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Monday 30 March 2020

The Babys - Silver Dreams (Complete Albums 1975-1980) (6CD) (Ian Rushbury)

The Beatles. The Posies. American Music Club. What have those bands got in common? Well, aside from the fact that they’re all brilliant, they’re all saddled with terrible, terrible names. The Posies and American Music Club saddled themselves with ludicrous monikers because they thought they’d only last a couple of gigs and the Fabs were so in awe of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, they thought an insect related name was the way to go. It turned out quite well for them though, didn’t it?

This brings us neatly to the subject in hand. It’s 1976. You’re a rocker with UFO, Rush, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath embroidered neatly on to the back of your tatty denim jacket. Would you be seen dead with an album by a band called The Babys?

The Babys are the AOR Yardbirds, more famous for their ex-members than their body of work. In the space of five years, the band featured John “Missing You” Waite, Jonathan “Journey” Cain, Tony “Elton John/Rod Stewart” Brock and Ricky “Styx” Phillips.  They were (quite) big in the USA, but they never became a household name. In spite of that, Cherry Red have scooped up pretty much everything they ever recorded and released it as the definitive Babys artefact – Silver Dreams: The Complete Albums 1975-1980. As a Babys fan, you really couldn’t ask for more – literally.

The first album, The Babys, was a slightly less than auspicious start. It’s an OK-ish record, in the way that a lot of albums from this era are. Rock was in a weird place in 1976, in the netherworld between the Zep/Purple/Sabbath years and the AOR explosion of the late seventies. If their debut had come out 18 months later, it could have been a different story. In spite of Bob Ezrin’s production, it was doomed to moderate sales and little else.  Only one track, the strident “Rodeo,” comes across with any real impact.

Album two, Broken Heart, is loads better and features “Isn’t it Time,” their breakthrough hit, which would have been a top-forty smash, whoever recorded it. It’s an FM radio classic, from the tinkly piano intro to the big-ass horn arrangement via a colossal chorus. If you don’t like it, you’re wrong. Album three, Head First,  is sort of the same, but not quite as good. There was another hit on it,  “Every Time I Think of You,” but this sounds like a band treading water.

For album four, the band made an unapologetic, American Rock Radio album. “Union Jacks” (oh, the irony…) sees the addition of Americans Ricky Phillips and Jonathan Cain, with Keith Olsen in the producer’s chair. It’s a slick, polished, air conditioned, turbo-powered roadster of an album, with every tune a guaranteed radio hit. Girly backing vocals and string arrangements are out and enormous choruses are in. It’s ace. If you’ve ever punched the air to REO Speedwagon and wondered if Journey recorded any albums apart from the one with “Don’t Stop Believing” on, this record is very much for you.

Apparently, Brian “Fifty Year Career With The Same Haircut” May was a bit of a fan of the band at this point, and we all know that disagreeing with Brian May is like stealing lollipops from orphans, don’t we? Their second album of 1980, On The Edge, is OK. It sticks to the formula, but the writing was on the wall. The band fragmented and became AOR royalty in their new positions as solo stars or superstar sidemen. There’s a version of the band currently playing the nostalgia circuit in the US and fair play to ‘em, It’s a great legacy.

Bolted on to this boxed set are a couple of tasty rarities, a live album from 1977 and what was to be their first album. Recorded in 1975, “The Official Unofficial Babys Album” is pretty decent, better than the “real” first album in many ways. It’s got an energy that the major label debut lacks, as is often the way.

Hats off to Cherry Red for putting this together. It’s not a massively important historical document, but it rings the changes from the Classic Rock era, to what the eighties would sound like. There are some great tunes on this and there’s enough rare stuff to make it an essential purchase for the person who thought they had everything by the band already.

It might be a big ol’ lump for the casual listener, but if you’ve ever wished that UFO were a bit poppier or Smokie were a bit heavier, well here you go. Maybe, in the topsy-turvy world of 2020, it’s finally OK to admit that you like a band with such a profoundly daft name. 


You can buy this set everywhere.


The Foreign Films - Ocean Moon

The Record Collector was one of my Top 10 albums of 2018, a work of great thought and beauty. You can read the review here.  That masterpiece was well trailed, so it is surprising and somewhat delightful to see the low key release of Ocean Moon and it is at NAME YOUR PRICE on Bandcamp.

Gathering up new songs and hidden gems, it features guests such as fellow Cannuck, Steve Eggers of The Nines and three Orchestral Arrangements by the wonderful and much missed, Wim Oudijk. Ocean Moon is a splendid nine song affair.

There's a much greater concentration on the Pop here than on previous offerings. The feel is somewhere between 60s US Pop and UK 70s Pop Rock. The latter most relevant on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road glimpses of Under Your Spell.

A Letter To Our Future Selves is simply magnificent with Oudijk's Toytown arrangement complementing the piano lead to fashioned up a memorable slice of Psych Pop. There's some great Sax from Scott Neilsen on the McCartney Pop of Stars In Her Eyes. Birds In A Blue Sky could easily fit on XTC's Skylarking.

Dream Another Dream is a fine Sedaka - esque arranged Teen Ballad and Down In The Boulevard has a great Vocal Arrangement on a piano led song that reminds me a lot of heyday John Howard. Dream With Me Tonight is more straight ahead with another fine Orchestral Arrangement, this time from Jason Fredrick.

The stand out song though is the title track, Ocean Moon. Pop Rock just doesn't get better than this, it is a gentle masterpiece. Bill Majoros is a major talent. A multi instrumentalist that leads on melody and arrangements. Ocean Moon is 28 minutes that will feel like three. Highly Recommended!

A reminder that the album is available at Name Your Price here, where you can also listen to it. The CD Release will be coming soon on the Kool Kat label.


DISQ - Collector

Sometimes I feel trapped in my world in between the choruses of Guitar Pop Rock and the more free form Psych. As I Don't Hear A Single has returned to reviewing, I obviously still cover what I always did, but I've also tried to hunt out things that are not so set in either genre. I've certainly done that with this magnificent affair.

Disq, a Wisconsin five piece are wonderfully noisy, but manage to craft a mixture of the catchy with the wonderfully inventive. Unexpected arrangements combine with some splendid songwriting in a way that makes them hard to define and that is the joy of the band.

It is also reassuring that there are some young bands that have Disq's ability. Great Guitar albums have been hard to find from the 20 Somethings who seem to want to be My Bloody Valentine or Nada Surf. There is still hope.

The beauty of this lot is that they have found a niche between Power Pop and Psych Pop that resides in what would once be termed College Indie. They are at their best when the pace is hectic, but the likes of the slower strum of Loneliness work well too and that song can't help breaking out a little.

Fun Song 4 is another interesting departure and Trash is an interesting acoustic departure which feels almost XTC. This even more prevalent on the ace chaos of Drum In which is very Drums And Wires. The more shambolic, the better they get.

I also defy anyone to write as good a song as Daily Routine this year. It manages to take about four different directions in just over four minutes with hints of early Weezer, before all the manufactured playlist rubbish prevailed. Collector is an outstanding album.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


Thursday 26 March 2020

I Don't Hear A Single Audio Extravaganza Volume 94

The I Don't Hear A Single Audio Extravaganza returns to normality after all The Sugarplastic excitement. I was delighted that volume continued our run on the Mixcloud Global Indie Rock chart. But now it is back to tradition.

23 songs are here for your listening pleasure. 20 new, 3 from Reissues. A guitar-tastic 72 minute mix that wishes to be the pop soundtrack accompaniment to your day. The return of many faves including 75% of Jellyfish MK II.

A reminder that these episodes are compiled with great care. The aim is to produce a sort of mix tape. Hopefully this will be the soundtrack to your day. I've also learned that if you use the Mixcloud player at the bottom of this page, each song title is shown as it plays.

Thanks as always to Jim Moody for his technical excellence. You can listen to the previous IDHAS Audio Extravaganzas on Mixcloud here.

Here are the contents of Volume 94 :

01 Ash - Shining Light (2020 Remaster)
02 Caper Clowns - Space & Time
03 The Lottery Winners - The Meaning Of Life
04 Paul Melancon - Permanent Makeup
05 Sunbourne Rd - Different Life
06 Naked Six - Song Of The City
07 The Foreign Films - Ocean Moon
08 The White Album - Just Take Your Time
09 The Vapors - Crazy
10 Neil Innes - How Sweet To Be An Idiot
11 Miracle Glass Company - Sweet Spot
12 Paige Beller - I'll Be Better
13 Graham Gouldman - Standing Next To Me
14 The Idle Race - Skeleton And The Roundabout
15 Good Wilson - Till We Meet Again
16 The Walker Brigade - Fallout
17 Big Loser - Blisters
18 Jagguar - Out Tonight
19 The Vapour Trails - Lonely Man (Single Mix)
20 Jonathan Wilson - Fun For The Masses
21 Mythical Motors - Dance Along The Fault Line
22 Nudie Mag - The Shape Of My Heart
23 The Lickerish Quartet - Lighthouse Spaceship

IDHAS Audio Extravaganza Volume 94 Mixcloud Link 

Or Click Below


Wednesday 25 March 2020

The Mick Dillingham Archive : Wanderlust

Mick's Interviews are incredibly popular on I Don't Hear A Single and their continued success has led me to persuading him to share his archive from the past three to four decades. So every Tuesday, we will cover a past interview on IDHAS that I think will appeal to all. First up are Wanderlust and an Interview from 2012.

Wanderlust (Scot Sax, Rob Bonfiglio, Mark Getten and Jim Cavanaugh) were always one really special band. Even back in the mid 90’s when glorious new music seemed to arrive every week, Wanderlust still effortlessly shone as a combo of truly great quality and substance. Their killer debut album “Prize”, so passionate, profound and wild, bursting with heart souring depths of emotion in every creative aspect, was instantly clutched to the heart and never let go. It sounds every bit as glorious and vital all this time later as it always did. The years have not lessened the magic one jot. 

