Tuesday, 29 January 2008

INTERVIEW: Los Campesinos

Well, aren't you lucky - two posts in about half an hour of each other. Crazy stuff.

Anyway...here's an interview I did with sickeningly chirpy Welsh based pop-cherubs Los Campesinos! at Cab Vol in November last year. Having heard the new album I must admit I am a lot less enamoured with the septet now than I was back then when You! Me! Dancing! was swirling round my skull like a dizzy shot of amphetamines and chased by murky half gram of Red Bull. Still, they were lovely and very polite and, well, new music's all about the kids ain't it? Not old bastards like me.


If 2007 taught us anything it was that indie is the new pop. The chin-stroking, clique fostering genre that evolved in the mid 80’s is wholly unrecognisable in today’s commodity-orientated musical climes. Whereas once it was a novelty to browse through a weekly rag and spot a 100 word blurb on some obscure grotty-faced act who’d just released their first 7” through Too Cool For School Records, it’s now common place to find a clutch of fresh-faced, flavour-of-the month vagabonds peering out at you from the cover of glossy, street wise advertorials like an omnipresent product placement conceived in the rotundly shaped gut of a major label CEO.

And here, at the start of 2008, this insidious co-option is complete. But is it really so bad? Could this indie-pop revolution not, in-fact, be a blessing in disguise? Yeah we’ve got to endure a shit-storm of ear-burning, nail-grating pish but for every splurge of Jam-aping filth like The Enemy there’s a Foals or Tokyo Police Club lurking in the shadows, ready to clasp on to the success their irresistible brilliance deserves.

One band that firmly subscribes to the latter form of idiosyncratic pop-picking is Los Campesinos!. Last year the Cardiff-based septet left the blogosphere whooping in rapturous accord with the sound of their effervescent and utterly contagious harmonic brilliance. With just three single release under their belt the lip-licking hyperbole suggests the band are under a Frank Black-sized weight of expectation to produce the goods in 2008 but when I caught up with founding members Neil and Tom (each member of the group goes by the achingly faux-surname ‘Campesinos!’ ) it seems this young ensemble of cheeky-chopped scamps are taking such glowing media plaudits in their stride.

“We try not to worry about what people write about us too much - we are just trying not to be too self conscious and just get on with playing our music.” says guitarist Tom “It’s inevitable [the press] will turn on us one day - considering how fickle the music industry is at the moment – and if that’s going to happen then we don’t really want to think about it all now, we just want to get out there and enjoy what we’re doing.”

Initially starting out as a four-piece jam-band Neil, Ellen, Ollie and Tom as the antitheses to what Tom describes as Cardiff’s “crap” music scene, the group quickly enrolled Harriet, Aleksandra and Gareth to capture the triumphant, jingle-symphonic majesty that exudes from debut single We Throw Parties! You Throw Knives!. Yet for a band with its roots firmly entrenched in the quaint valleys of Wales, it’s surprising to find their moniker is an ode to Spanish peasantries:

“I’m a big fan of Spain and I used to speak lots of Spanish so it’s just a word I knew from that, “says guitarist Neil. “It’s a phrase that has lots of political connotations but that’s not really a part of our sound – we’re not a politically motivated band, far from it”

“We were throwing around names and it appealed to us both in originality and the way it sounded,” continues Tom. “The exclamation mark at the end seemed to suit the energy of the band and the music we make. When people say Los Campesinos! we want them to shout it with enthusiasm.”

Having released two of last years most infectious singles You, Me Dancing /International Tweexcore Underground) there was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm for the band’s signature amidst UK record labels – with the home of Bloc Party, Witchita, eventually winning the race to release the group’s forthcoming debut LP – but was there ever the temptation to ‘pull a Radiohead’ and avoid the trappings of a long-term deal?

“Nah, I think we are forever destined to be puppets of the music industry,” laughs Tom. “With the internet it’s much easier to build an audience without the record label but there for a young band like us there are still so many advantages in having label support, such as financial backing for touring, contacts and setting you up with a support band. It depends on what you want to achieve, I guess.”

And what do Los Campesinos hope to achieve this year?

“We just want to release the album and carry on touring. The record is coming together quite nicely and is sounding like a gigantic pop album. We want to push ourselves and with the sound of the tracks on there I think we’re going to have to push quite a bit to pull it off,” says Tom before Neil looks up from his lap-top and quips: “To be honest, right now we don’t have any real goals apart from getting to level four on this website.”

(a version of this article can be found here at the Skinny HQ)

INTERVIEW: Swimmer One - The Transcripts

Well, I promised more transcripts and here's another one now that i've finally got through the mountain of CDs I've had to review...

I interviewed the rather excellent Swimmer One (a duo made up of Andrew Eaton and Hamish Brown) last year and their debut LP The Regional Variations went on to become one of my favourite's of 2007. They're a mixture of understated 80's electronica and the sort of twee-clad, soul-searching that's been emanating from Glasgow's cafe-spated West-End over the past 10 years. I'm a gibbering sucker for both genres - dependant on mood of course - so I'm very fond of them and, having spoken to Andrew not that long ago, it looks like a new record wont be that long in the making so hurrah to those mighty fine singular swimmers. Anyways....transcript ahoy. Enjoy (formatting was totally fuckered on my word doc for some reason so, be warned, there are words adjoining other words!)


