Category Archives: The Story Behind The Album

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Jazzmenco by La Vienta

lv2

The El Paso jazz guitarists were an unlikely highlight of the Lone Star State’s music scene in the ‘90s, and with the album discussed here, they stormed the Billboard charts and nabbed a Grammy nod. Time to revisit—and to catch up, as well.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots, Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil, and Illuminated by the 360’s. Here’s our latest, a remarkable album, released in ’93, by a remarkable Texas-based jazz outfit that is clearly dear to our “Story Behind…” editor Levitt’s heart. Enjoy.—FM

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La Vienta is a jazz group that formed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Founded by Mario Otero and Stefan Schyga in the early 90s the band was one of those rare occurrences in a town filled with either metal heads or Freddy Fender wannabes.  This was one of those cases where the right elements for success seemed to just coalesce out of the ether, like a freak thunderstorm in the desert beauty arrives and quickly dissipates from whence it came. Sometimes the right climactic conditions come together and all hell breaks loose, as it did when a young guitarist from Hildesheim, Germany studying music at UTEP of all places became friends with a local El Paso guitarist who together as La Vienta set the jazz scene on fire with their debut album Jazzmenco released back in 1993 for jazz label Telarc records.

With lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” or you’re smile you knew the band could bring the goods.  Here and on the rest of the album you could tell the band was working from a deep fondness for flamenco music. Their collective talent crossed like bridges over a desert wash blending flamenco guitar with a broader jazz sensibility to take the music to somewhere fascinating and uncharted.

“San Miguel” is more straight ahead flamenco with strains of Cuban piano that fuses well. Here drums, congas and palmas (hand claps) sparkle and give the song even greater heft.

“Spanish Invasion” is healthy mix of Pat Metheny and Carlos Santana. I appreciate the shifting of styles on this piece and the delicate fret work in the calmer moments of the song. It’s also a cool moment on the album that despite the dated sounding keyboards shows one of the many strands of creativity flowing through this duo.

“Paco’s Night Out” bolts out of the gate with its galloping beat, here the playfulness of the guitar playing dips and climbs over the pulsing beat, a great track to play as you drive up Transmountain Drive to catch the sunset.

“Skeleton Samfa” is a jazzy number that offers a great back and forth dialogue between Stefan and Mario. The tune which is stretched over a taught drum beat cut with some Jimmy Smith organ virtuosic embellishments will have you tapping your toes, and luxuriating in the positivity.

“Moroccan Face Dance” would have gotten the band in trouble had it been released in Trump’s America with its Mexican and Arabic influences or at least it would have had to been left off the album due to visa issues. Joking aside, this track is worth the price of admission alone, with its deft playing that’s infused with intrigue and romance, sailing in on tendrils of myrrh incense. The song then shifts gears with vocals and palmas and an electric guitar that just rips before ushering the flamenco guitar back into the mix. Stefan says, “[It’s] a song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.”

jazzmenco

Despite being a shade too early for internet promotion, Jazzmenco managed to climb to #17 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart and garner a Grammy nod for production. As with many big label debuts this record shows the abundance of talent the group would draw upon for subsequent releases. That said, there’s something vital and electric about this first album that later albums seemed to dampen down a bit, which is why over the last twenty years this record has remained on constant rotation in my life, providing me with a much-needed dip back into the beauty of the southwest, with its sun-bleached edifices and alluring smell of creosote permeating the air after a summer downpour.

I was able to connect with Stefan and Mario to answer a few questions about how Jazzmenco came about. These days besides teaching music, Stefan is busy recording his next solo record that will be out sometime in 2017. Meanwhile Mario is also still involved with making music and running a music school. Both of them still call El Paso home and while they aren’t currently playing together as a duo, the bond of friendship remains deep between the two.

Online: http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/La-Vienta/

https://www.stefan.us/bio

http://mariootero.com

Blurt: How did you guys start playing together?

Stefan Schyga: We met at the UTEP and heard each other play and thought it was cool to play together.  In those days’ lots of people just hung out in the hallways and jammed, it was a really cool situation.

 

Who came up with the name? What does it mean?

It is from a poem by Doug Adams.  He talks about a girl “and she moves like the wind and he called her La Vienta”.  We just always thought that the name was cool and different, and kind of described our south west style of music.

 

A German-American is not the first person you think of when it comes to Flamenco, how did you develop a taste for this sort of music?

When I was 16 I found a couple of Flamenco albums and fell in love with the music, even though my teacher later said they were horrible. I won’t mention any names but he was very popular in the US during the 60ies. My teacher then let me listen to some great players such as Ramon Montoya, Mario Escudero, Sabicas and many more. I was just amazed by what these players were able to do on the Guitar.  I also loved Classical Guitar but these Flamenco players were using all these cool and formerly unheard (by me) techniques.

 

How long after forming La Vienta, did you start to get interest from labels?

Mario had some good friends Keith and Muriel that were kind enough to finance the first album.  It sold like crazy locally, even outselling Michael Jackson during the Christmas Season. We decided to just send it out to some labels and had 2 labels jump on it.

This was pretty crazy, as one label guy told me: “This stuff never happens”. The labels were Higher Octave and Telarc. We decided to [sign] with Telarc. (Below: Stefan’s advance check in 1993 from the label.)

stefan-advance-check

Where did you guys record the album?

We recorded it here in El Paso at El Adobe a really nice 24 track analog studio, but Telarc brought in their Digital recorders.

I think they were Yamaha Digital 8Track recorders that you could chain together, kind of like the first ADATs

I know we did not have quite enough tracks since most of the recordings they used to do were live sets such as Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson.

This presented a big problem during the mix since the Engineer had to bounce some of the audio, such as congas and other percussion onto one track and we could not change those levels later.

Of the 14 tracks on the record, what was the oldest song that had been kicking around? What songs went through the greatest evolution in the studio?

I think the oldest song was “Paco’s Night Out”, a great song that Mario composed.  We added the drums and stuff so it sounded a lot bigger than we were used to with just the 2 guitars.

Also in “Moroccan Face Dance”, we added the Jaleos and Palmas performed by a Flamenco Singer who happened to live in El Paso. Mario also added some cool electric guitar so this song became a lot bigger sounding.

 

Before you guys entered the studio were the songs 100% ready to go or was there some major tweaking to be done?

We really had rehearsed them well, but there were still slight changes.  Before the session we had opened for Flora Purim and Airto Moreira and we played pretty much all of the songs with the full band.

 

What was the input of your producer Michael Bishop and what songs went through the greatest changes in studio?

Well, Michael was really not our producer but the Engineer.

The biggest issue that we had was that we were using new digital technology and had very limited tracks. So, some instruments were bounced to a track to save tracks and we could not go back and change individual instruments in the mix.  That was a real problem.  Telarc was used to more “live” recording than studio multi tracking.

 

How many of the compositions were penned by you and how many by Mario?

From the beginning, we decided to always do a 50/50 split. (Below: La Vienta with fan Billy Gibbons)

la-vienta-billy-gibbons

 

How many songs were recorded in total and who made the decision on which songs to cut?

We recorded 14 and fought for all of them, and Telarc worked with us.  There were issues such as string noise, but they did agree to keep all the tracks. I think this really helped the album to be a cohesive listening experience.

 

Of the tracks on the record who came up with the running order? Was lead cut “Tu Sonrisa” (Your Smile) worked to jazz radio?

Telarc had radio promoters and other people listen to it and they came up with the order.  We really did not know how any of this worked.  When we listened to the final order though we were happy with it.

 

How did the song Moroccan Face Dance come about?

I just wanted to write a song that combined Rock and Arabic/Flamenco elements with full drums. Can you say “Spinal Tap”? A song that tells a story kind of [like] “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.  I really enjoyed recording that song and Mario really whaled on that electric guitar!

 

When the record came out how was it received?

It did extremely well, much better than expected.  The album got lots of radio play with stations like KKSF in San Francisco having up to 6 songs on heavy rotation.  We got quite a few concerts out of it and did radio interviews etc.  Telarc promoted it with Sound Warehouse (a record store chain) and it jumped on the Billboard Charts!

 

When is the last time you listened to Jazzmenco and if you could change one thing about it what would it be?

I’ve been listening to the album for this interview. I don’t really listen to it.  Maybe once every 5 years!  I think we’d like to re-record it, but most artists feel like that.  It is a moment in time and that’s it. Some songs sound great and some songs well, Mario and I might have heard them differently. Sometimes we feel that our first self-produced album captures the feel better than the first Telarc recording, but then again the guitars sounded much better on the Telarc recording.

lavienta-surf-club

What formats was the album released on?

Cassette and CD.  I still have a cassette, what a weird thought.

 

Where did you first hear the final mix?

I think Mario and I got together and listened to it.  It was weird, because the mixes were done sending tapes back and forth to Telarc.  We were not present for the mix, which in the end was probably not a good idea.  We still liked it though, and I remember driving into LA and hearing it on the Wave ([radio] station), [that was the] coolest feeling ever!

 

What was the feeling when you opened the cd for the first time?

Wow, just pure excitement! All the work has paid off. Let’s see what happens.

 

Stefan, do you disown that haircut that graces the front cover?

The hair got even worse for the second and third albums!

 

Will there ever be a reissue?

Mario and I are currently researching what it would take for us to re-release the very first album. I think people might really like it.  We just have to be aware of publishing contracts etc.

 

When and where do you remember hearing that Jazzmenco was nominated for a Grammy?

We were actually just told after the fact, like yeah you guys were nominated.

 

Did you guys attend the ceremony?

Nope

 

After the nomination, what sort of venues did you play at and what artists did you perform with? Any Jazz fests?

Nothing much changed but we played gigs with people like Joe Bonamassa, Joe Satriani, Tommy Emmanuel, The Rippingtons the Ike Turner review etc. We did play some wine fests also in northern California. (Below: performing at a jazz festival)

lv-at-jazz-festival

How did the album sell?

I believe it was like 100,000 copies

 

In terms of sales do you remember your first royalty check you received from Telarc?

Yes, the very first one was actually an advance.  Still have a copy of it! As far as royalties I don’t think we ever recouped, at least to the statements we have seen.  We still have to receive a statement from Concord Jazz, but that has been our fault for not checking up on it.

 

Seeing as you’re of German extraction (Stefan) did you manage to pick up some coverage in Germany at the time?

We did actually pretty well in Europe.  I remember my former guitar teacher seeing the album in Amsterdam and not buying a copy!!!!  Got lots of radio play.

 

Did any of this make an impact in El Paso?

I think so, lots of people remember us, and I hope we helped to start some other groups.  We have a very vibrant music scene in our Border Town(s), this includes Juarez. Mexico.

 

Did the A&R people or other label staff get involved at all with pushing some creative ideas towards the band?

They let us record what we wanted, but then they started to push some of the tracks they thought were [going to] be more successful in radio play.  They also listened to radio promoters to check on the order of the songs.  All that input was really helpful for the project.

lvienta-beach

 

What was Telarc’s input on the promotion of this record? Did you have any issues with the publicity for the record?

Well Telarc had all the greats like Joe Pass, Al DiMeola and really did not have to promote them so much since [they’d] sell anyhow?

We kind of felt that Higher Octave might have done a better job breaking a new artist, but hey what do we know?

 

How soon after the record came out did discussions begin floating around for the next one?

