A Band Called Quinn: Biding Time (remix)

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My first introduction to ABCQ was streaming the Glimmer Song’ on the Scotsman’s ‘Under the Radar’. Watching the video now, even though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, it is clear that the central themes of ‘Biding Time’ appear to take centre stage here as well. Could you elaborate and has this ‘theme’ permeated your music to a significant degree?

“I think when you’re making music, film or performing, your experience inevitably influences whatever you make. A lot of my experiences have involved performance & what goes on behind the curtain as it were!”

Your currently gearing up for another set of performances for ‘Biding Time – remix’. The ‘trailer’ for the first performance has been a favourite of mine for quite some time with its song snippet firmly stuck in my head. I’m very pleased to finally get the soundtrack and hear “You Know the Right People” in full. Who are the ‘right’ people in your life right now?

“Well the people that really matter are family & friends who are close & have supported me throughout the years.

In terms of what I do creatively; the right people are the people who appreciate it & who get something out of it.”

Prior to my ‘discovery’, I had been a big fan of Catatonia and Melys. With a little geographical bump there was a transference of musical affection for ABCQ. In trying to uncover early Quinn performances and discover what you were really like, I happened to watched a lot of the videos of those other bands and was struck by how the lead singers seemed apart, even  aloof, from the rest of the band. I now see your more central role akin to that of Carol Van Djik of Bettie Serveert who fronted an exceptional band in the 90’s that had to deal with big label expectations that ran counter to the band’s actual desires. As exceptions tend to prove the rule, what do you attribute to the general lack of strong female band members or leaders?

“I’m not sure what’s going on. I was judging a Battle Of The Bands the other week & there were no female band members in any of the bands – not one single female on stage. I do a lot of songwriting in schools & in the community & a lot of the young girls want to be like Adele. Some of the really young ones however want to be like Kiss & The Rolling Stones! Maybe this is before gender stereotyping kicks in. The charts are full of female solo artists but not female fronted or female bands. It might just be unfashionable right now & maybe there will be a raft of female fronted bands in the future. I hope so.”

 Soundtracks penned by single artists tend to be more compelling than a compilation of songs as they invariably sound more cohesive and resemble a concept album. Was there a process for matching the music to the dramatic needs of the production?

“The show is a response to Pippa Bailey’s play Biding Time which is about her experience of being an aspiring actress. Pippa wrote the original 25 years ago but I had a lot of similar experiences in the music industry so I had a lot of songs which fitted the themes. The remix is based on my experience of being a women in the music industry so with director Ben Harrison’s help we developed the show around the songs I had. It seemed pretty natural at the time!”

Is there a conventional ‘studio’ album on the horizon or has that become something that interests you less and less these days?

“I would like to record an album of acoustic songs at some point but I’m just going where the flow takes me at the moment…”

‘Tell Me’ was the second song taken to heart instantly. Although I’m sure the truncated Yazoo like keyboard swells had something to do with it, primarily it was the seemingly simple yet emotionally powerful ‘Tell Me’ lyrical construction ending in “never tell me to”. What were some of the strangest things people in the industry have told you that you needed to do? 

“The words for that song were taken from a couple of poems by poet Vic Keegan. We struck up a Facebook friendship when it first started out & I ended up using his poetry for some songs. The strangest things I was asked to do by industry folk included making myself look less pretty, get drunk & insult more people & shave my eyebrows off!”

Having seen a snippet of the ‘The World Belongs to You’ from the production, I’m instantly brought back to the realization that I’m listening to a soundtrack not a regular record. Some of the song’s musical underpinnings seem to be chosen for their dramatic impact. This would  seem to be one of the quiet reflective moments in the play. Could you relate the significance of this song?

“This song is at the start of the show is when the character is awakening to the gift of music & the possibilities it opens up. She literally feels like the world is her oyster but is half aware of the pitfalls. This is when the character is still in the ingénue phase!”

Speaking of people you know, I had the opportunity to get Ian Rankin to sign a Beggar’s Opera CD sleeve. Oddly, he reflexively opened up the insert and began reading it as if for the first time commenting that he was there and how good it was. As gratifying as his praise might be, I still get the sense (from way over here that is) that ABCQ are still not as prominent in Scotland as they should be. Do you have the feeling that you are fighting against the grain somewhat in the Scottish music scene? 

“Sometimes I think if I grew a beard & wore a woolly hat I might do better! The lack of female presence amongst the SAY Award finalists is a bit worrying… We do have a lot of supporters in the Scottish press & we’re really grateful for that.”

I’d love to see ‘Fast Romance’ or a taping of a theater production. Inevitably, it often comes down to money, but are there any other hurdles that make it particularly difficult for Scottish efforts to be shared internationally? 

 “I think Scottish theatre is exporting well with the likes of Black Watch & Prudentia Hart. They are talking about building film studios which would help…”

What exactly are ‘Silent Disco headphones’ and what do they add to the theater goer’s experience?

“Silent Disco headphones are wireless so you can walk about. It gives the audience a really immersive experience of the show so they really go on the journey with the characters. It’s not totally necessary – we worked out a budget version which would just involve a rabbit, a uke & myself!”

It took awhile but I eventually found a Hardbody clip from King Tuts in 1997 and there you are with guitar in hand. When did you start playing? What is your favourite guitar at the moment? Is there one you still covet?

“I started playing guitar when I was nine. My elder brother was into The Clash & The Stranglers & taught me their songs on guitar. Diametrically opposed to that my Mum was a born again Christian & encouraged me to play hymns at folk masses. My favourite guitar at the moment is the Freshman Apollo 2DC electro acoustic (Freshman are sponsoring the show!). I’m pretty happy with all the Freshmans I got now!”

Have you heard the new Adam Stafford record? Is there anything new you have picked up that you’d recommend? What’s the last Scottish record that you have listened to? 

‘I must confess I haven’t : / Although I do like his stuff. I really like the new Matthew Dear record. Last Scottish record I listened to was Boards Of Canada’s latest.”

I woke up with ‘Snowing in Paris’ in my head. This was a little strange because I hadn’t actually listened to the record the day before. I think it speaks to the overall quality of the songs.  The lyrics in the verses are self-explanatory – but what is and where did the snowing in Paris metaphor originate? What does Kansas have to do with it?

“It’s influenced by a trip to Paris I made whilst recording vocals for a Kid Loco record. It’s just my way of saying it’s a big world out there & sometimes you need to get a bit of perspective when you feel that circumstances are overwhelming. Someone in Kansas probably isn’t aware of or bothered about what’s going on in your world. And Kansas rhymes with Paris!”

I noticed that Richey James was a backer. Could it be? How helpful have the sponsors been in getting this round of performances to the stage? What would it take to get the production to Lafayette Square? 

“Wouldn’t like to say but yes – it definitely is! The Sponsume backers have helped more than they can imagine. Not just financially but spiritually – it’s been a real lift to have their support & appreciation. It’s great to know that people are into what you’re doing & give you more of a reason to do it!

It would take a bit of financial backing & some folk to make it happen but you never know – it’s not out with the realms of possibility that we take the production to the US…”

You’ve been to America before. Is it something you’d like to do again in the future as a band?

“Yes!!!”

 After Biding Time, what can we look forward to in the future?

“We have had interest from film producers to make a feature film based on Biding Time (remix)… We also have ideas for other theatre productions & some promos for songs from the album…”

Finally, what is the significance of the rabbit?

“The rabbit signifies different things at different points in the show but ultimately it reflects a side of the character I play.”  

Garth Richardson, Eh.

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You have a reputation for only working with artists that you admire and are known to join the crowd at a live show before doing so. Do you still recall your visceral reaction the first time you saw Biffy live?

“I never saw them live (Laugh). Actually Simon and his A&R guy showed up to my Farm in Gibsons and we sat and talked for the whole day and I asked them exactly what they wanted to do and I got the demos and then we did the record and then I saw them after the record and I was completely floored by the show.”

Apparently, this was also the first double record you’ve produced. Now that you’ve been through the experience, would you willingly get involved with another?

“That’s a good one, we did a double record in under 5 months. We basically recorded 23 songs and reliving Groundhog Day waking up everyday and coming into the studio for 5 months was a little daunting. We did take a 2 week break so that Ben Kaplan could go get married but you know it was a lot of work with not a lot of time. I think we really should have had 6 months on that record because I felt that the last part of it was rushed.

