Friday, 31 July 2020
It takes a fair amount of tongue in cheek to call your debut album, Greatest Hits Volumes 1 + 2, but Keith Matheson gathers together a host of Scottish Pop Rock royalty to make the case that this offering could be just as the title says.
From his time in Swiss Family Orbison, he grabs ex bandmates Gregor Philp and Dougie Vipond, both now with Deacon Blue. Also along for the ride are ex Danny Wilson cohort Ged Grimes, who is now with Simple Minds and Andrew Mitchell, whose excellent Andrew Wasylyk recordings are a joy. Andrew was also a member of The Hazy Janes, a real IDHAS favourite.
So if you are going to name your album so boldly, it better be great and this is. With the history, I expected something more twee and thankfully we have a full scale rock out. The album sounds much more American than Scottish. Plus it is recorded in the studio, a rare event these days.
The sound is big, the hooks are plentiful and the solos riveting. Indeed, this feels more AOR than Pop Rock and I keep thinking of Boston as I listen more. These 10 songs are definitely in that ballpark, but without the histrionics of Tom Scholz.
When Kekker move away from the melodic rock, they get even more interesting. Parachute borders on Radiohead and Mercy is almost 60's Toytown Psych Pop. Family Bird is close to Power Pop and the closer, Suppertime is a lullaby.
But the dominating sound is great singalong rock. Doveroverland is most notable, but both Uncommon Angel and Real World People are similarly anthemic. Greatest Hits Volumes 1 + 2 is a great feel good listen and highly recommended.
You can listen to and buy the album as a download or on Vinyl here. The CD is available from the home of Pop Rock, Kool Kat, here.
Thursday, 30 July 2020
It's been a while since we've heard from Dan Pavelich, six years or so since Wake Up To Music and he's been missed, particularly as great Pop Rock albums seem thin on the ground at the moment. Pop Fossil is just that and more.
There's a real 70's feel to the album, so much so that you can imagine it being an Arista release in 1976. From the wistfulness of Four Leaf Clover to the Bottom like backing of the Rock and Rolling Alone. Rosanne even sounds like it could be a song on Miami Vice.
The album seems best when it jangles on the likes of Dreamland and Hey Renee and even the big opener, If Not Now Then When? jangles in the chorus in what is a real big beat affair. Don't You Call My Name is another real sing along. Four Leaf Clover even gets Spector-ish in the production.
This is a great second album from a very under rated talent. The big sound and big hooks dominate in what is yet another triumph for Keith Klingensmith's Futureman Records label. Get ready to tap your feet and sing along.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Whilst listening to the new releases, I'm also trying to catch up with 2020 releases that I haven't covered on IDHAS yet. One such example of the latter is this excellent Kool Kat release from one of the great lost US bands.
Quincy signed a massive deal with Columbia in 1980 and were due to hit pay dirt. Only the debut album appeared under the name Quincy and after a lawsuit from Quincy Jones about the band name, a 1983 EP followed with a name change to Lulu Temple.
Those who know, know that Steve Butler and Wally Smith went on to form I Don't Hear A Single favourites, Smash Palace, so all was not lost. This reformation of Quincy, 35 years on really works. It is quite short but incredibly sweet.
I can generally take or, most often, leave Reunion albums, they are more for nostalgia and can usually never be as good as you remember when you were young and green. However this really really good. It is a melodic harmonic treat whilst being different to what the band were initially about.
Liberty Bell is a jangling joy, Something To Smile About is very much in the territory of The Cars and Innocuous borders on Rock And Roll, hints of Rockpile. The band also get to travel in the direction of The Kinks with A Get Well Card From The Devil.
Words Are Words and the superb, Stay are both fine examples of UK Stiff or Costello New Wave, even more interesting with the band being American. Quincy were CBGB's stalwarts and the last two tracks are live from a 1979 show at the venue. Always In The News is another New Wave romp, whilst Privileged Few has Dr Feelgood and early XTC overtones. Highly Recommended!
The CD is available on the Kool Kat label here and is also available on all the streaming sites.
Tuesday, 28 July 2020
Ian Rushbury reviews the new magnum opus from Spy Genius.
Diehard Beatle-Geeks agree on most, Beatle-related things. Stuff like: Phil Spector overcooked “Let it Be” a bit, Ringo was ace and “Revolver” is better than “Sgt Pepper’s…”, you know, that sort of thing. However, when it comes to “The White Album”, if you ask ten Beatles fans about it, you’ll get twenty opinions. Broadly, they tend to agree that it should have been a single record, but they can’t agree on what material they would jettison.
“Revolution 9” is a popular choice for the posthumous out-takes album, but after that, all bets are off. It’s surprising how heated (and violent) a debate about “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” can become. I’d love to think that in twenty years’ time, pubs full of aging Spygenius nerds will get all uppity about “Man On The Sea” and what should or shouldn’t be on it. Double albums can bring out the worst in people, especially the people who recorded them.
“Pacephale” was always going to be a hard act to follow, being a pretty much flawless masterclass in how to make a modern pop-rock record. For “Man on the Sea”, the band took the decision to ransack their cupboards, plunder stuff which had fallen down the backs of radiators and generally record every unreleased song of theirs that they could lay their hands on.
This means that for the next record, they’ll have to come up with 100% new material – no more relying on gems from principal songwriter Peter Watts’s expansive back catalogue. A brave, if slightly terrifying approach, I’m sure you’ll agree. This exhaustive trawl means that “Man on the Sea” has swollen to a double album, but the good news is, that it survives the inflation, but there is a little collateral damage.
Spygenius are all about the details. Whether it’s punning word play, baffling in-jokes or a plethora of pop-culture references. When you listen to a Spygenius record, you’ll need your wits about you and Wikipedia within easy reach. The album opens with a snatch of “La Marseillaise” (presumably, a tip of the hat to “All You Need is Love”), combined with the theme tune from “Steptoe and Son” – and that’s before the first tune starts. Fortunately, “Another True Story” will turn your bemusement into smiles, as it’s nearly five minutes of joyful, 12 string Jangle Pop. As opening statements go, it’s a bold one.
Don’t get too comfy dear listener, as track two; “Albion”, reeks of “Liege and Lief” era Fairport Convention, but with a more forceful rhythm section and a bit of cool jazz thrown in. It works really well, by the way… That folk influence pops up all over “Man on the Sea”, sometimes in Watts’ vocal delivery and sometimes in the Byrdsy ringing of the ubiquitous 12 string guitar. You’d expect a tune called “If You Go A-Roving” to be pretty folky though, wouldn’t you? Well it isn’t.
A handful of tracks sound a lot like they’re from the album REM would have made between “Reckoning” and “Fables…”, if they’d been from Canterbury and one of them was a woman. “Salaud Days”, “Watch Your Back” and “New Street” are grade-A, paisley-pop gems, which whiz past your ears in a delightful fashion, begging to be replayed. It’s these lean, all-killer-no-filler tunes which show up the band’s tendency to over-reach on some parts of “Man on the Sea.”
“Tomorrowland”, “Man Overboard” and “Dolphinarium 1986” would benefit from either a bit of judicious editing or being sequenced further apart on the record to avoid the dreaded “double album dip” which tends to occur on sides two and three of a two album set. I can’t decide if “Green Eyed Monster” is a brilliant mixture of prog rock and pop or just a repository for a handful of orphaned bits of tunes. This means it’ll probably end up being my favourite track.
There aren’t any bad things on “Man on the Sea”, there are just a few things which aren’t as good as some of the other things on the record. From the amiable, banjo-led plod of “Midnight Bandola” to the early eighties, agit-pop of “Spite” (sung beautifully by Ruth Rogers, whose basswork is also exemplary throughout the record), there’s a trailerful of goodness here. Watt’s lyrics are worth the purchase price on their own and if you hear a song this year with a better opening line than, “Don’t blame it on your mother / She can’t help being stupider than you”, I will be very surprised.
When you’ve had your fill of the Neil Innes inspired wordplay, you can have fun playing “spot the reference” – for example, check out the New Seekers-style harmonies on “Tomorrowland” and the tip of the hat to Morecambe and Wise on “Remember Me When I was Good.” There are others, but I can’t access Wikipedia at the moment.
“Man on the Sea” is an ambitious record that hits the vast majority of what it aims for. When it’s good, its damn-near brilliant. When it’s less than good, it’s only very slightly less than good. Maybe, if they had a cigar chewing manager with his eye on the clock and both hands on his wallet, some of the excesses may have been nipped in the bud. But as with all these multi-album sets, the point is most definitely moot. One thing is for sure…people should leave “The White Album” alone – it’s perfect as it is.
