It’s a jangle out there…

The Hanging Stars

The Hanging Stars

What better way to banish the post-Christmas winter blues than by blasting out some sublime jangle-pop… and there’s plenty of it about.

Three of my favourite new albums of 2018 so far ring like the Bells of Rhymney and owe a large debt to the chiming, 12-string Rickenbacker sound of The Byrds.

Coincidentally, as I’m sitting down to write this article, it happens to be ‘Blue Monday’ – (January 15), supposedly the most depressing day of the year, so it’s a perfect time to lose myself in some gorgeous, shimmering sounds.

Songs For Somewhere Else, the brilliant second album by London psych-folk-country band – and Say It With Garage Flowers favourites –  The Hanging Stars – opens with the beautiful On A Sweet Summer’s Day, which creeps up on you like the first rays of the morning sun – a hazy, lazy ballad with pedal steel guitar and a hypnotic, Spiritualized-like groove.

The album’s first single, Honeywater, has a Big Star feel, the galloping Gram Parsons country-rock of For You (My Blue Eyed Son) could easily sit on The Byrds’ cult classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, while Mean Old Man doffs its cowboy hat to Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

Look out for an interview with The Hanging Stars – and a more in-depth piece about the album – on Say It With Garage Flowers soon.

Staffordshire four-piece Alfa 9 could be cosmic cousins of The Hanging Stars – they both share a love of psychedelic sounds and if you compared their record collections, I’m sure you’d find they both own plenty of albums by The Byrds and The Beatles, as well as cool, cult ‘60s film scores.

My Sweet Movida, the third album by Alfa 9, immediately takes the listener on a trip back to 1966 with the first song Smile Dog – think Revolver-era Fab Four, but with a harder, rockier edge.

Different Corner is a killer jangle-pop song and the moody Movida is The Byrds doing a Spaghetti Western theme – McGuinn meets Morricone. You certainly get your fistful of dollars’ worth with this album – there are yet more cinematic cowboy sounds on Darkest Sea, which is haunting gothic country.

The Byrds are also circling over the superb self-titled debut record by Bennett Wilson Poole – a supergroup formed by Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and The Champions of the World) and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing, who have been called ‘the English Byrds’).

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Bennett Wilson Poole

Created in rural Oxfordshire, it was produced by 12-string Rickenbacker maestro Poole. High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times that we’re living in, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox and brings to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio, while the beautiful, sensitive, stripped-down ballad Hide Behind A Smile deals with depression.

High on harmonies and brimming with backwards guitar effects and soulful songs, it’s a shining light in these dark times, but it doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues – the blistering, anthemic protest rock of Hate Won’t Win addresses the murder of politician Jo Cox’

Things lighten up with the irresistible, bouncy sunshine pop of Wilson General Store, but the record ends with a brooding, dark and stormy, ragged Neil Young-style epic guitar workout called Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself) – its lyric even name-checks Young’s 1974 album On The Beach.

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It would be wrong to write an article on jangle-pop without mentioning UK label Sugarbush Records, which continues to put out great, vinyl-only releases by bands whose ‘60s and ‘70s musical influences tend to be found in the ‘B’ section of a record shop – namely The Byrds, Big Star, The Beatles and The Beachboys.

Carlisle group Kontiki Suite fall firmly into that category – their 2015 album, The Greatest Show On Earth, which is the follow-up to their 2013 debut, On Sunset Lake, has been re-released on limited edition vinyl by Sugarbush, and is an essential listen if you dig psychedelic jangle-pop.

Harking back to the 1968 masterpiece The Notorious Byrd Brothers, there are gleaming guitar lines (Bring Our Empire Down), cool, country-rock cuts (the harmonica and pedal steel-flavoured My Own Little World and Pages of My Mind) and cosmic voyages (Burned), but also a hint of late ‘80s indie with the sweet, blissed-out Here For You Now, which sounds like it’s been hanging out in The Stone Roses’ Mersey Paradise.

