Frightened Rabbit: Live in SF

 

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As one of those early FR fans I’ve got no problem admitting that “The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ left me uneasy. I distinctly remember the first time I heard ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ previewed at a show and not being sure of the new direction. The last show in town was at the Independent, which their popularity has long since outgrown. When I noticed the listing at the venue 4 months beforehand, it was already sold out. Despite having to pay three times face value, it was decidedly worth it as the set focused heavily on the earlier material. I hadn’t actually listened to ‘Pedestrian Verse’ that often before the show. This was partially due to waiting for the month long delayed LP and also because, despite generally liking the new direction, I still didn’t find it compelling. Going in, I was hoping that the performance would allow me to better understand and appreciate the album.

I think the thing that was most evident the other night was that FR live is where they truly are at their best. The beauty of the show was how seamlessly they integrated the new songs into the live performance, how fresh they sounded and just how well they worked. This time Pedro and I stood second row center; watching them play, figuring out who was doing what and when and truly appreciating how it is all so carefully  balanced  and articulated. This was not only highly enjoyable but somewhat of a revelation.

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Double checking from some clips from the last Fillmore show we attended, I’m confident FR has added another person to the stage. Apologies for only using the pronoun, but he was magnificent in providing accompanying percussion and guitar. I was frequently drawn to his performance when wondering where a new dynamic in the sound was coming from. This happened a lot with the other performers as well. There is a certain musical ‘democracy’ to this band where everyone brings an equal amount to the table. At times, they are almost modular with overlapping chord progressions and even when everyone is doing something else the meticulous care given to the layering of the sound is almost breathtaking. They have become such a well-oiled machine (or an expensive German engineered car if you like) that is a delight to see in motion.

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At this point I should mention that scanning the crowd I was frequently struck with how radiant their smiles and bright their eyes were. I’ve been to many a show (and have seen FR 7 times now) and can truthfully say that the joy expressed on the audience’s collective face is a degree higher than any other. It goes without saying that this enthusiasm is reciprocated by the band themselves. One of the integral components of any FR show are Scott Hutchison’s stories, sense of humour and humility.

There was a point where the warm-up to a song took a little longer than usual and I began wondering how I would answer the question, if asked, what my most and least favourite FR song would be. Just as the question was answered, ‘Backwards Walk’ commenced. My favourite version of this was at the Bottom of the Hill quite a few years back. This review captures that night rather succinctly but they are wrong about the encore. Scott did come back out, in the dark, and began singing ‘Backwards Walk’. It had an almost a cappella like start as he stood at the edge of the stage leaning forward as much as he could. There was some fumbling of guitar and I don’t honestly remember whether he was using an acoustic or an electric, but I do have the beauty of that performance in my heart. The new enhanced version worked but it was a far cry from that memory. This is rather a long build up to tell you something that ends up being contrary to what you might expect. The real achievement of the show was how seamlessly and perfectly the 8 songs played from ‘Pedestrian Verse’ fit in with the other songs in the set. They were the songs that sparkled, had depth, and were fully engaging. It isn’t that the older songs were no longer welcome, but proof of  just how much further the new material has come.

There is something magical about listening to a new record the day after a show. Seconds after the needle was dropped with the opening keyboard lines of ‘Acts of Man’ I was back at the Fillmore. Prior to this, I wasn’t sure I really even liked the song. It ended up being the glorious live ‘ending’ to the regular set. I understand the record much better now. There is a whole new clarity that is hard to describe. Perhaps more importantly I don’t recall this experience with the last record. The distance between recording studio and stage seems shorter. Perhaps this time around the intent was to create something that would more fully and easily translate to the live performance. It worked. Even more, I think it is safe to say no studio recording could ever truly capture the majesty of FR live. Quite frankly, that is how it should be.

The answer to what is my least favourite song would have been ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’. I still remember the unease of hearing it the first time before the album and I’ve never really enjoyed it until now. Last night it just clicked. Admittedly, the first song that came into my head the next morning was a Twilight Sad one, but when I was trying to conjure up a FR song I was rather surprised to be ‘listening’ to my ‘least’ favourite song.. Maybe I’m just slow.

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2 apples, a poster, the Fillmore center 2 rows deep, the 7th FR show, and a stripped down Twilight Sad opener – I so wish that could happen more often with the other bands on our radar. But until then, I can’t wait until the 8th.

I’ve purposefully not mentioned the Twilight Sad because we get a rare opportunity to see them twice in one week and will put my thoughts off until then.

Thor

 

 

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Chvrches: Live in SF

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When I first heard that Chvrches would be attending this year’s SXSW, the thought of heading down crossed my mind. Every year sets off the hope, usually dashed, that some of the Scottish bands who make it down to Austin might come further north-west. You can imagine how pleased we were to find out that the first North American show would end up being right here in San Francisco.