You can listen to and buy the album here or here. Ian's IDHAS interview with the band can be read here.
When you think of Ceremony, you think of great shouty US Punk and rightly so. However, Spice are an off shoot involving Front Man, Ross Farrar and Drummer, Jake Casarotti and the sound has more in common with a band that Bob Mould is involved in.
The band's self titled debut is in Indie Alt Rock territory and veers towards bands like The Cult and The Mission. The five piece even include Victoria Skudlarek, a violinist, who mixes her sound with driving rock rhythms.
This certainly isn't quiet, quite the reverse, but it is certainly melodic and in All My Best Shit, a riff heavy joy, the band approach Classic Rock. At times, there is more than a hint of The Replacements, particularly in the vocals and Murder could be early Green Day until it hits a Billy Duffy-esque riff.
The sheer pace of I Don't Wanna Die In New York is frantic, you can imagine it being a great show closer. Farrar even borders on Joe Strummer on Reward Trip. Is Spice is a complete surprise? Absolutely! But it is also a delight, if you can label something so wonderfully noisy thus.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Sunday, 26 July 2020
I absolutely adore Trenton, New Jersey's The Successful Failures. In my review of 2017's Ichor Of Nettle, I tried to explain how varied they were. You can read that here. Pack Up Your Shadows was recorded remarkably quickly earlier this year and was initially planned to be an EP, but the quality oozed and so you have the nine songs.
Essentially, the band vary between Pop Rock and Americana and this can confuse people like me. I think my views on how one size fits all has all but killed Americana, but these four remind you of how great the genre can be. Particularly when it edges more towards Country than Bluegrass.
It also gets forgotten that Mick Chorba is a fine songwriter that is never afraid of surprising you with a turn of phrase or an unexpected musical turn. This album is largely half and half. Two Americana songs by followed four outstanding ventures into Pop and Rock and then bookended by another two Americana-ish affairs. Then adding a great Country cover of Clarence Williams's My Bucket's Got A Hole In.
Honeycomb is a campfire opener whilst On Down The Line is a hillbilly romp. Then it gets really interesting with probably the best song that you will hear this year and its a Murder Ballad. Murder 'Neath The Silver Moon is incredible and what a Guitar solo to close it.
This Girl could be Nick Piunti, it is a Power Pop delight and followed by a 50s Rock And Roll weepie in How Many Words. More Of The Same is even more interesting a sort of Rockpile Rock Out. Whiskey Song is a country ballad and Something Good has Chorba in Hank Williams mode.
Pack Up Your Shadows is a great great album. The Successful Failures may be accused of confusing listeners with their different song directions, but that would be pointless, why would you not want to hear such varied talent? One of the joys of listening to their albums is that variety. Highly Recommended!
You can listen to and buy the album here. The CD is on Ray's excellent Kool Kat label and what a year he is having with some top notch releases and more to come.
The Honeydrips may seems a strange choice for I Don't Hear A Single To review. Swede, Mikael Carlsson is more noted for Electronic Pop and The Honeydrips is his one man project. But, Fear Ye Not, Here Comes The Sun is a great Pop album.
Sleep The Day Away and Penny Dreadful may not change your mind. Both are very much Electronic, nevertheless enchanting. But look deeper and you can hear songs like Linda Says in which Carlsson comes across far more in Per Gessle Territory at times.
Fatima Says (Reprise) is hypnotic in a Made In Sheffield way and Loyal Alibi comes across all Laurel Canyon, even Bacharach like, Here Comes The Sun has two versions. The opener is great Sunshine Pop. That's balanced by the closing second version which is a beat driven Ibiza anthem.
This album won't be for everyone. I wouldn't expect it to be. But I feel that a listener's ears should be forever open. Everything popular with da kidz isn't tosh and I Don't Hear A Single left the Power Pop Reputation behind long ago.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Having released their excellent 2018 debut album, Babble, under the name Baked Beans, the Baked is dispensed with for the follow up, again released on King Gizzard's Flightless label. Hailing from Geelong in Australia, this five piece are a different kettle of fish to their label owners.
Beans specialise in what could be termed as the Excess Rock of the 70s. Although you can hear Psych Rock of King Gizzard the odd time, these five are very much in different territory. The Psych is almost Psych Lite. It's present, but in a far more rounded setting. The Guitar leads want to take you there, but the arrangements and vocals lead you into a more commercial arena.
Melt is the nearest that Beans come to King Gizzard, they seem more at home in Classic Rock and there's a wonderful feel of Glam. There's a hint of Jon Lord's Deep Purple runs in the keyboard runs and at times, the songs are in tune with Sweet's much lauded Glam Single B Sides.
The compositions are certainly a little over the top in an almost 70's Prog manner, but they are joyous and totally infectious. So much so that their appeal could be enormous, gathering all the mentioned genres following would be the aim.
A song like Repeat is fully Pomp Rock, but with a vocal that could be Marc Bolan. Aint It is built on a corker of a riff, Blue Oyster Cult like and it is BOC that they remind me most of. Montgomery is a wonderful Pop Rock opener, a crackerjack of a song. Beans are too good to ignore.
Stride is probably the stand out with its full on Glam Rock vibe, even the call and response harmonies are spot on. Special mention too to the Organ fest closer that is Lay It Out. I fully expect them to have all bean wearing capes whilst recording that. All Together is an absolute joy, a glorious romp. It is enormous fun. I recommend it to you all.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Saturday, 25 July 2020
The Florida based Ex Norwegian have been serving up exceptional sixties tinged melodic, inventive music for the last decade. Like the always wonderful Greg Curvey and Mothboxer, they have built up an extensive back catalogue of delights to explore and then embrace.
Built around the abundant talents of one Roger Houdaille, they started as a band, went through various line ups, none of which stuck for long before finally settled into being just Roger and various friends, most noticeable Fernando Perdomo, as the years passed by. With a superb new album Hue Spotting upon us it is time to sit down with the excellent Roger and talk about it all in some depth. This is going to be good.
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
“First thing that comes to mind is the Jive Bunny. You had all these 50s rock n roll classics set to a single beat and mashed up. I must have been around five years old and would literally go nuts with that stuff. But other than that, I can’t say I was that interested in music in general. In fact, the only class that ruined my straight A’s was music where I got B’s.
I started paying attention to the LPs in my mom’s collection and there was the mysterious blue vinyl Beatles 1967-1970. Looked so cool and the sounds were different! Got me hooked. So, it was the usual Beatles that turned me on just as millions of others. Their spell is quite strong.
Anyway, this was the early 90’s and Apple Records were issuing their catalogue on CD and I still remember clearly browsing the aisles of my local record shop and spotting Badfinger’s Straight Up staring back at me. It had just been reissued. Sure, I recognized it from Beatles books, but had no idea what it sounded like or what to expect.
It became the soundtrack to my sixth grade in elementary school. I remember playing it in class hoping to convert some other friends but “no dice”. I was pretty much alone in preferring Badfinger to Kris Kross. Anyway, the next band I got into was the Who, thanks to their 30 Years Maximum Box Set which I splurged all my money on.
Then, someone gave me a copy of the Kinks Lola vs. Powerman on cassette and that was a life changing moment too. The other discoveries would be via the dollar LP rack at the record store down my street. I found things like Jethro Tull’s Stand Up and Grand Funk’s red album which are still highly regarded by me today. Highly influential stuff.”
When did you start playing an instrument?
“I got a guitar around the fifth grade, but couldn’t be bothered to learn to play it properly until a few years later. There was also a Casio keyboard around, but I never picked it up seriously. In middle school I got stuck with the French Horn, but being The Who fan that I had become, I was happy to follow in John Entwistle’s footsteps.
I was always a creative person. I spoke my own made up language for the first couple years of my life. When I got really into geography, I made my own countries and almanacs and history books about them. When I got into cars, I made my own brands and designs and everything. Of course, that was all fun but pretty useless at the same time.
However, once I got into music and The Beatles, I started forming my own fake groups and discographies and songs. That was useless too, but writing actual songs wasn’t. I just seem to have got stuck there. So it was pretty early on that I was coming up with ideas, but had little skill to execute them. The first live performance of one of my compositions would have been a song called “Electric Lady” at an eighth grade school concert.”
When did you first meet Fernando Perdomo
“I met him backstage at a school performance. I would have been in the sixth grade and he was in the eighth, but he came back to help reinforce our sound. As I mentioned, I was only familiar with about four chords at the time, so the school group needed all the help we could get. It was the first time I had someone next to me that could play such good guitar. I recall requesting him to play the “The Rain Song” intro, which he duly did. That was our first encounter.
