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Interview: Oisin Leech of The Lost Brothers (Part 2)

 
By on Friday, 12th December 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Glasses-wearing, light-haired Oisin Leech of Liverpool-via-Ireland duo The Lost Brothers was so kind of answering my soul-searching questions about him and his writing partner Mark McCausland’s act, and I’m so pleased to bring the second half of my interview with him today. In today’s post, he tells us about what it means to be Irish and a singer/songwriter and how their new album was written and recorded. I also asked him how he feels about being a “sad song” band. Hope he got to his coffee pot in time without burning down the place!

In case you missed it (how could you?!? I kid…), read the first half of my interview with Oisin, head this way.

I also saw you at the Full Irish Breakfast programming on Friday at B.D. Riley’s Irish pub, which is organised and run by the amazing Angela Dorgan (who I see is a mutual friend of ours, as she’s listed in the thank yous for this album). Does being Irish colour your songwriting and if so, how?
That breakfast gig is up there with our favourites! Absolutely…we are quintessentially an Irish band. No matter how much time we spend rambling out east or west, we can never escape the fact that I was born in Navan and Mark was born in Omagh. I love this. Ireland… and Irish roots…it’s in our blood. My father’s ancestors played music in Kinvara in Galway and Navan for years before I was born. All huddled round a piano singing late into the night with a fire blazing. I saw the photos.

My grandmother ran a music hall in the 1950s called The Plaza. Mark’s grandfathers band The Moore Family actually played there, and my Granny booked them! We found all this out only a few years ago.

For me, being Irish is a million things, but as a songwriter maybe it’s all about the characters you meet, the rivers, the wild Atlantic Ocean, the rough rocks and heather of the Burren, the shadows beneath the trees along back roads of Tara. It’s endless… The Irish can sing the blues because they lived through the blues. But there’s another name for the blues…you can’t simplify any of those things. It’s just a feeling that finds its way into a song.

When I hear the wail of Townes Van Zandt or Robert Johnson, I hear a rainy day in Donegal in Ireland and when I hear the great Irish Box [accordion] player Tony MacMahon play a tune or great Irish singer Sonny Condell sing, I see a blue morning in upstate New York with the sun cutting through the trees. For centuries Irish and Scottish folk has been crossing the Atlantic, it’s all there in Bob Dylan or Everly Brothers song if you listen closely. I love the songwriting rock we cast our net from…. and it’s called Ireland.

Every time I’ve attended SXSW, I am struck by the brotherhood / kinship between the Irish acts, no matter where in Ireland they are from. This happens to an extent with the UK bands but because they’re all over the place and so numerous in comparison, I don’t see the same kind of support for fellow countrymen. Would you like to speak on that?
That’s great that you see a community of musicians among the Irish. I doubt any of us notice; we just all pitch in together without thinking. Everyone’s on the same road, and you have to help a brother or a sister along the way if you can.

Your fourth album ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ was released this autumn, and I think it’s a beautiful record. How did you approach this LP compared to your three previous? How did producer Bill Ryder-Jones affect the songwriting and recording process?

We always thought we would do the first three albums as a trilogy all with similar atmospheres going through them.

Once the trilogy was over, we decided to make a change.

A new trilogy would begin.
We came at this album differently in terms of songwriting.
We kept dozens of cassettes with hundreds of song ideas.

It’s a more hopeful album.
Not sure why. It just is.

We wanted each song to tell a distinct story.
It’s a certain type of song that tells a story, and that’s the type of song we went after here.

We also decided that to start this new trilogy we would come full circle to our old adopted home Liverpool. The city we pick is crucial to our album. The atmosphere of a city ends up on the album. We had never recorded a Liverpool album before as The Lost Brothers.

We recruited Bill Ryder-Jones, who is one of the best young guitarists in the world right now. He plays sometimes with Arctic Monkeys. Another great band.