Set the Rickenbackers for the heart of the sun and welcome to the jangle…

Songs For Somewhere Else by The Hanging Stars is out on February 9, on Crimson Crow: http://thehangingstars.com/

My Sweet Movida by Alfa 9 will be available from March 9. It’s on Blow Up Records: http://www.blowup.co.uk/records

Bennett Wilson Poole is released on April 6 on Aurora Records: More info at https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/bennett-wilson-poole

The Greatest Show On Earth by Kontiki Suite is available now on limited edition vinyl [only 300 copies]: Sugarbush Records: http://www.sugarbushrecords.com/2017/06/kontiki-suite-greatest-show-on-earth.html

https://kontikisuite.bandcamp.com/

 

‘I’m not a fan of streaming. As a music fanatic, I would prefer people to buy records and CDs…’

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Singer-songwriter Daniel Wylie, who was formerly frontman of Glasgow jangle-popsters Cosmic Rough Riders, has recently released a vinyl-only compilation album, Best of The Solo Years (2004-2014), on Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

As the title suggests, it brings together some of the highlights from his solo career, including the irresistible, Byrds-like Consoling The Girl, the gorgeous, unabashed love song That Was The Day, the folky strummer Brighton Beach, uptempo space-rocker Unwind and the jaunty Car Guitar Star, on which Daniel takes a swipe at those people who steal music rather than pay for it… 

It’s a superb collection that is soaked in ’60s California [melodic] sunshine pop and recalls the chiming, 12-string sound of R.E.M, Teenage Fanclub and, of course, Cosmic Rough Riders – some of the tracks were penned for Daniel’s old band, but ended up on his first solo album, 2004’s  Ramshackle Beauty.

I spoke to Daniel, who’s off to record his brand new studio album, Scenery For Dreamers, this month, to find out the stories behind some of the songs…

Why did the time feel right to put out a new solo compilation album?

Daniel Wylie: It was the label’s idea [You Are The Cosmos]. They wanted to release a compilation focusing on the albums I released under my own name, rather than my Cosmic Rough Riders releases.

I hadn’t released a compilation album for eight years, so it felt like a good time to remind people that I’m still recording and releasing albums on a regular basis.

This Best Of… is my twelfth album release, counting Cosmic Rough Riders and solo records, since 1999. That’s a lot of music…

How hard was it to choose which songs went on the record?

DW: Pedro Vizcaino, who owns You Are The Cosmos, presented me with a track listing of his choice. I had a look at it and pretty much agreed with the songs he’d chosen…although I did insist on The Cello Player and Everything I Give You being on there.

When I released the last compilation, I got some interesting feedback from fans who were disappointed that I left off one of their personal favourites. I’m getting some similar feedback again with this new compilation, but you can’t please everyone.

The album is available on vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it in that format?

DW: I’m a big fan of vinyl, but because of the dominance of the CD era, much of my music never got a vinyl release. This was a good way for me to get more of my music out on vinyl. The artwork’s bigger and more aesthetically pleasing. I’m getting old and I can’t read the tiny text on CDs now…

The album has been released under license by Spanish label, You Are The Cosmos. Why have you teamed up with them? 

DW: I own the rights to all my own music, which means I get to choose whom I do deals with. It’s a good position to be in.

You Are The Cosmos released my last studio album, Chrome Cassettes, and they did a great job, so when they approached me with the compilation idea, I was happy to get involved with them again.

The label is a labour of love and Pedro Vizcaino is passionate about music. His enthusiasm rubs off on you and you want to be a part of what he’s doing. It’s a very cool label with a growing reputation for releasing quality music.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. Opener, Consoling The Girl, is one of my favourite tracks. What’s the story behind it? It’s classic jangle-pop / country-rock and it’s very Byrds-like…

DW: That song is partly about the trials of separation – having to go away on tour and leave behind the ones you love.

Cosmic Rough Riders toured constantly. In fact, one year I was only home for 16 days and I really missed my wife and children.

I wrote Consoling The Girl for what was to be the follow-up to Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine [Cosmic Rough Riders’ third album]. When we were in Japan on tour, I played a bundle of my new songs to the Sony Music execs and they were all saying that Consoling The Girl sounded like a single – that and Unwind.

Car Guitar Star is a message song – it deals with the subject of people stealing music and ripping off musicians. What’s your current view on that issue? You’re not a fan of Spotify, are you?

