Posted in glasGOwest

Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space

I’ve spent a good deal of time listening to your voice on ‘Colombian Fireworks’. I think I replayed that opening track such a disproportionate amount of time that it seriously delayed my appreciation of the rest of the record. How did that come about and how did you convince them to make it the lead track?

“I really like what There Will Be Fireworks did with ‘Colombian Fireworks’. It came about because we happened to meet at a gig and they subsequently emailed and asked if I would write something for them. They’re great musicians and I was happy to create a new piece of work for them. I was living in Shetland at the time and my brother came to visit and recorded my voice. I deliberately wrote about fireworks to chime with the band name. I visited Colombia a few years ago and mentally absorbed something of the colours and beauties of Medellin. I wasn’t involved in the recording or track listing or anything like that, but I do think it makes for a great album opener. I like music with real intensity and TWBF certainly have that.”

It was a ‘There Will be Fireworks’ FB recommendation that pointed me to this project. Already predisposed to purchasing without hearing a note of it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that William Campbell was the voice of ‘Astrid’.  How did the partnership with Mr. Campbell come to be? Have you had the pleasure of hearing something from the new TWBF album? If so – do tell.

“I’ve known Willie for a long time – we were raised on the same Hebridean island, the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland. And I was a huge fan of Astrid. Their first and third albums, in particular, are classics. I remember one time my friends and I hired a car and went on a road trip from the Outer Hebrides to Glasgow just to see them play. We were fans, as well friends, of theirs. And I still think that they would have been really, really successful if they’d only had a lucky break or two.

Anyway, Astrid and I talked about collaborating on a song but then I moved to Sweden and Astrid imploded so that never happened. Fast-forward a year or two and Willie and I were both living back on Lewis and we decided to work together. From the first time we sat down together, we were surprised how well we gelled. I had some words, he had some music and they fitted together like fate’s own jigsaw! The song that came out of that first afternoon of working together was ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’. And so a few weeks later it was released as a vinyl single by Fantastic Plastic! What’s really great is that our personal chemistry – we get on very well as people – translates into great professional chemistry. We respect and trust each other and we don’t have huge egos so we can have a laugh at ourselves, too.

As for TWBF, no, I haven’t heard their new album. They should send me one since I never got paid for ‘Colombian Fireworks’ 😉 I imagine the new album will be superb.”

It is a bit early to ask considering ‘Kevin MacNeil And Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space’ just came out, but are you sufficiently pleased with the experience, result and reception to do this again?

“We’re both very pleased with the album. The critical reaction seems to be gaining momentum all the time, which is very gratifying. We’ve done various gigs over the years – at book festivals as well as music festivals, which is kinda cool. Also, the BBC recently made a tv documentary about Willie and that has boosted his profile. I imagine we will do more music together, yes. I think we might get a video done for ‘Christmas Ghosts’ and release that as a Christmas single – one that’s considerably darker than the average Christmas single!”

What are some your favourite current Scottish bands? Has anything come out recently (in the past year or two) that has really caught your attention?

“Around Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis there is a music scene which is amazing and which I think of as a low-key version of what was happening in Seattle in the 90s. An explosion of talent. I could list a dozen superb bands from the island. I think Astrid’s success – signing to a cool record label, making a living from music – inspired a lot of teenagers in Lewis to pick up a guitar or some drumsticks and hone their talents. And with the honed talent came self-belief and, sometimes, success. I’m thinking of, for example, Colin MacLeod (aka The Boy Who Trapped the Sun), DotJR and others. Willie’s band The Open Day Rotation do rare but unforgettable gigs. My brother’s band, Brawth, are fantastic live, too, as are my pals the Murderers of Love. As for Scottish bands who aren’t connected to the islands, Gareth from Idlewild (and who used to be in Astrid) took me to a gig by The Twilight Sad that blew me away.”

Coincidentally, the CD and a copy of ‘The Stornoway Way’ arrived on the same day. I listened to the record three times before starting the novel. When I got to the poem from which ‘Every Month’ was apparently derived the day’s experience came full circle. Do all the songs stem from poetry already written?

“I think ‘Every Month’ is the only one that relates to a novel I wrote. Willie liked the words to it and it turned into one of my favourite songs because of how powerful and poignant his chorus is. The ‘Gaelic Song’ developed from a poem in my first book (‘Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides’) and musically relates to a play I wrote and for which we commissioned Willie to compose a soundtrack. ‘Corneal Graft’ is about an eye disease I have and was originally commissioned for the 500th anniversary of a college of surgeons. Tracks such as ‘Into the Next World’ and ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ were written specifically for us to record and perform together. I think the track listing gives the album an overall coherence that’s really important.”

I recently obtained Withered Hand’s Good News (rather late to the dance) and while taking the record from the sleeve, I began looking over the lyrics. They were so exceptional that I ended up reading them all before putting the needle down.  When the same words were ‘heard’ with music the effect wasn’t quite as powerful as I anticipated they would be. Their power seemed to be diffused somehow or, perhaps more accurately, the music that I imagined would go with them was understandably different.  On your record, the alternating spoken word (verse) and Willie Campbell’s singing (chorus) is extremely moving and effective. Was there a typical process for writing the songs or a philosophy behind them?

“No, we just do our best. We’re lucky, and we don’t take it for granted, that the words and music seem to fit together in a very natural, organic way.”

 People, perhaps understandably, seem to primarily focus on your poetry and literature. What prompted you to first combine poetry with music? 

“Maybe I’m a frustrated rock star! I suppose I get a little distraught when I hear songs with the same old unoriginal lyrics, one cliche clunking into another. If you’re going to go to all that bother of writing some wonderful music, why not give the lyrics a little depth and meaning, too? That way, you’re giving your audience more respect.”

This record has apparently been a long time in the making. Was the ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ single the first collaboration? What are the most recent tracks? Are there songs that didn’t make it on the record? 

