The combination of yellow and red cover art plus the name Man without Machines inevitably (for someone who was a teenager in the early 80’s in Canada that is) brought to mind the debut LP from Men Without Hats. Apparently, they were too style conscious to wear them in the frigid Montreal winters. Any hidden meaning in your name? Could you also explain the significance of the title – Kreuzberg Press?
“Ah now, this is where things get confusing. I originally went under the name of ‘The Kreuzberg Press’ as a sort of working title for the ‘band’. I then settled on ‘Man Without Machines’ which was a slightly modified version of a 1960s book title by Cottie Arthur Burland called ‘Men Without Machines: The Story of Primitive Peoples’. I’ve not actually read it but I can imagine it might be a patronising look at indigenous peoples or something like that. The title I liked because it reminded me of Kraftwerk, obviously the ‘Man Machine’ but also the way they gave off the persona of being primitive, robotic, all dressed the same and without obvious individual personalities. Of course I’m also playing on the irony of a man without machines when I do actually use lots of them.
The similarity to ‘Men Without Hats’ name is entirely coincidental, but one I’m happy to go along with.
I decided to resurrect the ‘The Kreuzberg Press’ for the title of the album. I find Kreuzberg (in Berlin) a fascinating place. It has been a hot bed for art, music and counter culture for many years. Most well know as where Iggy Pop and Bowie used hang out and was the inspiration of Bowie’s ‘Low’ album. It was also where the press was traditionally based, almost like it’s voice and also the presence of Checkpoint Charlie – an iconic symbol of the cold war. All these things coming together make it very interesting.”
There is, obviously, something behind the frequent references to the music as being somewhat of an electro-pop nod to the eighties inspired nineties. Was that a conscious aim or does it just happen to be a byproduct of the instrumentation?
“I would say it was partly intentional and partly not. People often criticise the 80s for being bad for music, but it certainly wasn’t, they only remember the hair metal, polished pop and novelty acts. I write the songs first and then add the instrumentation. I wanted to create a combination of nods to 80s new-wave synth and the more crunchy indie-guitar pop of the 90s. There are some deliberate references, like the string synth sound in ‘Peterloo’ is very similar to ‘Seconds’ by The Human League.”
The video for ‘Something’s Happening Here’ is bouncy, fun and highlights the almost casual vocal delivery that makes the record as a whole stand out from much of the over wrought earnestness out there at the moment. It isn’t superficial, there is quite a lot going on under the hood and, maybe most importantly of all, it is just out and out fun to listen to. Was the record something that came from within or is it also, in part, a reaction to the music currently around you?
“The songs do come from within and I wanted to something to do something that I enjoyed rather than try to fit in with what’s going on around. I quite like how it has such a big sound but with the nonchalant vocals. Some people have criticised that but I avoided affecting the vocal too much. That video is definitely done with a bit of a wink and tongue in cheek.”
When I learned that the first single ‘Something’s Happening Here’ included a cover of ‘Six Months in a Leaky Boat’ I had to track one down. I’m old enough to have heard it played live on the ‘Time and Tide’ tour and it has always been a favourite. How did you come to making it the B-side?
“I’m not quite sure why I chose that, I’ve always liked the Finn brothers and thought it was a fun song to do. I came across it again after not having heard it for ages and thought it would fit in quite well the MWM sound. It was actually on the UK radio ‘advisory’ list when Split Enz released it due to the Falklands war, probably due to the title rather the song itself, so it didn’t get much airplay at the time in the UK.”
‘Even Still Even Though’ is the just released second video. The song, with its wonderful staccato vocals is no less infectious than the first single. I’m struggling to make out what it is actually about. Could you elaborate?
“Ha, now this one is our ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ it doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s more of a word play thing. I’m sure someone can come up with some profound interpretation though.”
I’m assuming that ‘Peterloo’ isn’t directly about St. Peter’s Fields and is perhaps an allusion to the current Scottish political climate regarding potential independence. A little hard to tell from over here, but am I even close? Would you care to comment on the song’s intent?