DW: I would prefer people to buy records and CDs. As a music fanatic, I want the lot – the great music, the beautiful artwork… I want to read who produced, engineered and mixed the album and who wrote the songs. I want to read the lyrics of the songs while I listen – it’s a whole experience that shouldn’t be allowed to die out. A file is nothing and MP3 sounds terrible, too.

I’m not a fan of streaming. I understand that it makes it easier for people to listen to music on the move, but until it pays artists and songwriters a proper royalty rate, then it’s not something I would promote as a good idea.

It might be that one day, streaming services will offer good financial rewards for the music they use, but, at the moment, they’re giving your music away for free in the hope that someone might turn up at your gig, or buy a T-shirt.

Another one of my favourite tracks on your new album is Brighton Beach. Funnily enough, I saw Cosmic Rough Riders play in Brighton – on the beach – at The Concorde 2, back in 2000. If I remember correctly, you played the song Brighton Beach in your set that night. It eventually came out on your 2004 debut solo album, Ramshackle Beauty. What can you tell me about that song?

DW: I wrote Brighton Beach as a B-side for The Pain Inside single [by Cosmic Rough Riders], but decided it deserved better than B-side status.

To be honest, I think the tune is great and the harmonies in the end section are maybe the best I’ve done in any song, but there’s only one line of the lyric that actually says anything… “everybody wants something – that’s the way of the world.” The rest of the lyrics are just rubbish.

That gig you speak of at Brighton Concorde 2…That day I had planned to take a guitar on to the beach and sing the song to the first pretty girl I saw…that was until we stepped out of the tour bus and felt how cold it was outside. There was no one on the beach…

Let’s talk about something happier. That Was The Day, which is on your new album, is a very pretty love song and the lyric mentions ‘that record by January’ – [I Heard Myself In You]. January were label mates of Cosmic Rough Riders when you signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones, weren’t they?

DW: I love that January album. It was my chill-out album on tour. I used to listen to it in the dark in my hotel room every night before going to sleep.

I intentionally wrote a song where I could fit that into the lyrics – that song was That Was The Day. There’s a funny thing about That Was The Day – four different couples have used it as their wedding song, but the song is about meeting my wife. It’s sentimental, I know, but what can I say – the day I met her was the single greatest day of my life.

January made a second album called Motion Sickness. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as their first…

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How do you feel about those days when you were signed to Poptones? Looking back on them now, do you have good or bad memories? 

DW: Poptones was a great label and it was amazing to be a part of it. There were some great people involved in that label and of course working with Alan McGee and Joe Foster is as good as it gets. It’s just a shame it didn’t last longer.

Maybe if I’d stayed in Cosmic Rough Riders and we’d released the follow-up to Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, things could have been different, as we were definitely on the rise.

We were the second biggest selling act on the label after The Hives and there was a big interest in what we would do next…then I left the band. A lot of people were angry with me and I can see why, but it’s never been about money for me.

I knew I would be selling less records and making music on a low budget and with a much lower profile, but at least it would be on my own terms without interference from people I couldn’t connect with musically – not the folk at the label, they were all great.

I’m proud of every album I’ve released since. I also loved some other bands on Poptones – Arnold were great and so were Oranger and Captain Soul.

Your latest studio album, Chrome Cassettes, came out in 2015. Are you working on a new record? What can we expect and when will it be out? Have you written any new songs recently?

DW: I begin recording a new album on February 9 – it’s going to be called Scenery For Dreamers.

There will be 10 songs on the album – seven full band tunes and three acoustic-based songs. Once I’ve got that album out there, I will be recording an acoustic album called I Am A Golden God.

I have 22 songs almost written for the acoustic record. I’m hoping that 14 or 15 of them will make it on to the album. By then I’ll be 60 years old and thinking about retiring, at which point my wife starts laughing…

Will you be playing any live shows this year?

DW: I get offered gigs a lot, but to be honest, I can’t be bothered. I’ve toured the world and it kind of wears you down after thousands of gigs. If I got offered enough money to make it worthwhile, then I would tour, but I think that ship has sailed.

Finally, what music – new and old – are you currently enjoying? What can we find on your hi-fi?

I listen to music every day – it’s my one and only drug. I’m teetotal, so I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs… and I’m a better person for all of that.