“Yes, ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’ was the first song we wrote together. The most recent tracks are ‘Into the Next World’ and ‘Kingdom’, which I had never heard prior to the live performance on the album – a performance I didn’t know was being recorded. The chat at the beginning of the song is genuine and makes me smile. We were playing a gig in our hometown and hadn’t rehearsed this song. I’d never heard it before. I went to the gym before our gig and was late in arriving at the venue. So Willie called me onstage at the end of the night, and I just read the words on a page someone handed to me. You can hear me make a mistake, talking over Willie. That’s fine, though – it’s very natural. We didn’t want to make a robotic, overly polished album and that’s especially true of the two live tracks.”

Glass half full or half empty, or just a glass where half the contents have been consumed and the other half remains?

“Yep – it is what it is and to see it otherwise a delusion.”.

Musically, I’ve been drawn to Edinburgh this past year. I’ve begun reading some Rankin and my wife’s Macall Smith books to obtain little more local flavour. I just ordered ‘A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde’ and am looking forward to seeing Edinburgh through a different set of eyes. What is the Scottish equivalent of anglophile? (There must be a joke in there). Could you recommend some contemporary Scottish literature that gives a sense of place?

” As with music, there are very many talented writers in Scotland. Edinburgh’s Laura Hird writes with a delicious dark humour, so I’d highly recommend her novel ‘Born Free’. Shetlander Robert Alan Jamieson’s ‘Da Haapie Land’ is an epic and rewarding read. Likewise James Robertson’s ‘And the Land Lay Still’. I could sit here recommending Scottish books all day!”

I just reacquainted myself with the music of Iain Morrison. I do have some ‘Crash My Model Car’ in the itunes folder, but didn’t make the connection at the first. There is the isle of Lewis again. The video for the new single ‘Homeward’ seems evening more heart wrenching having just read Stornoway. Are you aware of, and able to recommend, other musical artists specifically from the isles?

“Iain Morrison is very talented. I loved Crash My Model car – their gigs were so impassioned and energetic. There are a few bands making traditional music as well as the more contemporary guitar-orientated bands.”

My poetry set to music collection is limited to Patrick Jones and Kevin Gilday.  Are you familair with them? Could you point the way to anyone else? 

“I think there are a few more bands doing this now than there were when we set out, so maybe more people are placing greater value on the words they marry with the music. Something that inspired me was a CD I have of Jack Kerouac reading various poems to improvised jazz. Kerouac revered the musicians he worked with but they hadn’t even heard of him, which ultimately left him sitting in the studio on his own crying. Poor Kerouac!”

I did not  realize that Astrid recorded a third album. How is it?

“Ah, Astrid’s mysterious third album. It was only released in Japan and Spain. There is a song on it called ‘Seahorse Perfect’ which Willie wrote (he took the title from a poem of mine) and which must be one of the highlights of Astrid’s career. It’s a stunning track. A few of my friends reckon this album ‘One in Four’ is their best. I have a soft spot for ‘Strange Weather Lately’, their first album, as it is so happy and innocent sounding. ‘Distance’ is a perfect pop song.

 A Fish Called Rwanda? Truthfully? If you had to come up with another band name what would it be?

“A Fish Called Rwanda was just a bad joke I made somewhere. We called this album Kevin MacNeil and Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space because we were going to call ourselves Visible From Space from the next album onwards. But I heard there’s already a band called that so we’ll need to come up with something else, or stick to our own names…”

Thor

Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

Gav Prentice -The Invisible Hand

I had just pre-ordered ‘The Invisible Hand’ when I received an email the next day with an album link and request for some coverage. The fact that your team is willing to reach out to us is proof of how ‘leave no stone unturned’ hard working they must be. The press snippet proclaimed an album from “cult euphoric pop duo Over The Wall”.  I’ve been meaning to get around to Over The Wall for quite some time; so half way there. A solo project from a duo, what inspired this?

“It actually says it’s an album from Gav Prentice who is also one half of Over the Wall, just to eliminate any confusion there it’s entirely me!  These songs are much darker and more bitter than Over the Wall, and I wanted the arrangements to be sparse to concentrate on the lyrics, so they really wouldn’t have fitted with the Over the Wall approach to things.  Although some of them were written a long time ago they all share certain themes in saying something about where I grew up, my relationship to work and class, and how that relates to the situation we all find ourselves in today, so they all seemed to make sense as a collection.  The songs in that vein have been building up and bugging me for a while, so when I finally had a window once we’d finished touring proper for ‘Treacherous’ I was keen to record them.”

At first, I mistakenly read that as euphonic.  The ‘Invisible Hand’ certainly can’t be considered pop. How about – cult euphonic  ______ soloist. How would you fill in the blank?

 “I know what you mean, to get across that it was different from Over the Wall at first I was describing it to people as “not uplifting.”  But I think that might be selling it slightly short as I genuinely don’t think it’s self-pitying, it has real anger and bite to it, it just doesn’t give you a nice warm hug in the end.  I tried to reflect that in the arrangements and the way the songs were played as much as in the lyrics.”

Initially, I was surprised by how much of a departure the record seemed to be.  Much of the first listen was getting used to the idea that this is not a follow up to ‘Treacherous’. On the second pass, I was much more capable of admiring what was actually there. After the third, I was marveling how much my perceptions had changed and how much I was enjoying it.  I imagine a few people when listening will get stuck on the first pass (and I’ve read one review that can only be explained by this)  Does this frustrate you at all or is it just sort of par for the course?

“It does frustrate me although I wish it didn’t. I accept that a certain amount of baggage comes with a being in a band that’s known (unfairly, to my mind) for being this ultra-energetic pop thing and there’s part of me that enjoys just deliberately doing the opposite of that and playing off it.  I don’t think it should be too challenging a listen but the lyrics are certainly the most important aspect and I appreciate that takes time to sink in so people might just not bother.  Part of the reason for going through with making an album like this is that I’ve always felt like Over the Wall never got enough credit for the lyrics.  Review after review wouldn’t mention it at all or would say something like how they were all love songs, when we’ve never really written a love song at all! We put a great deal of care into the lyrics and they weren’t being noticed, which to be fair may be to do with how busy the tracks are with a lot of other stuff going on.  So I wanted to strip this album back so that it’s the meaning of the lyrics that comes across first and foremost.  I think I know which review you’re talking about there and what frustrated me about it is that despite this it didn’t really engage with the lyrics or the message or narrative of the album as a whole whatsoever, and actually colossally missed the point on one song because of that.  So that’s an old problem despite my best efforts.  I’ll never really be happy with reviews though I don’t think.  Thanks for the kind words by the way, I’m genuinely over the moon that anyone likes this and I’m glad you gave it the time to get there!”