Nothing illustrates their rapid rise more than the fact that I don’t possess a single EP or album. I did have the 10” single in my cart but just couldn’t justify the 10 pounds shipping. Sadly there wasn’t anything musical to buy from the merchandise table last night. Going into a show only having heard 3 songs on the internet and having watched a few live clips is almost antithetical to an old timer like me. I learned from some of the younger people after the show that this is actually pretty normal for today’s generation. While it was nice to have seen one gentleman with a beard whiter than my gray, for the most part I’m rather out of place.

I’m always fascinated by the totally different crowds at every San Francisco show I attend. I’m a constant, but why is there almost never a familiar face?  I conducted a non-scientific survey of the crowd before and afterward and it was pretty evident people were there because of the ‘internet’ through links and cross recommendations to bands like Grimes, Purity Ring and remixes from people they followed; more of an electronic music slant and all perfectly understandable.

For fun I asked a few people if they had heard of Blue Sky Archives, Unwinding Hours and The Twilight Sad. I didn’t find anyone. Had I brought up Aereogramme (and I am trying to cut back on doing that) the looks would have been even blanker. As it turns out, as I learned from this local press piece, even I had not realized that Martin Doherty was the touring keyboardist there as well. Until yesterday, I thought I had only seen Martin twice at the Independent playing for the Twilight Sad. Clearly my perspective and ‘path’ to the show was different than most of the people who wouldn’t have been allowed in back then even if they were fans. I’m pretty sure it also influenced my decision to stand on the side of the stage with the mighty Iain Cook.

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Predictably the ten song set was bookended by ‘Lies’ and ‘The Mother We Share’. I should have even expected the Prince cover that was offered as an impromptu encore. (as good as it was, I would have loved some Altered Images) My favourite place to be at the Independent is right at the side of the stage. You can feel the air pushed by the drums and hear the guitars from the amps as opposed to the PA. Obviously, I didn’t properly think that through for a Chvrches show. It was quite odd to see the opening act drum kit pulled away and nothing brought back to fill the empty space. Not since Glasvegas, have I been to a show where the main act was so lacking a proper drummer.

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I’m really not trying to be dismissive. While the 80s are too far behind me to be swayed by instrumentation alone, it was truly astonishing to see how much was done with so little. I was very intrigued by the use of a Maschine (I broke down and picked up a Mikro myself to play with) to provide the distinctive sampling riffs and some percussion. Not a fan of the online finger dexterity demos, it was nice to see it used to good effect in a serious live setting. I’m actually quite partial to the bass playing keyboard player and was impressed with how much Iain Cook was doing and how fluidly it was executed. Seeing the Fender sitting next to the Moog was encouraging as well.

I can’t pretend it was the most exciting show I’ve been to; although there was never a moment where I lost interest.  Not having heard the bulk of the set before shouldn’t really have mattered but it did dampen my emotional reaction. I did get a sense that some of the songs were still underdeveloped and suffered a little from their essential similarity. As incredible as Lauren Mayberry’s voice was, I really appreciated the song sung by Martin Doherty and some of the backing vocals provided by Iain Cook to change up the dynamics. That I woke up this morning with snippets of music and lyrics running through my head that I can’t place is proof enough that, overall, it worked. The internet personal recording device age is quite fascinating as well and this  clip of ‘Science and Vision is a good sample of the middle of the show set. There is a good deal of potential here and I imagine that the first record will be quite exceptional. Given Iain Cook’s prodigious talents that is almost a given.

In terms of a triumphant ‘return’, it can’t be stressed enough how wonderful it was. The crowd seemed to really enjoy it, the place was sold out and the band was touched by the positive warm reception. There was one young lass who specifically went to Scotland to see them. It made her night when Lauren Mayberry recognized her and pointed out her dedication. It really doesn’t matter that this old curmudgeon was reminiscing about the old days when bands walked in the snow to play to thirty people.

Ironically, the impending arrival of Chvrches prompted the discovery of the local band Churches. I’ve already seen Dominic East (1/3 of Churches) perform his own material and was blown away. For a chuckle, I got to tell him about the Glasgow version and am looking forward to seeing the full band play ‘Lovelife soon.

Tonight? The Twilight Sad opening for Frightened Rabbit.

Why so excited? It is not at the Independent (where the monitor I was standing next to wasn’t turned on until the 6th song) but at the Fillmore. My theory that the Independent sound guys were diminishing my enjoyment of a Twilight Sad show is about to be tested.

Thor

update: Here is the bulk of the show, I must be lurking somewhere in the dark lower left corner of the stage.

Fake Major

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Our email tagline is ‘while Scotland sleeps we listen’ which means that when we do wake up, there is frequently a facebook-twitter deluge to wade through. The reaction summary the other day went a bit like this:

  (Sadness) -“Endor broke up!”

   (Relief) – “Endor is now just not Endor”

   (Joy) – “there’s a new song and video!”

   (Hell yes!) – a message from Comets and Cartwheels asking if we’d have any interest in doing a feature.