Then a few years later I ran into him again when auditioning for the Miami Beach Sr. High School Rock Ensemble. For my audition I did Jethro Tull’s “To Cry You A Song”. Fernando was intrigued at my choice and we became fast friends, sharing the love of all this horribly out of fashion music. Well naturally we started hanging out and would record stuff together.
We both had 4-track cassette tape machines and even formed a band with the name Dip. I wasn’t very good, but Fernando was much better and together we almost sound like a passable band on some of these recordings. We definitely got better over the course of the next three years. However, there was never a serious plan or anything. There was only one gig, where we performed one song and we got one song on the radio. It felt like a big accomplishment.
There are lots of recordings floating around and I do intend to put something together compiling everything nicely in a couple months. Fernando. I have been back and forth about re-recording some of the material too. Honestly, the new Ex Norwegian album is kind of a throwback to the way we worked in those days.”
"I first met Chris Price back in high school, as he was also a member of the Miami Beach Sr. High Rock Ensemble. At the time he was more interested in rap music, so we didn’t connect to be honest. It was only years later that we crossed paths again and as he was into more reasonable music, we kept in touch.
I don’t remember the details too well, but next thing we had a band called Dreaming In Stereo. This was Fernando Perdomo, Chris Price, Derek Cintron and myself. It was a lot of talent for one band. We played the South Florida circuit hard for a few months and recorded an EP. This would be 2004. Incidentally, this EP along with a couple live soundboards are being released digitally in July 2020.
It was an exciting group with everyone in the band being able to hold their own both in performance and songwriting. There was a bit of a following and lots of energy too. But the more Chris and I tried to steer it towards becoming a serious, signable band, the more it started to fall apart. It became a little frustrating and to diffuse some of that frustration came Monkeypox. This was something just for fun.
Next thing you know we had tons of material as Chris started writing and I had plenty of new things too. We enlisted Chris’s brother Mikey on guitar and Eric Hernandez (currently of Torche) on drums and we went crazy for a few months, recording, performing, and even filmed a feature length movie! It was a highly inspired time but like all good things, came to an end after that summer.
Chris was still set on getting signed and the Monkeypox thing was just too silly for that. There was an elaborate backstory, as all members in the band adopted characters. I was Junior Bevel, for example, an ex-bobsledder from Aruba, no less. While the songs were great, the whole package wasn’t. So Chris went off to Los Angeles and duly got signed to Geffen Records and I stayed behind in Miami and attempted to normalize my life."
"Father Bloopy was a moniker I had stolen from the British sitcom Maid Marian & Her Merry Men. I used it as my stage name in my first band project, The BJ Experience. That is a whole other story, but anyway, the name stuck and I used it ill-advisedly as my solo project name.
In 2007, I was encouraged to take things a little more seriously and I put together a record that I would manufacture for the first time professionally. I did another unthinkable thing and hired a PR guy who had pitched his services to me on MySpace. This was the first time I was taking myself seriously and actually marketing my music in some semi-pro fashion.
To my surprise, there were some very good reviews coming in from people and publications that were strangers to me. It felt good. But then there was the name…Father Bloopy. It got destroyed by everyone. It didn’t make any sense. I agreed. So, moving forward I knew there had to be a change. Thus, the only slightly better named, Ex Norwegian, was born.”
How did Ex Norwegian first come about?
“I put a live band together to help promote the Father Bloopy ‘Ginger, Baby’ album. Naturally I had an all-girl backing band. That lasted a few shows and in the end only Nina Souto stayed on (playing bass). After recording “Something Unreal” we just knew we had something good and needed to move forward with a new identity and everything and that became Ex Norwegian.
We auditioned drummers and Arturo Garcia got the gig and after a false start or two, we got pretty serious pretty fast. It helped that once we posted “Something Unreal” to our MySpace page, people took notice. It was really a special time looking back and the new band and song was perfect for that new way of music discovery and social networking that was occurring on that platform. This would have been the summer of 2008.
There was definitely a buzz in the beginning, but it was real and for lack of a better term, it was very grassroots. Meaning we had no money behind us, no big label, no real marketing… nothing. So it could only reach so far and I think it reached as far as it could. It was a bit of a confidence booster nevertheless. However, as a band, we were not ready for prime time players.
My voice would usually be shot towards the end of the set and we could not replicate our record sound live at all. It was a different beast. You see, my original plan was to prepare and record the album for about six months, giving us plenty of time to get good. This would allow us to know how to do the things we needed to do, but we ended up jumping right into the fire. One of our first shows was for the CMJ festival in NYC.
The good news is we did get better as our calendar was kept full. I made a point of taping the shows to study back and we would do our homework. At this point it was the four of us, Nina, Arturo, his childhood friend Guillermo (aka Billie G) and myself. Michelle would join us occasionally but she was still in high school and then quickly went away for college so couldn’t be a full timer.
We did take things seriously for about a year or so. So it felt more like a band by the time we prepared for the second album ‘Sketch’. But the preparation was for a five piece band and by the time we were ready with it, we were down to a power trio. I must admit I didn’t particularly enjoy making that record but now, on certain days, I really enjoy listening back to it. It was just a different beast.
I was hoping we’d be more consistent and make Standby 2, Standby 3, but alas it was not meant to work out that way. Another big problem I had was while there was some great material on ‘Sketch’, I felt it was really unmarketable. I think we had a feeling of being lost. Being stuck in Miami did not help.
When working on the third album, it just wasn’t happening anymore. The others started rejecting my material and despite my encouragement for them to write and contribute more, nothing happened and that original band broke up. A long story short, Ex Norwegian never truly operated at that level as a band again.
The label Dying Van Gogh at the time was kind enough to re-release the record with a marketing budget that included college radio and European press and it helped boost the bands status a bit. Unfortunately, the band had broken up by then!
When I reformed the group months later, I took more of a Zappa approach to being a bandleader. For the next few years it was Michelle, Lucas Quieroz and Giuseppe Rodriguez mostly involved in the group, but not always too present on the recordings and a steady flow of different drummers.
The difficult third album started life as Roger Houdaille’s House Music. I recorded a whole solo record one week with my former Monkeypox colleague Eric Hernandez and that would have been the future for me. This was in-between Ex Norwegian breaking up and ‘Sketch’ being re-issued. The plans for the solo House Music project eventually lost the battle against Ex Norwegian reforming.
I simply kept the more suitable material from that album, like “Not A Mouse” and “Tong As In Pete” and went on to finish up a proper Ex Norwegian album. Compared to the other two albums, this was more of a Frankenstein effort, as I also re-worked a Standby outtake and former Father Bloopy tune, “Ginger, Baby” to kick start the record.
I was also working on producing singer-songwriter Ed Hale’s album and we were both obsessing over some book about all the songwriting and production tricks. As a result, I think ‘House Music’ ended up being overproduced, as I made sure I included as many tricks as possible in each song.”
Onto your fourth album, Crack
“I could argue that there was a major crack in the band and perhaps that’s were subconsciously that title came from. I was determined to keep things going and I was struggling hard as a result. The band was in a tough spot and that’s when we connected with Brian Kurtz who ran the Limited Fanfare label here in South Florida and was interested in helping out.
I didn’t have enough money to do a proper album, so I pieced together some out-takes and sweetened up some demos and turned it into ‘Crack’. Sounds pretty appetizing, I know. It was meant to be a low key release, but as it came out on Limited Fanfare, it introduced us to a different crowd and it ended up doing better than ‘House Music’. Go figure! We never even pressed up proper CDs for it.
Without going into too much detail, things kept going sour fast for Ex Norwegian in 2013. Towards the end of the year, I was introduced to Lucia Perez who was a big fan of the band and as it turned out, a great singer who albeit, had never recorded or sang on stage or in public before. Nevertheless, we hit it off fast, and started working out tunes. I was excited to be able to write music for someone actually excited to sing the songs.
The first one we recorded, “Feelin’ It”, went viral for a day or two as soon as it was unleashed to the world. It was “Something Unreal” all over again. I knew we had something. But ultimately, that something was still too weird and quirky to get industry people behind it. I was determined to make it work though, so I managed to get us to Los Angeles and record with Fernando Perdomo at his home studio.
We literally recorded a full week non-stop (Well, we had one day off when Fernando was tracking with another Roger of Jellyfish fame at his studio) and then I got back to Miami, out of budget and wasn’t able to mix it. I let it sit for a bit and ended up spending all summer mixing it myself. It went from trying to be super commercial to being super lo-fi.
