Michael McKeegan (Therapy?) talks to T2T ahead of their Winter Tour
In a world where there are too many artists who are over hyped and yet distinctly average… I could list them but I will save my bile for another day, it is always a shame when those bands that truly deserve the accolades seem to be criminally under appreciated. In my opinion Therapy? are one of those bands who have constantly delivered over the years but fail to get the recognition they are due.
From the humble beginnings of the raw power of Baby Teeth and Pleasure Death, through to the seminal Troublegum album, the commercial peak of Infernal Love and Semi-Detached and then their last ten years seemingly more ‘under the radar’, Therapy? have produced a sound unique to themselves and a back catalogue of songs few artists can match.
Their latest album ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ is no exception, critically acclaimed and showing they can indeed still Rock like the proverbial Monkeys. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Michael McKeegan, bassist and founder member only hours before the band were heading off to Germany to begin their Winter Tour. Relaxed and happy to take time to talk and despite my immediate slip into ‘geek’ mode by regaling him with tales of Therapy? items I have in my personal collection we crack on…
So on the eve of their extensive European tour, culminating with a run of 13 UK dates, I wanted to know how touring differed to the old days.
“It was probably a bit more chaotic back in the day” Michael chuckles as he reminisces “Technology is a wonderful thing, mobile phones, Skype, most of the venues have Wi-Fi so you can keep in touch. I remember going on an American tour and no one had a mobile phone, we didn’t even have an itinerary we just had a couple of phone numbers for the guys”.
We laugh at how things have changed over the years before Mike concludes “I am going to sound like an old fart but we were going to payphones with rolls of quarters to make long distance phone calls home and in those days you would spend a lot of time in one way systems as you had no sat navs!”.
So what of ‘The Chaos’ these days I wonder… “At the end of the day the core element of the tour is playing the concerts, it’s not a jolly or a holiday” he stresses “we really enjoy what we are doing but we are really focused on making the shows really good, it is very professional in that aspect. Of course we will have a bit of fun; we have a lot of friends out there we will catch up with”.
As a band who have never been adverse to hitting the road and playing shows I had to ask whether the guys had any pre-gig rituals they went through or any superstitions they had picked up over the years.
“No voodoo or any weird ritual like that” he jokes before admitting “We don’t really like anyone in the dressing room an hour before the gig. We have guitars we warm up with and get into the zone. We are not one of those bands that just walk on stage; we kinda have to build up to it and getting in the right frame of mind for what we are doing that night. You just need to get your head in that space, it is 90 minutes so it is quite physically demanding, there are a lot of songs and just the three of us so we all have a big role to play”. He adds “we have had people in the dressing room five minutes before we go on but then you are a bit ‘Oh my God, what’s going on’ and it throws you off a bit so we do just have to say to people.. GET OUT!”.
With ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ marking their 13th studio album release, not to mention numerous EPs and Mini Albums, all of which contain essential Therapy? tunes, the idea of picking a set list for the shows seems like a daunting one. With such an extensive and well-loved back catalogue just how does the band choose the tracks for their shows?
“We’ll probably play 7 or 8 of the new songs and then we’ll probably pick older songs that work with them, for example today we were working on 3 or 4 songs that are in the same tuning as the newer songs. We play them as a block so we don’t have to play a song and change the guitar… play the song… change the guitar… things like that to make the show flow a bit” pausing to think Michael adds “There are a few things we have rehearsed that I don’t think we have ever played with Neil (Cooper – drummer) so hopefully a bit of a break for people who have seen us a few times over the last 10 or 15 years there should be things we haven’t played in a while… the trickiest one is festivals where people are like right, you’ve got 40 minutes… “ he laughs again.
This leads us on nicely to the debate about playing ‘The Hits’, there have been a few bands over the years who have tried to distance themselves from some of their biggest tracks *COUGH* Radiohead *COUGH* and don’t want to play them live. With the likes of Stories, Church Of Noise and of course, Screamager up their sleeves did they ever want to shy away from any of these classics. Michael assures me simply “They are really great songs so it is a pleasure to play them” explaining further he adds “We are lucky we have those kind of songs, things like Turn that was a hit in the UK or Diane that was a big single across Europe , you have those kinda of Top 40 hits as you’d call them as well as things like Potato Junkie, Crooked Timber or Living In The Shadow (Of A Terrible Thing) from the new album that people really respond to. It is a really nice position to be in” he says earnestly, before concluding “You need to be pretty miserable as a musician not to be pleased with that”.
Wanting to look at it from both sides he concedes “I can understand why some people who have maybe done something, how can I put it, unnatural and are then kind of bound by it, you know, a song they were perhaps not a 100% into at the time… I can see how that would be really annoying”.
This got me thinking though, if any track is potentially on the table, were there any tunes that Michael wanted to play but the rest of the band had vetoed… “Not really, we are usually on the same page for what fits together” he ponders this for a second before slyly adding “I’ve been in the band from the start and we’ve pretty much played every song”.
I’ll be honest, as a huge fan of Therapy? it is taking a supreme amount of effort to try and keep on topic, there are so many questions running through my head and time is running out. As always though my attentions turn to the digital revolution and the slow demise of the traditional formats and so we move on to talk about the medium of ‘the album’.
Therapy? have always taken pride in their albums and the way they are put together but I was curious as to whether this approach was changing in the face of the ever evolving industry.
“I think it has always been an album” Michael assures me “with a beginning and a definite structure to it and the (tracks) running a certain way. I know it may sound ridiculous but if you listen to the records we really take the tempo and the key of the songs into consideration. We will always try and structure it as a live set”. Thinking for a moment he expands further “You can’t come on and play all your faster songs first, or all your slow songs first, you need a sense of dynamics and we normally like it to be as a good live concert would be, to keep and audience captivated”.
“We have been quite off the mark with what we initially thought might be singles” he confesses “Everything is treated with the same amount of care on the record, it is never ‘well that is obviously the single’ and then spend the time on that and bash out the other 9 or 10 songs. It has never been like that, the focus is always on everything”.
“To be honest, with the way we work you never really know until it is all mixed, that is one of the exciting things about making a record for me personally and the other guys. The runt of the litter can sometimes become the most amazing thing once everyone has done their bit on it”. I am intrigued to know which songs they had initially thought of as singles in the past and how history could have been different if they had, had their way…
Pondering this Michael reveals “off the top of my head, when we did Troublegum we as the band thought Unbeliever was the first single and the Record Company said ‘You’re Insane, it’s Nowhere!’” to which he concedes “and it was a Top 20 hit”. Adding to this is he goes on to say “With Semi-Detached I think we wanted Straight Life as the first single and the label said ‘You know what Church Of Noise should be the first song on the album, great riff, boom boom boom’ and it went over a lot better than the Straight Life would have in retrospect”.
Michael is quite prepared to admit that on these occasions the powers that be were right and reasons “But you know what it is, if you are working on a project and quite close to it you take it really personally, well we do, so sometimes you need someone else to say look, this is really good and you’re missing a trick here and I think we have learnt to take it on board”.
It is clear from talking to Michael that he is still dedicated to the band and committed to putting on the best live shows and producing the best albums possible. Having been a fan since 1993 and followed the band ever since I can honestly say that Therapy? continue to release exciting records, ‘Crooked Timber’ and ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ are up there with ‘Nurse’ and ‘Troublegum’ as far as I am concerned but I wanted to know what Michael’s favourite album was. Obviously the ‘correct’ answer on the day before they embark on a tour to promote the latest album, is the latest album, but I figure we take that as a given, so I press for an answer.
“One of my favourites is definitely Babyteeth just because it was the first record and I think if we had never done anything after that we would just have been really pleased with it and how it sounded” and as he wisely points out “without it there would have been no Troublegum or Semi-Detached”.
“I know it is the party line and a bit of a cliché but I am really into ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ because we have been playing the songs so much” this is however more than just the usual ‘this is the best thing we have ever done’ speech as he justifies this statement by explaining further “ We spent a lot of time on them and it was kind of old skool the way we did it, rehearsing it and recording it, so there is not a lot on there that we didn’t know how it would work (live)”.
