Colin’s Godson

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Holding Colin’s Godson Comic #2 in my hands I see that you went back in time to the London of 1996. In a fabulous coincidence, I myself spent 10 days in that fair city in May of that year where I met the brother of a secret vampire. It can’t be coincidence that I am now holding your greatest hits collection, conveniently and thoughtfully tacked to the outside cover. The comic art seems to be an integral component of the CG experience, what was the inspiration for it and is it done in house?

“We put a lot of effort into the packaging and artwork. We try and deliver something that’s worth more than the sum of its parts. When we make an album we try and fit a theme and a story and this is generally illustrated in the art. I usually come up with the concepts and story for the art and explain them to our artist Adam and he amazingly fills in the gaps, we have pretty much the same sense of humour so every time he delivers a new CG instalment he has me laughing out loud. There are quite a few in jokes in there too, but hopefully other people can find it interesting and/or amusing. Adam is definitely the 6th Member of the band he doesn’t actually play in CG but he is a talented musician in his own right too, having fronted the Plimptons and the Hector Collectors who were quite big cult bands in Glasgow.”

How did you end up deciding which 12 songs would end up on the greatest hits collection?

“The “Greatest Hits” was just intended to be a bit of a stopgap for us but it’s a good intro to the band and as I write you can still download it for free, although we’d prefer you bought the full package. I chose the tracklisting mainly by picking my personal favourite songs but I wanted it to be career spanning too so there’s an element of trying to give a good balance of stuff from all 4 of our albums aswell as EPs  and Singles.”

‘Stadium Rock’ leads things off. One advantage of living on this side of the Atlantic Ocean musical popularity inversion prism is that we occasionally get to see the likes of Biffy Clyro or the Manic Street Preachers in rather small venues. What is CG’s take on the power of music and the dangers of the excessively popular?

“Good question, well at the moment CG are the antithesis of anything that could be described as popular, and not out of choice either. I wrote the song Stadium Rock after seeing a certain Stadium Band who were the complete personification of the cliché. However we love stadium rock, bands like Queen and Wings are actually big influences on us. I suppose what does annoy me are those huge bands who seem to be really bland, pompous and boring yet will fill out arenas. There’s maybe an element of sour grapes as when I go to a massive gig like that I always think that we struggle to get 100 people to go to our shows at £3/4 entry yet they can get 10,000 people paying £80 a time. I sort of wish that these “music fans” would come out a bit more for the underground/grass roots stuff. For the price of a Rolling Stones ticket you could see over 30 CG gigs.”

“Colin’s Godson in Space” was your choice for the second song. Other than this one, of course, what is your favorite song about space?

“There are lots of good songs about space but off the top of my head Frank Sidebottom’s “Space is Ace” is probably my favourite, or indeed anything off his seminal Sci-Fi EP. In the early days we used to frequent a lot of Frank Sidebottom gigs and I was lucky enough to meet the man a couple of times. He’s a major influence on CG, musically and creatively and he’s sorely missed!”

It should be apparent by now that I’m following the track sequence so I’ll stop mentioning each song title, but why exactly did Blackadder let you down so much and apparently so often? 

“Blackadder Back and Forth was a one off special of the classic sitcom filmed by Sky TV to be shown in the Millennium Dome throughout the year 2000. It’s a below par effort and a lot of people were bitterly disappointed, including myself. That song is a true story about the painful experience of going all the way to London as a teenager just to see it.”

It was only after the second listen and an internet check that I realized that a missing tuner pedal is the center of the song ‘Nothing Compares’; although it could still be considered a boy loses girl love song. You seem to go out of your way to concoct clever and different lyrics. Is there any method to your madness? As a songwriter how in the world do you avoid tripping over the same old cliché?

“I make a bit of an effort to find interesting angles for songs as it’s easy to spout platitudes and fall into the same old clichés of subject matter. I’d like to think though that even although the songs are written to be amusing that they can actually make interesting observations on life in general. I think one of the major themes we explore is the sort of profound banal existentialist crisis of self-awareness or doubt that we all experience on a daily basis. There are some songs we’ve done that are just plain daft though.”

“Theres no moon, it’s the Death star” is a perfect illustration of the previous point. In the face of the music industry evil empire, do you think independent labels have a better chance these days of eking out their own existence and are indie bands better able to take complete control themselves to try and make a go of it given the modern tools at their disposal?

“We’re a DIY band which is a very liberating experience from the point of view that we can record and release stuff when we want and how we want without having to pander to anyone or please a record label. These days technology is such that bands can get decent sounding recordings without spending that much money. The downside of the DIY thing is we don’t get any financial support, and we can’t really afford to market ourselves which I think is a key component to getting success on a wider scale. Still, our record label “Puzzled Aardvark” only has UK distribution rights to our material so if anyone in Japan or the USA or somewhere wants to licence out our records for their label, we can talk.”

Top three bands assaulting the world with their “pretentious kack”? 

“I dislike a lot of bands but I think it’s a bit unprofessional to name them specifically. One of the biggest things I dislike is bands that somehow get away with playing 2 chords for 6 minutes but they are seen as being arty so get lots of critical acclaim. It’s a lot harder to write good pop music an actual song that’s over in 2 minutes but that isn’t afforded the same credibility, which I find a bit frustrating.”

Most of your songs are quite short. Other than the benefits of fitting things on mini CD, is there a design principle behind this choice? 

“Our songs are short because we purposefully trim all the fat. There are rarely more than 2 verses and no long instrumental sections. I think it’s important that people are left wanting more. One of the best compliments (I hope) I get is that people don’t actually notice they are short songs because they are still well structured.”

“Gary Bushell” is the third name, in as many songs, that I’ve had to look up to help get the references. Clearly, you are not exactly aiming for a global audience. What is the guiding principle behind the band? Should global success suddenly overtake you would you be able to handle the new demands?

“Our material doesn’t exist in a vacuum away from pop culture so like people do in real life we refer to the world outside our own bubble. It just so happens that we’re Scottish so we’re more influenced by UK popular culture. I’m sure if we ever had global success our horizons would broaden and we’d be writing songs about Mountain Dew and Regis Philbin or anything else that happens to be kicking about the USA.”

Paul McCartney was visited in comic #1. Who would you consider spending ‘time’ with for comic #3?

“In the comic world and real life the person I’d most like to meet would be Graham Fellows. He’s made 2 of my favourite albums of all time yet only found moderate success later in life as John Shuttleworth. The album he did as Jilted John is what made me realise you can make an unpretentious concept album. I’d urge anyone to buy that record, it’s a perfect record about being a teenager.”

I did not know that Brian May was an astrophysicist. Perhaps more directly relevant to the musician than tax dodging, what are your thoughts on such ‘services’ as Spotify?

“Well that song was influenced by the fact that Queen were famous for being tax exiles in the 80’s, recording music in France so they didn’t have to pay UK Income Tax. I just liked the scenario of going one step further and moving off the planet altogether. Brian May is a hero of mine though and I’m sure in real life he’s completely above board with his tax affairs. He’s also a 3D nut and has one of the world’s largest collections of 19th Century stereoscopic photographs. With regards to the Spotify thing, we don’t put any of our music on it or any of the other download sites, we only sell direct to our fans. It works for some people but I don’t see why the people that don’t like it moan so much, no one’s forcing anyone to put their music on the services if they don’t want to.”