We were fascinated to see what Bill would do with these songs. Ironically, he stripped the songs right back to the basics with little bits of brass and added a few colours. This is our most stripped back album to date. It was brave of Bill to make that call.

Less is more and all that jazz…

Roddy Doyle [Irish novelist and writer of “The Commitments”] sent us a kind message a few days after the album came out saying that this album reminds him of a collection of short stories.

We were fascinated to see what would happen when Bill got his hands on these songs. He approaches thing with a fresh edge. Apparently it’s our most forward thinking album to date!!!!
I’ll live with that.

With this album we also made a conscious effort to write songs in Dublin.
We had never written there before.
So we spent weeks and months writing in Dublin. We demo’d the songs with Sean Coleman and Gavin Glass at Orphan Recording. I love Dublin, and it gave the writing its own magic.

One of the album’s songs that made a huge impression on me was ‘Soldier’s Song’. It seems to me like a gentle yet brilliant protest song against the unnecessary wars and violence that go on in our world today, yet it doesn’t get overtly political. Did one of you take the lead on writing this, can you give us insight on how the song came about?
That song came in a dream. It’s a love song with a simple story. It started in Ireland, and then we finished it while waiting on a flight in LA in a motel. Delighted you like that song. We are always touched when people say they respect that song. We have never written anything like that before. On that recording, Martin Smith plays a beautiful old trumpet horn that he got in a flea market in old central Europe. No-one knows what type of horn it is.

Is ‘Derridae’ based on a real person/woman? If yes, is she aware that this song was written about her?
‘Derridae’ is a song that came in Dublin. Mark and I had just finished a show at Vicar Street (club in Dublin) and the TV was on in the hotel at 4 AM. Suddenly, these chords and melodies came to us in the space of 5 minutes. The words poured onto the page. But we needed a title …we needed a word that summed up the atmosphere of the song we were trying paint. So we just sang the song over and over and the name “Derridae” came from the ether. It’s a girl’s name that we invented.

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My favourite song on the album is ‘Walking Blues’, as it encapsulates all that is good about the Lost Brothers’ music: an effortlessly classic sound. (In my review, I described the song like this: “Another deceptively simplistic song is ‘Walking Blues’, with its jaunty melody and piano notes. Its sweet message that if love is forever, it doesn’t matter what distance separates two lovers, because one day soon they will be reunited (“these walking blues will carry me back to you in time”) has certainly been used many times in popular song, but somehow in McCausland and Leech’s voices and hands, the sentiment has never sounded truer or more genuine.” At the time, I was missing someone who was far away very much, so I could personally relate to the song’s message. It is also optimistic; from a quick Google search on you, a lot of outlets seem to peg you as “sad song” songwriters. Agree or disagree?
Ha ha ha. Glad you like that song and your review nails it perfectly. Spot on.

Do I think we write sad songs? Well…for me a sad song can cut through steel. A sad song can stop you in your tracks and send you flying. Sad songs need to be sung. Anyone can sing a happy song. The songs I love are Randy Newman songs, Townes Van Zandt songs. Compared to those writers our music is like the Beach Boys!

Even the Beach Boys had stunning sad songs like ‘Disney Girls’.

Weirdly ,I don’t find our music sad at all. I meet people after our gigs and they rave about how the music lifted their spirits.

Some people find Leonard Cohen really uplifting, others get sad…. Depends on who you talk to!

We write what comes out of our souls with no filter and we don’t force it. People can think what they think. If they find it sad or happy, that’s fine by us. As long as the music moves people in some way.

Someday soon we will release an album of upbeat rockers!

Related to this, there are other points in the album that feel very autumnal to me in mood (for example, the instrumental ‘Nocturnal Tune’ and up tempo yet sad story about an itinerant, ‘Poor Poor Man’). Was this intentional?
Autumn is our favourite season, so yes, well spotted! A lot of these songs were written in the month of October too.

