Google Tag

Sunday, 5 April 2020

The Mick Dillingham Archive : Jason Falkner Part 2

In the ten years since we last spoke to the Mr. Falkner, a lot has happened to the Los Angeles based musical masterclass in all things great. Jason was there at the birth of the musical revival that arrived at the start of the 90’s, firstly as one quarter of Jellyfish and The legendary Grays. Then with two solo albums for Elektra that cemented forever his place as one of, if not the, most ridiculously talented songwriters and crafted multi-instrumentalists on the planet. The last time I saw Jason in the flesh was at a packed and worship filled solo gig at Dingwalls in London. The whole audience seemed blissfully enraptured by the man’s warm but legendary presence. But then the usual story of major label neglect and then abandonment threw a spanner into his solo career for a few years. 

In that period he became a session player, touring mainly with Air, sometimes with Beck and producing here, playing on a McCartney album there.  A couple of welcome collections of rare and unreleased archive material kept the solo flag flying and then a short mini album, Bliss Descending , appeared along with the TV Eyes project along side his old Jellyfish pal Roger Manning. It was followed by a third album proper “I’m OK, You’re OK”, but this fine album was released only in Japan, which made it feel like he was back but not entirely so. I got back in contact with Jason, while working on the sleeve notes for Anne Soldaat’s stunning solo album In Another Life which Jason produced and played all over.

I caught him gearing up for the great return everybody has been waiting for. 2010 saw the stateside release of the brilliant and majestic new album “All Quiet On The Noise Floor”, a domestic release on vinyl and CD of  “I’m OK, You’re OK” and the putting together a band for live shows. I caught up with the crazy busy Jason just as he returned from playing live in both Japan and China. He took time out from his busy schedule to tell us just what’s been going down.

I read somewhere that you have no real interest in playing Wembley and would rather fill a place like The Roxy. No longer being tied to a major must have given you a freedom in that area and yet the lack of significant financial support makes the possibilities of touring difficult. How important to you is the live aspect of what you do in comparison to the rest?

“Well let me start by saying I have played both Wembley Arena and Stadium and they were unforgettable experiences. Those sized shows in general are crazy fun, but very isolated from the people who are there to see you perform. There is generally very little personal contact with the audience and to be honest when you are on a stage of that size you can hardly make out anyone’s expression, even in the front row.  It becomes almost a performance to a screen or a painting of a crowd, so that is why I say I prefer smaller venues. I don't like going to a huge show and watching the whole thing on a jumbo monitor above the stage.

As far as not being on a major label anymore, yeah there is complete control, doing things as DIY as I do, but I was left alone and trusted to make my music without label meddling even when I was on Elektra, which is amazing! Only once did the head of A&R suggest anything creatively to me and that was after I handed in "Can You Still Feel?" There was a big meeting with the head of A&R regarding the record and she said "look, we know you can write something a bit 'simpler' and we've taken your record to radio and they all say it's brilliant but no hits.”

This scenario, of course, is a cliche and my initial knee jerk reaction was to say, "Fuck off the record is done. Can't you MAKE them play it?" But this time I thought I would take their wee suggestion and run so I wrote "Start Over Again." After hearing it my label person said "Thank you! That is exactly what we had in mind" They then took that song to radio and the overall reaction was that it lacked the JF magic they all liked. but was still too complex for them to play on the radio. Another brick in the wall.”

Being on long tours with Air and Jellyfish must have given you the experience of the live performance taking on a life of its own after a time which you never fully got to taste with your own bands.

“Touring can be exhausting, but also incredibly fun and I do enjoy the feeling I get when it really becomes your life, which is about a month into a long tour. Ahhh.....but after about two months I really need my own bed. The only reason I don't tour more often is financial. I would LOVE to come to the UK and Europe again. I get really frustrated that I haven't been able to tour my records for so long now. There is nothing I want more than to put on a great show with lights and some degree of theatre. I really need a JF tour fund. Donations anyone?”

The Japanese are big fans but what’s the whole Japanese experience like?

“Japan has really become a home away from home for me. I love the culture and something that is really cool about the fans there is that they aren't afraid to show their fandom. I feel like your average music lover in Japan is a completest and will collect everything by their favourite artist much like I am with things I love. That being said the only reason I keep going there and not anywhere else is because the Japanese label pays for the whole affair....well, actually I do, but they front the money.”

The album “Everyone Says It’s On” must have been strange to put together being one disc of covers and the other of outtakes and demos.  If you had to do another cover songs today what tracks would be on your list?

“Yeah I just wanted to release some of my 4 track demos, because I'm really proud of how they sound. I miss the urgent sound of that 4 track cassette machine, so warm and syrupy and delicious. The covers that comprise one disc of that double were actually recorded in 1994, when my short lived post Jellyfish band The Grays were dissolving. The head of Epic had flown out to Chicago to talk me into keeping The Grays together for one more record even though Jon Brion had quit. I was really over that group as well, so I negotiated that I be able to make a SOLO (my first solo performed record mind you) record of obscure covers and if that could happen I would make another Grays record without Jon.

My idea was given the green light, so when I got back to LA I booked a studio and started recording this cover record. I remember the A&R guy from Epic leaving tons of messages at the studio but I just kept recording and never called him back. I figured whatever he had to say couldn't be as important as this record I was making. Ha ha the nerve! This was a wonderfully exciting time making this record, because it was the first time I was in a proper studio playing all the instruments. I chose a very diverse collection of songs that had impacted me deeply. I also thought I might turn the world on to these great obscure bands like The Monochrome Set, The Left Banke and Magazine.

Well obviously I didn't do any of these bands a favour because the reason my A&R guy was calling so much was to tell me to STOP and inform me that The Grays were dropped from Epic. So I finally put that out in 2001 on a Japanese label run by a crook. Long story.....If I did another covers record now? Hmmm....maybe a Public Nuisance track and "Space Ace" by Brett Smiley. Something mid 90's by Guided by Voices....maybe I'll start this after the interview!”