From over here it seems that it was all a  closely guarded secret. How well coordinated was the roll out? Is there a story to the new name?

“Surprisingly not as well coordinated as you might imagine. We have been working on our new project “Fake Major” for the last 6 months, and when we finally got our first track completely finished (and we were both happy with it!), we put it online two days later. It wasn’t so much a closely guarded secret, as much as we didn’t just want to tell everyone who had helped support Endor that it was over and nothing else. We wanted to show those people that we were still writing and recording, and had something new to offer them. The name comes from a feline friend that lives on my street. We thought it sounded good and stuck with it!”

With this duo you’ve gamely entered ‘Over The Wall’ and ‘TMTATC’ territory. I’m guessing this change has been a creative boon and way to move forward musically. Would you characterize that as being the case?

“I think when you start anything new, there is always an excitement at the beginning, and this has helped us be more creative in everything we have been doing recently – writing, recording, and making videos.

We have definitely changed the way we write and record music. In the past we limited ourselves to what we could reproduce at a live show, but now there is a real difference between our recordings, and how we reinterpret the songs when performing.”

Releasing the video on the same day was well played.  If I had heard the song ‘Little Researcher’ the first time without knowing the source, I can’t honestly say I would have instantly recognized it as being Endor. Listening to it a few times, I’m struck by how ‘well considered’ it all is.  Other than just extorting the questioner to listen, how would you say your song craft has developed?

“Little researcher was originally written as our previous band was falling apart, so for Jarv and I it was even more important that we scrutinized every single line. We continually revised the song until we were both happy, and I think we have delved a bit deeper with all the songs on our upcoming EP. Each individual part  – whether a guitar line or vocal harmony – has been more considered than before, make sure every part has its purpose and hopefully adds something interesting.”

The video is undoubtedly one of the finer debuts I’ve seen in a while. It probably seems impossible now, but did you ever consider any other narratives to present the song?  My favourite part was when the stethoscope is placed to the glass and the music itself slows down a beat shortly after.  Who came up with idea for the final notebook entry?

“We are extremely proud of the video, and it was a great creative experience to work with Jolene and Richard (of Precious Productions). I don’t think we did consider other narratives. Jarv had the idea of a child trying to make sense of the world around them, and together we all developed the different scenarios. Richard (of Precious Productions – we call him “Richard 1”) did an incredible job editing it all together, as you have picked up on it the stethoscope! We were lucky enough to have a star in the making play the heroine. Lots of the video was made up of things she already owns, and I think the final notebook entry was her doing. A future star in the making for sure.”

Since we last chatted, people have started sending us ‘press kits’ and I’m still fascinated by the nearly contradictory usefulness and meaninglessness of them.  Which four songs on that Snow Patrol album do I need to listen to again more carefully?

“Ha! Yeah press releases are a strange thing. Jarv sang on Open Your Eyes, Shut Your Eyes, Make This Go on Forever and Hands Open on their Eyes Open album.”

 The snippet from the press blurb that did make me take note was “The truest version of Fake Major exists somewhere between the record and the venue” This strikes me as a much deeper observation.  Could you describe that place yourselves? 

“The original idea we had for this band was to write songs that would sound great with only two people performing them, and equally as good with a full compliment of musicians. We hope that when people come to see us perform live, they can appreciate the different interpretations of the songs, while being able to relate to them from the recordings they have heard. As a bonus, it’s a lot easier to tour with two people rather than seven!”

The first EP is “to follow”. Any sense of the timeline? How many tracks? … Any information you could share would be most welcome.

“The final tracklisting is still to be decided, but the EP should be out in April 2013. We plan to release material as we have it, so expect more to follow.”

It seems that your first ‘official’ show was a few weeks ago in Dundee. We’d very much like to hear how it went. 

“The show in Dundee was great thanks. It felt good to be back on stage performing after hiding away for what seemed an eternity. It is always interesting to take the songs out from the practice space, and get an idea of what parts work better in larger rooms (and which definitely don’t). It’s especially satisfying when certain areas of a song unexpectedly sound great, it’s a real ear treat!”

Thanks for introducing us to Michael Cassidy. Can you tell us anything about him from previous experience? (or from what you learnt from the support slot)

“Michael is a lovely guy, and a great singer songwriter. This is the first time we saw him play with a band, and there is a real country influence that is probably less evident when it’s just him and his guitar, which I really liked. Special mention needs to go to his guitar player who was quite spectacular.”

Have you secured Ms. Crawford for the next video? 

“We are currently having heated discussions with Ms Crawford’s agents (/parents)! Child stars are extremely unpredictable.

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I like how Fake Major end up right under Endor on our band list. Here is another video release for the song ‘Camera

Thor

Brave Young Red

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I’m so tired of knowing about EP launches and the pigeon roosting patterns of Glasgow side streets that I bought a ticket for the launch on the 28th at the 13th Note so I could be there in spirit. How did it go?