Despite the drastic change in plan, in the end, ’Wasted Lines’ is easily my favourite of the bunch. The studio is a place I rarely go to… I love to record at home in private. I think the only song recorded fully at a professional studio was “Girl With A Moustache”. That was a cool session but I remember being unhappy with my vocals. I couldn’t get into the studio vibe. The ‘Wasted Lines’ album comes close in that we did the bulk of it at Reseda Ranch Studios, living and breathing it.
Not so spoiler alert - things didn’t work out with the Lucia line-up and so I found myself teaming up with the House Music/Crack peeps again to record a proper band album Pure Gold. We kept Fernando on drum duty, recording his parts out in L.A. while the four of us (Michelle, Lucas, Roger, Giuseppe). We recorded at my friend Emmanuel Canete’s home studio for free as we were his guinea pigs to test out all his new gear. I didn’t have enough songs though, so the idea was to do mostly covers. Nowadays, it may seem like Ex Norwegian is mostly a covers band, but at the time it was a very novel idea.
I think I picked a good bunch of tunes to do where it sounds like its own album. Most of the songs are obscure enough to pass off as original material even. The surprise highlight was the last minute cover of The Shirts' “Tell Me Your Plans”. I say surprise, because I wasn't expecting it to work. I loved the original and although it had the Ex Norwegian male/female harmony formula, I didn’t think we could add to it or dare I say improve it or make it our own.
But turning it into 4/4 just changed everything. Overall, I think ‘Pure Gold’ is a pleasant record, but could have used more edge. Towards the end of making the album, I was hours away from dying due to bleeding out from an ulcer. Despite that drama, I have fond memories of making the record. And at least I came to understand why I was so low energy at the sessions!
After some serious blood transfusions, I suppose I was re-energized and naturally wanted to tour in support of Pure Gold. I also knew we’d have the same problem as the early days where we couldn’t reproduce the record sound live, so I drafted up a set that we could pull off live. I went as far as dumbing down the songs, removing key changes and simplified chord changes. Even lyrics to things like “Don’t Bother” were simpler and normalized.
We did about two hours rehearsal with the whole band a couple nights before hitting the road. That was all we could squeeze in. I remember Lucas and our tour drummer Andres Bedoya got into a nasty car accident going home after the rehearsal. The story goes they were jamming a little too hard to some cheesy Paul McCartney song and ran through a light. Very close call!
Thankfully, the tour went pretty smoothly. The highlight being invited to record a Daytrotter session. We also introduced songs like “Life” and “Ice” that would appear on the next album, ‘Glazer/Hazerr’. This garage rock approach would become what ‘Glazer/Hazerr’ was about. It was a very dirty sounding 60s influenced “love letter” as Shindig! Magazine put it.
The ironic part is although it was reflective of our live sound, it was recorded just by me, Fernando and Michelle. Playing live with Ex Norwegian is a bit like riding a rollercoaster. A lot of ups and over under sideways downs. I always say it is easier to play the big shows with a whole technical crew and proper monitors than to play a small club doing your own sound. It’s actually pretty brutal.
So right off the bat, those are the most unenjoyable shows. But when things are all set up nicely, the experience can be wonderful. I’m not a player who can play well under bad conditions. If things don’t sound great, I won’t get into it and as a result won't play great."
"No Sleep was an attempt to return to the beginning. I set out to do a record in the vein of the first, ‘Standby’…something accessible and relatively safe. The previous album, ‘Tekstet (Subtitled)’ was a strange affair in that it was mostly a solo thing that I recorded in haste after having to scrap the band album we were working on because the (so-called) drummer fired Michelle. Things weren't going in what I felt was the right direction.
A couple things, “All Hips No Waists” and “Funny Zipper” eventually came out as a single. Other stuff was released as an EP by the Velocity Gospel called ‘Tampico Hall’. So in the middle of that I did ‘Tekstet’, a horribly named album marking another difficult time in the Ex Norwegian world.
‘No Sleep’ would be a better experience, at least until the sketchy promo management booking company that we hired went bust a good month or so before our release forcing us to cancel the tour. We had to quickly prepare to release and market the album ourselves, without getting any of the thousands we foolishly pre-paid the company back.
I've never talked much about that situation, but needless to say, those series of events silently killed off the band. However, it was thanks to this company that “No Sleep” was even conceived as when we originally hired them, it was to promote what became “Something Unreal: The Best of Ex Norwegian”.
Instead, it made sense to do a fresh new band album and I started writing the whole album. Michelle helped on a couple things I had trouble with and Jim Camacho wrote some lyrics for “Marquee 1970s”. I’m now realizing now as I write this that 'No Sleep' was all put together in about two months time. Meanwhile, the Best Of compilation would be saved for release in 2019 and I think was helped with the inclusion of the highlights from 'No Sleep’.
I got turned onto R. Stevie Moore in 2015 and it resonated with me a lot. That was the catalyst to my side project Plastic Macca. The idea was to record without pressure and just put it out there. Do it almost anonymously. The cryptic name lent itself to this whole project. Much like McCartney had his Firemen outlet, this was my outlet to try and do some different things.
It quickly became a grandeur endeavour as the first album turned into two. There’s ‘Sensation’ which was the more organic one, and ‘Is Here’ which had the programmed drums and stuff. This was 2015. I think the following year I did ‘New Meat’ followed by the ‘Twist’ album in 2017. Quite a bit of the Plastic Macca material ended up being worked into Ex Norwegian catalogue like “Wasteland”, “It’s All Panda” and “Sensation”.
Back in 2013 I put out a solo record under my own name titled ‘Safe Keeping’. I just heard it again the other day and was duly impressed. When you have a sort of brand name like Ex Norwegian, you really don’t want to saturate it with so many releases, so a lot of stuff I do ends up going elsewhere.”
What would you say were your biggest influences?
“The Kinks are the big ones. Not just the music, but their attitude and Ray Davies’s way about doing things influenced me a lot. The UK band Family is another big one. Fun fact is I run their fan website and a Facebook group dedicated to them.
The way they just did what they felt like doing all the time, I respect a lot. Then there is the Monty Python influence which I think seeps through, starting with the band name, obviously to our music promos.”
How does the song writing process work with you?
“I like starting with a song title. That’s usually what happens too. Perfect example being the pun ‘Hue Hopper’ (given to me by Fernando Perdomo) which turned into “Hue Spotter”. Or “Team No Sleep” was some graffiti I saw and quickly wrote a song around it.
A couple other methods are having a great riff, or also the recording process, as described below recording “Bloody Parrots!”. I also did a couple remakes of older songs which were probably the hardest ones to do!
In regards to lyrics, they’ll just pop in my head. I end up with a lot of cryptic words as a result. And I have a bad habit of keeping my first drafts even if I don’t like them. I am not one to spend a lot of time on the process. Like Badfinger sang, “there is no real perfection”.
Over time you’ve built up a loyal fan base and now a new album from you is quite an event…
So we come to the superb Hue Spotting a very assured album of great interest.
“That is nice of you to say… I’m always amazed to have anyone listening to and following us at all. Despite being so connected these days with fans, I feel very disconnected too. An important part of the process of this record was how I pre-mixed everything, creating stems that were then sent to proper Grammy award winning mix engineer Zach Ziskin. I knew I wanted to experiment with sounds in a way that only made sense if I did it, but also didn’t want it to sound like an amateur hour.”
Let’s do a track by track breakdown shall we?
"Fear Backwards - Not only the first song of the album, but the first song I worked on for the 10th album. I messed around with a “new approach”. This is the result of listening to Spotify’s new indie rock and Neo-psychedelic playlists for 48 hours in the background.
Pitching the song around I received feedback that was more or less saying they would have wanted the song to build up more and it’s true, that was my entire point. Most of what I heard on these playlists were pretty monotonous stuff, so it sounds like I’m on the right track.
Comfort Sands - This one has a pretty cool riff going thru it; however, I extended it longer than I normally would have to “fit in”. Maybe I shouldn’t have been the producer of the record too? (haha). I particularly like the wild ending. I was definitely channelling some Amon Duul II both lyrically and sonically.
Hue Spotter - The sort of title track, which took its cue from Soft Machine’s “Dada Was Here”. I thought this would be a lot more popular than it seems to be. I had Fernando do some backwards pianos. The fuzz solo is a one taker, warts and all. I didn’t want to get too fuzzy, I mean fussy with perfection as long as it came from the right source.