The first new stuff you put out after leaving Electra was the “Bliss Descending” EP

“Actually the "Bliss Descending" EP was created so I would have something new for fans to buy as I embarked on a two week tour with my friends in Travis. We did a West Coast and Mexico tour in 2004 where I opened up solo and joined them for "All The Young Dudes". Great guys! Anyway I kept it short because I simply didn't have a full length ready. I also had new management dangling the publishing carrot wrapped in a lot of cash, which never materialised. I pretty much went into a funk for a couple of years after that until the Japanese label, Noise McCartney, came banging on my door.”

The next thing to turn up, not officially but leaked on the collector’s circuit, was the ten or so 2000 demos as they were labelled.

“Yeah that series of songs was never meant for public consumption. I honestly don't even know who compiled that because it's so random, but I'm glad people dig it! Princessa is redone on "All Quiet On The Noise Floor. " Feeling Much Better is a vinyl only bonus track on the domestic version of "I'm OK You're OK". Hey Little Spider is one of my favourite drunken songs, written on the spot with an ex-girlfriend, playing the part of the horny toad and I the spider! Ode to Lethargy will surface again someday, but most of the others are behind me at this point. I'm always writing and recording, so I have another unreleased album or two in me right now. I planned to start putting out two records a year without having to catch up to the Japanese releases which I'm doing now.”

Next up was TV Eyes record with your old Jellyfish mate Roger Manning.

“TV Eyes happened after Roger Manning and Brian Reitzell had me come down to record some porno guitar and Scott Walker-esque vocals on Logan’s Sanctuary (the mock soundtrack to the non existent sequel to Logan’s Run). We had so much fun that day that we started throwing around the idea of recording a robotic 80's sounding thing. We were cracking up talking about Gary Numan, Ultravox, Human League, Associates etc...all stuff we love, but mind you this was 1999 and no one at all was referencing this period of British music as yet. 

Most of the skeleton ideas were written by the three of us, but I really went crazy adding my personality to the production and writing all the lyrics. I didn't want it to be a joke or novelty record, so I poured a great deal of myself into it. Some of the songs like "What She Said" and "Times Up" and Crash Yer Car" were written by me alone. Unfortunately that record never came out except in Japan a few years ago and now it seems so dated even though in 1999-2000, when we started it, we were way ahead of the curve. As far as the earlier mix when we were called Softcore I prefer that to the released mix as well! I did those early mixes myself on an old Trident console. Tough sound”

When I first heard you were working with Paul McCartney, all sorts of dreams went through my head in a Wondermints/Brian Wilson way, but as it turned out you were more just a session musician. But if you had been given the chance to take on doing a whole album with the man, producing, arranging, playing all over, would you or would the prospect be to daunting? I hear Macca dug your Bedtimes With The Beatles album though.

“Oh man I wish I could get myself in a position to produce someone like Paul. I couldn't help but fantasise about that when we were recording "Chaos and Creation." I know it would turn out amazing if I could, but I don't have the huge producer name that legends usually gravitate toward.

Oh Macca did more than dig my Bedtime With The Beatles! He wouldn't stop talking about it and that was probably the most ego rewarding experience I've ever had. He said he was flattered I had made the record with such attention to detail and obvious love for the original Beatles versions. I assured him that all the flattery belonged to me.”

You are not too keen to be stuck into the power pop drawer. Power Pop’s a wide and often misunderstood label. To me personally it means bands and artists that take there initial cue from later Beatles, are strong on melody and hooks and use the guitar as the main instrument, which seems to fit your music overall. How would you define your music?

“ Power Pop is a term I used to identify with but it's been so bastardised and flooded with no talent bands that have "Ooo la la la" background vocals that now I generally run from that scene. I make sure when I say Power Pop, people know I am talking about vintage power pop likeTthe Beatles and all of their offspring from Badfinger to Jellyfish. One could lump some of the skinny tie late 70's bands in with the genre, because of the high energy pop thing. To me Costello's 'Armed Forces', Joe Jacksons 'I'm the Man' are classic Power Pop. Anyway, I don't really support titles and categories, which is one reason I don't easily fit into any. If you listen to any of my records they don't have a uniform style to the sound or my production or even the song writing.

For instance, the almost 1940's Cole Porter/Tom Waits quality of "Before My Heart Attacks" from my first solo record sits next to the Buzzcocks energy of "Miracle Medicine" on the same record. Most bands or producers would consider this commercial suicide, because most people making records live in fear of confusing the audience. I give my audience way more credit than that and I am pretty sure at this point they like the journeys I take them on. I hope the thing that stands out most in my work is honesty. When I write and record, time doesn't exist and I luckily find myself in the same innocent place that I discovered when I first started writing and recording my music as a teenager.

I don't know how that mental space hasn't been polluted, but it really hasn't and for that I am blessed. I want my listener to dream and connect some of the dots themselves. I don't want to hand you a totally finished concept, but rather arm you with some imagery both lyrically and musically and off you go to complete my story yourself. There is also a sense of humour to what I'm doing that can be overshadowed by the weight, but it's very important to me for that to be understood.”

You record at home mostly these days and I love the sound you get. What’s it like being your own master, is it harder to keep motivated now that there’s no studio clock ticking above your head or is the freedom liberating?

"Thanks Mick! I generally like the sound I get here at home too. I have been collecting some unusual suspect pieces of vintage gear for some time now. I have a console from 1973 made in good ole Memphis TN and just barely enough other toys to come close to the sound I hear in my head. Of course that is a never ending search, much like writing the perfect song. For me there have to be elements at odds to really get me off. I like clarity, but also like ambiguity, so there you go. I will most likely be struggling with those poles my entire life.”

So next up was “I’m OK, You’re OK” which has been out in Japan for a while, but is now out in the States finally.