The Regional Variations has received wide-spread acclaim since its release. Did you expect it to be so well received? How have youreacted to the praise?

Andrew: The arrogant but honest answer is that yes, I did expect good reviews, because I think it's a really good album! So my main reaction is relief, actually, since it suggests we weren't completelydeluding ourselves.

How would you describe the sound of The Regional Variations? I find it quite difficult fathom to be honest. It kind of depends on my mood. Was this your intention to create an album that seems almost reactionary to people's emotions?

Andrew: It's both a dark record and an optimistic record, and I'm pleased that a lot of people seem to have picked up on that. A phrase we both use a lot when writing songs is 'tears on the dancefloor'. We both love pop songs that make you feel incredibly happy and incredibly sad at the same time Those are the kind of songs we aspire to write. In terms of the way the album is structured, it's deliberate that it begins with someone drowning and ends with someonelooking out to sea defiantly, feeling that life offers 'endless possibilities'. The album is partly about how you get from one state of mind to the other - how to be happy when there is so much in theworld to be depressed about. And I've always thought that you can'tbe truly happy unless you understand what it's like to be utterly miserable!

Hamish: I'd say it is quite a hopeful sounding record and I think we're both quite optimistic people on the whole. The other sentiment I'm glad people have picked up on from the album is that it's OK to be different.

I think another way of describing the feeling we sometimes go for is 'euphoric melancholy'. A lot of good dance music has this quality as do people like M83, Neu and Steve Reich and more recently The Field album From Here We Go Sublime on Kompakt. It's rhythmically exciting and quite 'up' but melodically but quite moving

What makes it stand out in today's current musical environment?

Andrew: I'm not sure that's for us to say. It is an unusual record, maybe, quite grown up. They're not teenage pop songs about going out, getting drunk and snogging people, or falling in love for the first time, which is what most pop songs are about, but I hope it's not a self-important, self-consciously 'mature' album either though. It'sinteresting that we get compared to lots of very different kinds of bands - Belle and Sebastian, the Associates, Pulp, Elbow, even the KLF. If we can sound like Belle and Sebastian AND the KLF then we're obviously not a band you can easily pin down -in the way that Editors are blatantly 'the new Interpol', for example, and I think that's avery positive thing. We tried to emphasise that in the album artwork- we liked the idea of using exotic flowers on there because a very warm, colourful image of nature in full bloom is not something you'd usually expect from an electronic pop duo..

Hamish: The other thing that makes us stand out is that we don't have a gimmick, we just have great songs! Although this in itself may count as a gimmick.Rather depressingly, I think the thing that makes us stand out is that we're not really trying to sound like anyone else, which might seem a dismissive conclusion writing off everyone else as unoriginal plagiarists, but it's not meant that way. I think the amount of copyists and revivalists around is a combination of a music industry understandably scared of getting behind anything unless it's meeting an already proven market, whether it's the new Lily Allen or the new Libertines or whatever and there being so many bands quite happy tomake unambitious music that sounds like the latest big thing. We don't make wildly experimental free jazz, it's recogniseable pop, but it's probably a healthy sign in terms of originality that we haven't been dubbed the 'new somethings'.

So, why do you think critics have taken to it so well?

Andrew: You'd have to ask the critics that! Because it's quite thoughtful, maybe, so appeals to people who think a lot about music'
Hamish: I think perhaps it's because we made an effort to put some musically interesting and lyrically intelligent ideas on the album. We're reclaiming pop back from being dumbed-down and reintroducing it as potent musical force capable of exploring and communicating complex ideas. There is a place for vapid pop, but our studio is not that place.

The record is embedded with romantic notions of Scotland. What is itabout towns like Largs that inspired you?

Andrew: This is not something I'd noticed, actually, but I am quite romantic about Scotland so it makes sense. It's possibly because I'man outsider - I grew up in Carlisle but always felt drawn toScotland. Scottish identity is a very strange mix of fierce patrioticpride and a sort of chippiness and resentment about being on the edgeof things (about being overshadowed by England, principally). I think The Regional Variations, as a title and a theme, is quite Scottish -it's about feeling like an outsider, but also feeling proud of that. Actually, though, one of the main reasons I drop quite a lot of references to Scottish places into the lyrics - Whithorn, the Clyde,all the towns in Largs Hum - is because I like the idea of peopler omanticizing Scottish place names the way I romanticize the names of places in other countries in other people's songs. I've always wanted to go to Tom's Diner, for example, because of the Suzanne Vega song, or Mario's Café because of Saint Etienne, even though they're probaby just very ordinary cafes. I like the idea of someone from Canada or Mexico wanting to go to Largs because of Largs Hum.

Hamish: I was born and grew up in rural Scotland which with hindsight probably has had a profound effect on me - I still spend a lot oftime exploring the countryside and the cities here and it is anamazing country. I don't really romanticise things in the same waythat a lot of tourists do but I am proud to be Scottish. There are lots of things about Scotland that are pretty unappealing too and I don't see us as a Scottish band at all, we just happen to be based here.

Apart from Scottish towns, what else inspired the record?

