Friday, 29 February 2008
Ever since I was a wee boy bouncing on my granny’s knee while she cooed lullabies born on cobbled Weegie streets I’ve always been obsessed with ‘the voice’. From Mercury to Cobain, Redding to Morrissey, Sinatra to Brown (James, not Ian - although my blustered barnet probably owes much to the monosyllabic Mancunian), each and every one of their quivering chords have impacted my life in their own unique way; they were my rights of passage to a barely scraped 2:2 degree in musical pedaniticism. But none, and I mean none, hit me like Etta.
Her voice is straight from the boardwalk. It has hook, it has rhythm, it has melody – it's a song in itself - and, by fuck, it has soul. The moment those hip tossing tones exuded from Something’s Got A Hold On Me’s preaching, love-struck groove I knew this was everything I’d ever need. A friend, an acquaintance, a pick-me up, a put me down, it was a track that balanced every emotional extremity on the protruding divot of her finely tuned mew.
Soul was my pet obsession at the time, hoovering up £3 compilations from Fopp like my student loan depended on it (which it did, hence the use of such a tiresome cliche). But Etta was different. I would gladly cough up £15 for a slice of some mysterious duet with Billie or those – so often pitiful – ‘love’ collections that were churned out regularly by non-descript record companies and packaged in that impossible to open sliver of skin tight cellophane. Those were the days when ‘the voice’ was more necessary than ever, the days where careers, relationships, friendships were at the boiling point of success or failure. And throughout it all, she was there.
And here I am now, glass of red in hand and cigarette in ashtray, still mesmerised by Jamesetta Hawkins’ tales of cheating swines, broken hearts and promised love. Yeah, it’s a retrospective waltz down memory lane but it’s a lane I doubt I would ever have ventured down quite so quickly if it weren’t for her.
It’s funny how things change, but then again sometimes its just as funny realising how much they don't
A Sunday Kind Of Love
Stop The Wedding
Pronounced ‘Bal-moor-ay’, the Texan duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have composed a tranquil, glistening affair brimming with organic instrumentation and bereft of any focus-slipping lyricism. It’s a record perfect for solitary moments of personal confinement; one that takes you beyond the strains of modern living and out onto an ocean of spacious melodies through a tightly structured raft of soothing guitar lilts and understanding keys that seep through massaging endeavours like ‘Theme No.1’ and, the equally gliding, ‘Limmat’.
Such a collection of reclined, hand-holding canters allows the listener to delve in and out on a whim without ever tiring of the intricately arranged back drops of cello and rustic violin. However there’s no escaping it, Rivers Arms is essentially mood music not suited to the requirements of everyday listening but that’s of little detriment to the beautiful compositions lying await here. Because sometimes, just sometimes, we all need a record like this; a record that blows ‘Barefoot Pilgrims’’ mournful piano lament into withered bones and rejuvenates downbeat hearts with the ascending acoustica and hymnal humming of ‘San Solomon’.
Understated in its production, each track plays out as a counselling session for the weary, dispensing affecting and emotionally rousing imagery like medication for flagging, defeated mindsets. Over the course of an hour it’s perhaps too sentimental and reflective to deem truly essential but then I suspect that’s not really the point of Rivers Arms. It’s a pacifying accomplice for a night of red-wine soaked relaxation that helps forget the pressures of working life. And when the shit hits the fan, as it invariably will, it’s reassuring to know you’ve always got Balmorhea to come home to.
To read this on a real music website click here
Sitting cross-legged in a freshly used shower-room whilst necking a glass of Campari hardly equates to the nihilistic excess expected of today’s gak-snorting rock reprobates. Yet this is exactly how The Skinny finds Yannis Philippakis as we catch up with the diminutive lynchpin of hype-hoarding Oxford quintet Foals before a gig at Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire. But as the dapperly-attired 22 year old guzzles down his intestine illuminating beverage without a flinch of discomfort, we quickly discover the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll is firmly in the eye of the beholder.
“I’d consumed half a bottle of vodka in about two hours and I was just pissed off about the number of journalists I’d spoken to that day,” explains Philippakis, referring to a now renowned interview where he described droning Clash-wannabes Hard-Fi in overtly disparaging fashion. “Don’t get me wrong, I stand by what I said: I don’t give a shit about Hard Fi – I find them the most disgraceful, disgusting people who’ve disappeared into this kind of bloated rock world. But that wont change with us, well, only if I wanted to be a fucking hypocrite in a year’s time. That’s what I despise in the entertainment industry and I would never want to be like that. I like bands who are always the underdogs or frontmen who blow their heads off. I’m not into bands who lavish themselves like some pig in a trough.”
Having spent just a few minutes in his company, its instantly clear Philippakis is a loquacious live-wire - energetic, articulate, electrifying - and such hyperactive hustling is transferred into the gauzy spectrum of rhythmic techno-punk thrusting that saw Foals billed as one of the hottest acts of last year. Now in 2008, the band are preparing to release their long awaited debut record ‘Antidotes’ amidst a slavering hoard of hacks and fanboys but such blanket coverage is far removed from the day in May 2006 when five university friends conglomerated under that common banner of just making music:
“When we started the band it was fun and we played house parties around Oxford but now we’re signed to a label [Transgressive Records] we’ve got a purpose,” says Philippakis. “We’re trying to make pop music that subverts and moves forward like some quiet little victory that shows its okay not to simply ape your peers and be successful. We want to make music that communicates to a large number of people without remaining in the insular, backslapping, elitist Shellac fan scene we were very much a part of when we were younger. We’re pretty much like a fucking gang now - all this external stuff, like pressure or exposure, is kind of secondary to how we feel about each other.
Yet all the “external stuff” is exactly what’s seen Foals projected from the bottom of the new band barrel to one of the UK’s most promising acts, with online blogs and zines’ chomping at the proverbial bit to write effusive adjectives about the virtues of this fledgling band. However, in the face of such widespread acclaim, Philippakis still believes it’s the band’s infectious musical strides and not the intense media coverage that’s caused such a commotion in the cauldron of indie-dom:
“On the occasions I do read things that have been written about us, I’d like to think that people are into us because we’re constantly trying to progress. Our band wants to be out on tour and selling out shows and still be getting along without anyone having a major drug addiction or having lost a limb along the way,” he says assuredly. “If people like us because I’m small and I look funny or because Walter [Gerver] is tall and has big arms I really don’t care. I don’t think we’re going to change the mainstream appreciation of music but at the very least [people] will get into us and hear me banging on about a band I like and listen to them and then form a band - or at the very least quit school, or rape their dad or kill their mum.”
Such staunch proclamations of musical insubordination tend to play out as ultra-confident, yet salt-pinched, soundbites used by every up-and-coming gaggle of scene-lurking delinquents desperate for their big break. But Philippakis is at pains to stress Foals aren’t here to fill the gaps of any industry contrived categorisations:
“Those things are only important if you actually are that kind of shitty band,” he explains. “It doesn’t really bother me if someone says we’re New Rave or Math Rock or Puzzle Pop. It’s like: “you’ve got us nailed – good one”. It doesn’t mean anything does it. I mean, what the fuck is Math Rock? It’s such a load of shit. We’re not like To My Boy or any of the other New Cross bands - and if we were it wouldn’t work with us. We are really grouchy snotty nosed fuckers when it comes to our music and if I thought being part of a ‘scene’ was what we were doing it for then I wouldn’t be doing it at all – that’s just not what I’m in this for.
Despite the media’s eagerness to pigeonhole their progressive sonic-charge, Foals have burrowed their own trail to success and, in doing so, have created an extraordinary debut long-player that straddles a multitude of genres without slooping into the banal formalities exhaled by today’s new breed of generic tune-merchants. Originally produced by TV On The Radio’s David Sitek, the band were unsatisfied with the results and bravely ditched those first mixes to follow their self-planned blueprint for the future:
“It was a very conscious decision to break out and make this autistic, kind of retarded but thoughtfully stupid pop music that’s very simple and at the same time uses different influences like afro-beat,” says Philippakis. “Working with Siteck certainly helped a lot and we’re definitely not where we want to be yet - but then, if we were we might as well fuck of back home and put down the guitar. Our next record will sound totally different from this one and the stuff we play in six months time won’t sound like anything on this record.”
Yet for a group so devoted to creating intricate wafts of progressive, sneering pop it seemed somewhat contradictory to plug into the conscience of the mainstream with an appearance on Channel 4 ‘yoof’ drama Skins. Philippakis, unsurprisingly, disagrees: “I want everyone to hear our band and Skins was just another avenue for that to happen,” he reasons. “The moment you enter into the music industry there’s no advantage in being part of this ethical insular island. If someone gets into our band who only listens to the fucking Dykeenies or The Enemy then that’s the point - it’s about getting the music out there and not satisfying your musical ego.”