Redspencer’s Perks is an album I’ve been listening to a lot recently. They’re from Melbourne in Australia and they remind me of Real Estate meets Blur – when Blur were great. I also love a guy called Bibio – his  A Mineral Love album and his Green EP are so beautiful and melodic – it’s shimmering music.

I also love The Goon Sax album – they’re Australian and include the son of The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster in their line-up. They sound like early Orange Juice meets The Go-Betweens. I like Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe – they sing in German and have bits of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! in their music, but they’re so tuneful and edgy, too…

I also love the latest Black Mountain album, Black Mountain IV, and American band Astronauts, etc – their Mind Out Wandering album is one of the best albums I’ve heard in years.

Other stuff: case/lang/veirs – beautiful country/folk-tinged music that’s ultra-melodic and mellow, Heron Oblivion, Bryan Estepa, The Junipers, Radiohead, Gregory Porter, Murals, Lou Rhodes – great acoustic folk, like Joni Mitchell with a deeper voice – and C Duncan. Both his albums are beautiful.

Daniel Wylie’s new album, Best of the Solo Years (2004-2014) is out now on You Are The Cosmos .

Copies are also available in the UK from Daniel Wylie: wyliebaum@yahoo.co.uk and Sugarbush Records.

Cosmic Americana Music

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London’s The Hanging Stars have made one of the best albums of this year.

Recorded in LA, Nashville and, er, Walthamstow,  Over The Silvery Lake – their debut record – is a gorgeous psych-folk-pop-country-rock masterpiece that owes a debt to The Byrds and the Cosmic American Music of Gram Parsons, but also Fairport Convention’s pastoral ’60s English tune-smithery.

Willows weep, ships set sail on the sea and songs are laced with pedal steel guitar and shot through with blissed-out harmonies. There are hazy, lazy, shimmering summer sounds  (I’m No Good Without You and Crippled Shining Blues), as well as brooding desert-rock (The House On The Hill], trippy mystical adventures (Golden Vanity) and, on the closing track, the beautiful Running Waters Wide, rippling piano is accompanied by bursts of groovy flute. 

In an exclusive interview, I spoke to singer, guitarist and songwriter Richard Olson (The See See, Eighteenth Day of May) and bassist Sam Ferman (The See See and The Lightshines) about the making of Over The Silvery Lake and found out that its follow-up – due out next year – is almost done and dusted. Cosmic, eh?

Your debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, was released in March 2016. It’s one of my favourite records of the last 12 months. This year has been a bad one for the wider world, but how’s it been for The Hanging Stars?

Sam Ferman: We’re going to be a footnote to Trump…. It feels like 2016’s been a bit of a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel that long ago that Rich had an idea about taking the music that we were doing at the time somewhere different and creating a new band. From recording the album in LA, finishing it off, having it released and going round France and Spain and heading to Germany… We’ve packed a lot in.

Richard Olson: To be honest, I didn’t expect for us to get the kind of reception that we’ve been getting. There were so many bits that fell into place with the album. I’ve been in quite a few bands and projects and the best ones haven’t been too try-hard. Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard, but it’s a natural harmony.

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Can you tell me about the songwriting process behind the album? Do you all write songs?

Sam: Most of the record was ideas that Rich brought to us. We had the benefit of spending quite a lot of time working out what we wanted to do with them. Rich was quite keen on taking it somewhere different, which is where the pedal steel, violin and flute got involved. We broadened our horizons and didn’t restrict it to just a three person, guitar pop band. We made it more pastoral, folky and country-infused, which was really exciting.

Are you guys into the classic country-rock bands?

Richard: Of course – I’ve always been obsessed with The Byrds and Gram Parsons. Our guitar player, Patrick [Ralla  – banjo, guitar and assorted instruments] is a real country connoisseur – he really knows his shit.

Sam: It’s been exciting for me. As a kid, I was never that into country stuff – Rich got me into it. Me and Rich and Paulie  [Cobra – drummer] – and, maybe to a lesser extent, Patrick  and Joe  [Harvey White – pedal steel] are interested in psychedelic music. It’s been really interesting trying to see what you can do with a psychedelic twist on the country thing. When I was playing music seven or eight years ago, there were no psych bands around, apart from my one and Rich’s one – now there are dozens. It’s interesting to see how far you can push it and mix it with prog-folk and the Fairport Convention thing.

