I remember a Round Table thing three years or so ago when five reviewers were brought together to discuss the future of Power Pop and Pop Rock scene. One of the discussion points was where was the current centre of Guitar Pop and without hesitation, all five of us said Sweden.
The country never fails to surprise with its regular offering of new Pop Rock and that brings us to Papills. The Vaxjo quartet offer up a debut album of jaunty summer pop and as with all great Guitar Pop, the depth is gradually revealed after repeated listens.
In the recent IDHAS Interview, Aaron from The Sunchymes eloquently explained how much harder it is to write upbeat chirpy songs. Papills effortlessly offer up ten of them and the pace only slows on the last two. I'm reminded of the great waves of Pop Rock in the last four decades.
The essence essentially is 80's Pop, but encompasses the likes of New Wave and the poppier end of Brit Pop. Think Squeeze, Deacon Blue, Wah, The Supernaturals and The Bluetones. Vocal wise, I'm often reminded of a more concise Pete Wylie.
Those first eight songs offer up some splendid feel good gems, all delivered sharpish and melodically. Too Hot For May is very Glasgow 86, All The Same treads heavily on Merseybeat and The Morning View is Wonderful Power Pop.
More than once, The Housemartins spring to mind, in style and feel, if not lyrically. What To Call It is Wylie to a tee whilst Happy Fish is like a sped up Dodgy and Played is very much in The Vapors territory. There's even time for a big anthemic finish with the excellent It's Getting Old which is Northern Uproar to a tee.
Too Hot For May is a real feel good album. We used to gear far more of this type of stuff than we do these days, which is a crying shame as we need reminding of Summer far more than we are. This is top notch and highly recommended.
You can listen and buy the albums from the links here. The whole album can be listened to on You Tube here.
The Sunchymes are a British psychedelic pop combo from Northampton who for the last decade have been producing wonderfully engaging retro psych music of the finest calibre. Great songs, great melodies, great playing, great production, there’s a lot of great going on here. There’s plenty of craft, thoughtful inventiveness and heart put into this often epic music and every listen is wonderfully rewarding. On closer inspection, The Sunchymes turn out to not to be a band at all, but actually a one man tour de force named Aaron Hemmington. Aaron does nearly everything and very impressive this everything is. Time to get some background from the man himself.
So how did you get started?
“When I was around fourteen years old, a friend of mine gave me a Beatles greatest hits tape and around the same time, I also got a Beach Boys greatest hits album. I listened to these a lot. I also started to read more about both bands and got more of their albums.
My cousin had an original vinyl copy of Revolver and it blew me away. It was The Beatles and The Beach Boys that made sit up and take notice, particularly when I first heard Pet Sounds, Revolver and Sgt Pepper. I was fascinated about how these albums were recorded.
The level of song writing and production was such a leap for the times, the like of which we have not really seen since. It made me want to write and record music. Around that time a few of my friends started playing guitar and hearing them made me want to play. I wanted to start writing songs too. I started playing guitar when I was around fifteen.
The first songs I wrote were with a band that I was in when I was about sixteen. I think my early songs were mainly riff based, but by the time I was eighteen I had learnt more about chords and how to put them together. From that point I was able to write more songs that had that kind of Beatles and Beach Boys influence. I would have to say The Beach Boys and The Beatles are my biggest influences followed by the likes of The Byrds and The Zombies.
I really spent quite a few years experimenting by putting inversions and diminished chords into songs, as well as trying out different structures and practising vocal harmony arrangements. My friends and I had a great guitar teacher called Richard Beaumont, who I believe is a genius. He could play guitar like John McLaughlin and taught us lots about chords and scales and how to fit stuff together. That really helped me.”
So ‘Shifting Sands’ arrived out of nowhere in 2009 and caused quite a stir.
“Shifting Sands was the first recording I did that had ever been released. I had been in a few bands prior to starting The Sunchymes in 2008. Whilst quite a bit of material was recorded in my earlier bands, it was never released. I think it was that that made me want to record and release an album. By 2008, it was possible for anyone to record and release their own stuff through the likes of CD Baby.
I am in the 'Retro Psych' camp. What psychedelic music means to me is the expansion of Rock and Pop music to encompass additional elements such as classical, jazz and eastern music and to combine that with a higher level of production values and arrangements.
In terms of contemporary bands and artists I was listening to The Wondermints, Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, Cotton Mather, The Cosmic Rough Riders and The High Llamas.”
‘Let Your Flag Fly Free’ followed in 2012 to much critical acclaim
“Shifting Sands was a reasonable platform and from that I wanted to progress in terms of writing and recording. For this album I wrote all the songs in one complete song cycle whereas ‘Shifting Sands’ included some songs I had written ten years before in 1998.”
2015 saw the arrival of the superb ‘Present’.
“This was very much a continuation of 'Let Your Free Flag Fly' in terms of sound and production. The main difference is that there a few slower tracks on 'Present', as I wanted to explore the 'Odessey and Oracle' and 'Pet Sounds' approach a bit more. I'd learnt a few more production tricks that I tried on this record such as the reverse reverb sound on the 'I'll Call You Up Today'.
My cousin, Justin had played on some of my albums and we also play in the Paperweight Array together. He main instrument is Bass, but he is an excellent all round musician and has lots of engineering and production skills.
Towards the end of recording 'Present', I decided that I wanted to play in a band again and contacted Justin and an old friend Duncan who plays drums. We have all known each other for many years and had played in bands together in the late 90's and 2000's. Luckily they were both up for it and we started jamming together at a local rehearsal studio.
It was a different process as one of us would bring in an idea and together, we would develop it into a complete song. So it is totally about collaboration and that is what I wanted to experience again. We have released three EP's and we are currently writing more stuff.”
‘Sands Of Time’ is your latest album and its another classic. Tell us about the recording.
“I have a small home studio set up. When I have written and structured the song, I get the drums down first. I would then record the guitar tracks and then the bass track. On' The Sands of Time' I used a mixture of my Fender USA Stratocaster, Danelectro 12 String, Yamaha Accoustic guitar and my Fender Jazz Bass.
I recorded the guitar through a Vox Tonelab SE. Following that I would then put keyboards on, but I consciously tried not to put keyboards on every song. The keyboards would mainly comprise of Hammond Organ, Piano, Fender Rhodes or Mellotron.