“How Cheap is your love” might have been inspired by a time trip to 2000 where you heard Frigid Vinegar’s take. I’ve always had the notion that if I could travel in time that I’d take a song catalogue and go way forward when back catalogues where effectively forgotten and become an international superstar. ABBA in 2267! Whose songs would you pilfer?

“That’s a really old song, I only put it on the compilation to cover the base of having a song from our very first album on. Never heard Frigid Vinegar but it’s not a tremendously original concept so I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been done before. There was an odd sitcom on UK TV in the 90’s called “Goodnight Sweetheart” where a guy finds a worm hole which takes him back in time to the 1940’s and he has a dual life living in both time periods. The oddest thing about it was that he had a wife in the 1990’s and also a love interest in the 1940’s but the moral ambiguity of him cheating on his wife was never really brought into question, he occasionally justified it by mentioning that she hadn’t been born when he was in the 1940’s. Anyway to get to the point in that show he was always claiming to have written popular songs from the 60s and 70’s, I guess if I could do a similar thing it would be with Queen or the Sultans of Ping f.c.”

“Back to Earth” closes off with another, by now signature, CG ballad.  It effectively demonstrates that despite the tendency to novelty you are adept at creating wonderful pop gems. Has there been any pressure to venture down more conventional roads?

“I’ve just actually written a boring serious conventional album. I originally demoed it as the Next CG album but was listening back to it and it really wasn’t CG fare so I’m going to record it as a solo album entitled “Inevitable Solo Effort” and then CG can come back with another album about daleks and pickled onion Monster Munch.”

I’m drinking my morning coffee from my Dr. Who vanishing Tardis mug and potential Colin’s Godson song suggestions are virtually inevitable: “Where and when did I park the Tardis and why can’t it make a decent cup of tea?” Potential? 

“I like songs where the everyday and banal meets the completely absurd so that has potential. I’ll give you a call if I get stuck writing the lyrics for the next album.”

I want to reference your ‘Never Mind Sigur Ros’ CD since I just finished listening to their album stream. I’ll inevitably buy it, but if I was stuck in a detention oubliette, I’d much rather listen to CG than more of this, by now, predictable bleating.  For yourselves, is there a change in musical direction in your future? Will you crack the 3 minute song barrier?

“Our sound has progressed over the years from 3 chord punk to a slightly more polished pop sound. If anything the next album will be a  proper well produced powerpop album along the lines of the Shazam or Jellyfish or Wings. A lot of it’s written and it’s sort of sounding a bit Pixies meets early Blur meets Jellyfish so hopefully we can make it sound expensive! Can’t see us ever breaking the 3 min barrier though.”

Whatever did happen to Northern Uproar?

“They actually reformed a couple of years back and released another couple of albums, they do OK on the UK nostalgia circuit but I haven’t seen them since they got back together. I think they play the hits though so should really catch them next time they’re in Glasgow.”

I heartily recommend checking out CG. Here’s the link for the songs mentioned above. Should you have been induced to read it makes for excellent, if not essential, musical accompaniment. 

Colin Godson’s Greatest Hits

Needless to say, check out all the rejected songs as well.

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Stuttgart Traffic

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I was going to start off by asking about the name, but I see that the German press has beaten me to it. We’ve just decided that our imaginary blog band will be called ‘Unexplained Fires’. Were there any other names considered for your real band? 

Unexplained Fires is such a cool name by the way. Well the name was just kind of there to begin with. We just brainstormed different ideas by throwing any two words at random together and “Stuttgart Traffic” was the one that had a nice sound to it. We’ve never considered changing it and I don’t think there would be any point now as it would cause confusion.”

I was looking up Wee records while doing some research for our recent Charlie Clark post and your name did catch my immediate attention as my mother was born in Stuttgart. Unlike, the German press piece, my attention then shifted to the actual music starting with the video for ‘Table for Two’. When and where was it filmed?

“Table for Two” was filmed earlier this month(March) and it was filmed about 5 minutes away from where Wee Studio is located on the site of a demolished building surrounded by mounds of rubble. It was freezing cold, but extremely fun to film! There’s definitely too much of my(Calum) face in it though!”

It doesn’t really matter how good your name is if the music isn’t there to back it up. I took an instant liking to the song as it pushes all my buttons and hints at a promising future. What was the first song you’ve ever written? 

Thank you very much. We really do appreciate anyone taking the time to just listen to our music. The first song we learned together was “Strawberries” which will feature on the forthcoming album. It’s a particularly personal song which is perhaps why we pushed to learn it first, but as well as that we feel it just has good energy and is a fun live song which is all that mattered at the start.”

The next song I heard was German Borders. I’m having a little difficulty making out the lyric that references the title. So far I’ve got “I’m a Scottish girl at the German border” and, on the second pass, “Damn the Scottish girl and her German borders”. Could you help me out please? (although, I rather like the second one) What is the song about?

“Apologies for the lack of clarity. It must be the Hebridean accent. The line is the same both times around and is “Damn that Scottish girl with her German borders”. 

Just as I was about to send these, while double checking links, I found your first EP Seasons. It was quite enjoyable. What was it like travelling to SAE Glasgow to record the Strawberries demo?

“SAE was a great experience. It was the first time we’d used big, expensive recording gear. Because we were only there for two days though we ended up rushing. We actually laid down one other track which we have since re-recorded elsewhere as well as Strwberries(and will also feature on the album). Because we rushed we ended up with two songs that we weren’t particularly happy with so we consider the whole SAE experience a learning curve. Lesson being; “You can’t rush art!” as the guy in Toy Story 2 says.”

You’ve got a digital album entitled Pantagruel coming out soon. When I saw the flyer, I wasn’t sure if that was the title or another band on the bill. Care to share its significance? The album contains the 2 video tracks I’ve already referenced. Can you tell us the rest of the track listing or will we just have to wait until April 5th?

“Pantagruel was initially just thrown out as a joke in another brainstorming session. The name is that of a character in an old story (Pantagruel and Gargantua). He is a foolish prince who treats serious matters with a cynical sense of humour and that’s basically how it linked in. It was a similar outlook and general disposition a lot of these songs were born from. Coincidental! Well, not really. We were petulant youths, so was Pantagruel. The songs that aren’t so pessimistic adopt the total opposite outlook –  so you get both sides.

See You Next Week and Lonely/Happy(from Season EP) are both on the album, as is a new, album version of Strawberries. German Borders and Table for Two of course. The 3 other tracks recorded at the Wee Studio go by the names of “I Like Chocolate”, “I’m so Happy I Could Vomit a Rainbow”, “Surprise” and “Sparks and Spells”(clearly the happy outlook songs). The four remaining tracks (Cannibals, Roll on By, Crab Claws and Lighter) were recorded by a gentleman called Paul Matheson at his home studio”

In checking out one of your recent shows, I took the time to look up ‘Sea Atlas’. I’m just starting to get into more traditional sounding bands and liked what I heard. What can you tell us about them? Are there any other bands on the Island that we should keep a look out for?

