Jack Garratt – Interview – 2016

A lot was pinned on this young man. Expectations had gone through the roof. That maybe here was another Ed Sheehan or Sam Smith on their hands. Someone who could shift records en masse in this day and age of declining sales.

He has’t quite got to that point and it’s unlikely he ever will. Not because he isn’t any good. It’s just that expectations were way too high to begin with and because he’s Jack Garratt: a self-described “musical sponge,” growing up on the likes of Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Tom Waits. A man so in love with music and the craft of music making that he’d probably be doing it anyway, whether anyone was listening or not.

At the beginning of the year he won the BBC Sound Poll, a hugely significant award for many artists down the years. The annual award aims to predict the artists who are likely to have a fruitful 12 months ahead of them. Adele, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J and the aforementioned Sam Smith have been previous winners and now Garratt. He’s also won the Brit critics’ choice award, hence the anticipation that things might go stratospheric. Certainly, as far the business side of the industry was concerned, there might be a little disappointment that his debut album, Phase, ‘only’ made it to number three, and that some of his tour dates didn’t sell out. But, by any measure of success, for one so early in his career, this has been a good year. Moreover, Phase is a remarkable album, a stunningly inventive electro-pop creation that has, rather bewilderingly, not been given the reviews I think it deserves. There might be a little snobbery here. Garratt is not particularly cool in the eyes of some tastemakers; there is a discernible geekiness about him; he’s from the very Middle England village of Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire and he can come across as uber-eager, a little irritatingly so!

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The Damned – Interview – 2016

The Big Four: Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Clash and The Damned. The Pistols had all the notoriety, the headlines in the press, and the archetypal punk rockers in Johnny Rotten and, later on, Sid Vicious. Buzzcocks had the tunes, the energy and were (almost) there first. The Clash had the politics, the ire, the songs too. Then there was the Damned. They were the first in may ways. Perhaps closest allied to the Pistols in terms of dress sense, and the ever-so-slightly cartoonish quality they brought to an era. But they had it all. They had the songs, the raucousness, the image and indeed the musicianship.

Whilst punk rockers like to say that music was in dire need of a kick up the arse in 1976, this is only partly true. As always, there was great music being released. Some true rock’n’roll beauties as well, but almost all from abroad; The Ramones, AC/DC, Patti Smith, The Modern Lovers, and Blondie (via their debut ‘X Offender’ single), were all making a big mark. Their back-to basics, no frills rock’n’roll, with more than a hint of embedded DIY, was obviously sending waves across the Atlantic to a nascent punk scene that was forming in small pockets around the country, particularly in London and Manchester.

Yes, there was an impetus to create simple, no-nonsense music as an antidote to the increasingly bombastic and lightweight pop and rock worlds of the time. Artists such as Yes, Camel, Camel, Genesis, Peter Frampton, Steely Dan, Jean-Michel Jarre, Wings, 10cc, and Led Zeppelin were in the firing line for these brewing punks, who were out to question the status quo; the way these things were done (major labels, huge expenses, slow moving, etc) and the way music was supposed to be. Not that these acts were bad per se, it was just that they were getting tired and over reaching themselves. For instance Led Zeppelin, a band who in their day were ferocious, loud, and most definitely raw, like punks in fact, were over reaching by 1976, the release of Presence, was simply blunted, a little overblown and a little… old.

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Passenger – Interview 2016

Many of you will know the story by now. Brighton based Mike Rosenberg and his band had a fair bit of development money thrown at them in the mid 2000s, but to little avail. Despite a well received album, Wicked Man's Rest, the money ran out and in 2009 Mike aborted the project and decided to live a life on the road, as a solo acoustic singer songwriter. He would get on the train, rock up here and there, busk on the streets, do some gigs and he started spending half of his time in Australia, which became a second home. The consummate songwriter and performer, he was making a living, and was releasing his own music, independently, including three albums that did particularly well in Australia.

Sometime in 2010/11 he re-kindled his friendship with Ed Sheeran, whom he had first known when Sheeran was just 15, performing together in a small Cambridge venue. Over the years they played together on occasion, while both were in effect struggling musicians trying to carve out their respective careers. By 2011 Sheeran's popularity was going through the roof and he invited Mike to tour with him as a support act and joining him onstage for duets. In mid 2012, Mike's ‘Let Her Go’ was released as a single. From the All The Little Lights album, it was eventually picked up by a Dutch radio station, who ran with it, helping to turn it into a number two hit in Holland. The dominoes quickly fell after this point, the song reaching number one in 18 countries in 2013, as well as number two in the UK and number five in the USA.