So is does this mean the best Therapy? album has been recorded? “I always say that the next record has got to be my favourite or why else would you bother making another one? I think that forward motion is really important for a band, especially one that has been around as long as us. You need to find new sounds and a new spin on what you do, it keeps the energy going, rather than becoming a tribute to yourself and rehashing it with less and less energy every time” thoughtfully he sums it up “It is a good challenge”.
With this time is up… well I have enough time to get Michael’s personal Top 5 ‘Introduction to Therapy?’ tracks, hand-picked tunes from across the bands extensive back catalogue. If you want to know what his choices were then you will just have to tune into my radio show ‘The Lock In‘ on Voice FM to find out (available on Listen Again – 18.10.12 Part Two).
A Brief Crack Of Light is out now and you can watch the video to the first single ‘Living In The Shadow Of A Terrible Thing’ below. To find a full list of all the upcoming Therapy? shows along with all the latest news, visit the official website HERE.
Nik Kershaw discusses his career to date and album ‘EI8HT’ with TAPEtoTAPE
Fame is certainly a fickle mistress, many have fallen for her charms only to be used, abused and spat out the other side. Those stars of the 80s often suffer the most, a golden period for the pop star but with the highs, there come the crashing lows. Nik Kershaw can appreciate both sides of the coin, having enjoyed massive success in the mid 80s with two Top Ten albums, a string of hit singles not to mention a performance at Live Aid, he rightfully earnt his place on the cover of Smash Hits and adorning thousands of bedroom walls around the country (including my good wife).
However, two albums in one year is a tall order for anyone and upon his return in 1986, nearly two years later, the landscape was changing and things would not be the same again. Far from the end of the story though, throughout the 90s and beyond Nik Kershaw has been penning tunes for any number of top artists and there is a good chance that you have (maybe unwittingly) been singing along to a Kershaw tune more than once over the past couple of decades.
The turn of the millennium saw Nik tentatively returning to the spotlight with his first new album for a decade, since then he has released two more studio albums along with a stripped down acoustic collection. 2012 will see the release of his eighth studio album entitled EI8HT and is a bolder move back into the public eye. Nik kindly agreed to have a chat with me about his career to date, the new album and among other things revealed even pop stars embellish their CVs just a tad…
With the release of his first single (I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me) in 1983, two albums in 1984 numerous tours and then Live Aid in 1985, with such a workload in a short period of time did you even have time to fully appreciate the stardom?
Chuckling slightly Nik replies ‘You just kinda clung on for dear life really and rode the train until it crashed! It was crazy, it was bonkers, whose idea it was to have two albums in nine months is beyond me but I was kind of stupid enough to go along with it’. This point is worth highlighting and indeed formed part of my next question. It has always seemed a strange decision to rush out two albums in just one year, especially in a decade where the single was an important part of the process, surely this had to have a negative impact on the longevity of his career…
Nik explains ‘I think the first album (Human Racing) was released in March 84 and the second album was released in Nov so I was promoting one album and making the other at the same time so it did really’. ‘I was completely exhausted and had run out of ideas by that point’ he says candidly. ‘But I can never look back and say that was responsible for damaging or even making it. It is impossible to look back and analyse why it was a success in the first place, there were so many different factors, not least being the right face at the right time’ there is no trace of bitterness in his voice, just an honest assessment of this time. ‘The career went how it went; I have no regrets about it. You can look back and think you could have done it differently but it could have been a worse result, you just don’t know. I couldn’t say it damaged it but it was certainly responsible for the big gap before the 3rd album’ he concludes.
Nik Kershaw was among the lucky few who got to perform at Live Aid in 1985, having watched some of the show on TV as a kid It has always fascinated me so I asked Nik what his memories of this day were. ‘That day kind of summed up the whole period of my career in one respect’ he recalls ‘My one regret is that I didn’t really have the time to stop and enjoy it. I didn’t ever seem to have time to stand there and think this is great and soak it up. That day was a microcosm of that, just panic and pandemonium start to finish! Fortunately I was on quite early, about 2.30 so I could relax for the rest of the time’. Nik pauses for a moment before adding ‘I just remember the blind terror, walking out and not knowing if A) your equipment was on the stage, and B) whether any of it was working’ he says chuckling at the memory.
Still, the benefit of being on early must have been that at least things were running more or less on time at that point, at least you got your full slot. ‘I had four songs, twenty minutes’ he agrees ‘I actually had reason to do something about Live Aid a few weeks ago and you’re right, the amount of songs people played got less and less… So I was lucky I got all my four songs in’.
Having had a similar conversation with fellow Live Aid veteran Howard Jones earlier in the year I remind Nik that he only did one!
‘That is the difference between him and me though as I remember talking to him on the day and I was going “God this is terrifying!” but he was just loving it and savouring the moment while he was on for his one song, just wishing it would go on and on whilst I was thinking “God I’m glad that is over!”.
Drawing a line under the 80s nostalgia for a bit, we move on to discuss Nik’s song writing career. With the gradual decline in record sales towards the end of the decade Nik concentrated on penning tunes for others. The most memorable for me is the track ‘The One And Only’ that took Chesney Hawkes to the top of the charts, but did he wish that perhaps he had kept this track for himself to relaunch his career into the 90s?
‘No not at all, I’d already made the decision to stop performing after the 4th album because it wasn’t well received and the record company decided to let me go’ he says matter of factly ‘I was not in the mind set of being an artist at all, I was trying to get out of that. So it (The One And Only) was almost the first one out of the box and I didn’t think anymore about it and stuck it on a shelf for about a year and forgot about it until Chesney’s dad walked into the Warner/Chappel offices and said have you got anything, that was played to him and he said he’d have it’. The rest of course is history and the track made Chesney a star overnight, were there no regrets?
‘Even when it came out and it was a success I just thought this is brilliant, Chesney is up there doing all the work and I’m sitting here watching my song go up the charts, this is fantastic!’, you can hear Nik’s beaning smile when he says this ‘To be honest when I wrote the song I thought it was something I might have written at the beginning of the 80s, it was a bit of a throwback, even if I had of been recording at the time it probably wouldn’t have ended up on the album, I would have thought it was a bit dated to be honest’.
This leads nicely into my next question as I wondered at what point when writing a new song did Nik know if it would be for him or for another artist, was it a different approach to writing for these different hats? ‘I usually know as soon as the idea comes into my head where it is going or who it is for’ stopping abruptly he reconsiders ‘well that is not true, sometimes I’ll have ideas in my head but they are kind of vague. Someone will come over to co-write or they have a project coming up so they will start playing something and then I’ll think I have something that fits and it just kind of comes together like that. There are always certain ideas that come along and I think that is not a coverable song, no one is going to want to do that but me!’ he laughs again. So it is dependent on how personal a song is as to whether it is kept or given away it seems; ‘Yeah, there is a difference between writing songs for yourself or other people, I’ve spoken to other people and they don’t have a difference but there is for me’.
‘As an example, when I started writing songs for other people at the end of the 80s/beginning of the 90s my first efforts were greeted by my publisher with the words “Yeah, they are good but they are a bit Nik Kershaw” there was something I was doing that I wasn’t aware of that was a bit restrictive on who would want to record these things’ explaining further he continues ‘They were either lyrically specific or had some quirkiness to them. So I had to relearn to write songs, relearn the craft to write songs for other people. It is quite a different process, especially lyrically; you have to be more generic if you are not writing for a specific person’.
‘If I am writing with someone I kind of encourage them to lead the lyric (writing) so it is about their life, so they take ownership of it. Just writing a generic lyric I find incredibly difficult as I have no point of reference. It is easier to write about what you know and your life’.
As well as the mighty Chesney Hawkes, Nik has written for a number of pop acts over the last twenty years, one name however stands out. This is if your name is Jodie and you happen to be infatuated with Gary Barlow. I therefore have to ask about their collaboration and what actually came out of their writing session.
‘This is a case of padding your CV’ Nik admits sheepishly ‘everyone does it… over playing your part a little bit’ he confides.
‘I got a call from Gary in the mid-90s… what shall we call it politely… he had just made his first solo album that got panned by the critics and nobody bought and he was thinking about doing another one but didn’t really know what to do with himself. He was writing tracks for other people and was in a weird place so he called me up and said do you want to come over and write a song’.
‘I went up there and we wrote probably the worst song he has ever written and that I had ever written, I can’t even remember what it was called. It got demoed so it exists but I didn’t even have a copy of it. It was neither of our finest hours’ cheekily he adds ‘But it was great to hang out with him, lovely fella’.