“We’re good mates with the Sea Atlas boys. We’re always game for intruding on each other’s performances. A cameo tambourine appearance here and there for live shows and backing vox appearances on albums etc. Obviously we’re big fans of the Sea Atlas. There’s so many other great local bands though. The local music scene has just exploded as of late. Keith(of Wee Studio) has a lot to do with this. Eleanor Nicolson is one to look out for in future. Josie Duncan as well. A Promise To Noone, Pandejo, Face the West, Paramount. There’s also more well established groups. DotJR and The Boy Who Trpped The Sun being two examples (who both got themselves record deals with big labels). Bands in the past as well such as Charlie Clark’s old band Our Lunar Activities who recorded with Mark Hoppus. The list goes on.”

Wee Studios seems like an incredible asset to have on the Island. Could you tell us a little about Keith Morrison and the support he’s given you?

“It can’t be over-stated, how much Keith has done for not just us, but the whole music scene. There’s no way to concisely sum up all that he’s done and still do him justice. That in itself gives you an idea. The studio is amazing too obviously but only cause Keith knows his stuff. Seriously, he’s a wizard. Or at least Iron Man or something.”

It is a relative thing of course, but since I encounter many obscure indie bands on the Scottish mainland, I couldn’t help noticing that, in many cases, you’ve got 2 or 3 times more facebook ‘likes’ than some bands based in Glasgow. I assume this might be, in part, due to a large local support base. How have friends, family and the community itself buoyed your efforts as a fledgling young band?

“I’m actually surprised by that. I guess its maybe because we’re in a small pond. Lewis is small in comparison to Glasgow, therefore people don’t have as many choices of bands to listen to locally so they’re forced to listen to us which benefits us. But as I said, the music scene is taking off now. I think there comes a point though when you need to move on so people don’t get bored of you. Like Table for Two got plenty of ‘dislikes’ on youtube. We genuinely appreciate it when people are honest like that because its constructive and lets us know what to do and what not to do and if the song sounds as good as we think. But in such a small community it’s hard to know when it’s a personal thing or a genuine opinion of the music. But as you say the feedback has been generally very good  and we appreciate the support shown very much because without it what’s the point? Whether positive or negative though all feedback is helpful.”

Did you vote in the recent Samas? If so, who got your vote for best rock alternative?

“I personally didn’t vote. Maybe the other two did, I’m not sure. Don’t know who was nominated but Fatherson have to be up there for me anyway.”

I asked about your ages earlier because as a 17 and 18 year old my ‘playing’ in a band experience was limited to a single weekend when we rented a Juno-60 and the bass player decided he wanted to play it instead and handed me the bass. The first thing we used it for was to add the opening whirly sound and dog barking in ‘Somebody got Murdered’. Either because of the actual cost or my playing, the next week I was back at my regular spot behind the 8-track. It was pretty obvious, back then, to hear a young band’s musical influences. We were primarily a Clash-U2 cover band. Original song writing started shortly before everyone left for University and it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what they sounded like. It seems so much more diverse these days. Listening to you one could cite any number of bands and possibly be wrong. What are some of the influences that led to this moment in the band’s sound? 

“This is an easier answer to write because I don’t have to waffle. A lot of Scottish bands for me I guess. Frightened Rabbit, Biffy Clyro, Fatherson, Twin Atlantic. Also less obscure sounding bands like General Fiasco, The Wombats, Two Door Cinema Club, Blink 182, Foo Fighters. Manchester Orchestra- or Andy Hull as a writer in general- is a big one for me personally. Nirvana as well. I’m also a sucker for California sounding rock(if you know what I mean?). Just warm, happy sounding, sunny weather rock. And to be perfectly honest I’ve got a soft spot for Olly Murs’ latest single. And Bruno Mars. But we all have our picadilloes.”

Could you describe the satisfaction you get from playing and writing songs together? 

“For myself playing together and having fun and just letting it all out is the most gratifying. I’m a bit concerned that there is now going to be a permanent record of what we’ve done (the album) available to listen to on demand and analyse and criticize as opposed to just three guys having a laugh and not taking themselves too seriously.”

What’s the best album (Scottish band naturally) that you’ve picked up so far this year?

Second to Pantagruel? Just kidding. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit in my opinion. The Oil Slick is a great song! Also The 1975’s various EPs. I saw them supporting General Fiasco a while ago but they’re starting to make a name for themselves now. They know their way about a catchy song.”

What sorts of bands have people compared you to? If you could snap your fingers and secure a support slot for one band next month who would it be?

“Biffy Clyro initially but we’ve tried to steer away from that and just sound original. As for the support slot I reckon Andrew would probably say Foo Fighters. I’d rather more intimate venues though. Any of the bands I’ve listed in my answers so far would be great. I saw Frightened Rabbit earlier this year in the Barrowlands which was crazy. I also saw Biffy there once too. It is THE best venue in the world.”

I’ve only visited Stuttgart once, by train, primarily staying in the downtown pedestrian areas and parks so I wouldn’t have shared your Grandfather’s experiences. Picturing an elder Scotsman going on about it though, I think it is pretty funny that the name might be more quintessentially Scottish than the ‘Zeitung’ realizes. Musically – these days – it seems the world is wide open. Where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?

“That is a tough shout. I like not knowing what the future has in store so I won’t predict anything too bold. As long as we’re all live beyond then its fine. I’d personally like to visit LA and Stuttgart sometime in my life though so I’ll make playing a gig in each of these cities the 5 year ambition.”

The album launch is on Friday and it should be available on bandcamp on the following Monday. Check the band’s page to find the links.

Thor 

 

 

Homework

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I am really looking forward to getting the physical CD. I love the geometric cover and I am almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t see the ‘bigger picture’ of the CD design until I saw it unraveled on the t-shirt. Who designed it?

 The artist is Craig Macfadyen, a good friend of the band and an excellent musician to boot (he plays bass with our drummer Richard in another band called The Discordian Trio). Craig also did the video for It’s All Over, some of our press shots, and will be doing live visuals for us at the Inspace show. He’s a very talented man and I hope this throws some more work his way.

 By the way you aren’t the only one who missed the ‘bigger picture’. I only noticed a few hours after signing off the design.

 Sometimes the difficulty of being an ‘old’ fan is accepting new material. On the first pass through the new full length ’13 Towers’ the initial reaction was a bit of a double take. Listening at the computer through the monitors it seemed like a big departure. I’m doing it again right now and it sounds fantastic. Was there a conscious decision to tighten things up musically or is it really just a natural progression of your song writing? 

 To be honest it was more about taking a fresh approach in the studio. We knew the live show was becoming one of our strongest points so it felt right to try and replicate that in the recording. The mantra was very much that “if we couldn’t do it live then it shouldn’t make it onto the record”.