(James) “I think I can speak for everyone in the band when I say it was a fantastic night. We managed to lose track of the number of people coming through the doors but from counting ticket sales at the end of the night we realised we had sold the venue out. It was a tight squeeze, but I think that adds to the charm of the 13th Note. A bigger venue wouldn’t have had the same intimacy between ourselves and the audience. This catered for both our upbeat, electric songs and the quieter acoustic pieces.”

The first time I heard the EP and then listened to it repeatedly was in the few hours before going to see Midge Ure back in mid-January. I bring this up one last time (promise) because I was struck by several things that night – how good this young band I had just discovered was and how set in musical amber my generation tends to be. Why do you think so many people tend to stop looking for new music not that long into adulthood?

(Angus) “Having worked in an “old man pub” that had covers bands playing the same pub band songs from their generations I’ve seen a lot of this. I think in a lot of cases life gets in the way, in that they don’t have the same spare cash to buy music or access to the knowledge/technology to find new music. I mean I know a number of exceptions to this but that seems to be the case with the majority. However, I have found that if you take time to show people something they will often like something new. I think if someone is a true music fan they will always be a music fan.”

A few weeks ago while doing some research I stumbled across Angus’ blog The Practice Room. I found it fascinating in that it mirrored, live and on the ground, the search for new music that I have to conduct from afar. The blog is something I’d like to revisit later, but I am curious as to the motivation for doing it?

(Angus) “I originally started that blog as a university project last year in which the original plan was to do a blog centering around sessions with bands and ask them about their writing process and influences etc. However time and money constrains stopped this so it morphed into a more conventional music blog. I always seemed to be telling people to listen to a band or recommending music to people so this seemed a good medium  to do so. Since I go to a lot of gigs, live reviews seemed to be a good way to get this point across to encourage people to go see bands. Being based in the industry too, I wanted to have somewhere other than facebook or twitter to voice my opinions and try and put my point across about certain matters. The only reason I’ve taken a bit of a break from it just now is because of commitments to uni and the band but I do have plans to start it up again, the sessions too hopefully!”

I assume you’ll take a few copies of the EP over to Avalanche later in March when you play Edinburgh? Have you played there before? 

(James) “We definitely will try and get some copies into Avalanche in March, Angus is already in contact with Kevin about it! Previous to the launch, we got some copies into Love Music and Monorail in Glasgow.  As a band I think we all agree that one should support their local record shop. Brave Young Red have never played in Edinburgh before, I have in a previous band during the Fringe Festival period which was great fun so I’m looking forward to getting back with the Brave Young Red crew.”

You’ve literally just added the Roots EP to bandcamp now.  So instead of asking when you are going to do that, I’ll ask what you think of the new Kid Canaveral record? 

(Angus) “I’ve not actually heard it yet but you’ve reminded me that I really liked the first one and saw the band at a few festivals in 2011, but never ended up buying the album. So I’ll probably end up getting both when my next student loan payment comes in (along with the endless list of other albums I’m looking to get)!”

I was listening to the ‘Youth and the Young’ EP as I finished these questions. From my perspective, it seems young Scottish musicians and bands are slightly more inclined to incorporate some of the cultural musical traditions of their surroundings. Do you think this is a fair assessment? Have Scottish traditions had an impact on your own music? 

(James) “I think that’s a very appropriate comment. Something I’ve been listening to on loop recently, which I think is a great example, is Rick Redbeard of the Phantom Band’s debut solo album No Selfish Heart. The melodies and warm acoustics with the odd violin and subtle harmony thrown in, really evokes a strong sense of Scottishness. My favourite track on the album is actually a cover of a traditional piece, called Kelvin Grove, about a park in the West End of Glasgow. I believe it was written by the poet Lyle. The slow pace and descending chord sequence is beautiful along with the vocal melody. It’s a timeless piece that sits comfortably in the album, so you can understand how Scottish folk tradition directly affects a lot of the contemporary music we hear coming from Scotland today. Larger Scottish bands such as Frightened Rabbit and Admiral Fallow have clearly drawn influence from this culture and of course, we listen to these bands. One band at the minute who I think are fantastic are Flutes, who we are supporting in April at their single launch in Glasgow. They have a darkness in their music, the spacey, obscure, picked chord progressions and the imagery that their lyrics project possesses that defined Scottish sound. As the main songwriter in the band I think I generally draw my inspiration from all of these bands around me, big and small.”

Who would you cite as direct musical influences?

(Angus) “We all come from rather different musical backgrounds but there are certain bands that when we were starting out we decided we really like and would like to make music that was akin to that. Whether what we came out with sounded like these artists or not is irrelevant now I’d say but there definitely was an idea of what we liked and would like to sound like. Normally when asked we say Frightened Rabbit, Admiral Fallow, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Bombay Bicycle Club.”

