Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live Review - Joanna Newsom / Daniel Johnston

Joanna Newsom
Somerset House, London
20 July 2008

An Evening with Daniel Johnston
Fruitmarket, Glasgow
23 July 2008

Words: Chris Hynd

I'll couple these last two gigs I attended in a quick review, mainly as I can't get the following phrase out of my head, a phrase I heard last year from a friend of a friend that seems to utterly encapsulate these performers -

You don't want normal people writing songs...

There probably isn't anyone quite like Joanna Newsom on this earth. Beautiful. Quirky. Elfin. You can trot out the old cliches and trot them out until somehow they still don't feel old as there really is no-one else out there doing what Newsom does and the loyalty and reverence her fans have for what she does and, at times, the downright joy it is to be in her presence. In the special setting of the Somerset House courtyard in central London as the sun goes down on a sultry mid-summer evening, Newsom once more turned in a special performance.

Performing alone at her harp and piano and stripped of the accompaniments of previous tours, Newsom's set took in highlights from "The Milk Eyed Mender" and "Ys". "Emily" was lovely and wistful, "Peach Plum Pear" drastic and stirring and "Cosmia" meandering magically into the night. 3 new songs were also previewed on piano and it's the third of them that will be the one to watch, full of dramatic longing for home and things past and likely to bring a tears to even most the cynical of eyes. If we ever doubted her and how she was going to follow something as unique as "Ys" then I think we don't have to worry. More of this please.

And after a wonderful "Clam Crab Cockle Cowrie", it's all over. Amongst the wind, Somerset House's chiming clock bells and planes flying overhead, Joanna Newsom made herself heard and we listened rapt and attentive. And she deserves that attention, anyone not of this earth as she really deserves nothing less.

As does Daniel Johnston, a man equally as revered and loved by a community that loves to root for the underdog. You can see from tonight that he is equally as loved by his peers - not many performers could manage to get the likes of Norman Blake, Jad Fair, Scout Niblett, James McNew and Mark Linkous to be their backing band but that's a measure of the man and his standing. He too is not of this earth.

Before we get to Daniel, the components of his band each run through a short set of their songs - Jad Fair is spiky and mischievous, Norman Blake and James McNew play a glorious version of Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows" and Mark Linkous slowed it right down, Johnston joining him in a heartstopping "Most Beautiful Widow In Town". Johnston himself played a short set on guitar but we all knew that what was to follow was what we were here for.

It was for these songs that have grown up with us over the years, "Speeding Motorcycle", "Casper The Friendly Ghost", "Walking The Cow", "Hey Joe", Johnston looked happy to be up on that stage, a place you could never accuse him of being comfortable on in the past and his all-star band looked like they were having a ball. Indeed, a huge, riotous "Rock This Town" pretty much confirmed this to be the case, a moment no-one in attendance would forget in a hurry.

Encoring (with only Linkous in tow) with the much-anticipated "True Love Will Find Us In The End", there probably wasn't a dry eye in the house and just for good measure we all joined in with the acapella "Devil Town". It was an evening of fun, of celebration and of thanks to an individual who, as I noted above, inspires us all. "You don't want normal people writing songs?" No, we really don't.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Column - Nostalgia Must Die?

Words: Chris Hynd

lo hi, cheap and divine
order must die
nostalgia must die
shoot me gently

So said Scarfo back in the late 90s. Were they oddly prescient with those words? Were they onto something? They might be right if you look at the first 2 gig reviews on this here blog - My Bloody Valentine and Pentangle, 2 bands pretty legendary in their respective fields, getting back together for a series of shows at a not inconsiderable cost to anyone who'd like to see them. I paid £25 to see MBV, to hear a bunch of songs around 20 years old and the funny thing is, I was happy to do it. This is a band I've grown up musically with, and I'm sure Andy feels the same about Pentangle, 2 bands that neither of us would probably have dreamt of seeing live a few years back. What does that say about us? I'm being presumptious here with regard to my esteemed colleague, I'll rephrase. What does that say about me?

I try my best to discover new bands, new music, whether it be online through word of mouth or through recommendations from others and I've seen many, many great bands at gigs over the years that I've never come into contact with before and that's surely what music is all about, the discovery of the new and the exciting. But maybe I'm settled enough within myself now (that may well be a euphemism for "old bastard" I know...) to realise that I love kicking back and rediscovering those old records that so thrilled me as a callow youth. And I was a callow youth, trust me on that score.

Case in point #1. One of the best gigs I was at last year was Sonic Youth doing "Daydream Nation" - you knew exactly what you were going to get but when those first notes in "Teenage Riot" chimed away, it just automatically felt like something special, like an event. And I think Sonic Youth got that too, they really put a lot into that show, it was songs that those in the audience have heard for collectively thousands of times and probably know inside out. But it was a great night, it was a band having fun with one of their best records and it was a crowd getting a thrill hearing those songs once more and I think that's where people's enjoyment for these reunions is coming from and is why bands are evidently enjoying them. Or is it because they're raking in the cash from them? I'll leave the cynics to debate that.