Although he hasn't replicated the success of that hit since, his popularity continues to rise. Not only has he two back-to-back sold out shows at the Dome in Brighton to look forward to, his recent album, Young As the Morning Old As The Sea made it to the top of the UK album charts.

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Kristin Hersh – Interview 2016

A bona-fide cult indie legend, since the age of 14 Kristin Hersh has spent her life making music, following her ’accidental’ creative calling. She started her first band, Throwing Muses, soon after sustaining injuries in a bicycle accident, at the age of 16, an accident that saw her possessed by sounds she heard in her head. Sounds that she was able to turn into song at a prolific rate. Sounds that she can’t actually do anything about. They came to her and she seemed to have no other option but to put them down as songs. This continued right up to only a couple of years ago when she was finally properly diagnosed and a treatment was found. Whilst she was able to channel these sounds into a career as a songwriter and musician, she was also periodically suffering from this ‘malaise’, that had alternately enabled and inhibited her. “It’s a blessing,” she says whilst on the road for another tour of the UK. “It’s very quiet now.”

In her recent memoir, Paradoxical Undressing, she described the sound in her head as, "a metallic whining, like industrial noise, layered with humming tones and wind chimes.” There were shapes, too. "I watched and listened," she wrote, "bewildered and enthralled as sound and colour filled my empty hospital room.” She’s also described her songwriting method as, “Lyrics puke themselves out, for me. I hear them as an instrument, of phonetic melody. When I try and sing lyrics that are wrong they stick in my throat. I feel that I am lying and it’s not until they spill out that I know they are telling the truth.”

She also says she has no memory of having written any song. “I had no memories of any of the traumas in my life. I had no emotional attachment to any of them. I didn’t know what my songs were about. So what it released was a barrage of trauma. Your whole psyche is geared towards avoiding those traumas. I thought it would kill me. I thought the pain would kill me.

“I was a very nice lady who would scream and yell for a living. I am a little frustrated that there isn’t a single professional in all these audiences for thirty years that could see me shifting personalities, where I would start to shiver and freeze and go glassy-eyed and not be present. In-between songs I would be me. It was classic dissociative (behaviour). My drummer said he knew. Journalists, I think, must have thought I was speaking metaphorically when I said I had no idea what was going on when I play. I’m not there, I disappear.”

Such is the extraordinary conditions that Kristin Hersh has had to endure since that childhood accident, conditions that have had her diagnosed as bi-polar, and schizophrenic. Not that it was all bad. She’s survived, and she’s had plenty of fun and good times on the way. But her peculiar condition was one she had to learn very hard to cope with along the way. “The dissociative issue is one of those terrible secrets,” she says. “Your form, your psychology, your physiology. I don’t want to say it ruined my life, but my goodness! When I went through EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation, Reproducing), I lost about 100 pounds of history.”

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Toy – Interview – 2016

A London-based band ("who looked like they had crawled out of a German squat in the mid-70s") with strong Brighton connections, the five-piece Toy have just released their third album, it’s another great slice of psychedelic rock, indie-pop infused with elements of the cinematic, krautrock and shoegaze. "We’re just shooting a video in our mate’s house for ‘Another Dimension’ which will be the next single off the record," says Tom Dougal, frontman and guitarist.

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Fujiya & Miyagi – Interview – 2016

One of Brighton's best kept secrets, Fujiya & Miyagi's fusion of expansive, experimental and multi-faceted krautrock, electro-pop, Italo-disco, and post-punk music has seen them find fanbases around the globe, particularly in Europe and America. Formed in the late 90s by David Best and Steve Lewis, it wasn't until they released their first record in 2002 that people started to hear about them. Since then they have released five albums, and are currently in the middle of releasing a set of three EPs, which will be put on one record in the spring of 2017. The founder members and core of Fujiya & Miyagi are Steve Lewis and David Best.

The vinyl packaging for the first EP is a custom made triple gatefold sleeve, so that the other two EPs can be slotted in. And in March of next year, the EPs will be released as one, for CD and download.

Steve: The third EP will be out about March, along with the album. At the moment the EPs are only on vinyl, and can be streamed. Not CD or downloading.

David: The idea was to encourage people to collect the records and have all three together, on vinyl, which we both love.

Steve: Similar things are happening in the music technology world that I love. Synthesisers went digital, went VST in computers. There's loads of them. They're all really great. But now loads of manufacturers are doing hardware synths again, doing newer versions of what there was in the 70s. Everyone wants those, because they are tactile. It's the same as vinyl.

David: It makes things a little bit wonky sometimes. You don't want everything to be too precise.

