Tuesday, 28 April 2020
This was originally going to be one of my Why Oh Why pieces, but you were saved that punishment due to some saviour albums that you will see reviewed on here. Over the last couple of years, I've had my fill of the Brian Wilson / Jeff Lynne wannabe stuff. It has just become so predictable via original or cover albums.
There's nothing wrong with the kitchen sink vocalising, apart from an awful Drum Sound, it is just that everyone in the Pop Rock world seems to aspire to it. I wished for a return to a more simplistic songwriting and arrangement. Something lovingly created, preferably Electric, that is about the song not the sound.
Over the past week, I've listened to at least half a dozen albums that fit the bill. You will hear about some this week, but special mentions must go to a wonderful Big Stir Charity Compilation from Steve Coulter and a splendidly experimental left field album from Sal Baglio of The Amplifier Heads. Both Quarantine Sessions and Sonic Boom, respectively are essential listens.
I'm also a big fan of The Bordellos who are masters at making an album for ten bob. You may not agree with me that'd fine. It is just that most podcasts or shows I listen to are a mix of the BIG Harmonic sound, that is when they are not talking about Brian Wilson or celebrating some long lost 80's band that were at best mediocre in their glory year.
I know Lo-Fi isn't for everyone and being able to record cheaply also can mean everyone is a Rock Star, but it is so refreshing to be listening to a song, rather than the production.
Thursday, 23 April 2020
This interview with Rick Corcoran, the man behind Orange and Orgone Box, was done when the first album came out on Minus Zero in 2001. The recent news that a new albun is planned for release this year on the Sugarbush label is both exciting and also makes this even more interesting.
So how did you first get into music?
“My brother taught me how to play a few chords on the guitar and piano when I was about fourteen and I sort of taught myself from then on by playing along to records. When I joined my first band, I was sixteen and working in a nightclub in Sheffield. There was a band with a silly name rehearsing in the afternoons and I used to get up and jam with them after I'd swept the broken teeth and pigs trotters off the floor Anyway that was my first band.
Growing up I got a cross section of influences. My dad was a Beatles fan, Frank Sinatra too. My mum listened to Rodgers and Hammerstein and my brother was into Be-Bop Deluxe and prog rock in a big way. So there was always a lot of that stuff being played around the house.
My thing was always guitar pop more than anything – first The Beatles, then Sweet and stuff on Top of the Pops, then Punk and bands like Cheap Trick and The La's. Nowadays if I'm honest I download my favourites off the Internet, stuff like I'm Mandy Fly Me, You're So Vain, Silver Star by The Four Seasons and Guitar Man by Bread. Apart from obvious stuff like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, I've always been into one-off tracks and hits more than any one band and I still am”
So how did you start making your own music?
“When I first moved to London, I joined a band called Sugarbush who were a sort of Replacements/Tom Petty-ish type band. We gigged around Richmond and Fulham for about six months and then I took off with the drummer and the bass player and formed The Green Tambourines. The Tambourines were the first good band I'd been in, but maybe we were a bit out of time. I mean we were playing guitar pop while your Jesus Jones and Acid House were happening! As far as I knew an E was a major chord.
Island Records put us in the studio with Wreckless Eric producing, but they wanted us to be Nirvana so that didn't work. We also had a daft manager who played jazz on his answerphone and didn't know anyone, so you can tell how organised we were. Anyway we did some memorable gigs around London, but we split up after about eighteen months. I'm still in contact with two of the guys from the Tambourines In fact the drummer Tam Johnstone played drums on the Orgone Box and the bass player Tim McTighe did the orchestral arrangement on the track Find The One.”
So this was when Orange came about?
“Orange came together quite quickly after that. I was playing guitar for a band at the Midem festival in France and I gave one of my demos to their manager. He offered me some studio time. but only if I had a band, which I didn't. So Orange was formed by picking the first three guys I came across - not a good move.
We signed with Chrysalis by making them think we'd been together for ages. but actually I didn't know the band from Adam and they didn't know me. The demos that got us signed were all my work, I'd done them at home, but the record company couldn't tell, as a band we didn't sound anything like them. When I. heard the recordings we did at Abbey Road, they could have been different songs. It was a joke, but it was my fault, because I'd roped them into it.
The first thing we did after signing for Chrysalis was the single Judy Over The Rainbow. As far as I can remember I had a good time making it because the producer Dave Eringa, was a really funny bloke and the song went down really easy. The response from the radio was good too, loads of plays on Radcliffe and Independent stations. Everybody at the gigs knew the song, which was great because it was the first time anything like that had happened for me.
I think if we'd been a cooler band it would have been a hit. Nowadays I prefer the 4-track demo version that I wrote and recorded while I was with the Green Tambourines and which is also on the Orgone Box album. I like the arrangement on the Orange version, but it's played too fast and sounds a bit hectic to me, which incidentally sums Orange up. I relate more to the slower spaced out feel of the original, it rolls along as opposed to jumping, if you know what I mean, and it's less gimmicky.
Orange recorded loads of my songs for Chrysalis, but none of them ever got released. Because we never got on as a group of people, we never really hit it off as a band. I think the bad feeling started right at the beginning when I got rid of the first drummer and another guitarist who happened to be mates with the rest of 'em. I don't think they ever forgave me for that, but there you go. Although I don't particularly enjoy being hated, that on it's own didn't bother me.
It was the laziness and playing crap that I couldn't work with. They were always late for gigs, which is fine if you play great and look great but they didn't, songs were always breaking down. In the end we went into Chipping Norton studio with Gus Dudgeon, to re-record an album we'd fucked up at Rockfield. But the band just couldn't get their parts together. The guitarist couldn't think of anything to play and the drummer just gave up and asked if we could use a drum machine!
I found it all a bit embarrassing in front of a guy like Gus. I mean he did Space Oddity and Rocket Man for godsake! After three days work they went home for the weekend and never came back. I haven't seen them since. It was all my fault, because I roped them into it. I ended up finishing the album with Gus, but it never came out because Chrysalis dropped the whole project anyway. Funnily enough that was the best feeling I'd had for along time.”
You're time with Orange doesn't sound a happy one. Did it put you off the whole music thing?
“No, I thought sod all that major record company stuff and spending weeks in big studios getting drum sounds, comping vocals and everybody eating three course meals. I hated it, so I borrowed some money and hired some tape machines and started recording new songs at home. I did this kitsch campy song called Find The One, which is a kind of Roy Orbison thing and some Japanese label heard it and asked me to do an album, which eventually turned out to be The Orgone Box.
Making it was a really enjoyable experience for me. I had four 8-track tape machines, a 32 channel desk, a load of effects, three amps and half a dozen guitars all set up in my flat, so I could make a right racket. I wrote most of the songs while I was recording them. What I did was put down some guide drums with a click, added a bass line, a bit of guitar and a vocal.
Then I took the tapes and the machines to this place called the House in the Woods, which is a big old mansion house in some woods just off the M25. 1 got hold of Tam Johnstone and he laid the drums down to my guide track in what looked like a big dining room or a library or something. The feel was just right and the whole thing took about four days.
Then I took the tapes home again and spent a few weeks doing overdubs and generally just had a great time playing around with the music. I've always wanted to be in a great band, but when it comes to recording, I always seem to be at my best when I'm working alone. It's just the way I am. That way I can conjure up and maintain an atmosphere that I feel is right for the song and put all of myself into the performance, instead of reacting to an atmosphere created by others.
I don't like being hurried or slowed down by other people. I like to do things in unorthodox ways and at unsociable times. I can start work on an idea one day and just keep working until I'm happy. I don't think about sleeping or eating. Those things just break the flow up for me. I'll stop when I'm satisfied or when I get bored or when I drop.
At the end of the day, it's not the sound quality or making sense that I'm most bothered about. It's whether there's a spark in the record that excites me, a feel that takes me somewhere else in my head, that's what I do it for. I mean just listen to Noddyland. The crowd on there is from the Shea Stadium gig, I had it in my cans while I was singing and playing guitar at the same time and it was like a fantasy gig for me. Pure tennis racket!”
Listening to the album it strikes me how literate and thought provoking the words are.