‘There have been painful occasions, usually no one’s fault, where people have come to me and the signs are right and you are getting on but at the end of the day you’ve got nothing. So you kind of have to just say it has been nice spending time with you but… it is not something you can turn on and off. You have good days and bad days; I’ve had plenty of bad days with good people. But that is why the good songs are so precious; you don’t know when the next one is going to turn up’.
Experience has however enabled Nik to deal with this simply ‘You have to be honest’ he says ‘I usually break the ice with someone I don’t know by saying that this might not happen, if so it’s not a problem for me if we come up with something great’.
‘Earlier on when I was writing with people and didn’t work what would end up happening is we’d write a really ordinary song just for sake of doing something. There is no point in writing a mediocre song, if you can’t write a good one, don’t bother’.
So with this in mind I wonder what the last song Nik had heard that he wished he’d written… after a brief pause he says flatly ‘I don’t think in those terms, I might admire it but I don’t think I wish I’d written it, because I’d never write it… or I’d have already written it’ he breaks into a laugh once more before offering ‘Bizarrely enough there was one of Gary’s songs a while ago, a Matt Cardle song and I thought was a really good song I wonder who wrote that.. and it was Gary. Can’t remember what it was called but it was a single’.
Moving on to discuss the new album I admit I have not heard the album yet, I am still waiting for my promo copy to come through and therefore a little unprepared but Nik reassures me, ‘We only just got copies a few days ago so it is probably on its way to you’. What we can get to the bottom of however is why has it been six years since the last studio album (not including the acoustic No Frills collection form 2010) and what has prompted the return now?
‘I didn’t have the songs!’ he offers as way of an excuse ‘If I was signed to a major record label there would be people setting deadlines but because I have my own record label it isn’t like that and sometimes I just don’t have it in me’.
Exploring this further he adds ‘That can be a period of a couple of years. I started this album with just a couple of songs, songs I was quite happy about so I started playing them live early last year. Then you just keep going until it is finished, it took a couple of years but it could have been ten, I’m in no hurry, I don’t want to chuck out something for the sake of it. Nothing was driving it, the ideas just come or they don’t. I might have another record next year, it could happen, I might have a sudden rush of blood to the head and loads of ideas turn up. I don’t know, it could be another 12 years!’.
Far from bitter towards the industry Nik seems to be enjoying his creative freedom and the challenge of a new album. Having touched upon it earlier I wanted to find out a little more about his record label and how this equated to a major label’s backing.
‘There are really only two major labels, Universal or Sony, and they are massive but they have quite a small roster of artists considering the size so I think there is a huge space for smaller labels to make some kind of dent. The internet has levelled the playing field a little bit but they (the majors) still have the resources, the big media, TV, national radio and all that kind of stuff. That is a difficult one to crack and that is still predominately how records get broken. But it is changing all the time and you just have to keep up’.
So does this mean we could see other artists being released on the Short House Records imprint?
‘Well my wife runs the label and is always saying why don’t we do that… I didn’t want the responsibility! This business is so full of people who don’t know what they are doing I didn’t want to trash somebody elses career. I’ve seen so many talented people trashed by record labels I didn’t want to be one of them’.
However Nik went on to admit the idea is not completely off the table just yet.. ‘Previously records have just been allowed to escape; only the hardcore knew and those that wanted to find it did. This time we have actually made an effort to tell people about it! We have hired press agents and making an effort to tell people just to see if it makes a difference. It is a really interesting process for us as an experiment just to see how things work these days and with a little more knowledge at the end of it, maybe we might feel more inclined to help other people’ so you will be your own guinea pig then? ‘Yes, I will be my own guinea pig!’.
Time has slipped away fast and I am conscious we have been chatting for nearly half an hour, sensing that perhaps I should be wrapping it up we switch our attention to the upcoming live shows and I wonder whether there is more pressure on him with the new album to promote.
‘There is always pressure when you put tickets on sale and you think “Oh God, is anyone going to come?!” These will be the first gigs, my (own) gigs, that I have done since 2001. I’ve done festivals but that’s a different thing, that’s not my crowd’ before adding jokingly ‘It’s a different challenge 80% either don’t know who you are or don’t care!’
‘It will be great to do my own shows’ he enthuses genuinely ‘play what I want to play and know that they will be well received, that will be good fun. You have more control (on your own tour), once you have reached a run of gigs you can get it right’ summing it up eloquently he concludes ‘I’m excited about it, there is no point in being anything else’.
As told to Jules
You can catch Nik Kershaw live throughout September.
19th Sept – Sheffield 02 Academy
20th Sept – Glasgow ABC
21st Sept – Liverpool 02 Academy
22nd Sept – Birmingham 02 Academy
23rd Sept – Newcastle 02 Academy
25th Sept – Oxford 02 Academy
26th Sept – Bristol 02 Academy
27th Sept – Bournemouth 02 Academy
28th Sept – London 02 Shepherds Bush Empire
Tickets priced £22.50 except London from £25 www.ticketweb.co.uk 08444 771 000
Prior to the tour Nik will be playing a special set at BT London Live in Hyde Park on Wednesday August 8th.
To find out more visit the official Nik Kershaw website HERE and follow him on Twitter @nikkershaw_HQ
Boz Boorer talks to TAPEtoTAPE ahead of his new solo album
Having founded British rockabilly outfit The Polecats in 1977, Boz Boorer has worked with many great artists over the years including Kirsty MacColl and Adam Ant but he is probably best known for his work with Morrissey. Joining Morrissey in 1991 as part of his touring band for the Kill Uncle album, Boz has since become ‘musical director’ for Morrissey and has co-written a number of his classic tracks including “That’s How People Grow Up”, “You’re the One For Me, Fatty” and “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”.
Boz is now preparing to release his new solo album “Some Of The Parts” (due 31st August) and this is proceeded by the single “Slippery Forces” which is out now (video is below).
We sent him a little Q&A and quick as a flash, he sent it back!
I only ever do press normally for a solo release!
2. The new single Slippery Forces has more of an indie, even Beatles-esque feel to it rather than rockabilly, was this a conscious decision or just how the song evolved?
I write using many different influences, it just happens that all my solo output has been rockabilly up till now!
3. Do you have a different approach to song writing when you are working on solo material?
Only that normally I don’t write lyrics, even with the song ‘Slippery Forces‘ Louie Laurent sent me some of his lyrics and I found a tune for them
4. With Adam Ant back on the road and preparing a new album, did you get asked to be involved?
Yes, I wrote some songs with Adam as he was getting his band together and played a few of the early shows
5. Over the years you have worked with some amazing artists, who do you think you learnt the most from?
I think a great artist draws great playing from you and I have been fortunate enough to work with a few people like that, I think for sheer length of time it must be Morrissey, but I have picked up bits and pieces off everyone along the way!
6. And are there any that you regret working with?
Life’s too short for regrets, there have been people I haven’t quite clicked with, sure, but you move on quickly enough
7. Having worked on so many projects over the years, are there any obscure things you have done that people may not know about?
Loads, I was a recording engineer at Chrysalis for 6 years so there were lots of things there. A session with Leo Sayer, or Sinead O’Connor for example
8. Where is the strangest place you have ever heard one of your songs?
Some of the songs I have produced at my studio in Portugal get played on the national radio over there, so that’s always a surprise. I heard ‘Spring Heeled Jim‘ over the PA at the Kentish Town Forum after a Dave Matthews gig once
9. Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
Not one specific, all the shows are do are so different
My favourites are when we played with Ronnie Dawson, my wife played an electric double bass and as we were also the opening act in the middle of which someone shouted ‘We payed 3 and a half quid, we want a whole bass’ after that it became known as the half bass. More recently in South America whilst dressed in drag, I was being introduced and some joke was made alluring to the fact that Boz couldn’t appear tonight and a high pitched South American voice was heard to shout ‘But he’s a lady’
11. What was the last song you heard that you wish you had written?
Always ‘Happy Birthday‘ or the Nokia ring tone! Of all the Morrissey songs, I’d say Ambitious Outsiders. There’s not a lot of songs I have heard recently that I wish I had written.