(James) “I think we all grew up listening to the legends – Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the list is endless. But I think listening to our music it would be hard to draw comparisons. We may share common tastes with the main Scottish acts of course being Frightened Rabbit, Admiral Fallow, WWPJ etc. but do we really sound like these acts? I think it’s important to have influences, but we’re independent thinkers as well. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I don’t think we really sound like anybody. An influence in terms of band development I suppose would be Bombay Bicycle Club. They have so many complex sounds, intertwining genres and that’s something as a songwriter I can relate to. They have an entirely stripped-back acoustic album, Flaws, but on the other hand the rest of the music they play is powerful, alternate indie rock or whatever you’d like to call it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think we have a limited sound and I never would want to limit.”

Sometimes I’m pretty slow but I could swear you started off as a three piece. I just now realized that Erin not only provides additional vocals but is also a regular member of the band. I was not aware of James’ earlier solo efforts. What has the transition from solo artist to a five member band been like?

(James) “I’ve been playing solo acoustic gigs since the age of 15. Since beginning University and discovering an entirely new music culture in the South of Scotland, I found my music taking a turn and becoming more dynamic and in some cases adopting obscure rhythms, chords, and melodies. I began to find it difficult to really communicate the songs across to listeners in the context that I wanted to, I felt the songs were limited with just the acoustic guitar and alone vocal. It was then that I asked Angus and Michael (Stewart) to step in. Angus of course played bass and Michael played cajon drum at this point. This helped the dynamics and confidence grew in the newly formed group. We began to gig more and more regularly, but we were still only playing acoustic nights and we wanted to do more. There was talk of introducing a violin player, flute player, but in the end we decided we just wanted a female vocalist. We had played a couple of gigs with Erin before and then asked her if she wanted to join us alongside her own solo career. From there piano was introduced and Michael moved to drums. However, at Christmas time he couldn’t make a gig and we asked Mikey (Hepburn) if he would fill in. It went well, and we wanted him to stay on drums as Michael (Stewart) was never that comfortable as he’s always been more of a guitarist. So that kind of happened by accident. So it’s been a journey, but we’ve done a few gigs as a full band and have had a great response, so the only way from here is up!”

How do you tell the two Michaels apart?

(Angus) “We tend to refer to one as Michael (Stewart – guitar) and one as Mickey (Hepburn – drums)…them looking different helps too however it does confuse matters when one of our friends uses Mickey as a general nickname for either one.”

(James) “One is good at drums, the other, not so good. *winks”

The EP cover art, especially the compass, is arresting. What’s the story behind it?

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(James) “I bought the compass when I was in holiday in Corfu last year. It was in a shop that sold hand made wooden items and I found it in a box. I simply thought it looked pretty cool. I had not long finished the song “Footprints” which is the second track on the EP and it mentions the line “My compass starting pointing South as I began to fill with doubt”. Perhaps I subconsciously thought that I had to have it! Footprints in particular is about me leaving my hometown in the North of Scotland and moving to the South. Essentially it’s about the struggle of finding where ones true home is where they feel most comfortable, amongst themes of entering manhood, growing, and leaving. That’s where the line in the chorus “These roots have a hold on me” comes from as well, giving us the EP title. We wanted to evoke a strong sense of something organic hence the trees, leaves, etc.”

Listening to the EP yet again, I’m struck by how accomplished it is.  ‘Silk and Satin’ could have been the result of putting Kid Canaveral and the State Broadcasters together in a room and not letting them out until they distilled and blended their sound. It is such a lovely song. Being in the lead position on the EP, is it what you would consider the first single? What does the title ‘Roots’ signify?

(Angus) “Thank you very much! I remember when we first started playing the song it reminded me of Kid Canaveral now that you mention it. It’s arguably one of the more upbeat songs from the EP but I always find it hard to define what is a lead single from a limited choice. For arguments sake just now I’ll say it is though. I think James is better explaining  the EP name…”

(James) “As discussed earlier, Roots, comes from the second track, Footprints and the internal struggle of finding ones true home. Again, the EP has recurring themes of growing and leaving, as represented by the female character. I guess it made me think back to basics, where someone is stripped down to having nothing except themselves. Stripped down to their roots.”

The last song ‘Little Dove’ sounds like it might have come from the solo period. Have you already begun writing new songs? What is next after this EP?

(James) “Surprisingly, Little Dove was written after the rest of the band had been recruited. Michael (guitarist) was playing about with the waltzing chord progression one afternoon and I asked him what it was, to which he answered he was only mucking about. I instantly had a melody forming in my head and began writing the song in the next room. When it comes to lyrics I like to challenge myself using different stimulus and it was the cover of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, that had caught my eye. I found the image of the woman very powerful and starting writing about the character, tying it in with the same female character illustrated in Silk & Satin. Little Dove resembles an acceptance in her life where she realises leaving is the best option. I think for just now we’re going to continue to promote our EP over the next few gigs as it’s something we’re very proud of. There’s talk of releasing a single in the summer, but we also have some exciting opportunities such as playing at Liverpool Sound City in May.”