“It's a very personal and private record lyrically and at the same time, I feel that the tunes are universal. Nearly all the songs are introspective themes because that's the way I am. I'm always thinking about what I'm thinking or what you're thinking and my songs usually analyse me. Listen to Anaesthesia, Bubble or Ticket With No Return for instance. Lyrically I'm being very melancholy, even a bit down on myself. But at the same time the tunes are very uplifting, very welcoming to the listener. I think the tunes contain a hopeful message.”
So what the heck is an Orgone Box anyway?
“The Orgone Box was a thing devised by a psychoanalyst called Wilhelm Reich. He claimed that Orgone was some kind of universal energy and that he could capture it in his device and then use it to treat illness. I read about it in a book on the occult by Colin Wilson and I liked the idea of it. It sounded musical to me and I'd done most of the record in my flat, which I suppose is a kind of box, so bobs your uncle, as they say It's nothing profound I just liked the sound of it.”
How does it feel now the album is finally coming out?
“It's funny how things come about, I honestly thought that the album would never get off the ground. The Japanese label got closed down and I couldn't get anything else going, so when Bill Forsyth phoned me out of the blue I was dead chuffed. I'm hoping that the Minus Zero release will prick up some ears. I read somewhere that if the music is playing, the audience will find it one day and I believe this. Sooner or later the album will make its mark, and to be honest I could do with the money to do more recording.
At the moment, I've got the bones of another album written and I've just started putting the ideas down on tape. As it stands I think the first side is going to be about eight songs all joined together in a kind of mosaic. I'd love to get something else out this year if possible, that's what I'm aiming for.”
The early Rick Corcoran recordings are still available on Vinyl from Sugarbush Records on the fantastic Lorne Park Tapes (SB019) here.
Centaur, the reworking of the Orgone Box album is still available on CD here and as a download here. The Sugarbush Vinyl Release is now sold out.
Seth Timbs's superb 2018 album gets issued as a wonderful CD Package by Kool Kat Records. Not only do you get the album, but also a Bonus Disc that includes 2019's Untiled EP with 3 previously unreleased tracks.
Timbs should earn a medal for his work in the magnificent Fluid Ounces, but his solo stuff is every bit as good. He specialises in great Piano Pop Rock, very much in Andrew Gold territory. He also has a knack of dressing up melancholic subjects in incredibly chipper songs.
The feel is somewhere between the great 70s Pop Singer Songwriters and Ben Folds, never more so than on the excellent Feel Good. The middle section of the album is very much in the Piano led Singer Songwriter arena. I'm thinking of Elton John, John Howard, John Miles et al.
The title track in particular stands out, venturing towards the classical. Routine is very 10CC with its jauntiness. The Accordion on the instrumental Shylock makes it sound wonderfully French until the Guitar breaks in when it becomes pure balalaika.
Record & Pause is much slower than those Fluid Ounces days. I'm reminded a lot of John Howard's more recent output. When the pace picks up, the album is especially good, Church Van and the aforementioned splendid Feel Good.
There is so much to like here, this is a reminder of Timbs's talent and what a fine Pop Instrument, the piano can be. The mastery of making the melancholic seem happy is a fine trait to have. The album and in particular the Kool Kat CD Package is highly recommended.
You can buy the CD from Kool Kat here. You can listen and buy the download here, where you can also buy back catalogue including ace Fluid Ounces stuff. You can find more about Seth Timbs here.
My good friend Dennis from PopRock Record is a big fan of Gregory Pepper, but he's new to me, despite having a long archive to call on. Canadian Pepper writes and performs great gentle Quirky Pop, seemingly simple, but constructively deep.
The arrangements are what sets it apart from other poptastic affairs. The feel is like some of the superb Children's albums by the likes of They Might Be Giants, but the lyrics take on adult subjects and seemingly hidden meanings.
The wonder is also in the instrumentation. It is as though Pepper has bought every instrument he could find and wants them to appear on the album. So you get Toy Town Plinkity Plonk Piano next to some wonderful Slide Guitar.
The Twee factor is high, but not annoyingly so, again largely down to the arrangements. A song like Art Collector has so many layers and morphs into the weeping joy of Bored Of The View. This is a song that would be lauded if it was performed by some obscure 60's one album band.
Bigger Than Jesus would stand up with anything recorded by today's wannabe Beach Boys and the arrangement is again fantastic, McCartney-esque. I've Got A Bottle Of Ink is another fine song that may get mistaken by its title.
Unsolved Mystery is a shuffle, again with some wonderful Slide Guitar. I Know Now Why You Cry is a splendid Pop album. Much deeper than it appears, but revelling in its simplicity. This album will surprise you, give it a try!
You can listen to and buy the album here. You can also find out more about Gregory Pepper here.
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
There's been a surprising amount of attention given to the Audio Extravaganza this week. Maybe it is because we are approaching 100, I don't know. It does appear to be a mainstay in the Mixcloud Global Indie Rock Chart, but I wouldn't say we had a major impact, although it would be nice if we did. I've always thought of this as a small part of I Don't Hear A Single and as with the Blog, never worried about numbers. I've never thought I'm wonderful if the numbers are high or rubbish if they are low. I just concentrate on what I like and hope you do too. If only one person listens, they are discovering artists that they wouldn't.
As for content we stick to what we know. I don't see the point in starting all sorts of things, the Blog just evolves and is very different than when it started almost four years ago. But I've completed two interviews about the Audio Extravaganza and have yet to do a third about that and the Blog in general.
When I compile the Volume, I always think it's great and the track selection and order is right. After posting, I realise it is not quite as spot on as intended, but there is the odd time that you think, wow this is spot on. It isn't very often as I'm hyper self critical, so when one does I feel chuffed.
Volume 97 is one such delight. I've played Jim's Mix through twice and it really does fit the remit. 22 songs, only the opener is archive. 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 97:
01 Icicle Works - Hollow Horse (Extended Version)
02 Green Day - Wild One (Otis Big Guitar Mix)
03 Surrender Human - Boxcar Reel
04 Wyldlife - Crime Of The Scene
05 Girl Skin - Forever & Always
06 Chris Church - Someday's Coming Fast
07 R.E. Seraphin - Today Will Be Kind
08 Andrew Van Orsdale - Construction Paper Tigers
09 Andronoids - She
10 The Corner Laughers - The Accepted Time
11 Fallon Cush - Foreign Films
12 Best Coast - Everything Has Changed
13 Shrug Life - Last Gasp of Summer
14 Micah Schnabel - Memory Currency
15 The Warlocks - Dear Son
16 The Drywall Heels - Tomahawk
17 Noise Box - On And Off
18 Ballzy Tomorrow - I Want To Make It Up To You
19 The Britannicas - Walls & Stars
20 Loft Beach - Spaceman
21 Danny Henry - Listen To The City
22 Aura Zorba - Tarot
IDHAS Audio Extravaganza Volume 97 Mixcloud Link
Or Click Below
The second half of the Nineties and through the turn of the Millennium saw a spate of Singer Songwriters. the best of which had a lyrical message. The trouble was, as with any scene, everybody became a Singer Songwriter and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly became just The Bad. It happens in all genres. I mean Americana is now anyone with a Banjo and a pair of Dungarees.
Since then, there has been pretty much a dearth of likely candidates. This is even more the case when you look for Storytellers. One exception is Columbus Ohio's Micah Schnabel. Schnabel is a proper Storyteller and as the album title suggests, he has a subject to offer his opinion on and he does this wonderfully.
There is a real Bob Dylan feel to the songs, indeed these are more than songs. Schnabel is more a Beat Poet with his verses set to music. The tales of Modern America and his Travels are summed up by anger and dismay.
These are not diatribes, they are beautifully written and constructed tales of how things are. All 12 tracks are short and snappy across the album's 30 minutes. Although the image of modern day troubadour stands out, the album excels most when the Pop kicks in.
New Shoes has a killer riff and pop sentiments but is still splendidly angry. Nuclear War is classic IRS College Rock and Emergency Room is another everyday story that just rocks. The stand out though is the magnificent Memory Currency, an absolute stormer of a song. A Tour Guide for those who don't want to travel. It is fantastic.