Would I do it again? Yeah. Hell Yeah. We were really able to take every song and make it its own and try and make each one an individual story and not have the same crushed velvet Elvis Presley painting in every room. We shaped every song and tried to make sound different. Accomplishing this was the biggest challenge but also the most fun. We had a complete open canvas and Simon wrote 50 songs for this double record that we eventually cut down to 20.”

Do you have any insights behind the decision to release the 14 song version? The documentary that came with the special edition repeatedly stresses that a 20 song double album was envisioned from the beginning.  Necessary compromise?

“Actually what’s happened was in typical record label fashion was they don’t really have any balls. Alex Gilbert the A&R guy came up to the band on the first day of mixing and told them that they can’t do the double record and the band -which I am completely on their side with – were extremely upset about the fact that the record label had no balls. It was a risk with the band doing a double record with this new music era and in the current music business.  You know what?  This whole record was geared towards a double record, they had the sides for each part of the record already picked out and named.

I understand why the record label did not want to put it out but I think they should have known this as apposed to leading on the band. I thought it was a great double record. I still think it’s a double record, but I understand the politics of dancing. As sad as it may be, the record label paid for it so they have the final say and in reality the band loses any kind of artistic control in that respect.”

The trilogy of the last three Biffy Clyro records, which you produced, went to #2 then #3 and finally to #1 on the UK album charts. Looking at your production credits, they seem to be the only band you have worked with three times. Clearly something is working in the relationship. What has made it work so well?

“I did do two Melvins records, two Autumn to Ashes record and two Spineshank records but this really was my first three-peat. Knowing that the band does things in threes, I think this may be my last record with them. It’ll be sad if that’s the case. If I could do a fourth I’d be honoured and thrilled. In that three record span I was able to see the band go from boys to men. Simon has become a right a wonderful visionary, in his own right, and he knows exactly what he wants. I found that with this record he was more involved coming in because he knew exactly what he wanted it to be. When you tend to work with a band frequently you start to take a little bit more of a back seat role guiding the ship or the bus in a little bit of a less hands on way, simply nudging it to the left or to the right a little.

The thing that worked so well with Biffy was that the band knew that I had their back . I got into a lot of fights with the label because they wanted it a certain way and I would always tell them “This will be happening shortly”. Not believing me they would respond ”Yeah right, right , sure.” When I told them what would happen actually happened they’d look at me saying “How the fuck do you know these things?” I have been around the business for 40 years and  I have literally seen it all. I really think the biggest thing is trust and the fact that I had their back.”

If you ‘had’ to pick one song from each of the past 3 albums that you are most pleased with, in terms of how they ultimately turned out, which ones would they be?

“Oh dear dear dear, well I’d have to say from Only Revolutions would have to be Many of Horror; I think that was just a beautiful song. I would have to say the one that brings a tear to my eye every time is ‘Folding Stars’. That song is about Simon’s mother going to heaven. It was a hard record for Simon to make because that was right after his mother had passed and that song really hit a nerve with me. Choosing one from the new record ‘Opposites’ is a really tough one because there are  so many amazing tracks, but I would say for sheer power it would have to be the Thaw; but then again I love Opposites and Stinging Belle. I’m gonna go out on a limb and actually say The Thaw because of how it builds from nothing and it ends in this gigantic amazing sound.”

The band’s satisfaction in recording a record and the fan’s excitement in finally being able to bring it home is, to a certain degree, self-explanatory. As a producer where do you derive the most satisfaction?

“I would say that it happens on the day after I actually wake up and I don’t have to go into the studio.(Laughs) What you guys have to realize is that we did 23 songs in 5 months and we did 7 days of Pre-pro for 23 songs which was Incredibly fast. The fact that the record finally went to number 1 was one of the most satisfying things because whenever you make someone’s record you always always hope that the fans like it and that they take it into their hearts. I think that with this one, we finally got it right. Not that their first two records were wrong in any way, its just that the band is just gonna get better because they are like a great bottle of wine.”

Do you ever pull one of the albums that you’ve worked on from the shelf and just listen to it? Are you able to lose yourself in it or does it put you right back in the studio?

“Ha, You mean that nervous twitch that I get every time I play my records. Haha. But no, It took me a few weeks before I could listen to it because we were working on it for 5 months straight, the fact is that when you make a record you usually don’t know what it is. You know every single note, every single beat, every single sound and every single nuance; So its harder to appreciate it as a whole. When I went back and listened to Puzzle and Only Revolutions for the first time in a long time, it actually put a smile on my face.  The fact that Biffy is so different and unique and unlike any other band on this fucking planet makes me feel proud and lucky to have been a part of this. I think it has been just phenomenal.”

Do you have an anecdote from the Opposites recording session ?

“We kind of have a code of what happens in the studio stays in the studio. I think if you watch the making of DVD you could see some because we had cameras on us at all times. Everything you saw was what we did. There aren’t really any other anecdotes I can think of because everything was video taped so fans should check the DVD as there were some funny moments on there.

Although having said that, every time the band would do their parts they would take off their shirts. So Ben Kaplan, Ryan Williams – The two engineers who did excellent work on this record- and I. We almost began taking off our shirts in solidarity but we decided we may actually scare the fans.”

Has the time you’ve spent with Biffy over the years led to your discovery of any other Scottish music?

“The thing I do have to say about Scottish music is that it is real and they always go outside of the curve. There is also just a lot of passion coming out of that country all the time. Probably because it is so cold and rainy. (Laughs)”

The band has indicated the next step may require a thorough reassessment of their songwriting approach and that someone else at the helm may very well be what is needed to help facilitate a creative push in a new direction. From your own perspective as a producer, is three times a charm? If they did ask again, would you do it?

“(See 4) I think they need someone to come in with a completely different direction. I think the problem will be that whoever does take over the helm will have a difficult time because Simon knows exactly what he wants to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if Simon ended up being the producer himself and ended up hiring a different engineer to help him capture what he’s doing.  I think they are ready like with Muse who produced their own last record. I think Simon is ready.”

I’m from London Ontario myself. Had I known how innovative the Fanshawe music industry arts program was I might just have reconsidered my academic pursuits at Western in 1983. Until recently, even though I had the debut Kim Mitchell record, I had not heard of your father, his achievements or of his recent passing. I came across this interview which struck me as a fascinating insight into the kind of producer he had been and what a beloved educator he must have become. I was at the local record shop and I had an original copy of Bob Seger’s Night Moves in my hand while I was trying to imagine what it must have been like to ‘grow up’ in the studio. Do you still remember some of the early lessons you were taught?

“Yes. I was always taught to show up on time and that I actually have three ears. I have two on the sides of my head and I my eyes act as the third. I was also taught dedication to excellence. Everything we did had to be done at our best. The fact that my dad touched so many peoples hearts and souls I would say was because he was a true teacher. A few of his students were Shelly Yakus and Jimmy Iovine. My father also trained Jack Douglas, Bob Ezrin, Me, Micheal McCarty(President of EMI publishing Canada), Gary Furniss (President of Sony publishing Canada).

One key thing he taught me and I’m sure people are getting sick and tired of hearing me say this one phrase – The way to make it in the music business is, good songs sell, bad songs don’t. If you don’t have a good song you’re wasting your time.”

Pedro had a chance to visit Vancouver, your new home base, last December. It was his new daughter’s first plane ride and visit to Canada. It is also the home of the Nimbus School of Recording Arts, which you co-founded. What would you say is its guiding principle and mission?

“The reason we opened up Nimbus was because of a conversation Bob Ezrin and I had about 8 years ago. We agreed that there’s all these people being trained, but not the way that we were trained. We were trained that if you couldn’t deliver a sandwich into the session properly they were not going to let you into the room to make a patch or to set up a microphone. Everything to do with Nimbus is about being excellent and being accountable. We teach you the reality of music production. I find that the other schools don’t have people that have the same experience and as I have always had a saying that If I was actually to go into battle I would shoot my teacher first because they have never really worked and done the job. The main thing about Nimbus is that you have to have made records and you have to still be making records if you want to teach there and if you’re not then we will find someone who does. It’s the same way my father taught me, Shelly Yakus and Bob.”

I noticed on twitter that you’ve almost finished installing a SSL 4072 G console. What did it replace? Where did it come from? 

“The SSL came from Danny Elfman in California. It just had so many amazing things being played through it. I still believe that  analogue is the way to go. Maybe it is because I am old – even though today everyone is listening to everything through a shitty MP3 player coming through a 5 cent chip, I still believe that moving air through gear like an old SSL or an old NEVE or an old API console still sounds better than everything that is mixed in the box. I just felt that in order for me to continue to make records I still need to have the proper tools.”