“The songs on this record span a few years, some of which go as far back as 2003, but the majority are from 2006-2007. There are two vinyl only bonus tracks "Feeling Much Better" and "Gimmi Gimmi" which were both recorded in 2006.”

I think there was an expectation with that last album carrying a decade worth of preconceptions like a monkey on its back and because I would say its your least immediate album. Rather than sit with it and give it the time it needed, a few people were too quick to say. “Oh its not as good as his first two”, simply because it was not exactly the Jason Falkner album they were hoping for after such a long gap. Now that your plan is to put out an album every year or so, do you think this will give you the freedom to experiment? Maybe push off into new avenues with the thought of, if this year’s album is not quite your cup of tea then there will be another one along soon enough?  Then you never know I might surprise and delight you with where I am going with this.

“That is exactly right. I've always attached a great deal of weight to my output. On one hand I do feel pressure to make each record mean something and there is a lot of attention to detail going into each song. The idea that I can put out a record every one or two years does take a bit of that pressure off. I am making music for people like myself that are overly passionate about what they love and don't love. Sometimes just being okay ain't enough and so if some of my fans were disappointed with my last record that is not a problem. They are passionate people or they wouldn't have connected with me in the first place. Maybe they will love the new one...or the one after that.

I'm not concerned with pleasing everyone because it is impossible to do. I also look around at what is happening in popular culture and I am honestly afraid of this seemingly new hyper aggressive 'fame seeking without talent' personality type that is dominating the media. I couldn't care less about reaching that sector of the population. I think the thread in all of my work is my intention, which is coming from a place of exploration and truth seeking. One of the positives of not having a tremendous amount of commercial success is that I don't have to keep repeating myself, so we'll see what is next.

Regarding my insane hiatus between "Can You Still Feel?" and "I'm Ok You’re Ok", that was more about depression than writers block. After my Elektra deal went sour in 2000, I gave up a bit. Oddly enough I had been asking Elektra to drop me since the zero promotion of my first record. I flew to New York to have a big meeting with all the heads of the departments and they said "No we want you to make another record on this label. We know what we did wrong and we vow to correct it with your next one!" Sounded pretty good to me you know?

So I stayed and the same thing happened when the second one came out. No promotion at all! These events are very hard on the ego and psyche and so when I got the call that they were finally dropping me, because I had no radio hits it kinda knocked me out. I liken it to one person in a relationship having doubts for years and staying in it for the other person. Then that other person blindsiding you with "we need to talk" and then breaking up with you. You want to say "wait, you are breaking up with ME? I've wanted to end this...arrg!" I was the latter in my relationship with Elektra or Neglektya as I started calling them.”

Lyrically you seem to tread the same unconscious path as you do musically: both are epic and intimate at the same time, simultaneously personal and universal. I remember reading an old interview with you (and I am wildly paraphrasing here) where you said that someone had the opinion that maybe you got a bit oblique at times lyrically.  You responded that maybe you should try a bit more straightforward in your approach and reading this my heart sank a little bit. Fortunately you seemed to have forgotten this idea and stayed with what you do best, rich and literate and to hell with the spoon feeding.

“Ah yes I remember this period of time where I was spouting off that I was going to excise the irony and ambiguity of my lyrics. An impossible notion. My lyrics come from visuals I have. Most are actually based on experiences I have recently had or situations I am presently involved in. I do, however, tend to embellish these scenarios a bit and that is possibly where they can get a bit abstract. Some songs of mine even have more than one protagonist! I'm evoking a feeling more than telling a straight story.

I absolutely loathe anything spoon fed. I have my own utensil thank you very much and it's a finely tuned BS detector! Ha ha... I appreciate what you said about the intimate, yet conversely also epic nature of my music. That speaks of my fundamental desire/nature to be both organic and other worldly at the same instance. If there is a concept running through all of my records then that fusion is it. I relate to a brilliant story teller speaking universal truths with intelligence and humour. At the same time I think music and the people who make it should be so unique that they almost seem like they are from outer space. A contradiction but a struggle I enjoy.”

So let’s talk about the process behind All Quiet On The Noise Floor. How do you go about recording a new album?

“The truth is that I hardly ever have a plan. I am a bit of a slave to inspiration when it hits, which results in a song or songs coming out and I have to stop whatever it is I'm doing and start writing. The music comes much more naturally, more easily than the lyrics, there's pretty much always some melodies swimming around in my head.  I also have too many (can you really ever have too many?) instruments stashed in corners of every room in my house.  So when an idea comes that I think is one of my better ones, I grab whatever is closest to me and start working a song out of it.

I used to record all the time, pretty much every day and the irony is, with the passage of time I have amassed a pretty cool collection of vintage instruments and a bit of choice vintage recording gear. And yet I don't work nearly as much as I did when all I had was a cassette four track! When I do start recording, I still have the same optimistic joy I had when I was a teenager which seems nearly impossible what with all the difficulties I've had in this biz. But in reality none of my negative experiences have tarnished my love of coming up with a new idea and turning it into a smashing tune!”

The new album opens with a new version of Princessa, an equally dazzling earlier version having been floating around fan circles for a few years. Later on there’s My Home Is Not A House which goes back to the days of playing it live with The Grays, there are two studio versions of it done soon after. Even though they are great, I can see that just putting either of those far older versions onto the new album would have been an ambient mistake. This is not the first time you have re recorded tracks; in fact it has been a noticeable feature of your output down the years.

“As far as the multiple recording of certain songs it might be a bit more random than some would think. Princessa, for example, was written almost nine years ago and I loved the original version (the one that is probably most bootlegged). But like you mentioned I had to re record it so it would fit sonically. Counting the version David Holmes and I started, but never finished by the way, I think there are four versions of that song! I don't know why it was so hard to get right, but it was and who knows if the version on "All Quiet On The Noise Floor" will be the last. 