And that’s it - Campari drunk, cigarettes smoked, pleasantries over. Yannis stands up and begins to make his way to tonight’s stage where he and his four band mates are met with an air-strike of applause. They may not conform to the dictum of rock ‘n’ roll, but you get the impression Foals are more than happy writing a rulebook of their own.
Thinking about it, this inherent scepticism of celebrity self-righteousness has probably been a feeding factor in my dismissal of Guillemots since they released 2006’s debut long-player Through The Windowpane (review). Sure, it was a record engulfed in crisp, string-laden indie-isms, but its tone was always too smirksome; too holier-than-thou in its pandering to the masses to merit attention. For me, this London-based quartet were a group who promised to soothe the music-buying public's ailments but delivered little more than earnest ballads whilst, at the same time, lining their pockets with our hard-earned coinage. Or, in short, a glorified Keane.
But full length offering numero deux is an altogether more adventurous proposition than the thimble-thumbing schmindie wincing of its predecessor. Red could be pop, it could be R&B, it could be disco. Christ, it could even be dub. Whatever way you wish to categorise this, it certainly ain't The Guillemots that I – nor anyone else who chastised the group as insubstantial meh-merchants – remember. But what I do know is this: Red is good. In fact, it’s very, very good.
Yet, taken as a whole, the facets of this genre-shuffling affair feel like the cringing culmination of your family’s record collection: yer da’s ostentatious pomp-rock is here, as is the old dear’s lipstick-caked ‘70s soul nuggets; your little sister’s glossy chart buggery also rears its naïve, hair-straightened head until wee bro' scythes it down with a trigger-shot of Timbalandic beats. And to top it off, mind that gin-guzzling, cheek-plucking embarrassment of an aunt? Well there’s a splattering of her Stock, Aitken & Waterman collection in here too.
Fucked up, huh? Well, after touching base with this multi-directional beast for the first time it certainly seems so, as a shower of futuristic sonics warp into straight-laced strum and drum before upping-sticks and launching onwards through a rhythmically skewed middle-eastern tangent. But, two, three, four spins later and Red’s mutilated exterior begins to heal as a patchwork of lush, fluid melodies that wiggles its way past resistant nerve-ends and into giddy, nauseated stomachs.
The gargantuan rumble of magnificent opener ‘Kriss Kross’ sets its precedent with a hooligan-like swarm of strings and brutal guitar that finds a willing accomplice in the pit of frontman Fyfe Dangerfield’s throat stretched bellows. This stinging intro eventually gives way to sleazy, lascivious loin-burning in the form of ‘Big Dog’ – a metallic synth shuffler that gyrates hips with such virile sexuality it makes JT’s ‘SexyBack’ seem like a laughable lunchtime fumble in the playground – before lounging out into ‘Falling Out Of Reach’’s summery acoustica.
And it’s the sum of these first three offerings that epitomises this lavishly produced record’s entirety. Undoubtedly inspired by the new-breed of indispensable, utterly infectious British Pop, tracks like ‘Get Over It’ (video) and ‘Last Kiss’ pout and pose their way into the razor-cutting dance-floor mechanics of Sugababes and Girls Aloud. But there’s more to it than splicing together a wealth of modernistic melodies - shades of Terry Callier and Gwen McCrae colour the slinky disco-kitsch of ‘Cockateels’; the wistful guise of Tracy Chapman seeps into ‘Words’’ sobbing down-tempo lament; and flashes of Sandinista-era Clash dart through ‘Don’t Look Me Down’’s muffled tundra of bass and drum.
All in all, Red’s a grandiose statement of intent, crammed with aspirational symphonies that run the gambit of popular culture over the past 40 years without ever succumbing to grating pastiche. And although the echoing layers of ‘Standing On The Last Star’ may stray just a little too far into Le Bon-like territory for comfort, the sheer density, scale and magnitude of this ambitious offering ensures the thirsty desires of pop-connoisseurs are quenched with plentiful slurps of lip-licking melody.
Guillemots may never convince the cynics who’ve discarded them as yet another bunch of scruffy, talent-starved miscreants, but for those ready to bury the hatchet, Red will prove to you just how much good these indie boys cum pop experimentalists can do.
First published here
But, really, is such intoxicated reverence necessary for a group like this? C’mon, Hot Chip are hardly beat bulging behemoths of club-land. Aye, new album Made In The Dark may be a spasmodic trampoline of bleeps and grooves and ‘Over And Over’ was, undoubtedly, an infectious dancehall ready rhythm but much of their output is laden with slivers of down-trodden electronica more suited to the valium-necking comedown of daybreak than this, the sweat reeking pit of the Barras’ ballroom.
Or so I thought.
Y’see, tonight Hot Chip are ravenous; a frenzy of strobes, basslines and buoyancy. The slouchy synth-plays of ‘Coming On Strong’ and ‘The Warning’ rarely raise their reticent pusses during a set built almost entirely on the new LP’s radio-friendly floor-bulgers. If you're here to catch the funk-quirked intricacies of ‘Down With Prince’ or ‘Crap Kraft Dinner’ you’d no doubt be sorely, sorely disappointed. However if - like the harem of 16-year-old girls ricocheting off punters with the screeching velocity of discordant pinballs - you came for a limb-flinging, dancefloor inferno, well, by fuck did you get it.
In all honesty, this DiSser has perhaps grown a little elongated gnasher-wise for such non-stop disco-riddled shenanigans but, when ‘Shake Your Fist’ and ‘One Pure Thought’ come hurtling towards you like the spear of some deranged African tribesman, it’s almost impossible to contain those aching, creaking joints in this gilt of dizzy percussion and warping keys. ‘Over And Over’ is, of course, what many of tonight’s masses are here for and the band duly oblige mid-set. Yet, caught between ‘Hold On’’s sveltely-dressed psycho bleepery and the contorted rhythms of ‘Don’t Dance’ it feels strangely diluted, as if a thousand plays has waned the power of its virulent, rolling bass and unifying chorus. Not that those bug-eyed fiends down front noticed, so engrossed in approximating the size of cardboard boxes and sea-dwelling vertebrates were they.
Hot Chip have never had the presence of a truly awe-inspiring live act, always too immersed in their techy-eyed-tronica to bother with the effort of having to actually entertain aesthetically. But in Made In The Dark’s less instrumentally entangled numbers the quintet are able to cut-loose, with Alexis Taylor bouncing child-like across the stage during the futuristic scuzz-fest of ‘Bendable Poseable’. However, the propensity to meander is still prevalent - particularly during the yawnsome ‘In The Privacy Of Our Love’ and heel-traipsing R ‘n’ B snuggler ‘Wrestlers’ – and, as the eruptive shock of the set’s pummelling cuts begins to diminish, the night eventually fritters into humdrum, mid-‘90s techno nonsense; fine for a retrospective visit down memory lane but not exactly on the razor-slashing edge of modernism.
Once the lights go up and the crowd disperses, DiS catches a glimpse of its pill-popping admirer scuffling shakily towards the doors. Sweat soaked and not quite as twinkle-toed as before, he’s a shadow of his former self: dazed, dishevelled and a little disappointed. As strange as it may be, a straight-laced DiS knows exactly how he feels.
Photo-snap taken by Loraine Ross
Thursday, 28 February 2008
With a bill containing three acts that span the length of hype past, present and future, this should be a sweat-clad celebration of celestial indie goodness. Yet once past those gleaming front-doors and into the gaping jaws of the main hall the promise of a bucks-fizzing atmosphere falls depressingly flat. Perhaps such staidness is due to an infuriating fire-alarm that found hundreds of well-preened punters besieging the sub-arctic streets of Newington but as the much-vaunted Broken Records take to the stage there’s a distinct lack of eagerness to the occasion.
The septet are, in every sense, sublime; their pillaging soiree of earth-covered melodies flooding the eardrums of the few who’ve found their way from the bar. In all honesty, there are only so many words this DiSser can write about the star-bound ensemble without coming across as an arse-sniffing fanboy infatuated with their melodramatic sways and soul-lifting symphonies. So, for a more detailed depiction of Broken Records tonight, add this
to this, divide by two and you’ve got a fairly representative account of another wondrous showing.