Pedro also saw ‘Sound City’ and realized you worked on the legendary Neve console. Will recording to tape eventually win over the casual music listener’s ears in the long run? What kind of console did you cut your teeth on?

“I cut my teeth on an Auditronix, It was a console that my father had at his studio Nimbus 9 Productions in Toronto at Sound Stage. Now the fact is that his techs were completely insane and they completely rebuilt the console. That’s what the first Peter Gabriel was made on, Bob Seger Night Moves, Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, Mark Foreigner, and Tim Curry. Part of The Wall was made on it as well. It was a pretty amazing and special console.

I still go to tape because it sounds better. It’s the best sounding compressor that was ever made. It gives you depth, it gives you height and it gives you width. The problem is that nobody knows what music sounds like any more and it sounds like shit now. The MP3 has destroyed the sonics of what we do. Mastering has destroyed the sonics of what we do. Everything has to be the loudest. I think, as they keep telling me, the genie is out of the bottle. There are still purists that feel that an analog console sounds better and it makes it rich and it makes it thick and it makes it powerful. The problem is today that Youtube is the new music business and its more visual than it is audible  So I would just say that analogue will be around for a long time but no one will be able to tell the difference. The fact that vinyl is now coming back but still digitally cut means older analogue vinyl sounds better.”

Pedro also wanted me to ask about Garnet amplifiers and I noticed a recent twitter pic of James with a Garnet head. It is a fascinating story. Sonically, what are the advantages of this vintage Canadian gear?

“Well, they are just a great sounding head. if you listen to American Woman that whole guitar sound is garnet heads. We just happened to find them, nobody knew what they were and my father said, your going to buy those. We were buying them for $300 bucks. To be able to buy a tube guitar head for $300 is a steal. The other head that James used was a Traynor bassman head, and it’s a complete replica of an early 60 Fender Bassman. Traynor went down in the 60’s and bought a fender bassman head and copied them exactly. The guy who builds the Garnet heads is based out of Winnepeg and was a complete nut but these heads can explode, drive, be punchy, be powerful. They are just a versitile head. James has kept the Commonwealth together with the vibe of Scotland and Canada. Scotland compared to Britain is like Canada compared to the States; we are actually better!”

Who are you working with now?

“I just finished a record with a band out of Dublin called The Minutes. Amazing band, you guys have to check them out. Another band I am working with from Austin Texas are called Not in The Face. Then there’s a band up here in Canada called Head of The Heard. We have a Number 4 single in the rock charts right now and they don’t have a record deal yet. It just shows the changing of the guard. Record labels are actually no longer explicitly needed.”

You’ve recently come back from Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Did you have the opportunity to see any shows? Has it become as commercial as SXSW appears to have?

“The problem with all of these music conferences is that it’s so hard to see all the bands because it is all spaced out. So many bands in so many clubs that it’s difficult to see them all. Was there anything that blew my mind? There was a band that I met that are from Nova Scotia called Glory Hound, they were the ones that were really cool and they were true rock and roll. There was also another band from England who were singed to Redbull Records and they were like a Guns’N’ Roses type band. But it’s hard to actually see the artists because there are  just too many bands in too many clubs spread over to few nights.”

We were lucky enough to catch Biffy 3 times during the touring for Only Revolutions, but 2 of those shows were in a tiny venue that didn’t sell out. Their talent and hard work is not in question. Do you think the momentum gained from the recent Muse support slot might finally be enough to ‘crack’ the North American market?

“We can only hope. Its kinda like, Warner is going to be pushing everything they can into it to make it break over in NA, the problem is it is up to the fans, If they like it and they buy it then they can make it. It is a little bit sad that they can sell out the O2 in London and then play to 500 people here because they are actually the best live band. I would put them up there with Rage Against The Machine when it comes to putting on a live show. They are that powerful.”

Finally a hockey question – Is there still hope for any Canadian team for that matter?

“I think having hockey in the south is a Garry Betman Joke. He thinks people in the south want to watch hockey. He’s a fool.  He is probably the worst Commissioner in all of sport and will go down as the most hated commissioner ever. I think hockey needs to be in the areas where there is winter. I was happy to see the Kings win the Cup because I lived in LA for many years and used to go to games. Hockey should belongs where it is cold; if the kids can’t play it outside they shouldn’t bother.”

Pedro and Thor

Book Group: Homeward Sound

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‘Bad Books’ was actually a band recommendation from our inaugural post back in September of 2011. Described as the “Strokes crossed with the Lightning Seeds”, we’ve been on the lookout ever since in what is probably the longest case of ‘following’ a band without having ever heard a song. Presumably the name change was ‘Manchester Orchestrated’. Why ‘Book Group’?

Michael: September 2011? No, there’s no way we’ve been around that long! I refuse to believe it. Like all 30-something Hollywood starlets, I’m putting my foot down on this and insisting we’re only 7 months old as a band. However, unlike all 30-something Hollywood starlets, I won’t insist I was a ‘regular tomboy’ growing up. In short though, yes. We called ourselves The Bad Books for a gig, then decided to play more. I knew the other (fantastic) band existed but didn’t feel the need to change the name until we were actually doing something.  Then I went to America and got lots of funny looks when I said I played in the Bad Books.  Thanks for hanging around, you’re certainly one of our oldest fans. However, I will fight you if you ever mention The Lightening Seeds again.

Graeme – I quite liked the Lightening Seeds! Catchy tunes and sunglasses that would’ve made John Lennon proud. Not so sure John would’ve liked the tunes though. Book Group sums us up I think – four guys that have a love of music. We get together talk about it, play it and normally have a beer or two to wash it down.

Are you familiar with the 2002-2003 (set in Glasgow) television show entitled ‘Book Group’? If you were to host next month’s book group what would we be asked to read?

Michael: VERY familiar with it, in fact I probably watched both seasons about four times each. Wee Rab was my favourite. I just finished reading Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt – it’s a filthy, drunken mess of a book, with a fuck up of a lead character who doesn’t even try to be a decent protagonist. It’s funny though, and short, so most likely ideal for a book group. Unless that book group was in Morningside.

Graeme – I’ve never heard of it but will check it out. Is it any good?

We’ve been very quiet the past 2 months – instead of trying (and failing) to be a music blog reaching out to a wider audience, I’ve decided to go back to the original vision of a blog about the Scottish music that I specifically champion. ‘Book Group’ is a perfect place to start.  The band is composed of 4 members from 4 different former projects. I’m frequently amazed and heartened by the fluidity of the Scottish indie music scene. As troubling as a band’s demise is there is always the hope of something even better emerging from the ashes. Is this the magical combination where everyone is in sync?

Michael: Very glad you have kept the blog going and, from a Scottish musician’s point of view, it’s heart-warming to see someone enjoy and spread forth the efforts of Scotland’s indie scene.  You’re right about good things generally coming from bad too; as so much Scottish guitar music in particular will happily (and/or glumly) attest to. We are lucky at how quickly we clicked as a band, and I think that comes from having been there before: you learn the language, know what not to do, appreciate from experience that having fun is far more important that aiming for perfection etc. Plus the other three are stellar musicians!

Graeme – You’re not so bad yourself axeman Morrison! I agree with Michael on this one – as a band we clicked and I think that was down to wanting to get back into music and enjoy it. All of us have had different experiences with our previous bands and when we started Book Group it was with the prime goal to have a hoot. I think that comes across in our live shows, we love playing and would genuinely play for hours if we could. I like the thought of something positive always prevailing with the demise of something else. Sadly in music, I’m not sure that is always the case but maybe we could break that trend.

You’ve finally released four songs on the debut EP ‘Homeward Sound’. Is there a deeper significance to the title other than the clever, and rather satisfying, word play?

Michael: Yes. Graeme?

Graeme – The concept for the EP is a love/hate relationship with home. The idea of missing a place and loved ones but when you get there you kinda want to get away. I’ve lived in several places around Scotland in my life and it’s crazy how you yearn to be in a different places at times. I guess the grass is always greener! All four of the songs are intertwined with this theme.

The first song, ‘The Year of the Cat’, perhaps wisely not an Al Stewart remake, has an opening lyric riff that could easily be mistaken for the Brakes. It quickly veers into something fuller and more satisfying. Part of the song reminds me of why I loved AC Acoustics so much and the other parts are a glossy summary of off kilter indie squall. There is an awful lot going on in a mere 3:17. What is your musical manifesto? If you had to write a ‘book jacket’ encapsulation of the band’s sound what would it be?