 The song ‘Give It Up’ is a rouser. The lyric “you think you’ve found what I have never lost” leaps out at me; it is the kind of lyric I especially like. What exactly has been discovered and always known?

“Most of the album has quite a specific and literal meaning but you’ve picked one of the very few lines there that I’d quite like to keep open to interpretation sorry! That may well be why you picked it out and why you like it. I can tell you that the song was written as a bit of a fuck you to anyone who’s given me terrible advice down the years, and after playing it through a few times I realised I was kind of talking to myself and all the self-doubt that comes with playing music. Since I was a kid, especially growing up in a place like Bathgate which has quite a strong ‘pub rock’ cover-band thing going on, it’s often been suggested to me that I should pack it in, should stop trying to write music, but of course the biggest challenge is justifying to yourself that it’s worthwhile. I suppose in that line I’m trying to boil that down as simply as I can – to the extent where it could apply to almost anything you like and is more about the feeling of the song than the specifics of it.”

Is ‘Honesty Lost in Silence’ an actual field recording?  Was there a specific purpose for including this halting off kilter track?  (which I quite liked) Where are some of the strangest places you’ve played or recorded music?

“It was recorded along with the two other ‘tape tracks’ on the album (I Know That and I’m Not Gonna Cry) on a little cheap and pretty much broken dictaphone in the lovely house that my girlfriend and I were recently forced from by the colluding forces of a bastard landlord, a bastard bank, a bastard letting agency, and a bastard estate agent.  It was a great house as it was detached from any neighbours, so not only could you make as much noise as you want but it had a really great ambient sound to it when there was nothing else going on.

The reason that those songs were recorded like that is that they are an aside (“halting”, like you said, is a very good way of putting it) which don’t follow the narrative of the rest of the record.  They’re more traditional singer-songwritery subject matter.  I’m saying “look, I could do this but I’ve discarded it, I’ve kept it in this rough form because it’s not worth it” so that the lyrical message of the rest of the album is more pronounced.  I’m trying to show that I could do that wallowing thing but that I’m choosing to put  the focus on these other 7 songs. They should also provide a bit of a breather from all of the ranting on the rest it!”

Speaking of field recordings, I have an odd request. Would you be so kind as to watch this and tell us what you think of it?   http://www.npr.org/event/music/160545650/cloud-cult-a-moment-of-serenity

 “It’s great.  I really like how there are all of these filmy people across the country, in fact across the world, that are taking bands out to a bandstand or under a tree somewhere or in a taxi or whatever and getting them to play in that space and then just putting it on the internet.  I’ve heard people moan about that trend but if the band is good it’s really lovely.  Once the albums out I’m keen to get around and do some of these.”

I assume the album title is a reference to Adam Smith. To turn things around a little, how would you say that this invisible hand manifests itself in the current Scottish music industry?

“I suppose part of what I’m saying there is that the invisible hand is a myth.  It’s become an idea as slavishly followed as a religion even although it was partly responsible for almost ruining us. This idea that if you work had you’ll get what you deserve is wrapped up in it, and it’s quite evidently bollocks.  If it were real and in action the cream would always rise and it would always be to the benefit of those struggling at the bottom.  In many ways that is the exact opposite of the music industry! “

How was the tour with the Jetpacks? Usually when a guy with an acoustic guitar walks out before a full band I get a little impatient. On the other hand, I have witnessed the power of that sole guitar as well.

“To start with I was worried about that and to be honest made the mistake of trying to cater to it by playing only punchy, more aggressive tunes. Eventually I realised that if I just did my thing people would either get into it or not, and the shows got more enjoyable as it went on as a result of that. You’ve just got to have faith that the songs are good enough to stand up when their stripped back like that and hope for the best!  When you take that leap of faith I’ve found it pays off. “

What’s the last record you listened to in its entirety?

“‘Channel Orange’ by Frank Ocean, in fact I’m listening to it right now as I type this.  It’s fucking brilliant and I highly recommend it.  He has this great way of writing vocal parts where he just floats over the top of the beat hardly really committing to any melody, and it means he can get away with saying absolutely anything he wants in it, it just flows effortlessly, and before you know it you’ve got all these hooks along the way. It sounds as if he’s writing the song as he goes along. When I first heard his song ‘Pyramids’ I immediately wanted to make a tune where I did that, just floated the vocal over the top.  It’s an album in no great hurry, which is probably the opposite of my album, but I think both can be good.”

Is there anything coming out (Scottish) in the near future we should be looking for?

“I believe John Knox Sex Club have some tunes in the locker which they recorded before their singer Sean moved to China, so I’m looking forward to that.  I’ve also fairly recently heard new Sparrow And The Workshop stuff which was brilliant.  And Three Blind Wolves release their new single on the same day as my album, and we’re labelmates, and it’s a cracker. In fact one or more of Three Blind Wolves will also be playing at the in-store shows I’m doing in Glasgow (Love Music) and Aberdeen (One Up Records) on the 15th and 18th October respectively.  That should do you, my finger’s well off the pulse so there’s probably lots more.”

You’ll have to explain ‘Ae fond kiss’ to us. Lovely song. I’ve got some instagram images of the Kid Canaverals posing in those tourist Scotsman face cut outs in my mind as I ask this, is there a deeper cultural significance to the song that us foreigners don’t appreciate?

“I’m not aware of the photo you speak of but hopefully it doesn’t make anyone think of shortbread tin versions of Scotland!  I wanted to include a song that was in Scots language, and I felt that ending the album with a traditional love song would be good.  Basically the album is about loss much in the way that a normal singer-songwriter album would be, but it’s about the loss of a community, certain industries, certain identities, and a way of life rather than the loss of a girl or boyfriend.  I thought having a song which is so old (it’s my arrangement of a Robert Burns song by the way) could be a nice way to bring that out, and I also think that they are the most beautiful words about loss ever written.”