It will be like being in Glasgow with sunshine around here in a week. Chvrches, Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad twice in a six day period. Now that Washington Irving is no longer headed to SXSW, I don’t even regret not being able to head down there. I’ve often thought that if I was in Scotland that I would not be able to properly function with all the shows I’d want to attend. How do you juggle so much live music?

(Angus) “With great difficulty…I think the only thing that is stopping me going mad with choices of gigs to go to all the time is the band itself and being a student based in Ayr which means I’m limited by train times and money. Often what I’ve found does dictate what gig I go to is which  ticket is available first and if I have the money to get a ticket at the time. If it’s a friend who’s playing/promoting the show that can often dictate it too.”

Any other Scottish artists we might not yet know about?

(Angus) “Running a blog means as well means I can talk at length about this so I’ll try and be brief. Despite being in the band I’m in I often end up listening to a lot of loud, riff orientated bands like Carnivores and The Darien Venture (whom I love). If instrumental music is your thing, then our good pals Vasa are definitely worth listening to. Campfires In Winter who you’ve already featured, blew me away the first time I saw them last year and I can’t wait for their single launch next week as well. Inuit who I did a blog post a wee while ago seemed to be very interesting. I absolutely loved PAWS’ debut, and look forward to seeing what Honeyblood have to offer as well.  On the quieter side of things a singer originally from Edinburgh but based in London who goes under the name Blue Rose Code has just put out an excellent debut album called North Ten which I highly recommend. Jamie Flett & Matt Scott both played amazing sets at our EP launch, and finally Anna Sweeney, Hannah Jackson  and our own Erin Todd are excellent female solo performers. I think that’s enough for now…”

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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

Campfires in Winter: White Lights

CIW-WHITE-LIGHTS-ARTWORK

I quite like the single art work. Who designed it? Simplicity itself compared to a Biffy cover, but it is just as effective. Will the little campfire carry forward as a bit of branding?

“The artwork was designed by a friend of ours called Geo Chierchia (Eleven Eighty Seven). We had originally planned to do the artwork ourselves but asked Geo to design a poster for the gig. The idea he came back with was fantastic and we took the decision then to ask him to design the CD artwork too. I think we probably will continue to use the wee campfire, aye. It’s weird because one of the first things we decided when we chose our band name was that we could never use fire, campfires or winter on any artwork. And then when we saw Geo’s design we just thought fuck it, that looks really good.”

Not being a stranger to the band, I took a great interest in listening to ‘Cardboard Ships’. I was quite surprised by how much more I liked it than I remembered. I didn’t recall it being one of my favourites from the early recordings. I’d certainly think of it as one now. It is remarkable how nicely you’ve polished it up and given it a deeply moving new musical underpinning. Are there any other older songs that have been reworked?

Our songs are always developing really. We’re always looking for ways to make them better. Cardboard Ships was one of those ones that, when we listened back to it, we felt could be better. In fact, there was an acoustic version we recorded for a radio session once that this new version is actually based on. We just wanted to make something epic and beautiful (despite the dark subject matter) because we felt it was a good enough song. We are taking the same approach to a few older songs too, one of which is ‘They Looked Just Like Fallen Leaves‘. We’ll see how it all goes.”

The new single ‘White Lights’ seems to be richer and a little more musically diverse. Is it a good indicator of where your song writing is taking you?

“Lyrically, it’s a little more personal than much of our previous material. I feel that I’ve shied away from writing about personal stuff in the past and that, while I like writing about imaginary situations happening to imaginary characters and having those same characters appear over different songs, I should open up a little more. I think that’s something I’d like to carry on. Musically, it’s maybe a bit more poppy than we normally are – a bit ‘straighter’”

Is the single a solid step toward an upcoming full length? (please assure us that an updated version of ‘Before The Owl Will Fly’ will be there as well)

“Yep. The next step after this will be an EP in the autumn, then a full length album sometime next year. As for ‘Before The Owl Will Fly’, I certainly hope so”

What do you think of the new Fake Major single?

“I really like it. I was sorry to hear Endor had finished because I thought they released a really fantastic album and didn’t really get all the recognition they deserved for it. But aye, it’s great. It’s a bit more atmospheric than Endor, and kind of feels like how they might have progressed had the stayed together.”

Ever since starting up the vinyl collection again, quite a few 7” singles have travelled across the Atlantic. I was just looking at the stack of them and marveled how much more substantial (and artistic ) they were compared to CDs. Do you still buy them? If so, what were the last 2 or 3 you’ve picked up?

“I do indeed. In fact when it comes to new releases I try and go for vinyl over CD if the option is there. My last vinyl purchase was Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse with the Dead Now 7”. Over the next few months I’m planning to look back at my CD collection and get some of my favourites on vinyl too.”

Right now advance copies of the single seem to be attached to the launch gig. What forms will it be available in after that?