One thing I hope that Kevin Shields and MBV take from these shows is the sense that people want them around, that people want them to succeed and not be half-arsed about it all. Look at Dinosaur Jr, I'm guessing Shields and J.Mascis are pals, hell I saw 'em walking around together at ATP a couple of years back. They reformed with the "classic" line-up, toured those first 3 records to fuck, evidently saw how good it was working and lo and behold came out the other side with a fabulous new record and are now playing sets encompassing all their material. That's the blueprint, that's the model. Whether they go down that road is anyone's guess (it is Kevin Shields we're talking about!) but it can be done.

Nostalgia must die? Not quite yet as I think everything has its place and as long as it makes your ears smile then that's OK by me. I think I may be pushing my luck in hoping for an AC/DC-Bon Scott reunion though...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Live Review - The Pentangle

The Pentangle
Royal Festival Hall, London
29 June 2008

Words: Andrew Cleary

In the current climate of band reunions, anything is possible. Right now, for instance, Paul McCartney is in an underground lair in Switzerland, trying to reanimate the corpse of John Lennon for a reunion tour – though of course he isn’t really, for legal reasons. But just as few people would have predicted the likes of Led Zeppelin and Shed Seven reforming, it is doubtful that many would have anticipated the original line-up of Pentangle getting back together, some 25 years after they last toured. But here, 40 years after they walked onto the Royal Festival Hall stage for the recording of the "Sweet Child" live album, Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox are back. And they mean business! Gentle business, maybe, but business nonetheless!

They kick off with a slightly nervous-sounding "The Time Has Come" but soon they are in full flow, the guitars of Jansch and Renbourn weaving magically with each other in "Light Flight". Danny Thompson and Terry Cox were always an incredible rhythm section, and they've still got it – Thompson in particular is in stunning form, immaculately turned out, swooping and bending every note from his double bass to perfection. And then to Jacqui McShee – while time may have lowered the pitch of her voice, she still sounds incredible, and has still got the sass.

And so to the rest of the set – it was a diverse, career spanning selection with numerous highlights. When they all gelled on songs such as "House Carpenter", "Hunting Song" (the 4-part harmonies at the end of which were spine-tingling), "Bruton Town" and "I’ve Got a Feeling", they rocked, swung and shimmered in a way that would convince anyone that they truly were one of the greatest bands of their era.

The ultimate set highlight would have to be "Cruel Sister" - Jansch's guitar was good enough to have been a solo song of its very own, and with Renbourn on sitar and McShee’s majestic vocals, by the time Thompson’s bass line kicked in the audience were rapt, to the extent that one of my companions witnessed four occupiers of the gents' urinals humming the refrain shortly afterwards. Another terrific moment was the interplay between Jansch and Renbourn on their version of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat". It was a true exhibition of masterful playing, and I for one wouldn’t have minded had they stretched out the song for 20 minutes.

I did, however, have one reservation about the set – no matter how well executed the songs were, and how fantastic it was to hear them, the fact that the expression well executed seems apposite says it all. Songs which, on record, have a flowing or rocking intro or outro of numerous bars (such as "A Maid That’s Deep In Love" or "House Carpenter") were cut to the main body of the song, with a couple of bars tacked on to either end. It was a little underwhelming, and I found myself wishing that they would let go a bit more. Still, in the context of the whole gig it was a minor gripe, and by the time the closing "Pentangling" had finished, the band received a deserved ovation and left the stage beaming, with their arms around each other.

Regardless of whether the Pentangle reunion extends beyond the current tour and next month's Green Man Festival appearance, it was a great privilege to hear classic after classic performed by a group that clearly still have real pride over their body of work, and one hopes that history will rightly hold them in as high regard as the Festival Hall audience did here tonight.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Interview - Withered Hand

Words: Chris Hynd
Photo: Dan Willson by Jen Owens

Dan Willson, a.k.a. Withered Hand, hails from Edinburgh and creates this fragile yet beautiful and lyrical, woozy folk sound. Conducted via email and answered while his wife puts the kids to bed, Dan took time out from his drawing to reply to these questions.

For those who don't know, can you give a brief history of Withered Hand, how it came together and whether you originally saw it as a solo venture or a group/collaborative effort?

Well, Withered Hand was born around summer 2006 as an outlet for my songs and a general pseudonym for my creative output. I was disillusioned with a lot of contemporary music and I guess I had been frustrated since disbanding my previous band (Peanut) the year before and was picking up my acoustic guitar and these songs were coming out that were a lot more direct and personal. At the time, I saw Withered Hand very much as striking out on my own but I hadn't expected to get over the fear of singing that had always blighted me through my time in Peanut. Encouragement from Bart in Eagleowl led to a few gigs, mostly shakey but well received and then a chance encounter with Cammy Watt (Les Enfant Bastard) was the start of a brilliant and eventful friendship through which we hastily created a short-lived antifolk frenzy that was The Love Gestures (including Neil Pennycook from Meursault), after a while I found it difficult to maintain my position in the band and returned to performing solo as Withered Hand.

So I'd say I eventually realised songwriting for me is a cathartic process that can't be easily compromised, its a way of charting the course of my life, but sure once the songs are done and written, let's have a party and bring your ukelele! So, I've been playing better and better gigs as Withered Hand since and have been lucky to recruit some fine friends on a regular basis to put flesh on some of my songs.

How big a role does the art aspect of your life to what you do, i.e. do you see yourself as an artist playing music or a musician who happens to be an artist? Or would you rather be both?