12. The album you produced for Shoot The Image is due out in August, what drew you to work with the band?
We met on line and I saw Simeon Ross perform solo in London, I was impressed by his songs and vocal technique, he was impressed by my ability to drink huge amounts of tea and we went from there
13. You have produced on and off over the last 20 years or so, is this an area you would like to develop further in the future or is song writing/performing always going to be your main focus?
I like to chop and change it, variety is the spice of life, I tend to enjoy the recording side more as I get older, couldn’t stand it when I was a kid
14. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I would say teaching but I don’t have an awful lot of patience, I think I’d like to run a restaurant or bar.
As told to Jules
For more information on Boz Boorer and his upcoming album, visit his website HERE.
Joe Innes And The Cavalcade talk to TAPEtoTAPE
Having recently listened to, and subsequently rather fallen for, the debut album from Joe Innes And The Cavalcade it seemed only fitting to find out a little bit more. We sent them some questions and they duly gave us some answers… just in case any one is unsure how a Q&A works…
1. Congratulations on the debut album, how do you feel now it is released? Has the reaction been positive so far?
Chris – We’re happy as long as Steve Lamacq is…
Joe – It’s been totally cool, being played on Steve Lamacq’s show was amazing. It sometimes feels like an uphill struggle getting people to listen to it, but the feedback has been great.
Sam – Really happy with how it’s been received – we’ve had lots of touching comments from fans and critics alike.
Amy – People seem to be enjoying it, which is nice!
2. What inspired the album title? Is it to do with the much under-rated Peter Jackson film from 1996?
Chris – Joe?
Joe – Not really, I don’t think I’ve seen it… I probably heard the name somewhere and it stuck, that usually happens. I think an album title should be a something you might have named any of the songs on the album, and I think that’s true for this one, a lot of the songs are about fear for some reason. I blame the Daily Mail, in fact, if you google “daily mail fear” you would not believe how many daily mail articles there are to choose from.
3. There seems to be a monster theme to a lot of your work, are you horror fans? If so, what are your top five horror films?
Joe – Evil Dead by a long way.
Chris – One each? Mine would be Stephen King’s ‘IT’
Sam – The Shining. Closely followed by The Simpson’s ‘The Shinning.’
Amy – Not the biggest fan of horror movies…I do like a good psychological thriller though, like The Skin I Live In.
4. There is a zombie apocalypse and only the band survive, who would be the first to be eaten, who would sacrifice a band mate first and who would be the last to die?
Chris – Joe would go first after failing to serenade them as a means to find a cure, we’d sacrifice the bassist, and I’d be last as I have more things to throw at them.
Sam – No way.. Chris you’ve clearly got the most meat. Get out there and do the honorable thing.
Joe – I watched Zombieland the other day, and that film is basically a zombie apocalypse survival guide, also, after reading a lot of issues of The Walking Dead, I think I’d do pretty well. I find, the secret is not to make too much noise.
Amy – I’d like to think we’re all resourceful enough to not have to resort to eating each other… Joe – I do not have the same faith, I’m all too eager to chew on my band-mates, Chris would be TENDER.
5. Do you have any pre-gig rituals?
Chris – Beer and a wee chat about the week.
Joe – Sound-check. We seem to always effing sound-check.
Amy – Gin…..lots of it…..
6. What is the best heckle anyone has ever thrown at you?
Chris – The audience seem to snarl and howl at us alot….
Joe – I think that’s only because we ask them too though, it doesn’t really count as a heckle.
Sam – Joe called me gay. Does it count as a heckle when it’s your bandmate? And anyways our crowd seems to be so warm I doubt they could muster one.
Joe – There’s nothing wrong with being gay Sam, that’s not a heckle. We don’t get heckled.
7. Do you find it easier to write songs about personal experiences or about characters?
Joe – I don’t really know, I just write whatever song I write, but I think even songs about characters have personal experience injected into them, if there isn’t then it’s not a very good song. That’s what fiction is you know, as fantastical as some stories get, if you don’t relate to the characters then it’s a waste of time from the outset.
8. What do you think is the greatest album ever released?
Sam – Wow… such a question. How long have you got? Joe?
Joe – I have no idea. I don’t think it exists. If we’re judging it on cultural impact, then Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I don’t really have a favourite, I’m currently listening to a band called The Front Bottoms a lot, their album is brill, but in a few weeks I’ll have overplayed it and started listening to something else, it’s what I do.
9. Has the perfect pop song been written? If so, what is it?
Joe – A Day In The Life is pretty close to perfect, if you can call that a pop song. If there is a finite amount of melody in this world, The Beatles mined the shit out of it. Also, God Only Knows… I think if we’re as low on melody as we are on fossil fuels, The Beach Boys and The Beatles are to blame.
Sam – I guess if there was such a thing The Beatles would have it.
10. Who is the most over-rated artist around at the moment?
Joe – I’ve always thought using over-rated as a criticism is a bit lazy, it sort of means that everyone else is enjoying music more than you right? There’s certainly music I don’t think is much good, but I can only put that down to my own personal preference, some people like listening to vapid, vacuous noise.
Sam – Us…? Anyone? There are so many amazing bands out there doing well, and equally as many that deserve better.
Joe – It’s still totally important, especially at our level. If we sent the album out to DJ’s and it began with 5 minutes of noise or something, nobody has time to sit through that unless it’s a Radiohead album or something. Perhaps in the big pop business thing, there’s more of people buying individual tracks and singles, but that’s always been the case, people used to buy top of the pops records with all the #1′s on it right? If something is recorded and constructed as an album, then it’s still valuable in that form, and that form is still alive and kicking, otherwise what would be the point? Why would Coldplay bother?
Chris – Artwork will always be important, it ensures you get the certain caliber of person that walks into Rough Trade East London and picks up our album for £9.99 and says ‘hey that looks cool, I’m gonna buy that’
Sam – Totally what these guys said, it’s all important. And luckily we got to work with John-Paul de Quay, who drew all the artwork.. AMAZINGLY.
Amy – I agree, it has to all hang together and look good as people still listen to/download whole albums and you get the cover art so it looks pretty on your iPhone etc.
12. If you could write the theme song for any movie (past, present or future) what film would it be?
Chris – Our own zombie/vampire flick.
Joe – That’d be great! Joe Innes & The Cavalcade VS The Bloodthirsty Douche-bags From Hell – It’d be directed by Quentin Tarantino, Produced by Sam Raimi and scored by John Williams and Jeffrey Lewis. It’d start with us playing a gig in a graveyard, and then all the crap’ll hit the fan and we’d have to fight off the hordes of hell with guitars and stuff, and I’ll have all the best lines and say things like “at least it’s not as bad as that gig we played at Dingwalls” and then everyone would laugh for a little. I’d probably be the force that drives most of the comedy in the film. We’ve never played at Dingwalls.
As told to Jules
You can find out more about Joe Innes And The Cavalcade by visiting their website HERE and you can watch the video for the title track from ‘The Frighteners’ album below…
Jack Kansas from Damn Vandals Q&A – TAPEtoTAPE
Having recently been rather impressed with the upcoming debut album from Brit Rockers Damn Vandals I thought I’d take things one step further and get a little Q&A with them. Lead singer Jack Kansas duly obliged and below you can find out what they would do in a zombie apocalypse, how they thwarted a Death Metal band and what tea towels have to do with anything…
We’re excited in the main. The album’s been a couple of years in the making, it rocks and we’re all happy with it. Just want to take it out there and visit as many people’s ears as possible.
2. There feels like quite a few influences throughout the album with a strong leaning towards the 80s indie/rock. Is this a particular era of music that is significant to you?
It’s not the main influence really because as a band we’re all over the place in terms of what we listen to. On bass is the biggest Ramones/early Sabbath fan you’ll ever meet, the guitarist might as well be Jimmy Page and the drummer could easily be caught listening to Jazz on an evening. Me I like Dylan. Having said that, I can see why some people have made a comparison with the 80’s alt rock scene – it was a pretty fierce time socially, not dissimilar to now really, with loads for bands to kick off against musically and politically. Perhaps Dvs are subconsciously spinning that wheel again.
3. Which one artist/group has had the biggest impact on you?
So much to choose from … If I have to pick one it would be someone like Neil Young. Seeing him live and witnessing what can be done with guitars is always a thrill – just makes you want to play, write, steam-roller on and never look back.