Right away, since it sold so much (for a new artist), but now with a “real producer” etc.  That is a whole different story though.  I think our favorite album will always be Forgotten Romance.

 

Will La Vienta ever surface again for a new album?

Hey you never know!

 

Stefan, when will your solo record come out?

It will be released this summer (2017)

***

Below: Some of the group’s press clippings and billings.

 

press-democrat

great-american-music-hall

sonoma

copper-mountain

fairmont

billboard

 

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… Michael Fennelly’s (Crabby Appleton) “Go Back” (1970)

crabby-live

Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). Now we dip way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly.

BY TIM HINELY

At this stage in the game we probably don’t have to tell you that the early ‘70s was a breeding ground for the genre we’ve come to know and love as power pop—Big Star, the Raspberries, and the Nazz being just three of the more prominent progenitors. Count L.A.’s Crabby Appleton—vocalist Michael Fennelly (late of Millennium) plus a group popular on the local scene called Stonehenge: Felix “Flaco” Falcon (percussion), Casey Foutz (keyboards), Hank Harvey (bass), and Phil Jones (drums)—among those icons, too. Although the group managed to land insistent, hooky Fennelly composition “Go Back” in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970 and tour nationally on the strength of their eponymous Don Gallucci-produced debut album, the couldn’t maintain their momentum and wound up splitting following the release of their poorly-selling 1971 followup, Rotten to the Core. Fennelly would go on to a lengthy career as a songwriter and solo artist, and we recently caught up with him at his home in Portland, Oregon, to take a quick trip down memory lane to the “Go Back” period—and a musical legacy that’s still cherished by power pop fans across the globe.

BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song? 
FENNELLY: There wasn’t a particular incident or person as inspiration. I wrote songs all the time. Sometimes they were personal, and sometimes they were attempts at commercial placement. Some songs seem to write themselves. Go Back was one of those. Sitting playing my big old Gibson acoustic 12 string. Stoned. Out it came. Probably took less than a half hour.

  Any idea how your long-time fans feel about it (ie: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
It’s the song more people know about than any of my others. A lot of people really liked it upon its release and many remember it fondly and comment how it was among their favorite of the era. So, in some respects it’s a fan favorite, although people who are familiar with my catalog over the years might have other choices for their faves.

fennelly

Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later? 
After Crabby Appleton, I didn’t play “Go Back”. Many years later, in the ‘80s, my bands would include it – sometimes as an encore. It was fun to revisit.

Is there anything about the song you’d change? 
Nope. It came out just as it should have.

crabby-lp

Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
“Go Back” was among songs I’d written before Crabby Appleton. We worked up our version in rehearsal. When we recorded it, producer Don Gallucci suggested the keyboard be a Farfisa Organ. It was a nice suggestion, I think. When we ran into problems was when we were close to finished mixing the album, and Don felt strongly that Go Back should not be on the album. He’s been involved with heavier concept album stuff (Touch) and though the song was too light and kind of bubblegummy.  Of course it did have elements of that genre, but I felt they were well offset by the minor-to-major changes in the chording, and the power of the overall sound. I also felt VERY strongly that “Go Back” was to be Crabby’s hit. We got in a shouting match in Elektra’s VP’s office over it. I won. [Below: Fennelly’s original demo for the song.]

How do you feel about it now? 
I like the song – I like Crabby rendition of it. And I feel a fondness for it as my one-hit wonder. Having a song and record that many people know and love is indeed a wonder! And “Go Back” opened all sorts of doors for Crabby and for me. It got us on American Bandstand [watch the performance, below), and had us playing arenas and pop festivals. We used to hear it come on the radio as we were driving to gigs across the US. That was a thrill.

I’ve attached the original scrawled lyrics, and a link to the original pre-crabby guitar/voice demo.

crabby1

crabby-2

 

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Illuminated by The 360’s

360s live 2

The 1991 release from the beloved Boston band has indeed stood the test of time. “Joyous rock ‘n’ roll and a great band,” as producer Sean Slade puts it.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics, From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk, Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots and Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil. Here’s our latest, and for anyone who was around during the alt-rock explosion in America during the ‘90s, we’re betting you heard — and dug — it. Enjoy.—FM

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In 1991 Boston indie rockers The 360’s, consisting of Audrey Clark, Eric Russell, Brian Evans and John Grady, walked into Fort Apache recording studio and proceeded to create a psychedelic tinged, blistering rock record that hit two sweet spots for me. The first was the guitar playing which was in your face, melodic and with a hint of grunge. Next were the vocals that recalled a Chrissie Hynde assuredness and swagger.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Boston was strip mined for its alternative music. Bands such as Morphine, The Lemonheads, Bullet Lavolta, and the Pixies were offered record deals. Signing frenzies reached their peak and labels were trying very hard to find the next Jane’s Addiction or Ivo Watts Russell-4AD darling. “We were ahead of the curve musically in Boston [and] it always seemed like the right people got it or dug it,” guitarist Eric Russell notes.

Unfortunately, this didn’t add up to stellar album sales for the band. What it did, though, was put them on the radar in Europe and the UK, giving them the opportunity to bring their formidable sound to a new audience. Says Russell, “I remember one gig in New York, we met a promoter who was there to check us out for the Metropolis festival, which is the tour of Holland featured in the movie, The Year That Punk Broke. The cash from that one gig paid for our airfare and allowed us a two-week tour of Holland.” Illuminated also helped propel the band to win, as Audrey Clark mentions, “best new band at the Boston Music Awards.”

Much of the band’s sound can be attributed to their “Fifth Beatle,” Sean Slade, who produced and mixed records such as Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, as well as a slew of Boston’s greatest alternative acts (The Pixies, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Morphine etc.) and eventually Hole’s Live Through This. Clark recalls, “Slade was absolutely the 5th member of the band. His input was essential, including arrangements, and Eric/Slade had a true vision for the album. Slade is a master of vocal recording. He’s a great vocal arranger especially with female singers. He also had a great collection of vintage amps and guitars. Slade understood us as a band!”

Tracks like “Texas,” with its grizzled ferocity, and pitched on the edge of sanity double tracked vocals, stands out, with its layers of aggressive guitar that swirl and detonate repeatedly throughout the song. It’s as if we’ve happened upon a ghoulish scene in the film Near Dark. Meanwhile, “Illuminated” is the perfect balance of angelic vocals and gritty rumbling guitar. “Put That Behind Me” recalls The Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road”. Here Audrey’s vocals evoke a cynical weariness. The propulsive nature of the guitars makes this all too brief song seethe, and glow. Why this wasn’t a single is beyond comprehension and begs the question of whether the label really had a clear idea of how to promote the band.

Eric aptly describes the sound they were going for with this recordsaying,  “We were talking a lot about heavy guitars, using words like heavy, grunge. Heavy guitars with soft beautiful vocals over the top of a psychedelic wave of noise.” This is in many ways why this album is so interesting, with its psychedelic layers seasoned throughout its ten tracks.

Unfortunately, as is the case for so many bands that are signed to major labels or “indies” with major label ties, unless you have someone at the label to champion your record inside you may inevitably get lost in the shuffle and simply become another notch on an A&R man’s belt. Eric Russell says, “The first recording was paid for by A&M’s Aaron Jacoves, the man who signed Soundgarden.” Later on, though, the label lost interest. This is when NYC’s Link Records stepped up to the plate to sign the band.

Luck also has a fair amount to do with it for bands to get signed. The 360’s seemed to be lucky on many fronts back then. Russell recalls, “I remember coming home from Europe and playing a big gig at Axis. It was for WFNX packed [with] 5 or 600 and the main P.A. kept going in and out, people were horrified they couldn’t believe [that] we didn’t stop. We played through it, weird gig, but it was that night that we were approached with a record deal.”

You’d be forgiven if you thought the band had disappeared into the ether. I certainly thought they had hung up their spurs long ago but as Audrey Clarke says, “We never really stopped being 360’s.” In fact, the band has now welcomed Malcolm Travis (of Sugar fame) into the band as well as Audrey and Eric’s son Ian who does duty behind the kit.

In my musical musings I often mention that back in 1991 I was in China as a foreign exchange student. Illuminated was dubbed on a tape by my friend Juan Lozano who would send me care packages of music to feed me musically when the bleakness of China would start to close in. That is where the music took root in a drab dorm room, on a crappy boom box sitting atop a regulation wooden desk with red painted serial numbers. It’s been almost 25 years and I’ve never tired of listening to Illuminated’s stellar slice of rock and roll.

So with an army of questions in mind, I contacted Clark and her partner Russell to give me the lowdown on how this Illuminated came into existence. In the interim I spent several occasions chatting over Facebook with Audrey about music and my time in China and some common elements in our background. What was great about those moments for me was being able to get to know someone that I had only known through her music. So some three months after I initially emailed her the questions I get a message, “The questions have been answered please send me your address”. I send her my email address and to my surprise and shock she asks for my mailing address. She went on to explain that she’s “old school” about such things and that she included some photos for me and a signed copy of the CD.

Autograph

When the package finally arrived after 2 nail biting weeks, I opened it to find 13 pages of handwritten responses from both her and Eric as well as nine original photos of her and the band. It was a lovingly, ramshackle assembled montage of a band that continues to inspire. The paper that the questions were answered on smelled of cigarettes and conjure up a wooden kitchen table, linoleum flooring, and those few precious moments of calm in the morning before one heads off to work. Yes, Audrey like many other musicians in this world have to hold down day jobs in order to fund their artistic endeavors.

Of course this article wouldn’t have been complete without talking to Berklee School of Music Professor/Music Producer extraordinaire, Sean Slade. As noted above, he produced the album, and he also manned the boards for its followup, 1992’s Supernatural. (Asked about the possibility of Illuminated one day being available again, he commented, “I have no idea about any re-issue plans. And to be honest, I love the album, but I prefer Supernatural.”) He offered up a wonderfully detailed summary of the recording sessions for Blurt readers which you can read below.

First though, it’s time, in the band’s own transcribed words, to shine a light on Illuminated. (Below: sundry memorabilia plus the band’s handwritten interview responses.)

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Memorabilia

BLURT: How long had the 360’s been together when Illuminated started to coalesce?

ERIC RUSSELL (ER): I met Audrey in late ’87 we started to discuss forming a band called The Bardot’s and making music and how the music should sound. It was at this point we decided Audrey would play guitar although she had never played before. This started the songwriting [process]. My teaching Audrey to play sparked some sort of energy; it was simple but it felt right. We wrote 2 songs first: “H.M.S.” later on 45 as a B side, and “Trashed” never made it past demo. The 2 songs were done on 4-track, very low fi, no bass or drummer. We used a drum machine and an old friend played bass but this is really where the band and record started. I say this is where the record started because this is when we started to develop our sound – we listened to Syd Barrett bootlegs over and over, post Pink Floyd, [and] also listened heavily to a demo by The Titanics produced by Sean Slade. We wanted heavy guitars with soft female vocals over the top, not knowing yet [that] Slade would be the perfect producer to achieve the sound we wanted, open minded musically yet a great vocal producer.