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Crystal Fighters – Interview – 2016

You want your music energetic and embracing both the traditional with the modern, right? Crystal Fighters are a band with a global aesthetic, who learn from some of humanity’s ancient folk traditions, and combine that with modern technology to make music that sounds like the here and now, and that emits an obvious lust for life. They like to party, to give out the good vibes. But recent events dictate that there is sadness and introspection along the way, following the death of their close friend and drummer Andrea Marongiu.

The core trio of singer Sebastian ‘Bast’ Pringle, guitar and txalaparta player Graham Dickson and multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Vierich have spent the last couple of years exploring the planet, reconnecting with nature and learning to play more traditional instruments, and this, along with the sudden passing away of Marongiu, larger informs their third album, Everything Is My Family.

“We travelled a lot more, writing for it (the new album), took time off when we could to go on longer trips,” says Sebastian Pringle, on a break whilst rehearsing for the upcoming tour. “I went to research in the jungles of Central America, and Graham went to live up in a mountain up in Maine, and then Peru.

“We had spent a lot of time together on the road, and we felt we needed some time to experience life a bit, separate from the band, and then come back and record together. Last time (for 2013’s Cave Rave) was quite concentrated writing together. I lived in the Basque Country for six months, and then later that year went to Central America and Mexico for six months. We lived in a tent or little huts and sat around a campfire writing songs, learning traditional songs from many cultures, which was a new approach for me. Normally I would be making beats on computers and adding little riffs. This was more learning this body of work I had never heard before: Bolivian folk songs, Brazilian lambada, African songs. This was very influential in terms of the melodies and singing.

“I had been to Mexico for shows, but I’m a vegan and I’m interested in the fruits and vegetables that are grown out there. Initially that was one of the reasons to go. And I like Spanish the language, and wanted to learn the language. And I like tropical climates! It was definitely worth it, an amazing experience, living in a much simpler way. It feels very complete.”

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Joan As Police Woman – Interview – 2016

The French have a word for it. Dilettante. In the past the British would sometimes sneer at the mention of a dilettante. Possibly because it is a French word (there are many here who will never quite understand or see eye-to-eye with our cousins across the water) but also to them, it suggests ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Now, we generally embrace one who has a well-rounded portfolio of skills and abilities, that can often inform and enhance each other. Someone like Joan Wasser. Someone who can not only play a mean violin, but also guitars and piano. She can write songs, too, can sing like a veritable bird, and knows her way around a studio to the extent that she produced Scottish folk band Lau’s album of 2015, The Bell That Never Rang. That part of her CV should tell you everything. Not in the least known for playing folk music, Wasser nevertheless has, throughout her musical life, embraced a keen musical curiosity, that allied to a seemingly insatiable lust for life, has seen her form countless collaborations, try out new things, and test the overlapping waters of musical genres and cross-fertilisations.

Indeed, she started out as a classical performer, picking up the piano and violin at an early age, eventually going to Boston University to study music, and performing with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. “I was very interested in studying classically”, explains Wasser. "I love the music and needed to see if I could really excel. Excel I did but I wasn’t interested in making classical music all my life. I learned that while in school. It felt very limiting. I was never the student who wanted to learn the Beethoven concerto, I was the one who wanted to play the chamber music that had just been written by the composition students at my school; I wanted to play the new stuff, not pieces that have, in my opinion, already been perfected by the masters. When I was in school I took every gig I could and began making pop music, playing with all kinds of ensembles, improvising. I started playing in bands and with artists that I would learn so much from and play with for years like Mary Timony (who now fronts Ex-Hex) and The Dambuilders.” In short, Wasser wanted to “bridge the gap between the guitar and the bass and play the violin really loud.”

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Sleaford Mods – Interview – 2016

One of the most remarkable music stories of the last few years has been the exponential rise of the Nottingham-based duo Sleaford Mods. You may have seen them. There’s Jason Williamson spitting rhymes and raps while Andrew Fearn stands there, pint in hand, head-nodding to the beats he has made on his laptop. He doesn’t do anything except click the next song. He’s done all his work. It’s Williamson though who gives it 110% live on stage. A force of nature, with a fine line in footwear, it’s a miracle his voice isn’t shot such is the near-shouting vitriol, sarcasm, wit and anger in his heavily-accented outpourings. Not only are the lyrics by turns acerbic, sarcastic, rude and poetic, like a more angry and less dry John Cooper Clarke, they are utterly contemporary in their personal dissections of the socio-political-cultural English landscape. They have also ‘made’ it in their 40s, a rare feat in the youth focussed world of rock'n'roll; whereby if you haven't already made it by the time you're 30, then it is extremely unlikely you ever will. But Sleaford Mods aren't your normal rock'n'roll act and these aren't normal times. “Yeah, it is a bit weird,” says Jason. “It still winds people up. Which is good, I suppose. People rubbish it or look down their noses at it, you know. Because we’ve tied it in with this political thing, it gets people’s backs up if they think you’re giving out half-educated information in your songs. It can wind people up to say the least. It’s a tough one. What do you do? Some people are never fucking happy.”