Compared to the average “popular” act these days, your recording and performance set-up has nothing to do with complicated electronics and overdone production. Do you feel this is something important to the ethos of the Lost Brothers and you see it continuing this way? Or could there be a time in the near future where you might change things up radically?
Where we did the new album is a place called Parr Street Studios, and it has some of the best gear in the world. We worked to tape, because it’s warmer sounding and it gives you less options. Sometimes less options is the way to go because you can’t hide from the song. Two voices and two guitars…that’s the essence of what we do. To capture that we worked with amazing people because if you get it right, the results are beautiful.

Yes we have big plans down the road to do something very differently!
I’ll tell you some other night.

Christmas is coming soon. What do you hope to find under your tree?
I would love if Dylan brought out another Chronicles book. That’s my Christmas wish. In the meantime I will stick on some Harry Nilsson and watch The Godfather on repeat.

What are the Lost Brothers planning going into 2015?
Yes, we plan to come to the States. We also have a very busy festival season ahead in 2015. It starts in Glasgow in January with Howe Gelb.

Calexico are also on the same bill. Announcements soon.

Thanks for the chat. I enjoyed that. I better go get the coffee off the cooker. It’s burning….

Many thanks to Oisin for doing this interview with me (this was grand!). Cheers to Terry for sorting this out for us.

 

Interview: Oisin Leech of The Lost Brothers (Part 1)

 
By on Thursday, 11th December 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Without a doubt, The Lost Brothers‘ fourth album ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ is one of my favourite albums of 2014. (Read my review of the LP from this post back in September.) The Irish duo, now based in Liverpool, make songwriting seem effortless, as their beautiful, poignant songs bring forth real and strong emotions that seem all too lacking in popular music today. In part 1 of my interview with the fairer-haired, bespectacled half of the Lost Brothers, Oisin Leech tells me about their last UK tour that recently concluded and how he became inspired to become a musician.

Stay tuned for the second half of this interview posting tomorrow.

Hello Oisin. Where do we find you today? What are you up to at the moment?
Hello there…. We are getting ready to play a great TV Show called Other Voices this week down in Dingle in lower mystical depths of southern Ireland. Just polishing my boots and packing my music here.

You recently finished off a pretty massive Irish and UK tour from the end of October through November. A tour that long sounds intense and gruelling. How did the tour go, and how were your new songs received? What were the highlights of your trip, were there particular dates that stick out in your mind?
This tour was our favourite because it was just us, two guitars, the new songs, and people in a room ready to hear the songs. We weren’t supporting anyone on this tour, and we had to do longer shows. We rose to the challenge and loved it. A lot of the gigs sold out, which is encouraging when we are working hard and giving it all we have. This tour has been a lot of fun.

As the tour progressed, the new songs took on their own life and developed each night. One lady in Switzerland actually came up after our gig and said that the new songs stood out in the set like glowing emeralds amongst the older songs. That was the best thing I’ve heard in a while!

All the gigs were great.

But our Liverpool show stands out because all the players who played on the new album came down and joined us on stage including our producer Bill Ryder-Jones and Nick Power from The Coral. Our pals Jack Cocker and Scott Kearney helped too. We loved it that the studio engineer Chris Taylor even turned up!

It was an emotional night with the longest aftershow I have ever witnessed. We sang Paul McCartney songs ‘til way after dawn with tears of laughter falling on the floor.

One of the earliest press releases of yours I read said that the two of you met in Liverpool. Yet both of you are Irish. Where are you both originally from in Ireland, and where are you based now? And how did Liverpool end up being the place where the Lost Brothers formed? I heard something about a library…
We are from Meath and Tyrone in Ireland. My dad’s family are originally from Kinvara, Galway, and my mum’s family are from the North of Ireland in Buncranna. My mum sings and plays piano, and my dad has a great singing voice too and plays a mean fiddle. I was lucky to grow up around music in our house in Meath. My Grandmother Mae had a beautiful voice, just like my mum and my sister Saramai. I have memories of my Granny playing piano and singing way into the night. Blue songs with the sweetest melodies.