I think of the record beginning when I met Audrey and we started to talk a lot about the sound we wanted the band to have. We were talking about heavy guitars;we were using words like heavy, grunge. Heavy guitars with soft beautiful vocals over the top of a psychedelic wave of noise. When I met Audrey her band had just broken up; they were beginning to get interest from A&M Records’ A&R man Aaron Jucovics, the Soundgarden A&R man. The band was called Drama Club. I tried out for the band but was kicked out by the band leader who [felt] threatened by me. He could sense that we had a chemistry musically. Audrey was asked to form a new band and started with me. I had Audrey fooling around with one of my guitars and said, “I did not know you could play.” She said, “I can’t,” and I said, “Yes you can,” so I began to teach Audrey guitar. This brought me back to my roots, which was Boston hardcore. It freed me, made me less freaked out by the interest from A&M records.

We wrote our first songs “H.M.S (Horror Movie Soundtrack)” and [“Trashed”]. We recorded them right away on a 4 track home studio owned by her old band mate Kenny. We really dug the lo-fi sound – it had the wave of noise with beautiful vocals. This whole thing took about six months. We played the 2 song demo for Max [Tolkoff], the program director of WFNX who liked the demo, so we started more writing. The whole thing felt new, it felt right, so every time we played we were writing. By the time we got drummer John Grady and [our] first bass player, we had the two songs from the demo and I started writing “Deadpan Superstar”. Audrey started “Tripping With the Angels”, so we had the four songs – not all the way finished, but those 4 ideas before any proper band rehearsals started.

 Were all of these songs tunes you had played and then perfected in the studio, or were some of these songs written in the studio?

ER: No, that would come later as we grew as a band. We were such a young band in the amount of time we were together, and the fact that Audrey had only played guitar for six months when we recorded. We had some great gigs and some real room clearings. We were ahead of the curve musically in Boston but it always seemed like the right people got it or dug it. We grew by playing gigs. All the songs for Illuminated were played out live — we were so loose as a band. It really helped to hone the songs by playing them live. I don’t think we could have made that record without playing them live. Some early gigs were huge breaks, [like the] WFNX birthday that had O-Positive in the audience and they asked us to play their record release party, which led to us [to] opening for Mark Sandman’s band, Treat Her Right. They had a huge local hit with “I Think She Likes Me”. Our music was on heavy rotation on WBCN and WFNX; he described the band as sexy garage rock. He was a fan of the band and a good friend [to] the band.

Back when you all decided to lay these tracks down, what was the Boston music scene like?

ER: The Boston scene had a kind of turmoil – you could feel that a change was happening; the super Berklee chops type of band were out of style. Metal was still their bands, like Trash Broadway, but like out of nowhere we got hold of a rough mix demo by a band called the Titanics – it blew our minds, Audrey and myself. It was recorded at Fort Apache by Sean Slade, Tim O’Hare and Carl Plaster. This was the music of the day [and] they weren’t as big as they should have been, but to us they were our favorite band. This was a new sound for us in Boston. It was heavy rock, but psychedelic, not metal like Aerosmith or Guns N’ Roses. Guitar players Nat Freedberg and Dave Fradette were a huge influence on me and my songwriting and guitar playing. So other than the Pixies there was Reeves Gabrels, later playing with Bowie. He [was] like a big brother [to me]. [We] were playing a gig one night at the Middle East. I looked out in the crowd and there was Bowie’s guitar player. I was blown away. He was with his woman and I said, “Reeves what are you doing here?” and he said, “I am here to see you!” I couldn’t believe it! We began a friendship, big brother little brother type. We talked a lot about favorite gigs, guitars, guitar sound; we had a lot in common, he was part of that Berklee super chops thing, but was getting into a more garage band thing. Then I met Rich Gilbert [Boston band Human Sexual Response] at a gig. He was into what I was doing. I asked him to come up and play a song with us; he didn’t want to do it at first but I talked him into it. We did, “Are You Experienced,” a cover we were doing at the time; it came out really good. It reminded me of [“Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”] a Yardbirds song that had Page and Beck on it. I felt a part of the Boston Elite Club of guitar players.

AUDREY CLARKE (AC): The Boston music scene was always a great scene, The Rat, Channel, Middle East, TT’s and tons of really great bands. Illuminated came out and was well received by the music community. Bands like O Positive (Link Label mates) and Mark Sandman (Treat Her Right/Morphine) took us under their wing, gave us some great shows.

 

360s live 3

What sort of following did the 360’s have back then?

ER: Like I spoke of in question 3 they were a lot of the hip scene makers coming, press people, but [it was] surprising [to have fans] like Seka, death metal bands, guitar player Bill O’Malley — I became friends [with him]. We always had a lot of freaks [at our shows]. I started to notice the crowds looking more normal but I liked the freaks and people of the music biz scene. I remember one gig in NY: we met a promoter who was there to check us out for the Metropolis festival, which is the tour of Holland featured in the movie, The Year That Punk Broke. The cash from that one gig paid for our airfare and allowed us a two-week tour of Holland. We saw the mind blowing Nirvana show, and then you knew the change had come – it was called grunge, but rock and roll was cool again. I had met Billy Corgan, Gish had just come out and he told me he dug our record, and the office of Caroline Records had been listening to Illuminated all the time he was dating Courtney (you know who) at that time. We had just started to talk about guitars, gear – he did not have a very good show that night. He had a lot of trouble with his backline but before we could really get into it, Courtney said, “Who is that guy, he is nobody.” He apologized, we shook hands, and then watched Nirvana change music.

As far as our scene, there for a while it was hard to go to New York or Europe and play a huge show – people were really into what we were doing  – and then play home still trying to get gigs packed. But I can say we loved the Middle East. [It] had a great vibe [and we] never had a bad gig. I remember coming home from Europe and playing a big gig at Axis. It was for WFNX, packed [with] 500 or 600 , and the main P.A. kept going in and out – people were horrified, they couldn’t believe [that] we didn’t stop. We played through it; weird gig, but it was that night that we were approached with a record deal.

AC: We built up our following by playing a lot of local shows with our favorite bands, Titanics, The Lyres, Zulus, Bags etc. When the record came out we went from 100 people on a good night to 300 people and slowly began playing our own shows. At our peak we could pack the Middle East downstairs (800 people) or the Paradise (500 people).

What do you remember about the initial sessions for the record?

ER: First of all, I must talk about Sean Slade and Carl Plaster; anywhere we went with those guys we had a great vibe. Slade and Plaster were our favorite [producer and engineer team]. Slade had picked Birddog, a tiny little studio. I remember the recording desk and main control room were upstairs and the band would set up downstairs so no one could see each other and we had to talk through the mics. No visual [cues] so once we started playing it could be hard to stop us if they didn’t like the take. We started to get some great demos… whoops I’m getting ahead of myself.

First the Fort, Aka Fort Apache, had a North and South end. The North was high end and the South was low end for low budget recordings. The first recording was paid for by A&M’s Aaron Jacoves, the man who signed Soundgarden. We went into Fort South and set up live and were to record every song we had. I think we recorded about 12 tracks that day, everything live, no overdubs except for vocals. We got a few really good soundtracks that day: one was “Tripping With the Angels”, which made he radio and was the track that led us to getting signed and also a showcase for A&M, but it was there that we knew we had a record’s worth of material. So we lost interest from A&M, and soon after signed with Link – which leads us back to Birddog Studios pre-doc demos.

It was now our second time in the studio with Slade and Plaster. We had the whole day to do about 5 songs, which meant some overdubs. I remember “Deadpan Superstar” was the track that sounded really good that day; we did not have the ending on the record worked out yet, but we did a second try at “Tripping” [which] wasn’t any better than the live. We also tracked two songs, “Free” and “It”. It was decided that these would be released as a two song 45 to come out before the record, and was our first time in the Fort to cut these two songs with Andy Kipnes credited as Co-producer. Which was a joke, because I remember all [of] his production ideas left me confused and uptight – my first [time] in a really good studio [cutting] my first 45.

Kipnes was wrecking the cool relationship Slade and I had started to develop, like knowing what the other guy means without having to explain it all, so the laughable co-production of Andy Kipnes starting to wreck the guitar overdubs. I remember Slade and I going for a joint in the bathroom and him telling me to look at him [Andy Kipnes], nod your head, and ignore anything he says. It was too funny – it is making me laugh right now. We started to joke around that it is like a parent driving the car while the infant in the car seat thinks he is steering the car with a play steering wheel. Sorry; I had to add that. It is an insult to someone I know as a true professional, having Andy as co-producer.

AC: The initial sessions included a lot of demoing at Birddog Studios, a little studio in Cambridge owned by John Wood. We did our demos with Slade and Carl Plaster and Paul Kolderie. Some were done at The Fort (Fort Apache Studios) We had about 25 songs to choose from. Analog; there were no pro tools or auto tune back then. (Thank God.) We practiced five days a week, we’d get a coffee, smokes, and then head to rehearsal from 10 am to 2 pm. We worked really hard experimenting with sounds and vocals.

Poster

Who decided the running order of the record?

AC: Mostly democratic with Slade and Eric making the final decisions.

Being signed to Link, a subsidiary of Elektra Records, did that come with its own benefits and/or stress?

AC: Initially being signed to Link was perfect, a small indie label with distribution from Elektra, so it was nice being part of a small family but having the benefits of a major in terms of distribution and promotion.

Something that has always struck me about the record is the killer guitar sound. Eric, can you give us insight into the setup you had in the studio? What sort of gear (guitars/pedals/amps) did you use?

ER: At the time I was young and had just moved out on my own. I had very little money; all [the] early stuff was done with a Mesa Boogie studio Cal 22 amp brand new at the time. I talked Andy Kipnes into buying me a used Marshall Silver Jubilee 25th Anniversary half stack. It was 100-50-watt amp and depending on the sound I would run 50 watts for a softer, more gain type of sound, and would run 100 watts for a harder, punchier sound. I also would switch between 100 or 50 watts for live shows depending on the size of the club. The cab had Celestians G-12-75; they worked really well with the head. I have tried several Silver Jubilee and found the one I had sounded really good. Some of them not so good. It is the amp that Slash later made famous and is pretty much the same amp as the Slash model.

Guitars, I had one Charvel l used; not sure what model it was. I wanted something cooler but could not afford it. I covered the head stock with stickers to hide the Charvel logo. I had the Floyd Rose whammy blocked and it had a more organic sound and pre-amp built in that I always turned off. Then I beat it up and scratched it to make it look as old as it could. All in all, it sounded pretty good. The one problem with the guitar: it doesn’t clean up when you turn the volume down. As far as the pedals, I had two really cool TC electronics pedals; the first one I got was a chorus flanger [with] an input gain that I always turn up. The other TC pedal was parametric E.Q that had a sustainer with distortion. This had a lot to do with my tone that I used on almost all lead tracks. The end lead in “Texas” is a good example of this sound. I also used an Ibanez T610 Tube Screamer; most leads had both pedals o, but the whole record was done using various combinations of these pedals.

 Can you go into detail about working with producer Sean Slade? How much did he tweak the sound of the record? What were some of the decisions regarding the record you felt benefitted from his hand, and what if any do you feel critical of to this day?

AC: Slade was absolutely the 5th member of the band. His input was essential including arrangements and Eric/Slade had a true vision for the album. Slade is a master of vocal recording. He’s a great vocal arranger, especially with female singers. He also had a great collection of vintage amps and guitars. Slade understood us as a band and we were a “Real Band”, 4 people who created together, the right combination. He got the best performances from the band without being harsh. We all communicated so well together, personality wise and musically we connected as friends an as musicians. He is a genius producer.

In terms of how the record was mixed, what were some of the choices Andy Wallace made?