However, there are some string arrangements on a couple of songs. I would then record the lead vocals and harmony vocals using an AKG microphone through a Focusrite ISA One pre-amp. The vocals would usually take a lot of time in terms of experimenting with different vocal harmony arrangements and voicings.”
How does the song writing process work with you?
“I generally start with the chords and then write the vocal melodies and lyrics after that. I can usually come up with chord sequences fairly quickly, but the lyrical ideas take longer to develop. Sometimes I like to write about different fictional characters or places and sometimes I like to write about topical things. There will be a period of time where I write a few songs, but in another similar period of time I might only write one song.
I wanted the guitars to feature more on the new album so I got a Danelectro 12 string and wrote some songs that would suit a 'Byrdsian' type of sound. Pretty much all the songs were part of the same song cycle except 'Emily Layne,' which is a track I had initially written a few years ago and had developed over time.
‘Telepathy’ was the first track recorded for the album and the first that I used the Danelectro 12 String on. It starts off with a descending chord sequence with inversions and the odd half diminished chord.
I was pleased with lead guitar licks I put over it using the Strat. The sequence on the first verse ascends and then descends and the vocal is quite melodic. Chord wise it’s quite influenced by The Beach Boys and Wondermints, but I was aiming for a Byrdsian sound.
‘Meet The Seeker’ was a fun song to do both musically and lyrically. I like writing about fictional characters. I decided to use a wah pedal for the lead guitar licks and used a slightly over driven rhythm guitar sound with a bit of Hammond in the background.
I had been listening to a lot of British psychedelic bands such as The Move and The Moody Blues as well as the more underground stuff on the Rubble Collection. This inspired me to write this song. I have both of the Rubble Box Sets and The Nuggets Collection. In the summertime, I really like to listen to Nugget,s but the rest of the year I’m more into Rubble.
With ‘In A Century's Time', I wanted to finish the album with a song that made a statement. I had been paying a lot more attention to warnings about the climate and it made me think about what sort of world we a leaving for our kids and grandchildren.
I went for a fairly Beatlesque sound and chord wise used a few inversions. I tried to go for a big end section to finish the album so put some strings on and it was fun to work on.”
You can listen to and buy The Sands Of Time and The Sunchymes' back catalogue here.
Ward White is one of Los Angeles's Best Kept Secrets. particularly to UK Listeners. The man is an absolute revelation. His lyrics are more akin to poetry and he builds characters in his songs with a depth unrivalled by most singer songwriters.
Arrangements take unexpected turns after unexpected beginnings. Then there is his splendidly plummy voice, more plummy than even Bryan Ferry. He's provided a back catalogue of exceptional albums that sound like they come from anywhere but L.A.
It may be the done thing to state that a new album is the best thing that an artist has ever done or a real return to form, this is neither. Leonard At The Audit simply continues and enhances the stature of what has gone before. This album is in a league of its own. I don't see anyone around making an album as great or different to what is around.
Take, for instance, a song like Ice Capades. It starts all medieval and ends up as a great Pop Rock affair and it is those changes of directions and general inventiveness that makes Ward White stand out from what else is around.
There is so much here to tuck into. 11 songs of which none are similar. Edmund Fitzgerald Is A Wreck is a jangling Morrissey or Lloyd Cole. Then there is the lounge of Try Me, the Spaghetti Western feel of Dreaming Of Destiny or the 80's vibe of Bubble & Squeak.
Pornagraphic Ennui has a Berlin Bowie feel and then there is Not The Half, an absolute wonder of a song that is desperate to reveal its ringing L.A Roots. This is album of the year material without a doubt. Not a duff song in sight. Beautifully thought out, played and produced. More importantly, those lyrics and that voice! Wow!
I first came across Jim Styring in his Popdogs days and I remember reviewing the EP and being delighted at Power Pop-ness of it all. Jim has moved on apace since then and It's Karma It's Cool are very different to those days, inventively so. They are a fine quartet.
There are also close to home reminders here. Guest appearances by Lannie Flowers, Rex Broome and Brian Barry, artwork by our own Mick Dillingham and the physical release on Ray's Kool Kat label would indicate that the album is something to be liked by IDHAS and indeed it is.
Woke Up In Hollywood is very much in Pop Rock Territory, splendidly so. Lyrically adept with clever verses coinciding with Big Choruses and some unexpected hooks. Styring's vocal still comes across as very Mental As Anything, particularly the way sentences are held on to and that is also welcome.
The title track is the best example of the lyrical strength, but there are plenty of other examples and there is more than enough variety here to keep all engrossed. The Girl Who Gave You Everything has a real Carnaby Street 60's feel while Healer's Leap is enhanced by a wonderful Big Stir Guitar solo from Rex Broome.
Ghosts Of Rome borders on jaunty Country and New Age Eve's verse has a real Ska feel, but still with a big chorus. Our Love Is An Amplifier is a great up and at 'em opener, essentially two parts with its false ending.
The stand out here though is Battle Of Burnt Out Bliss, a brooding epic and one of the finest songs that you will hear this year. Woke Up In Hollywood is a great listen, highly recommended to all who want to listen to something deeper than bop-shoo-wop.
You can listen to and buy the album here and the CD is available from Kool Kat here.
I reviewed The Speedways' debut album in July 2018 and loved it. You can read the IDHAS Review of Just Another Regular Summer here. At that point, it appeared that the album was a one off Side Project for Matt Julian and I hoped there would be more.
Since then, the excellent Rum Bar Records got hold of the album and released an Expanded Edition last year and the album took on a life of its own to establish itself as one of the great Power Pop albums of recent years and rightly so.
So I'm delighted to report that the follow up is released this Friday and you won't be disappointed. Radio Sounds is everything that is great about the debut album, but seems to have taken on an even more melodic feel. If anything this feels a bit more laid back at times.
It is also pleasing that the band have become an established quartet now and it shows in the playing and arrangements. Where as song such as Number Seven is everything that you would expect from a Speedways song, Your Brown Eyes Seem So Blue could be Racey.
Empty Pages is a jangle fest, very early 80s US Pop, yet Had Enough This Time is very UK New Wave. In A World Without Love It's Hard To Stay Young is a Jingle Jangle riff-a-thon. The Day I Call You Mine is great pop.