“Ah, you are correct in that it’s not directly about the original Peterloo, but it’s more to do with the Arab Spring, starting with the green revolution in Iran. I thought there were quite a lot of similarities with the St Peter’s Field events. The situation in Scotland is different, there are no mass protests or military in the streets, it’s more like the Quebec situation.”
I’ve had the album on an usb stick in the stereo for a while now. It rather conveniently begins playing from the beginning whenever the receiver is turned on. It always catches me by surprise how much it bouys the spirit whenever it is turned on. What was the recording process like?
“Well I record everything in my home studio. Most of the ideas start with guitar and it evolves from there – adding synth parts and drums. Some of the Bass parts were re-recorded by Andrew who elaborated a bit more on what I had done. I then went to chem19 studios (Chemikal Underground’s studios), near Glasgow and mixed all the tracks up there with the input of Paul Savage (ex Delgados). It was good to get his input, we took some things out, doubled things up, added extra drum parts and so on.”
We are all off to see the Wedding Present play ‘George Best’ tonight. Is any song on that record a particular favourite? I’m probably most excited to hear ‘My Favourite Dress’. If you had to do a WP cover what would you choose?
“The Wedding Present, one of my favourite bands. I’ve always wanted to cover a Weddos track and I definitely will at some point. From George Best it would probably be ‘A Million Miles’. If it was Bizzaro it would be ‘Brassneck’. One of favourite moments seeing them play was in Glasgow where Gedge announces “I’m not being funny but can anyone remember the first line of [a song]” then someone from the audience shouts it back and he say “oh yes that’s it” and starts playing the song.”
Will the album only be available on CD and download?
“For just now yes. I’m putting it out on my own label so the budget is tight. If there is a demand for vinyl then I’ll think about doing it.”
You’ve also got the 10th Spare Snare record coming out at the end of March. Through some bandcamp snafus, I was able to get a copy the minute it was posted. The sonic differences are pretty pronounced. What is your usual role and contribution to a typical Spare Snare song?
“We’ve got this reputation for swapping instruments on stage – well that’s even more pronounced when we record. I’m mainly on keys, guitar or bass, but some tracks I’ll be playing drums, which I can’t really play. We don’t really have set roles during recording it’s just what comes out at the time. We are always forgetting what parts we’ve played when we come to play the newer stuff live.”
Anybody in Dundee we should keep our ears open for? (and that better not include Dundee’s ‘Mumford and Sons’)
“(Ha ha I know who you’re talking about.) There’s not really a scene as such in Dundee at the moment but there are some bands that keep cropping up. There’s a band called ‘Fat Goth’ who are a heavy rock band – I’m still not sure if they are serious or a parody though. There’s another young band called ‘Blood Indians’ who are starting to crop up, they play kind of sparse dark folky stuff.”
I’ll leave you with one clip to close. I think I’ve found the subliminal seed for my love of Scottish music. “I think that I’m in Scotland and I’m walking in the forest through the rain and I wonder if I’ll fall in love again.” Of course, since that isn’t really a question perhaps you could ask one instead?
“Ah Men Without Hats, great stuff. When I was going through this before, Family Guy was on the TV in the background and ‘The Safety Dance’ came on in the episode – nice coincidence.
So as you are someone who has lived in Canada – anytime I’ve been there people tell me that their grandparents are from such and such a place in Scotland, there seems to be more of a diaspora of Scots in Canada than in the States. Is that something that has been a factor in your passion for Scottish music?”
No Scottish heritage here. One of the last of the German emigrants to the New World, on a ship no less. Arrived in Montreal in ’67 at the age of three and boarded the train to English speaking Ontario. Maybe I picked up something of the North Atlantic during the passage. Growing up in Canada it was easier to be exposed to music from the U.K. My passion first fueled by such things as the Delgados and much, if not all, of the Chemikal Underground roster has become even deeper with the past decade’s Scottish talent. There is a particular underlying cadence to the music that is more deeply satisfying than most music from other regions. Since starting the blog about a year and half ago, this has deepened even further the more I explore. Having said that I am really perturbed that the upcoming Frightened Rabbit show is the same night as Efterklang.
The album will be available from all the usual digital places on March 4. Here is a soundcloud album sampler in the meantime.