ER: In terms of the mix, Andy Wallace – what a cool guy. Slade and I show up to Bearsville: my first time ever being at a world class studio. We walk in and this assistant who had just finished working on the Cinderella record starts giving Slade and me major attitude, making us feel really nervous, like, who are you guys. We later nicknamed him Poodlecloo – nice haircut. Andy walks in and immediately puts the guy in his place. We set the decks up for the mix the way he wants them. We make some small talk for half an hour. He carries a small gym bag with him: in it, a towel, two big bags of Hydrox Double Stuff cookies. This is standard for any mix session; the rest is all top secret mix programs he brings to all mixes. I think they have something to do with the drum sounds. He looks at us and says politely, everyone out! He sets up his secret programs and he will call us when he is done once he sets things the way he likes them. He is very diplomatic about mixing the songs, making sure that Slade and I are happy with any of the mixes, asking if we have any ideas we aren’t hearing. He is very easy to work with, super humble, really into what the band [and Slade] thinks.

The more we mixed the faster the sound of the record took shape. I think he mixed the whole record in two days. I [believe] we mixed almost in the order or sequence of the record. He really liked the record; the guitar sounds are pretty close to the way they were recorded. Some leads had two takes and I remember he let them both go in the mix. Andy and Sean spent most of the time on the vocals. Sean is a great vocal producer. They did a lot of mixes with the vox where Andy or Sean liked them ,then they would do vocals up 2 dB then down 2 dB, then we would vote on the one we liked. Also, the studio had us set up in our own house. They owned several houses around town.

After 1 or 2 mixes we were really happy with what we were hearing. The mixes sounded great, so Slade and I would go back to the house, [then] the studio would call us to come over and listen to the next mix and add whatever we wanted to guitar, drums, vox, bass etc. He was humble [with] everything he [did] and very concerned that we were happy with the mixes, even over the opinion of the record label. [He was] a band mate, team player, a true friend. What a great guy. I wish we could have mixed the record with just Andy Wallace, Sean Slade and myself with no input from Andy Kipnes. Andy Wallace would call us in to listen to an early mix and it would sound so heavy and rockin’ and Andy Kipnes would say turn that down, that’s too heavy, turn down the guitars, they are too heavy. Andy Kipnes was too worried about sounding commercial and we did not see it that way, nor did Andy Wallace. Sometimes we would pretend that we were turning things down and leave them the same. He could not really tell the difference once we were mixing. Andy Wallace could be a real advocate for the band!

AC: I wasn’t at the Illuminated mixing sessions.

Single poster

There are 10 tracks on the CD: how many songs were recorded for the Illuminated sessions? What happened to the tracks that were jettisoned?

AC: 10 songs for the record and another 3-5 that were B-sides for the singles. “Are You Experienced” (Hendrix cover), “Wild Roads”, “Horror Movie Soundtrack”.

A track like “Put That Behind Me” is one hell of a badass tune; tell us the origin of the song?

AC: “Put That Behind Me” was my least favorite song on the record. Slade insisted it was a great tune so we recorded it. I don’t think we ever played it live. I like it much more these days. It’s a story about getting older playing in a band and losing inspiration.

The album has always struck me as if I witnessed something horrific and lived to tell the tale. The album seems to go to some really dark places. Can you talk about what was the inspiration for some of the tracks on the record like “Texas”, “Illuminated” as well as “Deadpan Superstar”?

AC: “Texas” was a riff Eric had. The intro the band was working on. Lyrically, our friends from the band The Titanics were going to play in Texas and we kept chanting “Texas” over the riff – the book The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry was a big inspiration for the song.

“Illuminated” was written at 3am. I wrote the song in a dream, got up and grabbed my guitar; the song wrote itself, divine inspiration. Lyrically it also came from the dream, with exception to the lyrics my 4-year-old son wrote. I asked him to just say whatever was on his mind. He was jumping on the sofa and said, “I am falling, I’m so tall.” The song was now finished.

“Deadpan Superstar”, Eric wrote the song and Lori Kramer my sister and I were singing over the song. The lyrics were about Lori’s best friend Becky who had recently killed herself. Lori was devastated. “They picked her up today outside” was her being picked up on the street for some indiscretion. “She was looking in a shop store window or was that a greenfield somewhere”, not knowing where she was. She had a mental breakdown. She was an X-doll and vampire (she was a stripper at the time). It’s a story about a beautiful person that unfortunately couldn’t deal with her world.

360s CD

What does the album cover represent?

AC: The album cover was an artist rendering of the Universe—stars sun moon.

 So, when you were gearing up for the release of the record, what it was like to listen to the completed album?

AC: When the record was mixed by Andy Wallace at Bearsville Studios, I was not at the mix as I had a young son. Eric, Slade, Andy mixed the record, so it was a surprise. I thought it sounded great. Andy Wallace is a fine producer. We were really blessed to have Slade and Andy at the board.

Laminate

 How did the label promote the record?

AC: Upon release of the record Bruce McDonald and Laura Norden of Link did a blitz of all the major magazines /newspapers. A week after the release Jon Pareles gave us Record of the Week in the New York Times. We got fantastic press and were invited to Europe shortly afterwards, particularly Amsterdam and the Netherlands, performing at the Metropolis festival in Rotterdam: 1991-The Year Punk Broke with Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins. We played outdoors in front of 10,000 people. Upon return we did CMJ in NYC at the Marquee Club where Joey Ramone and I hung out and introduced the band to NYC. The record release party was held at the Middle East club in Cambridge, Boston’s best club, and it was a fantastic night.

That year we received best new band at the Boston Music Awards. We did not tour really on Illuminated but on Supernatural, our second release, we toured with the Soup Dragons, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, as well as Levitation, and we were supposed to do the Radiohead tour but there was not enough money to fund the tour. We played with Urge Overkill, Swervedriver, Dead Moon, Lyres, Morphine, The Pixies and loads of other great bands.

Audrey and Eric at Lemon Recs 1992

 These days when I hear bands like The Heartless Bastards I can hear the 360’s influence. Has the band ever thought of making a comeback and taking back the musical ground you forged and that bands like the Bastards seem to be mining for all its worth?

AC: I’m not sure about making a comeback per se. We never really stopped being 360’s. The original group will never be again due to our bassist Brian Evans is MIA in California (no contact for 20 years) and our drummer John Grady is my ex-brother in law. Eric and I will always make music together; we’ve been a couple since 1990 – the band consists of Eric, me, and my son Ian on drums and Linda Bean on bass. This was really my favorite lineup. Sadly Linda has decided to drop out and we are trying out “Lorde Buckingham,” a very fine player, this month for some local shows, and recording a double set of music. We have some interest, and with Sean Slade and Jon Magoon (engineer) we are looking forward to a project—analog of course.

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ILLUMINATED PRODUCER SEAN SLADE ON THE 360’S AND THE MAKING OF THE ALBUM

 I first met Audrey sometime in 1989. Paul Kolderie and I had taken a trip to LA to meet label people, hand out our demo reel, and see if we could dig up some gigs. One of the more friendly A&R guys was Aaron Jacoves at A&M:

he was a fan of Audrey from one of her earlier Boston rock combos, and he offered to pay for a session. We invited her to Fort Apache to sing on some cover tunes we’d selected for her; the one that clicked was her version of “Boys In Town” by the Divinyls, and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. She booked the studio again sometime later with her new band The Bardots, which was the 360s, only with a different bass player. We produced a couple of songs that got on local radio, and drew the attention of Andy Kipnes at Link Records.

When Andy signed the band, the idea was to make an album, but there was no formal budget given (at least not to me). At this point Kolderie was busy with other projects, so I produced and engineered the sessions. Time was booked at Fort Apache North (our 24-track joint), but only in 3 to 4 day slots. There was no pre-production at all; we had neither the budget nor the inclination for such niceties. No structural changes were made to the songs, because they didn’t need them. I had never seen them live; all I knew is that I liked them and they were all great musicians. We’d set up, and record the full band live, as if at a show. No bass overdubs were done, because we were going for the pure live energy of the full rhythm section. (A lot of Audrey’s guitar takes were keepers too.) As soon as a basic was cut, Eric would overdub one or two extra rhythm guitars, always recorded with the shortest possible signal path: the mic(s) into John Hardy mic pre’s, then straight into the back of the tape recorder. Audrey would sing her vocals, which I usually edited/compiled after the band had gone home. Eric’s solos were always beautifully conceived and composed; one or two takes, and bam!, instant Rock. The only other essential overdubs were the background vocals, sung by me (once again, after the band had left) in a high falsetto that was designed to be subtly mixed in and appear to be Audrey singing. (Although I wasn’t trying to imitate her; I had no idea what her high falsetto might have sounded like. Just a crazy idea that worked, and the band liked.)

So essentially, Illuminated was recorded quickly, in an intuitive, almost thoughtless fashion. The band’s creativity was flying around, fast and loose, aided by copious amounts of then-illegal medicinal herbs, cheap beer, and non-stop 70s porn videotapes playing on the TV set in the lounge. (Kindly provided by Carl Plaster, a Fort engineer and a connoisseur of the genre. The sound at the end of “Texas” is John Holmes and Tracey Lords, played backwards.) Eric and I would work together to make sure the guitar tones on the album were cool and varied, but as far as each song goes, it was always he and I just trying to have fun; there was never a grand plan to “sculpt” anything.

But the loose plan for completion was to do enough of these short sessions until we had enough material to mix and turn into a full-length LP. There were no songs that were difficult to get in the studio, and no outtakes (at least that I can remember). So once again, any of the current “rules” of making albums were not adhered to. We were doing it (to borrow a phrase) fast, cheap, and out-of-control.

I do remember pulling a Guy Stevens routine, running around the control room in crazed delirium when they played a particularly inspired take. The band could see me through the large window, and they said it was highly motivating.

Bearsville barn studio

When we had the album recorded, Kipnes drove up to listen and was satisfied. The plan was always to have the album mixed by Andy Wallace (who Kipnes managed), at Bearsville Studio (above) in upstate NY, a legendary place where Kipnes was friends with the owner and got great deals on time. Audrey, Eric and I drove to NY with the 24 track masters, and Andy mixed the album very quickly, over the course of a three-day weekend on the SSL console in Bearsville Studio B. He did a terrific job, and of course would soon become justifiably famous for mixing Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” He totally understood the blend of hard rock and psychedelia we were going for, and he liked the trippy solos and the crazy background harmonies (he mixed them in the exact right spot). When Wallace finished, I came up with a provisional sequence, which ended up being the final one, and everyone was elated. (It sounded especially good played back at crushing volume on the studio’s “big” wall speakers.)

I haven’t listened to the whole album in quite a while (my copy is tucked away in my archive at my studio up in Maine), but when I’ve heard individual songs recently, they sound very alive, wild, and free to me, and immediately bring me back to the joyous rock ‘n’ roll experience of recording with the 360’s, a great band.