Richard: As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn.

Your album was made in LA, Nashville and Walthamstow. Did you have a definite idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

Richard: We went to LA and said, ‘let’s do some recording’.

Sam: A lot of it crystallised there. There was a lot of talking about what we wanted it to sound like – quite often, it’s very easy to stumble into recording a lot of stuff and then it comes together in a patchwork at the end. We had a coherent vision for the album right from the outset.

‘As much as we like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the English folk revival of the late ‘60s is just as important for us – Fairport Convention, Pentangle and John Renbourn’

 

 

Did you write any of the album in LA?

Sam: We wrote a lot of the parts there. One of the songs – Ruby Red – is based on me and Rich having a jam on a porch in Hollywood. I came up with a riff – we thought it was going to be an acoustic instrumental, but we started messing around with it in rehearsals and it sounded good when it was heavy and electric. Rich went away and wrote the melody and the words.

 

The House On The Hill is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track? I love the twangy guitar riff and the Spaghetti Western vibe…

Richard: Our friend Christof [Certik], who is a bit of a LA/San Francisco legend, wrote that riff. The guys went out on the porch and drank beer and smoked weed, while I had to coach him for four hours. It was hard to get it out of him, but once he did it, it was incredible.

Sam: Like every brilliant guitarist, he’s a perfectionist, but we got there in the end.

Crippled Shining Blues is another highlight of the album. It was also featured on an EP with Oxford band The Dreaming Spires earlier this year…

Richard: I’m really pleased with the way that song came out – it was all done in Walthamstow.

Sam: Rich had the two-chord riff at the start and we just jammed over it and he came up with the guitar riff. There’s a lovely complementary pedal steel riff, too.

 

You’ve been recording your new album? How’s it going?

Richard: We’re almost done – we’re putting the finishing touches to it. We’ve got about 20 songs, we’ll whittle that down to about 11 and then we’ll see if it’s any good…

When do you hope to release it?

Richard: Only the gods know that. Everything is a bit up in the air regarding when the album’s coming out.  It’s a weird time – everything takes absolutely ages, because of bloody Record Store Day. We need to have our stuff out on vinyl. The people who buy our records like vinyl and it’s how we survive on the road – not by eating vinyl, but by selling it.

Your next record will be quite a quick follow-up to your first one…

Sam: I think we started recording the new one before the last one was even out – we like to keep things ticking over. We’ve been busy this year.

What can we expect the new record to sound like?

Richard: I think we’ve found our feet to be honest. The first album was a bit of a stab in the dark and it was very much me, Paulie and Sam…

Sam: We were the genesis of it.

Not the Genesis?

Sam: There’s no Phil Collins…

Richard: Even though I do like Genesis… We’ve taken shape as a live band, with Patrick and Joe on pedal steel. They’ve been very involved with the new album – Patrick’s been co-writing. It’s been much more of a collaborative effort. I do think that the new album is very different, but it’s very much in the same vein musically, I suppose.

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Sam: We’ve done all of it at Bark Studio in Walthamstow, which is where we did about a third of the first album. We’re working with Brian O’Shaughnessy – he’s fantastic. Me, Paulie and Rich live in Walthamstow.

It’s sounding really nice. We had the majority of the album – the core bits – done about nine months ago. We’ve spent the last few months sprinkling the fairy dust on it.  It’s been really nice to see how it’s come together.

Richard: A lot of the recording for the first album was done in LA and we did some overdubs in Nashville. This album has been purely E17, which has been great. Due to the way of the world, it’s so hard to get a two-week chunk of time for recording, so we do a weekend of basics and then we drop in with some other ideas. I’m so chuffed with some of the stuff that we’ve done for the new record. I think it’s bloody good and I really hope that people will be blown away by it.

If you’ll pardon the pun, Christmas is a good time for hanging stars… What are your plans for the festive season?

Sam: Our drummer will be on the other side of the world, but for New Year’s Eve we’ll probably be at the What’s Cookin’ night in Leytonstone, sinking in a Yuletide country vibe.