4. Is it easier to write songs about personal experiences or about characters?
We find it much easier to write about characters through story and imaginings. That way you can still drip parts of yourself in without that horrible singer-songwriter whining nakedness. On top of that it’s just more fun and entertaining to provide colour and structure to a track through a good tale.
5. Is the artwork and running order of an album still important to you or has the digital takeover destroyed the need for these things?
Artwork and running orders are still a big thing for us. The album format is a great way to be introduced to a band or re-visit a favourite artist. At best they’re 30-40 minute journeys which really take you places – would be a real shame to lose the idea of the album. Sites like Spotify are still album-based so it’s not all doom and gloom. In terms of artwork, we do all that ourselves which is fun. The web needs images, so it’s important to keep the visuals fresh. On top of all that, there are videos to be handmade so, all in all, bands should be busier than ever ….
6. What is the most Rock n Roll thing you have done so far?
Prevented a Finish death metal band from throwing a TV out of a hotel window. Stopping clichés in their tracks is the new rock n roll.
Adam has a tendency to go on walkabout before shows and not answer his phone. Frank has no sense of direction yet insists on being the map reader. Chris has the temper of a wild animal and eats smelly food. I’m always whistling. It’s surprising this band’s still together really. … still early days yet …
8. Is it harder to be headline act or a support act?
Always depends on the night and the crowd – it’s the people at a show that make the gig. We’ll take either and see who comes with us.
9. If you weren’t in a band, what would you be doing?
Always fancied being a door-to-door tea towel salesman. Plenty of fresh air. Have never minded getting the odd door slammed in the face, there’s always the next one to try …
10. Who is the most over-rated artist around at the moment?
Damn Vandals – those bad boys need to be taken down a peg or two.
11. England reach the World Cup Final but it falls on a night you have a show booked, what do you do?
I guess we just play the gig because it’s just shit to cancel a show. We’ve clashed with big football games before and it is a real bummer – still, show’s you who your real fans are …
12. There is a zombie apocalypse and only the band survive, who would be the first to be eaten, who would sacrifice a band mate first and who would be the last to die?
Adam the bass player gets the munchies pretty bad so I reckon he’d kill us all before the first night was up. He’d then roam the streets, looting off licenses for as long as his skinny legs could sustain him. He’d probably have the time of his life.
As told to Jules.
We catch up with Neil Daniels to discuss his recent Metallica biography
Neil Daniels is a busy man, I caught up with him at the end of October last year to talk about life as a music journalist and find out what he was working on… back then he was just starting on a coffee table book about Iron Maiden and a biography on the early years of Metallica. Fast forward to June 2012 and the Iron Maiden book is released later this month and the Metallica book is already out!
I recently read and reviewed the Metallica book, as a fan of the band it was a great excuse to mix business with pleasure, always nice to be able to lose yourself in a book, especially when you can claim it is ‘work’.
You can read the full review of Metallica – The Early Years And The Rise Of Metal HERE.
I was keen to grill Neil a little bit more about Metallica, so I did. So to find out what Neil had to say and what his Top 5 Metallica albums are, keep reading…
It would have been great to talk to Dave Mustaine and a lot of the other thrash metal guys but it wasn’t possible. Also, as any music author will tell you you’re often up against a tight deadline especially now given the state of the publishing industry but I’m happy with the way the book has come out. I think it’s a nifty little tome on those first four Metallica albums. Plus the graphics are pretty cool with lots of vintage flyers, posters and ticket stubs etc. The feedback has been good so far so I’m pleased. It seems to please both casual and hardcore Metallica fans so jobs a good ‘un.
2. Do you think Metallica could have been as big if Mustaine had stayed in the band or do you think the power struggle would always have surfaced?
Maybe not. I think they’d be a different band and would not have been as “corporate” and I think the same can be said for Cliff Burton if he were still alive. They’d probably be more like Motorhead; you know, a big sort of underground metal band with some mainstream awareness. Of course, you can always speculate. Hetfield, Ulrich and Mustaine are big personalities with egos so it would never have lasted as history has proven.
3. Lars has always been very business minded about the band, how important do you think this factor has been in the continued success of Metallica?
It’s been very important. In that sense, he’s like the Mick Jagger of metal – he knows how to run a business. Running a band is like running a business; it’s a brand and you have to protect it. But it means Metallica have had to compromise their music, image and integrity given the changes in direction since The Black Album. It’s not always pleased fans but they are the biggest metal band in the world so Ulrich’s business brain has worked. Plus singing to Q-Prime management was a big deal and took them to bigger levels in the late eighties and thereafter.
4. What do you feel about the Load/ReLoad albums? Bloated mess or under-rated masterpieces?
I like these albums. They got some good riffs and decent melodies but unfortunately no memorable songs so they’re kind of forgotten about, and consequently it makes fans cherish those first four albums even more vehemently. I still think Metallica should go back to those really fast three/four minute songs rather than bloated five minute plus mini epics. I guess they would have done it by now if they felt that way. They’re a different band now and we have to accept that.
5. What are your thoughts on the Black Album? Do you feel it was a game changing masterpiece or the sound of the band selling out?
I like it. I still think its metal but its melodic metal. Having producer Bob Rock obviously told fans even before the album came out that it was going to be different from Justice given Rock’s background. I think it’s got some killer songs, great riffs and melodies. It was a big shift in sound but not a bad one at all, in my opinion. It’s still metal. It’s one of those ongoing debates in the metal world.
6. What are your Top Five Metallica albums?
- Ride The Lightning
- Kill em All
- Master of Puppets
- Black Album/Metallica
- And Justice For All
One thing you can give Metallica credit for, and even today with the dreadful Lulu opus, is that they always looking for new ways of stretching the boundaries of metal. Priest have done it an made some big mistakes in their career but hell, if they churned out the same sounding album very time they’d get criticised for that too. Being in the limelight and being successful means you’re open to scrutiny. I much prefer their eighties stuff to what they have done since but I’m always keen to listen to a new Metallica album. I really like Death Magnetic. And they’re an awesome live band.
8. What is worse, a brilliantly written bad review or a poorly written good review?
Either are probably just as useful or not. I tend to follow writers rather than particular magazines or websites. I mean, there are some really good writers out there but you can tell they don’t have an expert knowledge of the artist or even genre of music. And then on the flip side there are some okay writers that are certainly not great wordsmiths yet they have an expert knowledge and you can tell from their writings. There are lots of journalists out there who are not really journalists.
9. Who is the most over-rated rock/metal artist around at the moment?
U2 and Coldplay – don’t like either bands.
10. Does your Mum keep a scrap book with your press cuttings/reviews in?
Not really except articles from the local papers and she does collect my books.
As told to Jules – June 2012.
Pete Makowski talks exclusively to Biff Byford
When not busy hob-knobbing with the rock ‘n’ roll elite or mooching around backstage somewhere, tucking into free food and drink, Peter Makowski occasionally does some work. Thankfully for us, not all of that work makes its way onto the hallowed pages of Classic Rock or Mojo, some of it gets buried, lost on a laptop hard drive gathering metaphorical dust.
During a recent spring clean Pete has unearthed one such lost gem, a previously unpublished interview with metal God Biff Byford. Biff Byford, Saxon’s enduring, uncompromising and down to earth frontman as he contemplates, amongst other things, the prospects of getting a real job, an alternative career in crime, surviving a near death experience and spandex.
You’ve been fronting Saxon for over thirty years, when are you going to get a proper job?
BB: Funnily enough every time I meet my half-sister, who’s twenty years older than me, she says ‘what are you going to do when all this stops?’ I say ‘probably die’. People are nuts with this ‘proper job’ thing. It’s probably still going on with young musicians with their fathers saying ‘you got to get a proper trade, son’”
What would have been the worst scenario for your family; gay, drug addict or rock’n’roll musician?
BB: It would have definitely been drug addict. My father bought me my first guitar, he was quite supportive. My parents didn’t understand it but they didn’t stop me doing it. As long as I had a job as well.
You came from quite a tough background where there were limited options what would have been an alternative career choice for you?
BB: I would have probably been a criminal. I think my experiences in the early days of blagging gigs and guitars weren’t that much different to smashing car windows and nicking stuff. So I would probably got married, had kids and become a petty criminal.