Strange as it may seem, Pitchfork-pushed indie-darlings Black Kids might just have the most to prove tonight. Whereas 2008 will be the year Broken Records test the warmth of the waters out with their Scottish hinterland, this Florida-born quintet will be looking to build upon 2007’s dramatic rise to prominence and convince the cynics there’s more to their swollen romance-blushed jingling than just meeja-led flag-waving. Yet, as they shuffle to the fore with all the awkward indignity of a morning after walk of shame, the chances of witnessing a gasping display of potential-filling appear as likely as the law acumen of a helium-brained ex-model ‘winning’ a divorce battle against her pop-behemoth husband.
- - -
However, all traces of doubt disappear the moment the first blast of swirling synth-splattered melody gushes from the PA. Instantly invigorated, the band are a buzz of activity led by the spasmodic barnet flailing of figurehead Reggie Youngblood – a man surely blessed with the finest name in music today. The funk-laden lounging of ‘I Wanna Be Your Limousine’ is first to stoke the set’s fires, exquisitely combining a buxom bass with Youngblood’s Robert Smith-like wail to create a booty-wiggling slice of ice-cool pop that culminates in a cooler-than-fuck-tastic rendition of “Chrome-e-o, oh, oh” resonating around a rapidly pore-seeping venue.
Armed with a rash of incessant, feel-good popsicles, the band revisits almost every chart-infecting genre of the last 50 years with effortless aplomb. Tracks like ‘I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You’ and ‘Hurricane Jane’ drench lugholes with the bedazzling sound of ‘60s soul, powder-puff pop and cranky indie-jerking without overburdening either’s gorgeous sun-kissed simplicity. Despite the sure-footed endeavours of the band’s entirety, it’s the honey-coated harmonies of Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood (Reggie’s slightly less dapperly named sibling) that steal the show. Spread across every one of tonight’s rosy-cheeked offerings, their polka-dot speckled doo-wopping reaches its peak during an ebullient closer that somehow ends up sounding like the cheery-cola slurping, Hubba-Bubba chomping repercussion of a Sugar Hill Gang and New Order fuck-fest.
- - -
- - -
Arriving to a boisterous reception, veteran hype-hoarders Sons & Daughters (S&D forthwith) have a lot to live up to if they’re to surpass the scrumptious pop-twinkling of their stage predecessors. But from the moment the Weegie quartet set the wheels of their screeching, rockabilly vestibule in motion it’s clear this ain’t gonna be a showing to etch in the memory banks as the night S&D finally lunged out of Franz Ferdinand’s shadow and into the limelight. And the sad thing is that it’s starting to feel like they never will.
Not so long ago, S&D were a ravenous brawl of a band, wielding an array of jack-knifed riffs and pummelling percussion that bayed for the blood of the adoring crowds below. But tonight there’s few glimpses of such flesh-hankering desires, as ‘Red Receiver’ and ‘Medicine’ – so often the raucous, acid-spewing punk highlights of S&D’s live showings – are churned out with all the apathetic sincerity of a band that seems eager to show off their newer numbers.
Yet, the less than ornately wrapped tidings of The Gift are the lowlights of a disappointingly sterilised set, with record stomping romps like ‘The Nest’ and ‘Gilt Complex’ tempered by an overwhelming sense of insecurity. At one point, frontwoman Adele Bethel appears so overcome with timidity it’s as if she’d prefer nothing more than to cradle herself into another world where no-one can hear her crow, suggesting S&D are struggling to acclimatise to the record’s newer, pop-aping direction.
‘Rama Lama’’s Stooges-infused chaos at least adds a short, sharp boost of adrenaline to this dreary, and thankfully encore-less, affair but having endured a succession of half-arsed set-fillers it’s difficult to excerpt any joy from the track's pandemic guitar crunches. This distinct lack of urgency from the stage is of little concern to a bevvied-up crowd that embraces the performance as if it were the band’s last – sadly, if Sons & Daughters continue in the same vein as tonight's languid display, that may not be such a bad thing.* photos courtesy of the lovely Loraine Ross
Saturday, 23 February 2008
For just over a year now, the trio of Andy Donovan (bass), Lucy Blakeley (keys) and Owen Cox (drums) have been flying the flag for Liverpool’s Bosspop revolution with a gorgeous waft of bubble-gum chomping melodies. In that time they’ve dazzled the airwaves for the likes of Lamacq and Lowe whilst building up a smitten of rosy-cheeked admirers through the strength of their phosphorescent live showings.
So before the ageing process kicks in and these chirpy upstarts succumb to the perils of beer-bellies, mortgages and bairns, a world-weary DiS caught up with life-long Evertonian Andy to find it what it’s like to be in one of Britain’s cheeriest new bands…
- - -
Video: ‘Little Flame’
- - -
Evening Andy. Let’s get straight to it: surely you guys can’t always be as happy as your songs would have me believe?
Andy Donovan: You know I would say more often than not we are. We’re doing what we’re doing and we’re happy doing it. I can honestly say we’re never happier than when we’re on stage. I know it sounds like a cliché but it’s all about the audience. Even when you’re touring round playing the same songs ten nights in row, when there’s someone bouncing around in front of you can’t help but buzz off it.
Ach, and there I was hoping this would turn into a half-hour moan-a-thon. Anyway, there seems to be a bit of a buzz round the banks of the Mersey at the moment. How did you guys become a part of the new Liverpool revival?
AD: Well, when goFASTER (fellow Scouse jingle-merchants) initially got together it was to a brief along the lines of: “We want Liverpool to have loads of good bands again”. So they pulled their resources and blew everyone in Liverpool away with what they were doing. Meself, Lucy and Owen were all in different bands at that time and the three of us thought, “let’s do something like that”, and put a band together with a bit of an idea and make as big an impact as them.
So, do you think there was a lull in Liverpool’s music scene at the time?
AD: I don’t think so. After the Deltasonic stuff with The Coral and The Zutons there was quite a big divide between indie and alternative music in the city. At the time, I was a frontman for a band that was very much part of the rock scene and - while I didn’t get involved - there was a bit of an ‘us and them’ mentality between those who thought The Beatles were the Bible and the people like us who were influenced by American indie-rock. But it just kind of seems like everyone is in amazing bands at the moment, like Hot Club De Paris, goFASTER and ourselves – we go watch and support each other all the time.
Sounds vaguely familiar to the pack-like mentality of the Glasgow ‘Chateau’ scene from a few years back, doesn’t it?
AD: Yeah, I guess it does. People outside call it a scene but it’s not really. It’s just a load of mates who are in bands that are very like-minded and focused on making great music and getting it out there. It’s like a big family really – we even have a five a-side game on a Saturday then have a few drinks and watch the football together… There’s nothing that’s too industry, or geared towards being commercial; it’s all really good stuff that deserves recognition outside of the fact that it could end up getting commercial success.
And are you interested in becoming commercially successful?
AD: Not really to be honest with you. I mean, it would be nice to think that after a couple of indie releases the industry will notice us and we’ll maybe be able to make a little bit of money from it to achieve what we want to achieve, but I think you can angle yourself towards that too much. Any industry attention we take with a pinch of salt.
You guys had only played one gig before your demo was picked up by 6Music. Do you ever worry you may have peaked just a little too soon?
AD: I think if it’s all going to come crumbling down there’s nothing we can do about it. The way I see it is, as long as we’re writing songs we’re happy with and people are still coming to see us and are having a good time then we’ll have a good time doing it. I think the media have been really great with us but it can just come out of the blue and if you grab on to them and say “this is what we’re doing” it’s just setting yourself up for a big fall. The phone could stop ringing tomorrow and people could stop booking us, so we’re just doing it for the love of doing it and not taking ourselves too seriously.
Probably for the best - us sweat-soaked hacks are a fickle bunch at times. Anyway, I was going to attempt this interview in French but, alas, I failed to get past bonjour. Is the name inspired by the brilliance of French pop perchance?
AD: Nah, not really. There’s just something a little bit more classy about the French; y’know their football and their style. But to be honest with you, I was watching The Simpsons and Bart sprayed ‘El Barto’ on a wall and I thought “that’s fucking great.” So I put ‘El’ in front of everything until I saw El Nino and dropped that idea. Then I typed in ‘El Sapel’ into a language converter and it corrected me in French with Elle S’appelle - it clicked with me because it’s the first time I’ve been in a band with a girl.
- - -
Elle S’appelle (l-r): Owen, Lucy, Andy
- - -
Being a melodious pop troupe from Liverpool will no doubt have drawn parallels with certain ‘60s luminaries. Are you sick of being consigned to stereotypes?