Whilst staying in touch with his Alt Country / Folk Roots, this fourth solo album Micah Schnabel's best and most accessible. The album is a joy from start to finish. Educational as well as toe tapping. The addition to the Frank Turner tour as support seemed an unlikely match, but will hopefully provide new fans to make this fellow as big as he should be.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Surrender Human are a trio from Chapel Hill North Carolina in which all three members sing. Their self titled debut is a splendid offering of laid back Guitar Pop, the type that you hear less and less of these days, sadly.
Before you say that you've never heard of them, this is a Pop Rock Supergroup of sorts. Consisting of Matt McMichaels of The Mayflies USA, Robert Sledge of Ben Folds Five fame and Tony Stiglitz, Drummer with Chris Stamey.
The album is a sum of all their previous work, specialising in gentle pleasant Pop, an area that many try to succeed in and fail. These three master it and on a song like The Other Part Is Me venture into classic 70s Singer Songwriter Territory.
However the album gets even more interesting when it ventures away from the norm. It's Our Life is superb, hinting at Space Rock and even Psych Pop. There's A System is prime late 70s / early 80s New Wave Guitar Pop.
Two songs here are great Power Pop for different reasons. Girls Not Talking is classic 60s Power Pop, almost Merseybeat. The opener, Boxcar Reel, is the best song here, a melodic harmonic joy. It is a sort of cross between early The Who and great Psych Pop. Short and incredibly sweet. Surrender Human is a fine feel good album, you should invest in it.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Friday, 17 April 2020
Something very different for Volume 96 of the IDHAS Audio Extravaganza. We are usually so much about the new that I thought something older might be a nice change. I've gone back to my 70s youth to select 15 Pop Rock Songs.
These were picked off the top of my head and I tried not to be too obvious. My favourites will change from day to day, but it was a refreshing change to go back in time. Listening through it sounds really good, but that is for you to decide of course.
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 96:
01 Boomtown Rats - Diamond Smiles
02 10cc - Reds In My Bed
03 Sparks - Thanks But No Thanks
04 John Miles - Zaragon
05 Ian Hunter - The Outsider
06 Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Oliver's Army
07 Triumph - Just A Game
08 T. Rex - Dandy In The Underworld
09 Trickster - Let It Lie
10 John Howard - Kid In A Big World
11 Electric Light Orchestra - Sweet Is The Night
12 Squeeze - Up The Junction
13 Pilot - Penny In My Pocket
14 City Boy - Ambition
15 Liverpool Express - Every Man Must Have A Dream
IDHAS Audio Extravaganza Volume 96 Mixcloud Link
Or Click Below
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
I reviewed Shrug Life's Self Titled album in 2017 here. The only surprise I have is that the follow up has had such a low key release. That 2017 promise has been fully realised and the Dublin Trio are revealed to be no flash in the pan because Maybe You're The Punchline is exceptional.
Previously I mentioned a Half Man Half Biscuit feel and that's still present in both the song subjects and sound, there's also a Morrissey vibe in the vocal. However, the band have progressed considerably and now can be compared to even loftier subjects.
At times I hear early XTC, Field Music and above all The Sugarplastic whilst there are hints of The Proclaimers about too. All of these influences are coated in a wicked self depreciating humour that is a joy to behold in these serious times.
This isn't a twee DIY Pop, there's some fine playing amongst the lashings of wit. Captain Scarlet being a fine example of this. It is a splendid noise fest. Daylight Savings gets all College Indie and Decisions is very C86 with a strong lyrical message.
November is a rock out with another great solo that leads into something that borders on Twin Guitar Classic Rock. Ghosting could be from The Jam's debut album and Art For Sale is well could be an all male B52's. Last Gasp Of Summer kicks off like early Big Country and could very well be the best song here. It certainly hits my spot. It is a revelation and could give a clue to future directions.
This celebration of the banal and pops at the nonsense may wear thin to some, but when they are dressed in such inventive arrangements and playing, I can't see why. Shrug Life are providing Indie Joy in a time when it is needed most. Highly Recommended!
You can listen to and buy the album here. You really should!
Alex Siodmak is from Casale Monferrato in Northern Italy and with the assistance of friends, Davide Ghione, Sebastiano D'Alessandro and Riccardo Marchese, he is Sunbourne Rd. Teenage Lyrics rounds up eight singles released between 2014 and 2017 and it is an exceptional listen.
Firstly, this feels like a proper album, forget about them being eight singles. There is a real coordinated feel to the whole affair and which band wouldn't want to release an album that had potentially 8 singles on it.
Teenage Lyrics is fantastic Pop Rock. I played Different Light on a recent IDHAS Audio Extravaganza and it was the song that got the most attention by far. It is outstanding McCartney Pop and just a taster of how great this collection is.
This feels very much like a Now That's What I Call 70s Pop Rock. Baby! Baby! Baby! is heyday Glam Rock, Irene fools you with its lo-fi strummed beginning which rips into Classic Rock joy with some lovely twee keyboard runs.
A Joke In The Can is a corker of a song, think Jigsaw or Liverpool Express with a Psych Twist and that too breaks out into an Anthem. Scars is great UK New Wave Pop and Last Time could be the Bay City Rollers. Long Lost Afternoon reminds me a lot of The Explorers Club.
Teenage Lyrics really is a magnificent affair. Great Pop Rock is hard to find these days, well you can find it here. Sunbourne Rd have also released a new Five Track EP, Urizen which you can listen to and buy here. I can't recommend both more highly. Well done Alex!
You can listen to Teenage Lyrics here. You can stream and buy the album at any of these links here.
Jimmy Haber's third album was released last year and I've been meaning to cover it for some time. Recorded again with IDHAS favourite, Michael Carpenter, Blue Palms sounds incredibly positive. This is all the more surprising noted Haber's noted battle with depression during the sessions.
Haber specialises in big sounding Pop Rock bordering on Power Pop, yet he seems comfortable in whatever genre he takes on. I particularly like his forays into Psych Pop, but then again I would because there is nothing better than Psych Pop to these ears, but only when it is done well. Thankfully, Haber does it very well.
The Servants Quarters is a wonderful example of this, bordering on Toy Town Pop. However the main thing you notice is how big the choruses are and how plentiful across the album. Blue Palms rarely comes up for air, but when it does it is just as welcome. The 60's UK Beat of I Was In Love being one example.
People Prefer In That Way edges on Mod Pop and You Heard Me Thinking is almost early 60's with its skiffle like soundtrack. The album though is at its best when it blasts out on songs such as What Am I Gonna Do and Islands.
Both of those songs sound very 60s, but the production brings them more up to date. The stand out here is the wonderful, Too Long Since So Long which contains so much in the four minutes, a cross between Muscle Shoals and Psych Beat Pop with a liberal sprinkling of Sax and a killer Guitar Solo.
Blue Palms is a fine listen, heart felt and wonderfully produced. You can buy the CD here. You can listen to songs here and the streaming sites. The download can be bought from the likes of Amazon and Apple.
In those hazy days of Anything Should Happen, we used to worship The Feelies. Since then, they've been well off my radar, I suppose mainly because of a concentration on the new. However, I still can't think of a band as good at appearing ramshackle on the outside, whilst throwing out great messy pop hooks. Although most point to Crazy Rhythms as their best album, my favourite as always been 1986's The Good Earth.
Why do I mention The Feelies? Well that's because Tiny Shapes reminds me so much of the band and that particular album. Seraphin did a fine job in Talkies and this solo album sounds like a natural progression with far more emphasis on lo-fi Jangle.
The laid back vocal suits the material perfectly and the Talkies connection is still there as the trio consist of Owen Kelley and Phil Lantz from the band, but there is far more of a Paisley Pop hint. Indeed, the album feels very Guided By Voices.
Kicking off with the Jangling chirpiness of Today Will Be Kind which is all Glasgow C86 and a potential killer single. The album progresses in a much deeper direction, culminating in the killer riff on Hear Me Out.
There are plenty of hints of UK Glam Rock too, particularly on Bend and Exploding Hell is probably the best Feelies song that they never wrote. The stand out though is the magnificent Streetlight with its cocky verse, hypnotic riff and great closing solo.