I've always had a hard job seeing myself as a musician, I mean I never write "musician'" on forms or anything. I always thought my voice was too high and that people would just laugh at me and also I don't read music, I just learned some chords and scales as a kid but if you have vision and you learn your own way of using your instrument or voice that's right for you, I think then that's the way. I have good people around me who can help if I need to know something but usually you just have to trust your ears.

Art plays an enormous role in what I do, and how I see things. In that sense, I was an an artist first. I think the distinction between artists and musicians is a little spurious though, surely music and words are just another medium for an artist to use. One thing I realised is that I was disenchanted with the limitations of the "artworld" and the bizarre systems of patronage that exist. For me, it's easier to get an audience for what I have to say using music these days, easier for people to get it, it's more immediate. Also, importantly, my circumstances (living in a small flat with my wife, our children and the cat) dictate that at this time my guitar is easier to use than a dedicated "artspace", it's my studio.

You've put out an EP ("Religious Songs"), judging by what you say on your Myspace site about how it was put together it seems to be very much your baby, how happy are you with the record? You mention it was produced by Neil Pennycook of Meursault, what did he bring to the recordings and how did he help in shaping the songs?

Well, it was my baby in that it cost nothing to make and they are my first purposefully recorded songs. Neil was a huge help though, it was knocked together, with Neil on banjo and accordion and help from Alun Thomas (of The Leg) and Hannah Shepherd playing cello. My feelings about the record are complex I guess. First, it was a rush job. It was prompted by being asked to play Homegame in Anstruther and having no recordings of any of those songs. I'm glad I finally pulled my finger out and recorded them and I think it stands up well but I probably don't consider these to be the "definitive" versions of those songs.

As for Neil's involvement, he did bring a certain sensibility ("Neil, that's too much reverb") to the recordings and also an awful lot of know-how! Mostly it was him and me in somebody's kitchen or lounge with his laptop trying to get a track down late at night while folk held their breath for three minutes. He has been a very positive influence on me and I suppose we have a lot of common ground musically which helps. I know we have a lot of respect for each other and I hope he carries on playing with me for shows etc. But he obviously has Meursault, who I expect to go on to greater things. Usually I wouldn't involve anybody else until a song is pretty much cooked as I'm too easily discouraged. I need to be sure that it's Withered Hand. It's like a merry go round, if I had my way all of my friends would be playing something on my songs. I'd like to work with Cammy again sometime. I can't do it by myself, I mean I record a few things at home so I don't forget them. Literally I know what it should sound like but I don't know what buttons to press to get there. It's a whole world of pain.

Following on from that, is it the plan to do more recordings with a view to doing an album? If so, would the people who have been involved before be involved again?

For the next recording I am hoping Dan Mutch (ex-Khaya, ex-Desc, The Leg) will have some hand in the recording. I have always been a fan of his work and I reinterpret one of his songs ("Joy") in my present set. Hopefully it'll give another window onto the songs and its looking promising because he kind of nodded when I asked him. Also, Jo Foster from the Fence Collective will be singing on one of the tracks, and boy she can really sing like a songbird - I'm so made up about that! So at the moment I am planning this other EP and then Kramer (ex-Galaxie 500, Butthole Surfers) is in line to work on mixing for a projected album but I'll need to get some money from some place or something.

For the next EP, yeah I am very happy working with the present live line-up but it's a pretty casual arrangement. It depends on the songs I decide on, I have other friends who can slot in at short notice and they bring a different feeling, for instance at Homegame Chris Bryant (also of Meursault) played a snare and an old bass drum because Alun was touring with Paul Vickers I think. I've also played a few gigs with me and just Hannah on cello. And more recently I played a gig in Stockholm on my own and that was fine too. The solo gigs are always more intense from my point of view. Ultimately I want it to be always possible to play the songs alone, they might not sound as pretty but that's how I write them.

As someone who lives in Edinburgh, do you feel there's a healthy scene developing for the more folky/anti-folk/folktronica (for want of better descriptions!) bands? The city certainly lags behind others when it comes to gigs being put on or venues for bands to play - how important is it for the likes of Tracer Trails or Bear Scotland or other DIY promoters to be putting things on and to show that there is life in this side of the country?

There is like an amazing nu-folkist(?) scene/community here but not too many people know about it. Maybe because the press have been super slow to notice, as usual. In Edinburgh, the lack of cool venues is sometimes a problem but then again Tracer Trails have shown you just get out and find your own venues! As you say there are a few promoters really helping things along in their own way, Trampoline and Bear Scotland both do good things but for me, Tracer Trails is a shining example in terms of DIY integrity. Disused church halls, theatres, art spaces, whatever. It's invariably a lot better than somewhere that's going to shaft you for drinks, put you on a bill where they don't give a shit about the music and then kick everyone out so they can put on a techno night at 11pm.

I can't stress it enough, that DIY spirit is everything. I dont think of music really as entertainment, its art. Unless you're happy with the status quo - then yeah do nothing, but I look around and think it could all be so much better. Thats why the scene is important, it's a support network. Fuck it, we all have day jobs anyway. I'm not in this for the girls anymore. Especially the broader ethos behind some of the music, we are all looking for this sense of community. And we aren't really happy with how things are. And we have a voice. And so we give our voices songs.