AD: I’m not arsed man, if people want to call us shit-rock or whatever it’s up to them y’know. You can pick up an instrument and try and be the same as everyone else or you can try and do something different. That’s what we’re trying to do by making interesting music that doesn’t have to be for everyone. In Liverpool people are calling it Bosspop but, at the end of it, it’s good intelligent pop music you can sing along to.
Aye, sing along you certainly can. But, if you’re not the typical Beatles-aping Liverpudlian outfit, what’s inspired your jaunty tune-smuggling?
AD: Sound-wise, it’s quite reactionary. I’ve always been in guitar bands and I always paid attention to reviews which basically said, “the music’s good but it’s just four lads playing guitar”. So from those I just thought about creating a three-piece pop-punk band but without guitar. I’m still writing the same songs as I was when I was 13 but I’m doing it with different people, using keyboard chimes and a female vocal.
Hmm…you didn’t cite Billy Joel as an influence there but I swear I can hear speckles of ‘Uptown Girl’ in your song ‘Monkeyshine’.
AD: [Laughs] Actually, someone told me about that fairly recently, but I’ve never noticed it before. People always quote other theme tunes and say our tracks sound like this or that, but I’ve never ripped anyone off. I just think we have really playful melodies and people really like the delivery of them. The songs have a little bit of ‘oomph’ compared to a lot of today’s indie bands. A lot of them say, “It’s not about having a competent singer, it’s about passion”. But if you can actually sing and have the passion you’re well on your way, y’know. Lucy has an amazing voice and I try me best so I think we pull it off well.
I'd have to agree with you there Andy. So what’s on the horizon for future?
AD: We’re gearing up for this Bosspop tour with goFASTER (remaining dates below – Ed) and we’re working on a big support slot and some other gigs with bands we’re big fans off. Then in March we want to take it up a notch and hopefully release an EP in late April. And once Lucy’s finished university (perhaps unsurprisingly she’s sitting a Popular Music degree) we’ll put our all into the album. I’ve got a bunch of songs ready to put out now so hopefully that will come out this year.
Tres bien monsieur. And finally, I was wondering whether you could tell me how many successive handclaps it takes before it becomes a ripple of applause?
AD: [Laughs] I think it’s 17. It’s an out of time number; an even number is fair play but with an odd number you’re definitely just applauding.
Well in that case, DiS salutes you and your lovely band with 17 claps of its hand. Thanks very much fella.
Elle S'appelle are touring the UK over the course of February as part of the Bosspop tour with goFASTER. Remaining dates:
20 Cardiff Barfly
21 Brighton Barfly
22 London Barfly
23 Southampton Barfly
24 Oxford Jerico Tavern
Their Myspace can be found lurking around here
Following the proper release of debut long-player The Penguin Line, Santa Cruz-dwelling quartet Antarctica Takes It! will invariably accentuate the fissure between such uncompromising bipolarity. Bursting seams with a clutter of rink-a-dink rhythms and cosy fireside strumming, it’s a Litmus test that subconsciously plots positions on the musical stratosphere; an unassuming aural barometer of the cute and the curt; or, to put it coarsely, a record that will turn you on or turn you limper than Fred Durst’s biscuits.
By gleefully enduring the entirety of this excursion into indie-pop’s enchanting realms you’ve bought yourself a handmade (of course) ticket to a dreamland where I’m From Barcelona and Camera Obscura skip, giggle and make merry in dew-soaked pastures. But if gnashers are found grinding the moment frontman Drew McKeever unconvincingly declares “I’m not a lover, I'm a fighter” over tin-pot opener ‘I’m No Lover’’s frisky mariachi sway then the proceeding thirty minutes will ensure a few straw-ingested meals and a trip to the orthodontist wont be too far away.
Make no mistake, Antarctica Takes It! have little desire to alter perceptions – ‘Flightless Birds’’ perky, mandolin-infused tropicalia appeals only to the most fey of souls – but underneath the innately childish charm and marshmallow toasting exterior lurks an ear for intricate melody. The sheer scale of tracks like the delightfully twinkle-toed ‘Circuits’ and equally acrobatic ‘The Song Is You’ stupefies enough to bypass dismissive thoughts of vanilla-coated feebleness. A kaleidoscopic jamboree of jaunty guitar, brushing percussion and proud, protruding horns, each track pours the lemon-fresh zest of summer into frost-bitten hearts like a gushing waterfall of optimism.
Of course, this relentless swathe of tweeish jubilance can grate on even the most optimistic of lugholes and when incredulously dizzy sing-a-long ‘My Friend Sam Saarni’ flutters it’s wings the result is so painfully sappy it makes Tilly & The Wall seem like boisterous playground bullies. Yet the cascading furore of instrumentation emanating from penultimate track ‘Antarctica’ sheers away this woollen lull as it's bristling up-tempo saunter supersedes the hushed introduction with a giddy, harmonic alignment of both verve and vigour that belies the group's initially coy demeanour.
Sound familiar? Well, much like the inaugural offering of a certain Scottish ensemble, The Penguin Line may be a record to cherish in years to come – it just depends on which side of the divide you choose to stand.
Out now through How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
Yet the biggest surprise lay in just how many of us hacks fell for those pseudo-cheery charms. Somehow it was forgotten that this was a man who’d previously earned his bread as one half of Arab Strap, a man who once mourned: “Woke up again today, realised I hate myself – my face is a disease”. I mean, Jesus, did we really think someone who’d voluntarily shared a tour van with the king of crusted bedsheets Aidan Moffat for ten years would suddenly transform into a grinning troubadour with a penchant for heart-lifting melodies? Of course he wouldn’t – fuck’s sake, who would?
So it would be folly, and wholly untrue, to suggest new LP Sleight Of Heart is a continuation of its predecessor’s chirpy tunesmithery; however, a definite sense of hopefulness has trickled its way into this collection of odds and sods conceived during the recording of A Brighter Beat. Originally intended as an acoustic album, Malc’s staple dry wit and laconic drawl are smothered over the entirety of this nine-track offering but whereas once they seemed resigned to a life of crippling agoraphobia, there’s now a more confident edge to those Falkirkian tones.
Admittedly, much of this brazenness stems from opener ‘Week Off’’, as it harries along to a bluster of nimble guitar and quick-footed piano chimes. It’s undoubtedly Middleton – his fascination with Celtic rhythms saturated throughout – yet as he crows “it's time’s like these I know that I am, the happiest person, the luckiest man” the sound of rehabilitation begins to unfold from the speakers, as if a lifetime of shattered dreams is slowly being glued together piece by piece, strum by strum, verse by verse.
This infectious introduction eventually subsides into the anti-anthemic late-night waltz of ‘Blue Plastic Bags’ – a track dedicated to the unity found in this post-smoking ban era of home-boozing with “six bottles of Stella, Jacob’s Creek and twenty fags”. More muted than anything on the voluptuously produced A Brighter Beat, it finds Malcolm at his most vocally exposed; cuddled up fireside in the cradle of an acoustic guitar whilst croakily encouraging fellow-minded souls to “sing along with the sad song” like a forever-spurned outcast quickly growing conviction in the decency of mankind.
Accompanied for much by Jenny Reeve’s glacial mew, the likes of ‘Total Belief’ and ‘Follow Robin Down’ are accosted by a sense of tentative reflection. Meagrely lit and bare to the bone, each is a meandering wallow of melodic, atmospheric chords that finds Middleton rationalising his surroundings in an attempt to stumble into some sort of motivated state. Yet as appeasing to the ears as both may be, neither pushes past the bulbous boundaries of previous offerings, leaving the distinct impression that Sleight of Heart is little more than a glorified collection of outtakes.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then to find a trio of covers padding out the cracks of these pleasant, yet subdued, recordings. And it’s in such striking adaptations that Malcolm compounds his credentials as one of the country’s most alluring, if unassuming, voices - because, really, only he could contort Madonna’s ‘Stay’ into an embittered Scottish lament cajoled by self-deprecation or seamlessly transform Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Just Like Anything’ as a slinking shackle of introspection.
But his take on King Creosote’s ‘Marguerita Red’ is what firmly captures the uniqueness of those short-shrifting mumbles. Granted, there's no sign of competitiveness buried within the follicle quivering juxtaposition of Kenny Anderson’s sprightly folk-poppism and Middleton’s antiseptic gloom-harbouring, but if presented with a choice of either tartan-clad tune-merchant for an evening of aural delights, there’d surely be no hesitation: the ginger-heided one would be whisked away before he could utter the words: “That’s nae the G-string I was planning on plucking tonight.”