Seraphin's vocal is somewhere between Marc Bolan and Lou Reed and this tempers what could be a more aggressive with a shoutier singer. Tiny Shapes is a cracker of an album. It feels ideally suited to the Paisley Shirt label. It is an absolute bargain for 3 dollars.
You can buy the cassette and the download and also listen to the album here.
Tuesday, 14 April 2020
The latest I Hear A Single Audio Extravaganza is ready and waiting for you discerning listening. 22 fine songs are ready to enlighten you, 19 new, 3 Archive and including the return of Bleu. Thanks for all the support of Volume 94 which hit the Mixcloud Global Indie Rock Chart for the 17th consecutive episode.
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 95:
01 Orgone Box - Ticket With No Return
02 Chris Church - Begin Again
03 Starter Jackets - Bad Application
04 The Well Wishers - We Grow Up
05 Mothboxer - Feel Something
06 Bleu - I Wanna Write You A Symphony
07 Muck And The Mires - This Town Makes Me Feel So Lonely
08 Born Ruffians - Breathe
09 The Black Watch - Brilliant Failures
10 Jason Falkner - Hectified
11 Charmer - Dead Plants
12 The Bye Bye Blackbirds - You Were All Light
13 Nightwell - Runaway
14 Empty City Squares - Hubris And Nemesis
15 Red Skylark - Two Shades Of Fine
16 Rick Altizer - Ray Guns And Plastic Flash
17 Block 33 - What The World's Expecting
18 Disq - Daily Routine
19 Pretenders - The Buzz
20 Magic Cobra - Golden Child
21 All Time Low - Sleeping In
22 Scot Sax - Beautiful Things
IDHAS Audio Extravaganza Volume 95 Mixcloud Link
Or Click Below
Thursday, 9 April 2020
I am advising people not to send CD or Vinyl for review until the lockdown has ended and things are back to normal.
Things that I am sending are experiencing severe delays and in many cases, not arriving at all. I have received no packages for the past three weeks, despite knowing that at least half a dozen have been sent.
This will not affect reviews as I don't distinguish between Physical or Download Only releases. So if you were planning to send your album, by all means send me a download.
Streaming is difficult here due to net speeds still being at 1999 levels. I also prefer downloads because then I can compile relevant songs for the IDHAS Audio Extravaganza.
Sunday, 5 April 2020
In the ten years since we last spoke to the Mr. Falkner, a lot has happened to the Los Angeles based musical masterclass in all things great. Jason was there at the birth of the musical revival that arrived at the start of the 90’s, firstly as one quarter of Jellyfish and The legendary Grays. Then with two solo albums for Elektra that cemented forever his place as one of, if not the, most ridiculously talented songwriters and crafted multi-instrumentalists on the planet. The last time I saw Jason in the flesh was at a packed and worship filled solo gig at Dingwalls in London. The whole audience seemed blissfully enraptured by the man’s warm but legendary presence. But then the usual story of major label neglect and then abandonment threw a spanner into his solo career for a few years.
In that period he became a session player, touring mainly with Air, sometimes with Beck and producing here, playing on a McCartney album there. A couple of welcome collections of rare and unreleased archive material kept the solo flag flying and then a short mini album, Bliss Descending , appeared along with the TV Eyes project along side his old Jellyfish pal Roger Manning. It was followed by a third album proper “I’m OK, You’re OK”, but this fine album was released only in Japan, which made it feel like he was back but not entirely so. I got back in contact with Jason, while working on the sleeve notes for Anne Soldaat’s stunning solo album In Another Life which Jason produced and played all over.
I caught him gearing up for the great return everybody has been waiting for. 2010 saw the stateside release of the brilliant and majestic new album “All Quiet On The Noise Floor”, a domestic release on vinyl and CD of “I’m OK, You’re OK” and the putting together a band for live shows. I caught up with the crazy busy Jason just as he returned from playing live in both Japan and China. He took time out from his busy schedule to tell us just what’s been going down.
I read somewhere that you have no real interest in playing Wembley and would rather fill a place like The Roxy. No longer being tied to a major must have given you a freedom in that area and yet the lack of significant financial support makes the possibilities of touring difficult. How important to you is the live aspect of what you do in comparison to the rest?
“Well let me start by saying I have played both Wembley Arena and Stadium and they were unforgettable experiences. Those sized shows in general are crazy fun, but very isolated from the people who are there to see you perform. There is generally very little personal contact with the audience and to be honest when you are on a stage of that size you can hardly make out anyone’s expression, even in the front row. It becomes almost a performance to a screen or a painting of a crowd, so that is why I say I prefer smaller venues. I don't like going to a huge show and watching the whole thing on a jumbo monitor above the stage.
As far as not being on a major label anymore, yeah there is complete control, doing things as DIY as I do, but I was left alone and trusted to make my music without label meddling even when I was on Elektra, which is amazing! Only once did the head of A&R suggest anything creatively to me and that was after I handed in "Can You Still Feel?" There was a big meeting with the head of A&R regarding the record and she said "look, we know you can write something a bit 'simpler' and we've taken your record to radio and they all say it's brilliant but no hits.”
This scenario, of course, is a cliche and my initial knee jerk reaction was to say, "Fuck off the record is done. Can't you MAKE them play it?" But this time I thought I would take their wee suggestion and run so I wrote "Start Over Again." After hearing it my label person said "Thank you! That is exactly what we had in mind" They then took that song to radio and the overall reaction was that it lacked the JF magic they all liked. but was still too complex for them to play on the radio. Another brick in the wall.”
Being on long tours with Air and Jellyfish must have given you the experience of the live performance taking on a life of its own after a time which you never fully got to taste with your own bands.
“Touring can be exhausting, but also incredibly fun and I do enjoy the feeling I get when it really becomes your life, which is about a month into a long tour. Ahhh.....but after about two months I really need my own bed. The only reason I don't tour more often is financial. I would LOVE to come to the UK and Europe again. I get really frustrated that I haven't been able to tour my records for so long now. There is nothing I want more than to put on a great show with lights and some degree of theatre. I really need a JF tour fund. Donations anyone?”
The Japanese are big fans but what’s the whole Japanese experience like?
“Japan has really become a home away from home for me. I love the culture and something that is really cool about the fans there is that they aren't afraid to show their fandom. I feel like your average music lover in Japan is a completest and will collect everything by their favourite artist much like I am with things I love. That being said the only reason I keep going there and not anywhere else is because the Japanese label pays for the whole affair....well, actually I do, but they front the money.”
The album “Everyone Says It’s On” must have been strange to put together being one disc of covers and the other of outtakes and demos. If you had to do another cover songs today what tracks would be on your list?
“Yeah I just wanted to release some of my 4 track demos, because I'm really proud of how they sound. I miss the urgent sound of that 4 track cassette machine, so warm and syrupy and delicious. The covers that comprise one disc of that double were actually recorded in 1994, when my short lived post Jellyfish band The Grays were dissolving. The head of Epic had flown out to Chicago to talk me into keeping The Grays together for one more record even though Jon Brion had quit. I was really over that group as well, so I negotiated that I be able to make a SOLO (my first solo performed record mind you) record of obscure covers and if that could happen I would make another Grays record without Jon.
My idea was given the green light, so when I got back to LA I booked a studio and started recording this cover record. I remember the A&R guy from Epic leaving tons of messages at the studio but I just kept recording and never called him back. I figured whatever he had to say couldn't be as important as this record I was making. Ha ha the nerve! This was a wonderfully exciting time making this record, because it was the first time I was in a proper studio playing all the instruments. I chose a very diverse collection of songs that had impacted me deeply. I also thought I might turn the world on to these great obscure bands like The Monochrome Set, The Left Banke and Magazine.
Well obviously I didn't do any of these bands a favour because the reason my A&R guy was calling so much was to tell me to STOP and inform me that The Grays were dropped from Epic. So I finally put that out in 2001 on a Japanese label run by a crook. Long story.....If I did another covers record now? Hmmm....maybe a Public Nuisance track and "Space Ace" by Brett Smiley. Something mid 90's by Guided by Voices....maybe I'll start this after the interview!”