I'm very proud of this record at this point. When it first came out in Japan in 2007 I felt like it was the "little record that could" kind of thing and I wasn't sure how people would react to the sound of it being pretty mid-fi. But people tend to like the sound, so all good there. You know, as far fidelity goes, I find myself most compelled by non hi-fi records. I really like a little dirt in the mix and this record has that in spades. Again this new album has quite a bit of diversity in the writing but that's how I stay interested. I adore The Ramones, but I could never make a record (or an entire career!) that strictly sticks to one sound. Give me variety.”

And you played in China.

“China was crazy. We only did one show there in Shanghai and they really ate it up. I have a 24 track recording of it so that might surface some day. It was freezing cold there and we had already been touring Japan the week before so we were a bit tired. But the crude greeting I learned off our translator made the crowd explode! I immediately knew it would be a classic.”


The Thank Yous - Good Times Killing Us

It is lovely to hear something with a big foot in Power Pop and Norway's The Thank Yous have come up with a crackerjack of an album. Power Pop as a genre hasn't had a good 12 months. It has always divided potential inclusive musicians, half of whom think the label as derogatory and most people have no clue what it is.

Things have been made worse by the constant nonsense on Facebook Forums from established fans who still hanker for Badfinger and Raspberries and tell everyone else quite forcefully that all new music is crap and have great pleasure in destroying any newbie's opinion. Add to this the departure of writers who were admirers of the genre as they moved into less angsty areas and bands desperately avoiding the tag.

Long time advocates and supposed Power Pop Influencers have also seemingly gone off the rails, determined to spend most of their time explaining how they are right and everyone else is wrong. I Don't Hear A Single used to cover a lot of Power Pop and it is still something that I love, but this has diminished over the nigh on four years it has been active. Great new releases, therefore, have been few on the ground this year, although with the likes of  Nick Piunti's new album in the pipeline that may change.

So after all that negativity, it is wonderful to hear an album that fits into the category. Whilst Good Times Killing Us is great Guitar Pop, it doesn't dwell in the I Love You, Yes I Do cliches and that means enormous credit should be awarded to Lars Lundevall and Peter Folkedal. This isn't an album of just jingle jangle, there is a real crunch at times, particularly on the Guitar Solos.

Fucking Up Is Easy To Do is very much in Teenage Fanclub territory, the riff and solo remind me a lot of Everything Flows, but the verse has a great Tom Petty drawl. It is that crunch that perfects the album and will appeal to more than just Melodic Pop lovers. The Indiepop Dream is a paean to Brian Wilson and Brian Jones, but done as a sort of UK New Wave single of the late 70s.

Up For The Sound is a slow 12 Bar shuffle, bordering on a crooning Dr Feelgood and These Things Happen offers up trademark Power Pop Jangle, has a singalong Brit Pop chorus and launches into a fantastic solo. Say You Don't Know is a splendid slice of  trippy West Coast Pop.

The album is at its best though when it cuts loose a little and the opener Just Mine does this beautifully. The Bass into lulls you into a full sense of security, gently building up to a searing close. Then there is All The Way, which is probably the album's standout song. It is a great late 60s / Mid 70s R and B cracker with an AOR chorus and again a killer Classic Rock solo.

The album was due to be released on 27 March, but has been delayed until 30 April due to the Corona Virus. A New Single will be released on 15 April. You can pre-order the CD or Vinyl here.


Friday, 3 April 2020

Radio Free Universe - Love

It's Canada again, this time Hamilton in Ontario, with the Pop Rock of five piece, Radio Free Universe. Generally when I think of Pop Rock, I think of the 70s largely due to the sound and feel of albums in that genre.

However, RFU buck that trend although the Orchestral arrangements are similar to that period, the vibe is much more 90s. This is largely down to vocalist and guitarist, George Panaopoulous's delivery which is incredibly soulful. I'm reminded a lot of Adam Levine in feel if not in tone.

Panaopoulus's songwriting is also creative. Songs start like something ordinary and build into big sweeping choruses and memorable melody. All this is delivered with a wonderfully laid back vocal. The band break out of this occasionally, there's a cracking earthy vocal on Even Angels and All Or Nothing Time heads for Stadium Rock.

The front half of the album is where the band are at its best. Songs build into fine listens. Love Right Now is really funky and I'm again reminded of Maroon 5. Circle starts slowly and builds into a corker of a chorus.

She's High Again has a 70's almost Carribean feel and another big chorus and some fine twee keyboards. The stand out though is the fantastic Star Child which is one of the better songs that I've heard this year. Love is an album that is a bit different than much around. It is an easy listen and highly enjoyable.

You can listen and buy the album on Bandcamp here.


Thursday, 2 April 2020

The Mick Dillingham Archive : Jason Falkner Part 1

Here is the first part of a fascinating two part interview with Jason Falkner. Here is the first interview from 1999. The second part is a further catch up from 2009. I felt combined that the two were a little long for what we do here, so Part 2 appears at the weekend.

Well I remember the day I got Ro Sham Bo, the one and only album by The Grays, a few weeks after it had been released. This was at the very dawn of the golden age of Power Pop when Jellyfish and Beagle reigned supreme and A Man Called E had delivered up his first utterances. I bought it on the strength of it being ex Jellyfish, but looking through the credits on the way home, I realised that the only ex involved was the guitarist from the first Jellyfish album, Jason Falkner. This was back in the days long before the internet and Los Angeles was an ocean away and the only real information available on such bands was what could be gleaned from the album sleeves themselves. Other than that we were stumbling through the dark. 

Besides Falkner, the other names meant nothing to me (though I was to later realise that Jon Brion was the session guitarist on the second Jellyfish album and was the producer the the first two Aimee Mann albums). On first play the album sounded not very Jellyfishy at all, by the third play this masterpiece of grown up passionate and detailed power pop had begun to reveal itself for the stone cold classic it remains to this day. For me, it far outshone Jellyfish in every way imaginable. 