The band’s second album “Smear” was inexplicably rejected by RCA, who then foolishly dropped them and soon after the band called it a day and moved onto various other musical projects. The excellent Not Lame label released a couple of fantastic archive Wanderlust albums gathering together the second album and various leftovers that served to make us mourn even more the band’s untimely demise. While this year has seen welcome reunions from both The Mutton Birds and Cotton Mather, neither promises forthcoming new material sadly. 

Wanderlust on the other hand are back in every way you could hope as their stunning new album. Record Time. effortlessly picks up the reins once more and blazes away like the band had never gone away. It’s a confident classy release that is a fine addition to the band’s legendary canon Without question this is a Wanderlust album, with all the grace and glory that implies. It is now time to sit down with all four members of Wanderlust and find out what is going on. How excellent is this going to be methinks.

So how did the reunion come about? What was the catalyst that set the whole thing in motion? Was the intention to get the band going straight away or was it something that occurred to you gradually?

 Rob Bonfiglio :

"The beginning of the idea to get together again started with a few back and forth phone calls between Scot and myself. That led to Scot sending me an idea for a song, which I took and completed in my home studio. It seemed the next logical step was to record a few songs as Wanderlust again, which in turn led to a full album and subsequent reunion shows."

 Scot Sax: 

"I think the hard feelings we had when the band broke up, around ’98, simply vanished over time. We grew up and got a little wiser. Personally, I missed the magic that we always seemed to have whenever we played together, or even hung together. I took a chance and out of the blue sent Rob a mp3 of something I was messing with on the piano.

Maybe unconsciously the piano made it less like “this is gonna lead to a Wanderlust thing” and more just simply: music. Anyway, I thought maybe Rob didn’t receive it or listen to it cause I hadn’t heard back. Then I get an email with a mp3 attached and he had added vocals, lyrics, drums…everything. I loved it. Just loved it. I also loved that we buried the old hatchet with music instead of talking. We didn’t need to say anything."

Mark Getten :

"This definitely arose organically. In fact, the original intention when the idea came up was to do a home recording and release it on our own. As the ball got rolling, we realised that it made more sense to go into a proper studio, where we could definitely all get into the same room and track together playing live (how we always used to record.)

We ending up signing with a label that seems like a great fit for us. We were able to maintain complete creative control over the music and it would have been very difficult to not have that freedom at this point."


Wanderlust always had that special type of musical chemistry about them, one of those rare bands that could only exist when those particular individuals played together. Did you feel that unique magic once more when you finally got around to standing on a stage together after all this time? 

Rob Bonfiglio : 

"There was definitely the feeling of no time having passed. The same basic interconnections still seemed to apply. Aside from brushing up on material we haven’t played in 12 years, everything fell together pretty naturally."

Scot Sax :

"It was almost comical how literally every impulse, every note, everything was exactly how we left it. Like freezing a body a la Walt Disney or Austin Powers and unfreezing it 12 or so years later. It was like Wanderlust took a very long nap and then woke up to the sound of rock and roll."

Mark Getten :

"Yes, that magic came right back and who knew if it would? Maybe this is a cliché, but it really felt like no time had gone by once we actually got in a room and starting playing. It was a bit bizarre in a way. I mean, well over a decade had passed since we worked together and suddenly we just picked up where we had left off. The few gigs we’ve done since have been an unbelievable amount of fun."

Jim Cavanaugh :

"I believe that everyone would agree with that. There doesn't seem to be any passage of time when we play together. Or even hangin' together. Every sentence spoken is still an inside joke. Actually, playing together is better, because we are all more seasoned players now."

Putting together the wonderful archive releases for Bandcamp must have stirred up quite a few memories of the old days. What comes to mind when you think back to all those years ago? What do you think of the older material now you have had so many years away from it? 

Rob Bonfiglio :

"I think if we went back in time, our musical approaches would basically be the same. There wasn’t a lot of gimmicks or era-relevant devices self-consciously added to the music. Really, just basic rock & roll. The music, especially the ‘Prize’ era stuff was inspired and I can still hear that. I can also hear the turmoil in the later stuff, which directly relates to what was happening within the band at the time."

Mark Getten :

"To me, the core of what made us strong was great songs, with players that could bring a unique chemistry and sound to them. There is a timelessness to Scot’s writing and in the case of our album Prize, it was the stars aligning, with the right batch of songs, the right studio, the right producer and the right four guys in the band. I think that album holds up as well today as it did in 1995, when it was released. I love the work we did subsequently, but that record will always hold a particularly special place in my heart."

Scot Sax :

"Nothing makes me cringe as far as the older stuff and nothing is coming from a fake or pretentious place as far as the new stuff is concerned. My biggest fear is writing and releasing something I don’t 100% love and believe in myself. So there’s a lot no one’s heard!"

Jim Cavanaugh :

"I think that our back catalogue holds up quite well. It doesn't sound like a music that's stuck in a particular era. It doesn't make me think "oh that sounds '90's", it just sounds like good songs and inspired playing."

Ironically it can be youth that eventually pulls a band apart as less mature personalities and ambitions cause clashes within a band. Now that you are older and wiser, can you look back and wonder to yourself at how it was and realise how easy it is now to resolve what at the time seemed so important?
Does being older make it more fun and more focused and yet relaxed? It seems to me that you are even better players that you were back then, but without any lessening of the fire and passion that made the band so special.

Rob Bonfiglio :

"Well said, yes."

Scot Sax :

"Absolutely. I think the biggest thing that changes is the ego. You simply have less of one as you get older. Your life becomes more about other people, other values, family. For me, my dad’s passing in 2011 I think subconsciously led to me wanting to reconnect with the band. The “life is pretty short and can end out of the blue” thing hit me hard. The value of old friends and good music became more important to me than ever before .My dad, in fact all of our parents, were quite supportive of Wanderlust. Mark’s mom used to wear a baseball cap that said “Wandermom”! "

Mark Getten :

"It’s much more relaxed now. I’m sure we all put plenty of pressure on ourselves, but you have a different perspective at this point in your life, compared to when you’re in your 20’s. Honestly, even with all the benefits we had with having RCA Records behind us back in the day, it’s nice to have the pressure only coming from ourselves, not from an external source"

Jim Cavanaugh :

"You live, you learn. I've continued to play music through the years, it's been my livelihood in fact. But I have intentionally avoided being in a band situation similar to Wanderlust, because I personally find it too intense, too personally consuming. The commitment required to be in a real band makes other commitments, like marriage and family, difficult to balance (for me anyway).

When Wanderlust ceased to be back in '98, I made a deliberate decision to be a hired gun type of player. That has worked out well for me so far. Playing with Wanderlust lately though, seems pretty natural, since I still think of them as "my band"."

So how did the recording of the new album go and when it came to the songwriting how easy was it to get in that Wanderlust mindset? Can you talk about the songwriting process? Any thoughts on the songs that ended up on the album?. How are the creative juices flowing now, do you feel any sort of momentum growing as the band hit their stride? What are the practicalities of running a band these days compared to back in the day? 

Scot Sax :

"A kid, a musician, was in my studio and asked me “how do you write a song if you don’t have anything to write about?” I thought for a second and couldn’t think of an answer right away so I picked up my guitar and said “You write about just that; not having a song to write”. So I started singing “How do you write a song, when you ain’t got a song to write”. Then I thought about the fact that I was still nursing a broken heart and sang “how do you love someone when you ain’t got no one at night” and from there the song “Lou Reed” just came blurting out. I looked up at him after two minutes of writing/singing this thing in front of him and he was like “whoa”. I was like “whoa” tpp, because I never ever wrote a song in front of anybody before.

Now usually I would record a song right away, but I really dig it a lot and I just couldn’t think of how to do it or who to get or maybe I could just play all the instruments myself as I tend to do when no one is available. After Rob and I reconnected and agreed on making a new Wanderlust album, I had just the song. When he flew in, the day before we started recording, he and I wrote “Friend Tonight”, “You Make Me” and a couple other things.

Then I remembered the one and only song Mark and I ever wrote years ago called “Photographic Mind” that was never properly recorded. I had also written a song between reconnecting with Rob and the band flying in called “Pornographic Version Of You”. I had two influences on that one. Musically I wanted to write a fast song like The Knack (who I always loved, rest in peace Doug) with a racy lyric like Gaga or Katy Perry or Pink would do. I wanted to offend and turn people on at the same time. I always try to step outside the safe frame in some way."

Rob Bonfiglio :

"For this band it’s always been about how to make ‘the song’ the best it can be and still retain the Wanderlust identity within it. A great song is a great song and Scot has always delivered. At this stage of my musical identity however, I tend to give and get more out of a collaborative effort. Scot and I have always been able to conjure a bit of musical magic when we’ve put our heads together.

We’re not four twenty-somethings with zero attachments anymore; we each have our own individual ambitions both musically and otherwise, so obviously the vision of hopping in a van and endlessly touring the country has changed. Plus the music business at large is a very different beast these days."

What has it been like playing together on stage again after all these years and how much have you enjoyed playing the older songs? What older songs would you want to play that you haven’t got round to yet? With such a strong and vital new album it must be difficult to balance between new and old material in the time allotted. Are there any of the new songs haven’t you played live yet that you are itching to get to?

Rob Bonfiglio :

"There have been a couple of backyard parties recently thrown by these incredible super Wanderlust fans / friends of ours. They practically know our back catalogue even better than we do. We’ve played a couple of marathon gigs there and covered just about everything imaginable…makes you realise just how important a little pre-preparation can be!"