The first new stuff you put out after leaving Electra was the “Bliss Descending” EP
“Actually the "Bliss Descending" EP was created so I would have something new for fans to buy as I embarked on a two week tour with my friends in Travis. We did a West Coast and Mexico tour in 2004 where I opened up solo and joined them for "All The Young Dudes". Great guys! Anyway I kept it short because I simply didn't have a full length ready. I also had new management dangling the publishing carrot wrapped in a lot of cash, which never materialised. I pretty much went into a funk for a couple of years after that until the Japanese label, Noise McCartney, came banging on my door.”
The next thing to turn up, not officially but leaked on the collector’s circuit, was the ten or so 2000 demos as they were labelled.
“Yeah that series of songs was never meant for public consumption. I honestly don't even know who compiled that because it's so random, but I'm glad people dig it! Princessa is redone on "All Quiet On The Noise Floor. " Feeling Much Better is a vinyl only bonus track on the domestic version of "I'm OK You're OK". Hey Little Spider is one of my favourite drunken songs, written on the spot with an ex-girlfriend, playing the part of the horny toad and I the spider! Ode to Lethargy will surface again someday, but most of the others are behind me at this point. I'm always writing and recording, so I have another unreleased album or two in me right now. I planned to start putting out two records a year without having to catch up to the Japanese releases which I'm doing now.”
Next up was TV Eyes record with your old Jellyfish mate Roger Manning.
“TV Eyes happened after Roger Manning and Brian Reitzell had me come down to record some porno guitar and Scott Walker-esque vocals on Logan’s Sanctuary (the mock soundtrack to the non existent sequel to Logan’s Run). We had so much fun that day that we started throwing around the idea of recording a robotic 80's sounding thing. We were cracking up talking about Gary Numan, Ultravox, Human League, Associates etc...all stuff we love, but mind you this was 1999 and no one at all was referencing this period of British music as yet.
Most of the skeleton ideas were written by the three of us, but I really went crazy adding my personality to the production and writing all the lyrics. I didn't want it to be a joke or novelty record, so I poured a great deal of myself into it. Some of the songs like "What She Said" and "Times Up" and Crash Yer Car" were written by me alone. Unfortunately that record never came out except in Japan a few years ago and now it seems so dated even though in 1999-2000, when we started it, we were way ahead of the curve. As far as the earlier mix when we were called Softcore I prefer that to the released mix as well! I did those early mixes myself on an old Trident console. Tough sound”
When I first heard you were working with Paul McCartney, all sorts of dreams went through my head in a Wondermints/Brian Wilson way, but as it turned out you were more just a session musician. But if you had been given the chance to take on doing a whole album with the man, producing, arranging, playing all over, would you or would the prospect be to daunting? I hear Macca dug your Bedtimes With The Beatles album though.
“Oh man I wish I could get myself in a position to produce someone like Paul. I couldn't help but fantasise about that when we were recording "Chaos and Creation." I know it would turn out amazing if I could, but I don't have the huge producer name that legends usually gravitate toward.
Oh Macca did more than dig my Bedtime With The Beatles! He wouldn't stop talking about it and that was probably the most ego rewarding experience I've ever had. He said he was flattered I had made the record with such attention to detail and obvious love for the original Beatles versions. I assured him that all the flattery belonged to me.”
You are not too keen to be stuck into the power pop drawer. Power Pop’s a wide and often misunderstood label. To me personally it means bands and artists that take there initial cue from later Beatles, are strong on melody and hooks and use the guitar as the main instrument, which seems to fit your music overall. How would you define your music?
“ Power Pop is a term I used to identify with but it's been so bastardised and flooded with no talent bands that have "Ooo la la la" background vocals that now I generally run from that scene. I make sure when I say Power Pop, people know I am talking about vintage power pop likeTthe Beatles and all of their offspring from Badfinger to Jellyfish. One could lump some of the skinny tie late 70's bands in with the genre, because of the high energy pop thing. To me Costello's 'Armed Forces', Joe Jacksons 'I'm the Man' are classic Power Pop. Anyway, I don't really support titles and categories, which is one reason I don't easily fit into any. If you listen to any of my records they don't have a uniform style to the sound or my production or even the song writing.
For instance, the almost 1940's Cole Porter/Tom Waits quality of "Before My Heart Attacks" from my first solo record sits next to the Buzzcocks energy of "Miracle Medicine" on the same record. Most bands or producers would consider this commercial suicide, because most people making records live in fear of confusing the audience. I give my audience way more credit than that and I am pretty sure at this point they like the journeys I take them on. I hope the thing that stands out most in my work is honesty. When I write and record, time doesn't exist and I luckily find myself in the same innocent place that I discovered when I first started writing and recording my music as a teenager.
I don't know how that mental space hasn't been polluted, but it really hasn't and for that I am blessed. I want my listener to dream and connect some of the dots themselves. I don't want to hand you a totally finished concept, but rather arm you with some imagery both lyrically and musically and off you go to complete my story yourself. There is also a sense of humour to what I'm doing that can be overshadowed by the weight, but it's very important to me for that to be understood.”
You record at home mostly these days and I love the sound you get. What’s it like being your own master, is it harder to keep motivated now that there’s no studio clock ticking above your head or is the freedom liberating?
"Thanks Mick! I generally like the sound I get here at home too. I have been collecting some unusual suspect pieces of vintage gear for some time now. I have a console from 1973 made in good ole Memphis TN and just barely enough other toys to come close to the sound I hear in my head. Of course that is a never ending search, much like writing the perfect song. For me there have to be elements at odds to really get me off. I like clarity, but also like ambiguity, so there you go. I will most likely be struggling with those poles my entire life.”
So next up was “I’m OK, You’re OK” which has been out in Japan for a while, but is now out in the States finally.
“The songs on this record span a few years, some of which go as far back as 2003, but the majority are from 2006-2007. There are two vinyl only bonus tracks "Feeling Much Better" and "Gimmi Gimmi" which were both recorded in 2006.”
I think there was an expectation with that last album carrying a decade worth of preconceptions like a monkey on its back and because I would say its your least immediate album. Rather than sit with it and give it the time it needed, a few people were too quick to say. “Oh its not as good as his first two”, simply because it was not exactly the Jason Falkner album they were hoping for after such a long gap. Now that your plan is to put out an album every year or so, do you think this will give you the freedom to experiment? Maybe push off into new avenues with the thought of, if this year’s album is not quite your cup of tea then there will be another one along soon enough? Then you never know I might surprise and delight you with where I am going with this.
“That is exactly right. I've always attached a great deal of weight to my output. On one hand I do feel pressure to make each record mean something and there is a lot of attention to detail going into each song. The idea that I can put out a record every one or two years does take a bit of that pressure off. I am making music for people like myself that are overly passionate about what they love and don't love. Sometimes just being okay ain't enough and so if some of my fans were disappointed with my last record that is not a problem. They are passionate people or they wouldn't have connected with me in the first place. Maybe they will love the new one...or the one after that.
I'm not concerned with pleasing everyone because it is impossible to do. I also look around at what is happening in popular culture and I am honestly afraid of this seemingly new hyper aggressive 'fame seeking without talent' personality type that is dominating the media. I couldn't care less about reaching that sector of the population. I think the thread in all of my work is my intention, which is coming from a place of exploration and truth seeking. One of the positives of not having a tremendous amount of commercial success is that I don't have to keep repeating myself, so we'll see what is next.
Regarding my insane hiatus between "Can You Still Feel?" and "I'm Ok You’re Ok", that was more about depression than writers block. After my Elektra deal went sour in 2000, I gave up a bit. Oddly enough I had been asking Elektra to drop me since the zero promotion of my first record. I flew to New York to have a big meeting with all the heads of the departments and they said "No we want you to make another record on this label. We know what we did wrong and we vow to correct it with your next one!" Sounded pretty good to me you know?
So I stayed and the same thing happened when the second one came out. No promotion at all! These events are very hard on the ego and psyche and so when I got the call that they were finally dropping me, because I had no radio hits it kinda knocked me out. I liken it to one person in a relationship having doubts for years and staying in it for the other person. Then that other person blindsiding you with "we need to talk" and then breaking up with you. You want to say "wait, you are breaking up with ME? I've wanted to end this...arrg!" I was the latter in my relationship with Elektra or Neglektya as I started calling them.”