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Couture, Couture, Couture by Frausdots

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“Frausdots was just a name that my brother and I used for Frosted Flakes in the ‘70s”: Beachwood Sparks’ Brent Rademaker reflects on his eighties-centric 2004 side project and how it coulda, woulda, shoulda…

BY TIM HINELY

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Cynics and From the Heart of Town by Gallon Drunk. All of those were penned by our man in Beijing, Jonathan Levitt. So…the hits just keep coming, folks, with the very special, and—shall we say, under the radar—gem created by the enigmatic Frausdots, as told to our best bro, blogger and bootlegger, the equally enigmatic Tim Hinely. —FM

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In 2004 Sub Pop released a record titled Couture, Couture, Couture by a mysterious band named Frausdots. I knew who was involved because I think I had gotten an email from Ric Menck of Velvet Crush saying I should hear this record and that it was going to be a monster. The group apparently involved Brent Rademaker, who at the time was in country-rock heroes Beachwood Sparks and was previously in the noise pop band further (among others). Frausdots was essentially the duo of Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle though, as you’ll read below, several other folks played on it. As soon as I put the record on I liked it instantly, with its dark, brooding songs and it sounded a lot like a lot of the U.K. acts that I liked in the ‘80s. As you’ll read below, those were big influences on Rademaker.

In fact, it seems like the band proudly wore their influences. One could hear echoes of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure as well as The Chameleons UK — in fact, Roger O’Donnell from the Psychedelic Furs/The Cure played on the record — with its icy synth work, stoic bass lines and vocals straight out of a song from a John Hughes movie. The frist line from opening cut “Dead Wrong”, where they clip some lyrics from America’s “Horse with No Name” had me even more curious.

At the time both AllMusic and even Pitchfork gave it solid/positive reviews but as mentioned earlier, the record seemed to sink without a track after some initial excitement.

Anyway, I’ve always kind of felt like the album sank without a trace and didn’t get it proper due, so I emailed Brent and wanted to see if he’d answer some questions about what the making of the record was like and he agreed.  Here, in his words, is the making of Couture Couture Couture…

BLURT: How did the idea for the band come about?  

RADEMAKER: Out on tour with Beachwood Sparks and the Shins, Jimi Hey (drummer) was really getting into the post-punk music I had on tape. The music of my late teens especially the Chameleons…so we dreamt up a new band that would play music from 1980-‘85 we even started incorporating some of the sounds into the current Beachwood songs on stage (chorused out bass and static drumming) I think the first name was The Despair Gazette.

 

At the time were you living in California or Florida?

I was living in Mt Washington in Los Angeles.

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Had you know Michelle Loiselle for a long time?

I actually knew her sister Mary from the new wave clubs of Tampa in the early to mid ‘80s; Michelle was more into hard rock and metal. Michelle and I became friends when she was working for BMG publishing where further was signed. We became friends then.

 

Do you remember the initial songwriting sessions and/or practices?

We had one practice with Jimi and it sounded great really dynamic and exciting …very Script of the Bridge….but it never went beyond that and I ended up making a demo of 5 songs after hours at the studio where I was composing commercial jingles…I have a vague memory of the first writing sessions where I came up with a song called D.I.E. I was really excited and made a great demo but never captured the same feel upon recording it with a band…too bad it was great song. Ariel Pink had the demo and really liked it… I played the song recently for him in a hotel in the desert…

 

Was the nod to the ‘80s pre-planned?

Yes for sure. I was kinda thinking what a record woulda sounded like if I we woulda done it in ‘84 before I got into all the Byrds and Country & Western…you have to understand, musicians, ALL of them, there’s always inspiration from somewhere (we are just a little too skilled at dialing in our influence). I mean if you listen I’m singing in my own voice but the inflections are slight but they are there and it’s Mac, Ian C. even a nod to J. Cope (compare the outrw to Dead Wrong and the intro to “Culture Bunker” by Teardrop Explodes…it’s a nod).

 

What kinds of stuff were you listening to for inspiration?

The same stuff I grew up on: Cope/Teardrops/Bunnymen/Chameleons/Care/Cure especially the Wish LP which Ben Knight and I wore out on a Tyde tour the year before…there was also an element of folks like Jackson Browne and Poco etc. going all striped shirt and skinny tie and pastel blazer…that kinda of California record.

 

How did the producer Jimmy Sloan play into it all? What ideas did he have?

He had amazing gear and a studio in the hills that looked down on LA and he was very supportive and encouraging and I think without him it might have sounded way more ‘80s. He added more of a timeless element to the production…he was really patient and supportive to a point especially with my personal problems. At the time I was a bit prickly about it, but now I’m happy with the classic elements he brought to it (guitar tones and vintage gear). But in an all-time karmic Larry David type situation I got myself together, totally clean and focused to finish the record, but Jimmy and an AA buddy of his refused to believe I had it together no matter what I said and we had a falling out…I guess I deserved it but not then…it’s funny now…it was kinda funny then as well…surreal. He just sent me a friend request of FB so I guess we are good now. I’m glad; he’s talented, and honestly the recording is top notch!

 

Who came up with the name, Frausdots?  

That was a name that my brother Darren and I used for Frosted Flakes cereal in the ‘70s. I just changed the spelling to make it more German and cold sounding.

 

And the album title, Couture, Couture, Couture…what does that mean?

That was Michelle’s input we started conceptualizing the fashion side. Which is cool but looking back I shoulda paid more attention to the music. I was kinda fucked up and partying a lot at the time of making the LP…I think in frustration one night I yelled “Couture, Couture, Couture” – I didn’t even know why? It was cool that fashion models picked up on the titles and themes…it even was used in “America’s Next Top Model.”

 

Had Sub Pop planned on releasing it from the get-go or did they need to hear the recordings first?

Tony Kewiel from Sub Pop heard the 5 song demo and seemed to really like it and I signed a one off deal.

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What do you remember most about the recording of the record? 

The first session with Ric Menck had some excitement to it. He understood the song “Dead Wrong” from the get-go and played it perfect I remember playing the roughs back to him and he said “It’s gonna blow minds!” That was a fun day, a good memory. Hanging with keyboard player Carl Tapia in between recording and both of us being so giddy when Roger O’Donell from the Cure agreed to play on a couple of songs. That felt cool…Wearing our overcoats… Watching the massive wildfires burn from way up in the hills was something that stuck with me…added to the gloom.

Whose idea was it to put the lyrics to the America song on “Dead Wrong?”

I just sang it, I always really liked “Sister Golden Hair” better..I ended up paying them 5% of the royalties to that song and that was a bit of money as that song was used in a bunch of TV shows.

 

I felt like “Fashion Death Trends” should have been a huge hit……did you? Same with “A Go-See.”

I can see why they didn’t become hits but.junkie anthems rarely become hits.

 

From your perspective, how was the response to the record? Did you guys do any touring or play some individual gigs?  

I put two versions of a live band together and played quite a few shows…I was surprised by the response especially as most people knew me from a country band…But in fairness to the guys, I didn’t lead very well. Too bad, it coulda been killer, they were great players with great attitudes. As far as the response it seems my personal problems delayed the record and by that time the ‘80s revival had hit. Too bad; I would’ve loved to be the ones to introduce the kids to this music. I think Interpol did a good job at it though. The response was tainted.

 

Is there anything you’d want to change about the record?

I wish I would’ve paid more attention to the bass parts. I played most of the guitar on the record and that was fun but I neglected the bass parts and that was my main instrument. I know EVERY Joy Division and Bunnymen bass part there is and I just played it all down in one take…bass is such a crucial instrument in that era of music…too bad that’s karma again I guess. Also maybe the cover for sure I had GREAT concept but it didn’t get done. But as far as the music, it’s dangerous to explore those kind of feelings…as I still make music today and you don’t wanna second guess yourself while doing it or think too much…

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Is that a shot of Los Angeles on the cover?

It is…I guess it’s kinda cool after all…but you shoulda seen what I wanted….much darker. I’d like to see it on a 12″ it’d look cool. J Mascis was lobbying for a vinyl release a while back, but nope.

 

Anything you wanted to add about the project or the record?  Anything that I didn’t ask about?

If you look at the list of musicians you’ll see a lot of my friends made incredible contributions but it was Hunter Crowely, the drummer from Brian Jonestown Massacre, a dude I only knew casually, that made the greatest contribution of all. He played on all of the songs but one and was SO SOLID and everything he did was perfect…he NAILED IT…it was like he had played those songs for years. I was lucky he came into the studio that day. I just wanted him to play a Pete de Freitas type beat on one song “Contact” and he just kept whipping through them song after song and he refused to yield…awesome! A lot of folks don’t realize his contribution because he didn’t play live with us…check out Contact or Broken Arrows…he’s a monster!

Thank you so much…I never really think about what went in to making this record only the crazy circumstances surrounding it and my life in those three years…I’m really glad you like it…that makes it all worthwhile.

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This story originally appeared in slightly different form at Dagger zine, which coincidentally is run by Tim Hinely.

 On the web: Sub Pop www.subpop.com

Beachwood Sparks www.thecalmingseas.com

 

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Gallon Drunk’s “From The Heart Of Town”

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Into the gutter you’re gonna roll, lads! In which England’s James Johnston outlines the making of his rawk noir band’s 1993 masterpiece. “A lot of what we listened to had a sense of urgency, and intensity,” he notes, of the group’s influences. One might apply the same description to Gallon Drunk’s music…

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Ed. Note: The concept behind our series “The Story Behind the Album” is pretty straightforward: what went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. Our first investigation was into Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 classic Soul Glitter & Sin. Then we took a look at New River Head by The Bevis Frond, followed by Rock and Roll by The Cynics. And—the hits just keep coming, folks, with another one of BLURT’s all-time faves, Gallon Drunk.

Gallon Drunk managed to find themselves in 1993 as one of a select group of bands that were being heavily promoted by the British music tabloids on a weekly basis. Their initial musical output of 7-inch singles and EPs on Clawfist records was assembled into the compilation Tonite…The Singles Bar that was eventually released stateside on the Rykodisc imprint back in 1991. The music blew a hole through the Manc stranglehold on the music charts and stretched the musical canvas in the opposite direction of the rising Brit Pop movement.

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The band, which at the time of this recording consisted of James Johnston, Joe Byfield, Max Décharné, and Mike Delanian, had up to this point managed to create a sound that was cacophonous, loose, and sounding like a train about to derail. Saturated in ‘40s noir imagery and informed by a ‘50s musical sensibility, the music was a punch in the gut, and a brilliant statement completely out of lockstep with the flood of talentless hacks NME and Melody Maker were serving up weekly to an unsuspecting public.

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In 1993 From The Heart Of Town was released in the US on the Sire label. I remember because I was working at my college’s radio station at the time and recall that one of the Warner promo people had sent a poster of the album to the station. One look at the cover with the streaks of headlights coursing through a street in London and I knew that the record would be something special. The large black sedan racing off into some dangerous part of town is the perfect metaphor as the album straps the listener in for a ride to the dark heart of London. This isn’t the music of people stumbling towards their local doner kabob pit of hell, or making their way back on some late night bus to King’s Cross. Instead this music is like a full bottle of whisky placed in front of you at the bar, a remnant of a sexier time like the nightclub in the French Connection. As you make your way through the club towards the cigarette girl and give her a kiss, you head back to the bar and slowly sip your drink as you focus on the criminal element that seems to be conducting business right under your nose.

Gallon Drunk’s From The Heart of Town is like a film full of long takes, with extreme long lens shots, and with a muted color palette. This is music for people who’ve made their way down a dark alley in the middle of the night and lived to tell the tale.

“Jake on the Make” starts the proceedings off with tremolo-distorted guitar, a tight snare beat, and flashes of banjo, before the track takes on a ghoulish stomp augmented by some macabre organ and piano. The track is terrifying and filled with lyrical gems like, “I can hear the ice in the drink he just bought.”