Mark Getten :

"Personally, I love playing the older songs, as well as the new and fortunately they seem to blend seamlessly together. We did some songs at a recent gig that we hadn’t done in ages and it was a blast. A couple that stand out are Train Lovers, one of my all time favourite Wanderlust songs/recordings, and Years and Seconds - until this recent gig, we probably only performed it one time, around the time it was written and recorded. Now I hope to make it a regular addition to Wanderlust set lists."

Jim Cavanaugh :

"I miss "Heart Poundin' Hard" from our J.C. Dobbs days."

Scot Sax:

"Not having to make eye contact or big gestures with a band is a great and rare thing. A true band, especially with a history, just hits the “go” button. I can’t put into words just how powerful that feeling is. It’s the difference between a car and a rocket I suppose."

Future plans?

Rob Bonfiglio :

"We’ve joked about getting together for a few weeks on a yearly basis and kicking out a new record each time. Kinda like a musical version of “Same Time Next Year”."

 Jim Cavanaugh :

"Cleaning the garage."

Scot Sax :

"Hotel Café show in LA September 11th, our first LA show since the very last Wanderlust show in ’98 at the Viper Room."

You can listen to and buy Wanderlust's Back Catalogue here. The Record Time album is here. You can listen to and buy Rob Bonfiglio's solo recordings here. You can listen to and buy Scot Sax's solo recordings here.


Tuesday 24 March 2020

The Lottery Winners - The Lottery Winners

The Lottery Winners are a quartet that hail from Leigh, a town that is a few miles from my home town. Leigh is like any North West Town, years of neglect coming home to roost now and resulting in the self isolation of Brexit. The town could never be described as a hot bed of musical delight. So to be discovered by Seymour Stein of all people is quite some feat indeed.

Two years in the making and over a decade in the waiting, The Lottery Winners' self titled debut is with us on the splendid Modern Sky UK label and it is a joyous romp. The whole affair comes across as a celebration of the 90's UK Music Scene from Baggy to Brit Pop, centring on the latter.

Yes there have been plenty of Brit Pop flavoured albums since 1998, but nothing has sounded as fun as this. Gigantic choruses mask a real wit in the songwriting and it does break out into something more mow at times on songs such as Hawaii. But the album's strength is how makes the 90's comparisons sound so modern and new.

Elizabeth could almost be Twee Glasgow in the second half of the 80's and 21 comes out somewhere between The Seahorses and Kula Shaker. 18 To 30s is top notch Brit Pop with it's Blur Riff. That's Not Entertainment is another great get up and go song.

There are a host of killer singles here, particularly the delightful, I Know. Indeed any of these 12 songs could be a single which is astounding. Imagine a debut album that could also be a Greatest Hits. Attention will probably be focused on the anthemic The Meaning Of Life or the swagger of Little Things, but there is far more here than those two album openers.

The Lottery Winners have fashioned up an album of sing along gems with a songwriting quality that bites lyrically whilst serenading you. It is a long time since I've heard a debut album as accomplished as this. Highly Recommended. Well done you lot!

You can buy the album in various formats or as a download here.


Monday 23 March 2020

Chris Church - Backwards Compatible

We love Chris Church at I Don't Hear A Single, I mean really love him. He loves music and it shows. His career has veered from Prog to Pop, settling largely on Rock, but whichever direction he takes, the quality is constantly high. You can read Mick's Career defining IDHAS interview from 2018 here to underline this.

Spyderpop has a fine label roster that concentrates somewhere between Power Pop and Pop Rock. Church's last album, Limitations Of Source Tape, fell neatly into that category, although it felt more Rock than Pop. The Matthew Sweet comparisons were a bit overdone and distracted people a little from the sheer joy of the album. You can read the IDHAS review here

The Sweet comparisons were meant as a compliment and you can hear the likeness in the Vocal, but there is a major difference in that Chris Church doesn't need a Richard Lloyd, because this feller can play and Backwards Compatible is the album where he demonstrates this.

This is a Rock album, at times a very 80's Rock album, the Guitar is up front, in fact it is everywhere. It as though the leash has been removed and Chris has been let loose. It is much harder sounding than what has gone before, wonderfully so.

There are no Ballads here. From the storming album opener, Someday's Coming Fast through to the closing breakneck pace of Pop Dreams, this is an album to shake your fist to. No sitting down is allowed. As previously mentioned there is that mid 80's feel at times, particularly on the likes of What R U. This seems intended Production wise and Lori Chanklin has done a fantastic job on the album.

Don't be fooled by thinking this album is heads down and solo, the choruses are big, particularly on Begin Again and Kiss It Goodnight, but the album is at best when it just goes for it. The best examples of this being You Are The Thunder and Coulda Fooled Me.

Limitations Of Source Tape is such a fine album, that Church could have been forgiven for recording Source Tape 2. The fact that he hasn't deserves great credit. No one is making an album like this these days. The Guitar is back. Thank Goodness!

You can buy the album from Spyderpop here and CD Baby here. It is also available to listen to on the likes of Spotify and Deezer.


Bryan Ferry - Live At The Albert Hall 1974 (Ian Rushbury)

The IDHAS Reviews return and Ian Rushbury makes his I Don't Hear A Single debut.

No matter how cool you are, you will never be as cool as Bryan Ferry was in 1974. In just two years, he’d released four (that’s FOUR) breathtaking albums with Roxy Music, two hugely successful solo albums, toured all over the world and looked like a Gauloises smoking matinee idol while he did it. Let’s face it, his “to-do” list was WAY different to yours.

Towards the end of 1974, our Bryan found himself at a loose end. A normal human being might have wound down at the end of a busy year, with a pile of Catherine Cooksons and a big bag of heavily salted snack treats. Not Bryan. He managed to shoehorn in a quick UK tour with a full orchestra before Christmas......and record it, of course.

Fast forward to 2020 and he’s still going. As I write, he’s just finished a UK tour, so the official release of his 19th December, 1974 show at the Royal Albert Hall, has a postmodern aura that Mr Ferry would wholeheartedly approve of. Yeah, I know you’ve got the bootleg, but this recording has been delightfully spiffed up and sounds great. Kudos to whoever was looking after the Master Tapes for the last 45 years.

Bryan and his all-star band (let’s face it, it was practically Roxy Music standing behind him) sound great here. The choice of material is the dictionary definition of eclectic – if you went along to the RAH expecting to hear “Virginia Plain” etc, you’d be sorely disappointed. If Roxy Music seemed to exist in some parallel time zone, in a weird, retro version of the 21st century , then Bryan Ferry solo lives somewhere between 1925 and 1968.

Covers of material by Lesley Gore, The Miracles, Dobie Gray and, erm, Jerome Kern, rub up against two Ferry originals – “Another Time, Another Place” and “A Really Good Time.” Fortunately, his stellar band navigate these crazy chicanes with style and aplomb. Everyone here seems to be having a lot of fun.

Ferry sounds superb and is relishing performing the songs he cut his teeth on when he sang in garage bands in the north east of England. “The Tracks of My Tears” for example, is delivered with real strength, his trademark vibrato used to great effect.

Wisely, he keeps the arrangements fairly faithful to originals, but gives the musicians free reign to embellish them, so you get to hear John Wetton invent Disco at the start of “Fingerpoppin’,” Phil Manzanera gets atonal during “(You’re so Square) Baby I Don’t Care” and The Great Paul Thompson clatters through everything in a very pleasing manner. I do miss David O’List’s manic, heavy metal guitar solo at the end of “The In Crowd,” but that’s just me being a contrarian.

We don’t get the whole gig. “Help Me Make it Through The Night”, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”, “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “You Are My Sunshine” have been consigned to the cutting room floor, for reasons unknown. But the 14 songs that remain are good enough, especially when they’ve been sonically polished to a high sheen. This is a lovely postcard from a very different time.

So, ladies and gentlemen, once you’ve listened to and enjoyed “Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974,” you’d better roll your sleeves up. You’ve got six albums, umpteen tours and a lot of cigarette smoking to get through between now and 2022…

You can buy and listen to Live At The Albert Hall 1974 everywhere.


Monday 16 March 2020

The Sugarplastic - I Don't Hear A Single Audio Extravaganza Volume 93

Something a bit different for Volume 93. The reaction to Mick Dillingham's fantastic interview with Ben Eshbach has been amazing. You can read it here. Whenever, we introduce The Sugarplastic to any new potential fan, they are immediately converted. So Mick and I have chosen our 21 favourite Sugarplastic songs and you can listen to them as one continuous mix.

Hopefully this will be the soundtrack to your day. I've also learned that if you use the Mixcloud player at the bottom of this page, each song title is shown as it plays.

Tallboy Records still have 6 of the seven 7x7x7 Vinyl Singles for sale as well as the CD Compilation of all seven and the Will album.

Thanks as always to Jim Moody for his technical excellence and Mick for the Artwork. You can listen to the previous IDHAS Audio Extravaganzas on Mixcloud here.

Here are the contents of Volume 93 :

01 Don't Look Down
02 Jesus Doesn't Live Here Anymore
03 Polly Brown (Live At KCRW)
04 Sun Goes Cold
05 Liar Over Winchester
06 Here Comes Mr. Right
07 My Heart Lately
08 Don't Sleep
09 Ottawa Bonesaw
10 The Bodice Of A Young French Girl
11 Brownly Corduroyd
12 Dunn The Worm
13 Radio Jejune
14 Dover
15 Debussy And Me
16 Hank
17 Little Teeth
18 The Way This Is
19 Daisy May
20 Sheep (Original Version)
21 Rosy Malarkey

IDHAS Audio Extravaganza Volume 93 (The Sugarplastic Special) Mixcloud Link 

Or Click Below


Thursday 12 March 2020

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Matt Wilson

The much cherished Minneapolis songwriter and musician Matt Wilson has returned after a five year silence with a remarkable new album When I Was a Writer.  A stunning work of substance and depth, it is a record you can’t help but be joyously intimate with from the very first play. Credited to Matt Wilson and his Orchestra, his band this time around are an intriguing choice. On paper, an electric bass player, a harpist with the voice of an angel and a melodic Banjo maestro might not seem the obvious direction to go band wise in, but boy does it totally work. 