In your autobiography (Never Surrender or Nearly Good Looking) you talk about being an incredibly shy when you were young. Why do you think introverted people gravitate towards show business?
BB; It’s weird that. I meet a lot of singers who are shy. I think by going on stage the fear dissipates. My children are the same, they’re quite shy and timid with new people or in a strange environment. I think being shy, going red, is a gene thing.
Are you still shy?
BB: In some respects, yeah. Funnily enough I don’t like crowded rooms. If I don’t know anybody I tend to stand in the corner. I’m not the vivacious host.
When I first went on stage I was incredibly frightened but the need to be on there was obviously greater than my shyness, so I coped with it. I’m glad that I got into it slowly; I started of by playing bass. In fact I never originally had any aspirations to become a singer, I wanted to be a guitarist.
BB: Not having a great manager in the early days. We never had someone with a vision. With all great bands, it’s all about the team. I think when we needed help we were used as a fucking bank, making money for other people. So I regret that we didn’t have a Rod Smallwood, someone that worked with band.
What can you do that no one else can?
BB: Well I can sing like me for a start. Which might sound like a stupid thing to say but if you are blessed with a unique voice then that’s a good thing. People come up to me and they know its Saxon when they hear me singing.
You’ve written a tribute to denim and leather but not spandex. Explain.
BB: Oh we can’t go back to spandex! Our arses might still be OK but you’ve got to draw the line. To go back to spandex is not good for senior rock’n’rollers. We’ll see what Darkness wears on their first reunion show.
What ‘s the most rock’n’roll thing you’ve done?
BB: It’s got to be the sexual antics really
When it comes to the looks dept you boys aren’t exactly eye candy but according to your book you had quite a prolific sex life. Do you have any tips for up and coming socially inadequate metal bands?
BB: I think it doesn’t matter if you look like a piece of shit. If you’ve got it on stage that what’s really counts. I think the pulling power for rock’n’roll is big. Even guys like Russell Brand are rock’n’roll. It’s a certain look tight pants has a lot to do with it. Age has nothing to do with it. Just fucking go for it.
BB: Definitely, it makes you think of mortality in a big way. I think that’s why my wife didn’t want to live in France anymore; she wasn’t the same after the fire. She didn’t want to be buried in a French graveyard. You think about things like that. We really enjoyed living there up to that point. It affected me but I’m used to shutting down that kind of stuff. It affected the kids, they still talk about it.
When you say you ‘shut down that kind of stuff’ what do you mean?
BB: Well I put it in a box and put it somewhere else.
Is this something you’ve done all your life?
BB; Yeah I have actually. With kids and other families and other lives that I’ve had. It comes up now and again like the fire. I’ll sometimes wake up and smell smoke; it’s a bit weird.
Following on from that, what would you say was the lowest point of your life?
BB: When my mother died, I was about twelve. That was a big blow to me. She was a musician, she played piano and organ so there was a lot of music in my life up to that point and then it stopped, My dad was none musical.
Tell me about the high points in your life.
BB: A musical one was playing Donnington. On a personal level my first child with my wife. I think having my daughter, who’s sixteen, now, changed me, although I did have children from a previous marriage but I was really young. That’s sad but it was another fucking life, yeah?
What the secret to happiness?
BB: I think in my world you have to have two lives. A private life and the rock’n’’roll side; and the two have to merge. I think you have to have a really special family to be able to pull it off. There has to be a massive amount of trust both ways but especially from the wife because she knows what I used to do.
Are you religious?
BB: I’m quite religious. I’m quite into the something between Heaven and Hell concept. I’m not religious in a church sense, I think they ought to make their fucking mind up and sort out one religion.
In 2010 you launched a campaign to have heavy metal declared as a religion. Who would you nominate as Pope?
BB: It would have to be somebody like Ozzy Osbourne. Somebody brought this up the other day and asked me ‘who would be Jesus’ and I said it would have to be somebody that was dead and came up with Phil Lynott or Ronnie James Dio. I knew both of them quite well and they would have thought that was extremely funny.
As told to Peter Makowski
Joey Tempest talks about the new Europe album and much more….
Every band wants to write a song the world will remember, but few ever do. Europe can surely lay claim to being close to doing just this though with ‘The Final Countdown’, a track so familiar that the mere mention of the title will usually result in it being sung back at you, complete with ‘de do do do’s’.
This can still be a double edged sword however, how many people will assume that Europe were nothing more than Euro pop-rockers, more kitsch than cool. I confess, a few months back and I may well have scoffed slightly at the idea of listening to a full Europe album but this point of view was challenged by an enthusiast Europe fan cornering me to bestow the virtues of the band (Yes Jon, you). One listen to the current single ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ saw me do a full about turn, get the hairspray out and get my classic rock on. So, when the opportunity to interview Europe main man Joey Tempest came up, how could I refuse?
Due to some technical issues, getting patched through to the waiting Tempest takes longer than expected, this does cut down our talk time but I still manage to cram in as much as I can. With the truncated time in mind, I launch straight into the new album and find out exactly what inspired the ‘Bag Of Bones’ title.
‘It was the first lyric I wrote (for the album) actually, I was renting a place in Shepherds Bush, a small rehearsal space, and I was feeling completely empty from the last tour. I just didn’t know where to start and I said to myself I feel ‘like a bag of bones’ and it just started becoming more like a nursery rhyme’ Joey then sings ‘bag of bones, I’m a bag of bones’ in a lilting tone to illustrate the point before carrying on ‘That is how it started and it built from there. Then the London riots happened in the middle of that so (hence) the chorus ‘my city lies in ruins’… so it was sort of a mixture but it was the first song written for the album’ pausing for a moment Joey adds ‘ We recorded the album in Stockholm and I think it was Ian (the drummer) who suggested it could be the title for the album and everyone agreed’.
Before speaking to Joey I had done a little bit of reading and spotted a quote that caught my interest, he had said that Start From The Dark (2004) and Secret Society (2006) had led the band to be able to produce the sound they wanted for Last Look At Eden. This then begged the question, did that mean that Bag Of Bones feel like the most definitive Europe release so far.
‘I think we have crossed the line to another dimension’ he contemplates this for a second before expanding ‘there is more expression in the voice, the guitar and the song writing. We touched on it a little with Last Look At Eden, with bringing in the blues influence but with this we have taken it all the way and it is the first time we have made a record we always wanted to make and is similar (in sound) to some of the 70s albums we all really love’.
Every band always claims their new album is ‘their best yet’ but I get the impression that Joey really believes this about Bag Of Bones. I press him to see if he agrees the current incarnation of the post millennial Europe is the strongest yet.
‘We like to keep it fresh so that’s why we changed producers and changed studios, we changed direction a little bit so our fans and listeners go on a little journey with us because we don’t want to make the same albums all the time. It seems to be working, it bonds with the fans really well, they get a bit of a surprise at first but they join us and we get new fans as well’.
Joey sums it up by concluding ‘I think Bag Of Bones is more of a rock record and could bring new people on board as well’.
As I mention in the opening, you think of Europe and most people will instantly think The Final Countdown. This can lead to preconceptions about the band, Europe are actually a much harder rock band than this track would have you believe so I ask Joey whether having such a famous song is actually a mixed blessing.
‘It works both ways, we don’t really sing it in the shower or anything’ he adds wryly ‘but we love playing it live, it has a place in our live set as it was written for our live show at the beginning’. Seemingly unfazed by talking about THAT song yet again he continues ‘It introduces a lot of people to the band. We have a different definition of The Final Countdown, for us it was an album track from our 3rd album (1986s The Final Countdown) we wanted to open the album and the show with. (but) it reached a broader media and a wider audience, it was a cross over and for Europe, a guitar based rock band it was a surprise, we appreciate being in the rock community but as a song it is quite unique, it is rock and roll in its own way as it is so different and was quite a daring move (at the time)’.
Returning to the more relevant topic of the upcoming Bag Of Bones album we discuss the guest appearance from guitar God Joe Bonamassa on the title track and how this came about.
‘Kevin Shirley (album producer) played it for Joe Bonamassa at our request; we wanted Joe to play on our album so we asked Kevin to ask if he was interested. He put that guitar on afterwards in New York and we were really thrilled with the results’. Joey adds with a chuckle ‘Kevin produces all his stuff so he was a good guy to ask!’.