Michael: It’s my favourite on the record. A musical manifesto? Ooh, hard one. I’d be lying if I said anything other than ‘Four guys’ record collections violently colliding in a small, loud space’.

Graeme – People seem to like this one and I think the energy again sums us up. Liking the Brakes comparison – anyone that can have 10 second songs that sound fab are cool in my book. Did AC Acoustics do Stunt Girl?

The second song ‘Bop’ comes across rather differently –  in a ‘Replacements’ meets ‘I Like Trains’ sort of way. In this one, the vocals are elevated to share the stage and I’m surprised how comfortably familiar they feel. Overall, there is a noticeable depth to the material not often delivered so forthrightly on the first EP.  I can’t wait until the first full length. Any plans in place yet to bring that about?

Michael: Yeah I like that you noticed that his vocals were lifted, gives the delivery a far more intimate feel I reckon. There’s no doubt that we would LOVE to go and record an album; like we’d start it tomorrow if we could. But we’re writing tunes thick and fast right now, so it feels right to probably do another small release or two first. Also, I love that there is almost no reason for a band to release an album these days except for the love of doing so, so when we do record one it will be a very indulgent affair I’m sure.

Graeme – Hell yeah, we’re sitting on a couple of new tunes and already got the bare of bones of several others. Like the idea of doing another release first but would love to do an album soon.

I’ll allow that the third song ‘Seedlings’ contains some evidence of the Teenage Fanclub references and comparisons I’ve been reading, but only because they too use guitars and like a good riff. Happiness might only be a stone’s throw away could be the lyrical summary of the song. How important are the song lyrics to the band? Who gets to pen them?

Michael: Yeah it’s dark verse with a big chorus: a tried and tested formula but one that I think we probably only use on this song? The lyrics are very, very important. As a listener they’re definitely what gives me a bit of depth when it comes to appreciating a band’s music, whereas the musical hook will initial get my attention. Like the brains/body psychology in spotting a mate, I presume. Graeme writes the lyrics and they’re great,  very story driven and often a lot darker than his cheeky wee face would have you believe!

Graeme – Not sure why they always turn out so dark but lyrically I ‘m glad that they have been well received so far. I like keeping it simple and telling it how it is. Most of my lyrics come from personal experiences and observations, I’ve already mentioned about the theme for ‘Homeward Sound’ and seem to have a few more cropping up just now that are taking a bit more of a society twist. I’m never going to be a political writer but one thing I can promise is that I’ll spit them out like Nick Cave with a Mike Patton smile

The fourth song ‘Summer of Lunches’ containing quirky lyrics and angular guitars is a joy to listen to.  It reminds me of Sportsguitar. All the previous mentioned band references are not necessarily accurate but reflect my almost immediate emotional connection to the music in the same way the bands that you remind me of occupy a favoured spot in the record collection. I can easily see ‘Book Group’ becoming a cited influence for future bands. What were your musical passions and influences? How have you managed to meld them together?

Michael: Never heard of Sportsguitar, will check them out on my lunch break! I think all bands say that they’re happy when people enjoy their music and come to their shows, but really what makes them happiest is influencing more music. I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s something most musicians would love. We certainly would. Our influences are all different, but fall within the ‘guitar band’ category – so not hugely vast or anything. The stuff I bring to the table isn’t necessarily my favourite music, more just the music that I fancy playing in this band – the likes of Dinosaur Jnr, Grandaddy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Graeme – Find naming direct influences hard. Love the like of Grant Lee Buffalo, granddaddy, Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev and believe that my inspiration comes from bands like that but as for how we sound I’m not sure! Think that’s what I like about the song creating approach we have. I bring the bare bones and the others layer it with hard rock (Andrew), art school rock / sleazy guitars (Michael) and pop (Scott). it seems to come out OK!

The Tidal Wave of Indifference Sessions acoustic versions of ‘Bop’ and ‘Seedlings’ underline the importance of the songs themselves. Seedlings is especially beautiful stripped to its core.  I’m a big fan of Stu Lewis’s work and Freshair is my default net radio station. Are there any other radio stations that also highlight Scottish Indie?

Michael: We’re fans of Stu Lewis too! Those sessions were great actually; we sat out on the grass opposite the station for ten minutes beforehand, trying to figure out each song on acoustic guitars! Luckily it was during August, so Edinburgh’s full of people sitting around with instruments. Definitely check out the Edinburgh Man podcasts (not specifically Scottish indie, but always a healthy dose), and Vic Galloway’s show on BBC Radio Scotland – he’s like the punk uncle of Scottish music. The bad sort, who buy you cigarettes and sneak you in to bars.

Graeme – Agreed Stu and Vic are both top lads.

I’m always pleased when a release is available on vinyl. What prompted the decision to put it out as a 10 inch as well? 

Michael: It’s what I listen to the most and invest the most in as a fan, so it was the only consideration. I love that vinyl forces you to listen, as it naturally breaks halfway through and you have to turn it over. As a fan, vinyl is also a bit of a leveller;  I love that music taste and technology changes but when I listen to a record I do it in exactly the same way I did 20 years ago, and that in itself adds the experience. There’s no right or wrong way to release music, which is fantastic – this is just us enjoying being able to do whatever we want.

Graeme – Absolutely love vinyl and so pleased that we did it this way. Michael and I were dead keen to release it this way and as a punter I love buying vinyl at gigs. Just something about the rawness vinyl has.

I’m Listening to the Sparrow and the Workshop’s new “Murderopolis” while polishing these questions. What have you picked up lately?

Michael: Bloody love that album, they’re just so good. The same week Eagleowl released their debut album too; which we’ve been waiting years on. Buy it. Don’t listen to it when you’re hungover though, or you might cry.

Graeme – Phoenix, Foals, Eagleowl and Kid Canaveral.

The EP launch with Campfires in Winters (a band we’ve long championed as well) was the other night. How was the show?

Michael: Our favourite show to date I’m sure, so much fun! The Campfires guys were braw, as were the rest of the guests too. A brilliant night and a suitably messy launch to the record!

Graeme – It was ace and the bill was tops. Campfires were really good but we also had Plastic Animals and Rory (from Broken records) + Martin (from Saving and loan) doing a stripped down set. it worked out really well and the crowd seemed to love it. Wish I could have drunk more though.

Once the EP is out and promoted what can we look forward to in the future?

Michael: We’re trying our best to get the next thing started…plans are afoot. Until then got a couple of Scottish festivals and a few more gigs in the diary.

Graeme – I quite like it when we are not allowed to talk about stuff. Gigs are a definite and recording something new is in the pipeline too.

Did you cast a vote for this year’s SAY award? Compared to last year, it was frightfully difficult. I actually have 10 of the 20 listings but in the end decided to tip my hat to the Twilight Sad.

Michael: Indeed! It would be sacrilege to not vote in something as good as SAY. It already demands huge respect, which is encouraging to say the least. The Twilight Sad was my 2nd favourite record on the list.

Graeme – Twilight Sad didn’t make my top 3 but I do like it. My 2nd favourite album was PAWS!

We’d like it if you asked us a question.

Michael: What one thing could you happily do every day for the rest of your life? Mine would be eat peanut butter on toast.

Graeme – Marmite on toast for me please. You’re obviously a massive music fan so I would go for some kind of dream festival bill one so who would you have on the main stage at your own festival (they’ve got to be alive – none of this dead nonsense!)

Find a new Scottish recording and listen to it. Given how prodigious the output is at the moment it could be done. I’ll draw the line at the 80’s, but just think how good this ‘reunion’ festival would be.

Delgados, Aereogramme, Idlewild, AC Acoustics, Telstar Ponies, Arab Strap, Astrid, and DeRosa

Kid Canaveral: Now That You Are A Dancer

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While there are a least a 1000 words in this picture, I’m going to simply leave it as the decision to continue with the blog has been made -scaled back, more personal, and without the illusions of reaching a wider audience. The last 2 months have been spent listening to music, often with guitar in hand, instead of worrying about what the next post will be. These answers, temporarily lost in the send folder, arrived the other day and cemented the tentative decision to continue. The hulking shadow of the first record probably accounts for the 9/10, perhaps it lost a point because there is no wildlife on the cover this time. It is an impressive second record and I can’t wait to hold the 3rd LP in my hands.