Bloody Parrots! - This one I wrote with the recording technique, which means I’ll pick out a drum loop to track to and more or less formulate a song after hitting the record button. It started out on bass, which is why there’s the lower register riffs dominating the verses. I was very happy with the results and definitely my idea of modern popsike.
You Turn Papers Colour - I wrote this one back in high school. I wrote it as a fast 4/4 thing and transformed it into a slow, creepy 3/4 for this version. It’s interesting, I knew all the lyrics by heart, even though I wrote it so long ago. I think it breaks up the rhythm of the album nicely.
Something 2020 - A psychedelic remake of “Something Unreal”. I already had put “Something Unreal II” on the Best Of compilation, which is essentially this same recording, but produced slightly differently. My template for this production was “Armenia City In The Sky”.
Post Post Malone - This one was written very fast and is very topical. Surprisingly more popular than I thought it would be. It’s a mesh of different ideas production wise and it was a difficult one for me to translate what I heard in my head to the actual record.
Your Mind Is Mine - A popsike re-make of a song “Ice” that I’ve had around since the Monkeypox days. I wasn’t too sure about including it on the record but I didn’t have anything else to put in its place, so it just stayed on. It brings a little more pop to the record, which is a good thing, before things go out of control…
Not Underground - Besides being the longest Ex Norwegian track (although a b side, “Pretty Paradox” comes in rather long with an extended guitar solo too) it is probably the most wildest track. It features the most insane playing Fernando Perdomo has ever done.
I just had the one line which kept repeating and didn’t think I could manage to write a chorus that made sense so I let it become this super repetitive thing. So why not drag it out for six minutes? Originally I had some chunky electric guitars which were replaced by some acoustics to give it more of a Syd Barrett feel.
Night Is Long (As Long As Night) - This was the second song I worked on and really spent a whole lot of time on it. It was before I defined a direction to psychedelia, but it was heavily inspired by early progressive rock as well as T. Rex/Roxy Music. This is another one I thought would be more popular. Perhaps placing it after “Not Underground” wasn’t an ideal spot.”
As a companion to Hue Spotting you have released an album of obscure psychedelic covers, Spotting Hues….I love this stuff...takes me back to a time when I totally immersed myself in all thing Rubble, Circus Days Bam Caruso
“Yes! Spotting Hues is kind of a weird way for me to put out a compilation of songs I like. My own Circus Days. It was a lot of joy to put together. I was releasing a song a week this year, usually covers, including most of what’s on Spotting Hues. I had to stop once the new albums came out to give them their space.
I hope to resume soon. Personally, psychedelia means the kind of music I covered on Spotting Hues. I’ve never done drugs, so I don’t relate psychedelia with that. It’s really just a musical genre to me and one of my favourites.
Some future covers include John Cale’s “Endless Plain Of Fortune”, Unicorn’s “Holland” and I’m also busy putting together some collaborative covers. There may be another full length release by end of the year.”
You can catch up by listening or buying all things Ex Norwegian here.
Time Thieves' debut album is a delightful melodic Indie Guitar Pop album. There's nothing ground breaking here, it is just great singalong Slacker Pop. The Chicago five piece provide an album that's Power Pop Orientated that is much different to their regular music outings.
All five are members of very different, much noisier bands. It's as though the angst of those bands' songs, excellent though they are, has been shed to provide something poptacular and it really really works. Don't look for lyrical depth, these are songs to be sung with, head nodded to and foot tapped accordingly.
It is really refreshing to hear the obvious enjoyment ringing out. Space is a cracking feel good listen. The band sound like a less po faced and more melodic Jimmy Eat World or a less humorous early Weezer. The hooks and riffs just grip you.
When Time Thieves branch out on a song like Light, the talent is revealed and it's shown that these are not simplistic I Love You Yes I Do merchants. Light is amazing, but it is the pop that really shines, particularly on the likes of You Should Know, a killer single if I ever heard one.
What is also unusual in these front loaded album days is that Space gets better and better as it progresses. You'll note that I've selected three later songs for you to listen to. I can't recommend the album more. Cheer yourselves up. Buy it now!
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Cloud Nothings don't really fit the IDHAS Template, they certainly aren't new or under appreciated. no matter how great Dylan Baldi is. However, The Black Hole Understands is a lockdown album of such beauty that it falls into the different camp, certainly very different from the direction Cloud Nothings have taken over most of the last decade.
When you read the words "lockdown album", a feeling of oh no comes to mind, even if it shouldn't. You think of Acoustic Guitars and songs about death. Not a bit of that here! Baldi and drummer Jason Gerycz have fashioned up a great Guitar Pop album that leans close to the band's roots.
No shoutiness is present here, this is wonderful melodic pop that resides somewhere between Teenage Fanclub and Wilco. As much as it is a great listen, it is also refreshing to hear some new electric guitar on what is almost a Power Pop album.
The Mess Is Permanent is an absolute gem, think The Rembrandts and the title track is so jaunty that it could have been a Postcard Label or C86 offering. Story That I Live has a wonderful jangly twang to it. This is the only time that there is a hint of the States about the album as it feels so Indie UK, almost Creation.
The Sound Of Everyone is so TFC that you expect to find it actually is them and that is what is so splendid about the album. This is very much Scottish Indie Pop Rock all the way from Ohio. The Black Hole Understands completely surprised me. A band that I've always admired have taken a delightful turn. Highly Recommended!
You can buy the album here.
I reviewed The Total Rejection's excellent second album, Everybody Knows What You Don't Know, last year. You can read that review here, but all that I wrote still applies, it's a monster of an album and so a third album had to go some.
Thankfully this does. It is a testament to Arthur Andrew Jarrett, his splendid Raving Pop Blast label and most importantly, his band. The Total Rejection are building up a formidable back catalogue. There are plenty of worldwide labels that thrive on the 60's, but no one does it as well as The Total Rejection.
There is a lot of Garage Rock that I hear that frankly is just noise, more an attitude than a collection of songs. Those songs are secondary to the look and sound, not a bit of that here. These songs are perfectly formed, largely built on killer riffs.
There is also noticeably even more depth here. Drilling Holes Into The Sky is great Mod Pop and Caravan could be on The White Album. For every garage wig out such as Weeds, there is a counterpoint such as the "It's Groovy Baby" of Next Time I See You Around.
Enough is in Small Faces territory and Too Late, I'm Gone is splendid UK Beat circa 1965. The stand out is the closer, Distress Signals From A Planet On The Edge Of Destruction. It is a sprawling six minute joy that borders on Space Rock.
For all this variation, there is still plenty of what the band are best at and that is Psych Pop of the highest order. The Total Rejection master what they do. The Time Traveller's 3rd Will And Testament is a joy to listen to. Highly Recommended.
You can listen to and buy the album here.
Wednesday, 22 July 2020
There seems to be a fair amount of gloating about the demise of Q. Some of the comment is valid, but much isn't. It is the opinion of most people that a magazine is rubbish because it doesn't cover the bands that you like and when could it ever please everyone or indeed anyone. True it was Gallagher obsessed and no band divides opinion like Oasis. But it was what the people who bought it wanted to read, so why wouldn't you aim at that market? There is no difference to Uncut and Mojo's coverage of Paul Weller, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
Those people who did buy it became less and less as the internet allowed you to read about all things Liam from around the world, without paying. But why dance on its grave? Likewise, there is a fair bit of misty eyed nonsense about how badly music is served now via print, radio and TV, but you can't change change. Digital changed everything as I know from my time in the Photographic Industry in the 90's. Yes Covid finished it but the writing has always been on the wall.
People don't buy magazines anymore, smartphones have changed the reading on Public Transport and why would you pay a fiver to read something with little interest to you, Particularly, when you could read about bands you did like for free. There is still room for a magazine covering music, because although the Internet is fine and dandy, you only tend to find what you are looking for, it isn't great searching for the new to you in Google.
There are ways, particularly following the playlists or writing of people whose opinion that you respect and that for me was the problem with Q Magazine. I stopped reading it in the Noughties, not because it didn't cover all the music that I like, but because it seemed to become advertiser led. The beauty of Q was that it always gave an honest opinion on an album. You may not like it, but the opinion seemed honest. It seemed to shift into an era of not criticising albums that were paying for advertising. The interviews got less interesting too, more PR led than revelatory.
Q was a revelation when it started in 1986. Remember music was not easy to discover, you relied on the media in whatever form. It was refreshing to read well written articles that had length and you became encaptivated reading about an artist that you didn't particularly like due to the quality of the writing. In truth, of the three big Magazine launches, Q wasn't the best. Vox was far more interesting content wise, Select had more in depth articles until it went all too kool for skool in the 90's. But Q had a great mix and the best review section.