Bringing in guest players is an unusual step for the band so I wondered if this experience and sparked thoughts of working with other musicians.
‘It is interesting you say that as I have been thinking a lot about that now we have tried this with Bonamassa and it worked really well’. Pondering this further Joey elaborates ‘maybe on the next record we try something else… I don’t know, there are a lot of options but they wouldn’t fit the scenario. I love Jackson Browne and David Bowie of course but those people would never do this. Maybe new bands like Rival Sons who I think are great (the) new generations that carry the classic rock (sound) with them and I think they are great’.
I was instantly hooked by the new single Not Supposed To Sing The Blues, a big Led Zeppelin style classic rocker with an almost autobiographical tale to tell. When you couple this with the album closer Bring It All Home you sense a slightly nostalgic feel to the lyrics so I ask whether this was a theme throughout the record.
‘Maybe, I feel more like an English person writing now, I don’t think in Swedish at all, I think on Bag Of Bones it was the first time it flowed really and it was nice, just singing exactly what was in your heart. The melancholic bit is from being Scandinavian; all the bands, even pop bands have it!’ he laughs before getting serious again, ‘I think Bag Of bones has some deeper expression in the voice, tone and lyrics which I’m really proud of’ before adding earnestly ‘it is the first time I’ve dug a little deeper maybe’.
With a new album comes a return to the road, Europe will be hitting the festival circuit in the summer before embarking on a UK tour in the winter but I wondered how touring changes when you get older and have family to think about.
‘It is fun when you are standing there on stage but the travelling becomes a bit more boring, I say that because we are booking long tours for the Autumn and everybody is saying we need to have breaks for our families and stuff. We work hard, we are one of the hardest working bands in Scandinavia but we try to organise it a bit to have breaks for our families as well. Some of us have young kids so we have to think about that as well’ clearly fearing he sounds a bit jaded he quickly adds ‘It is more planning but still fun playing!’
Having had a hiatus throughout the 90s before reuniting in 2003 and therefore having effectively two back catalogues we turn to the matter of writing set lists. I ask which classic Europe tracks they like to slip into the set these days.
‘Well, funny enough Superstitious still works, that is from the Out Of This World album (1988), that track seems to make it through all the time. A new track that we really love now would be Last Look At Eden from the last album (2009), we’ll probably never tour without that, some tracks just stick in the set now. Other old songs like Girl From Lebanon or Seven Doors Hotel we like to throw in sometimes, that was one of the first tracks we wrote as band and sometimes it is really nice to play it as we really like it’.
During the decade long break for the band, Joey released three solo albums (A Place To Call Home 1995 – Azalea Place 1997 – Joey Tempest 2002) so does this mean we should expect more in the future or did the return of Europe take precedent.
‘No, these days it is only for Europe, it takes up all my time, I can’t combine the two! Those three albums were really educational for me, I was really into singer song writers like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I bought all the albums and learnt a lot about lyrics. I bought that with me when we did Europe again; I think it worked in my favour as far as lyrics are concerned’.
Taking a minute to reflect on this deeper Joey confirms ‘I have no more plans for solo stuff; I did three which I am really proud of but Europe takes up all my time’.
As a band that have, how do I put it delicately, been around the block a bit, I wanted to know if this meant they still got nervous waiting for the reviews for the new album or if this got easier with time and experience.
‘There is a certain amount of confidence because we have done something good, but I am looking forward to seeing what Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and the UK magazines say as they have been very supportive so far’ tongue in cheek he confides ‘I will call our publicist to see if he can get the reviews to us before they come out as I am really curious! So yeah, I get a little bit nervous but a little bit excited as we are proud of this album… it would be nice for people to feel the same way we do about this album’.
Time had all but run out so I thought I’d squeeze one last quick question in before having to let Joey go, presumably onto the next waiting scribe. As a huge fan of both Europe and one of Joey’s favourite groups Thin Lizzy, Kodiak Jack’s guitarist Jon had asked me to find out what Joey’s favourite Thin Lizzy track was.
‘That is very difficult actually, maybe Got To Give It Up as I have strong memories of seeing Thin Lizzy play that track and it is also from the Black Rose album, that is one of my favourite Lizzy albums, that or Don’t Believe A Word I love those ones’.
And with this the metaphorical sand has slipped through the hourglass and we wrap things up. Joey was good company for our fifteen minutes, amiable and clearly excited about the imminent release of the new album. Whatever your thoughts on Europe may be, check out the new album with an open mind and I think you may be pleasantly surprised.
As told to Jules
Interview with Grant Nicholas, guitarist, vocalist and song writer with Feeder.
With the imminent release of the bands’ 8th studio album, I wondered if the pressure of releasing an album to an expectant fan base was harder than when they were a new band trying to build one.
‘Yeah I always feel a big pressure when an album comes out, it never gets any easier!’ he laughs slightly nervously, ‘Hoping that people like the record… the fans and the press. It is always difficult, especially with the press side of things’ pausing briefly Grant clarifies ‘Often journalists will get a pile of albums to listen to and will only give it a play, if that, and they have to make a decision on that. I think that often it is based on what the band’s about and previous works. So that is always a scary time for any artist, waiting for reviews and what people think of it’.
Expanding further on this he continues ‘There are so many acts out there and the competition gets harder and harder. We do have a really loyal fan base and it is growing all the time, of all different ages, but that gets bigger and bigger if you get more radio play’. I do tell him we have played the new single on Voice 103.9fm but I’m not sure this is what he had in mind.
Feeder have always had very loyal fans and unlike so many bands from the 90s, they have managed to maintain and grow this fan base so I wanted to know whether this kind of dedication helped ease the nerves for the new album.
‘I think a fan base does obviously help, I mean you can be all over the radio and flavour of the month but you can’t always pull a big audience. I think it takes time to build an audience, sometimes it can go on hype but often that doesn’t last for long. If you look at bands with any history it is on continual work and touring which pay off in the long run!’
‘Well basically I was doing the basic backing tracks, in a small residential studio about an hour and half outside of London. I was doing some lyrics about 4 in the morning and it was the day all the student riots were kicking off and I was writing this rock song, almost like an early Feeder guitar riff, and I came up with the line ‘generation freakshow’ and was really a line inspired by seeing all the footage on the news and seeing the student protests and mayhem’. Grant pauses for a moment as he considers this further ‘It really just fuelled the song and I wrote a song about that and just felt it was a really poignant album title and then sometime after that we had the London riots that spread all over the country so after finishing the album it felt like the perfect title. It is quite a risky title in some ways as I think you need to understand what inspired it’.
I confess that the first thing it made me think of was X-Factor… ‘Oh really?’ he muses ‘well it was kind of a take on everything really… I love the word ‘generation’ as it reminds me of punk bands like Generation X and youth and rebellion at that time. I have kids so makes me think of what is in store for them and the whole Freakshow thing was the state of the world’. He then adds wryly ‘I was worried at one point people might think we have made a Marilyn Manson goth album or something!’.
Moving on we start to talk about the song writing process and we discuss how his song writing differs now from when he was younger.
‘Not that much too be honest, (I just start) playing in my little studio or sat at home. That fuels the idea and that is how most Feeder tracks start’.
‘Sometimes I have some lyrics or a really good line that gives me an idea to finish a song. I don’t really feel I need to change that. Sometimes I will try to write something on a different instrument, so I feel I am trying to push myself a little bit more, sometimes things I can barely even play’ he chuckles before adding ‘it does inspire you. (for the) Pushing the senses album I wrote three songs on a piano and that is the first time I had ever done that’.
Invariably as a band progresses they develop ‘their sound’ but I was curious as to whether this then became restricting as deviating from this blueprint can be a dangerous move with fans.
‘(It is) difficult being a band with history and sound as you don’t want to lose that and lose your identity but you also don’t want to do the same thing all the time. It can be a tough place to be sometimes, to push things forward and do new things but keeping your sound, but at the end of the day I think it is about the songs, that is the key’.
Delving deeper into this issue Grant explains further ‘We haven’t gone and done every album in the same way and work with the same people all the time, but then it is good to keep your identity. There are not many UK bands that do what we do and we have been doing it a long time, there are a lot of great rock bands but it is hard to label what we do. In some ways it has made it harder for us but it has also given us more longevity as a band because sometimes when you are part of trend there are only a few bands that get longevity out of it’.