Ro Sham Bo is one of the benchmark albums of the nineties and The Grays, that short lived combo who are responsible for it, a legend. A band with three equally brilliant songwriters, Falkner, Brion and Buddy Judge, a band with four brilliant musicians including drummer Dan McCarroll. A  band doomed from the start by the personality and methodology clash of Falkner and Brion. Simply put, Jason and Jon did not get on and halfway through the tour to promote the album, Brion walked away and the band was no more.

Of the three principals, only Falkner really delivered up the promise of The Grays. Jon Brion returned to session and production work and eventually released a solo album that while full of beautiful songs, was musically crafted, but un-adventurous. Buddy Judge also eventually released a strange solo album, that is quaintly old fashioned in a music hall type of way. 

Back when I interviewed Jason. he had already released one brilliant solo album and was about to release a second. For all intent and purposes, Falkner was the crown prince of power pop We were all in awe of the sheer majesty and craft the he was delivering up. 

The news that he was playing live in Paris in support of his second album was too hard to resist, especially since two London based french girls, who were also big Falkner fans and friends of mine were heading home to see him and invited me along. I packed my trusty tape machine on the off chance that I might grab him for an interview....and here it is.

So how did you first start doing music?

“My mom says I was singing tunefully even before I was talking. For me it was never like a thing I got into consciously. It was playing with the piano before I could sit on the stool by myself and I used to follow my Mom around when she was cooking and play drums on her butt. I guess I started on the piano and the teacher was like "He should be in a proper class". She then recommended a serious teacher and I went through that teacher in a couple of years and then got me an amazing teacher.

But the whole time I was totally into Rock, like FM Rock, that was around at the time, Queen etc. The first record I ever bought was In The Summer by The Beach Boys. I started hassling my parents for a guitar. but my parents knew it was going to take me away from the piano and they were right. I finally got one when I was twelve. Then really soon after, punk happened. My sister got me into Costello and then Blondie"

So it was more new wave than punk?

“It wasn't punk at first, it was more Joe Jackson, Squeeze, Elvis Costello. Wasn't even XTC, I didn't know about them until a couple of years later. At first I hated Costello because of the Farfisa and stuff, I associated that sound with Muzak that was in the supermarket. So I was like "that's lame, like it doesn't go 'bbbbbvvvvv' it needs to go 'bbbbvvvvv' to be good". Then all of a sudden one day I just totally got it. It was This Years Model and I was 'Holy mother of God, what's this playing?

This is totally the future for me'. There was a radio station in LA that would play entire albums and I heard English Settlement by XTC and it just totally freaked me out, especially Jason And The Argonauts. I hadn't caught which album it was so I went through this astonishing sequence of trying to find that album and I bought every XTC album and that was the last one before I found that song. I was totally hooked to that band."

So when did you start playing in bands?

“I had this cover band in ninth grade, we were called Your Boy Soldiers. A terrible name, it's really hard to say. We played in front of the whole school. We did Stray Cat Strut and everybody in the stands stood up and screamed and I was just like 'this job is for me, this job is good, good job!' After that I was totally adopted into the 'cool weirdo' clique, I was a freshman and most of them were junior or senior, and they were all into Joy Division, Teardrop Explodes and Magazine. Pretty esoteric stuff for Southern California. Then this guy who was part of that crew, he was like "Hey man, your band's alright, but do you want to be in my band? My band's fucking cool".

He made me this tape, supposedly of his band's demos and I went home and listened to this tape and I was blown away, I didn't know what this was. I heard clicks and scratches like a record and I thought 'man these guys have made a 7 inch or something". I was totally into being in his band and I was like "You guys have made a record or something? "He was like "Oh no I just have really inferior recording equipment" and sort of brushed it off. So I went to the rehearsal and the singer had hair like Mick Karn, sort of black here and white there.

His mic stand was a golf putter with the mike duck taped to the head, like Freddie Mercury or something. The drummer played just a floor tom and a snare. The bass player had his strings all tuned to the same note, but it was not intentional. These people didn't know what they were doing at all! So we did the first song on the cassette and I'm the only one actually doing the song, the others were just making a noise. I was like "What the hell man, you guys sound so good on the tape!" But I was totally mesmerised by their lack of anything structured, I thought it was just really cool. I spent the next couple of years in this group, we were called the Autopops. I paid my dues with that group.

About a month in, I'm totally committed to them and the guy admits "You total idiot, that wasn't us on the demo tape". You know what it was? It was the first two Monochrome Set singles and the first Swell Maps single. I have this weird struggle with this concept and love of music by people who have no idea what they're doing. Then my training and my own musical head takes things to an opposite extreme. Both are constantly at odds and neither will ever reign supreme. Maybe in the future, I'll get rid of the love for the novice thing, I think I already have, but earlier on it was very important to me to honour that side.”

So were you doing It's Frank (The first Monochrome Set single) live with this band, you did it later on with The Grays?

“Autopop couldn't play It's Frank to save its life. We were doing originals and we were doing 20 minute versions of Heroin at parties. We were definitely the weirdo band, we would all trip on mushrooms and have all these mannequin's parts on stage. I was writing a lot of songs and they were all like Mod sounding. But the band was so sloppy and organic it turned into this trashy pop thing. It was a cool band.”

You wrote She Goes To Bed when you were sixteen?

“I wrote that about a girl that I was just friends with, a doomed tale of one way love, but it wasn't actually totally one way, it was just sort of impossible. There are five different demos of it. The first ones are excruciating to listen to, because I didn't take myself seriously as a singer for quite a while. So yes it's an old song. Funnily enough the first single off Can You Still Feel, Eloquence, was an old song, at least  seven years old.”

You did it live with the Grays?

“How did you know that, have you seen that Tower Records video? Oh that's really painful to watch. Did I still have my goatee? My god what was that doing? It was kind of like a chin strap.”