 The next step was to take it into the living room with a 4 speaker sound field centered about the couch. Here is where it really began to make sense with the second listen. There is a coiled vibrancy and visceral feel to the songs that despite my professed, at the time, preference for ‘Glitter’ couldn’t mask. It also suggested that these songs would really come to life when played live. How do the live versions differ than the studio ones, especially in terms of execution?

 As I say what you are hearing is really pretty close to the live show. Things are naturally slightly more restrained on the recording but we went out of our way to try and capture the energy of the four of us playing together in the same room. Yes, it could maybe sound more polished at times but we sacrificed a bit of that in exchange for the energy.

 I’m struggling to keep up with all the incredible music coming out of a relatively tiny geographic area. I’ve had to accept that I’m reaching my own limits in terms of what I can buy and even find the time to listen to. Further compounded by the fact that most people don’t actually spend 70% of their free time looking for new music, how does a band get noticed, draw enough of a sustaining audience to be able to continue amidst what seems an increasingly shrinking pie?

 Make no mistake it’s tough. If the pie was the be-all-and-end-all we’d have given up a couple of years ago. It’s taken us four years and a lot of time and effort to get this record out there but the warmth with which it’s been received makes it all worthwhile. It pays to take your time.

 I don’t think there is any secret to getting noticed, you’ve just got to make what you want to make and hope that people like it enough to part with their hard earned cash.

 We’ve set the bar high for the next album but that’s the most exciting part for me. Hopefully one day it will end up paying the bills. We’ll certainly continue to make records regardless.

The album launch party is on May 9th in Edinburgh. Is Edinburgh the ‘hometown’? Because it strikes me as a bit late compared to the actual release date, it makes me wonder how hard it is to secure a venue there? Beyond the well-deserved celebration is there any deeper significance to a band’s album release show?

 It’s our hometown in the sense that it’s where we are based. None of us are actually from here though. The reason we chose May was to give the album a bit of time to breath and for plenty of people to hear it. It’s also a pretty ambitious show we are attempting so the extra few weeks are a godsend to get it all in place.

 Inspace is part of the informatics lab at Edinburgh Uni and isn’t normally a gig venue so pretty much everything has to be hired in. We aren’t making life easy for ourselves…but then we rarely do.

 Have you carefully scheduled your Inverness shows so that Houdi will be able to attend?

 Absolutely. 

 I’ve been listening to the album so much, I’ve completely missed the video for ‘It’s All Over’. More geometrical design play; where was it filmed and is there a story behind it?

It’s all images of Edinburgh, painstakingly pieced together by Craig. It’s literally thousands of photos of the Capital put through an Adobe blender.

 You’re working with Badge of Friendship. They’ve been pretty good to us and really seem to have music at the heart of what they try to do for their clients. Assuming that you chose to work with them, what prompted that decision? 

 We’ve never used PR before but felt like this time round we needed the extra support. They are based in London, work with a lot of Scottish bands and we’d only heard good things about them so it was a pretty straight-forward decision.

 They’ve most certainly helped to get the word out and are always willing to pick up the phone. Journalists get bombarded with so much stuff these days you need someone fighting your corner.

 I just read that the album was recorded in a ‘former lighthouse’. Is it a converted studio? What was the recording experience like there?

 The Depot is part of a former lighthouse depot in the Granton area of Edinburgh. At the far end of the complex it’s got a proper glass lighthouse that looks out to sea. I think they used it to test parts for the real ones. Could be wrong though.

 Our rehearsal room is based above the studio so it’s pretty much a home from home. Craig and Garry that run the place are good friends of the band and both of them were heavily involved in recording / mixing the album.

 The favourite song (at the moment) is 6s and 7s. Could you tell us background story to it?

 I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was all about. I remember being fascinated with the idea of a “Berlin heart” though and the lyrics sort of spiraled out from that. Google it. It’s damn cool.

Thor

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One last song from the new CD – ‘TalkDown‘ played live at Go North a few years ago.

Pronto Mama

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This is largely a video introduction to the band. The questions were written in a relatively short amount of time while awaiting the release of the official video for ‘Rubber’. It didn’t quite turn out as the experiment in internet immediacy that I hoped it would be, but it still stands on its own. After all, questions or not, there really is no substitute to hearing the music and seeing the band in action. In that sense, the sequence faithfully mirrors my own voyage of discovery.

I’ve been watching clips from a Montreal music show credited for being the prototype for both MTV and MuchMusic. This Simple Minds video caught my eye and  I was fascinated by how things have not really changed all that much (with the exception of the internet – of course). As a young band trying to emerge from Scotland, what are the paths available today? Can London be bypassed completely?

“We’ve been to London once as a band and played a cool show and we’re hoping to go back for a week in the summer. It’s just such a big place that you could probably just go a tour of London on it’s own if you’re a smaller sized band trying to recruit fans. As far as trying to emerge from Scotland is concerned there are some great Scottish bands so it’s good to try and be different. Unless you get signed to Columbia after your first gig in Ivory Blacks then it’s just all about building hype and playing as many good shows as you can and building your fan base. We’re trying to build a reputation as a really tight band with good songs, that’s all you can do and hopefully the rest will follow.”

How does Pronto Mama utilize the internet to promote the band? Any ideas how to take this one step further? Incidentally, could you explain how you came up with the band name?

“When we first started out we didn’t have any money for decent recordings, so we got help from one of our mates and started doing acoustic videos to try and give people an idea of what we were going to do. Our mate has now started doing these kind of acoustic videos as a project called the BAAD Sessions and has his own youtube channel. If think we probably got a few fans out of doing that and got some folk interested. We also use the internet to distribute our music. We used a thing called Emu Bands to distribute our first E.P “Lickety Split” on the usual digital outlets.

The band name just came about from one of Rooney’s bosses telling him to do something quickly or “pronto mama” when he used to work on the roads. People say pronto in Glasgow meaning quickly, who knows why “mama” though.”

If you had to describe your music what would you say? More importantly, how would you characterize your musical aspirations?

Our stuff is generally energetic and eclectic. We don’t have a specific genre that we want to assign ourselves to, so we just do what feels natural. Everyone in the band plays lots of different genres of music out of the band so this kind of overlaps with our tunes. I think everyone just wants to get better at their instruments individually then we’ll be tighter as a band and have more scope for arranging tunes.” 

Watching some online videos I became increasingly impressed with the bands range.  The more I  discovered online the more I was able to get a better feel for it and enjoy the music. The video of this acoustic version of ‘Still Swimming’ provides a different window than the final recorded track. How does the band go about writing a song? Where are these acoustic sessions recorded?

“Someone generally comes into the studio with the bare bones of a track and we’ll play it a few times through so everyone can get the feel and the chord structure. Then it’s just about jamming it and creating your own part. Although you don’t really know a song till you’ve played it live and recorded it in my opinion.”

“Basically in our houses and out and about by our pal Paddy who does the BAAD sessions with a few mics and a camera.”

 By the time I found the video for the debut single ‘Little Scheme’ and my desire to follow the band was firmly cemented. What’s the latest musical discovery that you’ve made?