As a band born in the late mid 90s Feeder found themselves caught up in the whole Britpop movement, regardless of the fact they were not actually a ‘Britpop’ style band. ‘You go back to Britpop and you had bands like Blur, they were probably the most successful that came out of that era really, and Oasis although Blur were a completely different kind of band. We weren’t a Britpop band but we ended up doing lots of shows with Britpop bands as there weren’t many bands doing what we were doing we could play with. I think it worked in our favour in the end as we signed our first deal (back) then’.
Discussing the ‘sound’ did then make me then enquire whether Feeder had ever scrapped songs for sounding too Feeder…
‘There have been tracks I think sound too much like something else or just not very ‘vibey’ but not very often. There have been some tracks we have got to a certain point in the studio and not finished, but not that often. They usually end up as B-sides or something. But I have loads of stuff I haven’t finished that I can go back to if I get any writers block in the future!’.
This then flows seamlessly into my next question, almost as if I actually have a clue what I’m doing. As a band of the 90s and the ‘physical’ age, Feeder have historically always released tangible singles, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, places where these tracks could find a home as a B-side. So was this a time that Grant actually missed?
‘I do miss it, I really miss it. I grew up with old school vinyl, my older brothers had record collections, I love the physical and think I will always feel that way. But I think the physical market compared to download is tiny now, it’s frightening’ like two grumpy old men we both grumble and agree that the state of the physical market versus the download is shocking but getting back on point Grant reveals more ‘what I like about physical is it is something you can hold in your hand, read the credits, the artwork… we spend months doing that and is quite sad that some people just aren’t interested anymore, it is a real shame’. Getting nostalgic he continues ‘ I love looking through my old albums be it The Beatles or Neil Young or Led Zeppelin.. That is all part of the legacy and history of band and I think it is a real shame if that goes away and you need to have a physical for that. Of course online is important too and you can do so many things but it is almost like you can have too much access to things on line, it is like a double edged sword it can work for you or against you’.
‘That is a big reason why we decided on the Borders single to do the old formats, there was even a cassette tape which was quite a wacky idea but they all sold out really quickly. I was quite surprised, it did really well for us… it was probably an old school Feeder fan that bought them (Surprise surprise, I bought a 7”!) but I think it was a bit of a novelty thing to it. We’re not going to be doing that kind of thing for a while again but I think it was a nice thing to do for the first single, it was a bit more special and back to the way we used to work when we first started’.
Time is rapidly running out, whilst Grant is perfectly amicable and in no rush, I know I am one in a long line of writers waiting for their pound of flesh, I therefore decide to wrap things up before we overrun too much. I had been given a question to ask Grant by a friend (this one is for you Richard Harris) so I take the chance to get this in before wrapping things up.
So, excluding the new album (as this goes without saying it is the best album yet), what is your favourite Feeder album and then track from that record.
‘It is hard to pick one, that is a tough question. I like our second album Yesterday Went Too Soon, I think I should have been a bit more disciplined…’ Grant tails off and with more time I would pursue exactly what he means but before I have a chance he changes tact slightly and carries on ‘(The one for me) that for me made the most statement would have to be Comfort In Sound, that was an album that was made at a very difficult time (*) and was kind of like a stepping stone for us in some ways. If I had to pick a song that as a songwriter I was most proud of on that album Forget About Tomorrow, I like the string arrangement sound and there was a lot of work to make it right, I think it was one of my proudest moments, it wasn’t like our biggest hit or anything like that but it is one that really came together and came out as close as I can imagine it sounds to the idea that I had in my head’.
Getting the chance to speak to Grant was actually quite a thrill, the first Feeder single I bought was ‘Crash’ in 1997 and then in true geek fashion, ever subsequent release on the Monday of release, from thereon in. New single ‘Children Of The Sun’ is out on download and vinyl 7” on the 30th April and is preceded by the album ‘Generation Freakshow’ the week before on the 23rd April
(*) Feeder drummer Jon Lee committed suicide in 2002, Comfort In Sound was the first album to be written and released after his tragic death.
As told to Jules
Nick Osman gives us his thoughts on the recent Mark Morriss show and even catches up with the man himself for a few words….
When Jules asked me to write a piece about Mark I had no idea what I was really in for. I’ve been listening to ‘Sleazy Bed Track‘ over and over and I just can’t get enough of Mark’s talented voice. I’ve always had something for melodies that use great lyrics, especially saucy tracks like; My Autumn’s Done Come. These sounds really do place a great feeling into your behaviour, and best of all is the way that Mark is able to move from a song that’s played with educated remorse to a sudden Latin lit effect, that is a talent for me to be honest.
Formally the lead singer for The Bluestones, the London four piece – Mark Morriss, Adam Devlin, Scott Morriss and Eds Chesters – scored their biggest hit in 1996 with ‘Slight Return‘, it ended up peaking out at number 2 in the U.K singles chart. Their last studio album ‘A New Athens‘ was released in May 2010 but the band split up soon, saying goodbye to the fans with a September 2011 U.K tour. For now Mark seems to be happy just touring solo with that laid back cheeky Middlesex vibe of his and has ventured down to the south to give us a night to remember at Lennons (Nightclub, Southampton).
Firstly a warm up from The Stealers with Hiding in the shadows, then setting the scene strumming his atmosphere at the Lennons, the crowd just lent at the bar or on a pillar grasping his sounds as they are thrown at you from one of his singles I’m Sick.
As his voice bellows around the venue from ‘Alcoholiday‘ (Teenage Fanclub cover) the crowd gather in on his warm glow from yet another great track and one person shouts ‘play more mate’ as he moves onto ‘So It Goes’. The room is sprung upon with yet more listeners arriving and before long brand new track ‘It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time’ hits the mic and you begin to get the impression of his artistic form.
After the gig I asked him few questions about how his inspired humour and comedic passion of always being happy differs from his work in the past to his solo stage performances now.
I’ll start with your solo album ‘Memory Muscle’; did you begin with that inspired life of walking away from your childhood like a real John Lennon type?
‘It’s no master play really. Things that appeal to be on the outside step, as it were, are like calculated steps for your song writing and music career’.
Playing acoustically at open mic nights in London back in 2008, how do you feel you differ from performing to now?
‘You get a feel for collective responsibility when you are playing with your band members. When I first started those long acoustic nights I was completely on my own and I guess in a way you get used to the band, it’s kind of alien really.’
If you had to choose a perfect part of your career what stood out for you and made everything work?
‘If there is an inspired moment for me it would have to be the moments that passed by within my memories. Like when we flew through the clouds and then onto the landing strip when we were doing our Japan Tour and that was a real moment for us as a band, to realise your living your dream’.
What was it like producing those mariachi sounds?
‘There was always that feel of Mexicana when producing the more mariachi sounds. But like other great artists such as (Buffalo) Springfield we just gave it our best shot.’
With yet another great solo track ‘Lay Low’ I wondered if the feeling you placed into the track came from a sense of disappointment from way back in the 70s.
‘Sometimes Fear mostly. You see you can strut around on stage and hope for the best but I’m not one for fight or flight, that sort of thing doesn’t really appeal to me.’
Back when you were swinging around touring in the 90s your melodies used a lot of emotion, when you were younger did you always think nothing can stop this feeling of creative nature?
‘Those moments that jumped at us we took as it came really. Back then you could just quit your job and go for it. Not like now where you have to work at say Tesco for nothing.’
What kind of music influences you to perform?
‘From my late teens to my early 20s I was well into Neil Young and that laid back freewill feeling. That always gives me a great emotion towards any crowd really.’
Crossing between ‘Memory Muscle‘ tracks and the more familiar Bluetones numbers can be tedious to a crowd that might not be used to Mark’s chilled out faze towards life. But with great sounds from his acoustic music I’m pretty sure by the end of one song your foot will be following that invisible beat to acoustic reel.
I asked him if there was anything that caught his ears to date and as he smiled at me he asked me to listen to Cass McCombs. ‘He didn’t really appeal to me until my brother said ‘let it grow on you man.’ Mark Morriss, a great singer, a brilliant solo artist and with new material set for release this year, exciting times lay ahead.
Words by Nick Osman
Pictures by Arron Gumbrell