Of the self-penned efforts, ‘Love Comes In Waves’’ bath-tub bellowing is the album’s glistening centrepiece; a midden of slushy, melody-strewn romanticism that find’s Malcolm denouncing love as a lie and declaring himself as chief liar. And a liar he may well be, but there are no clouded untruths to Sleight of Heart. The message may not be as loud as or majestic as before but its essence remains: Malcolm Middleton is only truly happy when he’s got something to moan about.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Howdy Tom. Tell me how the Low Miffs got it together?
Tom: We got started out in 2003. Myself and Leo the lead singer basically got to know each other as we did the same university course at Strathclyde [University] and got a few of our mates together to play about during that time.It remained that way until the end of Uni where we tried to see if we could push the band for a year or two and see what we can make of it.
So are you guys signed at the moment?
Tom: We’ve done a couple of singles with independent companies and we’re currently working on an album in collaboration with Malcolm Ross from Josef K and Orange Juice and he’s organised with a company to put an album together. So right now, we’re just in the process of recording an album with Malcolm and hopefully getting that together.
When you started what was the Scottish music scene like?
Tom: For us it was all pretty new. At the time it seemed to be that kind of Libertines-era where so many bands just wanted to be carbon copies of them it was unbelievable. That kind of pushed us into doing something original and unique as we were a bit scared of fitting into that kind of scene.
Would you say that the ‘scene’ at the time was riding on the coat tails of London then?
Tom: Yeah, I would say that Glasgow doesn’t really have a music scene from our experience. Basically a band will put on a night and all their mates will come - you really don’t get any one coming out just to see new bands. Our experience of Glasgow is that all our mates will come along and mates who are in other bands will come along, whereas as soon as we started playing in Edinburgh and London we started seeing similar people coming to gigs and coming back to see us as a result of discovering us by chance.
I was speaking to some promoters who said the way for Scotland’s music scene to progress would be to take the locality out of the equation. Would you say that’s true?
Tom: There’s something to be said for the fact that Glasgow always comes out whenever a big band gets signed and plays at the Barralands and everyone is mad for it but you just don’t get that for new bands. Still, to this day, our gigs are not busy because of the press we put out – it’s because of our mates. It’s not like that when we play in London or Edinburgh, where people come to see us because they know about us or because know about the night. I think that’s said by a lot of bands. I guess the best way to get noticed up here is to play in London first.
So you don’t think there is any way of being able to make it as a Scottish band and being able to stay in Scotland?
Tom: I’d love to say yes but I don’t know what avenues you’d have to do it. But for ourselves, literally after our first gig in London we got back up and we were in the NME the next month and that’s never happened in Scotland. It’s weird, because I think people are really in to things up here so it’s surprising so few people turn out to gigs. I don’t know if it’s down to funding or something but there's definitely a big enough pool of support up here for something to happen.
Do you think it’s a myth that Glasgow is a musical hotbed brimming with opportunity for young bands?
Tom: To be perfectly honestly with you – yes. We never understood why this whole buzz about Glasgow has come about. I suppose it’s come from Franz Ferdinand but that doesn’t mean it’s a great place to gigs. Yes there’s a lot of good bands to come out of Glasgow but they have to go elsewhere in order to get noticed. I think Edinburgh, as far as gigging goes, is ten times the city that Glasgow. I was speaking to the promoters about this and we couldn’t understand why Edinburgh gets such a shady name for itself when in actual fact that’s where all the best nights to play are and that’s where the busiest circuit is. Every time we’ve played in Edinburgh we’ve had a great response whereas in Glasgow there’s maybe been one or two gigs that have had the same buzz. I’m definitely pro-Edinburgh as far as gigging comes.
That’s an interesting point – not many people prefer Edinburgh to Glasgow, music wise. So what do you think makes Edinburgh such an exciting place to play then?
Tom: It seems to me it’s just a lot more about the music as opposed to the fashion side. With new band nights coming out all the time in Edinburgh they all seem to help each other out and talk about what bands they’re putting on. There doesn’t seem to be a clique mentality in Edinburgh - it’s just about the music and going out and enjoying it. In Scotland there are so many bands just now and unfortunately so many of them are caught up in the get big quick scheme which comes from fitting into a certain style of music as opposed to going out there and doing something unique. I think as a result of that you can end up with a lot of pretty bad bands but I think with Edinburgh the crowds are a lot more interested in music and are more choosy as to who they go to see.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
I realise that's probably more of a tease to be honest and an infuriating one at that so here are few things I've been listening to over the past few days to keep you entertained.
This first lot are called Tiny Little Hearts and, well, they are one of the most discordant bunch of reprobates I've heard since Uncle John & Whitelock sadly departed. Granted, it's just guitar drones and screaming but fuck me if it aint rather brilliant. They also have the mighty Park Attack added as a 'friend' on their Myspace site which makes sense as they are of that senseless, freakoid punk'n'roll ilk too.
In the twee stakes I've been enjoing Antarctica Takes It! quite a lot. I have actually reviewed the record recently but, again, nowt can go up here until it runs 'in print'. But check out the myspace, they're vaguely reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian if they were a collective of mariachi-swaying migrants.
And finally, The Whitest Boy Alive's record Dreams has been continually fizzing around my I-pod when not having to listen to the music people pay me to listen to. It's truly one of last year's great, great albums and if this blog was more of a fan blog than a half-arsed, self-gratifying jizz-fest from a semi-skilled music hack then it would have definitely bigged them up (I'm going ghetto colloquial today) back in October. As it is, I have mentioned TWBA for the first time in February, a mere five months later. Well done me.
Right, I'll try do this more often. I wouldn't keep my fingers crossed though.
Y’see, the moment P&TP’s (the acronym provides a slight respite from the spine-shuddering moniker) debut LP Little Death kicks into gear with the glittering rhapsodic sheen of ‘Ill Love’ I’m a goner; lost forever in an incessant maze of conquistadorial guitars and hustling percussion. It’s a hypnotic opening gambit – one that has nerve ends perched like periscopes scouring for the source of such sensor-pleasing delights – and, in just two and half minutes of scrumptious, shimmering pop-picking, all thoughts of P&TP being yet another regurgitated exponent of the High-Street endorsed Indie(™) conveyer belt simply vanish.
Jagged of both riff and bone structure, P&TP could certainly fit into the grotty, Hollyoaks furrowed pothole inhabited by filth like The Wombats or, those utterly abominable rodent-boys, The Enemy. Yet rather than titillating the masses with disposable silence-filling tripe, this motley crew of whippersnappers have created a virulent slab of progressive sonics that pays its dues to the pantheon of great British tunesmiths without ever over tipping. For sure, dollops of Franz, Blur and Supergrass have been whisked into this epileptic mix of guttural, quick-witted punk-pop but Little Death is no pre-packaged ready-bake; it’s an improvised, home-cooked palate-whetter, coated in rhythm and sprinkled with bite.
And bite it does, with ‘Come On Feet’’s steam-rolling kafuffle skirting away from the opener’s hazy soundscape, catapulting an ecstatic sprawl of dense, turbo-charged guitar jilts and ebullient hand-clappery into the spotlight. Nimbly mixed, this ragged sonic shower whip-cracks atoms to the beat of Johnny Sanders' rapacious drum-pummelling and it’s with such masterful sticksmanship that rabid cuts like ‘Lost In The Woods’ and - the blatantly chart-courting – ‘Mr Understanding’ transcend into hip-wiggling, knee-jerking triumphs; the sort that have dancefloors united in a fist-punching haze of ebullient, beer-frenzied euphoria.
The lyrical contribution can be tiresome at times, particularly during downtrodden tempo-creeper ‘Song For Today’ - where lethargic couplets are pilfered from age-old nursery rhymes - or throughout the entirety of Dry Wings’ desperate teenage-angst whining. But P&TP are infinitely more tonal than thoughtful, and in the gauzy fret-spindling woven through ‘Moving’’s rich melodic tapestry any grimacing is quickly chaperoned from mind as Tommy Sander’s hushed vocal guides the track onwards to the intricately decorated echelons of Field Music.
Despite such seductive endeavours, the surging cavalcades are what truly illuminate this terse affair and by climaxing with ‘Bright Lights’’ multi-faceted brilliance, Pete and his peg-legged assailants have pulled off a rum-smuggling masterstroke. A calming vocal séance caught up in a scurry of taut drums and hurricane howling riffage, the track’s Rakes-esque chromosome-chopping and city-slicking skulduggery encourages minds to excavate the turgid urban grind through a hedonistic stupor of frazzle-eyed scepticism.