 A band called Dutch Uncles are fantastic, I’ve been listening to their new single “flexxin” on repeat and the album’s not half bad either.”

Was the video for ‘One Trick Pony’ the only official one from the first EP?

“We did a video for Still Swimming as well but the acoustic version video seems to be preferred by folk for whatever reason.”

I’ve literally just found this ‘Oor Bitt’ alternate take on Still Swimming. Where was it performed and recorded?  It is probably the loveliest thing I’ve seen yet. 

“We put on a Christmas show in the Barras Art And Design Centre in Glasgow and that preview is the start of a different arrangement of  that we did. Once again, it was recorded by one of our mates. It’s good tae have pals.”

How does the Chem 19 demo fund work? Could you tell us about the application process and your reactions when it was earned?

“I can’t really remember, our drummer just applied for it on the off chance and we managed to get it. I think they give it to a few bands every year and you get to record in Chem 19 which is a lovely studio for 3 days and then play a showcase gig. We were really pleased to get it as it gave us a real hand in making the EP.”

These questions were all written shortly before you officially released the new video for the song ‘Rubber‘. It was interesting to work my way up to the video instead of using it as a launching point for the post. When I first began streaming the song itself, it took me a little while to decide if it was really my cup tea. That is entirely due to my own issues. I occasionally fall prey to making decisions a little too quickly when considering a new band. Most of the time, 30 seconds is usually enough. Sometimes, I become too easily dismissive when considering music that is just outside of my usual, admittedly narrow, framework. I’m very glad I gave it a proper listen and explored even further. Not only am I rather fond of  the material now, I’ve gained a heightened appreciation for the band’s depth, versatility and promise. I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

What is on the musical horizon?

“We’re doing a few headline gigs and are planning a tour of London in the summer and just want to get some good support slots. We’ve also just finished recording our second EP but we’re not sure when we want to bring it out.”

The video for ‘Rubber‘ just went live and having watched it I can report that, like the song itself, I enjoyed it very much. Not unlike the recent Fake Major video, you’ve chosen to ’employ’ young stars. How much did they get paid? 

“Those two scallywags are Rooney’s two nephews and I think they were promised £20 but got paid in sweets and half an empire biscuit off the van. Not really fair, but at least they weren’t stitching trainers.”

Thor

Just two more. With each listen, my appreciation of Pronto Mama keeps getting deeper. – Sheep and Going Home

prontotree

 

Yakuri Cable

 

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I was instantly drawn to the name ‘Yakuri Cable’. It probably has something to do with my love of Urusei Yatsura; in this case a funicular, not anime, draws a Japanese connection. How did it come about?

“I’ll give you the very long answer! We decided to form the band when we were out for my birthday just over a year ago and someone had given me the book ‘Occupied City’ by David Peace, which is set in Japan. It was thought that choosing a word or phrase at random from that book was as good a way as any to pick a band name so we briefly ended up being ‘Tokyo Metropolitan Police Board’. I then discovered that there is of course a pretty well known Canadian band called ‘Tokyo Police Club’ so it was probably wise to change it – a decision that I didn’t really mind!

This left us with no choice but to go the pub after practise one day and hit “random article” on Wikipedia until something suitable came up. I think Yakuri Cable has quite a nice ring to it (though people seem to have a very hard time remembering it) and of course the synchronicity of it being Japanese meant it definitely had to stay!”

Musically the attraction was equally satisfying; almost like falling in love at first listen. Better still, the sense of wonder continues right through to the end with the last track ending up being the favourite. ‘Adventures in 86’ is a dangerous song title to wave in front of someone who was in the third year of University that year. What adventures are being referred to here?

That’s Andy’s song, so I thought I should ask him. Here’s what he said

 “Well, Adventures in 1986 relates to my obsession with all things 80s (did you know about that?) and that was the year my two favourite 80s films came out – Big Trouble in Little China and Aliens. There were also many other fine films released that year, inc Blue Velvet, The Fly and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, to name but a few.

 Several legendary 80s records came out in ’86 – including So by Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon’s Graceland and – one of my all time faves, Control, by Janet Jackson, all of which have had a big influence on me. I should also point out I was 6 years old in 1986!”

And yes, he is as 80s obsessed as that makes out!

At first, I thought you were a brand new band in the usual sense, but there was just too much polish and depth in both the music and the lyrics for that to have been the case. Although it was actually harder than I thought it would be, this is the summary I’ve managed to come up with – Discarded Hermit crabs, of which 2 are still in Baffin Island, with a new singing drummer and handclapping guitarist. Could you point out the gaps?

“Congratulations on your detective work and thanks for the compliments, but I really would say that we are a brand new band! We were all in The Hermit Crabs for varying periods of between 3 years and a few weeks, but that was and is very much Mel’s band and I would say we were in more of a supporting role in that instance.

It’s harder to say if Jo and I are still really in Baffin Island as that band exists in 2 continents and is almost entirely the work of Jeremy and Mel. I would record a transcontinental bass part for Jeremy any day though!

Oh, and we don’t really have a drummer. Andy plays some on the recordings, but in practice, and as we will be live, we are accompanied by backing tracks.”

 The ironic thing is that if the fairly recently released  Hermit Crabs EP had showed up in my inbox, I would have written back that it is quite lovely and while there is definitely something a little extra going on musically, I’ve grown somewhat  tired of Twee pop, in general, and expect more from it these days.  -And now you’ve gone and delivered it. What prompted the change in approach/instrumentation?

“Like I said in the previous answer, this is a completely different project. As far as I’m aware, The Hermit Crabs still exist, it’s just that we’re no longer a part of it. When it became obvious that there didn’t seem to be a place for us there any more we decided that we enjoyed playing together too much to stop, so we’d just have to form our own band! Our ethos was that any one of us could write a song, anyone could sing and basically anyone could contribute in whatever  way they liked. I think the golden rule was that we should all be as creative as we liked, but more importantly that it should be fun to do it. Most of us have been in bands before but I think this might be the most input any of us has had into how the band operates and sounds. ‘Stars Fall Down’ was the first song we had and that was a rough template for our sound (Andy really loves synths!), but it’s gone in a few directions since then.

 Careful with the “twee” word as well – a lot of people really hate it! If by that you mean what I would call indiepop then I think the scene is actually healthier than it has been for many years. Allo Darlin’ are my favourite band in the world right now and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!”

I’ve been wondering about the absence (and I really hope it isn’t the demise) of Zoey Van Goey. My initial reaction to your EP was that this moved me in a similar way and, if the worst is true, I might just have found the band to ‘take their place’ in an emotional sense. What is it about ZVG that works for you?

“Firstly, I’m personally very flattered that you would even compare us to ZVG as I think they’re one of the best Scottish bands of the last few years and probably the most musically accomplished. With me, all you need to get me interested at first is a good tune and ZVG have those in abundance. Of course it helps if you have more than that going on and ZVG can write everything from genuinely funny songs (a very hard thing to do) as well as many more emotional ones. They also do all this with an impeccable ear for arrangement.”

