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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Swans – Interview – 2016

One of my strongest musical memories when I lived in London was going to the University of London Union (ULU) to see Swans. I had heard some of their music via early albums such as Creep, Filth, Cop, Holy Money and Children of God. There was something disturbingly alluring about their albums and their artwork. But that did not prepare me for the seismic wall-shattering, chest pounding music that emanated from the stage, by a band that didn’t look concerned or indeed particularly excited by the almighty racket they were making, such was their mean and moody demeanour. The packed audience, minus those who could not take it and left (which legend has it, many have done over the years), took it in; swaying and nodding to the heavy, ponderous and loud rhythms, many eventually finding their own inner ‘bliss’. Founder and frontman Michael Gira calls Swans’ music, “soul-lifting and body-destroying”. For me, it was deeply primal and not a little uncomfortable. It was quite unlike any other musical experience I had had up to that point, and indeed ever since.

Fast forward to 2014, and Swans are gracing The Old Market stage in Hove, a fitting finale to the Drill:Festival, a moveable city-orientated festival organised by post-punk legends Wire, who joined Swans on stage at the end of their set for Wire’s ‘Drill’ song. Could the sound system cope? Would some of the notoriously fussy local residents complain? 25-years on from that ULU gig, Swans were still delivering their music at ear-splitting levels. Sole survivor of the original Swans formation, Michael Gira, was still stalking the stage, subtly orchestrating the band, and coming across like a deeply immersed and less bug-eyed Iggy Pop. Not bad for a 60-year-old, “I was a huge fan of Wire,” says Gira. “I must have listened to those first three records hundreds of times. That was a great honour. It's not something I would want to make a habit of (appearing on stage with another band), but just because them being who they are, and they requested it, of course! I was a bit ambivalent about it while we were doing it, I wasn’t sure it was translating.” I tell him that in my opinion, it did. “I’m happy it did,” he responds in that deep, and measured baritone of his.

Even 25-years later, many in the audience, perhaps not used to a Swans performance, could not take it and drifted off, to rest their ears and ponder what the hell was that they just saw and heard. If you are not prepared or open to this kind of aural onslaught, it can be a little overwhelming to say the least.

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The Wytches – Interview – 2016

The Wytches' furious, hair-flinging psych-rock has seen the band rise from the ranks, from their beginnings in Peterborough back in 2011. Their debut single ‘Beehive Queen’ set the template; a creeping malevolence via their turned up, raw and reverb-heavy amps, buzzing riffs, crashing drums and shouty, almost painful sounding vocals from the mouth of songwriter Kristian Bell. And it was released on the small Hate Hate Hate label…

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a band with such a dark, black magic kind of name could be one of those doom metal merchants that forever surprises in its popularity and reach. But The Wytches are a different cup of tea entirely. They are a nice and friendly bunch of lads who like to make a psyche-inspired racket. They're not interested in the huge pendulums or long, dank hair, facial tattoos and ZZ Top-type beards. They are fresh faced music fans who aren’t averse to having a little bit of fun with their image and perceived sound. As Kristian has previously said; “We called it surf-doom as it was a really obscure genre and I found it funny. I think people thought I was being serious. The stuff before the (first) album was a lot more thrash. Now, it is songs played in a disgusting way; hard, loud and unlistenable.”

And the name The Wytches? “When we first started we were just called The Witches. I just thought it was quite funny that it was so average. I liked the idea that there were probably a million bands called The Witches. We knew we weren’t significant to anyone back then, as we had just started and we weren’t trying to come into the music industry with a big bang. We were just up for making music and having a really simple name.”

Unsurprisingly, the band had to change thier name, if only so that when people searched online they wouldn’t keep coming up with images of gnarly old women with large, wart-infected noises, pointy black hats, and sitting on a broomstick. "We got management and they said if we wanted to get things going a bit more, it might be easier. I liked how it was written down when it was spelt with a Y,” Kristian says. “We recorded about three EPs under the name The Witches but we didn’t do too much with them. We hadn’t amassed a following so we didn’t feel it was going to harm us to change it.”

Meanwhile, Dan Rumsey, bassist and singer with the group, has got his provisions ready for the long trip away with the band, as they embark on extensive touring in support of the new album, All Your Happy Life. Not for him, but his rabbits. “I’m away for a month, so my housemate, Tim (who also used be the band’s Tour Manager – “I think he got sick of us”) is having to look after them. I’m stocking up, so he can feed them”, he laughs.

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Goat – Interview – 2016

Keeping the mystique. How does one do that in this over-saturated, over-hyped, and overwhelming world of media? Is it just another, albeit a road less well travelled, way of increasing attention, getting your head above the crowded parapet?