I just looked at this year’s Away Game lineup. Cry. It is my contention that Scottish music has never been better and if that bill doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what will. What was the experience like?

“It was really great, and even although the lineup was fantastic and everything the things about both of the Away Games that have really stuck with me is the community spirit around it, both from the whole Fence collective and how amazingly welcoming they’ve been to us and from the islanders themselves, and just how beautiful Eigg is. We have friends that live there too so it’s quite special that their small community has this bloody great music festival at it. It feels like it’s their party too. And the whole island mucks in, it’s amazing, I’m very privileged to have performed both times it’s happened.  It takes it’s toll on the body though, they know how to consume McEwan’s Export there to a frightening degree.”

Finally, when can we expect  the next ‘Over The Wall’offering?

“Next year I think. We have new songs ready to go but we need to record them, but I think it’s realistic to say there’ll be new stuff out next year.”

Thor  

These days I usually pre-order releases from the artists that I follow. With less than a week to go before today’s release, I still had not been able to order Gav Prentices’ new solo effort ‘The Invisible Hand’. This agitated me more than it should have. Then last Wednesday, as if in recompense, the day after I finally was pointed to a pre-order link, I received an email nicely inquiring if I’d like to do a review.

Naturally, of course; I’m a big Over The Wall fan I replied.

About half way through listening to the record, I realized that I might not be able to whole-heartedly recommend this record. It was good, but somehow fell short of my expectations. The second pass made it clear that it was actually a lot better than I was able to appreciate the first time. It became pretty obvious that my first listen was spent dealing with my expectations and coming to terms with the fact that this was not a direct follow up to ‘Treacherous’. After the third listen I was fully onboard and somewhat astonished that my initial reaction could have been so removed from the current one. It is then that I remembered that I had much the same experience with ‘Treacherous’. I had a few singles and live versions before it was released. For some reason, I much preferred the early versions of some of the songs and it didn’t contain ‘Grand Defeat’. It took me a little while to accept the album for what it was rather than what I wished it to be.

So how is ‘The Invisible Hand’?  In a few words – deeply satisfying.  

Overall stripped down instrumentation and more deeply personal subject matter lends itself to a darker tone. Nevertheless, the opening of ‘King George’ is very pleasant acoustic guitar fare and only toward the end is it evident that, as expected, the album will be a rebuff to the clumsy and oversimplified modern notion of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. “I’m well versed in bended knee and communion wine stains my teeth” towards the end of the first song signals that what is to come will be more personal than any songs from before.

The rousing ‘Give it Up’ is a standout which is followed by ‘Burning Down’. I took a detour to read a little about Bathgate; think Pennsylvania rust belt with an additional failed economic modernization to rub salt into the existing wounds. With this in mind the bitterness and anger makes a good deal more sense.

“Square Mile” is achingly beautiful and presumably personal as well. I did not feel right asking about it specifically being content to let the song speak for itself.

Skipping past a couple of equal engaging stripped back tunes the record heads into the drum machine beats of ‘Are you Sleeping’. Of all the songs, this one most resembles an ‘Over The Wall’ song. Thinking about it some more it strikes how much the brighter instrumentation dominates their songs somewhat obscuring the lyrics. I think the reason ‘A Grand Defeat’ still remains my favourite is because of the prominence the vocals get in the mix.

The album closes with a more traditional ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. Perhaps if had bothered to google it, I would have sound less stupid in my questioning. I did atone by updating the wiki entry of artists who have recorded a version.

Overall, I find myself listening to the ‘Invisible Hand’ quite a lot. My only real complaint is that I wish it was a little longer than slightly less than 30 minutes. On the other hand, I keep coming back to it to sneak a listen in between doing other things and in that respect maybe it is the perfect length for what it is – a heartfelt, moving, creative solo effort in between projects. In fact, I now like it so much that I hope more acoustic instruments find their way into the next project.

At the end of the day, ‘The Invisible Hand’ is as wonderful as any record obtained in the past year. Just be sure you give it enough time to truly appreciate it.

Thor

Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives

I’d thought I’d wait until after the tour to send these questions. Luckily the people didn’t buy all the tour EPs. My copy arrived the other day and I was actually a little deflated. Lately every order has been the deluxe vinyl that comes in this massive teal blue package that is rather pleasing to the eye; and this time, unlike when the actual album arrived, it was just in a little cardboard sleeve. Do you happen to still listen to vinyl?

“I don’t listen to vinyl as much anymore but that has more to do with my living arrangements than anything else. My whole daily routine revolves around my computer so the ease of playing whatever I want to hear at that specific moment makes it more likely that I play it online. I realize this may not be the most popular thing to say at the moment but I think it’s the way the world is going. There will always be vinyl enthusiasts and I completely understand that because I was obsessed with it throughout my twenties, but I think there are more people that are more attracted to the ease and instant availability of the digital realm. I still have a sizeable collection but every time I move flat (which I have done numerous times in the past ten years) it becomes more and more frustrating to humph boxes and boxes of vinyl up and down the stairs.”

Having been born a half hour from Stuttgart, I’m keenly interested how the German leg of the tour went? Any highlights? 

“The German leg of the tour is always great for us because the shows are usually well attended and the venues and people that work there are generally great. The distances between shows and the addition of the constant road works all over the country can make the experience pretty exhausting but playing the show always makes it worthwhile. It’s the reason you put up with the lack of sleep and unnatural experience of seven people crammed into a small area for hours on end. Berlin and Cologne stood out for us because we felt like we played well and that always helps to make a gig more enjoyable.”

I perfectly understand the Germanic need to look to the UK for popular music. Having moved to Canada when I was four, I don’t have any true sense of the musical landscape; but it has struck me that German fans somehow remain loyal longer than fans elsewhere. Were there more Aereogramme t-shirts in the crowd than usual? Have you noticed any actual difference between crowds in different countries? 