All the prerequisites of Power Pop are here. Big Choruses, riffs that hook, great Middle Eights etc. Matt Julian has captured the genre perfectly and at a time when Power Pop seems to have lost so much direction, Radio Sounds should be used as an example of what the template is.
If there is one problem with new Pop Rock Reviews presently, it is that those reviews all seem to be from the same albums doing the rounds. This isn't a criticism, there are some fine albums amongst them, but there is a nagging feeling that reviewers have stopped looking for something different. It is as though they review what is in front of them.
I'm not one for looking back, but just 12 months ago, there was still a batch of reviewers who surprised you with something that you hadn't heard. I hope this doesn't become the norm in the way that the copy and paste of PR Pieces did. I'd rather read less from people who actually listen to an album.
Blight are such an example, I've seen little about their album around, yet it covers so many angles that it can only be that their email campaign isn't as large as others. This Norway Quartet could never be accused of being Pop orientated, but there is masses to admire.
Some will lazily lump them in with Hard Rock, which isn't them at all. They master Rock, Psych and Prog with ease and everything is built on killer Guitar Riffs. The variance is also aided Haakon Raa Tveit's vocals which have more than a hint of Russell Mael at times.
Whilst Restless Chase is Rock with a capital R, there is more than enough here to interest all. There is so much to like here from the the driving, Legend to the magnificence that is I'm Still Here. The album doesn't come up for air too often, but when it does slow down on the odd occasion, a song like Come Alive reveals that this lot are no One Trick Pony.
Rise, the closing track is everything that you want in a Modern Prog song, a genre not noted for much lately apart from Kitchen Sink Production. This album than noisier than what you may normally listen to, but just as worthwhile. The Guitar Runs will hook you and it may be loud, but it is infectious. I love it. I'd be interested to hear Mick's opinion.
Well it has been a while since the last Audio Extravaganza in its traditional format. In the meantime, we've had the really successful week of Live Sessions and then the plan was to kick on with Volume 101. However the double whammy of net connection problems at IDHAS Mansions and Hard Drive problems at Jim's end have delayed this until now.
So you can expect 102 to follow up rather quickly. We wanted to get this out before the next batch of reviews and it sounds great. 22 songs, all of them shiny shiny new. I'd also single out, The Successful Failures upcoming album, as it is one of the best things that I've heard this year. you can hear a song from the album, second in, here,
A reminder that these episodes are compiled with great care. The aim is to produce a sort of modern day mix tape. Hopefully this will be the soundtrack to your day. If you use the Mixcloud player at the bottom of this page, each song title is shown as it plays. The playlist itself is also as the first comment on the Mixcloud Episode page.
On the Live Sessions front, look out for a special Weekend thing when the Audio Extravaganza adds some more Live Sessions. Two we couldn't get out because of the technical problems and two new ones. Thanks as always to Jim Moody for his technical excellence here. You can listen to the previous IDHAS Audio Extravaganzas on Mixcloud here.
Here are the contents of Volume 101 :
01 Dinky - Jennifer Against the World
02 The Successful Failures - Murder 'Neath The Silver Moon
03 Gregory Pepper And His Problems - Bigger Than Jesus
04 Disheveled Cuss - She Don't Want
05 Monster Movie - Every Time I Wonder
06 Vistas - Everything Changes In The End
07 Dizzy Mizz Lizzy - The Middle
08 Dog Paper Submarine - Fire Brigade
09 Answering Machine - Wet Blanket
10 Captain Wilberforce - The Last Dance Is Over
11 Johnny Weathers - Always Watching You
12 Marveline - Turpentine
13 Ward White - Not The Half
14 The Reverberations -Palm Reader
15 The Memories - Second Try
16 Outtacontroller - Glassy Eyes
17 The Entire Cast - Oct Dream
18 The Luka State - [Insert Girls Name Here]
19 Mint Mind - A Road Best Traveled
20 Okey Dokey - Feels Good
21 Michael Parrett - Television
22 It's Karma It's Cool - Battle Of Burnt Out Bliss
Say Hello to Bailey. Some of you may remember Crash, the Power Pop Lurcher, who sadly died in September and is much missed. Bailey joined the team in February and has been undergoing intensive training. He has been impatient to get into action. We only employ Lurchers in the role.
He was told that he could when he was six months old, so here he is. His tastes are slightly different to Crash, he tends to favour Psych Pop more than Power Pop. So when the upcoming Spygenius CD arrived in the post today, I could hold him back no longer.
This has been his favourite listen for the past couple of months and so it seemed fitting to be his first Wheel Of Fortune Photo. We are having external ISP problems at the moment that may not be sorted until the weekend, so I asked him to wait until then. He was having none of it.
He talked his Mum into using her 4G to upload his photo and I explained that these posts only go on Facebook. However, he was adamant that he would like his debut to appear on I Don't Hear A Single and agreed to stop barking if this appeared here. So here he is, trying to contain his excitement.
Here at IDHAS Mansions, we share a love of all things Tim Christensen. The Great Dane's solo career is exemplary and everyone should have Secrets On Parade in their album collection. That album, recorded after the break up of Dizzy Mizz Lizzy and a personal relationship, offered up great pop masked by an inner darkness.
Christensen's solo career went from strength to strength, culminating in 2013's magnificent Pure McCartney with Mike Viola and Tracy Bonham. Dizzy Mizz Lizzy had always remained friends and reformed briefly for a Sell Out 2010 Tour. The band went back into hibernation until 2014 when they started working on new songs.
The resulting 2016 album, Forward In Reverse garnered massive praise and now in 2020, Alter Echo, the band's fourth studio album, Alter Echo and it is magnificent. The band are a magnificent Power Trio and working with Martin Nielsen and Soren Friis brings out the heavier side of Christensen's Guitar Playing.
Where as Christensen's solo work is Pure Pop, Dizzy Mizz Lizzy are more in the Rock camp. Big in Denmark and Japan from their 1994 debut album onward, released when they were aged 20, the band remain so. Alter Echo though has more than one foot in Prog.