You played the Fence Records Homegame in March, how did that go for you? I saw a write-up in The Scotsman that compared you to Daniel Johnston - what did you make of that? A fair comparison or a bit outlandish? Generally, who are your main musical inspirations?

Homegame was really cool. For me, it was a real beautiful moment playing there with those people listening. Also a perfect audience really and I guess not many people there had heard of me before. It was something I'd be keen to do again. I also wish I had said more than "Hi, you were great!" to some of the other performers there, especially King Creosote and James Yorkston. I saw that article in The Scotsman. I was pleased in a way because Daniel Johnston is one of the great songwriters, for sure. I guess its my high whiny voice that did it. At last it's good for something!

Musical inspirations are hard to pin down. I could go on for hours. I used to own 13 AC/DC albums and i had an antifolk epiphany at a Jeff Lewis gig five years ago. Make of that what you will. Right now I'm listening to Neutral Milk Hotel.

You mention on your site that you're a fan of heavy rock music. Me too! Has "listening to death metal bands" for example always been part of who you are? Who are your favourite metal bands?

Hahaha! It is true. It was a part of who I was for all of my formative years, as the song says. I still have a fondness for metal. Of the stuff I used to listen to, I would still listen to Slayer for the weird Kerry King solos and I love Rick Rubin's production and early Sepultura has its moments and maybe that black Metallica album with the snake on it, the later one.

Finally, what are your general ambitions for Withered Hand? Do you hope to become a bit more better known outside Edinburgh?

I would like to keep writing and playing my songs, as long as people want to hear them that's a win/win situation. If I can keep drawing under that name as well, then that's good. I don't see why I can't become better known outside Edinburgh, especially with the internet and, more importantly, if I can record some more of these songs. I'll carry on doing stuff here with the great people that are here, we will be trying to do a monthly acoustic thing ourselves from September so we get to hang out and play new stuff to each other. Regardless of how well known anyone gets, It's so important. In a way its the most important thing. In betweent imes, I'll just keep on trying to find my voice and see what happens.

Withered Hand's debut EP "Religious Songs" is out now. You can pick it up by visiting:

Friday, July 04, 2008

Live Review - My Bloody Valentine / The Pastels

My Bloody Valentine / The Pastels
Barrowland, Glasgow
2 July 2008

Words: Chris Hynd

It’s funny to look back to last November when these gigs were announced, the flurry and the scrambling to get tickets, the anticipation for something over 7 months away. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait. And now they’re here. They’re actually here.

The early indications and reports from the first shows is that they’re good, that they’ve never been away really, they really do have it together but cynics, of course, suggest that they’re only in it for the cash, happy to trade on former glories knowing that people would turn up to Kevin Shields opening an envelope never mind standing on a stage and playing those songs once more. I was just happy to be there to see a band whose records I like and who I never thought I’d see live, to be in front of those 4 people and hearing those songs in that environment. Yeah, that’s OK by me.

A Stephen Pastel quote I’ve always loved is one from an old gig of theirs that a friend of mine trots out from time to time – "another hard-working night for The Pastels" so it is a delight to see them on a stage once more. Augmented by the likes of Norman Blake and Gerard Love of Teenage Fanclub and Tom Crossley of fellow Glasgow wooze merchants International Airport, SP, Katrina Mitchell and cohorts put together a lovely, mellifluous, flowing 45 minutes of music. The newer material played drifted along in a serene haze of woodwind and brass, SP nonchalantly strummed along and Love contributed some typically laid back lead guitar vibes. They closed with a stunning version of "The Viaduct", Mitchell delivered that killer line that always slays me – "we could go far, thanking our stars". The Pastels in microcosm? Maybe, maybe not, but they went far tonight and it’s a journey I know I want to be a part of.

And we wait as the clocks tick past the appointed 9.00pm stage time. "Ha! Typical Shields!", I think to myself, "always keeping us waiting". And they appear, launch into "I Only Said" and the room, already enveloped in warmth (who am I kidding? It was fucking hot!) thanks the tightly packed crowd, reverberates to Shields' and Butcher’s huge, swirling, swathes of guitars (at the previously advertised massive volume). People nod, people sway, people already seemed entranced. The cynics would circle and say that people would do that anyway, but it was an impressive feat.

I realised quickly that the volume was being used as another instrument so out came the ear plugs and everything was so crisp and so clear, Shields' vocals were low in the mix, as were Butcher's but that was OK. Debbie Googe and Colm O'Ciosoig were stars though, Googe rocking out like a motherfucker and O'Ciosoig a whirl behind the kit, as evidenced on a rollicking and huge "Feed Me With Your Kiss". It was the second half of the set, in particular the closing 4 song burst of "Soon", the aforementioned "Feed Me...", "Sueisfine" and "You Made Me Realise" where the band became one, displaying an almost telepathic sense of each other's role and part of the sonic assault, whether it was the blissful groove of "Soon" or the white noise, "holocaust" section of "You Made Me Realise" (akin to standing next to a jet plane taking off and feeling the force of the different frequencies emanating from the stage. It was an extraordinary sensation - my hearing's fine now, thanks for asking!)