Watching the recently released video for lead track ‘The Wrench’ had me thinking about cover art, the creative process and whether the video in any way mirrored the song writing process in Kid Canaveral. Was there any difference in the song writing process this time around? 

David: The song writing was done over a much shorter period of time. All of the ideas were put together within about four or five months from notes and short recordings made during the promotion of our first record. I think it was easier for me, this time because I approached it with more (or any) confidence. It didn’t feel as uncomfortable to allow myself the notion that I might be a songwriter.

 Kate: I’m still not sure I feel like a proper songwriter to be honest but I think there was definitely a bit more confidence there to try things out and maybe not be quite as quick to dismiss something that maybe just needed more work and more developing.

Your album cover is quite interesting. While watching the video, I couldn’t help thinking that it was an album cover being painted. Who did this cover? Could you explain the idea or concept behind it? How does it encapsulate the record as a whole?

David : The very talented artist Eve McConnachie does our artwork. Rose actually painted the mural in the video. The arms are embraced in a dance. There’s a lot of references to dancing, literal and otherwise, on the record.

What are some of your favourite albums covers?

Kate: I guess it’s a bit predictable but I think Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures is amazing. I like covers that stand up in their own right as a piece of artwork. It’s definitely something your album can get judged on so getting the artwork right was a really important part of the process for us.

The album’s vinyl version had a slight delay. I take this as a hopeful sign that the demand for vinyl is actually increasing thereby taxing the existing manufacturers’ capacities. Wishful thinking?

David : We got caught up in record store day delays.

Kate: I don’t think it’s wishful thinking. There’s no doubt that more and more people are getting back into vinyl, or even getting into vinyl for the first time. I work in a second hand record shop and have done on and off for a few years. It’s definitely been noticeable how many more young people are interested compared to even 3 or 4 years ago. Shame the majority just seem to want Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt Pepper and Rumours though…

This live version of the new song ‘Who Would Want to Be Loved’ addresses the age old problem of whether or not to apply stickers to one’s guitar. Guitar strap badges are such an obvious solution! I can’t make them out though, what were some of them?

David: Let me think… My guitar is in transit to the BBC for a session tonight, so I’ll need to this from memory. There is a Come On Gang! Badge; a Meursault badge; a Withered Hand Badge; a ‘Love Music Hate Racism’ badge; there is a badge that says ‘David’ on it that Kate got me from a charity shop; there is a badge that has a map with my current neighbourhood on it; and an Is This Music? Magazine badge. I couldn’t bring myself to put stickers on my Tele.

Breaking Up is the New Getting Married” seems to have a little bit of an early Wedding Present vibe to it. More specifically, I think it is representative of a slightly more aggressive guitar sound throughout the record. Is this a natural development due to your growing musical finesse or more of a deliberate decision?

David : When we were recording that song Gal, our engineer, asked if we wanted him to make it less abrasive. I think he was pretty happy when we said “No”.

Kate: We’re definitely more adventurous and more adept on this record. It feels like we were still learning to play a bit with Shouting at Wildlife.

The band’s male/female balance, while not unprecedented, is nevertheless fairly unique. Has that had an impact on the song writing? One of my favourite tracks is ‘Skeletons’. It has the faint echoes of a Lush song; something seriously missed these days. Are all the songs sung by Kate written by her separately?

David : On this album, whoever sings the lead vocal has written the song.

Kate: Yep, the songs are written separately and then we come together, as a four piece, to make them into a proper Kid Canaveral tune. Skeletons was a bit different because most of the fleshing out was done in the studio rather than the practice room. I went in with the chords and the vocal melody and we really had no idea where it was going to go or if it was even going to work on the album. Gal really helped shape the direction it went in.

Velocity Girl also comes to mind (and I have just learned that the name was culled from a Primal Scream B-side) It is easy to forget how different they were from most of their 90s American contemporaries. In terms of their brilliantly melodic songs, I can certainly place KC in that tradition. Would you consider writing an alternating female-male voiced song or is that something you’ve purposefully avoided?

David: Do you mean like a duet? That’s not something that I’m sure would suit us. ‘Who’s Looking at You, Anyway?’ has maybe a 70% me/30% Kate and Rose vocal split.

The “Who’s looking at you Anyway” spoken word backing part sounds so familiar but I can’t place it and it is driving me nuts. It sounds oddly Joe Strummer like, but I just can’t figure it out where, or even if, I’ve heard it before. What is the source?

David: It’s not Joe. I’m afraid I can’t reveal the source of the voice to you.

Thank you so much for your part in organizing the photo from the March 16 show in Dundee. The unintentionally washed out piece of paper has provided much post editing amusement for my desktop background. Assuming you read them, are you pleased with the general reception and reviews for the new record? Is there one you think really ‘got it’?

David: You’re very welcome. I know we shouldn’t read reviews, really, but I do. I’ve been very happy with the reviews that we’ve had for the new record but it’s important that we don’t get carried away with all the positive press, because if you attach too much importance to the good reviews then a bad one will floor you. Every good review for us is a real help at the stage our band is at. One very prominent slating could be very damaging, but ultimately if we’re happy with what we’re producing and people still want to see us, that’s what’s important. I think they’ve all ‘got it’ to some extent, yes. We’ve all grown up in each other’s company in this band. I’ve known Scott and Kate for 10 years, now, and Rose since we were at School. A lot of people have noted that it’s an album about progressing through you 20s. About realisations and disappointment; borderline alcoholism and heartbreak.

Many bands would be content to make a song from the secondary guitar bits in ‘Low Winter Sun’ alone. (and they’d have a pretty good song on their hands) The beauty of the new songs seems to be just how much more is brought into the mix and lovingly crafted into something special. Did the recording process differ for the second release from the first?

David: Thank you! That’s very kind. It was recorded over a shorter period of time. Also, I was definitely more adventurous in the studio. We all were. We’re all better musicians and we approached the recording sessions with more confidence and more of a sense of adventure. I didn’t feel as self-conscious about trying things this time. Also, I bought an excellent reverb pedal.

Kate: I think it helped that the four of us had been playing and gigging together for quite a sustained and intense period before we went in to record the album too. It made everything a bit more coherent and free flowing I guess.

I hadn’t realized David was from Glasgow (see press release!) Chemikal Underground to Fence records has partially mirrored my own musical voyage of discovery. I just re-read our last feature on KC and it obviously captured you at a very good and exciting moment in time. This is the first full length released completely underneath the Fence umbrella. Is it all you hoped to be or have you started to notice any leaks? 

David: Rose and me are both from Glasgow, and Scott is from Girvan in Ayrshire, not far south of Glasgow. Kate is from Wokingham, not far south of Scotland, really. When you interviewed us last time, we’d just finished the busiest and best year of our musical lives. It’s been great to have Fence to work with on this one. They’ve helped us at every stage after the songwriting. The good ship Fence has a sound hull.

I was looking at the lineup you were part of at the recent ‘Wales Goes Pop’ event; tucked between the Onions and a Big Wave. Those other bands were all so ‘poppy’. How was the experience? (I honestly don’t think of KC as a ‘pop band’)

David: Wales Goes Pop! Was a great experience. A really fun gig. Why do you not consider us a pop band? I know we’re quite noisy, but we still write pop songs.

Kate: I would definitely consider us a pop band.

David: It’s difficult to label yourself. People are always wanting to have a one or two word genre to describe you. We get sold under the Indiepop banner a lot, but I’m not sure that we properly fit in that genre, really. I used to want to just sound like Mogwai. It’s not really worked out.

You went back to Wales in early May for a comedy festival. Career change? Can you share a few jokes from the routine? There was a rather impressive line-up of free music being offered up by Fence. Is this the first time for this type of cross promotion? 

David: My jokes are all improv. And ill-advised.

Kate: I let David tell all the jokes.

David: This idea came from Johnny (Lynch – the Pictish Trail/Fence Head Honcho) going on tour with the comedian/writer Josie Long a couple of years ago – actually was it 2009? Connections and friendships were made in comedy circles on those 40 or so shows, I suppose. I also supported Josie at a couple of her tour shows last year. Most people don’t find music prior to a comedy show too jarring, in my experience.

The album launch was a few months ago. Like most album launches we wish we could have been a part of, we are resigned to asking how it went?

David : The two nights at The Glad Café in Glasgow were excellent. We wanted to do something intimate and a bit special. The venue attached to The Glad Café only holds 120 folk but it is a really nice space, so that’s why we did two nights there. In hindsight we could probably have done 3, but I think that keeping it to 2 retained some magic? I’m in danger of disappearing up my own arse. We had soundman extraordinaire Tim Matthew looking after us, too, so I think the whole thing went according to plan. I’ll not forget those shows in a hurry. The London album launch was a lot of fun as well.