Musically there’s not a stitch dropped, not a precious creative moment wasted or misplaced.  A gently driving, subtly majestic musical cradle for his beautifully touching songwriting and rich warm vocals, both of which have never been in finer form. When I Was a Writer is a record you deserve to fall in love with, safe in the knowledge that it will never let you down but instead enhance your life with it’s honesty and wisdom. We are all loners but we are not always alone.
Matt is probably most well known for being the leading light in the unique and brilliant Trip Shakespeare, a magical band like no other you’ve ever been lucky enough to come across. Along side Matt was his older brother Dan, bassist John Munson and drummer Elaine Harris. Between 1986 and 1992 they released a quartet of essential albums culminating in one of the finest albums ever made - Lulu, a dazzling perfect masterwork chock full of superb musical invention. As a band Trip Shakespeare were rare in that they had a considerable surfeit of songs that they performed live that never made it onto albums. Yet when it came to Lulu, they seemed to arrive with a mostly whole new batch of songs entirely. It is one of those records that demands to be played in its entirety from start to finish every time.  Its like a concept album except it isn’t at all that in the traditional sense.  

If it is a concept album then its in the purest way in that the only concept is to make an album as a whole, rather than just a collection of songs brought together for a record.  It jumps all over the place and yet remains a complete entity.  If you compiled a best of then it would seem odd to take individual tracks from Lulu for inclusion. Dropped by A&M soon after they drifted quietly apart. Dan and John went on to form Semisonic and became deservedly huge beyond all dreams. Meanwhile Matt released a hugely underrated solo album Burnt, White & Blue, before teaming up with John once more in the brilliant Twilight Hours for two magnificent albums.  Time now to drift into Matt and see what he has to say for himself. This is going to be splendid.

Snow Days

"When I was eleven, kids at my school had an opportunity to choose an instrument to play in the band. I didn’t know much, but I knew that drums were the only instrument that was remotely cool. I didn’t see any way to make awesome music with the wind instruments. So I became a drummer and that made all the difference in my life. Within a couple months the band had a concert performance and I played a two measure solo on the snare drum. Someone praised me and I became addicted to that, the appreciation. I have honestly spent the rest of my life chasing after that high.

I grew up in a house that had a very limited record collection. We had a decent stereo, but just a few LPs. So of course, those records became my bedrock. The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Glen Campbell, a little Cat Stevens. That’s what I inherited from my very kind and middle of the road parents. Everything I am grew from that garden bed.

It’s trite to say, but the Beatles especially were a dominant influence because of their sheer greatness. They have always been like gods to me. Not as idols that I worship. More like the creators. Eternal fixtures on my landscape. For a musician, the Beatles music is almost something that you almost have to recover from. I remember that no young rocker in my neighbourhood could even sing a song without an English accent. The only way we knew how to sing was in their voice.

But maybe the most important part of my musical influences, something that is both a weakness and a strength, is that I’m not actually much of a fan at all. I love music, but I’m not really interested in the lives of other writers. I don’t worship individual musicians or memorise their biographies. On top of that, I have always had a belief that if I become too deeply immersed in other people’s sounds and songs, if I became a student, that I would begin to imitate other people and erode my own originality. I’m not an amazing singer, or a particularly talented instrumentalist. So I always believed that my unique imagination was the only valuable thing that I possessed. I worried that the more I immersed myself in any vein of music the more, I would lose the original me.

All of that said, I want to give a shout out to one group that really floored me when they appeared. I was doing some work for a friend, driving their truck in the process and there was a Belle & Sebastian album in the tape player. For me this was like finding the Rosetta Stone. I would characterise their musical style as “School Play”. They remind me of young and innocent musicians in the pit band of the school drama production. That’s the music I have always wanted to make. They made me want to cry. For some reason listening to them does not diminish who I am. I love them. But on the other hand, I couldn’t tell you the name of their lead singer, who I admire so much."


"I like your characterisation of Lulu as a concept record that isn’t a concept record. My theory is that we made some production moves that cause the record to hang together in a way that seems to tell a larger story.

Concerning the unity of the record, we did have a good pile of songs at that point, but they were not really of a piece, not all written during that same period. At least one song, Patricia, was very old. But by this point we had played a million shows, arranged a million songs in the basement. Our approach was fully developed and any music that went through our filter ended up sounding like us and that’s the main reason that the album has that sense of alignment. Each song seems like a chapter in a wide-ranging novel. Then on top of that, producer Justin Niebank came in very excited about what he had seen of us as a live performance machine. He was determined to record the record live, all at once, as much as we would allow. Justin had a jolly supportive vibe that kept us inspired. He captured the rock power of the group, as well as the nerdy jam band aspect. He let us play and create. So we jammed out in our weird way like maniacs and he recorded all that insanity.

Sometimes the frame of a painting can really unify and elevate the image inside. I think that some of the little musical moments that we inserted into the record accomplish that same trick. They glue the music together and prop it all up. The opening mini song, “None of the regular rules were true…” really helps launch the record directly into a dream of the past. It points backwards and suggests that the whole record is a history and it is. All my lyrics were and true and false memories of the past, because that was the way I wrote. I try to remember what happened.

I’m droning on and on now, but I’ll just say that one last element that contributes to that concept record feeling is the sequence of the songs. Song order is so important. I can’t remember if it was Dan or John who came up with the final order, but it functioned so well. A powerful sequence is incredibly difficult to accomplish. I’m not good at sequencing. But I’m like everyone else, I can tell when it works. This particular song order really gives the album a sense of intention, like it’s trying to take you somewhere."

Burnt, White & Blue

"After Trip Shakespeare evaporated and Semisonic flew up toward the sun, I was staggering around a little bit, a little bit stunned by the turn of events, my change in fortune. But as I was working on Burnt, White & Blue, Dan, John and Jake, the Semisonic guys, were actually right there with me, helping me along. A lot of the album was recorded in a defunct plumbing supply store next door to the studio where those guys were recording their soon to be huge album “Feeling Strangely Fine”. That space was being used as staging area for their recording. Dan and John both played some bass on the record and Jake played drums on a track. They were very generous to me.

I saw this record I was making as maybe my last chance to demonstrate what music could sound like, how I thought songs could play out. Even with the help I had, making that record was a lonely journey and it took forever because I was chasing something elusive, something I thought was substantial and worth it.

I had an overarching worry at this time and I know that most people will not be able to relate to it, but it had bothered me for my whole life. I was convinced that I had no soul. That might seem comical to someone outside my experience or era, but it was a feeling that had haunted me especially in my musical work. There was definitely a racial aspect to this worry. I grew up in a neighbourhood that had diversity in the form of lots of Jewish people. Dan and Kit and I were total goys, but we grew up immersed in Jewish culture and I’m so grateful for it. It’s weird to say, but Judaism is a huge part of who I am, even though I’m the most white bread suburban knucklehead that ever walked the earth. On the other hand, there had been almost zero black people in my life up to that point.

Yet a lot of the music that I had discovered and deeply admired had been made by African Americans. Now I don’t claim to be a true student of any kind of music. I don’t know anything. But to me the mystery that I heard in African America music, the way it communicated feeling and sorrow, that was a source of wonder to me. Groups like Led Zeppelin were musically incredible, but I sensed they were like me, searching for a way to convey the mystery inside all of us.

So they stole some of that black sound, that way of speaking, that way of playing guitar. I knew that they were like me, searching for a way to be something other than a suburban kid with no magic at all. The authenticity, the guts, the hurt that I heard in the Blues and in Motown, was just a world away from the robot boy, the spawn of Devo, that I saw in myself. I was lost and I always had been and I felt like I had no soul. I felt like I was empty. That feeling of being empty and unbearably white, is what I finally managed to write about on that album, “Burnt, White & Blue”. I’m sure that I sound like a member of Spinal Tap as I talk about the importance of my past work. But that record is me trying to be honest.

Yet what kills me is that even on that on that record, there are still some songs written in code, poetry that sounds cool – and it is cool – but is full of shame and hard to decipher. Still, that album manages to accomplish the trick, the thing that musicians can sometimes do when they can see through the fog. It makes you feel something. It has an emotional thrust to it. Of course, that’s hard to accomplish because so often in the world it’s hard to feel anything at all."

Songwriting Process

"I write songs slowly. In a way I discover them. I try to be patient as I grope in the dark for melodies and words. I keep coming back to the same places, feeling around. As I grope along the walls, I record as much as I can with my pen, or onto some audio device. While I’m in that mode of writing music every day, I always try to write into a journal. That keeps the thoughts and emotion stirred up and flying around so they’re easier to see.

When I first started out, I had a trick for finding ideas in my mind. It was a way to fool my brain into discovering melodies and emotions. I used the pathway of memory. I would sit back and try to remember. Remember a feeling, a melody, a situation that moved me. I would use this method of remembering even when I was so young that I actually had very few memories to draw on. That didn’t matter because the ideas I was remembering didn’t have to be real. I was just using the process of remembering as a way to discover ideas that moved me.

One remarkable thing about me, something I’m proud of, is the fact that I have literally never stopped my quest to make music, to find songs and sounds that can connect a lot of people in a common experience of joy or pain. I have been true and loyal to my mission of making songs.

