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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 30th October 2014 at 11:00 am
This is part 2 of a massive interview with Cloud Boat. Go here to read part 1.
Cloud Boat and I switched gears to discuss their latest release, this year’s ‘Model of You’, released in July. At first Tom seemed anxious about divulging his thoughts to me. “Nonspecifically, it became more expensive as we tried to have a bigger palette of sounds and expressions. We tried to explore a wider space, really. I think the first album was quite narrow in its production and its kind of sound choices. That’s not a negative thing at all…but we had more means on our second album, so we used it the best we could.” Sam explains further about their humble recording beginnings: “If we’d been able to record with a live drum kit, grand piano, a harp on the first album, we would have done it. But we had one microphone, one amp in the bedroom and that was it.”
I then asked if they were like most electronic-type musicians I’d come across, being very OCD about the way things sound and the way things come across because they’re in charge of everything behind the scenes, including all of the production. Tom disagrees: “we’re probably the opposite. We like to do things differently every time to see (what happens). We don’t need to record the vocal through the same mike, through the same pre-amps, through the same compressors every single time because it might sound better (recorded differently). I wouldn’t like to do everything the same every time in case it could have been done better another way.”
Sam chimes in: “…because we’re not producers first. When you say a lot of electronic artists, they probably started making music in their bedrooms making beats and things and have become almost scientific in their production. We could never sit at home and make a track with a mix that would sound good on the dance floor. I’m essentially someone who has grown up playing guitar and Tom has grown up singing. We have always thought of ourselves as a band, and that’s why working with a producer on the second album (Andy Savours, who has worked with My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Ros) meant that the science of everything was taken out of our hands, and we were just free to be creative. So in response to us having any sort of OCD, there isn’t any of that. The more happy accidents, the better.”
Tom adds, “there has to be a level of spontaneity in live music and recorded music in order for it to stay exciting, I think. If you know that everything is going to stay the same every single time, it becomes monotonous and you won’t be able to be excited about it.” Sam describes an unusual part on one of the standout tracks on the new album: “There’s a part of ‘Hideaway’ on the record, we recorded it at The Crypt in North London, which is fairly sort of renowned, they’ve got a baby grand piano in there. It was Friday night, I was just doing all the piano takes for everything, I hadn’t written any of the parts. We did four songs for which I’d worked out the parts and recorded them between 6 at night and midnight. Me and Andy went and had a massive slap up dinner at this really nice restaurant opposite. We came back and the room was freezing and I was really tired. There is a chord on the end of ‘Hideaway’ in which I kind of creak on the seat, and there’s this noise or something. Andy wanted to cut it out from the recording and I was like, ‘you’re leaving that in’. It’s really, really quiet, but knowing that, there are bits and bobs on the record (like that) when there’s a sound when there’s not supposed to be (one) there, you use that sound as a focal point instead of getting rid of it.”
Speaking of strange noises, I just had to ask them about the goat noise on ‘Portraits of Eyes’, which I’d Tweeted them about the morning of the Soup Kitchen show. “It’s actually a guitar”, Sam admits. “I’m pretty sure it’s a guitar with loads of tremolo on it? And I suppose it’s really high.” I express my mock disappointment that there was no goat onstage in Manchester. “But how would you make it go on cue? You’d have to get a goat that could mime. But I’m pretty proud now that I could make a guitar sound like a convincing goat though. We’ll try and get another animal on the next album.”
I next put the question to Tom about the origin of ‘Aurelia’, one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs on the new album, and if suicide was the theme he was going for in the lyrics. “I studied French existentialism in university and did my thesis on Camus”, he replies. “There’s a lot of that running through (the album), not suicide in the particular act, just the idea of it, not like explicitly. I like to use those themes and try and create something that sounds like a specific moment in time, a specific situation that reflects those themes. Not a situation I myself have personally experienced, but something I’ve created in my mind with those themes.”
I asked him how he felt about the majority of dance / electronic music’s lyrics being throwaway, with the primary intention for the beats to get punters out on the dance floor. For Tom, it has become a more personal thing and that has bettered him as a person too. “For me, it’s important to feel like singing the song is worthwhile, to be able to give something of myself to it. I’m not a confident person, and I’m not an outspoken person, I don’t like people to know too much about me. There is something, it probably sounds quite cliche, but there’s something very therapeutic about, whether directly or not, telling a load of strangers something about yourself.