Think of Big Big Train and Peter Gabriel era Genesis and the five part 23 minutes of Amelia certainly fits that mould, it is a monster piece of work. All five parts stand alone and offer something different, Pop, Metal, Prog and a wonderful instrumental closer.
The five songs that make up the first half of the album are more traditional Rock, played with typical Gusto. In The Blood sits in between AOR and Hard Rock and is built around a killer riff. The Middle sounds more like a Christensen Solo song. It's a splendid affair, chilled and breaking out into a top notch Guitar Solo.
California Rain is more Indie Rock 90s without ever being derivative and Boy Doom just blasts at you, again bordering on Prog. Dizzy Mizz Lizzy have that ability to reach out to many gangs. Adored by the Festival Crowds, Metal, Indie Rock and now can add Prog. Not forgetting that there is plenty here to keep Christensen's Pop Rock following content.
DML are a superb trio, Muse without the wankery and effects at times. Alter Echo is one of the best things that you'll hear all year. The popsters may need repeated listens, but trust me you will get hooked. I can't recommend it highly enough.
The album and back catalogue is available everywhere. You can listen to the album on You Tube here.
Captain Wilberforce’s Simon Bristoll is actually J Mascis, trapped in the body of Neil Finn. You heard it here first. He confesses to I Don’t Hear a Single, that “a little bit of me dies when people say to me "you guys are great - you remind me of Crowded House." Don’t get me wrong, I love Crowded House, but I'd really love someone to say, "you guys really remind me of Dinosaur Jr!"” Sadly, although Bristoll’s ultra-melodic work has many times been compared to that of Mr. Finn, as yet, critics have still to draw a line between Captain Wilberforce and the sludge-rock supremos he so clearly idolises. Unfortunately for Simon, that probably won’t be changing in the near future.
“When The Dust Just Won’t Settle” is Captain Wilberforce’s fifth album of effortlessly memorable pop rock and they still haven’t even got a Wikipedia page. Something is very wrong with this picture. Although he may be frustrated, Bristoll isn’t bitter: “It’s great being one of England's better-known Power Pop bands.” He says. “We can stand out a bit. In my head, we sound like a poppy version of Radiohead with a bit of Jellyfish, Brendan Benson and Jon Brion. We’re trying to write interesting, non-generic music, but not to the point where its deliberately obtuse.” Like the rest of the western world, Bristoll is currently cooling his heels while the plague rats have their fun, which may be bad timing, as he has an album to promote… It’s been almost three years since his last album, the stellar “Black Sky Thinking”, so I Don’t Hear a Single was keen to hear just how he’d been passing the time:
“It always takes us a while to get music out. It doesn’t take long to write it, generally, We’re pretty good at getting new songs written and put together as a band. We had a really brilliant set up in a studio in Bradford, where we had our own mini-studio in a rehearsal room complex. For whatever reason, the studio closed, so we got kicked out of it, just after we'd demoed everything and we were about to record the album.
Our guitarist Rob Simpson and the guy who owned the studio said that they were going to find a new space and build a studio from scratch. Well, they’ve done it and it's amazing - it’s called Trapdoor Studio in Bradford. Rob said, “it'll take a couple of months to get sorted”, and a year later here we are”
Captain Wilberforce was initially a one-man band – have you finally got a stable group now?
"Definitely. The line-up that we had with Carl on drums, Rob on guitar and Max on bass was stable for a couple of years and now we’re joined by Dave on bass, so it’s a tight unit. I don't want to be in a band where I'm working with people I don't like and luckily, I've never been in that position. I've seen it and it's horrible. To me, the most important thing is getting people who click. If they're great at their instruments - and I think these guys are - then it’s fantastic."
What’s it like being a middle-aged man in a garage band, then?
"Twenty years ago, when I was in my previous band, Theory of Everything, we used to rehearse five days a week, six hours a day, then we'd go and gig everywhere - we had no money whatsoever. We’d have to sleep in the van with the gear. We just went out and did it and we didn't care. That obviously goes out of the window when you have a mortgage and kids.
Now we rehearse, record and then do gigs around the release of the recording. Unfortunately, our drummer, Carl was quite ill for a while, he was in hospital for a bit, Then our bass player Max, who's from Italy, had to go back there as a result of a family bereavement and he’s ended up staying there.
We managed to get the album recorded with him in the end, sending sound files from Italy to England, but it took a long time and it was really frustrating. You just grin and bear it and come up with more songs."
You seem to have made the transition from Todd Rundgren style “I-play-everything” megalomania to a “proper band” pretty seamlessly?
"The one thing we wanted to do more of, but we didn't really get the chance to, was to record as a live band. We tended to record bass and drums and then put guitar, keyboards and then vocals on. If and when we get out of this pandemic situation, we'll have it set up so that we can do loads more in the way of actually playing together.
One thing I've learned from watching loads and loads of documentaries about old producers from the sixties and seventies, is that they all talk about the magic of a band all playing together. That magic is difficult to get when you're playing to a click track. My dream is to get to the point where we can set up as if we are playing at a gig, record, and then take the best of that and enhance it."
You can’t beat a bit of eye-contact when you’re recording.
"You get a small amount when you're doing that when you're recording just bass and drums, but the pressure then is really on just one or two people. It's better if the pressure is spread over the four of you, that way, no one person is under scrutiny. If all four of you have the potential to make mistakes, it’s a knife-edge and that can really inspire you."
I see you’re still the sole songwriter though.
"The way that the songs generally get written, is that I come up with the basic songs myself and the band will add their parts to them. I'm a benevolent dictator, in as much as I like to be in charge of whatever ends up on the record."
Your last album, “Black Sky Thinking” was a very dark record. Have you cheered up a bit since then?
"Well, my daughter keeps telling that I write nothing but love songs, but I think they're more about relationships. I’m a bit of a magpie and I steal from other people’s lives. I’ll watch friends and their relationships and sometimes, I’ll take things from my own life, but as an observer.
I'm not like Bukowski, I'm not writing about personal struggle and misery. I'm a nice middle class, white, straight, male - God how much more privileged could I get! So, I try to steal other people's emotions. In some ways that works really well as I can get an interesting perspective and twist things around."
Aren’t you in danger of living vicariously through other people?
"I have had people say that because I’m not speaking from my own heart, it won't hit people hard enough/ I would counter that something like "The Girl Who Broke Her Own Heart", which is one of the songs that people like the most of what I do, was written about someone else's relationship.