In the 90's Q excelled. It had a mix of great pin pricking interviews in the front half, combined with its review strength in the back. It was a fun and informative read and was helped along by Brit Pop. Most of that fun eventually went to Word Magazine and that was a fine read until the podcast seemed to take over and that seemed to reveal the writers as a self satisfied Boys Club. Q, though, turned into a what the advertiser wants thing, rather than what the reader wants. It became more like Commercial Radio, Mojo and Uncut also took advantage of their archive in a way that Q never did, The specials produced by Uncut in particular provided financial reward for using old writing. Q tried it for a spell but always seemed to do so in a half hearted way.
There is something sad though about another promoter of music going away from the general market. There is little on TV, music wise now and what is has become threatened. Budget cuts at BBC 4 have left largely repeats and that appears to be next for the chop. Radio has become playlisted hell. Even Internet Radio is shadowed by dodgy playlists that don't rely on talent but dollars. So I don't see any glee in celebrating the loss of the magazine. As I said you can't change change, but you also can't moan the loss of things such as the live scene if you don't bother to attend. Music should not be free, despite most believing that it is.
Tuesday, 21 July 2020
“It’s about stuff, isn’t it?” Spygenius get all metaphysical, in conversation with Ian Rushbury
Thanks to watching many hours of The Monkees TV show at a young and impressionable age, I believed for many years, that all pop groups lived together in their own big, dayglo houses. With crazy, pop art pictures on the wall, round TVs and those rather unsafe looking wicker chairs hanging from the ceiling in every room. I was crushed when I learned that most band members chose to live as far away from each other as was geographically possible and communicated exclusively via lawsuits.
After an hour in the company of SPYGENIUS however, it’s very easy to imagine all four members of that band living together in some pop art paradise. They’re currently basking in the warm glow of zillions of rave reviews for their latest album, “Man on the Sea”, which follows not quite hot on the heels of 2016’s excellent “Pacephale.”
Their new, double album is loaded with loveliness, but requires the listener to hold on tightly, as it whizzes through many chicanes from side one to side four. IDHAS caught them on a summer’s evening in early July 2020…
IDHAS: So “Man on the Sea” is a double record. That must mean it’s a concept album, right?
Peter Watts (PW): It’s a bit like “Sgt Pepper”, which wasn't really a concept album because they forgot about the concept after the first two songs and did whatever they liked.
Ruth Rogers (RR): I think of it as four very short albums that were never finished, put together to make a compilation.
PW: We pretended that the last one – “Pacephale” was a concept album. I don’t think “Man on the Sea” is a concept album, but I think it has a sense of thematic unity, if that's not too pretentious. There's a kind of theme that goes through it. You're going to ask me what it is now, and I'm not going to be able to tell you.
We started a monstrous set of recording sessions a while ago and the first stuff that we finished was “Pacephale.” Then the stuff that wasn't finished and some newer stuff grew into “Man of the Sea” so it’s almost like “Pacephale” Part II. Sometimes I can't remember what songs we did in what order…
Alan Cannings (AC): There are songs with a certain nautical theme to them.
PW: There is a nautical theme, but it’s sort of metaphorical. I guess the ocean is slightly redolent of the ensuing chaos of nonexistence and it’s something that I've used a lot in song writing over the years - nautical metaphors left, right and centre.
The album contains some songs which are quite recent compositions and some songs which are much older. It's interesting to draw them together, so from the listener’s point of view, the album is a work which comes out at one moment, but for us, it’s the product of a long history of song writing.
RR: It’s about stuff isn't it? (group laughs). Some of the stuff is old and some of the stuff is new. And some of it is about mortality. Actually, in some way, all of Peter’s songs are about mortality. He's a laugh a minute, honestly.
PW: It starts off with a track about kidding yourself and it ends with the music for the departure lounge for people flying off to the pearly gates. It spans that kind of territory.
RR: You're not making it sound like much fun.
IDHAS: Isn’t that a bit dark for a typical collection of pop tunes?
PW: The thing you do with song writing, is you take horrible things that torture you and turn them into jolly ditties that people can sing along to. You try and hide the real content in the lyrics. To the public, it’s a nice, singalong tune, but you’re venting your spleen and clearing your soul of all the horror that lies within.
AC: These songs are extremely catchy, but there is a dark element to them.
PW: And in one case, the word “arse” - that's in “Cafe Emory Hill.” We thought we'd sing “arse”, but sing it harmony - in a round, no less - in order to increase the use of the word “arse” in popular music.
IDHAS: Bands often use double albums as a punctuation point – “Tusk”, “Physical Graffiti”, “London Calling” all signified the end of one era and the start of a new one. Can you say the same for “Man of the Sea?”
RR: Yes, because Pete’s run out of songs.
PW: That's it, basically. What we've been doing since Spygenius got together in 2006 is writing new stuff and also working through my back catalogue. There are some songs left over, but they’re terrible. So, the next album is going to involve exclusively working with new material. It’s also going to be recorded slightly differently, because everything we've recorded up to now has been built up, piece by piece, in the studio.
Spygenius 6 will be much more about recording basic tracks live in a room. We did a few sessions a while ago for IDHAS. They were kind of an experiment, but they went alright, especially when you consider we were all very, very ill and streaming with colds. I had a really bad ear infection, too, but we got away with it. It’s kind of the end of an era and we’re not really sure what is going to happen next.
AC: I’ve written some songs, but I'm not going to play them to Pete.
PW: That makes it rather difficult to contribute them to the recording…
IDHAS: Because this album is so eclectic, did you ever consider keeping similar songs together and releasing them as “The Powerpop Album”, “The Nautical Album” etc?
RR: I've got an answer to that. I thought that doing a big double album was an awful idea! I thought we could eke these tracks out over a few years, but Pete really wanted to do the double.
Matt Byrne (MB): You think everything’s an awful idea. What made me laugh was when we’d finished “Pacephale”, we all thought, “how are we going to move forward?” “Where are we going to find the material?” Then all of a sudden, we're doing a double album!
PW: “Man of the Sea” was supposed to be released within a year of “Pacephale” coming out.
RR: A year was a little optimistic.
PW: We wanted to create something which had a kind of wholeness to it, even though it might take you in lots of different directions. The second Buffalo Springfield album had a huge impact on me. In terms of styles, it’s all over the place, but it all hangs together. A lot of that is down to the track sequencing which makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
RR: Sequencing “Man of the Sea” was a bit like inviting people to a wedding reception– “where are you going to put Uncle Bob and if you're inviting him, then you've got to invite such and such…”
IDHAS: Like “Pacephale”, “Man on the Sea” has some incredibly striking artwork – in the era of the download, you seem to be clinging to the album as an art object.
AC: Joe Champniss does a marvellous job on the artwork for us.
MB: I'm in awe of him. The detail in his stuff is incredible.
PW: Back in the eighties, I was in a band called The Murrumbidgee Wailers and we had 500 copies of a single, “Giving Way to Trains” pressed up. I don't know how, but twelve years ago, someone played a copy of this single to Joe Champniss and he really liked it.
A few years after that, he tweeted a part of the lyric of that song and Ruth happened to come across it. We got back to him saying "hello, that's us!" That song has just been released as part of the C88 compilation that Cherry Red has just put out.
MB: He did an animated video for a track called “Autoclave”, before we even knew him - it just turned up. We didn't know anything about Joe and we were pretty bowled over as you can expect.
PW: We started chatting to him and it seemed that we had a sort of alignment. We both have a mutual love of the Bonzo Dog Band, which was one of the things we bonded over.
RR: Joe is an artist and it works well when we give him free rein to do what he wants. We give him some ideas, but he's not directed to do things.
PW: I’d always liked the idea of working with someone visually. It was Joe who came up with the idea of our logo, a panda called Satchmo. He appears in the cartoon strip in the Big Stir ‘zine. I tried to convince Joe that he really wanted to make a full-length animated film about Spygenius. He wasn’t keen, because he clearly knew that it would be an enormous amount of work, which he'd have to do on his own. I didn't want to drop the idea as it sounded like fun.
We started speculating about who the characters might be in a similar way to Robert Crumb's “Fritz the Cat”, and one of the characters was Satchmo panda. The film idea was turned into a storybook, and Satchmo has been with us ever since.
RR: Joe’s also come up with some bizarre merchandise ideas. He made an image of me, looking like something from a James Bond film and I joked with him, saying he'd made my backside look too big, so he responded by changing the image to make my chest massive and giving me enormous, collagen lips.