Kate: It was the first time ever I was able to make a “SOLD OUT EXTRA DATE ADDED” poster and it felt pretty awesome.

Old Earth

 

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Side A

I recently featured a band from Aberdeen-Berlin called Milwalkie. As a result, I’m actually having a difficult time spelling Milwaukee again. You resided in San Francisco for some time. Creatively did that inspire or allow you to express yourself differently than in your home state in any way?

“The inspiration was almost instant… The first time I visited, in 2009, I felt it as soon as I got off the plane! I came to record my first album as Old Earth (Out the spheres of The Sorrowful Mysteries) because a group of my trusted friends/collaborators had just moved there from Madison, WI. Something about being in a distant place always changes my perspective and thinking, generates some new language, and it’s usually a lot easier to focus on the work.

 San Francisco has always been a mythical place for me, and I wanted to be a part of the tradition of the artists and revolutionaries who transformed it. It’s still a city full of people making and doing things, and it motivated me a great deal. It got me started on a prolific method of writing that I never new I was capable of. Having to move back after just 2 years has definitely been a mixed experience.”

You recently had a digital release show for the new EP ‘Small Hours’. I was intrigued that it included a print. I’ve purchased a Jonnie Common print the same way for an album that was only available digitally. It is an intriguing and surprisingly satisfying adjunct to music in the potentially ‘sterile’ digital age. Do you have any other creative ideas in mind for the future?

“I think calling the digital age “sterile” is pretty accurate. Holding a piece of art or hanging it on the wall is a sensuous experience, vs. looking at an image on a screen. JPGs are pretty impersonal. The scale of the prints is approximate to an LP jacket, which I think is the perfect size. Any larger and they would be impractical, and sometimes smaller objects feel somewhat disposable.

As for the future, I’ll continue to make prints, but I’d like to do a small book (with a DL code), and eventually get a lot less traditional, like sculpture that includes a DL code.”

How was the show itself?

“The show was amazing. Honestly, it felt like the best Old Earth performance yet. I was joined by nearly everyone who performed on the record, and they did a phenomenal job. I felt very very blessed to have them there.”

When I saw the flyer from the Sugar Maple, I was surprised to see presented by Mini50 Records printed at the top? How did that relationship come about?

“I have Matthew from Song, by Toad to thank for the introduction. When low place came out, I sent it to literally hundreds of blogs, mostly in the US, but the first two responses I got were from him and Sounds Better with Reverb in Australia.”

While it is fairly representative of many small Scottish indie labels, it is apparent to me, even at this removed distance, how much of a personal commitment and effort Euan McMeeken expends on his artists. What has the relationship been like?

“I want very much to continue working with Euan. I don’t know how he finds the time for everything he does… He’s an artist himself, and because of that, we relate on levels that are much more meaningful than the business aspects. He comes from a loving place with everything he does.

It’s obvious that he respects the artists’ visions for packaging, and hooking me up with Jamie Mills was absolutely perfect.

He truly believes in my work, and that was a huge motivator for me. I tried to give him the best recording I’ve made to date, and I can confidently say that I did. I enlisted the best people I could find, and I worked on it to the exclusion of all else in my life. That may not be healthy, but I felt that if I gave him anything less, then I’d be cheating the both of us.”

Now that you are on a Scottish label has that lead to you exploring or discovering any other Scottish artists?

“When I was first contacted by Euan, I immediately checked out his roster and was impressed throughout. I wouldn’t work with a label if I only liked one or two of the other acts. With Mini50, I enjoyed it all. I was especially impressed with Conquering Animal Sound, Hiva Oa, and Caught in the Wake Forever. Of course, I love everything Euan’s musically involved with… I’m still digging around and learning about other artists outside of Mini50, which led me to Honeyblood and poet Jenny Lindsay. I know that American Josh Ritter cut his teeth in Scotland, and his record Animal Years has been a long-time favorite.”

The new EP ‘Small Hours’ consists of 3 tracks seemingly entitled 1, 2, and 3. What was the philosophy behind the naming ?  Hypothetically speaking, if the ‘publisher’ demanded you name them would you?

The day a publisher tried to tell me how my art should be presented would be the last day I’d work with them! I put a lot of thought and consideration into what I do, and if they don’t trust me, then we can’t work together.

The track titles being numbers works on a few levels… First of all, it’s a practical concern. 2, for example, is a track made up of four songs. It would be too clumsy to have all those titles combined into one track title, and I also didn’t feel that each track warranted a separate title. Too much language being thrown around… Also, the numbers are a lot more vague and mysterious.

Numbers speak very literally to the concept of Small Hours- 1, 2, 3am (the small hours of the day) is when when my mind is most active, and when I do most of my writing. There’s a palpable stillness in the air, as well as a charged sense of potential. Elie Wiesel wrote “Night is purer than day; it is better for thinking and loving and dreaming. At night, everything is more intense, more true. The echo of words that have been spoken during takes on a new and deeper meaning.”

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The EP artwork is geometrically striking. Who designed it and is there a deeper significance it conveys for the songs contained within?

“The art was handled by the great Jamie Mills… When the project began, I told him that I was interested in something that rang of preciousness and opulence. He said that he had drawings started of small details in a cathedral, and that couldn’t possibly have been planned better. I think it interacts with the the feel of the recording – cavernous rooms, exhaled voices, and abbreviated snippets of a bigger picture.”

You are coming back to California to write/prepare/record material for your next project. Can you tell us anything about that or the process you think you’ll be undertaking?

“I have to finish up the EP that will be given away with the deluxe package, and I want to start writing something resembling a full-length. I’ve never taken on a 35-45 minute piece, and I finally feel prepared for the challenge.

As of right now, I’m envisioning a lot more instrumental and melodic work, but who knows, the process of writing and recording could change that. I just want to make something honest and beautiful. I’ll be staying and writing with Chad Burnett, whom I’ve been friends with (though I feel more like a brother to) for over 10 years. He was a very influential guitarist for me, and I have not seen him since I left SF.”

You’ve got an impressive back catalog. The one item I was most intrigued by initially was the 12 inch version of ‘a low place at the Old Place’. I assume the decision for random colored recycled vinyl was deliberate? This was your first release on vinyl do you intend to do any others? I’d love to buy a Cloud Cult record on vinyl but I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to ever happen – is the recycled LP a viable alternative ‘environmentally’?

“The choice of vinyl was based on a coupon offered by United Record Pressing. I’ve been using them for various projects for 15 years, and I’ve always been satisfied. They’re very no-nonsense, easy to work with, and I’ve never had a problem with their product. The coupon just happened to be for the random recycled vinyl, and yes, I felt that the environmental aspect was wonderful. Also, no two copies look the same, and manufacturing usually removes the individuality and uniqueness of each object.

I hope to continue to put things out on vinyl, yes. I feel they hold a greater sense of legacy, as there are still playable records from some 80-odd years ago. Once we don’t have the fossil fuels needed to run the infrastructure for all these computers, we’ll still be able to play a record. You can play a record almost anywhere in the world.”

‘Americana’, for lack of a better word, is something I’ve willfully avoided because of my almost obsessive UK centric musical past. Now with my even narrower emphasis on Scotland, I’m strangely beginning to discover American artists.  The blogging about Scottish music is set in stone, but I’m increasingly open to exploration when suggested or brought about by a Scottish connection. 

Is there anybody local (Wisconsin) you’d care to recommend?

“Americana is a pretty fluid term, and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve avoided it as well, because it’s generally a cute and safe sound. I think it has more to do with country music, whereas I’ve always been rooted in darker blues-based influences. Melodic structures may be more European, but I’m generally coming from a rhythmic place, which was brought from Africa.

Wisconsin is booming right now. My buddies/collaborators in Field Report, my buddy Jeff Flashinski (as Kinth & Jay Flash), Jon Muller’s Death Blues, Phox, Blessed Feathers, Hello Death, Altos, Juniper Tar, a new Volcano Choir record soon… Too many to name!”

I’d love it if I could get your brief take on the following clip. It’s from a Star Wheel Press LP that just arrived today and is representative of the kind of music I probably would never have come across prior to the beginning of the blog due to my overtly ‘guitar based indie’ tastes and all the restrictions that genre can contain.