"Media saturation is probably very destructive to art," opines author Joyce Johnson, and one-time girlfriend of Jack Kerouac. "New movements get overexposed and exhausted before they have a chance to grow, and they turn to ashes in a short time. Some degree of time and obscurity is often very necessary to artists."

In the short history of rock’n'roll, there was a time that a band could develop over at least two or three albums. Rarely did they strike gold from the very beginning, or fully locate their creative mojo. But, the seeds had been sown, and it was then a matter of careful nurturing. Hundreds, probably thousands, of famous or respected bands and artists would have been dropped if they were forced to operate in the 'get results first, ask questions later' environment of the mainstream music industry these last few years; where rapacious profit-making and extreme competitiveness have clearly dented risk-taking, to the detriment of music as art.

But thankfully, with the major labels becoming less and less important, and with the concurrent development of the DIY and independent sectors, there has been a slow return to the idea of artist development. Just like the 'slow revolution' that has infiltrated all aspects of creative life – from cooking to journalism – there is a maturer, less frenzied approach to artist development. As always, the cream eventually does rise to the top or is at least given a chance to.

Taking the idea of mystique a step further are Sweden's Goat. Indeed, they are possibly the most well-known 'faceless' act to have graced the music scene in recent years. Acts such as Burial, Neutral Milk Hotel, Daft Punk, Swedish heavy metallers Ghost, and the avant garde music collective The Residents are just some of a handful of relatively successful acts who have eschewed their identity and/or publicity altogether. But, have any gone as far as Goat in not only hiding their physical identity but also shrouding their history in one of possible legend and myth?

Who are these masked musicians? Does their home village of Korpilombolo actually exist? Are they really a part of a voodoo tradition? Is their music one that has been been passed down through the generations? Or, are they really just bullshit media manipulators?

Despite their enigmatic, vaguely ludicrous qualities, there is one thing we can be pretty sure of, the music. Goat’s music is by turns intoxicating, tribal, psychedelic and sonically adventurous. With Requiem, their third album, Goat again show off their credentials as internationalist groovers, coming from the unlikely isolated northern Sweden, very close to the border with Finland. "It’s a beautiful and at the same time very grim place," says Lill-Benny of Goat, via email, of Korpilombolo. Whether or not this is true is made fuzzier by the fact that a few years back Goat’s Wikipedia entry misspelled the village name, and there seemed to be no information at all about this place. Unsurprisingly, both omissions have been amended. As it transpired, Korpilombolo was a real place. Also, Lill-Benney is not his/her real name and they don't do interviews any other way it seems. You just have to roll with it. You have to believe, in Goat.

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree / One More Time With Feeling

One More Time With Feeling (a line from one of the songs featured, and a playful musical clique often invoked by musicians in trying to capture the essence of a song) has at its centre the death of Arthur Cave, with Nick Cave airing his raw grief, sometimes in the back of a cab, sometimes off-camera, and at other times sitting at his desk, whilst there are studio-based performances of almost all the tracks on Skeleton Tree, an album that inevitably became to mean something very different from the original premise.

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The Horrors – Interview – 2016

“Oh, yeah,” confirms The Horrors’ Joe Spurgeon. “There was a time when people thought we were fashionista wankers, who didn’t produce any music, just a racket. That’s fine, because there’s half-truths in that. But at the end of the day we were in it for a pure reason, just wanting to put out a record. That was our main game. If anything, the negatives that were coming out of people just spurred us on, to do it even more extreme.”

Their early gigs were raw, aggressive affairs, often fuelled by amphetamines, and sometimes lasting no more than 15 minutes. As bassist Rhys Webb has said, “We were kind of making it up as we went along, but, at every gig we played, someone would book us for a follow-up show so we just went with it. It hasn’t really stopped since. We only had a handful of songs, including two or three covers but that was fine. We thought 15 minutes was the perfect time for a burst of horrible noise. It still is.”

“There’s definitely been some insane gigs,” says Joe. “I remember when we supported Arctic Monkeys, and as you can imagine the crowd between them and us on our first album was quite different, but it made us be a bit more wild and insane. Some people in the crowd would heat up pound coins and thrown them at us, thinking that would hurts us. Anyone who knows anything about physics would know that by the time they did that and threw them at us. We made a thing of it; Faris brought out a plastic cup and egged people on to throw money. We loved and lapped up that kind of stuff.”

As the lead singer Faris Badwan has put it, regarding those early shows, “It was a primal release driven by adrenaline and there’s nothing like letting yourself cross the line like that.”

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Brian Wilson – Interview – 2016

It is now a half century since the release of Pet Sounds, one of three albums released in 1966, that irrevocably changed the course of popular music; when combined together they helped to make that year arguably the most important one for music ever. Along with Revolver and Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds marked the moment when artists finally and collectively kicked down the door whilst shining a bright light into each creator's soul. This allowed the album to become a piece of art in itself; becoming an equal, more or less, with more traditional art forms such as theatre, literature and cinema.