“Whether they know it or not, telling them something about yourself you’re not necessarily comfortable with is, like, massively therapeutic and good for you. I think it’s good for you, and it’s been the best thing for me over the last however many years. It’s good for your mind, I think. People say that if you struggle with depression and whatever else, and talking about things like that directly is almost the best medicine for that. In those kind of frustrations and thoughts and existential ideas, talking to people directly about them has been really good for me…But I think the lyrics are almost cryptic enough in telling them. I know what I’m telling them, and I know what I’m thinking, but they don’t necessarily. It’s kind of selfish in that sense.”
I next ask about ‘Thoughts in Mine’, what I consider the other massive song on ‘Model of You’. Sadly, the song was not included in the set in Manchester due to time constraints. Sam considers the tune “the most biggest departure for us. We were in the first studio, writing it in Dalston. Tom had this big vibe he called ‘Little Orange Buckle’, and it had a pretty weird beat in it, and we set up all these synths and started pissing about. We thought it might be kind of fun trying to write a song that didn’t have any guitar in it, and that was sort of the challenge in that. As a result, it’s a departure from anything from the album, and certainly from the first album, and that’s why it’s later on the record.”
I query Tom about the lyrical content, citing that the first time I’m heard his words, it immediately made me think of Morrissey‘s ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’ (“I am now a central part / of your mind’s landscape / whether you care or do not”). “Yeah. There’s a Deftones song as well that has this idea, I’ve been listening to it, it’s on my phone but I forget what the title is. It has this idea like the thought of occupying someone’s mind but it sounds stalkerish, that kind of like describing being close in proximity to someone and being inside. I really loved that, because it’s obviously not actually true, but the thought of using music words to make it sound like a specific situation. It’s not so much about a specific person, it’s more about me, (in) quite a lot of the lyrics I describe myself as another person and write about myself. So that’s kind of in that song a bit. I like writing about a person that’s me and writing it from another person’s perspective.”
We then turn our attention to ‘Carmine’, which was picked up by NPR, who then went on to write several nice features on Cloud Boat’s music. “The NPR thing was great”, extols Sam. “The press team for the record were looking for the outlet with the best reputation and reach for the music, and NPR was what they decided to go with. The press side of things is something we’re not particularly comfortable with, and we are guilty with sort of letting our team get on with things, which may not be the best thing to do.”
The video for ‘Carmine’, however, is something they are more than eager to talk about. “That was done by a good friend of ours”, says Tom. “Neither of us are visually inclined”, laments Sam. “Whether it was the fonts, the artwork, the merch, the videos…we’re quite useless. So basically, our friend Chris (Toumazou) who did the video, we trusted him with it. Music videos are something we struggle with a little bit, because something you’ve spent so much time making orally, to then have someone put a visual to it and it doesn’t come anywhere near what you feel for the track, it’s quite rare, I think. We enjoy hanging out with Chris; for a serious artist, he is a fucking hilarious guy. He’s like this little clown! He had this sort of idea, and we gave ourselves to him pretty much…I didn’t really have anything in my head of what I expected the video for that song to be like before we did it. But if I had, it definitely wouldn’t have been that.”
‘That’ was the promo filmed in a working laundrette in Barbican, London, filled with actual customers. Sam continues: “It was a really surreal day. We were all really busy, and it just happened that there was just one day where we could be in the video. The laundrette was still open while we were filming, so they blacked out the curtains. There were lots and lots of old people who obviously went there every Friday to do their laundry, they would come in and find their way through this curtain…So we sort of shot the shots round so people could then use the free machines. It was really fun, it was brilliant, it was a great day. I dunno, I remember the first take, when the main lady mouthed the lyrics, we watched on in the monitor. They shot it sped up to then slow it down to get the sort of crazy movements. I remember it being really sort of powerful. I remember thinking, ‘wow, this is really good’. It wasn’t the setting I would have imagined for the song, but in trusting the director, we got a result we didn’t really expect but we were really happy with.”
As a final question, I asked the three of them if there were any band secrets no-one else but them would know. Tom says he shaves his legs, to which Sam quickly quips, “but we all knew that!” I am not sure whether or not this is true, since naturally they’re all in jeans. So I ask if they have any musical vices, to which Sam is quick to answer. “I think people would probably be surprised with the amount of heavy music we listen to, including really old shit heavy music that we liked when we were 15. I think people would think if we were to get into a van with that band for a week, they probably would not expect full-on metal…When we first started releasing music, we kind of got lumped in with serious, weed-smoking bedroom producer kind of vibe, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
This leads into a discussion over what bands Cloud Boat do get compared to. “Almost always the comparisons are flattering”, says Sam. “We get compared to some really weird, obscure bands, like Cocteau Twins”, replies Tom. “This Mortal Coil”, Sam contributes, “but I’d barely even heard of them. I listened to Cocteau Twins and thought, ‘that’s brilliant!’…Luke, the bassist of face + heel, said some of my guitar playing reminded him of Low, who I’ve never really listened to.” Tom adds, “I’ve heard Moby, This Will Destroy You, bands that don’t sound anything like each other! Which is always good…I suppose it would be really bad if you’re in a rock band, and every night 10 people came up to you and said ‘you sound like Weezer.’…I’ve settled for electronic post-rock, and I don’t even think it’s very accurate, but for when people ask, that’s a broad enough spectrum of sounds.”