Andrew: The songs were written over a long period of time, so lots of different things, but lyrically they're all linked - a little bit tenuously in a couple of cases - by the idea that everyone is a'regional variation'. I'm really interested in the way the little differences between people (what music you like, what makes youlaugh) are often much bigger factors in whether people get on or not than the big ones (what country you're from, what religion you were brought up with). Musically, the desire to write a great pop record in the spirit of the pop records we both love - in my case things like Actually by the Pet Shop Boys, Parallel Lines by Blondie, Dare by the Human League, His'n'Hers by Pulp and Debut by Bjork, albums that were commercial but also quite leftfield.

Hamish: Most of the songs were written based in guitar, piano or synth sketches we came up with and developed from there into epic productions of varying scales. I tend to think about how songs are going to work most when I'm out cycling.

I've read that it took you quite a long time to complete The Regional Variations and the themes of the album hints at a longing for perfectionism - is this the reason for the delay?

Andrew: We are both perfectionists, sometimes to the point of tearing our hair out - but never tearing each other's hair out, thankfully.But yes, that was one of the reasons for the delay. We could have put out an album earlier (not long after our first single, in fact) but when we were writing and recording the songs didn't live up to the standards we were setting for ourselves. I'm glad we waited. Our second album will be better though.

Hamish: We both knew we wanted to make it a great record rather than rush an OK one out for the sake of it. So it took us a while becauseit's all killer, no filler! Also you have to live with your work forthe rest of your life so it's worth getting right.There were also several other musical projects we were involved in.We spent a few months playing live to the point where we were good,we collaborated on a theatre show with Highway Diner which toured to Italy and were commissioned to compose and record a score for a film about Scottish Ballet for The National Galleries. Once we decided toget the head down and finish the album however it was a fairly quickprocess.

How long have you guys been on the go for? How did you get together?

Andrew: We met at the turn of the century, while working together to foil the millennium bug, for which we have never received the credit we deserved.
Hamish: A mutual friend introduced us as we were both recovering band members writing and recording a lot of music at home. We swapped tapes of ideas and they were both so totally different that we knew instantly were made for each other.Our key strength is that we are both very good at what the other is rubbish at. I can't really sing or write words and Andrew has no interest playing the guitar or programming synths and drum machines.This almost total lack of skills overlap between us makes division of labour very easy.
And why did you decide to set up Biphonic Records?
Andrew: We had a vision of a future in which major record labels would collapse due to internet piracy, and enterprising bands would release music themselves rather than accept shoddy deals from peoplewho then told them what to do all the time. Also, we got tired of waiting for people to sign us.

Hamish: That pretty much sums it up. We did talk with a few industry people after our first single but to be honest, none of them were people you would trust to promote or represent us as enthusiasticallyas we could. You've just got to get your hands dirty and get on with these things sometimes if you want the job doing properly. So our motives were a combination of control-freakery with an added elementof 'screw you guys, we'll do it ourselves' thrown in. We remain open to offers, but just not from bampots.

Has it been difficult being on your own record label? What are the positives? What are the negatives?

Andrew: The positives are that how we look and sound is entirely up to us, and that we get to keep more of the money we make. are that we have to spend a lot of time doing boring admin and can't afford to take out adverts in Q or get videos made byMichel Gondry

Hamish: We are alarmingly good at administration. That's really whati'm doing with a laptop onstage. Managing a big f*ck-off spreadsheet.
With Radiohead releasing their new LP on the internet and with more big acts to follow suit where do you think this leaves 'The Record Industry' on a whole?

Andrew: I have mixed feelings about the Radiohead thing. Major labels do treat bands quite badly a lot of the time. On the other hand,potentially this trend is bad for a band like us - we don't make alot of money from playing live because we don't do it very often, so if people feel entitled to download our music for free instead ofbuying, that robs us of our main source of income and jeopardizes future music-making. So I feel vaguely resentful that Radiohead, millionaire rock stars, are effectively endorsing the idea that recorded music should be free, at the expense of smaller acts whocan't afford to give whole albums away. I can see people thinking 'if I don't have to pay for the new Radiohead album, why should I pay for yours?' Then again, perhaps it's unfair to blame Radiohead for that -they're not blazing a trail so much as recognizing which way the windis already blowing and cutting their losses. Jane Siberry did thesame thing years before Radiohead. She's the real pioneer here and amusical genius, by the way - up there with Bjork and Kate Bush.

Hamish: What Radiohead have done is only an option for massive bands who have built up a fanbase courtesy of a being signed to and promoted by a major label. I'm sad Radiohead have taken advantage of their position, of being a massive act out of contract, to do something interesting however. Individuals have been able to get free music for a long time now, from blank tapes to torrents. The interesting part to me is that it's started the moral debate of whether music should be free, as it's interesting how many people are opting to pay more than the minimum 0p, which suggest some moral obligation on the part of the consumer to the artist, and the notion that the artist might actually deserve some payment for their work is one we haven't heard for a while.

Will you be releasing any singles from The Regional Variations? And, in a tenuous link to my last question, what do you think the future holds for the much maligned singles chart?