The tell tale sign of having watched something so good is the filing out of a crowd shaking their collective head at the sheer brilliance of what they've just seen and that certainly was in evidence this evening. 10 gigs into their reunion (or is it more of a "reconvening"?) has probably seen Shields et al tighten up their sound and playing to a degree that you wouldn't know that it's been such a long time between drinks. Where to now? I guess that depends on Shields and his propensity for faffing around in search of perfection but perhaps this series of gigs will lead to more activity and the realisation that 20 years on from "Isn't Anything" and 17 from "Loveless", My Bloody Valentine are still as relevant and vital part of the musical landscape.

<br />y Bloody Valentine / The Pastels My Bloody Valentine / The Pastels

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Archive Interview #3 - The Sky At Night

This interview dates back to June 2005 and was the culmination of email correspondence between myself and Glasgow band The Sky At Night.

Hailing from Glasgow, The Sky At Night create lovely, woozy, dreamy, elegaic sounds, reminiscent of the likes of Galaxie 500, early Spiritualized and Sigur Ros. Determined to do things for themselves and on their terms, their self-made and produced, self-released "Hope For Dummies" LP is a gorgeous slice of melancholia and a shining example of how a DIY ethic can bear fruit if it's properly thought out and followed through. Answering the questions, put by myself and John Mackie via email, was vocalist/piano player David Thomson.

The LP was self-made and self-released. What made you decide to go down that route? Was it a concious decision to make it a nice package (as it were!), to take a bit more care with it and give the people who bought it something a bit more special?

DT - I think we wanted to make something quite personal that we`d been intimately involved with at every stage, from pressing play and record to handmaking the packaging, putting the Velcro on the sleeve and sticking the CD in. It wasn`t really in our minds to try and sell them or anything, it was more just for the satisfaction of creating the whole thing ourselves.

It honestly doesn’t show but I would guess the LP was recorded on a fairly tight budget. There are some really nice lush sounds on there. Were you able to take a bit of time and experiment or did you do most of the tracks live in the studio? Also how important to you is “the recording process” in general?

DT - I think the budget consisted of a couple of bottles of wine and a curry. Myself, Andrew and Moira spent a weekend huddled around a 16-track in Andrew's front room and recorded most of it, then added bits and bobs later. There are a lot of flaws on there, things we could have re-recorded ad nauseum but we did want to keep things as much as we`d played it originally rather than iron out the imperfections. I think that helped retain a certain sound to the record which I quite like. That, and shitloads of reverb, of course.

Are you going to continue to put your own records out, or will any future releases appear on a label somewhere? Obviously, putting your own records out gives you more freedom to do your own thing, but what do you see the advantages and disadvantages are of doing so?

DT - It`s looking like we might be getting some help with the record from a small label in the next few months (there are only so many cardboard sleeves we can make!) - although as nothing's certain we can`t really comment at the minute. However, having done things entirely ourselves it`s certainly proved that things can be done on a certain scale without a label, I don`t see us as being one of those bands who pin all their hopes and dreams on winning The Deal, as so many new bands still do.

Following on, listening to the LP and seeing you live, I think the music you play lends itself well to the addition of the extra instrumentation (pedal steel, trombone etc), was it always your intention to not be as rigid in your sound and be able to bring more things into the mix?

DT - At the moment we`re kind of building a "squad" to play the songs - everyone who`s joined in has added something, and, we`re always open to adding different sounds, we`re not afraid to experiment. I quite like the Lambchop approach, where they seem to have a big group of players to add to the songs and who basically seem to turn up when they can make it - nothing too formal, just a bunch of friends making nice-sounding music. We try to avoid having a set idea of how things should sound, which keeps it interesting for us, and, hopefully, for people who watch us.

I see you’re not of the opinion that “home taping is killing music” and that you’re pretty relaxed about people sharing your music (e.g. if I were to convert the tracks from your LP into MP3 files and send them to a friend on MSN Messenger). Have the likes of file sharing and general word-of-mouth about your LP helped you get it heard a lot more than it might have been? (a consequence being that people will want to buy it anyway so they can own it)

I think file sharing really ups the ante for bands. The bands that don`t put in the effort are the ones with something to fear - those who churn out albums or who tack some lame album tracks onto a hit single will be found out and will lose out. By converse, those who put in a lot of work, both in creating music and in everything else that goes with it - it's more important to give something that can`t be downloaded, be it a look or a feel, just something extra.

Basically, for bands who want to make money, file-sharing is a Bad Thing, but for bands who want their music to be heard it is a Good Thing, and I`m pretty certain we're the latter.

You have to be applauded for sticking to your guns through the booming heavy metal coming from upstairs when you played with Damon and Naomi. It provided a unique challenge which you rose to very well. How easy or otherwise do you find it, as a “quiet band”, to play when there is a lot of background noise going on either through crowd chatter or metal?

DT - Ach, I`m normally in such a blind panic onstage that I don`t notice anything! I think I find chatter more irritating as an audience member than as a band member, but I`d say we`d been pretty lucky, we generally have played to pretty polite audiences, but you have to understand at this level not everyone is necessarily there to see you, there's nothing worse than a band in a strop.

The incident at Barfly where you were put on against heavy metal from upstairs made me think about the quality of venues which exist in Glasgow and Edinburgh Do you feel there are enough decent places to play, particularly for new-ish bands? Also, situations can arise which make it hard for some bands to get a shot at playing decent gigs such as where promoters put on the same band in every support slot going! How easy do you find it to get gigs, either support slots or on your own? Have you ever put on your own shows?