“I’m always a sucker for old movie footage, and I love the efficiency and resourcefulness that was demanded of early films… Through the Looking Glass is an incredible work, and it makes sense to pair it with the experience of playing and recording music. I think SWP made a good choice here.”

I read somewhere that said you taught English in San Francisco, where was that?

“I was mainly helping a friend of a friend out in her classroom, just trying to get my foot in the door. It was Robert Lewis Stevenson Elementary, out in the Sunset. Teaching is pretty cutthroat everywhere these days, and to compound it, I don’t have a license.”

You aren’t superstitious are you? ( note: this was a question that was tongue and cheek because it happened to be the 13th, but since it got such a sincere response, I would be remiss to not include it)

“To a degree, I am! I take heed when I get in touch with someone I was just thinking about, or when events seem to line up and move me in a certain direction. I guess that makes me a fatalist, but I feel closer to something like a Taoist.

Other than that, I don’t know how much of the world is ours to change by sheer will or belief, or that we’re being manipulated by supernatural causation. All I know is that shit happens, and life’s not fair.”

End of Side A

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Side B

An afternoon spent waiting to confirm a position on an open mic schedule was spent in the Phoenix tavern on Valencia; perhaps not the wisest choice for a chat considering a USA-Mexico world cup qualifying game had just started. During his two year stay in San Francisco Todd Umhoefer had, in fact, lived a few blocks away and was pleased about being able to spend some time in the Mission. The 2 hours of recorded ‘interview’ quickly lapsed into a conversation about life, music, musical karma at a pub. Fortunately, I had the foresight to anticipate how bad a live interviewer I’d make and sent the written questions in advance. For the most part the following is paraphrased.

A 5th grade musical presentation of different instruments introduced Todd to the magic of the electric guitar. It wasn’t until his first job, at the age of 15, at a Greenhouse that he was able to save up and buy a red epiphone SG ‘copy’. He still prefers used relatively inexpensive guitars; his favourite being a telecaster deluxe. Todd did bring along a “13 year old girl’s nail polish pink” strat copy for tonight’s open mic performance.

Professionally, Todd started out on the drums for Conrad Plymouth, precursors to the band Field Report. The impracticality of the drums eventually lead to piano and guitar as a solo artist – a creative endeavor, as evidenced from our discussion, Todd very much takes to heart.

We talked about the difficult landscape for selling music and how the pre-orders for this project are vitally important for allowing the release. This EP is only going to be available physically through Mini50 records. Recently a  friend was just telling Todd how Grizzly Bear is struggling to make themselves self – supporting prompting his observation –  “What do you have to become? Is it really going to be the case that either everyone knows you or you are nobody?”  

When asked why he did it the answer was simple “I have too” then going on to elaborate –  Can I live off it? – I don’t know it will be a struggle, a daily struggle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as I’m compelled to make music. Tenacity still has a value; a lot of the stuff out there will be gone in a year or two. People paying attention from outside of your inner group come and and go, but it those closest to you that prop you up and keep you going. A few buddies have achieved notoriety, but the ones that seem to do better are those that remember who was there before.

Experiment, revision, rethinking of old songs  with guitar parts sitting around for years waiting to be put into songs partially characterize Todd’s approach to songwriting.  “I keep playing them and maybe I’ll be able to drop them into a song. Who knows, maybe I never will and that’s just how it is meant to be”.

When asked about early influences the response was that “Punk and metal with its tight rhythmic playing has fed into what I’m doing now” but in high school a growing interest in folk field recordings partially derived from borrowing Alan Lomax recordings from the library helps to explain his more current musical direction.

New EP ‘Small Hours’ was recorded at home in the basement, with friends bringing the microphones in what was a purposeful and decidedly low tech approach. As Todd noted, each of his recordings have been wildly different but “I’ll try to see the best I can do with what we have at the time.”

Longtime friend Nick Berg and Field Report keyboardist recently started a new creative outlet with photography. (the opening photograph is from one of his photo sessions). Old Earth’s last release is still available directly, highly recommended and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a green one. In addition to finishing the mostly instrumental extra EP for the deluxe version of the ‘Small Hours’, work for a future full length was underway up in Sonoma during Todd’s brief visit.

I’m pretty sure my career as a live interviewer ended as quickly as it began. I quickly let it devolve, or evolve as I would prefer to think of it, into spending the rest of the day in the pub and the bar next door talking about everything and anything while waiting to hear if that night’s performance was still on. The venue had transformed from a more traditional open mic to a standup practice night. The sometimes excruciating, but occasionally funny, 2 ½ hour wait until the last comic was no longer standing  cumulated in this short performance that I captured on the iphone. The audio is fairly quiet but more than passable. The first song is part of #2 from the new EP and the second is a portion of the last recording.

If anything, I had to stay just to see the contrast.  Having the rare opportunity to literally spend the day with an artist, and two of his close friends, with which we would have usually only ‘communicated’ with via email was a wonderful experience. Seeing his dedication, good humor and general love for his craft first hand was a treat.

I’d jokingly mention how much more unused gear I had sitting around in my apartment. The day might just be the inspiration needed to try and put it to some use.

Thor

Man Without Machines

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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 closeI 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.

Thor

#biffy-behindthecover-opposites

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When the double album format was announced for Opposites, I thought of my favorites- like Blonde on Blonde or Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma- and how the artwork for these records is integral to the listening experience. Coincidentally, the artist for Ummagumma, Storm Thorgerson, created the concept for Opposites and his studio has come up with the artwork for all of Biffy’s releases going back to Puzzle. In my ongoing mission to champion the “behind the scenes” artists for the work they do, so all of us can enjoy a fuller listening experience, I present you…

Rupert Truman, photographer and jack-of-all trades, of StormStudios unveiling the meaning of life, death, and the album cover art.


Your work once again graces the cover of Scotland’s finest power trio, Biffy Clyro. How did the creative process begin for the concept of their first double album, Opposites? Does the band come to you with an idea? Are audio recordings sent to you ahead of time for feel?

We have been working with Biffy for a few years now, since ‘Puzzle’ in 2007, so it’s a natural continuation – we love what they do, and they seem to like what we do…  

Usually bands send us the music which we listen to ALOT and generate a bunch of ideas which we then present to the band.  We listened to this one as well…  Initially Storm and Pete travelled up to Scotland to meet Simon, James and Ben to talk about the album and bat around some ideas for the design work.  Pete took some pics of the band while he was up there. Later, Simon wrote to Storm –  apparently he’d had a dream about a ‘tree of life’.  Storm started to think about different kinds of trees, trees of life trees of death, trees of interconnectedness and trees of disconnection. Storm and Dan’s tree designs came from that line of inquiry. 

 Originally we shot mirrors, telephones and scissors. The telephones suggested life and interconnectedness, while the scissors implied cutting off things, so maybe disconnectedness and thus death. When we use mirrors they often suggested consciousness, self-reflection. The fact that mirrors reflect light, gives them something more in common with life rather than death.  I’m not entirely sure about the glass bones though, although surely they don’t symbolize the world of the living. They did make a lovely lively tinkling noise as they swung in the Icelandic breeze.

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The background locations also suggest a connection with the loose themes of life and death, one being arid and sterile looking, and the other being verdant with a gushing waterfall in the background. Life needs water.

Tell us about the creation of the cover art –  from photo shoot, to layout and collaboration with your fellow designers, Peter Curzon and Dan Abbot – to the final printing process.

“After coming up with the designs, with Dan making drawings or roughs as we call them, of what the image and its layout could be like, we wanted a couple of opposite locations.  We needed a barren landscape for the tree of death and a lush landscape for the tree of life – the home counties really wouldn’t do it.  We thought – ‘Iceland’.  So, after extensive research on the web, I was despatched with Jerry to go and have a look around.  We hired a 4×4 which allowed us to get off road and into the highlands.  We drove all the way around the island, and saw some beautiful things – from the biggest waterfall in Europe – the one in the beginning of Prometheus (awesome), to glaciers and icebergs, to volcanoes, hot springs and huge barren wastes.  A beautiful country.  This generated a shortlist of locations from which we chose a few areas.

 In the background, Storm and the band had been talking, and in the end the tree design was confirmed.

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 The next phase was to make the tree – Iceland is rather short of trees, so I employed my local chippy – Nick Baker – to make us the tree – we supplied him some rough sketches and told him how big it should be and he did the rest… I dropped by his workshop every day or two to check progress, but apart from a few minor alterations, it was spot on – a magical tree.  It came in bits in a huge unwieldy box which we took unannounced to Heathrow – that was fun, but after paying the excess, it was allowed on board the plane.  