It’s an instance of pulse-racing exhilaration that crowns a mesmerising record certain to thrust P&TP into the fore with raucous, accolade-breeding aplomb. And me? Well, I’m still here, tapping away to yet another spin of Little Death – Lord knows, I’ve got a lot of making up to do.
Released through Stolen Recordings on 18 Feb
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
An extraordinary fusion of crowing dramatics and tender Jim Henson-esque purity, his corrosive shrill evokes and represses, refutes and unites, teeters and transcends – all in one swoosh of those withered, swash-buckling vocal-chords. But his strength rests not only in voice; Darnielle is a masterful rhythmic contortionist whose spiderous deft of touch lures unassuming mindsets into a webbed lair decorated with bushy-tailed jaunts before entangling his helpless prey in a harrowing cocoon of introspective soul-bearing. And in the release of new record Heretic Pride we find this Indiana-born trouveur extending the myopic throes of his last full-length offering in the hope of enticing a few more unwitting victims into his welcoming clutches.
That’s by no means a slight on Get Lonely’s tenderly crafted soundscapes – a timid but nonetheless resplendent album steeped in a hushed sensibility that could moisten the tear-ducts of even the most stony-faced cynic – but each of the 13 tracks here are fuller in both sound and scope, plying the affections with an urgency more attune to 2005’s glistening, full-bodied goblet The Sunset Tree. Opener 'Sax Rohmer #1'’s country-strewn charm immediately ushers attentive ears down a rediscovered pathway of positivism; zipping and bulging to abrupt acoustic stutters and a vivid, colourful narrative that, although enveloped in intrepid defeatism, rouses euphorically with our unshackled protagonist decreeing “I am coming home to you if it’s the last thing that I do” so compulsively you begin to fear for the hinges of your front door.
This defiant wilfulness pervades through the luscious bubbles of piano and strum that fanfare Darnielle’s chest-thumping professions of being “so proud to be alive” before culminating in ‘Craters On The Moon’’s tumultuous, violin-riddled storm. And it’s in these brazen octave-notching moments that Heretic Pride outlines its headway making intentions. Whereas Get Lonely was afoot with murky, air-strangling fictions and 2004’s We Shall All Be Healed lofted by passionate but ultimately adhesive-less thematics, this is a record that advances gladiator-like into the dank depths of adversity before trooping back with the severed head of its repressor; a battle-won trophy scythed clean off by ‘Lovecraft In Brooklyn’’s stainless steal riffs and then perforated by the surging drum-stabs found on closer ‘Michael Mears Resplendent’.
Disappointingly, Darnielle reverts to banal MOR during 'New Zion'’s lifeless pillow-resting – a loungey, key-riddled muffle of tedious Sunday-service atmospherics – but such insipidity is a fleeting occurrence on a record crammed with a wealth of acoustically-spun show-stoppers. Granted, there’s little here that breaches the realms of musical advancement but obscurely entitled tracks like the lilting 'How To Embrace A Swamp Monster' and, the equally poignant, 'Marduk T-Shirt Men’s Room Incident' are tightly articulated works of fiction enacted perfectly on a stage of stirring instrumentation; the kind of intelligent, conscience-stemming compositions that make the likes of Bird, Bejar and – to a certain extent – Cave such arresting propositions.
For all the new-found gusto, it’s perhaps this aspect that will resonate most emphatically with The Mountain Goats’ followers old and new. Because John Darnielle is first and foremost a creator of song; yes, the boy is blessed with a trapezing set of pipes, but it’s the crafting of timeless, crest-fallen melodies infused with gripping characterisations that elevates him into the upper-crust of musical virtuosity. And that’s exactly where Heretic Pride leaves him: perched atop the pile of today’s try-hardy singer/songwriters. On this evidence, it’ll be quite some time before he’s toppled.
Releasd on 18 Feb through 4AD
* review first published here
Yes, I’m as much a part of the unreserved tub-thumping as any of the salivating hacks who’ve scribbled fawning adjectives over the past 12 months, yet after a disjointed performance in the water-dripping confines of The Caves perhaps its time for a sobering sense of perspective? That’s not to say such mesmerising, melodic stallions should be restrained from competing on more unforgiving courses, but, unless properly nurtured and given space to make the mistakes allowed to lesser hyped upstarts, there’s a chance the septet could be led out to stud a little too prematurely.
From the off, the normally hurricane-like foray of instrumentation fails to find it’s gusting momentum, sounding swamped in the venue’s rubble of bricks and mortar. This stuttering start is of no concern to the bow-tie adorning [I kid ye not] admirers here tonight however, as a spiel of cheilidh-crazed shapes are pulled buoyantly down front, but for those of us who’ve previously witnessed the band’s berserk rhythmic clattering thrash craniums to the floor before wrenching them up in a softened melodic breeze it’s a perplexing beginning; one that’s completely out of synch with those pulse-stopping moments found in less echoic, less rabblesome settings.
And it’s this diluted jamboree that bemuses memory-cells recalling last year’s enraptured outings. The likes of ’A Good Reason’ and ’If the News Makes You Sad Don’t Watch It’ - normally rambunctious, rousing epics which inject hearts and minds with an all-consuming sense of vigour - fail to ignite the promenade of sawing violin, zealous percussion and coruscating keys. Even frontman Jamie Sutherland’s ragged, smouldering crow, so often the instigator of quivering neck hairs, struggles to rise above the tepidness projecting across the politely assembled mosh-pit and into the chattering archway of the back-end.
Strangely, such stealthy resuscitation is what’s impressed most in the Broken Records story thus far. All band’s have off nights, moments of adversary where lingering doubts repress cloud-bursting aspirations, yet the manner in which such frailties are confronted is what truly determines the chiefs from the charlatans. For now, lips may need to be dabbed dry and expectation levels taken stock of but even after a far from perfect showing there’s little debating Broken Records are the real deal.
Monday, 4 February 2008
Anyway, I ramble...
What made me think of this was my recent interview with Simon Breed (which can be found here if you'd rather skip this part). Simon, is an artist I very much admire; someone who's introverted, fragilic sense of melody and snake-bitten lyricism sends ripples into the pools of despondency lying dormant in the mind's unburrowed caverns. Yet, for all his talent, few have paid much attention to his music and even fewer have taken the time to interview him. It may be because he's a cantankerous bugger - blunt of word and sharp of tongue - but he hasn't received the adulation his wonderous records deserve and throughout the interview a sense of defeatism manifested itself into his words to the point I thought he may be on the verge of sacking music all together.
It’s not often I pay any attention to the flurry of PR mailshots that filter through my inbox on a daily basis - most accentuate the virtues of humdrum bands to within an inch of a call to the Advertising Standards Agency for fraudulent claims of grandeur. Yet when the blurb for Simon Breed’s mini-album The Filth And Wonder Of... [review
here] trickled into that pixilated postbox with decrees of Cave-esque atmospherics, a ripple of intrigue ensured an imminent, if sceptically-tinged, acquisition.
But the moment Breed’s prowling, stain-glassed psalms furrowed their way into these lugholes any lingering doubts were immediately quelled. A pricklesome wreath of menace and alienation, The Filth And Wonder Of... juxtaposed striking lyricism against spacious, stillborn melodies that captivated and provoked an array of emotional extremities. New record The Smitten King Laments finds Breed further progressing such expertly-crafted vicissitudes with a deluge of quietly convincing, slow-blooming cuts that should finally bring this understated tunesmith in to the pit of the public’s conscience.
So, before the release of this spell-binding long-player, DiS catches up with the frighteningly articulate and exceedingly humble Simon to discuss the album, Italian adulation and whether us music hacks have a role in the modern world…
- - -
The Smitten King Laments has been well received thus far, that must be quite relieving for you?
Simon Breed: Yeah of course - it’s quite a humbling thing for someone to take the time out to listen and pay that much attention to [the record]. So far they’ve all been okay but it’s the press ones I’m most worried about. To be honest with you, I try and tell the record label [Re-Action Recordings] not to send me reviews at all because when there are ones that get it wrong - when they’ve missed it and come out with some dismissive judgement - I go into a rage. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you that.
Probably best I know these things for future reference. You’ve been recording and playing on your own now for about a decade. Has there ever been a time you’ve thought, “Fuck it, this music lark isn’t for me”?
SB: I have moments like that all the time but I don’t know whether it’s through stubbornness, or ego, or stupidity that I’ve just carried on doing it. I used to be in a band that was very much a ‘band’ band and I was able to write what I wanted and how I wanted. But what can I say? I suppose I don’t work hard enough at it; it’s just what I do.
So, do you see yourself primarily as a musician or a songwriter?