Again, it comes back to effort. We've never had a problem playing a gig when we want to play a gig, either through promoters or venues or by organising our own shows, but as a wee band you can`t just wait for things to happen, because they never will. So, for example, we wanted to play a Christmas gig, so we roped in some pals (Lucky Luke, Evan J Crichton and The Savings and Loan), hired out Stereo, put up some lights and handed out a wee CD in a Christmas card, and it made for a really nice night, and it really wasn`t that much work- just a wee bit of get up and go. All you need to do is switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead...

As mentioned above, you recently played with D&N. Who would be on your dream list of bands to play or even tour with? These could be bands from the worlds of both reality and fantasy!

DT - Cripes…off the top of my head:

To play with: Red House Painters.

To tour with: Pavement.

My dad played drums with a band of young hopefuls in the 60s, so my fantasy line-up would be with them, to see who's band was best (I`m quietly confident)

Lastly, I’m guessing Patrick Moore hasn’t been in touch about the name! I take it his right-wing maniac political views may bar him from having the opportunity to add some virtuoso xylophone sounds to any future recordings?!

DT - We were, of course, unaware of Mr Moore`s political orientation when we named the band, although, in fairness, in terms of crinkly-foreheaded-TV-bigots he still ranks some way behind Kilroy and Big Ron, so that's at least something.

Archive Interview #2 - Superchunk

Who says you should never meet your heroes? This interview was originally published in 2004 and dates back to October 2001 when Superchunk, for the first time in a long while, came to Scotland as part of their tour for their “Here’s To Shutting Up” LP and yes, I was very excited.

Myself and John Mackie caught up with Mac McCaughan and the flitting in and out Laura Ballance at Glasgow’s King Tut's Wah Wah Hut.

I kicked off by asking about the long gap between visits.

MM: "I guess the main reason is the massive indifference in the crowds over here. Whenever we’ve come to do a tour in the last few years we’ve only done London and whenever we’ve tried to go beyond that it’s been a miserable night. The last time we tried to do Nottingham it was freezing cold and there was only 30 people in. It was one of those gigs where you’re playing but you’re thinking “what are we doing here?” It’s so expensive to come over here – the longer you make a tour, the more money you have to use so you want to maximise your time somewhere and for us that’s meant generally going somewhere where people want to see us. Our shows in London are always pretty good so we think maybe we should try to go outside of there, but it’s just never that good. This time it didn’t make sense to do a whole bunch of stuff in Europe and our booking agent wasn’t having the best of luck trying to do that anyway so we didn’t want to just do another tour of Spain so we’re trying to more UK stuff and we’re playing Ireland where we’ve never played as well."

It’s hard to say how many people will turn up tonight – I imagine it will be quite busy, I hope it would be at least.

MM: "As you say, it’s hard to know. Where we’re coming from we have no way to gauge. The record has just come out and it’s been a long time since we’ve been here which could mean people will be excited or it could mean people don’t care any more!"

I hope it’s the former. Moving onto the new record. How happy are you with it?

MM: "I’m really happy with it, I like it a lot. This record, even more than the last record, is a situation where we managed to do something a little different. If you were a fan of the band as opposed to a casual listener I think you would notice that it’s different. It wasn’t the most fun record to make, but I’m happy with it."

What was it like working with Brian Paulson (producer of 1994’s “Foolish”) again?

MM: "It was good. He’s good at taking a mess, which I think is what we had when we finished recording, and turning it into something that’s listenable."

An unfair question maybe, but how do you think he compares to Jim O’Rourke who produced your last record? ("Come Pick Me Up")

MM: "They’re both really fun to work with in that they’re both good at doing that same thing of being able to find a good space to put everything in a mix. They both have good ears basically, but in terms of working styles, I don’t know…"

LB: "I think that Jim almost seems a little more organised, which doesn’t seem like he would but he seemed to know where things were more than Brian. You know what I mean?"

MM: "Maybe. I don’t know, Brian’s a lot more willing to keep piling stuff on, Jim was into that to a certain extent, but Brian has his computer hooked up to his 24 track, he was like "oh we can keep putting stuff on here" which is kind of a scary proposition as there’s too much space to work with."

I’m not sure if this is the right word, but how much trust would you give to a producer if they are getting you to try things out?

MM: "I think it’s more like us saying what we want to do and then making it happen and when you get to the point where you just get stuck those are the guys you can ask “what do you think we should do with this?"

There’s a song on the new album called "Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama)". For those not in the know, i.e. me, who is Yayoi Kusama, and why for her?

MM: "She is a Japanese conceptual artist, mostly active in the 60s and 70s, she’s still alive though. If you go on the internet, there’s some pretty good stuff you can read about her. She was good at presenting conflicts and the dichotomy of what you’re doing with your life – you’re serious about your art, but you’re also selling it so she’s an interesting character."

When you were over in Japan, were they interested in that over there?

MM: "A couple of people were. One writer brought me a postcard of an exhibit that she had been to in Tokyo, but she’s fairly underground there as well. She’s famous enough to have had exhibits and the Museum of Modern Art and stuff, but as for general public knowledge, I don’t think she’s that well known over there."