Andres, who has been pretty quiet up to this point, interrupts with, “a guy I know said we sound like Moby and Mogwai.” Then they get into an argument over what a project between them would be called. Mobwai? Mogwy? They are, however, in agreement that a collaboration between those two artists would be amazing. “I’d listen to that”, says Tom.
Many, many thanks to Tom, Sam and Andres for this wonderful interviews. Best wishes, fellas.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 29th October 2014 at 11:00 am
This is part 1 of a massive interview with Cloud Boat. Part 2 posts on TGTF tomorrow.
I’ve done interviews on tour buses. I’ve done interviews on outdoor festival grounds as well in indoor venues during city festivals. But I can say for sure I’ve never been invited back to the hired flat of a band to do an interview. (Don’t worry, they were on their absolute best behaviour!) Timing didn’t work out for me to have a chinwag with the chaps of Cloud Boat after their rousing set at Manchester Soup Kitchen on the 11th of October, but like them, I was in Liverpool the next night (though I had committed to see Tom Vek at the Kazimier), so we made a date to meet up after the more difficult bits of the evening were out of the way. Cloud Boat comprises Tom Clarke (vocals, lyrics, electronics) and Sam Ricketts (guitar, electronics) plus live touring member Andres Perrera, officially part of prog rock band Arkestry, and all three of them were happy to chat with me in the wee hours of Sunday night into Monday morning about their latest album, the sophomore ‘Model of You’, their UK tour and their feelings on the music industry today.
The first topic I bring up is the historical rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester that existed long before their footy teams started warring, as it just so happened that Cloud Boat played Manchester followed by Liverpool this weekend. I was curious if they could detect different vibes from the two cities, especially given their background as Southerners. “On a boring level, Saturday night in Manchester gave it sort of an edge to Sunday night in Liverpool”, said Sam. “I also thought both support bands in Manchester (face + heel and Hartheim) were really, really good. In terms of atmosphere, there’s a certain level of excitement to both cities, I think. It was only our third time in Liverpool and we’ve been to Manchester a few more times than that…There are so many great bands from both cities. We listened to the Smiths on the way to Manchester; I’m sure we would have listened to the Beatles on the way here if we’d had them on CD! But yeah, any of the big cities, there’s always a feeling of a wealth of history.”
Tom holds a different view: “I always feel like Liverpool is way more vibrant than I expect. It has quite a strong reputation for being quite a down to earth, working class city because it always has been. But it’s way more, I dunno, more exciting. It’s probably wrong for me to expect that it wouldn’t be, but when you come here, there are loads of cool different restaurants and bars and venues. And down by the waterfront, it’s all been redeveloped and it’s really cool. Every time I’ve been here I’ve been more surprised by how vibrant it is. And with Manchester, you know it’s got a solid, good vibe. Everyone’s friendly, there’s a nice community spirit there, it’s just a nice place to be.”
“We were discussing how all the venues in Manchester are great,” says Sam. “It’s sort of like as big and exciting as London but without the masses of competition.” Tom interjects, “and the drama. There’s no drama to Manchester like you would get in London. In London, there’s so much theatre involved with everything, with everyday life, but with Manchester, it’s a bit more simple, which is nice.” The singer is quick to give kudos to the promoters of the Soup Kitchen show the night previous: “And with Now Wave, the people we played for, they’re some of the best promoters going as well, it doesn’t get much better.”
Liverpool was the sixth show of their October UK tour. “We have a couple more shows, we’re home for a week, then we’re out for 3 weeks to the mainland. It’s been really good,” Sam says. “We’re doing a festival in Holland (Let’s Get Lost in Zwolle), and then there are a few shows in Germany, then Copenhagen, then back through Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, back to Germany, then to Paris.” I ask if they feel that they get a different kind of reception on the Continent compared to when they’re back home in England. “It’s a hard question to answer without seeming like you taking a slight with our audiences, but I think what we’ve found with mainland audiences are slightly more open-minded and more open to enjoying whatever is presented to them. I feel like in the UK – and I’m probably as guilty of this as anyone is – you want to know who you’re going to see and what they’re going to do. Whereas I feel like when we’ve played for audiences who haven’t known us previously, we’ve felt a sort of warmer reception in Europe. And that goes to say when you’ve got people who are more open-minded, they’re more likely to come see you again, so we’ve always looked forward to playing in Europe more than the UK. Also, the adventure of not being at home and going over there, you sort of lose yourself a little bit more and maybe play better as a result.”