“Arlington Road” keeps the venomous urban vibe alive, with a seething bass line, and some killer sax and horns, which voices the sounds of the city: the cars, the squeals of brakes, the oil mixing with water in potholes, the urine soaked porticos, the seedy hoodlums hanging out under a flickering streetlight, the smell of fried food and the vagrant gypsy life.

“Keep Moving On” with its old timey saloon style piano, offers a false sense of calm, as Johnston in a rather hushed voice lets out his vitriol towards an ex-girlfriend by singing, “good riddance to bad rubbish” The singing is restrained and evokes a bitterness that is tempered by an acceptance and sarcasm that we’ve all found ourselves having when people try and suck us dry.

“Bedlam” is the car chase scene in one of those late 1960s Cadillacs. The music propels the listener as we careen around sharp turns and trade paint with the other cars on the road. The scraping of metal against metal producing brightly colored sparks, people running for cover, the near misses, blinding headlights, kids in the cross walk, and then sensory overload as you ditch the car head on into a wall.

“You Should Be Ashamed” is quite possibly the most beautiful song Gallon Drunk ever committed to tape. The song exists in a paregoric haze, wrapped around a sinister bass line, and tremolo saturated organ, which serves to inform a world in which concepts of good and evil have been pitted against one another ending up in a biblical judgment of the songs protagonist.

Of course it’s not all noir imagery that the music evokes. Take the final track, “Paying For Pleasure,” which closes out the record with a piece that would’ve been at home in The Good The Bad The Ugly. (Johnston admits, “It’s certainly inspired by Morricone.”) Here Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach are at Bill Carson’s grave and the union gold is within reach—or is it?—as we zoom in on the eyes of all three. It’s a dazzling cinematic end to a record that has managed to keep the femoral tension high from the very beginning.

I was able to track down James Johnston [below, back in the day] to remind us of what it took to make From The Heart Of Town, as he says, “Good to do it now before everyone forgets absolutely everything!” Johnston, who currently lives in London with his wife Nicola, has been busy working on the latest PJ Harvey record and is slated to tour with her in 2016. He will also be touring with Marianne Faithful towards the end of 2015. There will be another Gallon Drunk record but as Johnston states, “I’m very happy with our last album, The Soul Of The Hour, so quite content to give it a year before the next one.” [Go HERE to view Gallon Drunk’s official website.]

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BLURT: At what point did you decide that it was time to go into the studio and begin work on From The Heart Of Town?

JAMES JOHNSTON: It would have been Nick Brown at the UK label Clawfist, based on Portobello Road that would have suggested the date for recording. We’d been touring a lot and didn’t have much material ready. We were still out playing the first album and early singles live rather than rehearsing or writing new songs.

Enlighten us about how the band worked back then—did you come up with all the music and lyrics or did the band flesh out the music in a practice space or studio?

Apart from the very early stage of the band, the lyrics always came last, once the songs were already recorded with a rough guide vocal. I used to like setting the lyrics within the mood of the recorded track rather than the other way around. Almost everything was decided in the studio. I’d come in with the plan for the song, usually scribbled out as a sort of “map”, sometimes done the morning of the session or the day before. One exception was the bass and drum verse part for Arlington Road that Max, Mike and Joe were playing at a sound-check. I recorded it on a Dictaphone, added the main guitar riff and stuck the organ chorus part in later. “Jake On The Make” was literally a snare loop, then I sang the song form over it, after which we filled it in. More like a colouring book. I think I was basically either too undecided or embarrassed to explain the whole thing beforehand. Most of it was done like that.

How many songs did the band enter the studio with?

We’d rehearsed “Bedlam” for a couple of hours that was it.

What happened to the songs that didn’t make it on the album?

We definitely didn’t have any spares. It was enough of a struggle to fill an album as it was. All the B-sides were done subsequently.

How many were merely sketches of yours? (I read back in 1993 that you used to walk around with a recorder to jot down various lyrical inspirations etc.)

That was mostly how we worked. I used to carry a Dictaphone around as I walked around town at night, and record anything that came to me. Lyric ideas, tunes, riffs etc, then try and figure it all out the next day at home. Mostly it would be traffic noise and garbled sounds. The recording of a tannoy  announcement-calling for Joe Byfield to come to “C-Deck”- was done on the Dictaphone while we were waiting for a ferry from Portsmouth, so that went on the record.

Tell us about the initial sessions for the record. And did you make any changes based upon those initial sessions, i.e. change direction on some of the songs arrangements etc.?

Mike and I recorded two tracks in Camden first. “End Of The Line”, and “Paying For Pleasure”. “End Of The Line” felt a bit too much like the first album for me, and I wanted to take it somewhere else. “Paying For Pleasure” is the instrumental at the end of the album. It’s a bass feeding back, and organ drone, and then I stuck the acoustic stuff over the top, banjo and harmonica. That definitely felt like a blueprint sound for the album, a lot more space, more trippy.

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How did the name of the record come about?

After the main recording at Elephant Studios in Wapping we were still short of songs, so “Not Before Time” was recorded in Clapham somewhere. I remember taking a break and going for a walk trying to think of a unifying title for the record and it sprang to mind, and as most of it was about city life, London specifically, it seemed like a good idea. Quite romantic, and also quite ‘Live From The Talk Of The Town’.

What’s the story that the album tells to listeners?

There’s definitely no coherent story that I can see, but if it feels like there is then that’s perfect. It’s mostly songs that reflected our lives at the time. Places and people I knew. But an album can take on a world of its own, and I think that one does. There’s a very unifying feel, and that’s helped by the title, the artwork, the whole thing. That was all a very conscious move.

The album has a very cinematic grainy film feel to it. Were any of these songs licensed for any films that you know of? (To me I always felt “Paying for Pleasure” could soundtrack scenes from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.)

Hey, thanks. It’s certainly inspired by Morricone, as anyone can hear! [But] hardly anything was licensed from that album. We also had the most useless publishers at the time, so no surprise there.

Given the cinematic feel to the band’s music, and given the fact that you worked in a film ephemera shop, what were some of the films that influenced you back then and continue to influence you now?

It’s very hard to remember. I can’t think of many films that directly influenced the actual records, maybe things like Man With The Golden Arm, Touch Of Evil, Eraserhead, and endless ‘60s obscurities with great soundtracks that Mike Delanian loved. One of my favourite soundtracks is from Walkabout.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Maybe “Arlington Road”, I still think “Bedlam” still sounds great too. [Below: listen to exclusive live-in-Chicago versions of both songs]

How was the album recorded—because it has a very raucous “on” vibe about it.

“Bedlam” was live. Otherwise it was usually bass and drums with a guide vocal saying “chorus coming up”, “get ready to stop” etc. Sometimes a very loose live guitar at the same time. We wanted it sloppy and loose. Hardly anything was cleaned up. Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert album was a big inspiration. It was mostly done at Elephant, which had a big live room. The Pogues used it a lot. It’s right next to the river in what was then still quite a spooky area of old warehouses. We’d take endless pub breaks in The Prospect Of Whitby pub next door that overlooks the Thames. When the tide’s out you can walk down on the bank of the river, it was a very atmospheric place, it still is. All that fed into the recording and the general vibe in the studio, and speed I’d imagine had a lot to do with it too. Apart from the panic of trying to come up with stuff it was mostly a lot of fun. I think the studio had a pool table too, amongst the semi-functioning keyboards and amps all over the place.

Then we asked Terry Edwards in to add some brass on a few of the tracks, something we’d wanted to do for ages. Usually the distorted organ took the place of where I’d imagine brass parts. That really finished the sound of the thing, along with the backing vocals.

What was the set up in the studio like and were there limitations that you and the band had to work around in order to get the sound you wanted?

We basically wanted it to be big and reverby, but with quite sparse instrumentation, at least that’s what I imagined after doing “Paying For Pleasure.” A bit Big Star Third, or the spacey sound of the first Suicide album, that sort of thing. As I said, it had a big live room, and a very laid back atmosphere, so it was actually perfect.

How did Phil Wright approach the recording of these songs? Did the band clash at all with some of his suggestions?

Phil did the live sound for the band, so he knew us very well. It was mostly a matter of getting any ideas down as quickly as possible when it came to overdubs, do them quick and keep them loose and scrappy, then drench it all in plate reverb. He managed to keep “Bedlam” fairly dry thank god. A lot of his job was getting the stuff out of us, vocals in particular, encouragement and enthusiasm. He was a great person to have in there, and he got a great sound, exactly what we were after. He also played on the record, adding the string parts to “Loving Alone”. He found some Pogues drum samples that we dropped in on a couple of things, single hits, ideas like that.

What were you reading back then and what was happening in your life that gave rise to some of the songs on the record?

I used to like Celine, Martin Amis, Nelson Algren, Rimbaud, some of that might have fed in. Life felt quite chaotic, a lot of touring. Some of the songs we were about people we know, like “Jake On The Make”, or places we went to such as Arlington Road  in Camden, there was a pub there not far from where Joe lived, and we went there a lot. In the days before mobiles (at least for us) you could receive incoming phone calls from behind the bar, which made it sort of an office.

There’s an intensity to your music that seems informed in part by Link Wray, Henry Mancini and bands like the Cramps as well as American Baptist music. What’s your take on things?

A lot of what we listened to had a sense of urgency, and intensity. Howlin’ Wolf, Suicide, The Stooges, the first two PiL albums, those would have still all been a big inspiration at the time. As well as Nina Simone, The Staple Singers, Furry Lewis, Lee Hazlewood, Alex Chilton, Archie Shepp, Morricone, stuff that wasn’t rock that fed into the more atmospheric feel of the record. We’d got a lot of the dense noise out of our system by that point and two and bit years of doing it live.

Tell us about some of the instruments and amps you used in the album sessions.

All our own instruments were very junk-shop standard, or bought at markets. A lot of useless guitars that were only good for a one-note overdub, stuff we’d accumulated. Mike had a Marshall for the bass, it might have even been a guitar amp. I had a Fender twin, there were lots of other amps in there, but I can’t remember what we used. They had a Hammond organ, so that got used, and two pianos—including one with a great out of tune barroom sound, with felt with drawing pins on the hammers. We had a lot of percussion too. Joe had an army of maracas.

“You Should Be Ashamed”: how did this song came about? How did you rope Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier into singing on the track?

We knew Laetitia from playing gigs, and hanging around in Camden, so it was an obvious choice, and really nice of her to do it. She had the perfect voice for it. The song lyrics were partly based on a poem by Geraldine Swayne, and the music and arrangement was scribbled down the morning of the session, based on rough idea I’d had a day or so before. All very quick.

How much freedom did Clawfist give the band when it came to the running order of the songs and the artwork? Any idea how much the sessions for the album cost in total?

Total freedom, that all came entirely from the band; they were great in helping make it happen. I’ve no idea how much it cost. I doubt Elephant was particularly expensive, but it all adds up, as always.

What was it like when you and the band listened to the final sequence of the entire album for the first time? Where were you all at the time?

I can’t remember if it was in the studio, maybe as late as when it was mastered, as everything would have been done at home on piles of cassettes. I do recall that it took ages to get it just right, as always. At least it had an obvious opener, and a very obvious closing track.

Where was the album release party held?

Er, album release party? Never been to one in my life.