But there have been times when I’ve had a wrench in my songwriting gears. It often happens when I’m in that next stage of music making, when I’m working to produce an album. The most recent instance of that sort of lapse came when I was obsessed with recording and producing the second Twilight Hours record, Black Beauty. I felt like the songs were worthy and I so desperately wanted to present them in their finest light, in a way that no one could ignore. I failed in that, but as I tried, the songwriting went by the wayside. I wish that didn’t happen, but is seems the little computer in my head is too weak to record and write at the same time.

As part of releasing Black Beauty we did a kick starter campaign where we offered various services to fans in exchange for money. One service we offered was to write a song with a contributor. A guy named Tim Guthrie, an artist from Omaha, bought that service and he drove up to Minneapolis to meet me. He turned out to be a great person. To know him is to love him. We spent a very pleasant day together chatting on the porch and going for walks near my house. As we became more familiar, he told me about the death of his wife, how his life had been shattered and how he was trying to cope. He told me that he didn’t want to write a song with me, but instead he wanted me to go off on my own and write a song about what he was experiencing, his emergence from this tragedy.

I wrote the song “I Can’t Return” very quickly in response to Tim’s visit. Tim visit had jarred something loose in me. Writing that song triggered an avalanche of musical ideas that created this record, “When I Was a Writer”."

Getting Older

"When I think about time and my own age, all I feel is desperation. When I see signs of my decrepitude or sense my diminishing powers, it makes me want to rush round and do some stuff before I die. So, desperation and urgency are my response to aging. I want to get my songs across. I want to be heard. I want to spell out for everybody the cool things that I think music can do.

When I think about creating songs and recordings, my aim is to drum up some feeling or another. It’s weird, but for me the ultimate musical experience is to be crushed. To be driven to tears, or to be made unbelievably happy. Sad or happy, it’s really all the same. It’s this unleashing of emotion. That to me is everything in music. That’s what makes it powerful. When a song makes me want to laugh and cry and dance at the same time, that’s like hitting the trifecta. That is my ultimate goal. Because when you feel those canyon-wide emotions, you know you’re alive. You’re rising and fighting against the deadness, the numbness that always creeps around and wants to settle in."

Assembling the Orchestra
"Many years back around the time of Burnt, White & Blue, I took notice of a guitar player in town playing in a band called The Rank Strangers. He was doing things that I wished I could do, playing zig-zaggy leads through his reverby Silvertone amp. His music matched my rock fantasy and exceeded it. I was so attracted to this person, Jacques Wait, I wanted him to be part of my life somehow.

Then, as I came to know Jacques, I discovered that he’s one of those few who live a thoroughly examined life. He had a code. Now back in those days, his code was a little bit self-destructive, but he did have a code. This sort of integrity is something I respect tremendously. I constantly suspect myself of skating along, of not being thoroughly real. Because I suspect the worst of myself, I’m attracted to people like Jacques who are authentic. Jacques played on Burnt, White & Blue and he was part of the band that travelled with me after the release of that record. As the record began to run out of steam the band disintegrated. Jacques had to step in on bass for a period and I was surprised how propulsive that felt. I made note of it.

A couple summers ago, I became more deeply acquainted with the music of two people that I had known for a long time. A lot of people in the Twin Cities are aware of Quillan Roe because for years he has recorded and toured almost constantly with his own group The Roe Family Singers. I first saw that group at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul and was kind of amazed by the harmonies I was hearing. Quillan and his wife Kim sounded to me like four people. More recently I saw them performing a show out in the north woods of Minnesota. The astounding harmonies were still in effect, but this time I also observed that Quillan’s banjo playing was performing the role of a really good drummer. He had a pocket. All alone he had a groove that any band of musicians could hang on to and take a ride. My scheming mind made note of that as well.

At this very same music festival in the woods, I also had a chance to hear Phala Tracy playing harp quite beautifully in a solo setting. Phala and I had collaborated a few years earlier on a pretty wild show that had a lot of moving pieces. I remembered her primarily for her inventiveness. I thought of her as an arrangement machine. Intensely bright and full of ideas. And now out in the woods I was able to hear so clearly the beauty of her playing. Her mastery.

Sometime after I got back from that adventure in the north, the crafty wheels in my brain started turning and I began to imagine an ensemble that was gentle, that didn’t need roaring guitars or a drummer to build a fun groove. I had been longing for some kind of musical configuration that would allow my scratchy voice to peer through the curtains and be easily heard among the din. Suddenly this odd grouping, Jacques, Quillan Phala, and I, it all just sort of appeared in my mind. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I only conceived of this group as a vehicle for my past songs. A new way to play my canon where there was no temptation to imitate my past groups. But after we started to play together, the sound was immediately appealing. I couldn’t help but bring in my newer songs just to see how they might sound. Before too long we were arranging the new material, performing regularly and starting to record the new stuff one song at a time. Everything we’ve recorded along the way will be on our new record, When I Was a Writer."

 Thanks Matt.  A track by track breakdown of the new album would not go amiss before you  leave….

When I Was a Writer

"From time to time in life, the light comes on. You have a period of insight when you understand who you are and what you have to do. When I was 25, all the lights inside me were turned on and shining out. To have had this moment of knowing what to do and to have lost it. Until recently that had been the broad pathway of my life."

Decent Guy

"There’s a hole in my personality, a hole in my being. And it causes me to constantly suspect the worst from myself. I want to be good. But like so many people, I wonder if I’m a fraud. There are plenty of people who tell me, “No, Matt. You’re a good person.” But they don’t know me like I know me and there’s something broken in there."

Come To Nothing

"Here’s some logic. We all came to this with nothing. We will leave with nothing. That’s a truism. But this condition is actually our super strength. It frees us. We have not a damn thing to lose. Think of all the outlandish things you can try when the stakes are really zero. In a stealth way, this idea is all over the record because I’ve believed it my whole life, and I’ve never been more certain of its truth."

Petty Thief

"The first job I had, when I was fourteen or fifteen, was to be a stock boy at a corner grocery store. Every night before closing I would help myself to refreshments, Twinkies, a quart of milk. I would feast in the back room. I was a good little boy, but maybe only when I was being watched. Later in my life, I met a young woman who made a serious practice of thieving in convenience stores. She’d wear a big coat and just take things for sport. She attracted me, but she scared me even more."

Real Life

"This one is a favourite of mine, though most listeners don’t seem to understand it in the way I do. For myself, I’ll just say that the deal, the reality that we ordinary humans must accept, the proposition that we can work and rise, is not valid. It’s a mirage. I know it’s not real."

I Can’t Return

"When you lose everything. When you have so much and you lose it, you might long to return to where you were at the beginning. But you’ll find that you’ve lost that, too. You can’t return. You’re left with only the mysterious road ahead."

Dirty Broken Lover

"Once you’ve taken a few falls, once you’ve tried out a few of your theories, you start to realise that maybe The Beatles were on to something. Giving love, sharing love is the only perfect thing. It must be the answer, because everything else shatters or melts away except that."

Only Just A Boy

"I don’t want to be a man anymore. I don’t want to be strong and responsible. I just want to play. I want to screw around. I want to live forever in that sacred state, that moment when I feel unaccountable and totally alive."

Space Cruising

"This one is similar in its escapist sentiment to “Only Just a Boy”. When the world around me seems to be a travesty, part of me just want to fly away with the ones who love me and live in the sky, to stare at the beautiful shining stars."

Mental Patients

"I don’t need to be a doctor to know that we’re all mental patients, functioning as our own shrink as well, each of us nursing along our fragile mentalities. Look at you with all your pain and uncertainty. Look at me with my fears. You and I, all of us, are wandering together, united in suffering, on this strange inexplicable Odyssey."

When I Was A Writer is released on  Pravda Records on 20 March. You can buy CD, Vinyl or Download here.

Remastered and Expanded Versions of Trip Shakespeare's Are You Shakesperienced and Applehead Man are available on the Omnivore label here. Across The Universe and Lulu await a CD Reissue, but can be bought second hand fairly cheaply on the likes of Amazon. Hopefully A and M will allow Omnivore to complete the reissues.

Burnt White And Blue and the two Twilight Hours albums can be bought as physical or download versions on The Twilight Hours Bandcamp site here.


Sunday 8 March 2020

Supergrass and The Coral - The Alexandra Palace London 6 March 2020

Review by Daniel R. Fell. Photos by Bruce Brand  

Twenty five years is a long time in rock and roll. Well, it’s a long time anywhere. When Supergrass exploded out of Oxford in the middle of the nineties, Britain felt like the capital of Europe. It was fitting that their first concert back in the capital, would be at the Alexandra Palace, second only to the Royal Albert Hall in terms of grandeur, but certainly of the more faded variety.

Among the yummy mummies and Muswell Hillbillies, it was nice to see a smattering of young people in the audience when The Coral took to the stage. Singer James Skelly leading the band through hits including Jaqueline, Bill McCai and In the Morning. Drummer Lee Skelly holding the whole thing down like Mick Fleetwood before the psychedelic wig out of Goodbye and the perennial hit Dreaming Of You had everyone heading out to the bar in a good mood.

Anyone who has seen the Supergrass Is 10 movie will know that from the early days, the band and close pals Dom & Nic shot a lot of what they did on a zany Monkees meets Wayne's World kind of trip. These cine-literate guys understood that content is king back when YouTube was the stuff of fantasy. Their set opened with quick edits on the big screen, the laughing, the mugging, the sped up voices from the debut album, before Supergrass took to the stage to a heroes welcome. They began with the moody descending riff and wash of drums that opens their sophomore album. Typical of them to open with In It For The Money, a song about struggling with fame with a mantra robbed from Frank Zappa.