Earlier you touched on the fact that your profile in the UK is quite low, people have almost tended to write you off as The List (Edinburgh & Glasgow listings magazine) did by calling you "first wave grungers" or perceiving you as underachievers. That annoys me, I’m sure it would annoy you.

MM: "Yeah. When someone writes that it’s just so clear that they don’t listen to music. Saying "first wave grungers" and the fact that people would still use the word "grunge" to describe anything shows that they don’t give a shit. A writer like that is just taking the easiest way out when they don’t really want to listen to something or think about it or write about it. In terms of being underachievers, well in their mind who are the overachievers? If you do this for a job, for your life and you tour x amount of months of the year and you make records and do other stuff, what’s underachieving about that? If their conception is that we’ll make a record and sit around at home for a couple of years then they just have no idea what they’re talking about. For us, it doesn’t make any sense to pay attention to people like that. That’s one of the reasons we don’t come over here as much, people don’t seem to care about music, they care about fashion or some movement they can invent."

That’s the problem with the UK press at the moment – they’ve latched onto the bands from New York for example and everything else seems to be ignored. What more can you do?

MM: "It’s just stupid. Obviously there’s music fans here, but not enough to change the way the music industry works and not enough to make it worthwhile for us to come over. If there was a grant you could get for only being able to draw 10 people then we could come do a tour! It’s so expensive."

Speaking as an outsider it seems in the US and the way people write about bands there’s none of those cliques and intolerance of things that are different.

MM: "I think there’s a lot more respect afforded to bands. There’s still terrible writing everywhere though."

Indeed. I’d like to ask about Merge Records – how’s that doing at the moment?

MM: "Going good, things are busy as usual. Pretty much everything is out for the year – we did a record with The Clean that Matador did over here. There’s a Lambchop record that didn’t come out over here, a compilation of singles, remixes and b-sides. Right now we’re getting ready for next year – the David Kilgour record, we’re going to do a record with Imperial Teen, another Spoon record…"

LB: "And The Clientele."

MM: "Yeah, The Clientele, a band from London. We did their first record, a compilation of singles, that’s on Pointy over here. It’s doing well over there, they get great press and they came over and did a short tour and they’re doing really well."

You’ve probably been asked this before, but I’m interested in it. What’s the deal with Matador and Merge over here? Why aren’t your records coming out on Merge over here?

MM: "Just because we don’t have an office over here. Basically, all our records that we can license to overseas companies we try to because they do a better job if you’re a label who has an office. You can do a better job with a record in the UK if you have an office in the UK, being able to call the press and get distributors. For us to have it on Merge over here would mean just having it on import whereas Matador and previously City Slang can actually have someone working on it in the territory."

And with that we parted – if I remember rightly, we went to the 13th Note for veggie burgers and I imagine the band would have had what Jon Wurster calls "promoter pasta" for their dinner. It was wonderful to finally see them live later on that night, they were fantastic – some band called Idlewild were supporting so there was a bit of a crowd there. Thanks to Mac and Laura for taking the time out to chat – it was a pleasure and I hope it won’t be the same length of time between visits.

Archive Interview #1 - Owen Tromans

Originally published in 2004, this interview dates back to 2001. It took place around the time of Owen's first, self-released, album after the split of his previous band San Lorenzo (a much missed trio, reminiscent of Yo La Tengo, Eleventh Dream Day, Karate).

What were your immediate feelings after the San Lorenzo split? Was it something that always seemed likely to happen? Was it difficult to go from a band to a solo mindset?

OT: It was my decision to bring the band to an end. That doesn't mean that it was an easy decision to make though. I felt that we had reached a point where we had to either really push on and try to "make it", or call it a day and move on to something new. I couldn't have gone for it with San Lorenzo because my heart wasn't in it by the end. There would have been no point in us carrying on with me dragging my feet because that would have wasted everyone's time.

We were always going to split one day I guess and we made the decision never to replace members or anything because SL was about the particular interaction between us. To put it in context, even before SL started in '97 I had been in a band with Nick and Liz for years. I mean Nick had been playing drums with me since he was 14! It was time for me to do new things with new people, which may seem an odd thing to say when we had just played some of our best gigs and recorded some of our best tracks but its just the way I felt.

When I found out that Alan from Bearos Records wanted to release a CD compilation of all our singles and some unreleased stuff, it gave things a sense of closure and reinforced my feeling that I had done the right thing. That record will be out in the Autumn and will be called "The Sea is a Map". It has 6 unreleased tracks on it and 7 songs from our single releases. The only apprehension I had about the split was that I thought the stuff that we had recorded this year wasn't going to be available for people to hear. Now that those songs are going to be out there on an album I feel a lot better, they are great songs and great performances that were recorded very well. One of those songs, a track called "Mirror Witch", is the first song of ours that I haven't been able to find a fault with. Normally I pick SL recordings to pieces but it was very difficult to do that with the final stuff on "The Sea is a Map".

I got good at switching between solo and band mindsets over the years, getting a feel for which songs would sound better within which context. Although I did feel strange after the split it was also very liberating. Now the band is finished the "side project" feel of my solo stuff has gone and I can focus on it properly for awhile. I would also like to get a band together soon, in fact there is a whole load of different things I'd like to try with music.