Tom goes further: “The whole system allows people to be less inhibited as well. Venues are subsidised by the government and bands enjoy playing there because they get paid and they’ll get fed. And people there can afford to buy tickets. In London, or in the UK, venues are struggling to stay open, bands are struggling to play, people are struggling to afford to buy tickets to go, that’s not an environment anyone really wants to be involved in. I think it’s a big shame, and I think it’s become more like this in the last 10 years. It’s hard in the UK. Until you’re playing 1000-cap venues, where you’re given dinner if you’re lucky, the people who come in and watch you, you’ve got to be in at 7:30, out by 10:30, you’re getting frisked by security wherever you are, the toilets stink and aren’t well kept. There’s a lot wrong with the UK system.”
Sam describes an experience they had as support on tour in the Fatherland. “You can go to Germany and play in what is essentially sort of some left-wing stronghold squat with the best PA, the best staff, the best beer, the best catering, and everyone’s nice to you. They’ll have an apartment, maybe above the venue. Like we did this lovely old theatre in Leipzig when we toured with Forest Swords. We arrived late, we’d driven 11 hours, we had 20 minutes to sound check, but they were all really nice. We got paid well, we got fed well, and they were all like, ‘we’d love to have you back’. Whereas in the UK, it doesn’t feel as much like that. That’s not to say we don’t like playing in the UK. I’d hate to come across as sort of ungrateful to anyone who’s put us on in the UK, because it’s hard for them, and it’s extremely hard for promoters. I know I couldn’t be one.”
“That’s the thing. There are so many great bands and great promoters, and loads of people who care, and there are loads of great venues. It’s just the way the system works,” declares Tom. “It’s almost wholly down to the government and the arts funding. They’re just completely fucking it and they know they are, but they don’t mind because there’s a massive detachment between culture and arts and the current government, and it’s only getting worse. But that’s not to say I know the recipe to fix it.”
I ask Tom what he thinks about music piracy, as part of the music industry that has changed so much in just the last 2 decades. “I think it’s difficult, because in one sense, you want your music to be as readily available to the widest audience possible. That’s the optimal goal. In one respect, piracy and streaming and all the rest of it does that, it makes you readily available to everyone all around the world, for a very small amount of money or no money at all. So in that sense, you can become accessible to a lot of people, but in the other sense, you get paid fuck all. And if you’re getting paid no money, it’s not sustainable.”
Sam chimes in: “On top of not getting any money, I think people care less about the music. I will raise my hand and say I’ve downloaded music for free, but I would like to think (other people would do) like how I’ve gone to see a band, or bought a vinyl or a shirt at a show. But not everyone’s doing that. We all come from a background where we’ve grown up listening to hardcore and metal and screamo, the sort of bands where they just want to be able to go on tour and just make enough money to get to the next gig…Majors are worried about people downloading the Lady Gaga album for free, I’ve never done that. I can’t relate to that, really. Whenever I’ve downloaded a record, I’ve then gone out of my way to go and support that band. I wouldn’t mind if someone downloaded our discography if they came to see us every time we played in their city.”
But Tom brings up a good point about the disconnect even streaming and the advent of mp3s has caused in the business: “That’s the thing, like you said, if you’ve downloaded something, you felt like you needed to justify that by going to a show. Because of Spotify now and people buying everything on iTunes, people don’t have the sense they need to justify that kind of cheapness with buying a ticket or buying a hard copy of a record. People don’t have that sense anymore. You can just literally listen to it on Spotify and then cut it off, and you don’t need to have that attachment to a band. I think (what) a lot of people, I suppose, are missing now is having some sort of a relationship with a band.”
Sam agrees, pointing out a good alternative for smaller bands: “I think things like Bandcamp, it’s a nice way of, on a smaller level, of being direct with your fanbase…Radiohead obviously are a good example of putting ‘In Rainbows’ being pay as you want and the new Thom Yorke’s torrent-based thing. But they’re also famously anti against that platform (Spotify)…There are examples of people doing cool things, but until you break that level where you can fill rooms and sell enough (albums) so that your record label aren’t constantly pulling their hair out, which for most bands, what labels make money anymore?”
