Homework

homeworklive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Absolutely. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thor

homeworkcover

 

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

Old Earth

 

oldearthbynickberg

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.”

oldearthdesign

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

IMG_0528

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

Pronto Mama

pmamabanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is on the musical horizon?

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

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

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

Thor

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

prontotree

 

Yakuri Cable

 

propercover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thor

Charlie Clark

CLARKLIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What prompted the move to Los Angeles?

“I married an Angeleno!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My wife and my family.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Isobel Campbell just happen to be in town?

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

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

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

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

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

Thor  (sometimes it pays to just ask)

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

Don’t Let Me Down                      Grateful

 

.

The Twilight Sad: Live in SF

IMG_0429

 

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0496

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

IMG_0478

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

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

IMG_0515

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

Thor

Samantha Crain (via the Toad Sessions)

Samantha Crain - 2012

My first exposure to you came from listening to the song ‘Churchill’ from a recently posted Toadcast. Not recognizing the name, I was fairly certain you were not Scottish. This doesn’t automatically preclude me from paying attention but as this is a Scottish music blog it was something I intended to put off until later. That evening, I kept repeatedly going back to the sessions to listen to the songs. I can’t remember the last time I’ve found someone’s singing so compelling. I had to work you into our blog somehow. Beyond what can be seen in the clip, what can you tell us about that experience in the Toad’s living room?

“Well, seeing as how this was a year and half ago, I can’t remember too much about it in terms of specifics. I remember Matthew making me a nice whiskey and then we did the songs and then an interview. Then we all went to the pub afterwards. This was the night after I had played a packed out little show at Henry’s Cellar Bar with Withered Hand which was very special to me. I am such a fan of Dan’s music and getting to sing “For the Maudlin” with him at the show and hear him live was really a great experience.”

 One of the things I first read when I did do a little investigation was your explanation of how your own surroundings influenced your music. It has become pretty clear just how much of Scotland finds its way into the music that we champion. Each time I do discover an artist from Oklahoma, I have a feeling that something similar is happening there. Did you sense an affinity or similarity between the Scottish environment’s musical impact and that of your own experiences back home? (as much as that is possible to gauge from a tour and visit)

 “I don’t know if I can actually say much to this. I think it would be unfair of me, as an outsider, to say, in response to my short time in Scotland, “Well Scotland is overcast so all the music sounds this way…” or some weird, overarching conclusion like that. I’m sure if I spent any amount of time there talking to musicians, I would find the same similarity between environment and creativity. I think it is like that everywhere. Unless you are locked up in a room all day, the city, the town, the place you are in is going to affect what pours out of you…and even in the room, the room will affect you. We are sensory based beings and artists are purposely even more in touch with what they are sensing.”

Your session was recorded by Neil Pennycook. Did you happen to bring back any ‘Meursault’ records or ‘discover’ any other artists while there?

“I don’t think I knew Neil was in a band called Meursault until you just asked me this question. I will have to listen to their music! I did, however, start listening to King Creosote after my trip there because Mike MacFarlane, who opened the show we did at Henry’s, played a King Creosote tune and I liked it and so I’ve dived into that a bit and have really enjoyed those songs.”

 I found this clip from King Tut’s. I have read that a Glasgow crowd can, on occasion, be ‘tough’. You certainly have their rapt attention here. What was the reception like overall? I’m curious if you found any perceptible differences between a Scottish crowd versus one from Manitoba?

“That Glasgow show was really fun! I didn’t get the feeling that the crowd was humming about or getting too drunk at all. It might have also helped that I was on tour with First Aid Kit (friends of mine, a folk duo of sisters from Sweden) and they always have a polite audience. All my shows in Europe, including England, Scotland, and Ireland, and Canada, have been really positive. I feel like people  go to certain places to listen to music and then when they want to get rowdy they go to another place. Actually the toughest shows to play are in the USA. And I can’t tell if people just don’t care as much, or if its because the venues that have live music are also known places to just hang out. So end up having this real mix of people, some who are there to hear the band, and some who are there to socialize. Also, I didn’t notice TVs in very many music venue/bars in Europe, UK or Canada….there are TVs in so many bars and venues over here in the US, and that is my main enemy in keeping a crowds attention.”

I found this nice review of your 2011 opening for Withered Hand in Edinburgh. How did that show actually come about?

“I played at Henry’s Cellar Bar in Edinburgh with Withered Hand. Matthew, from Song by Toad, had been writing blogs every once in a while about my albums since my very first EP, so when I was on tour in the UK, I contacted him to see if he could put together a show in Edinburgh for me and I really wanted to see if Dan could play because I’m such a fan of his. So that show  was really great for me. It is always nice to be able to play with bands and songwriters you look up to and that is what that show was for me.”

 In a bit of further geographic irony, (as if having to go to Edinburgh to discover an artist from Oklahoma wasn’t enough) when the LP arrived I learned that it was recorded, practically down the street, in San Francisco. How fully formed were the songs before the recording commenced? Were there any changes that came about during the recording process?

“I came into the studio with the songs all written and ideas for them, but the fun and magic of this record came with the fact that all the musicians (all friends of mine from Oklahoma or present band members) and John Vanderslice, hadn’t really heard them. So the parts that were written and the production ideas really were the first gut instinct. And I like gut instincts. Especially when it comes to recording. Laboring over a song and its production and arrangement just isn’t my style. Vanderslice made sure I kept the basic simple integrity of the “singer-songwriterness” of the songs but made good and intelligent tweeks to song endings or repetitions or instrument addition and subtraction to, ultimately, make it sonically interesting for the listener.”