“There will always be Aereogramme tshirts at our shows because the connection is obvious and it’s something I have no need to distance myself from. There is a similarity and I would hope that Aereogramme fans would find something to enjoy about The Unwinding Hours. We seem to attract a very respectful crowd where ever we go but there is certainly another level of attentiveness about the German crowds. Maybe we have been lucky but the audience seem to be there to see the show and that is the only reason for being there. In the UK, there is such a saturation of bands and gigs that you can have many different reasons for being at a show and the band isn’t necessarily one of them. I seem to be eternally cursed with standing behind the one person that can’t shut up all the way through a gig when I go these days but I’m never in the crowd in Germany so I have no idea if it happens there.”

I just ‘re-discovered’ that  an acoustic version of ‘Wayward’ was on the Lands of the Rising Sun compilation.  On the first listen to the album it struck me that the album version most typified the different musical attack. How conscious an effort was it to get the new record to sound differently?

“It was certainly a conscious effort to try new things. I never thought we had really pushed it out in a brand new musical direction but I know it’s certainly different from the debut album. That was the whole point though. I know bands ALWAYS go on about not trying to repeat themselves but that’s what we naturally set out to do. We couldn’t do another “Knut” or “Final Hour”. If we had it would have been pretty stupid and ultimately very boring for us and the listener. It isn’t a huge leap in a different though. It’s still “us”. We were never going to return with a reggae/prog concept album, thankfully…..”

The new record been spun a lot around here, quite a bit more often than the previous one. Perhaps I’ve been listening to too much Holy Mountain or Sucioperro lately, but my first impression was that it was much ‘tamer’ than I expected it to be. After getting over my expectations and listening to it for what it really was, I couldn’t help feeling what a natural progression it was from the last Aereogramme record. I felt it had a similar spirit and it felt like less of a departure than the previous record. Has anyone else commented similarly?  

“No, people don’t usually bring up Aereogramme so much other than the passing comment of where we came from. Like I say, the connection is obvious but I think the Unwinding Hours are able to stand on their own. For me, they come from two very different points of my life so I can’t really compare the two. In terms of “spirit”, I personally feel they are totally different. I guess that “Afterlives” is more similar to “My heart” than the debut UH album but the differences are too many for that to merit much consideration. I am very proud of both though. The only connection I think there is between the two albums is that “The promised land” has a lyrical connection to “The running man”.

Oddly, my favourite song at the moment is ‘Dogs’; the very song that once caused me to worry about too radical a departure in style. It highlights just how integral your voice has always been to the overall sound.  “What do you think about Craig B’s voice” I’m asked and I’d have to reply that it is like wearing a  comfortable warm sweater knit by your mother in law while having a pint with an old friend. How do you feel you have progressed as a singer? 

“I’m not really sure how I have progressed as a singer. I never think about that. My lifestyle and the screaming during the Aereogramme days meant that my voice was put through a lot of stress and it resulted in permanent damage. I have lost a bit of the power I used to have but I have no need to do any of the screaming any more anyway so it’s not so bad. There are a few earlier Aereogramme songs where I sounded like a wheezing munchkin and it was a bad mix of me having a cold, drinking, smoking, screaming and probably using the wrong mic. The experience we have gained over the years means I’m much more sensible about looking after my voice and we are able to capture it a bit better. The Dogs is a good example of Iain’s ability to capture the voice so well and get a real intimate feel which is what the song needed.”

As an experiment, I reversed the order of sides A and B in a playlist I affectionately called “myafterlife”. The result? The listener is instantly hit with Wayward; easily the song the best typifies the new musical approach. I think ‘Break’ actually starts too quickly (and is thus better suited to start side B) while the little drum intro on Wayward is the perfect opening salvo. ‘Skin on Skin’ is such a departure that it should  come sooner than later to stress that. Having the album end with Saimaa and Promised Land is stunningly beautiful. The vocals in Promised alone are also the most upbeat and inspirational. Additionally, it serves as a rather good summary of the album as a whole. What do you think? Where there any alternate song sequences considered? 

“The sequence of the album is something we spent a lot of time working on. Whatever works for you though eh! There are particular reasons for why the songs are in their specific order on the album but that would take way too long to explain. One of the reasons Saimaa and Promised Land are closer to the start though is because I think we were hoping some people who didn’t know our music might give the album a listen and so we were hoping to catch people’s attention earlier. Songs like skin on skin, say my name and the dogs take a bit more of your concentration and are therefore more for those people who have given the album their full attention and stuck with it.”

Record out, tour over – what comes next? 

“Not much at all actually and I realise this might confuse some people but this gives me an opportunity to explain myself. Aereogramme decided to split up because the stress of constantly touring was starting to negatively affect our lives. Iain and I decided from the very start of the Unwinding Hours that we didn’t want to repeat that same mistake so we will not commit to it full time.  I am confident that this doesn’t affect the writing and recording process. We put our spare time and energy into that because we still love making music but there has to be a compromise in playing live. I won’t go into the boring financial problems of what it costs us to play but what it basically comes down to is that we can’t play live very often and in many places. There will always be that way of thinking that suggests that if we don’t play live then we won’t reach a new audience and therefore we won’t go anywhere but unfortunately my eight years of touring in Aereogramme (and the years spent in previous bands) would suggest that it isn’t that simple. It’s a risk that musicians take and I can’t and won’t take that risk any more. There is that popular thought that you should never give up on your dreams but I also don’t want to turn into a bitter, failed musician, drunk and throwing my shoes at pigeons, still living in shitty flats with no partner or any future to look forward to because I have spent all my time trying to make the one thing I do pay off. I want to enjoy it and I am genuinely proud of what we do but I’m also relaxed and content with what our situation will achieve. The compromise is that we still write and record but play live much less. If you have heard the record and you are enjoying it then It makes me happy to know that it’s found a good home somewhere. That’s enough for me now. It’s far less frustrating and the pigeons of Glasgow will be safer as well.”

The record really is an exceptional achievement. I’m too far away to know how well it has been received in Scotland. The ‘press’ I read online is rather biased in that regard. Having just been to a Django Django show, I have no ability whatsoever to assess what might or might not appeal to a wider audience. Do you think there is a possibility of ‘breaking out’ again for the Unwinding Hours? (is it even something you’d welcome or wish for). It is with the most selfish reason that I ask – my seeing you again would seem to hinge on you being supported sufficiently to tour here.