Speaking of labels, I asked how they caught the attention of the bods at R&S Records, who reactivated their Apollo imprint and released Cloud Boat’s debut album ‘Book of Hours’ on it in 2013. Sam explains: “This story goes back quite a long way. We originally knew an A&R at R&S through James Blake. He picked up a couple of tracks, which ended up on the first album, for a 10″ on R&S. We sort of became a band and never really knew how to release music or make music or anything. From having nothing, we suddenly had this release on R&S. And we had nothing else recorded. So it took us a while to take a step back and make the first album. And then Renaat (Vandepapeliere), he’s the ‘R’, he said, ‘I’d love to put this out on Apollo’. I don’t think he would have let us say no if we wanted to!…There was a wave of artists R&S wanted to put out, I think it was in 2010? James Blake, Pariah, Space Dimension Controller, Vondelpark as well.
“Compared to them, we were one of the smaller acts, but it was really exciting to be part of that. And Renaat brought Apollo back for the more traditionally ambient things, and alongside Nadine Shah and the live side of Apollo, it made sense to stay there for the second album. He’s a really passionate, supportive guy. Plus I don’t think he’d let us go anywhere else!…He’s terrifying and intense, but the guy lives and breathes music. Sits at his laptop all day…The first time we met him, I don’t think he even knew what we did or who we were, he said, ‘Any of you can call me, any time of the day. If I don’t answer, I’m making love. But call me, any time of the day.’ That completely stuck with me.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, which posts on TGTF tomorrow.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 30th September 2014 at 11:00 am
We Are Scientists will be starting a coheadline American tour with fellow Yanks Surfer Blood tomorrow in Boston. Ahead of the 10-date outing entitled The Spatter Analysis tour, I wanted to get some questions answered by bassist Chris Cain, who just happens to be one of the earliest supporters of my amateur bass playing. (I’ve stuck with it after 4 years, I’ll have you know.) We chat about their current album and its pesky ‘special’ character, their videos and how they know the Surfer Blood boys. Read on…
Hello Chris. Where are you today? Did we interrupt you doing something?
In New York City! I’m actually sitting in bed, sick. Not terribly happy about it, but the timing could’ve been a lot worse. The tour doesn’t start till middle of next week, so there’s plenty of time to mend. I’m supposed to record some backing vocals Tuesday for an acoustic EP we’re working on, I’m pretty confident I’ll make that deadline.
Your latest album, released in March, is entitled ‘TV en Français’. Let’s talk about the name first. How did you decide on the title? Was it because you wanted to use a nonstandard character of the alphabet with a squiggly thing?
Ah, yes, the highly undervalued cedilla. That squiggly line does add a touch of class to the album, you must admit. Funnily, it ended up being a real pest. The words “TV EN FRANCAIS” that appear on the front of the album don’t have a cedilla, because that’s an actual photo of a motel wall, and we didn’t want to alter it. But on the spine we wrote the title in a similar font, with the cedilla on the ‘c’. And get this: as a result of an error in the artwork, that spine-cedilla ended up splatted like a swatted mosquito on the motel wall on the cover of the album on the entire initial UK run of CDs (10,000 of them, I think). Very mischievous, that little squiggle! Of course, the happy ending is that a copy of the album from that “faulty” print run is now considered rare, and worth around $800 on the open market.
How much French do you and Keith (Murray, lead vocals and guitar) actually know? Has the album proved especially popular in the Gallic region of the Continent?
Well, we’ve only played in France once since releasing “TVeF”: it was a show in Paris, and it went very well indeed. We’ve got three more French shows coming up end of October, though, and I think those will be the true test of the album’s success. Historically, we love France a lot more than France loves us; maybe the scales will tip a little closer to even this year.
‘TV en Français’ is We Are Scientists’ fourth album, following on from ‘With Love and Squalor’, ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ and ‘Barbara’. What do you think sets this new effort apart from all its predecessors?
Well, we continue to evolve as songwriters and musicians (improve, I hope), so the material we generate continues to change. That’s the boring answer. The exciting part was working with Chris Coady as producer for the first time. Dude is a one-man “delicious sounds” generator. He’s also an extremely interesting and pleasant conversationalist. The full package, in other words.
I read that you parted ways with your management after the release of ‘Barbara’. That sounds pretty heavy. Was that time apprehensive, nerve-wracking, freeing, etc.? You guys have been around quite some time now, so I would think that having been around the proverbial block, you know how you work and who will be good for you.