 In Iceland, we strapped it to the roof of the car and headed off into the wilds.  We quickly bought some wheels for our box so we could get it in and out of hotels easily – a hugely important design upgrade…  We had a very clear idea where one of the locations would be, we wanted the waterfall in the background, so went and chatted up a local farmer who let us put our tree up in the garden of their house…  This was the tree of life in the vinyl version.  We managed to find two more locations for the tree of life just driving around, one of which is with a lake in the background in the CD package.

 In search of a location for the tree of death, we had a pretty good idea of where to go, and headed into the highlands. We shot it in three different locations I think, that were all pretty close together. There are large areas of barren desert there that were perfect for us.

 After we finished shooting, and had got our tree home in it’s box, it was the turn of Lee Baker to get to work retouching.  This was a lengthy process, especially the bent tree on the cover… Storm and Pete oversaw the retouching.

 We designed the CD package and the booklet inserted in it, the vinyls, the box set and all its inserts, posters etc etc. this was largely done by Silvia Ruga, with Peter Curzon overseeing the covers and all the typefaces (one of his specialities). He did endless layouts with things in different positions, trying out all sorts of typefaces (he makes them himself).”

Were there any significant changes made to the design along the way?

“Well, yes!  initially, the design was just for the two trees – the tree of life and the tree of death that are the vinyl covers and appear inside the CD package.  The label wanted something more, and after racking our brains for a bit we came up with the idea of a bent tree…  Frankly i thought it was a daft idea – just goes to show how wrong you can be – I now think it’s stunning – the piece de la resistance….”

Are there any hidden gems /references in the cover art that fans may not be aware of?

“There are certainly several things in the packaging that might not be picked up easily…  our images are rarely straightforward – they represent ideas, and that requires some thought and lateral thinking…  but I’ve explained alot of it already…”

You’ve worked alongside Storm Thorgerson, creator of numerous iconic album covers including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, for the past 20 years. How do you keep his vision and legacy moving forward?

“As a team, we’ve been working together for several years now – we know how each other think – our respective strengths and weaknesses.  The way we work is well practiced.  The design team is strong – many of the ideas originate with Dan and Pete, and we develop them as a team.  Each job is necessarily treated differently and imagery arises spontaneously (with alot of hard work) that fits the particular band we are working for.  There’s not much thought of the legacy moving forward as such, we treat each job as unique when it comes along, with our shared vision.”

Storm’s philosophy of having the studio’s work presented in an informal fashion allowed for 2 pop up StormShops recently. How did they go? Any plans on invading America? San Francisco would be a much appreciated venue for one! Afterall, we are the mecca of rock poster art…

“The popup shops were an exciting experiment.  We don’t currently have any plans to do more – but you never know…  We already have strong links with the San Francisco Art Exchange on Geary Street – we’ve had 2 exhibitions there over recent years and Theron at SFAE continues to sell our work for us.  We’ve also recently exhibited in Chicago and LA…”

What can people expect on the merch table featuring your art for the upcoming Biffy tour?

“That’s down to 14th Floor I imagine…  I’d expect to see our imagery all over it!”

Your principal medium of photography has changed immensely over the last 20 years. In my (pre-photoshop) dark room Art School days, I recall the surreal photomontages of Jerry Uelsmann, as a focal point of study. Coincidentally, my own artwork has been an ongoing variation on photomontage for the past 10 years.  Who are some artists that have influenced you early on?

“Well… as a teenager, I was, in fact largely buying albums that had Hipgnosis images on the cover…  UFO, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Brand X, Led Zeppelin etc… they were the sleeves that interested me, and coincidentally had great music!  I love Cartier Bresson and had an interest in Ansel Adams.  Cartier Bresson has a wonderfully vibrant expression of life in his images…  I went on to develop an interest in architecture (my wife was an architectural journalist), and started my photographic career shooting architecture.  I think this comes across in my imagery with the studio – they are very matter of fact images of wierdness.  Up-front images of the impossible.”

It seems everyone is a “photographer” these days without knowing the history and nuances of the artform. With the ease of technology also brings some to discover or revisit what came before. We’ve seen it with the resurgence of film and vinyl. Did you foresee this happening in your field? I’m sure there were some dark days in the industry?

“I count myself as one of those who don’t know much of the history or nuances…  For years I purposely avoided looking at other people’s work – it clouds your own vision – and you can easily end up copying everyone else…  Photography has a language of it’s own, and either you speak it or you don’t… I was very lucky to learn alot from a talented friend – Tony May, who introduced me to Storm.  The pair of them showed me that anything is possible.  What you can do is only limited by your vision.  So, for example, Storm gave me a 35mm film camera and we shot a promo.  I also shot the Wish You Were Here film footage for the web film in the early days of streaming video. For the past year we’ve been making a documentary.  

 Having a science background helps me see the mechanics of photography as a means of achieving the image that we are aiming for.  A bunch of tools – camera, lights, props, location, models all come together – orchestrated to achieve our aim.  We as photographers and designers are part of that.  None of us on our own could make these images.  The magic is in the collaboration.  Our shared vision.

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 Going back to your question…  Yes, I agree – the ease of technology does allow people a whole new easy route to making great images.  My favorite camera right now is my iPhone, especially coupled with a few apps that make wonderful images in a few button clicks. It encourages play.  It’s about having fun – enjoying the image, exploring it, playing with it. I’m really enjoying an app called camera + at the moment…”

What was your first camera and what do you use currently?

“My first professional camera was a lovely wooden Wista 5″x4” field camera.  A beautiful thing that required you to look at the image upside down and back to front on a ground glass screen. It had to be on a tripod, and you needed a black cloth over your head to be able to see anything.  It was a very slow way of working, and as a result I quickly started to be able to visualise exactly where the camera needed to be without looking through it, developing a kind of three-dimensional view of things in my mind, being able to imagine shots from different places and on different lenses.  

As a teenager, my first camera was a Zenith E – a basic Russian camera.  Being fully manual, I quickly learned what apertures and shutter speeds do…  Professionally I’ve been using a Hasselblad to shoot for the studio for many years – it’s the natural format for the square of the vinyl cover.  When digital came along, I invested in a Phase One digital back for for the Hassel which is still serviceable.  I’ve now bought a Nikon D800E which is only just short of the Phase One in pixel count, but has many advantages over it – and it shoots good quality video”

A couple of years ago, the school I was teaching at still had a dark room, so I dug up my grandfather’s Nikon FM 2, a beauty with a 35-105 mm Nikkor Zoom plus an L37c 52 mm lens and hit the streets of NY for a crash course refresher with a great photographer, Mike Vorrasi. One of my favorite no nonsense blogs, KenRockwell.com gave me tips on film type, etc. It was like learning all over again-I had a blast. Any advice I can pass along to my students who may be interested in picking up a camera and pursuing a career?

“My advice is to just do what you enjoy – the passion will shine through if it’s there – and you allow it to shine!  Really dive into it.  Get Passionate! Have a Blast! Love what you are shooting!  For me, it’s about the image – it doesn’t matter really what you shoot it on – it’s a means to an end – a tool.  You need the right tool for the job, which is why I use good optics and high pixel count for the studios work.  Equally, I like lower res, gritty grainy stuff.  Look at the work of Cartier Bresson – gritty 35mm – often not quite sharp or with motion blur etc – yet fantastic images.  As I say, I love my iPhone.  I gather that there’s an award winning war photographer that covered the Libyan uprising on his iPhone…  

 Don’t get me wrong, I love the beautiful craftsmanship of a beautiful camera like a Leica, and I’d love a set of Zeiss primes for my Nikon – that’d give me great pleasure…  The romantic in me sees myself standing on rocky promontories with my old wooden Wista… I’d probably take the Nikon now…”

I received a beautiful book, Vivienne Maier: Street Photographer, this past Christmas from a good friend. There is nothing quite like the continuing and endless discovery of good art. Are there any artists( musical or visual or other) that we should check out?

“Ooh – that’s put me on the spot…  As I mentioned, I rarely look at the work of others…  

A couple of musicians – Marques Toliver – young black violinist – some real raw bluesy stuff from the heart – on youtube.  And a band called Unknown Mortal Orchestra that Dan went to see in Berlin last week – very good.  And we’ve just done the artwork for AP and the Heat’s debut EP – really rather good bleak punk psychadelia…”

Pedro