I don't think it matters as long as it's sung and performed with conviction. Elton John has had an entire career singing lyrics written by another person. At least mine are coming from my own perspective even though they're not my own actual emotions."
By way of a contrast, I assume this record is stuffed with feelgood anthems.
"It's very, very difficult to write a great happy song in my opinion. That song “Happy” by Pharell Williams is genius, because it's so difficult to come up with a song like that that isn't massively cheesy. It's still a bit cheesy, but it's difficult to do that well. It’s much easier to be maudlin, melancholy and get people when they're down.
The songs I used to listen to when I was having relationship troubles were things like Red House Painters and American Music Club. Some of those songs are just heart-breaking. Those are the songs I find easiest to write. This new album probably isn't much cheerier than “Black Sky Thinking”!"
Yikes… what’s made you sound like this, then?
"That's really difficult. I think essentially all my influencing happened at a very early age, listening to The Beatles. I know - what a boring answer. There were loads of Beatles albums around the house, growing up and those were the records that I obsessed over.
Even though it was the early eighties and there were great bands like The Police and Specials around. I loved those bands, but it was The Beatles that got me, especially the mid-to late-era stuff. Also, the fact that they constantly changed and constantly got more and more interesting."
Aside from Beatles re-issues, has anything new, hot and happening caught your ear?
"Recently, I don't think I've heard anything that's made me go, "Right, I'm going to have that." The record that's been on my stereo the most over the last year is probably the latest Radiohead album which I think is unbelievably good. I've been listened to a lot of Bowie too.
Because my kids listen to all sorts of new music, they've introduced me to stuff like Modest Mouse and Everything Everything. I don't know how much they've influenced me. I listen to 6Music a lot and there's loads of new and interesting stuff on there."
Do you listen to anything left-field? Napalm Death? Skrillex? Kylie?
"I love heavier music - I'd love to play heavier music myself, but I haven't got the voice for it. I spent years listening to Husker Du, Replacements, Soul Asylum, Lemonheads. Dinosaur Jr, Jesus and Mary Chain- pretty heavy stuff. I just can't sing like that.
I’d love to go on stage and do a Nirvana cover, but there's no way in the world I could do it. It would just sound like a choirboy trying to do it. I saw Dinosaur Jr in Birmingham a few years ago. J Mascis walked out on stage alone, turned around and threw up. I thought “That’s rock and roll!”
That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a singer in a Power Pop band should say.
"OK! Here's my quote for you: There are no Power Pop bands, there are only Power Pop songs and certain bands write more Power Pop songs than others. The Beatles are supposedly a Power Pop band, but they also did stuff like Eleanor Rigby.
Labels can be deceptive. people say we're an alternative band. Alternative to what? Alternative to successful, definitely! Are we indie? There are tons of labels who proclaim that they're indie, but they're offshoots of major labels like Sony.
If I say we're pop, my daughter would think that we must sound like Little Mix and Dua Lipa. But we are a pop band, in as much as we're in the canon of popular music - sort of. And yet we’re rock because we use guitar, bass and drums and have a singer."
With live gigs out of the question, how do you plan to get this album to the people?
"Having done an online album launch, one of the things I've thought about, as we're probably not going to make it to America for example, anytime soon, is that as we have a great new studio space that we could set it up like a gig. Film us performing live to as many people as we could get to watch.
That way we would save a hell of a lot of money on petrol, flights and anything else. We could bring in backing vocalists, keyboards, horns and strings. I'd love to have more backing vocals, as for me Captain Wilberforce is all about the backing vocals. To not have those at gigs, gets to me sometimes. Also, some people don't want to travel halfway across the country to see us. I'm trying to convince the band that it’s a good idea!"
From there on, The Gallagher brothers (“the people who last the longest in the music industry will have a superficial charm if nothing else.”), dealing with criticism (“you get twenty positive comments and one negative comment and you always take the negative comment to heart.”). Squealing like a fangirl when he had a Twitter post retweeted by Roger Manning Jr are all debated at length, until our government approved, correctly social-distanced, Zoom call terminates.
As of May 2020, Captain Wilberforce remain bafflingly obscure, in spite of being a relatively big fish in a relatively small pond. “When the Dust Just Won’t Settle” deserves to change that forever, but that means that someone (i.e., you) will need to buy it. Or at the very least, make a bloody Wikipedia page for them.
“When the Dust Just Won’t Settle” is available to buy and listen to via Bandcamp here. Captain Wilberforce Back Catalogue is also available there. You can buy the CD from Kool Kat in the U.S here.
You can read the IDHAS Review of Black Sky Thinking here and the new album will be reviewed by Don on here next week.
There was an abundance of great music released in 1995 and still Gilt Flake, the one and only album by Nashville’s Bard Jones was an effortless stand out of that year. It is a glorious record full of melodic invention and craft, a one-man tour de force, sung beautifully, played masterfully and produced magnificently by him alone. But the greatest talent on display here is the individualistic and highly addictive songwriting that shines throughout. Dripping with sublime melodic hooks in generous measures and anointed with deceptively charming lyrics that both intrigue and beguile you with strange under currents. All the while the surrounding magically musical riptide drags you in to drown into the depths of listening pleasure of the finest kind. It really is the loveliest of records, one that would grace any collection. After this Brad concentrated on the production side of things and as you will see went on to producing some of your favourite albums. What a joy it is for me to finally talk to the fine fellow. What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
“Mom and Dad at the piano after dinner, her playing, him singing. They harmonized a good bit…that always got my attention. They were all about the great mid-century songbook, so as a little kid, I heard a lot of Gershwin, Porter, Rogers, all those melody masters.”
Which music artists made you sit up and take notice back then?
“Summer of ’66… I was five and my mom was taking me to work with her, so I heard A LOT of car radio that summer. Music was visual, out-of-doors and moving along at 50mph. Really exploding on me, even the questionable stuff like “There’s a Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits and “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky.” But also “Mother’s Little Helper” and “I Saw Her Again Last Night”, “Paperback Writer” and on and on….a good year.