1993 was the peak or nadir (depending on how you look at it) for labels to release limited edition EPs double CDs, LPs including a free 7” single, or poster etc. Did you like that so many editions and formats were being peddled to people? Did you have any say as to what formats and what songs would be used?

There was a limited edition with a free live EP. We would have ok’d the tracks going on there. I’m still not convinced it was a great idea as it took away from the focused atmosphere of the main album. To be honest, we were mostly on tour and not really aware of what was going on with other people’s releases. Personally I’m not so interested collecting per se, so didn’t give that sort of thing a lot of thought.

At this time I recall Sire getting involved in the stateside release—looking back, was this helpful to the band to all of a sudden be caught up in the major label machinery? Did Morrissey—who was on Sire and a major fan of your music and whom you opened for— help lay the groundwork for this interest? (Personally I got the sense from the people who promoted the record to college radio didn’t quite understand what they were dealing with.)

Seymour Stein was directly involved in signing us, he was a legend from the 70s, but his influence was on the wane, and mostly the staff at the label didn’t back the record at all. We were on tour in the States for months supporting Morrissey at huge venues, and did one interview. So it was pretty hopeless.

What are your memories of Stein? What do you feel compelled him to sign the band to the label?

He seemed great, I only met him a couple of times, but he had such an amazing history, so it was great to meet him anyway. Apparently he was watching us at a festival in Finsbury Park with the guy that signed Babes In Toyland, who said to him, “You must sign these guys, you won’t sell a lot of records but you’ll get your place in heaven”. I hope he was right about the second bit.

What sort of A&R sweet nothings do you remember being dangled to lure the band to the label?

None at all, we were signed for very little, so they cared even less. Someone grandly offered us free back-catalogue CDs at the New York Office. Aside from that, the usual recoupable wasting of money on limousines from the airport to meet them. We got some cheapo Sire watches in the post for Christmas before they predictably dropped us.

Did you have any misgivings before you signed with a major label, given that you’d built up a lot of cred with Clawfist and Rykodisc in the States?

It was mostly out of our hands—things were chaotic and simply weren’t there. I’d have been more than happy with Rykodisc as our label for From The Heart Of Town, or any number of great indie labels instead.

How did the record end up doing Stateside versus the UK?

I’ve no idea at all, we never got any figures from anyone in the UK or the US. We did some big supports in the States, so that must have helped, but the American label couldn’t have been more disinterested. Definitely the wrong label at the time.

Tell us who shot the cover image? What part of London is that?

Steve Double took those. He worked at the music papers in the UK. He and Steve Gullick took most of the shots of the band at the time. The cover shot is Shaftsbury Avenue in the West End on London, literally the heart of town. I used to work just off there in a movie ephemera shop, and “Jake On The Make” is set around there—in Soho.

What was it like to be nominated for the Mercury prize?

We were probably on tour when all that happened; we were in the States a lot after the release. I’ve no recollection of it at all. A knighthood would have been nice instead.

What did John Peel think about the record? What tracks was he most fond of?

No idea, really, we weren’t around to listen. He only gave us one live session, and that was for the first record, so I don’t know why everyone always goes on about how he championed the band.

I’m always curious how the excessive hype from NME and Melody Maker affected bands that were caught up in it?  What was it like to see yourselves constantly mentioned in these rags and were you able to tune it out?

Some of the coverage was fairly trashy, so you have to take it at face value, but anything that helped get us out there and get people along to the gigs was extremely welcome. The M.M. photographer Steve Gullick’s still a very good friend and a fantastic artist, so we got to meet some decent people too.

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Did all the press and expectations that were being placed on the band at the time inspire you, terrify you or were you indifferent to them?

I’d say it was probably a combination of all three, depending how things were going. It was mostly a sense of urgency, needing to come up with stuff, getting it down. You tend to drop off the map a bit when you’re making a record.

I’m assuming given the complexity and variety of instrumentation that several songs had to be stripped down in a live setting? I know for songs like “Jake on the Make” organ seemed to fill in for the horns. What other accommodations had to be made to render some of these songs in a live setting?

That’s why Terry ended up playing live with us, and then joining the band full time on brass and sharing keyboard parts with me, so mostly we managed to keep a lot of the instrumentation, but with a less spacey sound. It was a lot more full on live. We tried to rerecord “Push The Boat” out after playing it live for a while, but I preferred the more open dubby sound of the studio version.

Has the entire album ever been played live?

We used to use the last track, the instrumental, as an intro tape, and we had slides of all Steve Double’s photos as a back projection, so you got the feel of the record. We played most of it, but the whole album has never been performed live.

When the album came out whom did the band tour with? Also, at the time were there bands that Gallon Drunk were actively trying to promote to open your shows?

Early on we played quite a few supports with Stereolab, Lush, God and a few others. We supported The Cramps a couple of times in the U.K. Around the time of From the Heart Of Town we did the long Morrissey support tour in the States as a four piece, then we did a very long European and U.S. tour with PJ Harvey, and by that point we were a five piece with Terry in the band. We were [doing] our own headline tours in between all the support tours, hence being away so much. On our own tours it tended to be local supports, apart from an indie package tour with Therapy? and Silverfish, where we all swapped headline every night. We did the same later with the Dirty Three on a long European tour.

When the band played live shows after the album’s release, what was the song you’d open most with?

We’d play the “Paying For Pleasure” track from tape, then go into something off the album like “Arlington Road,” or if we needed to we’d just crash in with “Some Fool’s Mess”.

What was your drink of choice back then?

It’s pretty hard to remember exactly what went on as it all eventually blurs into one endless backstage situation. We didn’t have a fancy rider, so we would have been stuck with beer mostly, sometimes we’d get a bottle of Jameson’s, or vodka.

I remember seeing your concert at the Cabaret Metro back in 1993, and remember the whole band were well dressed (suits and dress shirts). Did you require members to adhere to a certain international man of mystery/casino jewel thief look?

That was the end of a long tour supporting PJ Harvey, I’m surprised we had anything left to wear at all by then. Like the instruments, it might have looked slick, but it was definitely a budget style, like we’d got the Pogues’ old suits from a charity shop. We certainly didn’t suit more rock gear anyway. I loved the way Joe used to come on stage with all his maracas in shopping bags.

Opening for Morrissey I have to ask: was the crowd ready to hear a band like Gallon Drunk? Was there ever a hostile crowd you had to contend with? I ask this because except for 1992’s Your Arsenal, where Boz Boorer seems to have coopted a bit of the Gallon Drunk sound for the opening track “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side,” the rest of Moz’s repertoire seems vastly different.

I’ve never heard that track, but I’m sure Boz was totally capable of finding it for himself—but maybe we had an influence, who knows? The Morrissey crowds were huge in the States. We never had any outright hostility, usually a mix of total disinterest and pockets of people going nuts. At the Hollywood Bowl there was total silence after one track, then a lone distant jock-type voice yelling out “You guys suck!”—that was pretty well-timed and amusing. I only remember it because we taped it.

Since then, going back to the States and meeting people who saw those gigs, I’ve spoken to loads of people that loved those shows. We were allocated about 15-20 minutes every day, so it must have been quite a surprise for people at the time to get this short blast of noise before the main band.

When all was said and done did the band make more money from their live shows or from the sale of this album?

We made nothing from either, it all went back into a hole.

Gallon Drunk now

23 years on what does this album mean to you? Where do you place it amongst all the albums the band has put out? [Above: Gallon Drunk now]

My favourite Gallon Drunk albums are From The Heart Of Town, and The Soul Of The Hour, the last one that came out in 2014. They mean the most to me.

How hands-on were you with the reissue? Will an LP reissue be coming out at some point on, let’s say, heavy weight 180-gram vinyl? I say this because I have the original From The Heart Of Town LP and the quality seemed pretty thin.

The reissue was on Terry’s label, so I was very hands on, finding all the extra tracks and period photos etc. There’s no plans to put it out on vinyl, maybe at some point it’ll happen. Right now I’m more focused on what’s happening next.

James Johnston by Steve Gullick

Where do you call home these days? [Above: Mr. Johnston now]

I live in London with my wonderful wife Nicola, around Lambeth North, very close to the river.

Are you still playing with the Bad Seeds?

I don’t play with the band anymore, I left around 2008. I was in the band for a few years, playing on Abattoir Blues and Dig Lazarus Dig. Abattoir Blues is a really good album, so I was lucky to join around then. I played with the band on a long U.S. tour in 1994 too. I met Nick through my brother Ian who wrote Nick’s biography Bad Seed.

You are playing on the new PJ Harvey album? Did you write any of the material? Will you tour with her?

All the songs on the record are written by Polly. It’s going to be a fantastic record, and the touring will be next year, 2016. Very much looking forward to it.

Do you play with any other bands, and in the interim between Gallon Drunk releases, where else besides PJ Harvey’s new record will we be able to see your musical input?

I’ll be on tour with Marianne Faithfull late 2015, probably into 2016, and although I’m working on some other material, I doubt it’ll be out before the PJ Harvey tour, so we’ll see how it all goes.

Gallon DRunk soul cd

What’s next for Gallon Drunk as we approach the end of 2015?

We’ve had records out a lot recently, two of them with our wonderful label Clouds Hill that are based in Hamburg, and where we now do all our recording, so there’ll be a year off before the next Gallon Drunk [official website is HERE] one gets recorded. Terry and I are [both] working with PJ so that’ll take up a lot of time. I’m very happy with our last album, The Soul Of The Hour [pictured above], so quite content to give it a year before the next one.

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Special thanks to James Johnston and his label for all the photos and the tracks. Check out some more music below, a live-in-Chicago version of “You Should Be Ashamed” – it’s an exclusive from the band, incidentally.  Above photo of Johnston now by Steve Gullick.

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: The Maria Dimension by the Legendary Pink Dots

Pink Dots by Inge Bekkers

“The first music I loved was psychedelic… just always felt the need to push the brightly painted boat out further.” —Edward Ka-Spel (Above: photo by Inge Bekkers, courtesy Ka-Spel)

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

For the uninitiated, the Legendary Pink Dots create psychedelic songs that blend religion science and mythology into their own dense claustrophobic world.

As a band that has lived most of its life pitched on the edge of obscurity they have managed to assemble one of the most fiercely independent visions of music this side of Hawkwind.

The Maria Dimension, which came out in 1991 on Play It Again Sam (PIAS) and which celebrates 25 years since it was recorded, is as life altering a record as they come. Part cerebral science fiction part horror story, punctuated with a narcotic beauty, the record rotates like some rogue satellite spinning towards uncharted worlds.

It’s a record with a pulsing femoral tension that sucks you into its murky vortex.

To quote a review I once wrote about the album, “The Legendary Pink Dots album The Maria Dimension has as Bob Calvert of Hawkwind fame once said on his Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, ‘A magnificent engine of steel and gleam’ at its core. I was blown away by this album back in 1991, and felt it was a masterpiece joyfully out of synch with the musical zeitgeist of the time. 25 years on, the music still sounds as unique and compelling as it did back then. That said, nothing could replace the memory of the first time I played this record on my college radio show. It felt like a sinister interception of a radio broadcast from another planet occupying a space where the Pain Teens are hanging with Syd Barret.”