We’re getting better and better at understanding our own needs and picking out people who can fulfill them, but we’re still pretty dumb about it. Work in progress.
The last promo video you released was for ‘Make It Easy’. Looks like you’re in favour of unconventional relationships?
Absolutely. It’s time to retire the shopworn model of “Right Man + Right Woman = Eternal Love”. Not only does it miss a huge spectrum of possibilities, but the one possibility it does describe, it describes unrealistically. This essay by Alain de Botton on what a practical marriage would look like isn’t exactly what we’re talking about here, but it’s awesome, so let’s segue into it.
What ground is there left in the universe for WAS to cover if you’ve already filmed a promo in outer space?
We still need to shoot a video that takes place inside the cab of a car that has just smashed through the guard rails of a bridge. It’s in slow motion, and the entire song plays while the car’s plummeting. When we shoot THAT video, we’re done.
In May, you made your third appearance at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, performing on The Late Show with David Letterman. Give us the lowdown, be honest: what was Dave really like? Who’s funnier, you or him?
Dave is funnier than us, I would say, after carefully weighing the evidence.
This week you’ll be starting a new tour coheadlining with Surfer Blood on the East Coast. Are you guys friends? How did this joining of forces come about?
We met the SB fellas when they were touring their first album and we were touring our second. Bumped into them on the festival circuit a lot. And as of a couple of years ago, we have the same booking agent in the U.S., one Mr. Mike Mori. It was Mike who had the lightbulb moment, I believe, when he realised that WAS and SB were both looking at doing a run in the fall. A big part of it was probably Mike realising that he could put together two tours while only really doing the work of organizing one. But we were big fans of the idea as soon as he presented it, even if it does make his life easier than we’d ideally like.
What great things are you expecting to happen on this tour with them? What are you dreading?
I’m dreading the complaints of injustice that will come from the giant swaths of North America that the tour isn’t visiting (they’ve been rolling in steadily since announcement). We admit it: the tour is simply too short. Only 10 cities will get to experience it. It is, indeed, not fair.
I’m most looking forward to becoming local heroes in those 10 cities.
Any last words / quips for your fans?
For the shows, please wear shoes with good support and plenty of cushioning. Elbow and knee pads are recommended but not required. A helmet would look dumb.
We wholeheartedly thank Chris from crawling out from under the covers to answer these questions for us, and thanks to Stephanie too for her assistance.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 29th September 2014 at 11:00 am
I honestly never thought it would happen but Chris Cain, bass player for American duo We Are Scientists, has answered our Quickfire Questions. I just figured he’d always be too busy to answer them. But he has! And you can read his answers below.
Stay tuned, as we’re running a q&a with the man tomorrow morning. What a great closer to the month that will be. (I know, hold yourself back. You can’t wait, can you?)
What song is your earliest musical memory?
Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’.
What was your favourite song as a child?
My dad was really into Foreigner. I remember loving ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ long before I was a member of the target demographic.
What song makes you laugh?
‘Manhole Inspector’, from the “Tex Hooper” sketch on Norm MacDonald’s magnificent sketch comedy album ‘Ridiculous’.
What song makes you cry?
‘Beautiful Child’, Fleetwood Mac.
What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
‘Self Esteem’, The Offspring. It was that kinda first love.
What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
I’ve never been one of these dudes (or dudettes) who, when mad, jump around red-faced in their bedrooms listening to heavy metal. I am, though, the type who likes a good wallow. When I’m feeling low, I like to get even lower. ‘The Blue Moods of Spain’ by Spain, or ‘Devotion & Doubt’ by Richard Buckner, always do the trick.
Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?
‘Ann Don’t Cry’, Pavement.
Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)
All time, James Salter. Recently, Ben Lerner.
If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
Advertising, probably. Maybe a forest ranger, if I’d had any kind of balls.
If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why?
This becomes a question of which album you think will be least diminished by awful repetition. Maybe Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations, the 1955 recording.
Thanks to Chris for answering these and thank you to Stephanie for sorting this for us.
American alt-rock band Counting Crows have made a strong re-emergence onto the music scene with a new album, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, released this past Monday on Virgin/EMI Records. Lead singer Adam Duritz had already done a fair bit of promo when I caught up with him on Tuesday, but he was gracious enough to give me some insight into the new record, which features a surprisingly spirited reiteration of Counting Crows’ signature musical style.