These days we spent most of the year on the road travelling writing and recording with no fixed abode. We have a Lost Brothers “Song Cave”, which we retreat to sometimes …but even I don’t know where that is. It just has a piano and a fax machine and one old lamp.

Why Liverpool as a base? Well…it drew us there separately 11 years ago with a” magnet of song”. The Beatles, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Coral. For years, we were mystified by the music that came out of this city. We both formed different bands there and met in record shops and street corners over the year talking about music … Soon a friendship started. We spent many days and nights in record shops huddled over a gas fire and vinyl from all over the world. Liverpool is a cauldron of energy and musical dreamings and we dived right in.

Soon, after being pals for 5 years we started writing songs for fun.

That’s back in 2006/2007. We had to because ideas were falling from the sky with every rainfall and with every sunrise. We lived near Arnold Grove where George Harrison was born.

How did you get into songwriting and wanting to be a performer? Was there a defining moment / album in your childhood that was a major encouragement?
I studied classical cello for 5 years but soon discovered that I loved punk music… From the age of 12, I collected punk albums. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The UK Subs, Alternative TV, The Ruts… I went to punk festivals by myself as a kid!!! Then, at the age of 14, a pal Alan Quinn played me a cassette of Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’’ album on my Kitchen stereo. I was frying an egg at the time, and I turned to the stereo and fell around the room laughing in total amazement at this music. It blew open my mind. The egg burnt on the frying pan as my pal explained who Dylan was. Then the next week he gave me Beck albums, Bowie, Captain Beefheart and Nirvana. I read so many books on Nirvana, which led me to track down Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and brought me all the way home to Irish genius albums like those of Planxty and Sweeney’s Men. I started busking in Dublin that summer and busked around Europe for 6 years. I lived in Naples and sang on the streets and learned my craft.

Somehow I ended up playing rhythm guitar in Neville Staples’ (singer from The Specials) band in bull rings around Spain for a spell!

Then came the move to Liverpool where my band The 747s started. We toured with The Raconteurs, The Strokes, we recorded ‘Baby I’m Yours’ with Arctic Monkeys. We had a ball. We also toured with The Basement, which is how I met Mark from Lost Brothers. Then the new chapter began.

I think you have some of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard in my life. Do you have any special regimens / rituals / drinks / etc. you keep to so to keep your voices fighting fit?
Neither of us smoke and on tour we try to look after the voices. Usually the voices look after themselves. If ever we can find it, we use [a] honey and vinegar mix to keep the throats well oiled. That was a George Harrison trick.

As an American, I have to admit I don’t listen to a lot of the musical genre called Americana, which is what a lot of outlets seem to associate you with. Do you agree with this classification? If yes, are there other artists in this genre you admire / think you could be accurately compared to?
I don’t see our music as Americana at all. I see it as “the Lost Brothers sound”. It’s our sound that’s born out of our ramblings on the road. Everyone should have their own sound. It’s like having a stamp. It can constantly be changing too. William Blake said, “the artist’s job is to create… Let others compare and contrast.” No matter what you do, people will always have to put your music is a box and categorise it. That’s ok but it doesn’t interest me.

Rory Gallagher and Van Morrison were so influenced and inspired by American music, but it’s still intrinsically Irish. They have probably influenced American music massively by bringing Irish Soul to the table.

I listen to Dinah Washington, Beck, Billie Holiday, Planxty, Andy Irvine, Fred Neil, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Ger Wolfe, Sonny Condell, Fugazi, anything with heart and soul…the list is endless.

Who are your favourite songwriters, and why? Are there any that you think your fans might be surprised you’re a fan of?
As writers, I like Phil Lynott, Fred Neil, Shane Macgowan, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Leadbelly, Carole King, Paul Brady, Bill Ryder Jones, The Coral , Alex Turner…I love ‘70s punk writers like Mark Perry from Alternative TV. Prince is such a great songwriter. Mindblowingly good. Beck’s new album is stunning.