There's a fundamental rule, no moustache without beard and definitely no beard without moustache.

“Very true, just moustache is sort of LAPD cop and just a beard is just 'something's wrong with that guy, I don't know what it is, but keep him away from my kid's school! The worst thing is the photos from that era, it's so grotesque and there's things in it, bits of food. Hey, why won't you talk to me?”

So when did you really start writing songs?

“Probably in my early 20s during Jellyfish. I always felt like I was a solo artist, even when I was in bands. I never quite acclimated myself to being in a band, especially when they were trying to make me just a guitar player, not a crucial member.”

Which is what happened with Jellyfish. Big, big mistake on their part.

“It was just a real drag for me, they kind of deceived me, when I joined. They said it would be an equal three piece band. First time I started bringing in songs, they were like 'Nope.' I'm like 'what about this one?' 'Nope', 'Well, I thought I was going to be an equal member of this band', 'Well we lied! Sorry, we love your guitar playing, but you know... ?' I stuck with it for so long because I had lots of loyalty issues and the music just blew me away when I first heard their demos.”

The first Jellyfish album, there was nothing like it at the time.

“There wasn't and I was like 'Wow, allies' and that's why it was such a heartbreaking experience for me. Feeling that I was going to be part of this thing, more than I actually was, was the only reason I did it. I did so much more on that album and live, than I actually got credited with.”

You must have done a lot of the arrangements on that album. Because after you left, well the second Jellyfish hasn't got any real arrangements, and they substituted with a totally over the top production. It's a real kitchen sink job. It doesn't have any sense of discipline to it. It's 'look how clever we are' and that's boring. Wearing the 'Jellyfish' clothes, that must have been a bit of a killer for you?

“I did wear them at first, I regret to say. Seriously the whole image thing was sprung on me at the last moment. I remember we'd be doing demos and Andy would come in and say "Check out these boots man, I just got them" and they were like rainbow platforms. I'm like "What's going on?" The band were all kind of scuzzy, Roger looked like he'd crawled out of a sewer when I first met him, with these ratty dreadlocks. Then all of a sudden he's like wearing a dress! I wasn't expecting it. When we did the first video, he'd amassed this collection of clothes and they got them out and it was 'pick something' and I'm like 'I'm not into dressing like the Brady Bunch. But I acquiesced.”

Lets talk about The Grays.

“When I was in Jellyfish, I'd made a tape for my girlfriend at the time, who worked at this coffee house. It had a lot of Odessey & Oracle and some Imperial Bedroom and XTC demos and she played it at work. One day this customer says to her "Who made this tape?" and she tells him and he's like "Oh Jason Falkner, I know Jellyfish". So he passes on a tape of his demos and I liked some of his stuff. It wasn't where I was coming from, it didn't have the same urgency, but it was very musical.

So we met and hung out a little bit and this was Jon Brion. I remember, day one, thinking there's no way I want to be in a band with this guy and then all of a sudden I'm in a band with him, how did that happen? What did I do wrong? He called me six months after we'd first met and asked me down to this rehearsal studio. He knew that I was demoing, getting all the pain out of the Jellyfish experience. So I went down there and there was Buddy and Dan.

So we had a play and Jon goes out and calls this guy from Capitol Records and says "You'll never guess who I've got here playing together" and he says "I'll sign them sight unseen." All of a sudden we're being dangled the carrot and I'm like "wait a minute, I don't want to be in a band anymore, I hate bands right now!" Every record company you could name was flying out to set up a showcase. We had this whole attitude too, we didn't have a name or a manager and we didn't make a demo tape. All the record companies are going "We'll pay for a 24 track demo tape" and we're like "If you don't like us live, then fuck off'. We were being total brats. That's when I discovered being a brat really works.

In the music business they expect that of you. We were offered five deals and we went with the one that gave us the most creative freedom. I called Jack Puig because I loved him from the Jellyfish stuff and we started making the record, but that band was imploding from day one. I'm really proud of parts of Ro-Sham-Bo but it was hard to make. Jon and I were too similar in that we can play all the instruments, we were both really arrangement orientated and it was like only one of our visions was going to win, we both couldn't be served.

He wanted to make a record that was… I really don't know if even he knew what the wanted. We ended up competing to be the antithesis of the other, really unhealthy.  When my vision started winning out, which was making a pop album, with arrangements, interesting parts hopefully, then he's like "I want to make this really loose thing, just jamming". I'm saying "I don't really jam", I write songs.  I orchestrate these parts for him and they were not really open to that much jamming. He would like solo over a verse like Beavis, I mean like, settle down! I ended up arranging most of Buddy's songs with him and arranging most of Jon's with him too.

I was very specific in what I wanted and the rest had an idea that we would be an anti-band, like a total democracy and it doesn't work in art. There's no such thing. Whoever's song it is will be king and they have ultimate veto power. But as it turned out the other guys kind of backed out of their own stuff, because I guess my will was so strong I just took over.

There's elements of that record I'm really pleased with, some of it is a little to pristine recording wise, in that Jack was at that time trying to win engineering awards, which he absolutely should win because he's phenomenal. You should see where we recorded that. It was like a rat infested studio which shouldn't be able to produce something that sounds like that.”

So how did The Grays finish?

“We were in Chicago, we'd been touring solidly for the last six months. Our record company guy flew out to see the show and we broke up that night. Jon was leaving and we had a big meeting and the record company guy said "Jason, if you stay with the band, then they'd do mainly your songs and a few by Buddy". I didn't want to do it because when Jon said he was going to split I thought, good, so finally I can get to my real business. So I said to this guy, I'll do another Grays record if you let me do this album of cover versions. I made the mistake of saying I could do this cover record very cheap. I learnt from that that you should never say you can do something for cheap. Why do it cheaply when you can spend a lot of money!

