I liked your live cover version of Ryan Adams’s Sweet Carolina.  Are you a big fan of his?

I’d say he’s in my top five, if not my favourite. So I guess you could call me a fan. Heartbreaker is my favourite album.

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Mine, too. Your debut EP, Baby I Want You Home, came out last year. How was it working with producer Dave Cobb, who’s also worked with Waylon Jennings and The Secret Sisters?

Dave is unbelievable to work with. He’s really helped me to become the artist I’ve always wanted to be. I’d almost be inclined to call him a really cool, older brother, who leaves new records out for you and tags you around with his friends, or something. I think we are like family, too. We’ve gotten to know each other so well that I will literally fly into Nashville and we’ll take a song of mine, or write a new one, and record it within days. I think we just get each other.

Your debut EP  is really varied. The title track is ’60s pop, there’s country (Dream With Me Dream) and also a dark, haunting murder ballad – Bobby Reid. Who and what are your main influences as a songwriter? 

Two years ago, when I was writing a good portion of the album, I was really into ’60s country-pop artists like Skeeter Davis. While recording, I wrote the song River Rising, which sprouted into other folky, darker songs like Bobby Reid. There’s this really cool quote by Flannery O’Connor that says, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say”. I love that quote because I feel like I relate to it. The darkness and melancholy in my music comes from my most inner thoughts. I think these fictional stories like murder ballads, about dark characters, are a part of myself that I didn’t embrace until writing stories in song. I’d say Bobbie Gentry, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch, Neil Young, and Irish ballads and traditional music have been the greatest influences on my writing.

What was it like recording in Nashville ?

As cheesy as it may sound, it was seriously a dream come true. I got to write with a cowboy called Brent Cobb. Within my first week of arriving it was like, okay, I’m actually recording in Nashville, and I’m writing with a cowboy with a dip in his lip. Dave really cares about making good, organic, and memorable music. Working with Dave and other musicians on my album reinforced that I was in the town where the best of the best recorded.  It altered the way I look at making records and changed the course of the rest of my career.

When can we expect to hear your new material? Will the album come out soon?

I’m hoping to release it sometime in the spring of 2013. I’m aiming for April.

What was it like growing up in Edmonton? What sort of music did you grow up with? Did you sing and play piano when you were a child?

Edmonton is probably the best place for a kid to grow up. Similar to Nashville, it has a small town/big city vibe. I went to Catholic church every Sunday, which I think had some sort of weird influence over the way I write.When I was little, I always dreamed of being like Shania Twain – I really wanted a denim-on-denim outfit like hers. I grew up mostly on country. Alberta is Canada’s cowboy country, and I loved that culture growing up. My grandmother introduced me to Elvis, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, who are still some of my favourite artists. Then I got into Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. I never sang in front of anyone, only in church when I was trying to behave. I started piano lessons at eight years old, but I quit after a couple of years. I picked it up again in junior high, putting speakers next to the piano and figuring out songs by ear.

What music are you currently into? Hmm. I really like Hem, Father John Misty, my good friend Meg Olsen (she just released her new EP), and The Carter Family. But then there are always my staples, which were mostly mentioned throughout this interview, but also include Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, the Everly and Louvin Brothers, Neil Young, Ray Lamontagne and, of course, The Secret Sisters.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013? Well, after this album and video are released, I hope to tour as much as I can. Everything is in the works right now though, and boy, am I excited.

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Lucette on Soundcloud

http://www.lucettemusic.com