The beauty of Brian Wilson's creation though, is that he didn't necessarily rip up the rulebook – although there is an element of that – he simply modified it. Retaining pop's songcraft ethos, its essential reliance was on melody, harmony and structural flow, but decidedly pushing the parameters, the boundaries of what was permissible and possible, as well as mining a much deeper emotional and literate depth via the lyrics. In 1965 The Beach Boys were still singing trite such as: “Get around round round I get around / From town to town / Get around round round I get around / I'm a real cool head / Get around round round I get around / I'm makin' real good bread." It was brilliantly simplistic pop music, but for kids. A year later, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys were making brilliantly sophisticated pop music, but for adults.

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Teenage Fanclub – Interview – 2016

“Just got myself a cup of tea, woke up a half an hour ago and feeling pretty good. A lovely morning here in KItchener, an hour west of Toronto, named after Lord Kitchener (it was called town of Berlin up till 1916)". We're in the middle of a heatwave at the moment; this is the calm before the storm. Right now it's quite nice, but it will get crazy hot.”

This is Norman Blake I am talking to, an honorary member of the C-86 generation, who along with the likes of The Wedding Present, The Soup Dragons, and long forgotten gems such as Stump, The Mackenzies, The Shrubs and Age of Chance, spearheaded this much-loved indie guitar scene that generally didn't take itself too seriously. While Teenage Fanclub came along a little too late for the legendary C86 cassette compilation, Blake was very much part of that ‘scene’, having been in a band with The Soup Dragon’s Sean Dickson, pre-C86, called The Faith Healers, the pre-Teenage Fanclub Boy and Hairdressers group, as well as joining and writing for BMX Bandits, remaining with them as a member until 1991. With such luminaries as Kurt Cobain calling the band the best in the world, and Noel Gallagher saying they were the second best (after Oasis, of course), only helping their cause, Teenage Fanclub developed a large fanbase, won acres of press coverage, and released critically lauded and commercially successful albums, culminating in Songs From Northern Britain, which reached number three in 1997. Good memories run long and deep it seems, for it was only last year that Dave Grohl, ex-Nirvana, asked the band to support his Foo Fighters at Old Trafford, eulogising about them on stage, too. Indeed, Teenage Fanclub's 1991 album Bandwagonesque was voted best album of the year by Spin magazine, beating Nirvana's Never Mind in the process.

Blake has been a resident in Canada for the last seven years, living with his Canadian-born wife, and dealing with the alternately harsh winters and hot summers; one minute shovelling snow, the next wilting in the harshly humid heat. "The winters can be horrendous. The last two have been full on. We live in a corner house, so we are responsible for clearing the snow off the sidewalks next to our house. You can wake up in the morning, possibly with a hangover, you have to clear four feet of snow and a channel around the house. I feel myself cursing us making the move on those occasions. But, I call the folks every weekend, who live in Scotland. 'What's it like today? 'It's pretty grey today. It's been raining'. It's nice to have the definitive seasons here. A total change of wardrobe."

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Hyundai Mercury Prize 2016 Shortlist

Congratulations to Skepta for winning the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize!

The Mercury Prize, this year sponsored by Hyundai, has been the staple of what defines the British and Irish music industry by shining a light on the acts that are shaping modern music. Renowned around the world, a spot on the shortlist can drastically move an act form being on the periphery of a glistening career to the very forefront. Not only do you get to be on an exclusive list which acknowledges your musical merit, you have the chance to multiply your income (in an industry which we all know is getting harder and harder to make a living in) through the subsequent album sales and extended tours, which arise from purely receiving a nomination. Then if you clinch the top spot you get a £25,000 cheque, as well as the acknowledgement of being the very best in British and Irish music for the year.

For the first time in its 24 years, the format of the awards has been changed. In past times a panel of musicians, music presenters, producers, journalists, festival organisers and other figures in the music industry put together a list of six albums that have been put forward by labels, which are then judged by the respective panel on the day of the awards. This year the panel have put forward twelve albums that will be whittled done to six via an online vote, which will then be judged by the panel on the day of the awards. Whether this will have a profound effect on the end result is yet to be seen, as worries that the acts with the biggest fan bases taking rule in the inaugural vote are already being voiced.

As per usual, a diverse and eclectic mix of music has been nominated – electropop, art rock, baroque pop, electronic R&B, grime, soul, post punk, pop and jazz. This year’s list is one of the more commercially successful in Mercury Prize’s history with the majority of albums having taken the UK number one spot or held itself in the Top 10. Only two acts have debut albums featured and, incredibly, half of the nominations have appeared on the shortlist before.

Here is a brief look at the albums up for the this years Mercury Prize award:

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