Richard: We’ll probably be getting slightly off our nuts in some way or another – we don’t mind that at all.

 

Over The Silvery Lake by The Hanging Stars is out now on The Great Pop Supplement/Crimson Crow.

http://www.thehangingstars.com/

https://thehangingstars.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the jangle

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The sound of the 12-string guitar is celebrated on a great new compilation album – Twelve String High – which includes 23 jangle pop acts from all over the world, who share a love of Rickenbacker riffs and heavenly harmonies…

From The Byrds to Big Star and The Raspberries to REM, the 12-string guitar has always played an important part in rock and roll history.

The distinctive Rickenbacker jingle-jangle can be heard in folk rock, ‘60s beat, garage, power pop, the psychedelic Paisley Underground scene in ‘80s L.A and the British indie tunes of The Smiths.

There are also a huge number of current bands that owe a large debt to that classic 12-string guitar sound and the best of them are gathered together on an excellent new compilation album, Twelve String High, from Spanish label You Are The Cosmos.

Available on double vinyl, single CD and download, it rounds up 23 acts from all over the world that are known for their love of 12-string guitars and heavenly harmonies.

Things get off to a great start with the brilliant opening track by US singer-songwriter Erik Voeks – the entirely apt and wonderfully euphoric She Loved Her Jangle Pop.

And, if, like the female protagonist in Erik’s song, you love your jangle pop, then Twelve String High is an essential collection. In fact, we’d go as far to say that it’s one of the best compilation albums we’ve ever heard.

The UK is represented by Say It With Garage Flowers favourites The Dreaming Spires (If I Didn’t Know You), as well as Kontiki Suite, Dropkick, The Carousels, The Junipers, The Higher State and The Hanging Stars – whose debut album Over The Silvery Lake is one of the finest records of 2016.

Some of these bands were already on the Say It With Garage Flowers radar, but listening to Twelve String High has opened our ears to a whole lot more acts that we’d love to find out more about.

Who are US band The Parson Red Heads, whose gorgeous ballad It’s Hard For Me To Say is included on the album? And what about Australia’s Wade Jackson, who pitches in with Coming Back, Elvyn from Canada, whose Lotta Lies is one of the highlights, or Sweden’s Arvidson & Butterflies, with their marvellous, organ-heavy Tired of Running?

It’s a jangle out there…

Twelve String High is available now from You Are The Cosmos and the vinyl version can also be bought on import from Sugarbush Records.

‘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.

ARDENT-LIVEROOM

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/

 

“I feel like we’ve been through some dark times and 2015 is going to be a big year”

Darkest Before Dawn EP - The Dreaming Spires - Robin & Joe Portrait-1

Fans of classic, jangly, guitar pop rejoice – Oxford band The Dreaming Spires are back with a gorgeous, brand new three-track EP, Darkest Before The Dawn, which is a taster for their second album, Searching For The Supertruth, due out next year.

Opening song  Hype Bands Parts I & II is a seven minute tour-de-force – a big blast of country-soul with horns, chugging rock & roll guitars and an irresistible, sunshine melody. Its wry, amusing lyric is about on-the-road antics in the USA and pokes fun at hipster indie bands who are more concerned about wearing the right clothes than writing great songs…

Second tune, House On Elsinore, is luscious. A hypnotic, hazy heat wave of a song, it’s set in LA’s dark underbelly and is soundtracked by chiming, psychedelic, Byrds-like guitars, while the title track is a positive, spiritual hymn that was written as a message of hope to a friend of the band, Danny, who went through some tough times, but, thankfully, came out the other side. It’s moving and very uplifting.

I spoke to Robin Bennett – who, with his brother Joe – forms the nucleus of  The Dreaming Spires, about Americana, hanging out in LA and how their new album has been influenced by shoegazing…

Let’s talk about your brand new EP, Darkest Before The Dawn, which is a great record. Musically, it feels like a step on from your debut album Brothers in Brooklyn. It has a richer, more expansive, widescreen sound. Musically, you’ve taken the jangle-pop feel of  The Byrds, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub, but also thrown in some Americana influences and themes…

Robin Bennett: Thanks. I’m excited to get some new material out after what feels like an age. We’ve always felt part of that lineage of bands, not so much by intention, but in how things seem to end up sounding.