Then a couple years later I was sitting on my Grandma’s floor diddling with some Lego or something and my Uncle had just returned from college with a copy of Sgt. Pepper. He snuck up behind me and just to see how I’d react he clamped a pair of headphones on me. Lennon was singing “…picture yourself…” in that little vari-speed elf voice and my brain kinda went electric.
That was also the first time I heard stereo. Suddenly things got very INTERIOR and I started buying albums and hiding out in my room.”
When did you start playing an instrument and why? Would you consider bass to be your primary instrument?
“Somewhere between The Hanky Panky and the Hogsheads Of Real Fire. I had started piano lessons, which I still consider my first and best instrument, since it’s the only instrument I still play everyday, here at the house. But since the piano didn’t cut it at the Teen Dance, of course I got into electric guitar and was a guitar player in rock and roll bands from age fifteen to about twenty eight. Then came bass, because here in Nashville they already had some guitar players"
Were you in any bands in those early days? You seemed to gravitate towards the production, engineering end of things right from the start.
“I was in cover bands, dance bands, rockabilly bands, an instrumental surf band (probably my favourite). Probably the last “band” that I was in was a post-collegiate hard-rocking band that was trying to sound like The Hoodoo Gurus.
During that band I had a 4 Track, so that’s when I started trying to figure out recording. But of course when I was twelve I was doing what everybody else who had two cassette recorders was doing. I was ping-ponging (overdubbing) piano and guitar and voice onto the Nth sludgey generation. Good fun, good learning.
My more proper training in sound started when I got here to Nashville in ’88. The guys who were kind enough to show me the ropes, I consider them my rabbis, were Joe Baldridge, Jim Rondinelli, Bill Halverson and Mitch Easter. I also did a fair amount of self-education. I found out which books were on the syllabus at the recording school and I bought them.”
How does songwriting work with you? Where do your lyrical ideas come from? How happy were you with the finished album? What are your favourite songs on it? The only bad thing about Gilt Flake was it turned out to be your only album…why was that?
“Two liberations: The first being the sad variety… divorce. You can hear a lot of that in the lyrics. The other liberation was the good kind… musical. That last aforementioned band had just broken up and for the first time ever I didn’t have to write for a crowd or for the guys at rehearsal or for dancers or for possible A&R guys to like. I was just writing for me. It freed me up to go back to what had been inside me all along…melody, whimsy etc.
It was also a whole world of recording opening up for me, alone in my East Nashville basement with my new 8-track recorder, which seemed like a kind of miracle machine to me. Probably 75% of my life’s musical growth was in those three years. Since it was just me, it was me who had to learn how to play bass, how to play harmonica or mandolin, how to program a feckin’ drum machine, how to arrange a song, what combinations give new textures, all that stuff.
I also had some very specific influences during that time: Game Theory, Jules Shear, Big Star, Trip Shakespeare, Sonic Youth, Todd Rundgren, The dBs, Rossini and Debussy, Nick Drake, Kaleidescope.
Back to Gilt-Flake! All the scrappy sounding stuff on that was recorded during the basement-times. I put it out on cassette, back when we did things like that without irony and people liked it and passed it around. Three or four years later, Mike McLaughlin offered to put it out on his label, Ginger Records. So since it was going to be on a real CD and everything, I added two newer songs with a more “pro” recording (I had my studio Alex the Great by then).
Both these songs were co-written with my friend Ross Rice. The best of the two was “Miss July.” Ross wrote the music (brilliant!), I wrote the lyric. By then, I was over my guilt and could fall in love again. Ross thought “Miss July” was a Playboy Centrefold, but she was actually just a girl who was all mixed up with summer in my mind.
To answer your question, yes I was happy with the album, but looking back from the vantage point of years, I wish I hadn’t have pitched my voice to fecking high! But I still (mostly) like the songs. I never NOT meant to make a follow-up, I just got busy producing other people’s stuff, which I like doing, the challenge of it, the puzzle solving, the camaraderie.
"I did make a record that I kind of consider to be my second album, even though it’s really a buddy-record with Hans Rotenberry. It’s called “Mountain Jack.” I feel like that record came out right and not unlike how I would hope a Gilt Flake 2 would sound.”
Jerker from Hit The Hay had a couple of tapes full of other songs, different takes and the like. Have you ever considered releasing these in some form of other?
“I’d rather make another record with Hans! But yeah, some of those one-offs are good and could probably make a nice record.”
I always considered your role on Cotton Mather’s spectacular Kontiki to be a bit like David Briggs's role on Spirits greatest album, The Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus.
“Let’s not overestimate my role in Kontiki. The band brought me a fantastic, creative batch of recordings. Yes I did to help organize it all, it was a mess and I did most of the mixing. We added a few more parts. But Robert and Whit had already done all the creative heavy lifting.”
I rate the Imperial Drag album and your production on it is a big part of that. Were they easy to work with?
“Oh yeah they were great, everybody was enthusiastic and up for anything. We had three months to mess with music and sounds. I learned so much. Roger had a bunch of great studio trickeries that he’d picked up from Jellyfish times and Eric had a bunch of very creative ways of looking at guitar and writing.”
You’ve worked a lot with the mighty Bill Lloyd What’s it like producing someone who is also a producer in his own right?
“It’s always great producing a producer, they are the best communicators. They know what’s important and what’s not and they are always so relieved to just play some music and let somebody else do the worrying for a change!
They can stop hovering in the overview helicopter and just get down in the fields and start chopping crop circles. (I stole this analogy from the great Chuck Prophet).”
Let me throw a few names at you starting with The Shazam.
“The Shazam (R.I.P.) were always my favourite rock band to work with. Drummer Scott was the very embodiment of rock and roll… freedom, humour, and excess…and Hans, well what can I say? Besides having that voice, he has always been a good influence on me.
We were mixing a song and he kept saying “turn up the guitar solo.” I said “I can’t, it’s already much louder than the band, that would be a mixing mistake.” He said, “I know. TURN IT UP.”
We keep coming back to the same theme don’t we? Liberation.”
“Never worked with him creatively, I was just playing bass in his band, but he’s a deep guy and gave me a lot to think about. He was all about musical honesty and he didn’t go in for frills. I admired his ethos. I admired that he had an ethos.”
“Umpteen” is the great Ross Rice! I was just chiming in. Man I love that song “Dancing Lessons.”