On listening to ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, I was instantly struck by the energy and expansiveness of the sound, and I asked Duritz what had inspired that size and scope. He explained that the band were galvanized by their previous release, 2012’s ‘Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)’, which featured covers of songs by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and Bob Dylan, to name just a few. “There was something really good happening with the band when we made ‘Underwater Sunshine’ a few years ago now. Playing all those songs by other people, I think it did a really good thing for the band. Maybe they took more ownership of it, or maybe it’s just the variety of playing songs by people other than me. We immediately noticed as soon as we got on tour that we were just way better. We’d always been a pretty good live band, but we got great after that. And you know, it was the best year and a half of touring of our lives, and when it was over, we just really wanted to record. I think there’s a lot of that, the guys in the band really being a lot more daring. I think they’ve played fantastic on these last couple of albums. The contributions, the collaborations with everyone. They just really, really did a great job.”
The opening track on the new album, called ‘Palisades Park’, makes an immediate statement about Counting Crows’ newly revitalized musicianship. Duritz says that he knew it would be the first song on the album as soon as they finished writing it. “I’m really proud of it, I mean I really love that piece. For years we’ve been taking our songs apart in concert and kind of exploding them, you know, like taking a left turn in the middle of ‘Round Here’ and going somewhere for 5 minutes, then going back to ‘Round Here’. We’ve been doing that with a lot of our songs for years and years, but we’ve never been able to write it into a song and therefore capture it on a record, and I think with ‘Palisades’ we really did that. We got a lot of what we’ve been doing live and put it the composition of a song. I think it was really cool, it’s a really unique piece of music.”
Starting with the extended musical journey of ‘Palisades Park’, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ shows a variety of musical styles in its track list, including the more radio-friendly songs ‘Earthquake Driver’ and ‘Scarecrow’. Though ‘Scarecrow’ is the current radio single here in America, Duritz says the band didn’t write it with that intention. “It’s still probably 5 minutes long. They wanted us to cut it, but I said no, we’re not cutting anything. They wanted to remove all the guitars at the front and the back to make it shorter, but (we’re) just not really interested in doing that. It’s nothing we ever think about when we’re working on records, but it is how records are promoted, so it’s good to have songs on the radio. It’s not something we ever put a lot of thought into. It might be better if we did, but I wouldn’t even know how to do it anyways. Other than to clip everything shorter.”
Like previous Counting Crows records, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is filled with specific characters and geographical references. When I ask Duritz about the mysterious title to ‘Earthquake Driver’, which also contains the lyric that became the album’s title, he gives a vivid description of the character in the song as “a guy who can’t figure out whether he wants to be in a small pond or a big pond. He wants to make a difference, he wants his life to mean something, but he can’t decide whether it’s okay to do that.”
Talking about the very specific references that pepper his lyrics, Duritz remarks, “I’ve always been big on details. I think it’s just something I do when I write. It’s funny, when we were first signed to make a record, there were a lot of people who told me that I should stop doing that, to stop using proper names and place names, because they said it made it too personal and people couldn’t relate to it. Which might be true, but it still seems stupid to me. I like writing in details. I think that communicating things that really are meaningful to you will communicate something that’s meaningful to other people. But either way, I didn’t really care. I mean, the truth is, you write the songs that you’re moved to write, and in my case, details make a big difference.”
I suggest that those details might actually make the songs more relatable to a listener, and he continues, “oh, I think they probably do. But I had people telling me the opposite back in the day. But you’re not writing songs to relate to other people. You’re writing songs because they’re important to you. Hopefully people do relate to that, but I don’t have a plan for that, really. For me, I don’t think you need to tell people how you feel. I think if you tell them what’s on the shelves in the room that you’re in, how you feel comes through in that. I mean saying “I love you”, it can mean a lot when you’re saying it to another person, but in a song? It’s just like everybody (says) over and over and over again, it doesn’t really communicate anything anymore. But if you tell someone how it feels to look at someone, (for example) the line from ‘A Long December’: ‘All at once you look across a crowded room and see the way that light attaches to a girl’. That tells something about how the guy felt. I think the details make it meaningful.”
Duritz says that his songwriting has always been informed by his struggle with mental illness, specifically depersonalization disorder, and I comment that he seems to have addressed it directly in the songs on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, particularly one called ‘Dislocation’. His reply is candidly straightforward. “Well, I mean I think you could go all the way back to most of the tracks on most of our records. They’re all sort of addressing me being a crazy fucker. There’s plenty of my nonsense all over our catalogue. Certainly ‘Dislocation’, but all the other ones too. I mean, ‘God of Ocean Tides’, the last line of it, ‘I can’t remember yesterday, I tried, if I said I could I lied’. That’s a part of the dissociative thing, not being able to register the meaning of anything that happened to you, remember who the people you know are. I mean, it’s all over all these songs.”