‘Churchill’ leads off side B. I’m turning over the record now and after another listen I’m struck how appropriate and subtle the music is. It is an observation that applies to record as a whole. Is the song title a specific reference?

“I wrote “Churchill” sitting in this room in my house that had piles and piles of books. There were these two big books standing side by side that kept staring me down. It was two volumes out of the Second World War histories by Winston Churchill, “Their Finest Hour” and “The Grand Alliance”. I had hit a long period of writer’s block and felt very out of character with the self-seeking opportunist that I had thought myself to be all my life. This change in demeanor and personality felt much like a war inside my brain and heart and so these book titles seemed worthy of being worked into the lyrics of the song I was writing and then I slapped “Churchill” on as the title to pay homage to those volumes wedging me out of the writer’s block.”

After the first listen it was fairly apparent what a nearly flawlessly perfect record ‘Kid Face’ is. The intimacy of a living room session is conveyed throughout. I still have not listened to it enough times to keep from marveling just how incredible it is. As much as I love the vocals, the music is equally evocative and compelling. Your guitar playing and the embellishments that spring from that are equally noteworthy. Did this all just come about naturally? What do you think has helped set up this deeply expressive balance?

“It did come about naturally. For me, the record I make is a very intimately direct picture of the state of my mind and life. The Confiscation EP, that I wrote when I was 19, was raw and full of imitation. Songs In the Night was written when I was 21 and when I had a steady band and we all lived and played and worked together. It was cohesive and polished. You (Understood), I wrote when I was 23. I was emotional, unpredictable, confused and the record is the same. And then we come to Kid Face. I wrote it when I was 25. I’m in a good quiet spot in my head. I can think clearly and have control. This record is restrained in the same way. It is a picture of the quietness, clarity, restraint, and control that I feel in my life right now.”

Despite its brevity, the recent Rolling Stone ‘review’ contains this sterling insight – “The emotion in her tone is a dissertation”. When did you first start singing? Was there a guitar in your hand from the beginning?

 “I will say “yes” because the first time I started being aware of my singing or singing as an expression was when I started playing guitar. Something about having an instrument with me allows me to sing with impulse and freedom. Without an instrument, I am much more cautious in singing.”

I’ve enjoyed listening to the digital press album quite a bit these past few weeks, but was  still caught by surprise just how much better it sounds on vinyl. Given the record’s dynamics that stands to reason. Are you a vinyl aficionado?

“Yeah! I’ve been listening to vinyl since I was a kid. We’ve always had a record player in the house. And given that the recordings on Kid Face never went through a computer in the studio, I can see how vinyl would be its natural environment. The subtleties of the manipulations and frequencies that Vanderslice was conjuring in the studio are best displayed on vinyl. I feel like you hear the whole picture.”

I recently ‘discovered’ another Oklahoma band via the enthusiastic praise of ‘The Seventeenth Century’ who played with ‘Other Lives’ in Scotland. I did manage to uncover ‘Colourmusic’ on my own. Is there anyone else we should investigate?

“Other Lives. Amazing. Colourmusic. Amazing. Keep your ears open for Parker Millsap, he’s a 20 year old wiz at folky blues and sounds like Robert Johnson and Tom Waits and William Elliott Whitmore all rolled into one. I have high hopes for him. Also, Penny Hill, who sometimes plays bass for me, she is an amazing guitar player, songwriter, and singer.”

You will be heading into SXSW soon. Keep your eyes open for Washington Irving. Is there anyone there you are hoping to see play? In fact, I’d love to hear your reaction to this song ? (note: sadly Washington Irving had to cancel after sending these questions but Mr. and Mrs. Toad are there right now, presumably causing mayhem)

 “Oh what a rad band! I will try to see them. But SXSW is a mess for me and I’m usually very overwhelmed and don’t know what to do and don’t know how to have fun there. So I’ll probably just end up hiding out towards Dripping Springs, coming in when I have to play, then retreating again. My friends, Frontier Ruckus, have an amazing saw player in their band so I always have a soft spot for that.”

I keep trying to come up with a Scottish artist I might find comparable. This is more of an emotional connection, but I keep coming back to Panda Su. I would certainly say that you are both singer song writers with an engaging vocal style that resonates on an emotional level slightly more deeply than most. What’s your take on this song?

You really have to stop showing me videos of bands or I am just going to stop playing music! She’s good!” 

I’m most likely projecting here but a situation that I imagine has occurred frequently on tour is someone coming up after a show and telling you how moved they were. Have you gotten used to that yet?

“Yeah sure I’ve gotten used to it, but I still haven’t figured out the perfect gracious response. I mean I hope people are moved, I don’t do this all for myself. But I’m still trying to understand what it is that people want to hear back. And maybe that is just “thank you”.”

 Now that the record is out and the tour seems to be winding down: what’s next? Of course, what I’m really asking is how long before we can reasonably start looking forward to your next SF show?

 ” TOUR WINDING DOWN!? what are you talking about? The record is out which means touring BEGINS! Just because there aren’t a lot of dates posted doesn’t mean we aren’t planning things. Its hard to get venues to let you play these days unless you have costumes and a few synths and a review in Pitchfork so we’re trying to book shows, really we are…SF will be happening soon I hope.”
I saw this interview with American Songwriter the other day and feel compelled to link it as well.  This record is  a must on vinyl if that is still possible. And in case you still aren’t convinced here is the title track  ‘Kid Face‘ captured live a few weeks ago. 
(Samantha Crain) is technically not ‘Scottish’, but in this case I think it is safeto loosen that restriction a little. Creating a magnificent Toad Session is sometimes grounds enough. 
Thor