Drawing upon a rich heritage of British spoken word music that includes legends such as The Fall, John Cooper-Clarke, Shaun Ryder, Ian Dury, The Streets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and bearing more than a passing affinity with another contemporary socio-politico poetess, Kate Tempest; Sleaford Mod's hard, fuck you, minimalist electro-funk has energised and excited old punks, new punks and music lovers in general. They sum it up well by calling what they do ‘electronic munt minimalist punk-hop rants for the working class’, with Williamson rapping about unemployment, criticism of modern working life, criticism of celebrities and pop culture, capitalism and society in general.

And like the aforementioned Mark E. Smith (The Fall) et al the words and messages are given more life and meaning by virtue of the accent of Williamson. In this case it’s a profanity strewn, decidedly working class, East Midland's voice. You can't imagine a Middle Englander having anywhere near the same impact. It's all in the delivery and the sound: a razor-sharp vocal dissection that amplifies the meaning; the subject matter therein, Williamson’s grimly hilarious lyrics exploring the dark underbelly of austerity-hit Britain, often via the medium of random abuse launched at politicians and celebrities including Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, Russell Brand, Noel Gallagher, Blur and David Cameron. As he sings on ‘Rupert Trousers’, off the Key Markets album of last year: “Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies, spitting out fine cheese made by the tool from Blur. Even the drummer’s a fucking MP. Fuck off you cunt, sir.” As Williamson has said, his lyrics reflect the rage that goes on in his head. “That's why Sleaford Mods is. Definitely."

But although the likes of contemporary urban punk poets act as reference points, Sleaford’s are in no way copyists, despite the minimalist repetitious nature of the music, a feature of bands like The Fall. Fearn’s music is sometimes stripped down to the basics of just very simple looped drum and bass, often relentless, but usually imbibed with a foot-tapping rhythm, somehow underscoring the venomous outpourings that come from Williamson’s mouth, these oscillate between direct rages against the cold realities of surviving (“I worked my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff”), the stream-of consciousness outbursts that talk of shitty consumerism, shitty people and shitty lives, and some angry politics here and there. “The loneliness of life, the alienation, the concrete is being more and more drawn in. There isn't a lot of fresh air,” says Williamson about his general feelings on life for the many. “There's not a lot of blue skies. People assume that you are political, but all we are doing is sounding off. You've got a responsibility to be intelligent, and to think about things, be thoughtful and compassionate.

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Lisa Hannigan – Interview – 2016

When I was a gig promoter, attempting to carve out a little patch of territory in this most trying and financially ill-rewarding of careers. I had the pleasure of 'entertaining' Damien Rice, who was the tour support for Kathyrn Williams in 2001. A young singer songwriter who was developing a buzz in the still print and radio dominated pre-internet days, Rice was with Lisa Hannigan, his girlfriend and singing partner at the time. Having only hooked up earlier that year, and looking like they had just walked off a photoshoot for a bohemian fashion spread, they were inseparable that night, totally in-step with each other, laughing and enjoying each other’s company, like lovers in the glow of a new relationship. I initially mistook Hannigan for just his girlfriend. But when they did their short set, to an audience largely unaware of them (after all, they were here to see Kathyrn Wiliams), it was plain to hear that she had a wonderful, soulful and angelic voice all her own. I remind Lisa that she and Damien received the princely sum of £50 for their supporting role that night. "I'm sure we were very grateful for that £50!" she laughs.

Their relationship proved to be both fruitful and tumultuous. Rice's stock went through the roof with his debut album of 2002, which Hannigan appeared on, as she did on his follow up 9, singing lead vocals on '9 Crimes'. But on March 26, 2007, Damien Rice fired Hannigan from his band just as they were about to go on stage in Munich, Germany. Rice announced that his professional relationship with Lisa Hannigan had ended, saying it, "has run its creative course." "It wasn’t altogether pleasant," Lisa has said. "I wasn’t very happy. I’m sure people can relate to that, but you mightn’t actually resign. You don’t realise how hot the water is until you get out and so being fired ended up just being the best thing.”

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