They then tore into I’d Like To Know, the first song from the debut I Should Coco. Rob’s Hammond searing and Mickey’s bass pumping, while Gaz sprayed out the riffs and Danny played fast and loose with the hearts of the assembled throng. Goffey then went onto to say that Gaz was suffering from a bad neck, having  seen a special doctor earlier in the day for a good dosing. Likewise, Danny looked suitably refreshed.

Mansize Rooster took me back to being ten years old with its Glam Madness stomp before Mary swayed like early Santana and then a solo Gaz lead the crowd through a rousing version of Moving with the band kicking in on the first chorus and the audience losing their collective shit.

Then the poppy Seen The Light and the Tex-arse blues of Time which saw Gaz on his trusty Telecaster, before the stage was bathed in green light for a punky Sitting Up Straight, showing off their Buzzcocks-meets-Stranglers-meets-Hendrix oeuvre before the classic Late In The Day, slower and spacier than the record. It channeled the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, psychedelic parties of the sixties that Alexandra Palace is famed for.

Richard III again raised the roof, with some of the more adventurous members of the audience taking to crowd surfing. There’s going to be some bad backs tomorrow. Then came Going Out with the lads saving a few quid by singing the brass parts themselves and Lose It with Goffey slowing down into the final reprise in the fashion of an Italian stadium rock drummer, but still cool: Is there anything these guys can’t get away with?!

More pop perfection with She’s So Loose and Grace, before Alright took the venue to levels of laddishness not seen since Phil The Power Taylor last won the Darts and the band wrapped up with a stunning version of Sun Hits The Sky, complete with a synth solo befitting of Wakeman’s cape.

I snuck off to redistribute some of the pints of lager I had been drinking and arrived back just in time for an encore of Lenny, Strange Ones and Caught By Fuzz. The returning kings of the Cowley Road had me thinking that even with all this paranoia of Corona, as the song almost goes; I knew I shouldn’t have stayed at home tonight.

Saturday 7 March 2020

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Ben Eshbach About The Sugarplastic And Much More

When it came out Bang, The Earth Is Round was my first exposure to Los Angeles band The Sugarplastic (Ben Eshbach, Kiara Geller and Josh Laner). I was utterly smitten by it from the get go.  I was charmed by the melodies and the uniqueness of the songs, as well as the adventurous production and playing.  I will openly admit I had a major crush on the album, but like all crushes I thought the initial beguiling of the clever glamour that filled my ears would dim, as I became more familiar with the album… I would get over it. 

But no…the more I played it the greater the depths…there was something more here that kept bringing me back…the songs oh so sweet and pretty have a darker edge, lyrically We are in the realms of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman rather than Simon and Garfunkel. 

Musically Ben Eshbach had the same mysterious magical talent for simple complexity that E from the Eels had in abundance for a time.  Yes my crush faded but only to be replaced by an unending true love firstly for this album and then as time went on every gosh darn thing the band recorded before and after. I love The Sugarplastic….there I’ve said it. Don loves them just as much as I do. When he started talking to Ben and then secured this interview opportunity with the great man we were both boy oh boy cock a hoop with excitement and then some.  What a treat for all of us.  Anyway, hush now the curtain is about to rise.

What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?

"I was in the fourth grade, maybe nine years old,  when two big things happened. A substitute teacher brought in some records to play during the class rest time. One of them was the Water Music by Handel. I was transfixed by the horns in the Water Music. I couldn’t stop thinking about them for weeks. This was the music that “opened my ears.” I asked my grandmother for the record for Christmas and that was that.

Also, that same year, the film The Sting came out. It featured Scott Joplin’s music. I asked for that soundtrack record too and wore it out as well. Those two records and a 1976 recording of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performing Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade were my favourite records as a young person. They were key in developing how I listened to music. Also on that list would be Lerner and Loewe’s music for the 1967 musical film adaptation of Camelot and Bernstein’s West Side Story. Later I would stop listening to Handel when I discovered the Brandenburg Concertos and Bach’s motet’s.

The second thing that happened that year was that my father finally let me play his electric guitar. A 1959-60 Sears Silvertone. He'd had it since he was a kid but I’d never seen him play. That year he taught me how to play I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash), Rumble (Link Wray), and Torque (The Fireballs). Then he challenged me to teach myself the guitar solo from Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk Part 1. When I was finished with all that, I started writing my own stuff. The only other musical instrument I had access to as a child was a chord organ I got when I was maybe 5 years old. One of those little organs like this one."

"I wrote simple tunes on that as a kid. I learned to play “My Country ’Tis of Thee” from a songbook that came with the organ. I played that song so many times and it got ingrained in my brain so thoroughly. Even to this day I have to mentally hum the first six notes of that melody in order to mentally ground myself in the major chord of a given root note if the music around it is sufficiently confusing. I can still play the first thing I wrote for guitar and the first thing I wrote for organ, three years earlier. Very, very simple stuff, but so much fun to have done."

Which music artists made you sit up and take notice back then?

"I remember one summer when Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey first got played on the radio. I didn’t know, or care to know, who did the song. But I didn’t want to miss it if it played. I kept one ear on the radio at all times in case that song would come on. A few years later the same thing happened with a different song, Jet. Same thing — it was like the only interesting song on the radio. So it turned out that the same guy wrote both of those songs. That freaked me out a little.

But I had never really developed a taste for “artists” or the musical personalities behind the sound of music. I didn’t care about the names of the people making the music. That wouldn’t start to happen until my late teens and even then it turned out to be a phase. I did come to deeply respect the musical writers, but not so much the performers.

I knew the Beatles, of course. So I knew who McCartney was when I learned he’d written both of those songs. As a young teen I liked the Beatles’ Blue Album. I wouldn’t listen to a real Beatles album all the way through until I was almost thirty and it would be Kiara who played it for me. Another artist I liked were The Mamas and the Papas. My mother listened to them around the house. I loved their harmonies. I can’t think of any more artists that I remember having a reaction to back then."

Can you remember the day you first met Kiara?

"I had to ask Kiara to answer this one. He said that it was at summer camp (I knew that much.) He was looking for his assigned cabin and walked past my cabin and heard me playing guitar inside. I was playing Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees and so he poked his head in and introduced himself. We were friends for a number of years before playing music together."

How did drummer Josh Laner became involved?

"Josh was an acquaintance of Kiara. I don’t know how they knew each other. But Kiara recruited him to play drums and me to play guitar. Kiara wanted the three of us to get together to see what would happen."

You spent a couple of years rehearsing, but it wasn’t until you started writing songs instead of tunes that things started to make sense creatively. What was the first song you wrote where you knew you had something?

"I think that a song called Brownly Corduroid was the first recording we made where I thought we’d succeeded. I didn’t feel like I “had something” in terms of commercial viability or that I possessed a skill for writing. I just felt like I’d exceeded my expectations and that felt really good. Plus a lot of that feeling might have been the new experience of studio recording. I’d never recorded before and it was pretty fantastic. So the magic of hearing a song I’d written coming out of stereo speakers was fresh and exciting. I guess I tied the song writing with the song recording back then."

What music were you into by this time?

"I got really into the Pixies when Doolittle came out in 1988. I think that they are the band I’ve been infatuated with more than any other band. They came along at a perfect time for me, because I had started making peace with the idea that maybe I had aged out of an ability to fall in love with a band.

The band I had loved before the Pixies had been Killing Joke (discovered in 1981) who had been making disappointing records for the last few years and so I stopped following their releases. When the Pixies came out it was like a musical miracle. They are the band that ultimately made me decide that The Sugarplastic could be something I wanted to do.

I’d also recently discovered Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain. I listened to XTC a lot in those days too, but I didn’t like any of their records as a whole. Later I’d learn to love English Settlement and Skylarking. But some of my favorite XTC songs are on some of their lesser records like Black Sea and Drums and Wires.

A lot of what I started listening to in those days were things that Kiara and Josh turned me on to. Josh was instrumental in getting me to listen to some XTC I’d never heard. He and his brother, Brad Laner, got me into The Kinks and Television. Kiara got me into Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I think it was playing in his apartment one day when I went over.

I’m probably forgetting a few but that’s most of it. Oh and The Beatles. I started listening to the Beatles in 1989-1990 because of Kiara — I mean really listening to whole records. I’d never heard Revolver or Rubber Soul until the 90s.

Outside of rock and pop, I had gotten really into this 1983 Phillips recording of Peter Schreier conducting Mozart’s Requiem and Isao Tomita’s 1974 synthesizer record, Snowflake’s Are Dancing. I was also listening to this recording of Bruno Walter conducting Beethoven’s Symphony #9 and Bernstein’s version of The Firebird Suite with the New York Philharmonic.

Another big one was Herbert von Karajan doing Strauss’s Tales From The Vienna Woods (Berlin Philharmonic.) I was also super happy to find that when compact discs came out, my worn out 1976 recording of Scheherazade was re-released on CD, so new listening-life had been breathed into that."

So its 1992 a year before any Sugarplastic releases and yet we have Head.  Ben Eshbach - g, Erik Denning - dr, voc, keyb Dean Opseth - sitar and if I recall correctly a mostly instrumental album released on Voxx. An album so obscure that there is only one fleeting mention on the whole of the internet. Tell us about Head.

"Eric and Dean were guys I knew from college parties. I remember Dean dressed like a Mod and Eric was a drummer who played like Keith Moon. They’d known each other forever and I was like the new guy. This was happening at the same time that The Sugarplastic were recording songs and rehearsing regularly. Head was mainly a jam band.

We played parties and played in the desert and stuff like that. Everyone in the audience was high. It was a fun way for me to experiment with a style of playing that wasn’t where my heart was. I enjoyed playing with those guys and recording that record, but I don’t think any of us thought that there was a trajectory for the band. I can’t remember why I stopped being in the band. Was I kicked out? Or did The Sugarplastic start to gain traction? I don’t remember."