Andrew: We will be releasing a single in the new year, but probably only as a download. I actually think the singles chart will be fine - downloading works in favour of single, very strong songs much more than it does in favour of albums. The singles chart will survive longer than the album chart, I suspect. It'll just have to adapt, and in fact it already has, by allowing downloads to be eligible. And ifpeople are moving towards downloading individual tracks by bands, maybe that means bands will have to write more and more songs that sound like singles - ie: that grab the attention immediately - otherwise no one will bother buying them. That's probably not good for bands, or career longevity, but it might create a more vibrantsingles chart - or rather song chart.

Hamish: I love the idea of 'the song' as a format and I think there is still a place for music experienced in album length chunks too, but this is only through a tradition and a totally arbitrary one based on the technology of the day, so I don't know how much time it has left now that technology has advanced again.
How does the live sound of Swimmer One compare to that on record?

Andrew: We're working on developing the live show. Until now it's been just the two of us on stage, playing stripped down versions of the recorded songs, but we're recruiting a keyboard player and possibly a percussionist, so we might sound more like a 'band' soon.

Do you actually enjoy the live environment?
Andrew: Do I enjoy it? Depends on the night. We supported John Foxx recently, which was a lot of fun - sell-out crowd, very warm reaction, and it was an older audience with money so they bought lots of our albums from the merchandise stall afterwards. More gigs like that please.

Hamish: Being an electronic band but with guitars and vocals means we have a foot in both camps, so we do shows with bands and can also play clubs. Unfortunately this means either the sound engineer is surprised that we don't have a drummer and in clubs they are surprised that we have a guitar, so it's chaos either way. We play the more full-on songs in a more full-on way when we play live. We really enjoy good gigs in the right venue to the right crowd but we have no desire to play on poorly put together bills in rubbish venues.

Do you feel part of a Scottish music community at the moment? I've noticed there are a few local bands with quite a similar sound as yourselves (The Magnificents and Luxury Car from your own label being the two that spring to mind) is this just a coincidence or is there something stirring in the waters round here?

Andrew: It's a coincidence. One of the things I like about Scotland just now is that there's no identifiable 'Scottish sound'. It's full of very different, very individual bands, making very different music, but with the same independent, leftfield spirit. There are remarkably few Franz Ferdinand copyists - you actually find more of those in London.

And what local bands are you excited about at present?

Andrew: I like Found, who seem to be coming from a similar place to us, in attitude if not musically. I really like Injuns, a very clever, very unusual band . I like Amplifico too - a really good, mainstream pop band with good tunes. Luxury Car too obviously, who just get better and better, and deserve more attention.

Hamish: I recently bought the Max Richter album Songs From Before on Fat Cat and really liked the Puggies single by Rubens from Glasgow

And how are you coping with the media attention? I understand Andrew is a full time journalist - does this make it in any way easier to deal with snooping muso hacks like myself?

Andrew: It makes me more careful about what I say, possibly. Every time I say something stupid in an interview I immediately think 'uh oh, there's the pull-out quote'. I'm constantly restraining myself from slagging people off ...

And, finally, what does the future hold for Swimmer One? What plansdo you have for the next year?

Andrew: A single or two from this album, and then a second album -we have about 17 songs half-finished just now. And we'd quite liketo play Connect, Triptych or Indian Summer if they'll have us. Generally we'll be doing all we can to spread the word about The Regional Variations.

Hamish: We've been offered some distribution in Europe, so maybe some activity in that direction. We're also looking at getting some remixes done and doing some song-writing, production and remixes for other people too, so keeping very busy.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

LIVE REVIEW - Johnny Foreigner/Y'all Is Fantasy Island/Jesus H. Foxx, Henry's Cellar Bar, 23 Jan ,

A mere thirty or so punters have ventured out to watch Johnny Foreigner rip the rafters from Henry's Cellar Bar tonight. This paltry attendance equates to less than the number of folk normally required to hold a professional football match (substitutes and referee's assistants included, of course) witnessing a band unanimously tipped for glory across the strata of 2008 hit-lists; a band who's debut mini-album, Arcs Across The City, received a flawless rating here at my day/night job; a band who are - quite simply - the sonic equivalent of a vicious, stomach-churning boot to the scrotum. Whatever happened to the fabled hospitality and on-the-pulse trendsetting of Scottish gig-goers?

But let’s not dwell on absent friends, the here and now is all about future glories and kicking off proceedings with a fidgeting assault of strung-out slacker rock is local dirge-driven beat-mongers Jesus H. Foxx. This spectacularly monikered quintet reels together a blizzard of duelling percussion, prickly guitar skewers and nocturnally lit basslines that amalgamates The Modern Lovers apathetic composure with the rhythmic deviancy of Pavement. Their straight-laced demeanour is reflected in crisp, abrasive tracks like ‘This Is Not A Rental Car’ and ‘Tightt Ideas’ that incite a shudder of synchronised Converse tapping amongst the sparse but mesmerised crowd; yet it’s ‘I Got The Sad’s Real Bad’’s subtle nuances that encompasses hearts as a sumptuous waft of pristine harmonies and soul-incrusted bass percolates sweetly through the venue’s claustrophobic confines. Top-loaded with finger-clicking ear-pleasers, the set eventually tails into meandering, bromidic space-fillers, but once such blemishes are adequately polished the coming months may just see Jesus H. Foxx venturing out into brighter pastures.