Duritz cites another creative project as influential to the songwriting on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ as well. He has spent several years working on and off with Broadway playwright Stephen Belber on a play called ‘Black Sun’. While the project has been stalled by Duritz and Belber’s conflicting professional schedules, Duritz says it has been “the first time in my life I ever wrote for people other than myself. Writing different characters, different voices, you know, and discovering that it was possible to invest a lot of meaning in things that weren’t necessarily the pot of my own life. And that gave me a much larger palette to paint on.”
He is enthusiastic about the project, but unsure about when it might be completed. “It’s a really cool play, and it was really well-received when we did it at a playwright conference a few years ago. The other writers, the directors that were there, flipped over it. The crowd that saw the reading of it flipped out. I thought it was really cool sitting in the audience watching people sing my songs. But Stephen and I have two totally different careers, and it is just really hard to find time to do this. I don’t know, I’d love to finish it. I think it’s a spectacular piece. I pulled one song from the play for the record. Just one.”
That song is the final track on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, called ‘Possibility Days’. Duritz clarifies his statement, saying “It was written right before we started to work on the play anyway, so it wasn’t really for the play, but it was a big part of the play. And I pulled it for this. It’s the only one I took, though. I don’t think it was the best song in the play by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a really good song, which should give you an idea of the quality level of the play. It was really beautiful at the end of the record.”
For the moment, the ‘Black Sun’ project has taken a backseat to the busy promotion schedule leading into Counting Crows’ November UK tour dates. I ask Duritz how the constant promotion and performing affect his singing, as his vocals are a hallmark of Counting Crows’ overall sound. He says that he does end up doing interviews and promotion even during tours, but he keeps it to a minimum. “I try and limit it, because, I mean, we’re playing like 2+ hour shows nowadays, so they’re pretty long, and I sing really hard. I just have to be careful about it because you really do need to rest your voice. When we started out, I had trouble getting from gig to gig when we were playing half hour shows. Now we’re playing 2-hour shows and we’re 20 years older. And you know, it’s not easy, but I also never miss a show anymore. ” While he has learned to pace himself between performances, he says he doesn’t hold back when he’s on stage. “I get completely lost on stage during the shows. It’s only afterwards, I just go in a room and sit by myself for the next day.”
Looking beyond the upcoming UK tour dates, it’s easy to see why Duritz might need some time to himself. The band spent this past summer touring in America, and their autumn schedule is similarly busy. Duritz notes, “I haven’t had a day off in a long time. But we have some weeks off in October, and then Outlaw Roadshow comes to town again, so we have 30 musicians staying at my house and 30 or 40 bands playing in the Outlaw Roadshow in New York during CMJ. And then, when that’s over, we leave for England to start that tour.” For 2015, Counting Crows are looking at shows in Australia, South America and South Africa in the spring before returning to Europe for the summer festivals, followed by more touring in America. And after all that? “I don’t know, make another record or something. I’ve never really planned any of it out.”
Counting Crows’ new album ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is available now on Virgin/EMI. Keep an eye here on TGTF for a full review of the album coming soon. Counting Crows will spend the first part of November playing tour dates in the UK, including two already sold out shows at the London Roundhouse.
Thank you to Adam Duritz for taking the time to talk with me, and to Kat and Michelle for arranging the interview.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 18th September 2014 at 11:00 am
Just because he’s such a nice chap, it wasn’t enough that Tommy Wright of Young Kato filled me in earlier in the week on what their band had been up to all summer. No, he was also kind enough to give us this play by play, track by track personal analysis of their brand new ‘Sunshine’ EP, out this week on BMG. Take it away, Tommy…
‘Sunshine': Sun kissed, all singing, all dancing single. Wrote this in Sam’s (Henderson, drummer) garden on a beautiful afternoon in June. Feel it really shows everything bright and colourful about this band. Lyrically we tried to capture a holiday atmosphere, an escape to somethin sunnier. “You unravel in the sun.”
‘Ultraviolet': Hugely ’80s pop inspired tune, written over a couple of days in (Joe) Green’s (rhythm guitarist) house. Lyrically, it’s a lust for someone and a want to know if you’re still remembered. “Could you pick me out of a crowd, do you remember me at all?”
‘Light It Up': ‘Light It Up’ is just a ballsy mash-up of a variety of influences spanning from EMF, Duran Duran and many, many more. Lyrically, it can be taken in a few different ways, as three of us pitched in with the content. For me, it’s about being bold and brave in the face of defeat. “When you wish the clouds would part, and reveal a blue like ocean, the pressure tends to start, and the heavens they will open…”
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