The Autumn Defence
“Aw those guys are just beautiful. Again, I was just on bass (and loving it). Sidebar: their current bass player is my favourite in town, James “Hags” Haggerty."
David Mead. We love a bit of David Mead. Did you first meet him through the Mockers?
“No, I must’ve know him well before that. He was a local lad, he was always here. That song of his “Chatterbox” is a massive hit (in my mind, at least). He is insanely good. We’re great friends.”
Josh Rouse and Jill Sobule are two artists you have a long term working relationship, not only producing, but playing all over their records.
“Musical sophisticates, both of them. I own them both a huge debt.”
As a producer yourself who would you say are the producers from the past that you are in awe of?
“Oh man where to begin? Sam Phillips. Mickie Most. Phil Ramone. Todd Rundgren. Quincy Jones. Teo Macero. Whoever produced “Rock On.”, Joe Boyd. Brian Eno. Thom Bell. Owen Bradley.”
If you could be the engineer to any producer who would it be?
“Any of the above, maybe add Tom Wilson or Tommy James”.
If you could go back in time and be the fly on the wall for the recording of any record, what sessions would you go for?
“That’s the juiciest question I’ve ever got! I’m going with the Beatles first EMI album — what a day! Just to stand halfway between the AC30’s and the mic Lennon and McCartney were sharing. Just stand there and hear what they sounded like.
Since they weren’t using headphones yet, they were self-balancing. Singing those famous vocals, for real and me not having to hear it filtered through a mic, but the actual original sound coming out of John or Paul’s actual right-there mouth — could only be heard live once— too much”
If you are unleashed in the studio, given carte blanche what type of production would you gravitate towards?
If you could produce an album by anyone, who would it be?
“Only the ones I can’t have. Bo Diddley, Joni Mitchell, Ringo, Django, Jimmy Martin, Free.”
To me from a purely creative standpoint there’s a whole lot of difference between recording an album and producing an album. I love albums where the production is like another member of the band. If the songs are brilliant you should be confident enough to know that you can totally smother it in creative production, because the songs still shine through. As some one with a commercially run studio, it’s your job to understand what the particular artist wants from the production and adjust accordingly. But if say the Dukes Of Stratosphere turned up at your door do you think you could deliver up the psychedelic goods production wise?
“Yes. But I get your point, and you’re right, my productions have gone toward simple and uncluttered. These days I’m always trying to make a woody cocoon where you “see” the instruments, each staking out his own corner of the room.”
Have you ever been down to Wayne Moss’s Cinderella Sound Studio? I’m a massive fan of the stunning production on those early Barefoot Jerry albums
“Oh man Cinderella — always hoped I could see that place. These days Wayne Moss looks like Methusalah. I was on an elevator with him, as well as Mike Nesmith, who didn’t recognize his old Nashville sessions pal till they got to the ground floor, then he roared “Wayne!’ and hugged him.”
Oxygen the third album by Curvey’s Custard Flux project has arrived and as with everything the great man releases, there’s no need to worry here. The stars turn in the heavens above and everything is as it should be in the wonderful world of Curvey. Oxygen is full to the brim with marvellous heart felt songs smothered in sensational and adventurous musicianship and blessed with yet another beautiful kaleidoscopic production.
Such is the assured consistency of his creativity that I can confidently buff up yet another five star award and slot it into place even before hearing Oxygen for the first time, knowing full well those five stars will be effortlessly deserved. As a listener, it’s a great position to find yourself in, to be so very sure that what is about to be delivered into our heart and mind will not disappoint.
Then comes the first listen and…and….hell let's not even pretend this is a cliff hanger because we all know how this turns out. It turns out right. The three Custard Flux albums are like three beautiful sisters, unmistakably sisters at all times, but each with a individual personality that makes each of them unique unto themselves. Oh hold on here’s Curvey passing by my windows right now, let me grab him and get some background on the latest platter.
What’s going on with you good sir?
“First off, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who supported Echo and helped make it such a successful release. I sincerely appreciate the DJs, bloggers, magazines and fans who keep this little train rolling.”
So Echo sold really well?
“It’s a mystery to me what makes one album sell better than the next. When we released The Luck of Eden Hall’s Victoria Moon, Clearspot, my distributor in the Netherlands, sold 250 copies in the first five days. But that didn’t happen with the next album, The Acceleration of Time, which got more coverage and better reviews and in my opinion was a better album. When I recorded the first Custard Flux album, Helium, I couldn’t get any label support, so I decided to have them manufactured here in the states, at Smashed Plastic in Chicago, who did a fantastic job with the printing and pressing. But it turned out to be a foolish decision on my part, because most of my sales are in Europe and shipping a box of 80 LPs to the Netherlands cost a lot of money. It was actually three boxes.
The album didn’t sell as much as I’d hoped, in part because of shipping costs and also probably due to my releasing a CD box set of the same music one year earlier. I’d chosen to do CDs first because it was less expensive, but had a ton of requests for an LP version, so I went for it. I did sell enough copies to pay for my investment, but I still have a couple boxes of Helium LPs in stock, which I’d really like to get sold off.
When I was going to release Echo, I approached Keith at Fruits de Mer Records and he kindly offered me a Friends of the Fish release. I was ecstatic, because it meant extra promotional support and some guaranteed sales. I’m now down to my last thirteen copies of the Echo LP and those good sales put enough extra money in the coffers to cover most of the manufacturing costs of Oxygen, but it’s certainly no guarantee that Oxygen will sell as well as Echo. So, here I sit. Eyes closed, fingers crossed, preparing to spin the roulette wheel once again.”
So tell us about the recording of Oxygen.
“Some of the Oxygen tracks were already in their embryonic stages when we recorded the songs for the bonus CD that’s included in each Echo LP. I Feed The Fire did make it on to that release, but Vito Greco has since recorded a new solo for the ending and I remixed the track, to great improvement in my opinion.
The bulk of the recording took place during the first few weeks of mandatory quarantine. I’m incredibly fortunate to have my own recording studio and used the lockdown time to my advantage. I initially set down to record all the parts myself, being as I had no choice, but then I remembered Vito had recording gear and we started sharing tracks. I knew the Psychedelic Furs Tour, like all tours, had been cancelled, so I reached out to Mars Williams, who’d played on a track for The Luck of Eden Hall and he was happy to help.