“I have no ability whatsoever to assess what might or might not appeal to a wider audience either so I have no idea if The Unwinding Hours could “break out”. That isn’t something that concerns me anymore though (see answer above). I think it is probably the most accessible album I’ve ever been involved in but I’m also aware of what being on a small independent label and not touring also means as well. I would love it if we could get used in a film or some TV show. That means you are able to get exposure very quickly and reach a new audience but that’s in the hands of those who choose the music for these things. If you don’t have anyone actively working on synch work for you then it’s harder to be seen or heard above the crowd of bands that are looking for the same thing. Someone at the BBC seems to like us enough to have used our music in certain shows already though. I owe them a pint. “

Is there anything you’ve enjoyed musically of late or are looking forward to? I just ordered Kevin MacNeil & Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space. I’ve not heard a note of it and I’m looking forward to being rewarded  for the leap of faith. It is how I used to buy records before the internet age and there is something to be said for it. 

“There are many Scottish musicians that I have been listening to a lot recently. Olympic Swimmers are the band of Jonny and Graeme who play Drums and bass with us live. They have a song on their album called “Rung down the curtain” which I think is just outstanding. Karine Polwart is a Scottish folk musician who worked with Iain on her last album and is stunning. It’s called “Traces”. The new We are the Physics songs are proving incredibly catchy as is anything Miaoux Miaoux has put out lately. Scotland is really producing a lot of fantastic music right now. Ane Brun is a singer I keep coming back to time and time again because her voice astounds me every time I hear her and I’m also I’m looking forward to hearing the new Converge album. “Jane Doe” is in my top ten albums of all time. It still makes me air drum and instantly makes me feel better every time I hear it. I’ve been listening to the new Mark Eitzel album “Don’t be a Stranger” as well. He remains one of my favourite lyricists.”

We got to see Admiral Fallow last week. Have you had the pleasure?  

“I have and I enjoyed their music very much. “Guest of the government” and “Isn’t this world enough” are two cracking tunes. I love any band that is drenched in melody like they are.”

When we can look forward to the next musical Unwinding Hours offering?

I have to write some new demos, then start the long process of putting it altogether again with Iain. We will let you know when it’s ready. It might be a while but that’s ok. There is no rush.”

Thor

I clearly did not  properly convey the fact that this record has become as beloved to me as ‘My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go’. The title pretty much sums up this Aereogramme fan’s feelings. From the perspective of merely being a fan of the music, my emotional reaction to new record has almost been as strong as to last Aerogramme release. I shall now stop saying Aereogramme. 

 I was going to link a review that I felt captured it better than I could.  Oddly, I couldn’t really find one. Maybe I’ll sit down later on and give it a go. Considering this is the first 2500 word post, I’ll dispense with a review for now.  If for some ungodly reason you haven’t picked this up yet just go get it.

Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

The State Broadcasters ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’

I’ve caved to temptation and streamed the new record  while writing the first drafts of these questions and waiting for the CD to arrive. “Where I belong” was the first song that made me fully stop to take note. At this point in the record, you instinctively know that it is going to get even better as the album finishes out. The heartfelt melancholic beauty of ‘This Old Table’ is eyes wateringly good. It was great that you released the digital EP with the alternate piano version. Are you sitting on any other versions that might be released in the future? 

“Yeah, sorry that CD took so long to get to you! You’re a long way off! We actually recorded those alternative versions especially for the EP – it had been a good while since we recorded those songs originally, so it was nice to revisit them and do something new with them. We don’t have any more alternate versions, but we do have a couple of songs that we recorded for the album that we decided to leave off it. We felt that they were just as strong as the songs that made it on there, but we wanted to be quite concise with this album and it just felt a little too long with 12 songs. They’ll definitely see the light of day at some point though, maybe on another wee EP or on the next album proper. I suppose it depends on where we go with the next album. On one of those tracks there’s a string orchestra and I played a bike as percussion! Maybe we could explore that further….or maybe we’ll just go even more miserable and sparse, we’ll see how chipper we’re feeling.” PM

I’ve developed  an aversion to the digital music format. While waiting, I decided to get a physical copy of the first record the ‘Ship and the Iceberg’. I feel bad because I bought a used copy  as I didn’t realize they were still available from you directly. Did you make more or am I wrong in thinking they had originally sold out? How is it working with Olive Grove this time out? 

 I think there’s still plenty copies of that first album knocking about. Every now and again we get another box of them from Electric Honey (our label at the time) to take to gigs with us. PM

Olive Grove has been great, the people that run it are just really genuine music fans and what they lack in funds they more than make up for with enthusiasm, hard work and passion and Lloyd is very sexy. GB

I’ve been noting the favourable press whirlwind. There seems to be a great deal more of it than the last time. The one glaring exception coming from the Herald Scotland provoked a bit of twitter research on my part. It seems that their “arts correspondent” doesn’t really have much involvement  in the musical arts. I’d love to dismissively browse his record collection and scoff at the twaddle I’d expect to find there. What has your reaction been to the press this time around? My suspicion is that they have caught up with you.

‘It’s very nice of you to get so defensive on our behalf! I didn’t think the Herald review was too bad really. We’re aware that we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and pretty much everything that has been written about the album is very complimentary. It certainly feels like a vindication of how long it took us to make the album when people write lovely things about it.” PM

“It’s great when anyone likes our music regardless of whether it’s a journalist, a DJ, someone in another band or someone who comes to see you live. I don’t really think the opinion of a journalist is anymore valid than that of any other music fan it’s just they have the potential to do you more damage!” GB

Referencing the “folkish undertones” from your press clippings page, I want to specifically ask how much musical inspiration (or background) stems from traditional Scottish folk music. Truthfully, I’ve never really been a big fan of folk music itself. Pedro lent me a vinyl copy of ‘Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree’ (Alan Lomax recordings 1951-57). This led directly to my purchasing Alasdair Roberts ‘Too Long in This Condition’. While my musical sensibilities are still firmly mired in indie pop/folk as opposed to more traditional treatments, it is something I could see myself exploring more deeply.