So I did that record in a week, fourteen songs recorded and mixed in a week. I didn't have a budget approved I just went in and started recording and I got a call on the fifth day. "What the fuck do you think you're doing in the studio?" "What do you mean what am I doing? I'm making the record that we talked about" and he's saying "you haven't had the budget approved, this isn't supposed to be happening". I'm like "it's happening, it's going to be finished in two days, you should come down and listen to it and somebody's going to pay for it, because I'm not". So the album got shelved and that was about it with the Grays.”

So when it came to your first album, Author Unknown, how many songs did you have?

"I had a lot that had built up and a lot of them I still felt were relevant. It's funny like Follow Me, which was the second single, a horrible mistake for a single, was a song I wrote, god I was like fifteen or sixteen. I just did it as a lark at the end of the session, because we had two days left and I was pretty much done.  I was deathly ill and we did it all in one day and my manager came down and was like "that's brilliant!". I'm like 'no it's not man', but he's pushing for it to be a single.

It went down like a lead balloon that single. Each time I record, it's never really thought out, what songs have the greatest impact or anything. It's like whatever I feel like recording that day. It's really that random with me. I don't have the patience to sit around and go, what do I think people want to hear? I'm not going out of my way not to write hits, but I'm not going out of my way to write them either. Never again will I let them choose the singles, because I knew Follow Me was wrong. If I'm going to go down in flames, I'd rather it was with something daring. One of the pretty songs, because that would stand out.”

Like Goodnight Sweet Night?

“I would have loved that, but all the things I think would be a good single, like nobody ever talks about, It's like no way if it doesn't fit in with radio formats.  There was not a bad word said in the press about that album, but it sold really poorly because it just wasn't promoted.”

Next up is Can You Still Feel? I heard stories that your record company didn't think there was any singles on it when you first presented it.

“They had the record and all the reports I had back were 'it's genius' and then a week later I get 'Please Jason I know you can write a hit'. It's like 'try something simple' and I'm saying 'Do you realise what you're saying to me? You want me to spit something out that's not really coming from my soul'. I thought I had two ways I can deal with this. My usual stance, which is "fuck off" or the other stance which is, maybe a more mature Jason, let me try this, this might be kind of an interesting experiment. I had just, with the record company's money, bought a cool studio and put it in my house. So I started recording this song Start Over.

It was the first thing I did with this studio and I really liked it. It kinda ended up with a little Velvets tinge to it. The bridge was very atypical, like the rest of my stuff and the verse was kind of a simple thing. I really liked the lyrics. I handed it in and they were like 'brilliant' and then a week later they're saying 'hmm it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album', so I'm like 'I'm taking it off. I had mastered the album with the song on it and listened back to it. I'm like, it's not part of this mind set. So I took it off and nobody complained. So that was the experiment, it succeeded and failed and I knew it would fail the whole time. I give them the hit and they don't even care about it.

"But I think I garnered a lot more respect from them because I tried it, and they realised 'what he's doing is better than what we ask him to do'. So I appeased everybody. Acting the arsehole doesn't work for me, all you have to do is let somebody think that they have something to do with it. That's the magic right there, the total key. Say yes even when you mean no. I've done it so many times, in the studio they're like 'Jason turn up the lead vocal a little bit' and I'm like "Oh, OK". I ride the fader, but I don't write into the automation and so I'm 'It's done' and we play it back and they're 'oh it's brilliant'. It's the same as before but they think I've changed it. They walk out going ' I had something to do with that'. Everybody's happy!”

So there were promo copies of the album under the name 17A and then you pulled that and changed stuff?

“The mastering was so missed the first time around, it sounded brutal to me, too rough. Great Big Yes was exactly the same scenario as the track Author Unknown. There was a version of that for the first record, but the performance and sound wasn't so great, so I pulled and put a new version on this album. With Great Big Yes, I'm looking round at Nigel going 'this rocks yes?' He's going 'yes this is rocking', but inside he's going 'this is not rocking'. It sounds like it's rocking but it's not, it's halfway there and we just didn't have the time to fix it. So I pulled it and replaced it with Holiday. Then with Lucky Day, I did a better version on my home studio, so I swapped that over. There's the finished album.”


Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Mothboxer - Accelerator

I Don't Hear A Single has been a been a long time admirer of Dave Ody's Mothboxer. The emphasis of a Mothboxer Album is always great Pop Rock. Songs feature unusual arrangements combined with big choruses and some stunning playing. Accelerator is no exception. It is a fine new album with a tad more emphasis on the Pop this time round.

You can read Mick's 2018 IDHAS Interview with Dave here. I also asked Dave if he would give us a track by track rundown of Accelerator and I'm delighted to say he agreed. You can listen to and buy the album (at a bargain price) here.


"This was inspired lyrically after a particularly horrific drive back from London one day.. Sat Nav app was being very efficient (it thought) by taking me off the beaten track and through single track lanes in pitch black to avoid the motorway congestion!

Not the most rock and roll of lyrical themes, but I figured most people can relate to this :) - Musically this came together pretty quickly. I’d named the album before writing this one but “Accelerator” slotted very nicely into the chorus hook."

Feel Something:

"Got a little dark on this one - seems to approach the day to day struggle we all have balancing work/life. I try not to make lyrics too whiny usually. Hence the opening line of “Don’t mean to complain”"

Long Time Coming:

"This started life as an instrumental  - Tried many different approaches vocally before landing on the version presented here. I’ll be honest, this didn’t feel like a traditional Mothboxer track for a long while (it’d been hanging around in one form or another since before Open Sky..)

It’s got a distinctly Caribbean feel to the chorus, which may have come from listening to mid era Grateful Dead around the time of writing! It was one of those tracks that kept popping into my head, so I took the bull by the horns and finished it! Certainly one of the more “pop” tracks on the record."

Under Water/Dry As A Bone:

"Sticking these two together as they segue into each other and thematically are pretty similar - Under Water was written after a short period of feeling “under the weather”. Pretty apt for the way the world is feeling right now..! I had the chorus first for this and was pretty pleased with the outcome!