The LP - first of all, how happy are you with it? Was it always in your mind to record a solo LP, even if San Lorenzo had continued? Were you always in two modes of writing songs, I can't put it any better than "Owen" songs and "San Lorenzo" songs. Was it difficult to combine the two?

OT: I am very happy with the solo LP, I can listen to it all the way through without picking out faults and getting stressed, which is rare for me! The album was finished while San Lorenzo was still going and the two were completely separate so yeah, it was always going to happen. Like I say, I often had two different mindsets when writing songs but sometimes it would be unclear whether the track should be for San Lorenzo or my own projects until it was written and demoed. "Firefly" from the new SL album is a good example. It sounds like a solo track but lyrically it really complemented another song on the album, "Ocean", so I thought it should be included.

I always ask people who have stark, acoustic songs with more personal lyrics on albums this as it interests me, so bear with me! Do you find it hard to do such songs knowing strangers are going to be listening?

OT: No, that doesn't concern me. I mean the records are supposed to be listened to. There have been some really personal songs that I have recorded but decided not to put out because they are just for me. Equally some of my songs are very distant and not personal at all, some are stories or interpretations of things that are quite removed from my life. The songs that are personal are usually either about my beliefs or stuff that has happened to me. It's not always completely obvious but every song is about something or represents something, even if it's just a feeling or a memory.

What I like about the album is that it's not just you and your acoustic guitar - I take it you wanted to make the album as varied as possible? Are you the type of person who wants to try other things and not be content with one particular style?

OT: I did want the album to be varied, but it was a very natural process; I wasn't struggling to make each song different from the last with the seven tracks that were recorded specifically for "Box of Tapes" during 2000. Also the fact that the other half of the record was selected from masses of recordings dating back to the start of 1997, couldn't help but add to the variety. I suppose the way you write and play changes over time, it doesn't necessarily get better or worse, it just changes as you change.
I do like trying different stuff with music. Nothing New Ever Works was supposed to be this all-encompassing album of music that I loved. That was way over-ambitious and we didn't have the time, cash, or know-how to get exactly what we wanted, so the album turned out differently but still good and definitely varied.

The album didn't come out on Gringo - any particular reason for that, or just that it's your baby and you wanted to see the whole thing through yourself? Go on, dish the dirt - what's it really like being involved with the Gringo "empire". I won't tell anyone, promise!

OT: There definitely was a feeling that the record was my thing and it was just logical that I should put it out after doing nearly everything else. If it was to come out on another label it wouldn't have been Gringo because they have lots of other cool stuff coming out and that is keeping them very busy. Also Gringo are very keen on people supporting their records with live stuff, it's part of the whole feel of the label that the bands go out and represent their release with live shows. I am doing a few solo gigs but I want to wait until I have a band before I commit to lots of shows.

Gringo are a great label and although I don't have any formal involvement with what they do I'm always going to be interested because some of my best friends are there.

End with ye olde favourite of your hopes and plans for the future. Are you continuing in a solo stylee, or can you see yourself being involved in a band again?

OT: I guess I am going to have to focus on my Uni work for a little while because I have a dissertation deadline looming! As for music I should be going "into the studio" soon to put down a couple of tracks for a solo seven-inch. I'd like to get a band together and do a ROCK album at some point but I'm in no rush so there will probably be another solo LP before that. But I guess nothing is ever definite with me! In the immediate future look out for San Lorenzo's "The Sea is a Map" on Bearos Records.


Hello. You may remember me from various attempts to do something like this that ended up in ignominious failure. Such as it is with me and these sort of things! So why now and why again? I'll reproduce something I've posted elsewhere -

I used to do a zine about 300 years ago and I've made attempts to get something up and running again online but have run out of steam and/or inspiration. As someone not of an indiepop bent but who frequents a forum with such a leaning, I do however take inspiration from the number of people in the scene (for want of a better word) who are just out there doing stuff, whether it's putting on bands, club nights, writing their own zine or blog and I think that's enough to shame me into getting my finger out and doing something again. I think where I ran out of steam before was that I was doing everything myself and just running out of things to write about. Perhaps if there were more people on board and it was more collaborative then it might succeed.

I have a couple of Blogger accounts and have resurrected one of those (as well as an email address used for a previous attempt) but if I did get something going would anyone be interested in contributing to it? I guess in the main I'd be looking for reviews (record and gig) but general thought and opinion pieces would be sought too - I'm a relatively benign editor so submissions of all shapes and sizes will be welcomed. If you know of a band who you might like to interview then by all means suggest that too - I don't have press contacts like I did back in the day but the smaller bands out there can certainly be contacted via email and the like.

So yeah, that's what I'm thinking about. Like I was in the middle of the night when I couldn't get to sleep earlier. If you're reading this and would like to contribute then get in touch -

pszine at gmail dot com.

It's not quite a mission statement, but it's a wee explanation of why I'm doing this. Hopefully you'll read it and want to contribute. For those who have stumbled across this for the first time, I'm Chris, I live in Edinburgh, the zine referred to above was on the go for a few years in the mid to late 90s and you'll pick up the kind of things I'm into as we go along. In the next wee while, I'll put up some interviews from various archives as a starting point then we'll take it from there! The look and the layout is unimportant to me, it's the words on the page that matter and that'll never change. Hopefully those words on the page will make some kind of sense!

If you've got this far then thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.