Lyrically you seem to tread the same unconscious path as you do musically: both are epic and intimate at the same time, simultaneously personal and universal. I remember reading an old interview with you (and I am wildly paraphrasing here) where you said that someone had the opinion that maybe you got a bit oblique at times lyrically. You responded that maybe you should try a bit more straightforward in your approach and reading this my heart sank a little bit. Fortunately you seemed to have forgotten this idea and stayed with what you do best, rich and literate and to hell with the spoon feeding.
“Ah yes I remember this period of time where I was spouting off that I was going to excise the irony and ambiguity of my lyrics. An impossible notion. My lyrics come from visuals I have. Most are actually based on experiences I have recently had or situations I am presently involved in. I do, however, tend to embellish these scenarios a bit and that is possibly where they can get a bit abstract. Some songs of mine even have more than one protagonist! I'm evoking a feeling more than telling a straight story.
I absolutely loathe anything spoon fed. I have my own utensil thank you very much and it's a finely tuned BS detector! Ha ha... I appreciate what you said about the intimate, yet conversely also epic nature of my music. That speaks of my fundamental desire/nature to be both organic and other worldly at the same instance. If there is a concept running through all of my records then that fusion is it. I relate to a brilliant story teller speaking universal truths with intelligence and humour. At the same time I think music and the people who make it should be so unique that they almost seem like they are from outer space. A contradiction but a struggle I enjoy.”
So let’s talk about the process behind All Quiet On The Noise Floor. How do you go about recording a new album?
“The truth is that I hardly ever have a plan. I am a bit of a slave to inspiration when it hits, which results in a song or songs coming out and I have to stop whatever it is I'm doing and start writing. The music comes much more naturally, more easily than the lyrics, there's pretty much always some melodies swimming around in my head. I also have too many (can you really ever have too many?) instruments stashed in corners of every room in my house. So when an idea comes that I think is one of my better ones, I grab whatever is closest to me and start working a song out of it.
I used to record all the time, pretty much every day and the irony is, with the passage of time I have amassed a pretty cool collection of vintage instruments and a bit of choice vintage recording gear. And yet I don't work nearly as much as I did when all I had was a cassette four track! When I do start recording, I still have the same optimistic joy I had when I was a teenager which seems nearly impossible what with all the difficulties I've had in this biz. But in reality none of my negative experiences have tarnished my love of coming up with a new idea and turning it into a smashing tune!”
The new album opens with a new version of Princessa, an equally dazzling earlier version having been floating around fan circles for a few years. Later on there’s My Home Is Not A House which goes back to the days of playing it live with The Grays, there are two studio versions of it done soon after. Even though they are great, I can see that just putting either of those far older versions onto the new album would have been an ambient mistake. This is not the first time you have re recorded tracks; in fact it has been a noticeable feature of your output down the years.
“As far as the multiple recording of certain songs it might be a bit more random than some would think. Princessa, for example, was written almost nine years ago and I loved the original version (the one that is probably most bootlegged). But like you mentioned I had to re record it so it would fit sonically. Counting the version David Holmes and I started, but never finished by the way, I think there are four versions of that song! I don't know why it was so hard to get right, but it was and who knows if the version on "All Quiet On The Noise Floor" will be the last.
I'm very proud of this record at this point. When it first came out in Japan in 2007 I felt like it was the "little record that could" kind of thing and I wasn't sure how people would react to the sound of it being pretty mid-fi. But people tend to like the sound, so all good there. You know, as far fidelity goes, I find myself most compelled by non hi-fi records. I really like a little dirt in the mix and this record has that in spades. Again this new album has quite a bit of diversity in the writing but that's how I stay interested. I adore The Ramones, but I could never make a record (or an entire career!) that strictly sticks to one sound. Give me variety.”
And you played in China.
“China was crazy. We only did one show there in Shanghai and they really ate it up. I have a 24 track recording of it so that might surface some day. It was freezing cold there and we had already been touring Japan the week before so we were a bit tired. But the crude greeting I learned off our translator made the crowd explode! I immediately knew it would be a classic.”
It is lovely to hear something with a big foot in Power Pop and Norway's The Thank Yous have come up with a crackerjack of an album. Power Pop as a genre hasn't had a good 12 months. It has always divided potential inclusive musicians, half of whom think the label as derogatory and most people have no clue what it is.
Things have been made worse by the constant nonsense on Facebook Forums from established fans who still hanker for Badfinger and Raspberries and tell everyone else quite forcefully that all new music is crap and have great pleasure in destroying any newbie's opinion. Add to this the departure of writers who were admirers of the genre as they moved into less angsty areas and bands desperately avoiding the tag.
Long time advocates and supposed Power Pop Influencers have also seemingly gone off the rails, determined to spend most of their time explaining how they are right and everyone else is wrong. I Don't Hear A Single used to cover a lot of Power Pop and it is still something that I love, but this has diminished over the nigh on four years it has been active. Great new releases, therefore, have been few on the ground this year, although with the likes of Nick Piunti's new album in the pipeline that may change.
So after all that negativity, it is wonderful to hear an album that fits into the category. Whilst Good Times Killing Us is great Guitar Pop, it doesn't dwell in the I Love You, Yes I Do cliches and that means enormous credit should be awarded to Lars Lundevall and Peter Folkedal. This isn't an album of just jingle jangle, there is a real crunch at times, particularly on the Guitar Solos.
Fucking Up Is Easy To Do is very much in Teenage Fanclub territory, the riff and solo remind me a lot of Everything Flows, but the verse has a great Tom Petty drawl. It is that crunch that perfects the album and will appeal to more than just Melodic Pop lovers. The Indiepop Dream is a paean to Brian Wilson and Brian Jones, but done as a sort of UK New Wave single of the late 70s.
Up For The Sound is a slow 12 Bar shuffle, bordering on a crooning Dr Feelgood and These Things Happen offers up trademark Power Pop Jangle, has a singalong Brit Pop chorus and launches into a fantastic solo. Say You Don't Know is a splendid slice of trippy West Coast Pop.
The album is at its best though when it cuts loose a little and the opener Just Mine does this beautifully. The Bass into lulls you into a full sense of security, gently building up to a searing close. Then there is All The Way, which is probably the album's standout song. It is a great late 60s / Mid 70s R and B cracker with an AOR chorus and again a killer Classic Rock solo.
The album was due to be released on 27 March, but has been delayed until 30 April due to the Corona Virus. A New Single will be released on 15 April. You can pre-order the CD or Vinyl here.
Friday, 3 April 2020
It's Canada again, this time Hamilton in Ontario, with the Pop Rock of five piece, Radio Free Universe. Generally when I think of Pop Rock, I think of the 70s largely due to the sound and feel of albums in that genre.
However, RFU buck that trend although the Orchestral arrangements are similar to that period, the vibe is much more 90s. This is largely down to vocalist and guitarist, George Panaopoulous's delivery which is incredibly soulful. I'm reminded a lot of Adam Levine in feel if not in tone.
Panaopoulus's songwriting is also creative. Songs start like something ordinary and build into big sweeping choruses and memorable melody. All this is delivered with a wonderfully laid back vocal. The band break out of this occasionally, there's a cracking earthy vocal on Even Angels and All Or Nothing Time heads for Stadium Rock.
The front half of the album is where the band are at its best. Songs build into fine listens. Love Right Now is really funky and I'm again reminded of Maroon 5. Circle starts slowly and builds into a corker of a chorus.
She's High Again has a 70's almost Carribean feel and another big chorus and some fine twee keyboards. The stand out though is the fantastic Star Child which is one of the better songs that I've heard this year. Love is an album that is a bit different than much around. It is an easy listen and highly enjoyable.
You can listen and buy the album on Bandcamp here.
Thursday, 2 April 2020
Here is the first part of a fascinating two part interview with Jason Falkner. Here is the first interview from 1999. The second part is a further catch up from 2009. I felt combined that the two were a little long for what we do here, so Part 2 appears at the weekend.