We’ve recently become more attuned and sensitive to the artwork and the selection process itself for covers, so I found this peek into the choices you had fascinating. What did you want to convey with the cover art and why did you end up choosing the path you did?

“Well we have a Japanese name, so we thought we’d like something in a comic book style and also something that included the titular railway car itself as that has become something of a symbol for us in the absence of never having done any band photos. We were incredibly lucky that our friend, Kat spent far too much time on us and gave us a range of excellent options to choose from, which we gradually refined until we ended up with the excellent art we have now.

I was looking at someone’s Bandcamp page the other day with the artwork of all the records they’d purchased and it really stood out against all the “arty” photographed covers, which I think is great.”

Really not finding out a great deal about the band, I turned to your  tweet history to try and learn some more and it seems a shared Camera Obscura story is called for. There used to be an actual camera obscura at the beach here and I saw ‘Underacheivers Please Try Harder’ so often in the local shops that I thought they were a local band. I must have had it in my hands half a dozen times before I eventually broke down and bought it only to discover that they were from Glasgow (much to my amusement). Surely you have a better one?

“I suppose my best Camera Obscura story is that I bought my current bass off Gav from the band. He has a beautiful Rickenbacker now so he sold me his old Music Man Stingray at a very reasonable price! As a fan of the band, it’s quite cool for me to listen to the early stuff now and think that that’s my bass!

I saw them play the other week and am thoroughly looking forward to the new album.”

Perhaps a prickly question given that you play the bass: Pen and Notebook or Eighties Fan

“Well I can’t say I understand the lyrics to Pen and Notebook as I don’t see how listening to The Smiths could put you off playing the bass! Go and listen to ‘This Charming Man’ and tell me Andy Rourke’s bass part isn’t the real hero of the song!

It probably has worked its way up to being my favourite song on that album though. It’s very simple in many ways, but there’s a delicate beauty to it that’s impossible to fake.”

I learned of the existence of the Willie Campbell documentary from your feed and since we just did a Charlie Clark piece, I’m very eager to watch it. Did you see it? How was it? I’m really miffed about not being able to see these things over here. Did you also happen to catch ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’?

“I did see the documentary and it’s worthwhile tracking down if you get the chance. Willie has led a life that’s very much worth documenting!

I lived in Stornoway for 3 years and so I saw him playing  live quite a lot. I saw proper Open Day Rotation gigs with large bands but he also plays every Thursday night in the same wee bar in Stornoway. You could walk in and find no one paying him any attention but he would still be there singing with all his might. A very talented man and he obviously loves what he’s doing.

I was lucky enough to catch ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’ when it was being performed and it’s a real testament to the breadth of creative talent that exists in Scotland today. I think the album that goes with it is a great taster for the Scottish music scene as well. The RM Hubbert and Withered Hand songs on there are a couple of my favourites from last year.”

 I even went back far enough to know you didn’t just get on the Kid Canaveral bandwagon. What do think of the new record? I’m somewhat contractually obligated to ask about Cancel The Astronauts at this point. Did you pick up Animal Love Match last year as well?

“I’m really loving the new album at the moment, it seems like they’ve really made some big leaps with their sound. I miss some of the humour and poppiness of the earlier stuff, but there’s plenty else there to make up for that. They’re an incredible live band and I was lucky enough to see them at their album launch the other week too. I think even folk that weren’t too keen on the records would be won round by a Kid Canaveral live show!

I’m afraid I’d never actually listened to Cancel The Astronauts before you sent me that link. Have seen the name around a lot of course, but had just never got round to it! First impressions are that they sound a little like Over The Wall though – that’s a good thing!”

And perhaps the most impressive find of all – you had ‘lunch’ with Neil Hannon. It was never a dilemma for me as I bought both at a show (and therefore they feel like a double album) during  the Casanova tour , so it might be a little more difficult to answer: ‘Liberation’ or ‘Promenade’?

“I originally really struggled to work out what this referred to (you’ve really delved into my twitter history!), but, yes he was sitting a few tables over from me in the work canteen one day! They were the first band I really loved so it was quite cool in that respect! I originally got into them via Casanova and then I think I got Liberation and Promenade in that order. It took a long time for Promenade to click with me, but it’s definitely my favourite now. Concept albums aren’t really my thing, but I like the story that runs through this. The Nymanesque orchestration is great too of course and Tonight We Fly is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.”

Apparently, Shed Seven is also a shared guilty secret. What’s your favourite song? I might have to go with ‘Bully Boy’.  I can’t believe that is over 15 years ago. I’ve moved on though, why haven’t you?

“Well, hopefully I have moved on! It’s just that my friend, Sandy was posting a whole bunch of their videos on facebook one night and that got me to remembering that they actually have a load of great tunes (I like a good tune remember!). I haven’t listened to them that much since then but I did find a Greatest Hits on eBay that was cheap enough to merit buying. ‘On Standby’ is probably the pick of the bunch for me. I actually picked up ‘The It Girl’ by Sleeper for £1 not long after that and if you want a reminder of some of the good pop tunes being made in the middle of Britpop then that’s a far better way of doing it!”

Back to Yatsura Cable as I keep calling it inadvertently but affectionately, what is on the horizon for the band? When can we look forward to some new Yakuri Cable songs?

“Told you nobody can remember the band name! Good question though!

The thing we really want to do in the near future is play live as we’ve never done that before! Have been trying to organise a joint gig with our friends in Bodyheat, but it seems to be a bit tricky to find a date we’re all free. We’re open to other offers too!

I would like to think we’d record some more material this year, but we’ll wait and see. Jeremy from The Very Most talked about putting out a split single a while back so that would be cool to do.

There are no great ambitions, but if we can get a few folk to like our songs and play some gigs with some fun people then we’ll probably be happy.

I did read (and this probably helps to explain why I like the EP so much) that you have 3 song writers. How has this impacted the way you go about crafting your songs?

“Of the 5 songs on the EP, Andy wrote 3 (Line of Sight, Stars Fall Down and Adventures in 1986), I wrote one (Come Apart) and Jo wrote one (Giving Into Silence). Andy’s songs are usually pretty much fully formed by the time we hear them as he does a lot of work building up the various parts in Garageband and we then work up our own additions to this in practice and Ross will magic up a great solo from somewhere! Maybe we’ll decide to add a section here or remove one there, but he’s usually got it pretty much spot on! He doesn’t really like writing lyrics too much though so he might have a verse or half a verse and chorus and I’ll try and complete it. I actually find it much easier to write lyrics when someone has given you a starting point.

You’ll be able to hear that the songs written by both me and Jo are probably simpler in construction. Jo had the chords, lyrics and vocal melodies and we then just worked up our own parts and added a drum loop that repeats for the entire song. Simple but effective I think!

I had created some drum parts and the little arpeggiated backing track for my song on my phone and again we just brought it together in practice.

We have pretty divergent musical tastes, but somehow it seems to all come together in a way that I think works!”

 

The 5 song EP ‘Beginnings‘ really is an exceptional debut and worth checking out.