Into Dry as a Bone. Ok, its another whinge.. This is basically about the dirge of the day to day jobs we all have to do (unless you’re very lucky) - So, please buy the albums, so I don’t have to do things I don’t want !! :)

Pretty riff heavy monster this, went back to my rock roots fully here."

Get By

"My favourite song on this album currently (that changes daily, but it’s this at the time of writing)

In fact, this could potentially be a single at some stage as it has a very pertinent chorus for these crazy times, even though it was written in the summer last year! I was really pleased with the change from a minor key verse into a very major key singalong chorus!"

Thinking About It:

"One of only a couple of down tempo tracks on the album - bit of a Floydy vibe to this to chill you out for “side 2”

Lyrically approaches the theme of contemplating doing all the things that I’ve thought about doing, but not actually getting around to doing them! Another familiar theme for a lot of people :)

Have been getting into synthesis lately and this is a great track to play around with sonics and lush synth pads :)"

Tell Me What To Say:

"Unusually an 80’s vibe to this. I was never a huge fan of the synth pop movement in the 80’s - it all sounded too unreal and not organic enough for me. I always preferred to hear the human element in recorded music (mistakes and all!)

Having said that, there are some classic examples of when it works - particularly in the mid 80’s output of bands like Talk Talk, although they became one of the most organic sounding bands in history in the late 80’s with the sublime Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, their early stuff is very synth based and very clever."

Can I Go Now?

"I like this one! Pretty much two different songs welded together with string and superglue.Pleased with how it came out though - bit of a nod to Progressive rock time signatures, but I wanted to keep it fairly concise :)

Another one with the vague theme of futile working towards an ever moving goal.. Bit gloomy but hey, it’s not all roses and puppies out there!"

Funny How It Is

"Onto a much cheerier track! This is a bit of a good time romp with dumb but fun guitar chords leading the way! Also contains one of the bounciest guitar solo’s I’ve played in a while.

Written about looking back on previous musical ventures (the old band) and probably unconsciously appeared in my mind after doing the Time Capsule project."

Morning News:

"This is the newest track on the album, written in January this year.

I try not to get social/political in my lyrics but this is the closest I’ve got to a commentary on the state of the world currently.  Let’s see if you can guess who the “Crazy guy” is? Musically, I’m really proud of this one and the song came together very quickly, which is always nice :)"

Any Time:

"Finally, this is the oldest track on the record. This has been kicking around since the Secret Art record from 2017. It’s a bit of a departure sonically from the rest of the album but I think it sits nicely at the end to bliss you out :)

Lyrically dealing with the loss of loved ones over the years and the knowledge that they are still with us in some form or other."

A reminder that you can listen to and buy the album here.


The Black Watch - Brilliant Failures

There are some musical frustrations that we all try to correct, mainly around artists that should be massive or bands that consistently get overlooked while pretenders steel their clothes and acclaim. John Andrew Fredrick fits that bill and his Black Watch adventures encapsulate this most.

17 albums into a career now in it's fourth decade and I'm still amazed at the puzzled looks that I get when I mention the band. For Brilliant Failures, Fredrick adds Scott Campbell, Rob Campanella and the influential Andy Creighton and lets go of some of the control. This works beautifully as the band feels like a proper band and the result is the best Black Watch album in a few years which is some statement.

Brilliant Failures is the sort of album, The Church should be making and perhaps would if MWP was still around. The trademark Shoegaze Psych is still an undercurrent, but this is a far more poppy affair, it certainly doesn't sound like a Los Angeles album, more Australian Psych or UK Goth, early Cult maybe, but the vocals are very Steve Kilbey.

Having said all this, The Personal Statement could be Billy McKenzie and Hodophobia is top notch Toytown Psych Pop. What I Think has a Morrissey like twee charm and is very C86, yet the keyboards could be The Cars.

All this variety is welcome, I mean the opener, Julie II, could be Tom Paxton whilst Crying All The Time is far more trademark Black Watch Psych. The stand out though is the title track. which is the most commercial that Fredrick has been in a long time. It really is the centrepiece, a heartfelt riff led poptastic affair.

17 albums in and The Black Watch are still developing. Brilliant Failures is a brooding masterpiece. Give it a listen and then kick yourself for not discovering the band sooner. I expected a lot from this album and I got it. It is also great to see the band on the excellent A Turntable Friend records. The future continues to look bright.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


The Bye Bye Blackbirds - Boxer At Rest

The Bye Bye Blackbirds are back with their fifth album and very welcome it is too. The band have always been labelled as Power Pop, which is not that accurate. Their feet have always been standing more in Pop Rock and on this album they stretch even further afield.

An album Produced By Doug Gillard and Recorded by Chris Von Sneidern is always going to promise great variety and Boxer At Rest provides that in spades. The near death of founder and Guitarist Lenny Gill resonates in Bradley Skaught's lyrics. Skaught reflects on loss and this is even more apt in the outside world at present.

The delay in the album's release was due to waiting for Gill to recover from his heart transplant and be fit enough to add his Guitar parts and this bonhomie shines throughout, no matter how dark the lyrics. This is a wonderful album.

You Were All Light is the standout song and that is firmly in Psych Pop Territory. Don't be fooled by the lyrical depth, because songs such as Watch Them Chime bristle along with big choruses and riffs. Baby It's Still You goes all Mavericks with the Brass in the chorus.

So True is fun packed containing a Wig Wam Bam riff and descending into a Stones-ish 12 Bar close. War Is Still Hell edges into Rock And Roll and If It Gets Light is a magnificent slab of Psych, almost 8 minutes of it. It's a revelation.

It is left to the closer, All Our Friends, to get anywhere the Power Pop that they've been labelled with. Boxer At Rest is a magnificent album, a proper album to be listened to from start to finish. It will definitely be up there at the end of year awards.

You can buy the album here.