Well I remember the day I got Ro Sham Bo, the one and only album by The Grays, a few weeks after it had been released. This was at the very dawn of the golden age of Power Pop when Jellyfish and Beagle reigned supreme and A Man Called E had delivered up his first utterances. I bought it on the strength of it being ex Jellyfish, but looking through the credits on the way home, I realised that the only ex involved was the guitarist from the first Jellyfish album, Jason Falkner. This was back in the days long before the internet and Los Angeles was an ocean away and the only real information available on such bands was what could be gleaned from the album sleeves themselves. Other than that we were stumbling through the dark.
Besides Falkner, the other names meant nothing to me (though I was to later realise that Jon Brion was the session guitarist on the second Jellyfish album and was the producer the the first two Aimee Mann albums). On first play the album sounded not very Jellyfishy at all, by the third play this masterpiece of grown up passionate and detailed power pop had begun to reveal itself for the stone cold classic it remains to this day. For me, it far outshone Jellyfish in every way imaginable.
Ro Sham Bo is one of the benchmark albums of the nineties and The Grays, that short lived combo who are responsible for it, a legend. A band with three equally brilliant songwriters, Falkner, Brion and Buddy Judge, a band with four brilliant musicians including drummer Dan McCarroll. A band doomed from the start by the personality and methodology clash of Falkner and Brion. Simply put, Jason and Jon did not get on and halfway through the tour to promote the album, Brion walked away and the band was no more.
Of the three principals, only Falkner really delivered up the promise of The Grays. Jon Brion returned to session and production work and eventually released a solo album that while full of beautiful songs, was musically crafted, but un-adventurous. Buddy Judge also eventually released a strange solo album, that is quaintly old fashioned in a music hall type of way.
Back when I interviewed Jason. he had already released one brilliant solo album and was about to release a second. For all intent and purposes, Falkner was the crown prince of power pop We were all in awe of the sheer majesty and craft the he was delivering up.
The news that he was playing live in Paris in support of his second album was too hard to resist, especially since two London based french girls, who were also big Falkner fans and friends of mine were heading home to see him and invited me along. I packed my trusty tape machine on the off chance that I might grab him for an interview....and here it is.
So how did you first start doing music?
“My mom says I was singing tunefully even before I was talking. For me it was never like a thing I got into consciously. It was playing with the piano before I could sit on the stool by myself and I used to follow my Mom around when she was cooking and play drums on her butt. I guess I started on the piano and the teacher was like "He should be in a proper class". She then recommended a serious teacher and I went through that teacher in a couple of years and then got me an amazing teacher.
But the whole time I was totally into Rock, like FM Rock, that was around at the time, Queen etc. The first record I ever bought was In The Summer by The Beach Boys. I started hassling my parents for a guitar. but my parents knew it was going to take me away from the piano and they were right. I finally got one when I was twelve. Then really soon after, punk happened. My sister got me into Costello and then Blondie"
So it was more new wave than punk?
“It wasn't punk at first, it was more Joe Jackson, Squeeze, Elvis Costello. Wasn't even XTC, I didn't know about them until a couple of years later. At first I hated Costello because of the Farfisa and stuff, I associated that sound with Muzak that was in the supermarket. So I was like "that's lame, like it doesn't go 'bbbbbvvvvv' it needs to go 'bbbbvvvvv' to be good". Then all of a sudden one day I just totally got it. It was This Years Model and I was 'Holy mother of God, what's this playing?
This is totally the future for me'. There was a radio station in LA that would play entire albums and I heard English Settlement by XTC and it just totally freaked me out, especially Jason And The Argonauts. I hadn't caught which album it was so I went through this astonishing sequence of trying to find that album and I bought every XTC album and that was the last one before I found that song. I was totally hooked to that band."
So when did you start playing in bands?
“I had this cover band in ninth grade, we were called Your Boy Soldiers. A terrible name, it's really hard to say. We played in front of the whole school. We did Stray Cat Strut and everybody in the stands stood up and screamed and I was just like 'this job is for me, this job is good, good job!' After that I was totally adopted into the 'cool weirdo' clique, I was a freshman and most of them were junior or senior, and they were all into Joy Division, Teardrop Explodes and Magazine. Pretty esoteric stuff for Southern California. Then this guy who was part of that crew, he was like "Hey man, your band's alright, but do you want to be in my band? My band's fucking cool".
He made me this tape, supposedly of his band's demos and I went home and listened to this tape and I was blown away, I didn't know what this was. I heard clicks and scratches like a record and I thought 'man these guys have made a 7 inch or something". I was totally into being in his band and I was like "You guys have made a record or something? "He was like "Oh no I just have really inferior recording equipment" and sort of brushed it off. So I went to the rehearsal and the singer had hair like Mick Karn, sort of black here and white there.
His mic stand was a golf putter with the mike duck taped to the head, like Freddie Mercury or something. The drummer played just a floor tom and a snare. The bass player had his strings all tuned to the same note, but it was not intentional. These people didn't know what they were doing at all! So we did the first song on the cassette and I'm the only one actually doing the song, the others were just making a noise. I was like "What the hell man, you guys sound so good on the tape!" But I was totally mesmerised by their lack of anything structured, I thought it was just really cool. I spent the next couple of years in this group, we were called the Autopops. I paid my dues with that group.
About a month in, I'm totally committed to them and the guy admits "You total idiot, that wasn't us on the demo tape". You know what it was? It was the first two Monochrome Set singles and the first Swell Maps single. I have this weird struggle with this concept and love of music by people who have no idea what they're doing. Then my training and my own musical head takes things to an opposite extreme. Both are constantly at odds and neither will ever reign supreme. Maybe in the future, I'll get rid of the love for the novice thing, I think I already have, but earlier on it was very important to me to honour that side.”
So were you doing It's Frank (The first Monochrome Set single) live with this band, you did it later on with The Grays?
“Autopop couldn't play It's Frank to save its life. We were doing originals and we were doing 20 minute versions of Heroin at parties. We were definitely the weirdo band, we would all trip on mushrooms and have all these mannequin's parts on stage. I was writing a lot of songs and they were all like Mod sounding. But the band was so sloppy and organic it turned into this trashy pop thing. It was a cool band.”
You wrote She Goes To Bed when you were sixteen?
“I wrote that about a girl that I was just friends with, a doomed tale of one way love, but it wasn't actually totally one way, it was just sort of impossible. There are five different demos of it. The first ones are excruciating to listen to, because I didn't take myself seriously as a singer for quite a while. So yes it's an old song. Funnily enough the first single off Can You Still Feel, Eloquence, was an old song, at least seven years old.”
You did it live with the Grays?
“How did you know that, have you seen that Tower Records video? Oh that's really painful to watch. Did I still have my goatee? My god what was that doing? It was kind of like a chin strap.”
There's a fundamental rule, no moustache without beard and definitely no beard without moustache.
“Very true, just moustache is sort of LAPD cop and just a beard is just 'something's wrong with that guy, I don't know what it is, but keep him away from my kid's school! The worst thing is the photos from that era, it's so grotesque and there's things in it, bits of food. Hey, why won't you talk to me?”
So when did you really start writing songs?
“Probably in my early 20s during Jellyfish. I always felt like I was a solo artist, even when I was in bands. I never quite acclimated myself to being in a band, especially when they were trying to make me just a guitar player, not a crucial member.”
Which is what happened with Jellyfish. Big, big mistake on their part.
“It was just a real drag for me, they kind of deceived me, when I joined. They said it would be an equal three piece band. First time I started bringing in songs, they were like 'Nope.' I'm like 'what about this one?' 'Nope', 'Well, I thought I was going to be an equal member of this band', 'Well we lied! Sorry, we love your guitar playing, but you know... ?' I stuck with it for so long because I had lots of loyalty issues and the music just blew me away when I first heard their demos.”
The first Jellyfish album, there was nothing like it at the time.
“There wasn't and I was like 'Wow, allies' and that's why it was such a heartbreaking experience for me. Feeling that I was going to be part of this thing, more than I actually was, was the only reason I did it. I did so much more on that album and live, than I actually got credited with.”
You must have done a lot of the arrangements on that album. Because after you left, well the second Jellyfish hasn't got any real arrangements, and they substituted with a totally over the top production. It's a real kitchen sink job. It doesn't have any sense of discipline to it. It's 'look how clever we are' and that's boring. Wearing the 'Jellyfish' clothes, that must have been a bit of a killer for you?