Thor

Charlie Clark

CLARKLIVE

I’m listening to a copy of ‘Strange Weather Lately’ that just arrived.  This original late 1999 shrink-wrapped CD still had the promotional sticker attached. According to Melody Maker it is “stuffed full of infectious songs, utterly ace.” ‘Play Dead’ was the first Astrid record I bought when it came out. It ended up being played quite a lot, but I never dug deeper than the band name. Only last year did I learn, not quite correctly, that  Willie Campbell was the lead vocalist. While listening to your previous EP  ‘Carve a Horse’, I was constantly thinking how familiar the voice sounded. Only after the first full listen did I read about your own founding role in band. I still have not been able to find ‘Play Dead’, temporarily misplaced, to help me untangle my confusion about who is singing when. How were the vocal duties generally split between you and the rest of the band?

“I sang lead on ‘Stop’, ‘Standing in Line’ and ‘High in the Morning’ and Willie and I shared lead vocals on a lot of the songs like ‘Dusty’ and ‘Boy or Girl’.” 

I would take a song to the table as would Willie Campbell and Gary Thom then all four of us would put it together, but generally speaking you would sing your own song. Gary Thom was a really important part of how that band got it’s sound. Gary wrote ‘Zoo’ which is still my favourite on that album.”

Digging a little deeper online, I found ‘Our Lunar Activities’ which I had missed altogether. It certainly would have found a way into my collection if I had been aware of it. Is OLA finished or just on a long hiatus?  The internet, by not being overly helpful, suggests that the full length was never completed, is that the case?

“OLA is very much done, we split in 2009. The album was finished but never released. I really liked the stuff we started writing together at the end of the band, but I really don’t care for the songs I wrote for the album. I was a little crazy when I wrote them.” 

The EP  that lead to my ‘re-discovery’ was recorded later at Wee studios on the Isle of Lewis. Could you explain the bandcamp tag of ‘Kundalini folk’? 

I recorded ‘Carve A Horse’ with Keith Morrison at Wee Studio in Stornoway just before I moved. When I first moved out to Los Angeles a friend of mine asked me to write a song about a close friend she had just lost. We worked together on the song and as payment she gave me a pass to a Yoga studio in LA, which I was very dubious about at first but went regardless. The type of Yoga is Kundalini Yoga and it has now become huge part of my life and daily routine. Turns out it’s more than just a workout. Without sounding too much like a hippie the tag is about emotional energy.”

What prompted the move to Los Angeles?

“I married an Angeleno!”

As I just recently also found out, Francis Reader happens to be in LA as well. What Trashcan Sinatras‘ song would you consider doing as a cover? 

“It’s weird, I supported TCS before when I played in The Zephyrs and I put them on once before at a night I used to run in Glasgow but was never really familiar with their music, for no other reason than just not being familiar with it. Is that blasphemy?”

I just read that the new EP will also be available on 10 inch vinyl. I’m delighted to see that even though it forces me to think of another question. How did you decide to split the 5 songs between sides A and B?

“That was actually kind of tough so I asked Eric McCann who produced the album to decide and his choice matched my first choice so it felt right and we just went with it. It seemed to work well in that order.”

It was very kind of you to let me have a peek at the new video for ‘Sunken Ships before the premiere. I can’t quite make out the cross streets – where was it filmed? Although the lyrics are not cryptic, would you be so good as to relate the story behind the song?

“Thank you and you’re welcome. It was filmed in Historic Filipino town where I live in LA.  Sunken Ships is a bittersweet love song about my time in Glasgow. I love that city but also had some very difficult times there as well. I wanted the lyrics to be clear and simplistic. That city and everything about it still inspires me to this day, the people, music, art and film.”

In terms of instrumentation there is a little more ‘Americana’ on the new EP ‘Feel Something‘. Did that come about from your local collaborations?

“It did. I had been making music with Yohei Shikano for several months before I recorded ‘Feel Something’ and he introduced me to playing bluegrass style so I really opened up to idea of instrumentation possibilities. I’m such a huge fan of 90’s Lo-Fi Americana and Scottish Indie Folk anyway that it felt very natural. I started playing more mandolin and harmonium and singing really tight harmonies, which is the thing I love to do the most.”

I would be criminal of me not to ask about your co-vocalist. The harmonies on the first track ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ are exceptional. That the vocal pairing consistently continues throughout the rest of the record caught me by surprise.  It sounds natural and is emotionally affecting. Your voices get along very well together. I’m sure you would be the first to admit the possibility of even being upstaged. How did the collaboration come about?

“Brandi Emma is without question the most talented vocalist I have worked with yet so it was clear to me when she recorded her parts for the album that she kicked my butt in the studio! These are 5 very personal songs to me hence the solo record but I can say the following, to me this record IS a collaboration with all the musicians who played, because they’re all incredible at what they each do. Each of them helped shaped the sound of the record absolutely, especially Brandi. We have a new album that we have written together in the works with Eric McCann and we hope to get started on that when we’re done promoting ‘Feel Something’. I don’t know what we’re going to call it yet.”

The title track ‘Feel Something’ sounds like what a world weary Astrid might sound like today. The entire song, including the guitar chorus, is melancholic confection. Where was the EP recorded? What was the experience like?

“Thank you. I recorded the EP at Eric McCann’s other bands (A House For Lions) rehearsal space in Santa Monica. It was really focused. Eric sat me down in front of a mic late one night in September and said play me the songs and I did. I played them all on an acoustic guitar and sang live that night. We built everything up from that and in fact kept the guide vocals on Three Sheets and all the guitars on the other tracks. We didn’t waste a minute in the studio but it was very relaxed. We had all the parts written for everyone except Yohei so they came in and did their thing, had a cup of tea and then off they went! Yohei is such a creative man you just have  to let him do his thing. Anything weird you hear on the record, that’s Mr Shikano. His band ‘My Hawaii’ are totally amazing and original.”

The track ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’, at least in the beginning, is just you and your guitar. (the armchair producer in me was expecting that to continue throughout the entire song) When did you first start playing?  What is your current favourite guitar?

“I first started playing seriously when I was 10 or 11 but switched to bass until I started Astrid. We were a 3 piece before Willie joined, so I was on bass and Gareth was on guitar in the beginning. I love Martin Guitars and always have. I currently just own one which is about 3 years old, a toddler! I think it’s a DM.”

The song title is an interesting idiom –apparently an odd number of sheets are not very seaworthy. Have you amused your friends with Scottish turns of phrase?

“My friends really do take the piss out of my Island Twang and my little sayings! I had to take another job through Xmas and ended up at the cash desk at a rather large bookstore chain and guaranteed every other customer would ask if I was Irish or do an impersonation of a Leprechaun or something equally vulgar so I’m immune to it now and I’m really surprised I was never fired.”

‘Sunken Ships’ doesn’t actually sound so short when listening to the record as a whole and the last track ‘Grateful’ might just have the best vocal pairing yet; almost dovetailing as if a single voice.  At this point in time, what are you most grateful of?

“My wife and my family.”