On his new album, Beck appears in the desert wearing silver robes and speaking in tongues of crystal and cold fire. The songs are immaculate. The precision and emotion in this album makes it so special. This album was my close companion as we toured the world. I love it dearly. Great songwriting.

My first experience seeing you live was at SXSW 2013, where I saw you play the NI@SXSW night on Monday with Girls Names and Tim Wheeler.
How did you find the Austin experience? Was it everything you imagined, was it surprising, etc.?

We love Austin and we love playing in the States in general. We get very excited and inspired in Texas. The horizon widens and songs appear. Something new always comes out of a trip to Austin. I love the moment where the evening just steps in and everything turns a lazy yellow.

I hope we play Texas again soon.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview and Oisin’s answers to the TGTF Quickfire Questions to post soon.

 

Interview: Lewis Watson

 
By on Tuesday, 11th November 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Lewis Watson. If you don’t recognise the name, you will do soon enough. Despite never having a guitar lesson, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter from Oxford has gathered over 73,000 Twitter followers and 80,000 subscribers on YouTube. He took some time out from his North America tour to chat to TGTF.

Like many modern artists, Lewis Watson began his music career on video-sharing Web site YouTube. After receiving a guitar for his 16th birthday, Lewis uploaded videos of him playing and he quickly gathered a following, much to his surprise: “YouTube was very new at the time and I used it as a tool to teach myself guitar. I was just uploading videos so that I could look back a week later and see what I’d improved on. I never thought that anybody else would watch the videos.”

His success on YouTube led to the release of five EPs within 2 years on the Warner Music label, including ‘It’s Got Four Sad Songs on It BTW’, ‘The Wild’ and ‘Some Songs with Some Friends’. These were closely followed by the launch of his debut album ‘The Morning’ in July 2014. “There was a lot more pressure around the album, mostly self-inflicted,” Lewis explained. “I think that’s the main difference. Everything else was released as it was completed.” He added, “the album was what everything led up to and that brought a lot of pressure. I wanted it to be perfect.”

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Lewis described the reaction to his album as “overwhelming”. He continued: “To have people listen to the album at all is amazing. I’ve seen tattoos of my lyrics, received letters saying that the album has inspired songs, artwork and even novels. I’m a very lucky guy.”

On the back of the album, Lewis embarked on a nationwide tour in September 2014, including an “insane” sold-out headline gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, which he described as one of the highlights of his career. He said, “playing 3 sold out nights at the Sydney Opera House on the Birdy tour is another highlight. I’d be a fool not to put supporting Coldplay in a tiny pub last Christmas on that list too.”

Lewis, whose inspiration comes from anybody that he has ever met and anything that he has ever experienced, offered some advice to budding musicians: “It’s really cliché, but just keep at it. The music industry is relentless and it really a very hard ‘job’, but the rewards are so high because of this. I have the best job in the world and it’s all because of the hard work that I’ve put in for 5 years. I’m a firm believer that all good music will rise to the top eventually. Keep it up and you’ll get there.”

Looking to the future, Lewis hopes to be able to play music for as long as possible. “I love what I do and I feel so fortunate to be able to do it. To be able to do this forever is my goal.” He added: “I almost have the second record written and I can’t wait to record that after this tour of North America!”

Lewis Watson is currently in the midst of an eight-date long tour of North America, which began in Los Angeles on Sunday, the 9th of November. The tour concludes in Toronto on Thursday the 20th of November.

A huge thank you to Lewis Watson for answering these questions for us, and thanks to Julia for her assistance as well.

 

Interview: Cloud Boat (Part 2)

 
By 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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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‘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.

 

Interview: Cloud Boat (Part 1)

 
By 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.”

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Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, which posts on TGTF tomorrow.

 

Interview: Chris Cain of We Are Scientists

 
By 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.

 
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The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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