“I did wear them at first, I regret to say. Seriously the whole image thing was sprung on me at the last moment. I remember we'd be doing demos and Andy would come in and say "Check out these boots man, I just got them" and they were like rainbow platforms. I'm like "What's going on?" The band were all kind of scuzzy, Roger looked like he'd crawled out of a sewer when I first met him, with these ratty dreadlocks. Then all of a sudden he's like wearing a dress! I wasn't expecting it. When we did the first video, he'd amassed this collection of clothes and they got them out and it was 'pick something' and I'm like 'I'm not into dressing like the Brady Bunch. But I acquiesced.”
Lets talk about The Grays.
“When I was in Jellyfish, I'd made a tape for my girlfriend at the time, who worked at this coffee house. It had a lot of Odessey & Oracle and some Imperial Bedroom and XTC demos and she played it at work. One day this customer says to her "Who made this tape?" and she tells him and he's like "Oh Jason Falkner, I know Jellyfish". So he passes on a tape of his demos and I liked some of his stuff. It wasn't where I was coming from, it didn't have the same urgency, but it was very musical.
So we met and hung out a little bit and this was Jon Brion. I remember, day one, thinking there's no way I want to be in a band with this guy and then all of a sudden I'm in a band with him, how did that happen? What did I do wrong? He called me six months after we'd first met and asked me down to this rehearsal studio. He knew that I was demoing, getting all the pain out of the Jellyfish experience. So I went down there and there was Buddy and Dan.
So we had a play and Jon goes out and calls this guy from Capitol Records and says "You'll never guess who I've got here playing together" and he says "I'll sign them sight unseen." All of a sudden we're being dangled the carrot and I'm like "wait a minute, I don't want to be in a band anymore, I hate bands right now!" Every record company you could name was flying out to set up a showcase. We had this whole attitude too, we didn't have a name or a manager and we didn't make a demo tape. All the record companies are going "We'll pay for a 24 track demo tape" and we're like "If you don't like us live, then fuck off'. We were being total brats. That's when I discovered being a brat really works.
In the music business they expect that of you. We were offered five deals and we went with the one that gave us the most creative freedom. I called Jack Puig because I loved him from the Jellyfish stuff and we started making the record, but that band was imploding from day one. I'm really proud of parts of Ro-Sham-Bo but it was hard to make. Jon and I were too similar in that we can play all the instruments, we were both really arrangement orientated and it was like only one of our visions was going to win, we both couldn't be served.
He wanted to make a record that was… I really don't know if even he knew what the wanted. We ended up competing to be the antithesis of the other, really unhealthy. When my vision started winning out, which was making a pop album, with arrangements, interesting parts hopefully, then he's like "I want to make this really loose thing, just jamming". I'm saying "I don't really jam", I write songs. I orchestrate these parts for him and they were not really open to that much jamming. He would like solo over a verse like Beavis, I mean like, settle down! I ended up arranging most of Buddy's songs with him and arranging most of Jon's with him too.
I was very specific in what I wanted and the rest had an idea that we would be an anti-band, like a total democracy and it doesn't work in art. There's no such thing. Whoever's song it is will be king and they have ultimate veto power. But as it turned out the other guys kind of backed out of their own stuff, because I guess my will was so strong I just took over.
There's elements of that record I'm really pleased with, some of it is a little to pristine recording wise, in that Jack was at that time trying to win engineering awards, which he absolutely should win because he's phenomenal. You should see where we recorded that. It was like a rat infested studio which shouldn't be able to produce something that sounds like that.”
So how did The Grays finish?
“We were in Chicago, we'd been touring solidly for the last six months. Our record company guy flew out to see the show and we broke up that night. Jon was leaving and we had a big meeting and the record company guy said "Jason, if you stay with the band, then they'd do mainly your songs and a few by Buddy". I didn't want to do it because when Jon said he was going to split I thought, good, so finally I can get to my real business. So I said to this guy, I'll do another Grays record if you let me do this album of cover versions. I made the mistake of saying I could do this cover record very cheap. I learnt from that that you should never say you can do something for cheap. Why do it cheaply when you can spend a lot of money!
So I did that record in a week, fourteen songs recorded and mixed in a week. I didn't have a budget approved I just went in and started recording and I got a call on the fifth day. "What the fuck do you think you're doing in the studio?" "What do you mean what am I doing? I'm making the record that we talked about" and he's saying "you haven't had the budget approved, this isn't supposed to be happening". I'm like "it's happening, it's going to be finished in two days, you should come down and listen to it and somebody's going to pay for it, because I'm not". So the album got shelved and that was about it with the Grays.”
So when it came to your first album, Author Unknown, how many songs did you have?
"I had a lot that had built up and a lot of them I still felt were relevant. It's funny like Follow Me, which was the second single, a horrible mistake for a single, was a song I wrote, god I was like fifteen or sixteen. I just did it as a lark at the end of the session, because we had two days left and I was pretty much done. I was deathly ill and we did it all in one day and my manager came down and was like "that's brilliant!". I'm like 'no it's not man', but he's pushing for it to be a single.
It went down like a lead balloon that single. Each time I record, it's never really thought out, what songs have the greatest impact or anything. It's like whatever I feel like recording that day. It's really that random with me. I don't have the patience to sit around and go, what do I think people want to hear? I'm not going out of my way not to write hits, but I'm not going out of my way to write them either. Never again will I let them choose the singles, because I knew Follow Me was wrong. If I'm going to go down in flames, I'd rather it was with something daring. One of the pretty songs, because that would stand out.”
Like Goodnight Sweet Night?
“I would have loved that, but all the things I think would be a good single, like nobody ever talks about, It's like no way if it doesn't fit in with radio formats. There was not a bad word said in the press about that album, but it sold really poorly because it just wasn't promoted.”
Next up is Can You Still Feel? I heard stories that your record company didn't think there was any singles on it when you first presented it.
“They had the record and all the reports I had back were 'it's genius' and then a week later I get 'Please Jason I know you can write a hit'. It's like 'try something simple' and I'm saying 'Do you realise what you're saying to me? You want me to spit something out that's not really coming from my soul'. I thought I had two ways I can deal with this. My usual stance, which is "fuck off" or the other stance which is, maybe a more mature Jason, let me try this, this might be kind of an interesting experiment. I had just, with the record company's money, bought a cool studio and put it in my house. So I started recording this song Start Over.
It was the first thing I did with this studio and I really liked it. It kinda ended up with a little Velvets tinge to it. The bridge was very atypical, like the rest of my stuff and the verse was kind of a simple thing. I really liked the lyrics. I handed it in and they were like 'brilliant' and then a week later they're saying 'hmm it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album', so I'm like 'I'm taking it off. I had mastered the album with the song on it and listened back to it. I'm like, it's not part of this mind set. So I took it off and nobody complained. So that was the experiment, it succeeded and failed and I knew it would fail the whole time. I give them the hit and they don't even care about it.
"But I think I garnered a lot more respect from them because I tried it, and they realised 'what he's doing is better than what we ask him to do'. So I appeased everybody. Acting the arsehole doesn't work for me, all you have to do is let somebody think that they have something to do with it. That's the magic right there, the total key. Say yes even when you mean no. I've done it so many times, in the studio they're like 'Jason turn up the lead vocal a little bit' and I'm like "Oh, OK". I ride the fader, but I don't write into the automation and so I'm 'It's done' and we play it back and they're 'oh it's brilliant'. It's the same as before but they think I've changed it. They walk out going ' I had something to do with that'. Everybody's happy!”
So there were promo copies of the album under the name 17A and then you pulled that and changed stuff?
“The mastering was so missed the first time around, it sounded brutal to me, too rough. Great Big Yes was exactly the same scenario as the track Author Unknown. There was a version of that for the first record, but the performance and sound wasn't so great, so I pulled and put a new version on this album. With Great Big Yes, I'm looking round at Nigel going 'this rocks yes?' He's going 'yes this is rocking', but inside he's going 'this is not rocking'. It sounds like it's rocking but it's not, it's halfway there and we just didn't have the time to fix it. So I pulled it and replaced it with Holiday. Then with Lucky Day, I did a better version on my home studio, so I swapped that over. There's the finished album.”