“It’ll be available as a digital download and a limited run of CDs. No vinyl this time I’m afraid but hopefully we’ll get some of those done for a future release.”

 

 

The Campfires are pretty clear in stating who their influences are. Take a bit of Frightened Rabbit, a little Twilight Sad, and some of the more raucous potential of their own early demos and you’ll just begin to describe their sonic potential. Perhaps oddly, I’ve always been a little bit afraid that Campfires in Winter would be dismissively compared to them by ‘critics’ who then commit the additional sin of failing to appreciate the  warmth, depth and range to be found in their music. Obviously, the musical terrain they tread on is similar – To American ears it is almost stereotypically Scottish. But that’s the thing about stereotypes – they are exactly that for a reason.

It is almost impossible to grasp that the band is just releasing their debut single considering how good their demo catalogue is. A revamped version of ‘Cardboard Ships’ included on the single highlights the strength of their musical development. Editing this section queues the song in my mind and now I’m compelled to listen to it yet again.

 “We’ll get as far as we would in the sea on a cardboard ship as we would in the air on a paper plane trip”.  Soaring poignant vocals flowing on a low sonic wave that opens up to a beautiful mid song instrumental melody that ushers in the next vocal round before ending in a slow washed out organ (or whatever sound it is) fade. When done – it begs to be played again from the beginning. This is no B-side.

The actual single comes in two lengths – a full 6.04 and a 4:32 radio edit.

With the introductory musical paragraph of the longer version neatly truncated, the shorter version lunges into the vocals almost immediately. “It will take 3 parts liquid and 2 parts luck”. Radio friendly and possibly more engaging; I rather like having both included even though there is not much difference after that. Interestingly, the vocals have been confined to the first part of the song allowing the music and guitars to have more expression than ever before. Describing it won’t do it justice (at least by me) and to be honest it isn’t something you’ve not ‘heard’ before. It is, however, a song that is better than the sum of its parts.

My reaction to this single oddly mirrors my reaction to the new Frightened Rabbit record. For them it is a very positive course correction and for the Campfires it is the herald of a potentially incredible debut album to come. Hopefully they’ll go as far.

For a little extra treat, I came across this clip of this acapel-a-coustic version of ‘See Us There, Both.’and don’t forget to get the actual demo here.

(update) The video for ‘White Lights was released on March 4th, 2013.

(update) I’ll let you work out what a fish in a sub is — White Lights Acoustic

Thor

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Iain Morrison

tothehorizon

My LP just arrived, completing an almost 3 week journey. I purposefully didn’t listen to the downloaded files as I wanted to hear it on the turntable first. Is it fair to assume that artists who release on vinyl tend to have an affinity for it as well?

“I guess so, we’ve been on the journey of seeing and hearing vinyl in the house when you were a kid and then to see it being replaced by minidisc/cd’s/downloads. It’s really nice to see it still surviving in some way through the years. It’s only recently that I’ve started buying more vinyl than cd’s but I’m enjoying music even more now and I’m looking for all the subtleties a bit more, maybe they call that getting old, not sure!!!:) My manager Rose, she owns a record store in Edinburgh  and they have just renovated the shop to have a vinyl only room, which is fantastic!” 

I do have 2 Crash My Model Car records, downloaded from emusic, but I didn’t initially delve deep enough to know who the band members were. It wasn’t until looking at your bandcamp page a few years ago that I put 2 and 2 together: or rather, as I said – “There’s Taketori!”   I was about to ask about its origin, but a quick internet search led to bamboo seeds and an author’s first name. Do you often derive inspiration for a song from literature?

“It was my good friend Daibhidh Martin who dreamed up the Taketori story. Daibhidh is a poet/storyteller from the Isle of Lewis and we have worked together for years culminating in the release of our album a couple of years ago, Haunted Bird! Books, folklore and stories are a big influence on my own writing though, the cycle of artists inspiring each other I guess.” 

I’m listening to Omu Prin’s Lament right now because I’ve become somewhat obsessed with trying to unravel this mysterious character. The video for ‘Homeward’ is tagged as being based on the Omu Prin story. A bit of research led me to getting the kindle version of ‘In the Year of Opened Doors’. I was hoping that it would reveal all, but I’m still left wondering. At this point, I’m inclined to conclude that the gentleman in the video is protraying Omu Prin himself. Am I wildly off the mark? 

“The gentleman in the video is the character of Omu and he’s played by one of my old teachers, Ken Inglis. It was Daibhidh who directed that video too. I’ve written about Omu Prin for years now, he’s travelled with me from the Crash days up until now which has been nice!”

Looking at the album credits, I see that Pete Harvey played cello. I’ll have to pull out “An Eagle to Saturn” afterwards. Are Leg working on or close to releasing a second record already? 

“Pete is the other person who has travelled with me from the Crash days and actually even before that. He is an amazing musician and seems to approach things with a blank page, which is always refreshing. The Leg have just finished a new record and I have heard bits of it, it sounds chaotically beautiful.” 