He then put that image on a mini dress and made a mock-up of it, so now there's a website where you can buy this dress with a picture of me, looking like a cheap, 1960s prostitute all over it - just because he thinks it’s funny.
IDHAS: Alan and Matt – spill the beans: what’s it like working with a couple?
MB: It’s not like Spinal Tap. It's fine. (Aside) call me later when these two aren't around.
MB: It's OK, it works. It's handy really because when we have to make decisions, we only need to ask one of them.
AC: We do get the occasional sulky silence every now and then.
PW: We regard Matt and Alan as a couple – we’re like Abba.
MB: A pair of old married couples.
IDHAS: So, you agree on everything then?
RR: Not everything - I can't stand XTC.
AC: We still like her even though she doesn't like them.
RR: Pete put all their albums onto my iPod and I really tried to like them, but every album just sounded slightly worse than the one before it. It's the sound. The only thing I don’t like about XTC is the way they sound.
MB: They don't really move me, but I'm working on it. But that's what makes a band interesting. We all bring our own influences to the table and it changes what you are. If you're all into the same stuff, then what's the point?
IDHAS: Can you agree on who’s making good music in 2020?
PW: Blake Jones, Bobbleheads, Plasticsoul, Armoires, Amoeba Teen - basically everyone who’s on Big Stir.
AC: Nick Frater’s doing some great stuff and David Devant and his Spirit Wife are due a new album soon.
RR: I can't remember the last time I bought an album by a famous person, apart from Paul McCartney.
MB: I still like Muse - I like the bombasticness, but I've got a bit bored by them recently. Matt Bellamy is an unbelievable talent. I'm a massive Ben Folds Five fan - I love their first album. It's from 1995, so I guess it's not exactly current.
PW: All the music that we like, eventually appears on IDHAS, really. There's good music around, but I don't find the charts that interesting anymore.
And on that note, it was time for bed. I can’t confirm that all four members of Spygenius ran up four separate staircases which led to a single bedroom, sort of like the Beatles in “Help”, but I bet they did.
Then, they all read comics until 10 o’clock and then all went to sleep, like a slightly dysfunctional version of “The Waltons.” If the next record isn’t a bitchy, kiss ‘n’ tell magnum opus to rival “Rumours”, well, I’ll eat my hat.....and yours as well. Nighty night, boys and girls.
You can buy Man Of The Sea on Double Album or CD from their label Big Stir here. The Vinyl contains artwork of real beauty in a gatefold sleeve.
The Digital Download can be listened to and bought at Big Stir's Bandcamp site here. The band's back catalogue can be bought and listened to on their own bandcamp site here. You can find out more information on the band and their discography at Spygenius's Website here.
Monday, 20 July 2020
We revisit Mick's Archive and travel back in time to 1997.
The Mutton Birds are something special. There's a resonance and quality about their work that's all too rare a commodity these days. Everything about them is right, brilliant songs, emotive playing and integrity of attitude all blend together to bring out that unique Mutton Bird magic. Nowhere more so than on their brilliant new album ”Envy Of Angels”, which is going to be album of '97 on many people's lists.
Originally from New Zealand, the band have been based over here in London for the past year. I met up with main Mutton Don McGlashan one quiet Wednesday morning in Holloway to talk about the history of the band, the recent shake up in the line up and that brilliant new album.
How did you first get into music?
“From the age of about five, my father would scrounge musical instruments for me to learn how to play. He was a thwarted musician himself. He'd been brought up in mining towns around the hinterland of the North Island of New Zealand, where there wasn't much music going on, so he wanted me to have a better chance. There were always battered old cornets, cellos and violins flying around the house. I think we went through every Tune-a-Day manual for every instrument at some point.
By the age of seven I was starting to learn the guitar and me and my older brother were listening to pirate radio, Radio Hauraki, which broadcast from a boat sitting way, way out in the Pacific. People often fell overboard and drowned and you got to appreciate that they were taking enormous risks to bring you something new. Stuff you couldn't just hear on the mainstream radio, The Kinks, The Small Faces and Pink Floyd.
The first band I was in, when I was fifteen, I was playing keyboards. We were called Ethos, a terrible name and we played this curious mix of Spencer Davis stuff and Ziggy Stardust era Bowie. I was writing various bits and pieces by then, but I had no ambitions to put any of it together. I was heading in all kinds of directions and wasn't even surrounded by a culture of people who were into cool music. At school we didn't really have an atmosphere of informed listening, it wasn't that kind of world. Most of the people were poets and writers for the stage and I ended up wandering into those kind of camps.
In 1978 I got a particularly nasty job, cleaning the undersides of fishing boats. You would get right underneath and scrape the barnacles off with a big scraper and they would all fall on your face, the smell was just dreadful. I was doing that in the morning, then playing french horn with an orchestra in the afternoon and at night, still dressed in my tuxedo, I was playing the horn with this punk band called The Plague.
The lead singer Richard von Sturmer, was a mad performance poet who would churn out reams of political lyrics. He also had this predilection for stripping off and painting himself blue for the performances. It was quite a strange band and quite a strange lifestyle for a while. Then Richard went off to write for the theatre and the band continued, still working with these piles of lyrics that Richard left behind.
Over a couple of years that gradually congealed into a three piece called Blam Blam Blam in 1980. I was the drummer and lead singer and the main guts of what we had was Richard's words and our music. We made a couple of albums, one of which went top five in New Zealand. The music industry only laps very slightly at the shores of New Zealand, it doesn't engulf it. There are indie labels who are very idealistic and very poor and also not very connected with the rest of the world. The majors were all, until quite recently, not much more than warehouses for overseas product.
So you could be in a band, have a lot of fun and make music on your own terms. You never really had to deal with anybody asking hard questions like an agent or a manager. The type of hard questions that make people say “I don't want to do this no more!”. Consequently there are still people over there doing music who probably would have been weeded out in any other country and I'm probably one of them.”
What was the live scene like?
“It was really exciting, really vibrant. There was the beginning of the Flying Nun scene in the south, bands like The Clean and Chris Knox's first band Toylove, he's a really fine songwriter. The Chills were just starting up. Sneaky Feelings supported us in their early days. There were a lot of bands touring together, it was the kind of shared vibe that only exists when it's musician driven. It can only evolve away from the industry predators and I guess now the scene's growing up down there, it doesn't happen so much any more.”
So what happened with the band?
“I just had a gut full of it in the end. It suddenly got very serious when we had an accident in the van. One of the band got badly injured and couldn't play for some time. We then had a roadie die on us and suddenly it all became very dark and I was rather scared by it all.
By the I had become the main songwriter in the band. People wanted to know what I had to say about things and I didn't feel I had the authority to do that. That aspect of it scared me because I didn't feel I knew what I was doing. So I quit and went to New York for a year and played drums with a dance company.
Back in New Zealand I met up with an actor friend, Harry Sinclair who wanted to put together a small music and theatre group which combined the directness of what you could get with a band with the story telling of theatre. We did that for about six years. That group was The Front Lawn. We developed an audience in New Zealand, so we could tour for six weeks, playing to full houses and then we could live on that for six months and do whatever we wanted to do.
I was gradually able to get the nerve together to say I think I know what I want to write about now, what to do with my songwriting and to get people on board who will know what to do with my songs. So that's what I did. David Long had played on the Front Lawn albums, so I already had him in mind and we auditioned drummers and found Ross Burge.
The first year we supplemented it with other jobs, David worked in a book shop, Ross was a postman and I did a bit of school teaching and teaching music in a prison. The Mutton Birds did our first gig on St Patrick's day in 1991 as a three-piece, with me on bass. I was a crap bass player, I found singing and playing bass at the same time impossible.”
So how many songs did you have?
“I had three or four songs from the period since Blam Blam Blam and once The Mutton Birds got going, I wrote about one a month. We rented a rehearsal space which we shared with a silk screen printer, so there's a strong smell of acetone that's running through the whole of the first album. I can't hear those songs without smelling that ink!
Once I had the band, then it was a real spur to write, building this vision and trying to negotiate what kind of band you are, it's crying out to have something poured into it. We really wanted to make an album, but Flying Nun's roster was full and none of the majors were interested, so we formed our own label.
I got a mortgage on the house that my wife and I could afford, Alan Gregg joined on bass and I switched to guitar. We had a mate who had a tiny studio, about as big as a bathroom and he gave us studio time. We paid him back as the record sold and that's how we got to make the first album.”
You put out Dominion Road as a single.