Less arctic of disposition, Falkirk based quartet Y’all Is Fantasy Island [YIFI] take to the stage with a glutton of Americana-tinged popsicles and decibel-accruing psycho-blues. Interchanging between an affected Stateside twang and brutish local brogue, frontman Adam Stafford cuts a rankled but captivating figure as his neck-straining attestations ascend through a cacophonous froth of feverous guitars and bolshy bass-slaps. Not quite at their ravenous best, much of this six-song showing finds YIFI’s melodic, country-tinged melancholy struggling to capture the heady-heights that’ve induced a giddy shower of praise upon the group for much of the last twelve months but during the climatic throes of closing opus ‘God Bless and God Damn’ the jaws of defeat are dramatically gouged wide open. Injecting a symbol-clashing splurge of deep-filled bass and Dylan-esque uttering into the airwaves, it’s a stupefying, soul-juddering triumph that wipes away the doubts emanating from the preceding half hour’s accomplished but ultimately stolid display.

In such meagerly populated domains it’s difficult to gauge the excitement surrounding Johnny Foreigner’s inaugural assault on Auld Reekie, but once the first blistering waft of frantic nitrogen-pop hurtles in to the atmosphere like a seething, discordant tornado it doesn’t really matter because, frankly, this trio of rocket-fuel slurping scamps are astonishing tonight. A hyperactive clatter of adrenaline pumping elasticity that could energise a bong-inhaling sloth, the Birmingham-based outfit whittle together surging, epileptic punk thrashes with a delicate sense of melody that simultaneously pulverises the senses and softens the heart in one breathless swoop.

Vanguards of the frontline, Alexi and Kelly instantly transfix the eyes as the thunderous ‘Champagne Girls I Have Known’ and ‘The One End And Everything After’ oscillate throughout the venue like an untamed, half-starved beast scavenging for a modicum of nourishment. Yet, despite the duo’s enticing chalk and cheese mannerisms – Alexi is a boundless bubble of energy while Kelly epitomises dead-pan serenity – it’s the frenzied whirlwind erupting from the arms of drummer Junior that makes the most seductive viewing. He is, unquestionably, unfathomably, a machine; relentlessly pummelling his skins to within an inch of combustion during the spitfire machine-gunnery of new single ‘Our Bi-Polar Friends’ and the equally jittersome, and utterly infectious, ‘Sofacore’.

Unable to decrease the pace to anything resembling mid-tempo, the mind-frazzling upstarts round up a scintillating set with the micro-cosmic explosion of 'Yr All Just Jealous'. Oozing with starry-eyed aspirations and furious, gilt-edge riffs, it’s a jaw gaping affirmation of potential super-stardom to the thirty-odd astounded converts who float from Henry’s tonight. As for the pitiful, snivelling no-shows, well I guess they’ll just have make do with the joy of sold out arena tours and restricted viewing that’s bound to follow over the course of the next twelve months.
Johnny Foreigner - 9/10
Y'all Is Fantasy Island - 6/10
Jesus H. Foxx - 7/10

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Interview Archive: Annuals

This is the transcript of a disastrous interview I conducted in July 2007 during the Indian Summer festival in Glasgow. Annuals' debut Be He Me was a favourite of mine at the time – the North Carolinian sextet's single Brother was the kind of mammoth, stirring opus that should have projected them into the realms of Arcade Fire reverence - and the opportunity to speak to frontman Adam Baker and drummer Nick Radford after an opulent, swaying set proved to much to resist.

Now, festivals are rarely the most conducive of settings for a comprehensive interview as far too many factors can go wrong: drunk band members, drunk interviewer, pissing sheets of rain ruining recording equipment or, my own personal favourite, inebriated fans (or should that be fannies) trying to get in on the interview. So it was hardly surprising this chit-chat with Annuals became a bit of a challenge. Sat outside a hut on Victoria Park’s bowling green, things seemed to be going fine, there was booze, merriment and the photographer, John Lewis, had taken some wonderful shots, but a couple of minutes into the interview - a whisky soused - Adam dropped the dictaphone he had been diligently balancing on his knee. After a mild panic everything seemed to be okay but once the interview was completed I tested the levels to discover that only the first 2mins 33secs had recorded – much to my utter horror.

With Jason Pierce’s voice booming in the background as Spiritualized’s Acoustic Mainline set began gushing from the PA, neither Adam, Nick or myself (John had already buggered off by this point – these photographers have an easy life, coming and going as they please) were entirely comfortable doing the interview once again, so agreed to cut down the questions to a minimum. So, what lies before you is a down-sized version of an interview that was an initially articulate, funny and intriguing insight into one of 2007's great, unsung acts. Thankfully, the interview never ran when it was supposed to because Annuls had just finished promoting Be He Me - they were flying back to US the following day for some much needed rest judging by the black rings around their eyes. But they were lovely, endearing guys who played a stunning live set (2 percussionists always does it for me) and I would thoroughly recommend you check them out this year.

Hi guys, thanks for taking the time out for a chit-chat. How was the show?
Nick: It was great, man. It was a pretty good crowd too although it started raining. You guys have the most fucked up summers

You’re darn tootin’ right we do – you should try our winters mate. So, do you guys actually enjoy playing festivals or is it something you’d rather do without?
Adam: We love festivals actually
Nick: Yeah, it’s nice to see when people are actually enjoying your music instead of killing time.
Adam I guess when you spend that much money to go and see something you’re gonna have to be enthusiastic about it and it’s always nice to be on the receiving end of that.