I often think we’ve gone on a radical departure, only to be told it still sounds like The Byrds. Maybe a different Byrds album… We’ve always been bracketed in with Americana acts in England too, which has never made much sense to me, unless you’re going to include The Kinks and The Beatles, etc. I read Ray Davies’ book Americana this year, which helped put it all in perspective for me.

I definitely share those ‘60s bands’ excitement at the exotic nature of many aspects of American culture, which is shaped by Beat books, cowboy films, rock & roll music, neon signage, cup holders, and all the other ephemera. Bands from The Byrds to Tom Petty to Big Star refracted the British beat music back again – so I see it as back and forth across the Atlantic. It’s tough on us British acts playing in that style, because it’s assumed we are trying to be American. To be British, you have to sound like Duran Duran, it seems. As a child of the ‘80s mostly, I never heard any music I liked until I discovered ‘50s rock & roll and soul via The Beatles. These songs [on our new EP] are mostly triggered by events that happened during visits to the US. In this case, mostly California – between 2003-2008.

The Dreaming Spires - Darkest Before Dawn EP Cover

So, what was the starting point for the new EP – musically and thematically? 

RB: The song Darkest Before The Dawn was written by me and a friend, Cat Martino, in Brooklyn. We were trying to write a letter to our friend Danny in the form of a song. I’d had the tune and the chorus line for a while, since our first ever band practice before the first album, but when it was expressed as a direct message it seemed to come together. We wanted it to have a positive message while acknowledging how bad things had got. Although we were talking to Danny about his life, the theme of darkness and redemption feels applicable to all of us. We worked hard to create the contrast between light and shade in the title song, while House on Elsinore has a paranoid air from the many drones and so on…

The songs are on the new EP are all thematically linked – based on real life experiences you had with your friend Danny. He sounds like quite a character! You’ve certainly got some good tales from your antics with him – he has been referenced in several of your songs.

RB: Danny certainly is a character. In fact, it’s him I’m talking about in Singing Sin City from our first album, “smoking cigarettes like a cowboy movie character”. On our first visit to the West Coast with [previous band] Goldrush and Mark Gardener [ex-Ride], he was officially our tour manager and collected us from LAX airport. The whole experience made a big impression on me and we formed a close friendship. At the time he had his own band, The And/Ors, and was working as a screen printer for the artist Shepard Fairey. You could say the music we were listening to on cassettes in his tour van – mostly Teenage Fanclub and The Byrds – set me off on the direction that ended up with The Dreaming Spires. Given that he also introduced me to Big Star and reintroduced me to Tom Petty, you could credit Danny with our whole sound.

Aside from the bands and tours, we unexpectedly struck up a songwriting partnership. In only a few sessions in LA and also on his visits to Oxford, we contrived to write over 50 songs together at a rate of two or three a day. Until then I’d been writing mostly alone and struggling with it. He taught me how to put method in the madness and to create almost on demand, which was an amazing change for me.

We wrote songs for Goldrush for the album The Heart is the Place, and a kind of solo album called Dusty Sound System, which was written in a week and recorded in a day, as well as numerous unreleased songs. Strength of Strings and Just Can’t Keep This Feeling In eventually made it onto the Brothers in Brooklyn LP [The Dreaming Spires’ first album].

How does Danny feel about having songs written about him? He sounds like he went through a bad patch, but, thankfully, is now in a much happier place…

RB: He did indeed hit a bad patch and it was no longer possible for us to write together. It was also a turbulent and busy time in my own life, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write again on my own – and for a year or so, there wasn’t much coming out. It was seeing him at such a low point, when we visited California for a friend’s wedding, that got me writing again – with him as the subject, instead of the writing partner. I don’t know why, but the ideas just kept coming, spilling out into numerous lyrics that I wrote at great speed. Some were finished in time for the first LP, some took longer and some form part of this new EP and the new album. I kept thinking, ‘now I should write about something else’, but I kept having more ideas from the same topic and often the lyrics would go off on tangents from a similar starting point.