I’d love it if you could share a Reindeer Section anecdote or two. 

 “The only time I’ve ever toured Japan in my life was with The Reindeer Section. All four members of Astrid went on the trip. I swear I was on a blackout for 5 days, we started drinking at the airport and I lost it altogether drinking on the plane. We were doing the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and Japan and all I really remember about that trip is Gwen Stefani making a fry up, completely freaking out the cellist of Mum and coming round in a Toys R Us with Aidan Moffat and a shopping trolley full of Star Wars figures. This is one of the many reasons I quit drinking. I can joke about it now, but I never want go back in that capacity.”

I was just thinking what a fantastic full length the last two EPs, alternating a track from each, would have made. Are there any plans to put one out in the future or does it currently just make more sense to do another EP?  I’m questioning my own incessant desire for a band to release one. It struck me while listening to the  music that it doesn’t even seem necessary. As a fan, I’d be perfectly happy either way.

“I am just going to continue with 5 track records but hope to release a couple every year in an ideal situation. It’s realistic and cost effective to me. I even feel like I don’t have the attention span for a full length record anymore. It’s funny how technology has altered that concept in my mind.”

What ‘Scottish’ records have you picked up of late? Have you recently caught anyone’s show in LA?

“I love the new Fake Major record and love everything that Dan Wilson (Withered Hand) does. In the last 2 years, I’ve seen Mogwai, B&S, Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, The Rabbit and a few others out here.”

Did Isobel Campbell just happen to be in town?

“Isobel played cello on Three Sheets and was about when we were recording. It’s always awesome hanging out with Isobel.”

The release date is now on April 29th and you’ve mentioned the possibility of shows in Scotland. Do you have a ‘local’ release show set up yet? Have you played in SF before and is it likely you’ll make it up here this year?

“I hope to come home sometime soon for a tour but am still putting it together myself  and every time I look at the costs, I have to go do the Yoga thing! All the shows I do have to make sense and I want to tour with my band. I haven’t played SF yet but hope to make it up before the year is out.”

Who do I need to bribe to get a hold of that fabled 3rd Astrid album? – It could be arranged.

“You know what, I don’t even have it. There are 2 versions, Japan and Spain. I gave both of mine away because I’m an idiot. I’ll ask Willie for it and send you it my good man!”

Thor  (sometimes it pays to just ask)

Here are live versions for the lead and closing tracks from ‘Feel Something’. Perhaps a little more melancholic, but still utterly ace.

Don’t Let Me Down                      Grateful

 

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The Twilight Sad: Live in SF

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It isn’t very often that we get to see 3 different Scottish bands on separate nights all within a week. If it wasn’t for the sunshine, you might think we were in Glasgow. The flurry of shows started at the Independent, made a welcome departure to the Fillmore and ended, rather triumphantly, at the Rickshaw Stop.

As great as it was being at the first North American show for Chvrches at the Independent, what we were really looking forward to the most was seeing the Twilight Sad anywhere else. Each of the three times I have seen them there, I’ve always walked away with the feeling that the venue let everyone down in terms of how they handled the sound. Having the band open for Frightened Rabbit the following night at the Fillmore would finally put this to the test. To be fair, the experiences were also hindered by my own expectations. Watching many of these performances on the internet makes one’s desire to hear the vocals uppermost in the mix self-explanatory. After finding out that this tour would feature a ‘stripped back set’ we were elated. Never before has an empty chair, sitting on the stage of the Fillmore, generated so much anticipation.

The payoff was even better than we could have hoped; two people sitting down providing the music and one person standing, gesturing, at times seemingly having a conversation with the song itself, singing his heart out. This was the kind of Twilight Sad show I’ve been longing to hear these past six years. The beauty of the Fillmore is that it doesn’t really matter where you stand, the acoustics and sight lines are exemplary almost everywhere. On the other hand, since watching James Graham sing is as inherently entertaining as hearing him, we placed ourselves dead center one row back from the guardrail.

There were a few people telling their friends how good and under appreciated the Twilight Sad were, but for the most part I got the sense that people had primarily come to see Frightened Rabbit. The pairing, in addition to not having to suffer through a third local band, was inspired. Without a doubt, this was the best combination of two bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. A few steps above the dynamic of one man and a guitar and miles removed from a full opening band trying to upstage or hold their own against the headline act: it perfectly set the table for the Frightened Rabbit set that followed. By now, generally speaking, most crowds know what they are going to get from a Frightened Rabbit show. The most satisfying part was sensing their positive, at times awed, reaction to what was offered up by the Twilight Sad. They couldn’t have expected how powerful and moving it was; we couldn’t have been happier by how much our own expectations were surpassed. When the Twilight Sad was finished, Pedro and I agreed that we could have walked away and been perfectly content. Hopefully, having played to a sold out crowd at the Fillmore, and the support slot throughout the rest of the tour, this exposure will translate into further North American momentum.

And if that wasn’t enough, I got to do it all over again four days later at the Rickshaw Stop.

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I ended up attending this show alone. The venue’s maximum capacity is less than 200, the sightlines are somewhat difficult, but the sound is surprisingly good. Literally standing at the corner of the stage a foot from the face of it, I was in a position to experience a set that was even better than that of the Fillmore. Andy MacFarlane’s guitar was perfectly pristine, sounding as good as if you were sitting in front of the amp yourself. Mark Devine’s keyboard work was relaxed and much more evident than on the larger and higher stage at the Fillmore. During that set, at times, it seemed that some of the drum loops were more dominant than the keyboards and that gave the overall sound a slight canned effect. This time keyboard, single guitar and voice were perfectly matched and balanced for a much more organic feel. I was actually positioned behind the PA speakers and for the first time, much like this video, I was able to hear James Graham almost as if without  microphone. This was The Twilight Sad in its most essential form. Underneath the layer of noise, the loud volumes and otherwise engaging mayhem this was the band stripped to its heart and core.

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Seeing them twice in a week was far better than I could have hoped. The Fillmore represented an audience size that they more than deserve by now and hopefully the exposure on this tour will help to ensure it for the future. At the same time, the show at the Rickshaw for the Twilight Sad fans, who remained after the local support from the two local opening bands filtered out, were treated to the kind of show they could only have experienced back near the beginning. For myself, it was the perfect squaring of the circle. I will readily admit this though – the next time I see them, I want the volume at 11.

Being at that first ever Twilight Sad show in SF, were only 14 people (one of them being my wife) remained until the end, had an unexpected dividend of good will as well. The second Twilight Sad show this week was on the 15th of March. Since the Rickshaw always goes past midnight, I anticipated spending the first hour or so of my Birthday there as well. I was able to ‘finagle’ a Twilight Sad birthday card before the set began. Much to my surprise partway through the set, at exactly 11:59 no less, the gap between songs was filled by James Graham pointing me out and dedicating the next song. As the other people wished me well, ‘That Birthday Present’ ushered in the first few minutes of my 49th.

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Leaving the venue, about a half a block away, a person leaning against the wall wished me Happy Birthday again as I passed. Happy week and Happy Birthday indeed.

Thor