So how do UK festivals compare to those back in the States?
Adam: There’s much fewer US festivals than there are here in the UK. Band’s tour round the country all the time and people have the chance to see all these bands constantly and festivals are more of a wrapping up or what not. Over here the festivals are way more important and its more of an exciting experience because this is one of the only chances you get to see all of your favourite bands with all of your friends.but the weather here kind of determines whether you enjoy it, I guess.

Not so my friend. Spin and Needles has had many a cracking festival knee deep in human excrement whilst the big man upstairs pisses out a relentless stream of aqueous content but never mind that how did you guys get it together?
Nick: Well, pretty much both parts of our band started playing in different bands in North Carolina but we got together through Kenny's [Florence – guitarist] girlfriend and from then on we started practicing together and playing a few shows. Then when the band started to get a bit more more attention we decided to put all our eggs into one basket and set out as The Annuals you’ve seen today.

On your debut record Be He Me you seem hell-bent on creating escalating, symphonic soundscapes. What were your influences when creating the record?
Adam: [sighs] God, if I had a dollar ever time someone asked me that. In essence the record was inspired by some and perhaps non of the following: Brian Wilson, Phil Collins, Paul Simon, Mr Go Go, Toni Toni Toni, Bjork and, of course, Annuals,

Phil Collins? Really?An, um, interesting choice. The album has been well received globally – Did you *ahem* feel it coming in the air tonight?
Adam: [Horrified] We didn’t know what to expect at all. Were really new to any sort of attention outside of our home state – from two years ago past it’s always on a local sense. I guess you’re competing with 20 bands and they’re not very good anyway – I hope no-one heard that back home. Really I didn’t expect to be here a year ago. I didn’t expect to be playing to as many people as I did here in Glasgow and then doing the interview after. It makes me feel proud of all the work we’ve done – it’s very humbling.

With such intricately structured songs that tend to involve two percussionists, I’m guessing Be He Me wasn’t a stroll in the park to put together?
Adam: You’re right, there was a lot involved in it. We have a studio in our best friend’s basement and we would go in and work on it at anytime of any day. So if I wanted to I would go and work in the studio when an idea came into my head. We ended up saving for studio equipment because me and Mike [Robinson - bass player] knew how to record music. We had the opportunity to be perfectionist about it.

So how does the songwriting process work for you guys? Is it a group effort or does democracy go out of the window?
Adam: I pretty much took the reigns for most of [Be He Me] because its hard to actually involve everyone when you come up with ideas for a song in your bedroom alone most of the time. I go in and record it and get a backbone to it then we start building the song piece by piece – its an ever growing ever creating process. People come in and give you better ideas and it all works out as a very nice experimental process.

Are you at all sick of the Arcade Fire comparisons?
Nick: No, not at all - the comparison is a good comparison I would say. People have to compare you to someone, even to someone you don’t know or don’t like so in that respect it’s a good thing.
Adam: I suppose there is no other way to explain music – you cant explain what a violin note sounds like or how the violinist played that note. You’ve gotta think of something it sounds like and everyone’s personal library will tune into that. I don’t really think we sound like them though. The only reason I started listening to them was because of the comparisons and as we’re my favourite band I thought I was going to love them. But if we do sound like them that’s fucking cool with me - they’re a great band and put on fuckin' cool shows.

It sounds like you’re enjoying being out on the road right now. How has the constant touring to promote the record been for you?
Adam: It’s always fun playing – we spend every hour of the day with seven other people in a van fucking farting all over the place and then we get an hour to play in our own space - I would recommend it to anyone.
Nick: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now – I cant imagine having a nine to five job waking up at the same time every day. I just couldn’t do it. I worked in a laundry shop at one point and it fuckin’ sucked.
Adam: We all knew we didn’t want to do anything else. We were the only people in our general area who knew how to do that and it seems to have worked out for us thus far. It seems very natural to us but we’re all very lucky to be where we are. There are so many bands out there who are so much better than us and how don’t get the recognition they deserve. We’re extremely lucky to get the recognition we get. – don’t know if we deserve it but we’ve worked so fucking hard to get where we are. We don’t make much money being such a large band but it all works out though as we don’t have to work a job we don’t believe in

And what do you think you can achieve with the band?
Nick: Ah man….. at the moment we’re just taking it as it comes and hope it lasts for ever.
Adam: No musician is built to do anything else but play fucking music. We’re going to take this as long as we can and as far as we can so we don’t have to do anything else.
Nick: I want to be in the music industry some how or somewhere in the long run – no matter what the fuck it is.
Adam: It’s either that or we chop fucking wood for a living.