The new record does a have a slightly different tone than the last efforts. How much of that is attributable to the trip to Vermont?

“I suppose that is down to constantly growing and trying to get better at what you do. We’re always learning and I find that one of the exciting things about creating and recording music. If you have your eyes and ears open you will be taking things onboard as you go and I guess you get the focus a bit better each time you have a stab at it. Working with Michael, Rob and Geza in Vermont was amazing. It was such a beautiful space and they are people of depth and kindness so it was always going to be a positive experience. Michael has a very simple approach to recording, place the mics and then just play! We recorded it in Michael’s wooden house so there will definitely be a resonant tone from there.”

 How did growing up in the Isles shape your own musical sensibilities?

“Growing up on Island cut off from the rest of the world is a good start for sparking off the imagination so it has been a huge influence. The traditions & history, good & bad, have informed a lot of how and what I write. And wherever I end up staying I think it will always travel with me. Musically my father was a big influence as he taught me the pipes at a very early age, I was taught using a technique called ‘canntaireachd’ and I think this has influenced in some part the way I approach melody etc.” 

I see you that are playing in Aviemore this month. Having just completed the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, in spirit at least, with Rebus, the name stands out. What towns and venues have you found the most interesting to play in?

“One that springs to mind was a show in Mary Kings Close which was a room in the hidden streets of Edinburgh, buried beneath the Royal Mile. They had never held a gig there before but myself and Daibhidh were asked to play for an Oxfam charity show. It was an amazing experience because of the atmosphere of the space and all the history that went with it.  Going home to Lewis to play is always nice, your home gig will always carry a lot of different vibes so I always look forward to that. I was on tour at the end of last year and the 2 gigs that come to mind are the Union Chapel in London and the The Lowry in Salford, both really beautiful spaces that carry a lot of energy, always great walking onto a stage when there is a natural vibe already happening.”

The art on your LP is rather nice. When I was young records were just taken for granted and now that I’ve started ‘collecting’ them again they have become truly special. Holding a CD cover is just not the same as grasping the more tactile LP jacket. Could you elaborate on the cover art’s origin and significance to the record?

“Cover art is important as it in some ways sums up a bit of the focus you are trying to get at, if that makes sense? I was introduced to Natalie Jones through a friend and I just really loved her vibe. What I did was just send Natalie a brief description of where my head was at and then let her just do her thing, which she did. It feels nice doing it this way as there is a collaborative thing that happens between the music and the art which takes on a new life.”

I have discovered literature through music before. It doesn’t happen often enough. A long time ago, listening to Johnny Clegg’s ‘Warsaw 1943’ led from sleeve notes to Czelaw Milosz’s ‘The Captive Mind’? Have you ever experienced such a journey?

“I was asking Michael one day in Vermont about his own songwriting, influences  and he got onto the subject of Paul Bowles and his books and I’m actually just reading The Sheltering Sky at the moment”

The album comes across as being particularly well suited to listening to on vinyl. I’m pleased with just how much warmer it sounds. The music seems even more focused and intimate than previous releases. Is there an overarching guiding principle behind it? To state it slightly differently, which side of the horizon does it focus on?

“I was keen to create a space in my head for this record and stick there, I guess being confident on one of the things that you do rather than throwing it all on the plate, if that makes sense?”

You’ve just recently released a new EP. Is a new full length something you are already considering? It would seem plausible that musically it might go in a slightly different direction. Any thoughts yet on what you’d like to do next?

“Yeh, not sure where it will all go from here. It’s the first time in a long time that I really feel there is a blank page. I have a few things ticking over in my head but I’m just going to take some time to see where things will go. Could be a while before I release anything else or who knows could be this year. We’ll see.”

Could you point us toward three essential Scottish artists anyone would be remiss to overlook?

Calamateur (aka Andrew Howie) , Lee Patterson and, although not Scottish, one artist who has influenced me from your side of the Atlantic is Matthew Ryan. His album ‘Concussion’ is my all time top 5! I worked for a very short spell in a venue in Glasgow where Matthew was playing, I was asked to do the merch stall and had the pleasure of hearing Matthew for the first time. There were about 15 people in the audience but it was something that still sticks with me.” 

Does this now mean that the Omu Prin story is complete?

“I think the Omu story will be ongoing”

Thor

Here is another excerpt from Daibhidh Martin’s short story Omu Prin and Me. If you feel the need (and you should) to watch Homeward again the following quote should set the table nicely:

He stopped walking and turned to face me. The way he looked at me as he began to speak was otherworldly. “It was the same year my wife and I were married, we had just built the house and we were looking forward. We were twenty three. She was swimming in the sea and was pulled out by a rip tide. For years, I wouldn’t set foot on the beach and then I remembered the sand castles. Every night since then I have come down to this beach and collected whatever washes ashore and used it to build my gates”

Homeward