“Truth be told I’m pretty ignorant about traditional folk music, Gill is the one for that in our band. I just hear a song and if I like it that’s good enough for me I don’t care if it’s from 1903 or 2003. The one thing that does draw me to folk music is this idea that they lived and breathed and traveled from person to person long before recorded music was possible. It is incredible to think a Scottish song could find it’s way to the Appalachian Mountains and then still be being performed and recorded today in a contemporary setting. How did A P Carter get his hands on some song tune that came from Shetland!?” GB

I’ve also just recently ‘discovered’ Randolph’s Leap and  noticed  the brass instrument overlap between your bands. They are another example of a band I might not have paid much attention to a year ago; not somber, loud, dark or melancholic enough for my old tastes. I don’t remember listening to and enjoying a record as much in quite a while. Are there any other projects the State Broadcasters have been in involved with? Any future collaborations to look forward to?

“Actually, I’m producing Randolph’s Leap’s first album at the moment. I met Adam at a James Yorkston and Pictish Trail gig at Christmas, and offered to help out on some recordings. I ended up recording one song (which appears on their new ep that comes out on Fence soon), and I think they liked the results and asked if I wanted to do a whole album. I’m a big fan, so it’s lovely being involved in their first full album. I get to hear all the songs before anyone else, which very much appeals to the music nerd in me. Fergus and I have been working with Jarv and Richard from Endor too on a new EP. It sounds lovely so far, well worth looking out for.”

‘Ghosts We Must Carry’ – What are some of these ghosts? For myself, they are almost innumerable, but certain ghosts loom larger than others and the task of coming to terms (or not) with them does not necessarily get easier with time. This has very much been translated into the music itself and I can’t help but feel that some bitter experiences went into the making. Is there a specific origin for the title?

“You’ve pretty well summed it up, the ‘Ghosts’ are innumerable, aren’t they for everybody? I am a bitter, twisted, grudge bearing individual and I remember everything so be warned! I try to be a better person but it is very, very difficult.” GB

Thinking of the album’s title still, Cloud Cult’s “Feel Good Ghosts” immediately comes to mind. Have you heard it? If not, I’d love to hear your reaction. In a way, that album seems to counsel on how to celebrate the ghosts rather than letting them haunt you.

“I’m listening to it now probably need more time to pass judgement but I think I get what you mean, I think rather than have these ghosts haunt you or celebrate them then our album maybe helps you live with them.”

I’ve just read that the Trespassers Video is going to be ready and released in October. I originally only ordered the signed CD when you were raising funds for it. Visiting the site a few months later, I noticed that the 19th moth had just been pledged. Only one left – I had to get it. It is a lovely idea that was nicely executed. Were the moth models used in the video or were they purely a fund raising creation? 

“I haven’t seen the final cut yet, but an early edit I saw had the moths in the video. You should have a go at animating your one yourself! It was what they were designed for after all. Unleash your inner Nick Park.”

I’ve just embarked on what I’m calling the mp3 reclamation project. I’ve got a good deal of Scottish music in digital form only. I’ve even obtained those silly vinyl cdrs to do it. My first recovery is Viva Stereo’s ‘Endure the Dark to See the Stars”. Does anyone happen to have this in their collection? How eclectic are the musical tastes of the band members? 

” I’d say the tastes within the band are pretty eclectic. There’s a lot of us, so I suppose it’d be a surprise if we all like the same things. I think we all have The Smiths and Ivor Cutler in common, but then you’ve got a pretty wide range of stuff from there, from Sparklehorse, Wilco, Pavement, Grandaddy etc to Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Maybe some jangly African pop in there, some Elvis, a bit of Talking Heads and Bowie. Gill’s properly into her traditional folk songs too. Suz our cellist plays percussion in a Balkan brass band too. Yes. Eclectic.”

“If you endure the dark, in time, you’ll see the stars” a recurring lyric on this Viva Stereo record playing at the moment. What are some of your favourite lyric snippets?

There are lots and lots but how about this verse from Lullaby of London by The Pogues GB

As I walked on with a heavy heart
Then a stone danced on the tide
And the song went on
Though the lights were gone
And the north wind gently sighed
And an evening breeze coming from the east
That kissed the riverside
So I pray now child that you sleep tonight
When you hear this lullaby
May the wind that blows from haunted graves
Never bring you misery
May the angels bright
Watch you tonight
And keep you while you sleep

From over here, on the west coast of another continent, it seems that Scottish music is becoming more sharply defined and may well be poised to embark on an invasion of its own. Of course, that may be my own wishful thinking. Is there any sense, over there, that musically things have, like the new Meursault record for example, risen to a whole new level?

“The Meursault album is excellent and is probably about the only Scottish thing I’ve bought this year so it’s hard for me to say. Some Scottish bands seem very good at creating a buzz or whatever without actually having any fans or producing anything worthwhile where others are doing really well by working really hard like Admiral Fallow and Frightened Rabbit. But, in my view, one of the reasons those 2 are perhaps doing so well is that they could actually be from anywhere, they have quite a universal sound I think. That is not a criticism, but it does mean that a Scottish ‘invasion’ is probably less likely unless you want to invite us all over to your house?” GB

What are the plans for the Broadcasters going forward? Have you considered releasing a nice ten inch vinyl single for ‘This Old Table’? You know the original, the one from the EP, that new version you are holding on to and a nice JC remix.

“Now that’s an idea! I like how you’ve suggested our least radio friendly song as a single. That’s exactly the kind of thing we think about doing all the time. And we wonder why the A&R guys never come calling…” PM

“We’ll probably try and gig this album around a bit but as far as future recording goes then the next lot of songs will be different to this. There will be no acoustic guitar and lots of dancing. Maybe…” GB

Thor

The Video: My moth at o.o9!

( PM = Pete Macdonald and GB = Graeme Black )

                               The Review

I bristle at the idea of writing a review, so I’ll just frame it as one person’s thoughts and opinions. Other than the fact that it is in my collection and it should be in yours, what is there to recommend about ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’? 