Well, I’m pretty sure it won't come to that. So what have you got in the pipeline for the next twelve months?
Nick: We have a lot of songs on the back burner that are even older than the songs on Be He Me. There’s an endless supply – we’re always going to be doing music. there’s never going to be an end to the ideas. We’re confident we’ll do well.
Adam: [obviously hasn’t listened to the question] We’ve been doing this for 8 years so it just feels right. There’s a never ending supply of music coming from us and none of us wants to stop. Even if it’s a week straight of never ending misery I cant imagine not doing this. It’s not going to stop until one of us loses an arm. I’ll be dead before I take any other job.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

2008 - New Year. New Ethos. Same Shite

Good morning readers - or as Google Analytics affectionately knows you: 'Traffic'

The voice of Spins and Needles is rarely heard 'round these parts, mainly on account of it's founder's inherent lethargy when it comes to regularly updating a blog with anything other than his day-time scribblings. However, much like the mewing of a certain poodle-permed troubadour: 'the times they are a-changin'. Yup that’s right, in keeping with society's relentless obsession with trouser-tinkling aesthetics I shall be attempting to give this scrawny and, lets face it, pitiful excuse of a blog a much needed revamp over the coming weeks.

Now, I'm far from well versed in HTML and it’s unlikely I’ll start pondering our nation's potential economic decline in the face of the looming 'Credit Crunch', but I do intend to develop today’s primarily review/feature driven incarnation into something a bit more comment based, percolated with reviews, features and general tit-bits I've found lurking about that might be of interest to folk. I'm also considering coercing some of my fellow - and very skilled - writer chums into contributing in the vein hope that we can create a ragtag community of Edinburgh music hacks.

Thinking about this has already induced a temple-bulging cranium-ache (although that might have something to do with last night’s red wine fuelled restaurant debacle) and, in all honesty, I will probably revert to type in the proceeding months. But, hey, it's the start of a new year and it's good to venture into pastures new - plus I’ve got myself a staff job on a rather cracking music website and I'm not too sure I can pilfer reviews and features now my palms are being crossed with silver in exchange for a few structured verbosities on music. However, fear not, I’m going to begin uploading transcripts of interviews past and present (starting with the immaculately bearded and rather lovely Broken Records next week) so that should make Spins and Needles a little bit more exciting shouldn't it? Oh, it won't ? Ah...I'll get my coat.

*Photo courtesy of Su Anderson of the Gwinnet Daily Post

Monday, 7 January 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood

When not sticking it to the man with the label-less, ‘pay what you like’ release of In Rainbows before skedaddling across to XL for the pocket-lining assurance of a bulging royalty cheque (and a number one record no-less), Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood had a pretty productive 2007. Starting off the year with the cumbersomely titled but rather fine Trojan compilation Johnny Greenwood Is The Controller, the floppy-locked multi-instrumentalist cemented his Annus Mirabilis by composing the score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s much vaunted There Will Be Blood.

Having yet to sit through the film in all its cinematic splendour, it’s impossible to elucidate how successfully Greenwood interprets Anderson’s on-screen ideas but on the basis of these eleven orchestral arrangements it seems fair to say There Will Be Blood ain’t no sunshine and sugar motion picture. A cavern-dwelling cacophony of strings, piano and percussion, this half hour composition casts a bleak shadow of melodious introspection fraught with claustrophobia and despair that’s a bold attestation to Greenwood’s more crestfallen inclinations.

It would take an imprudent scribe not to draw parallels with the composer’s globe-conquering day job and flashes of Radiohead astral-gazing are certainly awoken in the murky graveyard of mourning keys and neck-hair quivering violin scuffles found lurking in ‘Prospectors Arrive’. But There Will Be Blood is a more solemn affair than any of Greenwood and his cohorts' commercial ventures, with ‘Future Markets’’ haggard staccatos and ’Eat Him By His Own Light’’s rickety piano trinkets creating sinister, apologetic soundscapes that pass effortlessly into the airwaves without a moment's thought to their master's preceding radio-friendly output.

Yet, despite ‘Proven Lands’’ percussive cheek or the brooding sheen of ‘Prospectors Quartet’’s sweeping elegiac pillar, it’s impossible to relinquish the disenchanting actuality that this is a silverscreen soundtrack not made with home-listenig in mind. For all the fascinating aural nooks and crannies Greenwood gouges, he fails to concoct the imagery required to allow such sterling symphonic compositions to explode into life; y’know that moment where sight and sound embrace as one, leaving eardrums and pupils both enraptured and enthralled in the thrill of sensorial matrimony.

There’s no doubting There Will Be Blood continues to prove Johnny Greenwood as one of the most spellbinding and innovative musicians of our time, it’s just without a little visual stimulation it’s not quite as apparent as usual.
Rating: 7/10
Out now on Nonesuch Records

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Record Review: Gerry Mitchell & Little Sparta - The Ragged Garden

It’s fair to say the Scottish Tourist Board won’t be employing Gerry Mitchell as an honorary ambassador anytime soon. The Glaswegian poet’s pensive laconic growl does little to abnegate the portrait of a gloom-laden, penny-pinching country that’s pervaded since Calvinism tightened its miserly grip in the 16th Century. But in the abject utterances of this stony-jawed bard lies the true essence of a nation ridden with apathy, cynicism and brazen self-deprecation. Forget Leon’s boy-next-door Weegie charms or Marty’s back–from-the-smack chipperness; Gerry Mitchell is the epitome of Scotland today.