SB: Neither really. I’m not good enough to call myself a musician; I’m fairly ham-fisted in all my musical abilities and songwriting is equally a real craft. In the post-punk way, I’m just somebody who makes his own little lump of plasticine into something mildly interesting. I’m not really a songwriter and I’m not really a musician but I make music and I write songs, so in the simplistic way of thinking I guess I am both of them.
But with the gaggle of pitiful male artists currently infiltrating the airwaves there’s a possibility you could be deemed yet another snivelling singer/songwriter. Do you feel like you've had to work harder to win people over because of this?
SB: It’s not something I worry about. I suppose it’s kind of awkward because I fall between two stumps, in a way, as I don’t see myself as a singer/songwriter or an acoustic artist but I keep having to do those kind of gigs. If I play singer/songwriter nights people are shifting in their seats slightly because the subject matter is a little uncomfortable… I don’t mind doing them as long as they don’t mind me deliberately fucking it up for them and upsetting people in the front row. If people are there for some aesthetically bland, pleasant sort of bathing session I know I’m in the wrong place.
Well, you seem to be winning the Italians over with consummate ease [Simon has developed a cult-like following in Napoli]. What is it about you that appeals to our sun-blushed Mediterranean chums?
SB: I think it’s luck and chance, but there’s also a different approach to music in both Italy and Spain. It’s less of a big deal in a way - you don’t have to be the next big shit, and people are prepared to just enjoy the idea they are in a performance. The thing that stuns me most is that they lap up any sort of poetic dexterity, they’re intrigued by wordplay and will spend hours translating lyrics they don’t necessarily get. And, well, fuck it; it’s economics. It’s absurd, but it’s cheaper for me to get an Easy-Jet and tour around Napoli because I get better fees, better wine and the audiences are more appreciative than here, so it makes sense.
You had me at the promise of better wine. Anyway, DiS recently discussed gateway artists – y’know the ones who initially got you into music but perhaps don’t pull your strings today. Any embarrassing skeletons stashed away in Simon Breed’s closet?
SB: There’s no-one I’m really embarrassed by. The truth is I copy lots of stuff from people I really admire whether it’s intentional or not. When I was younger it was Sonic Youth and the Birthday Party, but there’s millions really. I think I spent six months pretending I was Julian Cope and I trailed around Nick Cave like a sad acolyte for years but he was okay about it. I’m an enormous fan of Bill Callaghan, too. I’m always disappointed when his shows end.
Apparently there’s a Facebook group that’s branded you ‘Jeff Jarvis’ in tribute to your likeness to Messer’s Buckley and Cocker. Is that irksome at all?
SB: I think it’s really funny - they’re a really lovely bunch of kids. It’s their nice way of saying you’ve got a lovely voice but you’re a bit of a big geek. I suppose if you wear the big glasses you will inevitably get the Jarvis comparisons – I think Jarvis is fantastic but I’m not copying him at all – and I’ve never ever set out to copy the old Buckley warble, I’ve just always sung like that. There aren’t really that many people in that group but they just appreciate what I do and don't treat me with kid gloves and have a bit of a laugh with it. I should be so lucky to be as talented as either of them.
- - -
What lures me most to your records is the overwhelming focus on narrative and storytelling. How important are both in your songwriting process?
SB: I’m far too fussy and limiting on myself that I’m only happy with a song if I feel the words and some sort of musical motif are there at the same time. It’s a cross I have to bear, but I can’t carry a song unless I think it has some kind of meaning, which probably pisses people off to some extent. The narrative thing is a habit I’ve fallen into where there is some form of linear narrative and some kind of story going on that helps me structure the stuff. I’m starting to shift away from it and am trying to see if I can create a set of sensations and specific filmic moments without having to go, ‘Once upon a time... you set it up, you get emotional, you move to the middle eight and you see what happens at the end of the story’.
For all the beautiful imagery there is also some pretty vitriolic moments lurking in your tracks. Who exactly is 'Cunts, Pricks, Wankers and Shits' aimed at?
SB: It was about someone I cared about preciously who had gone through an every day humiliation in the office space. I guess it’s all about revenge. There are some kinds of unfairness’s that are inherent in society and I think you have to draw a line and say “No”. It’s supposedly offensively titled, but I found it so confusing that in this day in age – with bands called Fuck Buttons and Monkey Twat or whatever – I didn’t think that any one would care. It’s ultimately a love song in anger that says to that person, “They are unacceptable, we will not put up with anything else from them”. That’s my politics, I guess.
Has anyone walked out when you’ve played it live?
SB: I think a lot of people cover their ears and flinched. It kind of depends where you play really – it’s a geographical thing. When I played it in Glasgow thousands and thousands of women were singing along heartily by the second chorus – they got it.
Somehow, that really doesn’t surprise me – those Weegies are a bit more rough and tumble than us fragile Edinburgers. So, do you perform with a live band or is it just you out on your own?
SB: Well there’s been a pool of musicians I’ve played with over a number of years but it’s always been with two other people. Currently, I’m playing with Sarah Peacock on piano, who used to be in shoegazing legends Seefeel, and I’ve just started using a new drummer called Giles Narang who’s also in They Came From The Stars I Saw Them. I always want some dynamic in [the live set], but I can enjoy playing it solo, and in a way that can be just as powerful as I can let rip a bit more. But I’m really conscious of providing an audience with more than just my groaning voice, stupid words and three chords, because I know that’s not enough.
A number of tracks on the new record use vivid animal imagery to convey emotions. Is there any particular reason for this?
SB: Well, I do seek solace in David Attenborough quite frequently. No, at one point the album was going to be called Animals At War, just because they kept cropping up. I just think it’s funny and I go with them, and there’s plenty more where they came from. There’s probably a technical literary term for using animals as pathos but it just seems to fit. 'Snipes' was one that just stuck with me when I was up in an extraordinarily bleak place on the Norfolk coast standing in a little bird hut where Bill Oddie types observe seabirds. It struck me that every bird had a name that was associated with depression, like a snipe or an egret, and it just seemed like the poor guys had been lumbered with it.
According to the PR blurb you’re a comic editor - that makes it quite easy for us hacks to draw parallels with your music's vivid lyrical imagery. Is this a valid assertion?
SB: [Slightly exasperated] Yeah, this has ended up in the press release which is all very fascinating because reviewers have decided, “obviously his day job has gone into his work as he’s writing comic nonsense”. But in reality it’s the other way; I can’t make money from music so I have to have a job that allows me to pay for making music. It’s funny you press people like to have that little bit of extra flavour. You can’t just say “he makes music”; you have to say “in his day job he’s a clown that attacks trees”. You have to come up with all this stuff that titillates people into listening to the music. It’s one of those little tricks where having the perfect backing story is part of promotion – it’s kind of grotesque.
Um, right… [DiS immediately stops writing about the correlation between Simon’s music and his day job]. Whilst researching for our chat I attempted to uncover some previous interviews with you but couldn’t find any. Is this because you're inherently distrustful of the press?
SB: It’s not because I’m some sort of recluse – it’s just no one seems interested. But I’m my own worst enemy in that respect. I should really say I’m doing the whole Nick Cave ‘I don’t like writers’ thing.
But, on the basis of this interview at least, your answers are a hell of a lot more intelligent and considered than many of the cliché–riddled bands that knock on DiS’s door.
SB: Maybe that’s why [the music press] don’t talk to me? Holger Czukay [of Can fame] used to say: “Why do music journalists want to talk to rock bands? Because [the bands] are idiots.” What the media would like bands to do is reproduce the thing they want them to be; they don’t want to engage in any sort of dialogue or say anything constructive.
Sometimes I think you have a point there. So, do you think music journalists are still relevant in the modern age?
SB: There’s no way you’ll die out. As long as people are interested in music and artists there will always be a need for journalists. It’s just going to be a little more fractured and the market will become more diffuse where everything is going to become smaller and smaller. I don’t think you will disappear because people will always want to discuss and debate it but it’s doubtful it will be on the kind of level of Lester Bangs. There's not going to be that kind of cultural significance; no music journalist is going to have a high position in culture again because it’s all so fragmented. Of the dozen reviews [of The Smitten King Laments] I’ve read so far there has been some lovely writing that showed an amount of application that stunned me when pulling apart the words and structure. So you won’t die out but you will find yourself on smaller web pages as everything fragments further.
Hmmm… those years at journalism school aren’t looking so big and clever after all. Finally, what do you hope to achieve in 2008?