I read something by Jay-Z, talking about writing lyrics by going back to the same point in your past for inspiration, so perhaps that’s what was happening. We spent a year recording these new songs, but I knew if Danny wasn’t happy with them, then I wouldn’t be able to release them, so I sent them to him before anyone else. His reaction was what I hoped it would be – he understood the intention of the songs, of course. I also didn’t feel right putting these songs out until I knew he was in good shape again, which he very much is now.

I like the wry, witty lyrics on your song Hype Bands Parts I & II. Are the words aimed at any bands in particular? I also like the rocky guitar sound on the track and the big brass arrangement. It has a soulful feel…

RB: I think we’ve ended up with a contrast between the brittle sound of the intro, which is a warm parody of any number of ‘hype bands’, and the looser feel of the second half, where music helps you to let go – which is what ‘soul’ music usually does. Because we’ve been playing in bands since the late ‘90s, we’ve come across many bands that have shot to fame before disappearing, but, in a way, it’s more of a comment on how the music industry has treated bands in the last 15 years. There’s a wave of hype to get them going, before a rapid tail-off into obscurity. Of course, if you’re a writer or an artist, this bears no relation to your development. The attributes to being a good ‘hype band’ are different to being a good writer, as your window of opportunity is so short. You have to chime with the trend of the moment.

When we did have a major label push for our old band, Goldrush, we coincided with the appearance of The Strokes, who must be the ultimate hype band. We didn’t stand a chance! Shortly afterwards we left Virgin Records, who replaced us with The Thrills – who, I should add, were a good band with some excellent songs. They did a similar thing, but in a much more presentable way. We crossed paths with them a few times during our LA visits, including an incident where we found out that a friend of Danny’s was acting as their stylist. When he asked Conor, the singer, about it, he denied everything. We really did play them at pool, too. We won!

Will any of the songs from the new EP end up on your next album – Searching For The Supertruth – which is out next year?

RB: We recorded 13 tracks in all – three of which form this EP and the other 10 make up the album. We tried to make it work as a double album, but, ultimately, it worked better separating these three songs as an EP – it’s too much to process at once. All 13 tracks will be on the vinyl release across two discs.

Is the EP representative of the new album? 

RB: I think the EP is a good pointer towards the album. We’ve finished the album. It’s been mastered by Tony Poole, a great musician and producer who played in the cult ‘70s band Starry Eyed & Laughing. We worked with our long time associate Rowland Prytherch to create as much detail in the sound as we can, so that further listening is rewarded. Something we’ve picked up more on since the first LP is trying to create an atmospheric undercurrent to the tracks, often using lap steel washes and string pads through numerous FX pedals. You could call it our shoegaze influence. I think it sounds positive and transcendent, overall.

So, what we can expect from the new album. Can you give us a few teasers? 

RB: We’ve been playing some songs live already. The autobiographical song Dusty in Memphis is already a crowd favourite, complete with a sing-along. We’ve also played the title song, with a backwards guitar part by Tony Poole, and the ballad We Used to Have Parties, which has a backing vocal from Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne.

Is it a concept album and  part of a trilogy? Where did the title  –  Searching For The Supertruth – come from?

RB: It definitely feels like a concept album, without being overbearing. It is the final part of the trilogy, where the narrative resolves, at least for now. The title came from a scientist friend called Rich Blundell. It’s to do with cosmic evolution and the universe becoming conscious of itself.

What music are you currently into and what are your favourite new albums of 2014? 

RB: This year I have enjoyed new stuff from The War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, and Arcade Fire, as well some great music by friends including Common Prayer, Sugar Magnolia and Paul McClure. I’m enjoying The Flaming Lips and friends’ take on Sgt Pepper more than I expected too! I’ve also been listening to lots of soul compilations, dreaming of being in Booker T & The MG’s, plenty of Jackson Browne and new and old Tom Petty albums. Getting a car with a tape-only stereo has meant I’ve listened to cassette versions of Tunnel of Love [Bruce Springsteen] and Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner more times than I care to mention.

So, how you do feel as we head into 2015?

RB: I feel like we’ve been through some dark times and 2015 is going to be a big year

Darkest Before The Dawn – the new EP from The Dreaming Spires – is released on November 24. It’s on ClubHouse Records.

http://www.thedreamingspires.co.uk

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk

http://www.clubhouserecords.co.uk/artists/the-dreaming-spires