While waiting for the sophomore release, I ordered a physical CD of ‘The Ship and the Iceberg’. Having read a few reviews from the first, I was struck by how numerous, consistent and effusive the ‘press’ was for the new record. It did not strike me as excessive, because the album is that good, but oddly delayed. In my mind the first record was equally good. Where was all the praise for it?

‘Ivor Cutler Suggests We Join the Noise Abatement Society’ starts off the first record with some piano and a giggle. Not quite Divine Comedy’s ‘Something For the Weekend’, but by the time the song rolls into the orchestral pop of ‘Let’s Make T-shirts’ it becomes clear that this melancholy tinged record still balances out with a nod toward optimism.  After comparing the two, you quickly realize what an artistic leap forward it is.

‘The Only Way Home’ starts things off with considerable more static and from the outset melancholy has transformed itself into lament. Cold news delivered by phone. Lyrically that is about all we learn. Musically the differences between the openings of the two records are pronounced. Already darker from the outset, the addition of effect drenched guitars after the solemn brass and strings underscores just how much this record seeks to explore new territory.

The title and the main ideas behind ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’ are obviously universal.  Each of us can infuse them on a personal level beyond the actual lyrics adding even more emotional depth to the music. I’m listening to it for the second time properly (off the CD on the stereo). I’m wiping away the tears, because at the same time I’m reading a two year history of tweets from an account that is normally locked to me. Thank goodness for technological glitches. It is a window that has allowed me to effectively ‘trespass’ for the short time it remains open. Like my own, the tweets are overwhelming about music. The author blogs about her love of Canadian indie music; rather a wise choice considering she is based in Toronto.  I discovered her blog a few months after starting my own. I often think that things musical are how providence, fate or karma manifests itself in my life. At first, I thought it was a good thing and might somehow bring about desired change.

Of course, I was wrong.  My “estranged” daughter still seems lost to me and the promises that this is how it would unfold by my ex-wife remain fulfilled. It was just the universe toying with me. I state this because I’ve nowhere else to state it. My desire to have a conversation with the one person I desperately need to speak to the most has evolved into a conversation that I have with myself.  Like Kittiwake (playing now) ‘I need things to change. Instead of being devastated this window has given me hope – like the melody of the song itself. “This is a painful way for you to say you’ll get by”. My ghosts are, of course, unique. However, anyone who has ever experienced loss of any kind will easily see the outlines of their own ghosts in the album.

Herein lies the true beauty of this record. The tales and the songs about them seem completely genuine reflections of whatever ghosts they seek to address. By the time ‘This Old Table’ comes along it culminates in the most emotionally honest song I’ve heard in a long time. It would be possible to weave all the songs together as one larger narrative piece and perhaps this is as intended. Even if I’m overreaching in thinking that, there is a cohesion here that works better than any concept album ever could. It is done with sincerity, candor and grace.

For the Broadcasters the closing track ‘New Year’s Day’ is short, wistful and obviously meaningful.  In my mind, narratively, it is the voice of the person who has experienced the profound loss reflecting back at the cusp of the future. The ghosts need to be carried forward. Their burden never fades.

There are much better reviews out there.

 I particularily like http://www.peenko.co.uk/2012/09/state-broadcasters-ghosts-we-must-carry.html.

 I read it quickly when it was first posted and then deliberately avoided going back. It is the review I wish I could have written. For the most part, the reviews are remarkably consistent because the album itself is that remarkable.

 

Posted in Live Reviews

Django Django/Cancel The Astronauts

Django Django at the Independent September 25, 2012

An Irishman, an Englishman, and 2 Scots walk into a bar art school…

Fill in a punch line of your choosing as there would be many that would work after seeing the “Edinburgh” bands’ first SF stop on their first US Tour. In the grand tradition of UK art school misfits who followed music as their muse (Keith Richards, Joe Strummer, Malcolm Mclaren, MIA to name a few…) come these 4 creative quirks who fuse collagist aesthetics to their dance band antics.

And dance they did!- for and with the rapt San Francisco audience. Our city has a long history of transcending the live experience between performer and audience through dance. One could argue it was the hippies moving to the electric jugband blues at the Avalon Ballroom in the ‘60s that defined this, that it was the headbangers thrashing about at The Stone in the ‘80s, or perhaps it was the late-nite beboppers at Jimbo’s Waffle Shop in the ‘40s that epitomized music’s ability to set you free…whatever your take is, the San Francisco audience last night reciprocated the Djangos feel good bounce on stage with something they have always done for live music – dancing wholeheartedly.

Of the many sonic reference points Django Django re-interpreted on stage, from their west coast drenched harmonies (“Storm”), and spaghetti western noodling (“Wor”), to the eastern-influenced instrumentals (“Skies Over Cairo”) – all were brought down to earth with a whimsical take on autobahn electronics and 8-bit video game blippery (Mega Man soundtrack for Nintendo anyone?). Sadly, the visual reference points never surfaced at the non-existent merch table (who dropped the ball on that one, fellas!?) But the tasteful “stage outfits” of matching tie-dye t-shirts in subtle off-kilter patterns was a welcome sight to onstage showmanship. Props for tryin’ while not tryin’ too hard, and having fun while tryin’…

Pedro

I was going to write my impressions of the Django Django show but decided there wouldn’t be much point. At best it was a neutral experience – not as bad as it might have been and it didn’t work as well as it could have. We are going to a different format this year. Weekly posts that highlight our Scottish music experience; if something really big comes along we’ll just add another post in between.  My CTA preorder arrived today. It seems we are experiencing a one week delay. I was pleasantly surprised to see a top notch handmade comic with a 2 song pre-order download code. The two songs “Thumb Wars” and “My Father’s Bed” have been on repeated rotation all evening. I’ve a soft spot for the personal reflective CTA songs that seem to find their way to the B sides. Another song about lost love – “I’m going nowhere, I might just get there yet” …. “I’m going nowhere and I’ve traveled pretty far”. A beautiful simple confessional that tugs at anyone who has suffered from self inflicted loss. The second song is a moving and deeply personal reminiscence of illness and an expression of hope for what kind of father the son would want to be. I still need to get my hands on the early demos and my CTA collection will be complete as I caved and  found an ebay copy of the first EP which came today as well.  

Thor