On new long-player The Ragged Garden Mitchell contorts his homeland’s multifarious complexities into a breathtaking agglomeration of monosyllabic dialogue accompanied and emboldened by the withered melodies of tender London-based outfit Little Sparta. Primarily a spoken-word affair, it’s a record far removed from the grotty, sleaze-incrusted asides of Arab Strap; preferring instead to explore deep-seated emotional fissures amidst a rustle of lilting, creaky canticles that bear more than a passing resemblance to the autumnal instrumentation and darkened atmospherics of Dirty Three.

The dour, creeping strums of opener ’Murder Mystery’ sets the tone for an album riddled with melancholy as Mitchell’s terse vocal scythe bears down on the track’s whimsical folk sway. But it’s in the sound of last year’s magnificent single ’Feasting On My Heart’ where The Ragged Garden ignites into its full candle-burnt splendour with Mitchell’s brawling projection scavenging through a haze of viola and percussion like a rapacious vulture toying with its prey. Cold of heart and earthy of soil, it’s a chilling arrangement infused with an overwhelming disdain that shivers the spine like the icy glance of a cold-hearted barbarian, lips dripping fresh with the blood of conquests past.

Much of the record retains this merciless disposition, with reticent tracks like ’Shell Of Night’ blowing cruel glacial vignettes over barren guitar flickers as threadbare as the Scottish Highlands after the clearances of the 1700s. It would be unjust to ascribe The Ragged Garden’s virtues solely to Mitchell’s coarse whisky doused utterances – instrumental offerings like the mandolin-ridden waltz of ’Journey Through The Night’ stand tall as unaccompanied, heart-wrenching laments – yet there’s little doubting his succinct lyrical acumen and bar-propping delivery transforms the blithe folksy arrangements of ‘Love Makes A Noose’ and ‘Aerial Drone’ into staunch, tough-skinned brutes that demand every modicum of the listener’s attention.

But amidst this retrospective sprawl of morbid contemplation the fragile, tenderised plucks of ’Stale Intrigues’ protrude like a glistening beacon of hope. Burrowing itself within a weeping hovel of glockenspiel chimes and wailing violin, Mithchell’s tear-stained brogue gracefully captures the cruelty of circumstance where we “lose each other in the revolving doors of life’s department store.” An immaculate, brittle psalm etched with brooding poignancy, it drills through heart-shells and caresses soul-strings to the tune of virtuous, quivering beauty tinged with bittersweet sorrow.

Piously bleak and inherently pessimistic, The Ragged Garden is an exquisitely crafted example of Scotland today and in the lachrymose wordsmithery of Gerry Mitchell us Scots may have found ourselves a voice to believe in for 2008.
Rating: 8/10
Released through Fire Records on 28 Jan

Record Review: Decomposure - Vertical Lines A

Vertical Lines A isn’t your conventionally composed long-player. The brainchild of Saskatchewan-born graphic artist Caleb Mueller, Decomposure’s third full offering was conceived in Elmira, Ontario on the 28 October 2005 as twelve sixty minute audio recordings of everyday urban life. What ensued over the course of the next year was a painstaking deconstruction of those myriad sounds into one hour spanning collage of skull grinding electro-beat jiggery-pokery that attempts to capture the transient blur of contemporary living.

So far it’s all very inventive ain’t it - much like a large-scale extension of David Holmes’ 90s classic Let’s Get Killed. Yet whereas Holmes effortlessly meshed together a plethora of funk-laden cuts to accentuate the grime of New York’s mean streets, Mueller struggles to erect anything near as towering from the mundane building blocks of Elmira’s small town surroundings, leaving lugholes disenchanted in haze of meandering sonics.

Chronologically ordered from Hours 1 - 11, the opening gambit resembles an awkward Postal Service mutilated by Kraut-rocking cyborgs oscillating to a restless melange of submerged beats and wriggling bleeps directed by Mueller’s infuriatingly semi-affected vocal. This gilt-edged beginning segues in to Hour 2 as Mueller picks up the mantle of cut-throat MC while scattergun electronica ripples frantically through the speakers without ever homing in on its target.

And it’s in this frantic introduction where comparisons with UNCLE’s opinion-splitting Psyence Fiction begin to be drawn; the caustic abrasiveness of this intricately produced record will no doubt be considered a perfectly executed masterpiece by chin-stroking tech-heads basking in the subtle nuances of Mueller’s Warp-like cut and paste principalities but for the less discerning listener the seamless mixture of visceral electro-schlock and plaster-cast lyricism grinds down the patience like a pestle to the cranium's delicate mortar of grey matter.

That’s not to say this is an entirely unlistenable affair - the five minute ivory-key jaunt of Hour 9 bulges to a trip-happy melody sparkling with puppy-eyed joy while album closer Hour 11 sets off as a driven melee of stuttering loops and bedraggled percussion before gloriously transpiring into a cacophonous shower of evocative harmonies and twinkle-toed keys. However, despite such moments of radiant splendour, it’s difficult to shake the notion that much of this record is anything other than rancid Lavelle cast-offs masquerading as innovative, forward-pushing cyber-rock.

There’s no doubting Vertical Lines A is a jaw-gaping testament to it’s creator’s meticulous dedication, yet for all it’s aural splicing and dicing too many moments lull between sterile industrialism and whiny discordant drones. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time but it appears real life isn’t as exciting a proposition as Caleb Mueller initially thought.
Rating: 5/10
Released through Blank Squirrel on 5 Jan