I’d been hearing a saxophone part in my head that I wanted recorded and when Mars agreed, I wanted to utilize his playing for the solos on Gelatinous Mass, to introduce another sound other than guitar. Then Tim and Walt Prettyman got what they needed to do some home recording, by mail order and that was sorted. I knew I wanted to call the next album Oxygen since the wrapping up of Echo and had already chosen the perfect image for the cover, painted by Gregory Chamberlin.
It was only after all the songs were completed, as I sat listening to the full album, that I realized how much the project had been influenced by the virus and it’s effects on us all. I’d like to dedicate Oxygen to the folks that lost their lives to the virus.”
Any chance of a track by track guide to Oxygen?
"I’d been messing around with this guitar part in 5/4, but it took me a while to find the right melody to sing over it, especially one that I could sing while playing guitar. The lyrics are about meditation. My daughter had been having a bit of trouble with anxiety and I’d recently shared the gift of meditation with her."
"When I just can’t find the right vocal melody, it’s instrumental time. I figured the soloing would be covered by my Flying V on this track, but I really like to try to stick to my “no electricity” rule if possible and was ecstatic about Mars playing sax on it. Heavy electricity free Prog."
You Can’t Get Away.
"I like this song. It’s written about killing time while under quarantine. I’d had the structure worked out for months, but when it was all recorded it didn’t feel quite right. Actually, after all nine songs were finished, the album had a problem with continuity. The sounds were kind of all over the place. Sax solos, violin solos, acoustic and electric guitar solos. So I decided to break my rule and stitch the tunes together by doubling parts with my Flying V. I hope you don’t mind."
"I picked up the guitar and this song fell out. It’s morbid. I live in the Detroit metro area. Lots of people were and still are, dying. I was reading horrible stories about people being left alone in rooms to die. I chose it for the single and artist Shane Swank created a beautiful music video for it. Vito plays a really cool Brazilian instrument on this track, too."
"I was a monster fiend in my youth. I loved to read magazines like Creepy, Eerie, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Weird Tales. The Ghoul was a television personality that hosted monster movies every Saturday night and I always tried to stay up late and watch his show. Creature Feature ruled too, with all of the Japanese monster films. Monster Island is a place in the movie Godzilla’s Revenge."
I Feed The Fire.
"I absolutely love where Vito’s guitar part took this track. I knew I wanted the song to start with a train whistle and found a wooden one on EBay. The lyrics are about humanity, blasting forward, laying everything to waste to achieve light speed and the acknowledgement that I am part of humanity.
She Opens Her Eyes.
"This is one of those tracks where the original sketch and the final mix sound completely different. After laying down the drum part, I deconstructed the song and reworked the bass, guitar riffs and vocal melody, until I enjoyed listening to the song again. I figure if I don’t want to listen to the song, why would anyone else want to?
Vito plays the Brazilian guitar again on this track and I liked the sound of it so much that I made a special mix which is included as a digital bonus track. I had bought a bow meant for using on acoustic guitar and used it on Quarantyne to great effect, so I tried it on this song as well. Walt’s fabulous violin solo was the last thing added. The lyrics are a metaphor for lady liberty and my hope for a more liberal and sane direction in our next election."
Innocence and Peppermints.
"Yes, the title is an homage to the Strawberry Alarm Clock hit. I was writing about my daughter again. She’d just had a bad break up with her closest friend and confidant and was taking it kind of hard. It’s hard being a parent and watching your child experience pain.
This was the last track to be completed on the album. I wrote it on guitar, but Tim and Walt’s parts, along with the Harpsichord, took it to a different place. The recorder was a last minute addition and makes me think of Donovan."
"Ahh, the piece de resistance. My favorite on the record. Vito suggested we do electric solos on this one and who was I to disagree? Being in quarantine gave me time to figure out how to use iMovie, so I made my first music video using footage I’d shot driving into the city of Chicago, along with footage I’d shot driving in the Welsh countryside. There’s an image in the video of half my face with streaks of horizontal lines that I didn’t create.
I’d used my phone to shoot a short movie of my computer screen whilst I fiddled with Photoshop, which worked fine, but when I did some colour editing of the movie on my phone, that half face video just magically appeared in my photo files. A gift from the cyber gods."
I’m Feeling So Much Better (Bonus Track).
"On March 7th, my wife rushed me to the hospital because I was experiencing severe pains in my lower abdomen. While there, I was dosed with Ketamine and experienced bad hallucinations. This song is about that experience. Turns out it was a kidney stone, that I passed while I was at the hospital, so they sent me home. We got to the hospital at 6pm and left at 6am.”
You can pre-order the vinyl release, buy the download and listen to Oxygen here.
Philadelphia's Peter Gill has been around in some really interesting bands, particularly Free Cake For Everyone. For 2nd Grade's second album, the band consists of a diverse collection of interesting musicians, especially Catherine Dwyer and Jack Washburn of the excellent Remember Sports.
There are a lot of ideas here, as you'd expect with 24 songs in 41 minutes. There may also be a tendency to think that songs are half finished with song lengths thus, not a bit of it. These 24 offerings are very much say what you've got to say and move on. Thankfully no extended solos or choruses.
Hit To Hit is deliciously lo fi without that ever detracting from the quality and variety on offer. Gill's past and even more relevantly, the make up of the band allow that versatility to prosper. The band are as at home with the West Coast Pop of Not In The Band as the Fuzz and Psych of Baby's First Word.
Sucking The Thumb is pure IRS whilst Jazz Chorus reignites images of Jonathon Richman. When You Were My Sharona is Teenage Fanclub Pop and Velodrome is great Bubblegum. Summer of Your Dreams is an exception at 3 minutes 10 seconds and is fine Sunshine Pop.
Trigger Finger is right in Weezer territory, but the sense of humour is never far away, particularly on the potential Redneck Anthem 100 Hrs is splendid. Song subjects are generally about the banal and that helps the feel even more.
Not everything works, you wouldn't expect that in 24 songs. But Gill's vocal is wonderfully laid back and gentle and the album generally settle in a sort of West Coast Power Pop. Hit To Hit is fantastic Indie Pop, refreshingly so, I love the album.