SB: I would simply love to afford to be on the road and do a lot of concerts and get to that level where I don’t have to constantly fight. I’m in the position at the moment where I’m out of breath and barely keeping my head above water just to get to the level where I can find the people who will enjoy my music. I don’t want to impose it on anyone I just simply want to find the people who will like what I’m doing. Hopefully some of the convoluted madness I’m trying to convey on this record will get through to people and mean something to them.
Simon Breed’s The Smitten King Laments is released through Re-Action Records on February 11 and will be reviewed on DiS later this week. His MySpace can be found here and you can catch him live at the following venues over the course of the next few months:
16 London Anti-Folk Festival @ 12-Bar Club
28 London Acoustic Suicide @ the Gladstone
6-15 Napoli Italian Tour – venues TBC
21 Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms
22 Glasgow Nice ‘n’ Sleazys
6 London The Windmill
Saturday, 2 February 2008
Personally, I cannot articulate fully in words how giddy this band make me feel, such is their effect on me. I'm sure you people know a shitload about them already but if not I would probably go here and listen to them, then buy their EP, then cherish them and talk about them to everyone who will listen, rather than choosing to endure my incoherent gibberish.
Tonight, Auld Reekie is fucking Baltic. The afternoon’s granite sky has succumbed to a pitch black canvas across which bitter, gale-force winds paint merry hell over meticulously structured barnets and the chaos-spawning menace of snow is but the blink of a frozen eyelid away. Aye, this is Scotland in January alright, and as a sniffling, snot-plagued DiS nurses its ale in an olde watering hole just off the Royal Mile with Andy Keeney and Ian Turnbull – two exquisitely bearded members of much-vaunted Edinburgh tune merchants Broken Records - we’re already dreaming of summertime jaunts to more tropical climes.
But these are the kind of conditions in which this bewitching ensemble of old university chums thrives. The band’s expansive, blustery orchestration and reflective lyricism has been warming the cockles of punters across Scotland since forming as a septet at the backend of 2006 and, following the release of a superlative-absorbing debut EP [review here], 2008 is shaping up to be the year the currently label-less group kicks up a storm all over the UK.
So before the inevitable bandwagon sets into gear, DiS chats to Andy and Ian about their impending foray down south, finding the perfect label and getting to grips with the hype…
In keeping with the journalistic need to create languid comparisons, you’ve been dubbed a Celtic Arcade Fire by us word-weary hacks. Are you concerned about being pigeonholed so early in your career?
Andy Keeney (drummer): It’s inevitably going to happen if you turn up on stage with an accordion, wearing braces and a waistcoat, but we would like to shy away from it. A lot of the comparisons are visual and aren’t reflected in the music at all.
Ian Turnbull (guitarist): When I was speaking about this before I said we played Russian Danger-Folk but, really, it’s just a bunch of people who want to make as big a noise as possible with as many instruments as they can.
AK: I suppose it’s easy on a descriptive level when you can’t give a succinct answer but the problem is that you can end up labelling yourself an early-Waterboys meets Beirut in a car crash, when it’s actually a lot easier to give someone a CD and let them take what they will from that.
Good point. Talking of CDs, your self-titled debut EP has been unanimously praised. Does the hype concern you, considering the number of local acts that have failed to make the grade outside of Scotland?
IT: The hype machine backlash is worrying, but I think it’s more difficult to do that now with the rise of the internet. You don’t just rely on the views of the press anymore; the public are far more involved than ever.
AK: I agree. The good thing about being in a band today is that no-one can be ditched on the basis of one bad review. There are still other forms of media that can invoke discussion and stimulate audiences.
A bit like the DiS message boards, perhaps? Anyway, moving on: every track on said EP is a flourishing, gut-churning epic – is this something you strived to achieve or is it the unavoidable result of such a large musical collective?
IT: It is and it isn’t. With those four tracks we wanted to get the strongest ones we had at the time down and because it was all done by the same guy, Stevie A. Cute (frontman for local Edinburgh punk-mongrels The Acute), it’s got a very uniformed sound.
AK: Yeah, he got quite excited about being able to bring three cellos into the studio, didn’t he?
IT: We also purposely included commercially sounding songs rather than the more gentile ones. I’ve often thought perhaps those first four tracks weren’t that representative of us. I’ve listened to it back on my iPod and after four listens it becomes pretty tough going; it’s just this relentless wall of sound reverberating around your ears.
IT: God, I’m into just about everything. The other day I confused the hell out of the guy in Avalanche (a Central Belt-based independent music retailer) by buying a Marilyn Manson album along with a Nick Drake record. So it’s pretty all over the place. Me, Gill (bassist Dave Fothergill) and Rory (Sutherland, accordion and violin player) like our post-rock and instrumental stuff but I think everyone shares a love for Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Oh, and Jamie (Sutherland, vocals and guitar) is massively into Bruce Springsteen.
AK: (Laughs) Aye, it’s like you’re in a never-ending Springsteen karaoke when you’re stuck in a tour van with him for three hours.
Talking of touring, I’ve been impressed with the way you’ve made your name predominantly through live shows rather than merely spamming social network accounts. How conscious a decision was that?
IT: Well before we played T In The Park [last summer] we’d only done four gigs and we thought, “Shit, we really need to get more practice in and sharpen up”. So we started booking more gigs.
AK: And with us there’s always been a traditional feeling that you have to get out and play gigs to catch someone, rather than relying on them to get into you by clicking on a link to a recording that’s not up to scratch.
IT: It’s quite satisfying when you force people into liking your music with the sheer energy of the performance.
Broken Records by Neil Thomas Douglas
- - -
You’re playing your first show (at the time of the interview – Ed) in London as part of DiS’s DiScover Club in April – are you nervous about the reception you’ll receive in the cauldron of The Capital?
AK: I think there’s still a bit of pre-match nerves with any show, but it’s not as bad as in the past where I was spewing before going on.
IT: We’re more excited than nervous. I think you have to be prepared to dip your toe in London’s murky waters at some point and it’s not all about London; we’re going to try and work out some other shows on the way up and down to try and make it a bit more financially viable.
I interviewed Jamie recently and he said that coming from outside of London has given the band space to grow in a manner that’s perhaps not possible there. Do you agree with his assertion?
IT: I guess in somewhere like London there’s far too much happening and it’s difficult to get noticed.
AK: Your man from DF Concerts (company CEO Geoff Ellis) made the point that if you do something in London that’s a bit interesting you end up getting hyped and generate a bandwagon after four gigs when you’ve not had time to develop yourself. We’ve had countless gigs in the last year where no-one has noticed us and that’s given us time to get tighter and develop to the point where we’re ready to move on. So there’s no danger of someone saying to us, “Right that’s interesting, go and do this”. Then, all of a sudden… (draws his breath) Destitute.
Now that you’ve spent the time tightening your sound, do you feel you’re ready to make the next step and sign a record deal?
AK: Well, we had a few nice Christmas cards [from labels] but it’s all been in a very vague way.
IT: I think we definitely need a label at the moment. We’re pretty much clueless when it comes down to distribution.
AK: Yeah, we need someone with the knowledge to help us progress – we’re a bit naïve in a business sense. Luckily, we’ve got a lawyer in the band (cellist Arne Kolb is a trained lawyer), so we might be a bit naïve but we’re definitely not stupid.
IT: So, anyone who’s out there to try and exploit a band is picking a pretty tricky group of musicians to make a quick buck on.
AK: But, obviously, whoever takes us on is going to have to be aware that we’re not going to be massive and we’re not going to make a lot of money from our first album because we’re not that kind of band.
I think a few folk might disagree with you on that one, Andy. Finally, I read an interview where you said you would like to expand the band’s numbers. Is your plan for 2008 to eventually evolve into the Celtic Polyphonic Spree?
IT: (Laughs) Well, we got pretty damn close with it when we had fifteen folk up on stage with Shady Bard – the poor sound engineer pretty much gave up by the end of that one.
AK: We like the way it is at the moment because we know how we all work together. This year, we’re looking to put together an actual single and hopefully record an album – we want to move away from being another band on stage that people aren’t really that interested in, to a band that people want to come and see. Hopefully, there will be some exciting times ahead.
- - -
Broken Records are playing the DiScover Club @ RoTa on Sat April 5 at the London Notting Hill Arts Club with The Monroe Transfer and Vessels. Full details of said show can be found here. Their MySpace can be found here, and a Drownload of 'If Eilert Lovborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This' is available for free here. Other upcoming shows read as follows:
3 Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire with Okkervil River
8 Dundee Doghouse
9 Dunfermline PJ’s
12 Edinburgh The Wee Red Bar
11 London Soho Revue Bar
5 London DiScover Club (free entry; details)