“And it got ignored by all the radio stations. But then White Valiant got picked up by student radio, which is really strong in New Zealand and that got us an audience. We got a distribution deal with Virgin and just as we were about to release the album a radio station in Wellington started playing Nature.
It rated really well, so we had to put it out as a single, though we weren't keen on the idea since it's a cover song. It went to number two in the charts and really got the ball rolling for us. The album paid for itself, we got to gig all round the county and that gave us the confidence to look for a deal with a major.”
So how many singles did you release off the album in the end?
“Dominion Road, Nature, Your Window and then Giant Friend. Four singles all with non album B sides and when they got released in Australia, with different b sides again. So there's a whole lot of non album material floating around, mostly morose stuff. There was a scale of mildly optimistic to rather pessimistic with my songs then and most of the stuff that got left off the album is on the pessimistic side.”
I'd like to talk about some of the songs, White Valiant for instance.
“'White Valiant' is, I think, one of the best I've ever done. It's based on a dream I had about being a hitchhiker and being picked up by somebody. Then being a part of a long queue of cars that were on their way to something like an outdoor concert which I was supposed to be playing at. I knew that and the driver knew that, but neither of us would mention this. It was one of those dreams of frustration, of not being able to get where you are, But then it turned into one of those meet the Devil type stories, that are everywhere in folk music and the blues.
What I was trying to play with was the idea that you meet someone and you chat away and they know the landscape you're passing through intimately. Then it turns out they know you intimately as well and you're going somewhere though you didn't think you were going anywhere and where you're going to is a place of ritual. I wanted to leave it really open-ended.
When the band got hold of it, it had a spaciousness about it, that every one put into it, the way you can in a band, without really talking about stuff. That's why bands are what they are, the words and the melody make a building and then the furniture and fittings are put in there by these other people who are making it their own in their own way.
I don't know whether it's particular to me, but it seems to be that a lot of people writing in New Zealand seem to talk about what might be beyond the lights outside the town. Because it's a place so far away from everything, the fear of nothingness, of falling off the edge is palpable there. Once you go off the beaten track, you may be standing somewhere where no one's ever stood before and that's a feeling you probably don't get in England. You'd have to go a bloody long way in this country to stand where nobody's ever stood.
The idea of driving and looking out the window while driving has come up in quite a few of my songs. 'Too Close To The Sun' on 'Salty' is a similar take on the same theme and 'Envy Of Angels' is part of the same idea. It's not a conscious decision to make connections between songs, but I think if you try to listen hard to what's inside of you and get it out into a song, then of necessity. There's going to be links between things, album to album and song to song.
I tend to sketch things first and then pare them down. Sometimes they start off as stories of sets of scenes in a film and then if they look like they can turn into a song, they'll gradually, over a period of months, become lyrics.
I usually try to keep music at arm's length until as late as I can. Some songs work that way, but sometimes when you do that, when you've got a word based idea, it can become a bit stuck to the page and it doesn't work as a song then. With 'White Valiant', I had the line “You can still see the moon, though it's the middle of the day,” but I didn't have the idea of the car. I had the bass riff and the atmosphere, so it was just a question of working backwards and finding the story.
For 'A Thing Well Made', it was a story but it started off as much more like a manifesto. A well intentioned, but leaden idea to talk about the way women see things as against how men see things. I was going to do a two voice kind of thing. I worked at that for a while, the way women divest energy in people and the way men invest energy in things, which is kind of a main division in the world.
There was this massacre in 1989 in this little town in the south, this guy killed all his neighbours. I wanted to start with the bloke who had sold him the gun. I wanted to look through his morning, make up a story about him and his missus. But in the end the man and woman aspect of it kind of fell away leaving the idea of the smallness of his life.
I wanted to get the feel of the gun shop, the smell of it, the warmth of it and the sense of the fog outside. Let the music carry the feeling of dread and melancholy. It was one of those songs when you start something off and you want it to go in a certain direction. Then the band get hold of it and you just look at each other and you all know you've got something special happening here. But you don't want to say anything about it, because you know you might then spoil it.”
There's a different rhythmic feel to New Zealand bands that's like nobody else and it's quite special.
“I've heard it put more unkindly that that. Somebody once said that in New Zealand the need for drummers had atrophied and dropped off like a vestigial tail. But that's not true, New Zealand drummers are different, they do simple stuff and the back beat isn't as important as idea of flow. Certainly when most New Zealand bands go to Australia, they end up lost because the Aussies have much more sense of hard rock. You need biceps to play Australian music.”
So after the debut album, what happened next?
“We toured New Zealand and Australia and we signed to EMI Australia and recorded 'Salty'. We produced it ourselves and it gave us a No. 1 single in New Zealand, 'The Heater'. That was a song that started with the music. I turned up late for rehearsal one morning and the band had this circular riff that they were playing. It had this hypnotic quality to it and we knew it had to turn into something special.
I had this fragment of a lyric, which was about magic, about buying an old object and taking it home up to your room and suddenly it starts talking to you. It seemed like a handshake between you and a world of myth. I just want to write about what works for me, and inside the mind and the daily thoughts of an ordinary person are as difficult to explain as the birth of the solar system.
People are enormous things and the world is where you are now. If you can put something in a song and do it in a way that's fresh then, you can get people to turn and look at what's normally in the corner of their eye. If you can achieve that, then I don't think it gets any better than that.”
So let's go back to after 'Salty' came out.
“We were all set to move to Australia, but then the label started to voice doubts on how successful we could be. So rather than just sit on our hands, we did a tour of Canada and stopped off over here to talk with Virgin about the idea of putting out a compilation of the albums and that became 'Nature'.
We envisioned staying over here for just a couple of months and doing as many festivals as we could. The record company was getting behind us, which was a new experience for us and so more and more it felt like we should stay. We toured a lot on the continent, at one point we were going to tour with Daryl-Ann but that fell through.
We played in France during their atomic tests in the Pacific, so we took the opportunity to read a prepared statement to the French audiences about it. The young people were very much against the tests. We all grew up knowing people who had sickness in their families because of atomic testing, so if your government tells you it's just Greenpeace propaganda, then they're just full of shit.
We went back to tour in New Zealand at the end of '95 and when we got back here we suddenly realised that we had moved, that we didn't live there anymore, so we felt rootless for a while. We weren't very happy and David, our guitarist, became more and more unhappy with the loss of control. We seemed to be doing somebody else's bidding all the time and it wasn't a hands-on process any more.
I suppose when we got to the stage of making 'Envy Of Angels', because we had a producer for the first time ever, that feeling of turning up to play, rather than actually working with ideas and letting them take shape on our own terms, became quite strong. David was unhappy and straight after we finished the album he left. I was really shaken. I still think it's a good record, despite the fact that it was a really lonely time for us because we didn't communicate with each other.
I know that my songs on it were written during that time of doubt and they didn't come easily. David did one last tour of New Zealand with us and simply didn't come back. We were in a panicky position because we knew that as soon as we got back that we would have to start gigging to promote the new album. We did loads of auditions but could find nobody
The first person we had asked was a New Zealander called Chris Sheehan who had been in a band called The Starlings. I had produced an EP for them in about '84 and remembered this marvellous guitarist. When we called him he had been living in Devon for some years and he wasn't interested because he wanted to do his own stuff. I sent him a copy of 'Envy Of Angels' anyway and he immediately called back and said he'd changed his mind.
He's great and it feels like he's been part of the family all along. He already knew our bass player, because they grew up in the same small town. He's a passionate player and it feels like we should have always been like this. It's a really great time for us and if we can continue to make the records we want to make, then we've exceeded our greatest expectations from when we started the band.”
Let's talk about a couple of tracks from the new album, 'Along The Boundary', and 'Straight To Your Head'.
“That's a love song to my son. It's about imagination and the world that a five year old lives in. Like 'The Heater' it's a song about magic. 'Anchor Me' started off as a fairy story, about a magician that lived at the bottom of the sea and then it gradually turned into a straight love song. 'Straight To Your Head' has the same story book imagery.
'Along The Boundary' is an actual memory of a specific beach in New Zealand. It's about the sense of power when you're little and how you feel the whole landscape has been arranged just for you. I wanted to capture that sweeping feel of it and it came together very fast when we recorded it. It was something that's deep inside the memories of everyone in the band. When Chris started playing with us, 'Along The Boundary' became one of his favourite songs, it touched a chord in him.”
Don McGlashan now has a splendid solo career now, you can jeep up with his adventures here. There is also a fine site that keeps up with current info as well as past adventures here. There are B Sides and fine live sets to download here.