You start playing live. Talk about the live experience for you. I read somewhere you were only doing half hour sets for fear of boring the audience.

"The Sugarplastic was supposed to be a studio band. At least that was my vision. I hated playing live, especially if I had to sing. I liked our music, but I didn’t think anyone else would like it, especially live. I wanted to get off stage as soon as possible, and for the first year it was truly because I didn’t want to bore the audience with our set. No one was here to see us. We were just the band that came on before the band that people had come to see. We were being tolerated.

Then something happened and suddenly we were the band that people came to see on purpose. Josh and Kiara loved playing live. The audience’s enthusiasm worked on them the way it’s supposed to work. I could never get it to work. I have to say, we started attracting an audience fairly rapidly. We were somehow “in demand” from local clubs. Between 1991-1995 I turned down far more shows than we played and for any reason I could think of."

1993 and the first Sugarplastic release, the Ottawa Bonesaw triple 45 on Pronto. Can you remember how you felt holding it in your hands for the first time ? How did you decide on which songs to record? I recall reading somewhere you had more than fifty demos in the archives. I assume you are the producer on these and the next two singles.

"That was a neat feeling, to be holding those 7” coloured vinyls. That was the project of Rush Riddle. He was a really enthusiastic supporter of local music. He also took me to watch our record being cut on a lathe, something I’d never seen before. I was really proud of the box set, the artwork, inserts and the vinyl. It was a magical feeling. I don’t remember how we decided what songs to release on the Pronto box set. They were probably the songs that we thought were our best sounding recordings at the time.

Next thing we knew it was getting played a lot on KXLU. Those are good memories. I produced those recordings, but soon Will Glenn, from the band Mazzy Star, would come along and volunteer to record/produce some tracks that would appear on the next release. Then Chris Apthorp would produce some tracks further down."

So tell me about the recording of the wonderful Radio Jejune.

"Radio Jejune was a really fun record to make. It was recorded in a unique way and with a specific philosophy. The philosophy goes like this: If you’re in a band and you write a song, rehearse the song, then record the song, then mix the song, then you know that by the time the song is released you’ve heard it a zillion times. You don’t get the pleasure of “hearing” the song the way your audience does.

For you, the song is a tail-end snapshot of a very long process that started in your head. The audience, on the other hand, gets to see the snapshot in one glorious reveal. For this reason I’ve always felt sorry for, say, The Beatles,  because they were the only four guys on the planet who never really got to “hear” a Beatles song.

So for Radio Jejune, this is how I chose to fix that problem: I had written all of the songs ahead of time but hadn’t  taught them to Josh or Kiara. For the recording session I would teach them a song and it would take about half an hour for them to learn to play the song. Then we’d press “record” and record the song. Then I’d teach them the next song, record it and so on. We did this for two sessions in the living room of Kiara’s cousin, Casey Neiditch.

Then I sent Josh and Kiara home and spent the next month or two overdubbing and mixing. They weren’t allowed to hear anything until I was finished with the record. By the time the record was finished, Josh and Kiara had forgotten what any of the songs even sounded like. So when we sat down for a final listening session, it all sounded completely new to them. They got to hear a Sugarplastic record the way an audience would hear it.

I still like that record a lot. There’s a lot I would do differently today, mixing choices that I can’t believe I made. But it’s a sincere record made at a time in my life when writing/recording was new and magical. I can still hear all of that in the recording. I’m as pleased with that record today as I was when it came out."

People often mention XTC as a sounds a bit like but for me, on some tracks, there more of a Talking Heads thing going on at times.

"Yeah, both of those bands were self-conscious influences. On Radio Jejune especially. I think it’s either Skinny Hotrod or Sun Goes Cold that I was trying to emulate a riff that I thought I heard the Talking Heads do a long time ago, but I’ve never been able to find the song that I thought I was copying. I’m sure I got it wrong. XTC was an obvious influence. I think I was listening, over and over, to a couple songs on Drums and Wires during that time."

How did the signed to Geffen thing come about?

"I can’t remember the details that led to us meeting with Todd Sullivan,our eventual A&R guy. I think that a DJ friend of Todd’s had alerted him to us. He called me at home one day, introduced himself and said he wanted to have lunch. We met at a restaurant in Burbank and he said he wanted to sign us. “I want to sign you,” he said during lunch. I didn’t understand at the time. I thought that he was expressing a wish, as in, “Boy oh boy, I sure do wish that I had the authority to sign you guys.”

So I think I just smiled and nodded and then talked about something else. But when I told Josh and Kiara about the lunch they reacted quite differently. They told me that this meant he can sign us and would sign us and that this was something they both wanted and that I should want it too. So I went out and bought the Donald Passman book, "All You Need to Know About the Music Business", to find out what this “signing” was really all about.

This is what I learned from the Passman book: A record label is a bank that will loan you money to record music and buy cool gear and ride around in limousines . You don’t have to pay back the loan if record sales fail to earn back the investment. Anything beyond that arrangement is fluff. The whole rock star success thing is a crap shoot and you shouldn’t expect it to happen. The Bank is buying you a really expensive, really fun lottery ticket. Wanna play?

The book didn’t come out and say that exactly, but that was my takeaway and so I couldn’t say “no.” So we got a good lawyer and signed on the dotted line. It turned out to be exactly as the book had said, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I remember at that time I had somehow become acquainted with Adam Jones from the band Tool. He came to one of our tiny shows, I forget why. He was the only rock star I knew. I ran into him at a video store in the San Fernando Valley just after we got signed and told him about it. He got really excited for me and then looked me square in the eye and said, “Okay. First, don’t listen to anyone who bitches about you “selling out” to a major label. That’s bullshit. Second, they’re going to give you money. Take as much as you can and spend every cent of it.” I mean, that was basically the Passman book in two sentences."

Tell me all about Bang! The Earth is Round and how you ended up with a Scottish co-producer in Colin Fairly. How was the recording? Did you get much in the way of label interference or did they mostly leave you alone?

"There wasn’t a lot of label interference with Bang! The Earth Is Round. I mean not enough to register as “interference.” Todd Sullivan chose Colin Fairly to engineer the record. I can’t remember having a say in that. He let me produce the record, though at the end of the day the overall “sheen” of its sound was determined by the engineer and the label. I was producer in the sense that I arranged and orchestrated everything, wrote the songs, chose the songs for the record and so on. I even wrote one of the songs in the studio.

Todd (Geffen) was very hands off from what I remember. He was a kind of Yoda; steering the record, but allowing the band to grow through making it. He had final say on everything, but I don’t remember him ever exercising his veto power. He had good positive suggestions. Colin was terrific to work with and I liked him as a person. Even though he’s credited as an engineer, he really did help produce it, especially when it came to getting better performances.

The song Soft Jingo would have sounded very different had he not made a secret mix of it and then had me sit down for a listen. His mix was better than mine. I think he was responsible for some of the best moments on the record. I remember some key pieces of advice he gave me about life in general. One of which involved a story about when he and John Bonham were out shopping for a car.

But overall, I don’t like the sound of Bang! The Earth is Round very much. It reminds me of how I felt about Another Green World after having acclimated to Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain. Something radically changed sonically. I mean, at the microphone level or the processing level on Another Green World that took it completely out of the universe built by the previous two records. Same with Bang!

It doesn’t sound like the band and I’m unable to hear it the way it’s supposed to be heard. I think that there are only three or four recordings I like on that record. I don’t get a clear sense of who the band is from that collection of songs. I get a kick out of people whose first exposure to The Sugarplastic was through Bang! and so, accordingly, think that’s who we were. They think that everything that came before was a development toward being who we were and everything that came afterwards was straying away from who we were.

Because Bang! was our largest exposure, I encountered this sentiment quite a bit. I think that, generally speaking, it’s hard to resist reading ourselves into an album that we love. I know that I fell for that fallacy with The Pixies. Doolittle was my introduction to The Pixies. So, for me, everything up to Doolittle was an “almost there” and everything after Doolittle was the band losing their grip on the magic.

That’s nonsense but it’s nonsense that’s hard to resist. To make matters worse, sometimes that actually is what happens with an artist and so we always have that consolation close at hand to help vindicate our judgement."

You toured more extensively on the back of the album. How was the big label experience. Judging by the fact you chose to leave the label I'm assuming you had issues.

"I don’t remember having issues with the label, personally. The label was going through a tough time. It was during that period in the late 90s when there were these weird label mergers and everything was being reorganized. I didn’t recognize the Geffen staff any more. It seemed that no one there knew who we were either. Bands were getting dropped left and right.

I kind of think that the only reason we weren’t dropped is because Todd Sullivan fought for us. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can’t think of any other reason Geffen would have wanted to hang on to us. There was a new head of A&R, who said that he wanted us to book a showcase for the label to attend, to determine whether or not we could stay with the label. It felt like we were auditioning for the label we were already signed to. That’s the only issue I really remember having with the label. But by then things seemed to be over for just about everyone anyway."

So we arrive at the magnificent Resin.How did you end up getting the Egyptian, Andy Metcalfe, in the production chair? How did the recording go? This was the first album that all the songs were written specifically for I believe.

"Resin was a pastiche of Tascam Porta One 4-track recordings, 8-track 1/2” recordings, old demos and expensive studio recordings. It was definitely not written as a record. But, to my ears, it sounds remarkably like one. There’s a coherence to it because, I think, the songs that were written for it tie together the songs that were not. It was recorded all over the place.

For instance, one of the songs (Little Ash Statue) began as a four track cassette all-guitar experiment recorded years earlier. I found the old cassette, transferred it onto 1/2” 8-track and then we added bass, wrote some lyrics, added drums, piano and made it into a song. That’s ass-backwards. But the final product hung together nicely. It sounds like a deliberate, unified thing.

We were introduced to Andy Metcalf when we were on Geffen. Andy had been in Squeeze and The Egyptians with Robyn Hitchcock (and The Soft Boys.) He had great sensibilities for what we were doing. He helped record some demos that Geffen was paying for. The one song on Resin that Andy produced (Tamarind Tree) was one of those songs. The drummer on that song was Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson.

It was during the end of our stay at Geffen that he worked with us. He’s one of maybe three or four people who’ve talked to me about music in a truly memorable way. You know, like half a dozen things he said off-handedly that were really quite brilliant and came from a very thoughtful place."

How does the song writing process work with you? Where do your lyrical ideas come from? How has your approach changed down the years?  Are you slow or prolific?

"I haven’t written a song (you know, with lyrics and stuff) in a number of years, so I don’t know if I’m still prolific, but I certainly used to be. I was always writing in my head. I always had a couple dozen stray choruses, stray verses, stray riffs that I could swap in and out with each other to make songs. I’ve forgotten almost all of them. When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to remember them all, I recorded most of them as guitar sketches and filed them away somewhere.

So writing songs, or song bits, was always happening. It always starts with music and the lyrics come at the end. One thing I never really did, in my real song writing days, was sit down with a guitar and try to come up with a song using the instrument. You know, noodling around and coming up with chords and a tune and whatever. I didn’t usually pick up the instrument until the song was done being written and I was ready to learn how to play it.

Frankly, the sound of a musical instrument is too distracting when I’m trying to write a song. So I was never good at collaborating with another artist. You know, sitting around with another musician with your instruments and saying things like, “What if we did this and then we did this!”  I just sit there like an idiot.

I don’t really like talking about my lyrics.  I will say this though, from a technical standpoint I’ve always paid attention to the syllables and the accents. I’ve always thought that the lyrics should punctuate rhythm. I particularly liked how Stan Ridgeway from Wall of Voodoo used his voice as a rhythm instrument in those early WOV recordings. Songs like The Passenger and almost all the songs on Dark Continent were an influence for me on how vocals should be timed."

You put together the Primitive Plastic comp. How was that listening back to those early days?

"I love listening back to that stuff. All that stuff was written before there was any expectation to reproduce the music live. It’s just pure recording imagination. There’s such a terrific freedom when writing without the slightest notion of later-arranging-a Live version. I wish that sound recording art was more like film-making in this regard. This is something I feel strongly about and so I’m going to pause to say something about it.

Think about the films that never would have been made, or how differently they would have been made, if their creators were expected to deliver additional stage versions of their films. Imagine George Lucas thinking, “We’re never going to get this space battle scene to work later on Broadway, so let’s dial it back, so that it can be done in string-suspended paper maché later.” Film began as mere stage acts filmed. But film didn’t stay married to Theater for very long.

Cinema and Theater quickly diverged into their own, respective institutions with almost nothing in common. Film and its technologies, have been free to develop along trajectories that would have never occurred to anyone had Cinema and Theater stayed married. That split never fully happened with music when sound recording came along. Sound recording is still married to Theater (live shows.)

Or if they aren’t married then they’re domestic partners with strong financial ties to each other and even stronger cultural expectations to stay shacked up. As songwriters, our compositional imaginations are hobbled by our willingness to keep it that way. If recording and Theater had fully split back in the day, then sound recording would have been free to develop along trajectories that we can’t imagine. Had this happened, typical musical sound recordings today, typical, not the outliers, might be as incommensurable with live music as Star Wars or Spirited Away is with Cats. How cool would that be?

Of course nothing this radical is on Primitive Plastic. I was trying to write relatively normal verse/chorus pop songs. But even within that narrow bandwidth, there’s a lot left to explore if you can manage to forget that you’re in something called a “band.”  I don’t know if Kiara feels the same way, but I know that he’s especially talented for making music that has no wish to go on stage."

So onto  7x7x7. Tell us the thought behind this approach. Did you write and record all the song first and then release them two at a time or did you write and record them as you went along?

"Kiara and I worked on 7x7x7 independently of each other, surprising each other with our contributions as we turned them in. Each track was written and recorded as we went along. Well, most of them were. A couple I think were older songs. I wrote most of my contributions “at the desk”, which I find to be a fun way to make a song. It’s more like building than “writing.” Digital Recording makes this easier, if for no other reason, the instant rewind time. I can’t remember whose idea it was to release an album’s worth of singles. It was probably Anna Borg’s (TallBoy) idea.

And finally we have the glorious Will. Tell us about it all and how it ended up being the last album …so far.

"Will was written and recorded as a tribute to a friend of mine, WIlliam Glenn, who had passed away.  One thing about that record which stands out to me: I don’t know if it was my state of mind at the time or what, but I recall having fully worked out every detail of that album in my head before I started working on it. All of the songs were finished and in their album order months before I started making them audible. So because of this, there was no care taken to ensure that the songs were possible for me to play.

Once I got to the tape recorder it was a matter of forcing the machine to spit out the sounds I’d been hearing in my head. So it was kind of like painting a forgery. I think that a lot of writers and maybe painters, sculptors work this way, but I never had before and I probably won’t ever again. I don’t think that I could. Will is my favourite Sugarplastic record by far. It ended up being the last album, so far, only by accident. Maybe there will be another record some day."

Looking back it’s an amazing body of work. How do you feel about it?

"I think that if you made a graph showing the quality of Sugarplastic music, laid out chronologically, it would look something like an inverted bell curve. The beginning and the end bits were magical, and the period in the middle, when we were our most well-known was mundane and sounds depressing to me. The early music was terrific. Some of those recordings are still my favourite recordings we ever did.

I’m reminded of reading somewhere that Pink Floyd’s song Bike was the only song that all the members of Pink Floyd agreed was done right. That’s sounds crazy. But I feel that way about the Sugarplastic song Dover (from the Pronto box set, our first release) and then again with The Bodice Of A Young French Girl (from Will, our last release). Most of the stuff in-between, including the Bang! era music and all of the songs written to support a live Sugarplastic act and all the demos written for our never-recorded second Geffen record, seem sadly restrained to me.

Even the interesting songs on Bang! (Don’t Sleep comes to mind) just lack something sonic wise. Luckily most of that stuff never made it to tape and so from a release perspective I think that the inverted bell curve appears to be a nice, interesting, fairly consistently flat line. Overall I’m proud of our body of releases."

What have you been up to since then? You WON AN EMMY in 2017!

"After the release of WIll I spent a few years trying to make orchestral music using notation programs like Sibelius and the awful sound sets that come with the software. It sounded horrible (in retrospect), but I was thrilled to be able to orchestrate for such a large palette, so the sonic limitations didn’t bother me personally. I also continued to use Pro Tools to record audio, but the audio sound sources were mostly synth sounds emulating acoustic instruments.

I had experimented with this before on Will (My Heart Lately, for example). I hadn’t yet been introduced to sound libraries, MIDI, digital audio workstations and software synths, technologies that were roaring forward, but would stay completely hidden from my view for another decade.

So during that decade, I began recording these multi-tracked guitar pieces for 100 guitars or whatever. They were like orchestral pieces, but played on a bunch of guitars. No vocals and no verse/chorus/bridge pattern. I also recorded dozens of instrumentals using a multi-track sequencer and somewhat generic synthesizer sounds. Those were fun. Some real gems in there. Then I moved on to a series of Debussy piano pieces all on guitars, faithful to the sheet music, not transcriptions.

This was a great experience. Because I could use as many guitars/tracks as I wanted (Yay Pro Tools!), I was able to sculpt each note, its panning, what pickup was used for that note, what string it was played on and how it was plucked, what amp it was playing through and so on. It took forever to do, but I finished ten Debussy pieces, a Bach piece, some Fauré, Satie and Grieg. These are some of the most sonically satisfying recordings I’ve made.

About the time I was finishing up these guitar recordings I discovered MIDI and the wonderful world of sample libraries and DAWs. I couldn’t believe that this technology had been out there all along. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I learned as much as I could as fast as I could, thanks to the help of some more-experienced media composer-mentors that my girlfriend, Alicen, introduced me to (Mateo Messina, Michael Tavera, John McCarthy thanks guys!) By 2014 I had my own Logic rig and a bunch of sample libraries. Two years later I won my first regional Emmy. I got a second Emmy in 2018.

I’d always wanted to make orchestral music but I never thought of scoring-to-picture. In 1996  a Sugarplastic fan named Michael Badami invited me and Kiara to the Sony scoring stage to watch Randy Newman conduct his score for Tim Burton’s James and the Giant Peach.  The whole experience was overwhelming.

That was the day I realized that much of what I wanted to do orchestrally could be realized via this occupation. This was something that I really wanted to do, but I didn’t know how. I can’t even read music which, from what I’d heard, meant that scoring films wasn’t an option for me. That may have even been mostly true, in 1996.

Michael was the first person to urge me to score films, after hearing Bang! Eighteen years later, as the owner of a production company, he was the first person to hire me to score to picture. Since then, I’ve been able to hear some of my work performed by studio orchestras (at Warner Brothers and Capitol Studios) and a live orchestra (Northwest Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.) But all of this was only because of the help I’ve received from those who’ve already worked to be in a position to help.

Last year I finished scoring my first feature film Precarious, for which I was allowed to compose exactly the kind of music I’ve always wanted to make. Last month I scored a documentary that will be premiering at SXSW this March and then screening at Montreal’s International Festival of Films on Art. Currently I’m working on a short piece of personal music in the style of something you might hear in a Studio Ghibli film. It’ll probably go up on my Soundcloud when I’m happy with it."