I’ve come to a more recent conclusion about this album that what Edward Ka-Spel and crew have created here is something more subversive than I could have ever imagined back when the album came out. It’s more than just a tightly wound universe they’ve concocted, I’d say they were able to transcend the boundary between music and religion with this record. If you believe that music is its own language and that there are very real limitations to how we verbally describe things, then The Maria Dimension has created a aural vocabulary for communing with a much larger presence. It somehow has perfected the vocabulary for us mere mortals to transport us not merely out of our bodies but to suspend our own limited thinking allowing Ka-Spel and the Dots to bring us to a place where, as writer Ernest Holmes says,

There is One Infinite Mind,

which of necessity includes all that is,

whether it be the intelligence in man,

the life in the animal,

or the invisible Presence which is God.”

 I decided to contact Ka-Spel to talk about The Maria Dimension and where the “brightly painted boat” is currently moored. (Below: the band now)

Dots now 2

 

BLURT: To start off where and when was The Maria Dimension recorded?

EDWARD KA-SPEL: All recordings took place in the barn next to the home of sax player Niels Van Hoorn on the border of Holland and Germany. We had an 8-track studio cobbled together and a stirring view of the great river Waal. The only hazard was the odd thunderstorm, which would mean a rapid dive for the mains switch to save everything from going up in flames.

Can you go into some detail as to how the sessions for the album went, something about the recording process and some of the unique instrumentation used and any special production techniques employed?

The album before Crushed Velvet Apocalypse had been very much composed beforehand  by myself and Phil (The Silverman) in the flat we shared- so it was time to throw the gates of chance open. We literally improvised for a month with no restrictions. Two huge kettledrums were dusted off, Bob got the sitar out of the case, I dug out little stringed souvenirs, which I’d found in Greece and other exotic places. Bob recorded EVERYTHING on his cassette recorded which was placed in the middle of the room- it was necessary because half-inch tape was pricey. We re-worked much of it formally for the album itself. Mixing was eccentric. Engineer Hans left the band midway through recordings, so it was a case of 2 octopuses on a mixing desk with the captain barking from the back.

What is The Maria Dimension?

A place where multiple Marias sit serenely and wave to us as the snowflakes fall. It is not an earthly place.

Did this idea of a Maria Dimension already exist and lead to songs coalescing around that “unearthly place,” or did the idea come later?

It was there at the time.

Maria Dimension

Who designed the cover of the album? Why was the original art not used for some later editions of the album?

Stephan Barbery (house artist at Play It Again Sam records) painted the cover after I gave him the concept outlined above. I guess that in my head I had a real scene etched (it was actually a dream) which could never in fact be captured unless someone sneaked inside my mind with a camera. Still it is THE cover for MD; a later Polish release was simply part of an album series with covers designed by a single artist…

Who produced the record?

We all did.

PIAS as a label back in the late’ 80s early ‘90s seemed to have quite a unique roster of artists, what was there reaction when you first played them the album?

They were great. Really got behind it and it did surprisingly well for an obscure band like The Pink Dots.

How long had the songs on this album been floating around in one form or another?

“The Third Secret” had been there for maybe six months but most were recorded after being pulled fresh from the river outside.

Did you have a specific narrative arc for the sequencing of the album if so can you tell us what it was? If not what were some of the choices you remember making in terms of the running order?

It just seemed to flow naturally little discussion was needed.

Personally where do you place this record in terms of all of the Dots records?

Obviously very high up there considering the fact that we’ve just put out a 5-LP Box set containing all the sessions as well as the full album in its glory (the original vinyl edition was severely truncated as CDs were just becoming all the rage).

Do you feel this album gave the band a higher profile especially in the US given the amount of press the album received and how it was promoted to college radio?

It surely helped, although the successor Shadow Weaver fared better in the States.

In terms of live shows, have you ever played the entire album all the way through live for an audience?

No, we tend to dive in and out, pick and choose- but odd songs still crop up live today.

Disturbance” is one of the finest songs you have ever recorded can you talk about how this song came into being?

Began as a concept to see how stacking guitar after guitar would sound. Phil provided the perfect “Slave ship rhythm”. We were very much into German bands of the ‘70s at this time.

In terms of musical influence that fed directly or indirectly into some of The Maria Dimension’s tracks you mention you were listening to ‘70s krautrock; any bands and albums in particular?

Nothing particular. The usual culprits like Ash Ra Tempel, can… but also early Chrome.

Speaking of 70’s German bands, have you ever wanted to do much longer Amon duul like numbers?

They do happen, but we trim them before they go out for public consumption.

Your music is part psychedelic mixed with an industrial vibe on some of the tracks, was this album a point in time where both began to coalesce as equally important musical directions the band could follow?

Categories never really mattered to us (still don’t)…The first music I loved was psychedelic….just always felt the need to push the brightly painted boat out further.

Pennies for Heaven” is one hell of a creepy song with some unforgettable imagery—did the lyrics predate the music, or how did this song come to you?

The lyrics predated the song. One of those unpleasant dreams of a plane crash, which needed to be purged.

Speaking of lyrics and songwriting what is the process you went through for this record? Do you jam as a band or do you write on your own and bring in your ideas and the others help expand upon them?

A bit of both really…I do love a band improvising, even when it’s just myself and Phil rolling ideas to each other. Somehow that’s when the magic really happens.

Dots early

What was touring during this period of time like for the band? Did US audiences get the music in a similar way to their European counterparts?

Very early days for touring in the US. In cities like SF and Seattle, awareness was high and the reception was sometimes ecstatic. But then there would be a bar in, say, Milwaukee where 20 people would be scratching their heads unless they’d driven there specially from Denver.

I met you at I believe at the (O’cayz Corral) or some other rock club in Madison Wisconsin, back in 1992-93 on your shadow weaver tour, so your comment about people in Milwaukee makes me laugh because attendance was pretty sparse. Does it take the wind out of your sails to play for a small audience or does it not matter?

I actually enjoy the contact when the audience is small…increases the one-on-one situations. Everybody smiling at some point.

What were some of the bands you played with on The Maria Dimension tour?

Ah, memory fails me….

Below: a live clip from 1991

Now I want to talk about the various editions of the record? Originally did the LP and CD differ in terms of running order and number of tracks?

Running order was the same, but the original LP sliced the recordings in half as vinyl was regarded as future landfill at that time. That’s why we have made this enormous luxurious vinyl box set this year.

What was The Maria Dimension 3”— what editions of the album came with this bonus? Then there was Chemical Playschool 8&9 —who got that record and could you tell us something about it?

The 3” was a marketing ploy of PIAS- we always have extra tracks in the can and they all came from these sessions. CP 8 & 9 is largely created out of reworkings of the Maria sessions.

I heard a bootleg titled The Maria Sessions, I’m aware bootleggers can label things whatever they want, but if the music is from those sessions, it hints at a very different sound for the band filled with long form abstract numbers part Pink Floyd part Harmonia, can you tell us about these tracks?

It’s not a bootleg. It’s a privately released CD-R which is part of the vinyl box set now. It’s actually created from Bob’s cassettes of the first improvisations.

How did those long form initial improvisations lead to the dense songs we hear on the record what was the evolutionary process?

Evolutionary process is a well-chosen term…you can hear the seeds of “Evolution” right there. But the mutations of seeds scattered in those improvs were radical.

You mention that you have a box set of all of the sessions for the album. How were these sessions scheduled, was this worked on for an intense period of time all in one go or would you tour and then come back to recording?

We played for a solid month then had a holiday break, then all resumed for another 4-6 weeks when we consolidated what we had, tried various concepts (Disturbance for example), and mixed.

In 1991 vinyl was making its original last stand: Were you involved in mastering for the LP? Were you satisfied with the how the record sounded?

I confess I never listened to the original vinyl edition- I was just too disappointed by the presentation.

Below: a clip of the Dots performing live in 2014

Given that you never listened to the original vinyl, what’s different about this vinyl version? Is it on heavier vinyl stock? Are there liner notes included?

Well, ALL the bonus tracks are there making it a double. Then there’s Maria Sessions volumes 1 & 2 , which is another double album, and the 3″ single plus a collage of out-takes for disc 5. Great quality too, all remastered and packaging to die for..

If people want to order the record what’s the best place to get it?

We have a few on our bandcamp page (legendarypinkdots1.bandcamp.com) and also through Soleilmoon (www.soleilmoon.com)

When you look back to 1990/91 and the resulting album, what comes to your mind?

Well, I miss Bob still. It was his last album with the Dots before he succumbed to lung cancer in 1992. A different life back then—3 of us sharing a small flat. All very much hand-to-mouth existence.

What are you listening to these days?

Still a lot of great new bands/artists  out there… Even so, played an old chestnut last night — Church of Hawkwind no less….

Kspel

Final question: what does 2015 hold for you and the band what are you working on these days?

Ha, in fact not so much changed except that we’re taking some time off the road to push the multi-colored boat out into the middle of the ocean. We feel like we hit a bit of a pinnacle last year with Chemical Playschool 16/18, although we duly paid our dues to the Goddess of Obscurity by making it available only on double CD-R.

But hell, that’s just how we are.

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Below: listen to an Edward Ka-Spel track, offered up exclusively for BLURT readers

THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM: Soul Glitter & Sin by Thee Hypnotics

Thee H SGS promo 001

Bright lights, big city — a cornucopia of sex, violence, glitter and rock ‘n’ roll. Ray “Sonic” Hanson

 Ed. Note: Introducing a new revolving feature at BLURT, “The Story Behind the album.” Which is exactly what that name suggestswhat went into the making of a particularly noteworthy recording, as seen through the eyes of its creator(s). It can be an acknowledged classic or an under-the-radar gem, but the basic parameters are the same: a title that stands out in an artist’s catalog, one which has stood the test of time and still commands the respect of fans. It could even have been a critical flop or a commercially under-performing record upon its initial release, but the years have steadily unveiled its extant genius. First up for your consideration: British outfit Thee Hypnotics, who emerged in the late ‘80s as as a hi-nrg, Motor City-inspired garage/psych antidote to the prevailing shoegaze movement and, though evolving and expanding its sound over the course of the next several years, would also serve as a respite from the ascendant Brit-poppers. Three albums and a handful of Eps and singles, and the band was done, but it still left behind a mighty attractive sonic corpse, in particular 1991’s epochal Soul Glitter & Sin. Our correspondent Jonathan Levitt, currently based in Beijing, China, takes a look at that album and interviews guitarist and co-lead songwriter Ray Hanson, who conspired with vocalist Jim Jones, bassist Will Pepper and drummer Phil Smith to paint Thee Hypnotics’ masterpiece with producer John Leckie.

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BY JONATHAN LEVITT

A loud knock strikes the door. You slowly come to your senses. You rise from your bed still dressed in last night’s clothes. You open the door the chain still connected. The door is forced open the snap of the door chain ricochets against the wood paneling. Fade out. Fade in your in the back of an old Chrysler Imperial cruising down a side street bordering the Vegas strip. The lights from cut-rate casino signs warp across the metallic exterior of the car. You awaken to have an uncomfortable pain in your side, only to find Ray “Sonic” Hanson holding a gun jammed against your ribs. As you come to, from the drivers seat Jim Jones shoots you a glance from the rearview mirror. Where are you heading? You think to yourself, who are these guys, could I be on the way out of town to one of those holes in the desert where as Joe Pesci in Scorsese’s Casino mentions “a lot of problems are buried…”

Casting aside the ‘70s Stooges drenched howl of 1990 long-playing debut Come Down Heavy, Thee Hypnotics’ 1991 album Soul Glitter and Sin (Situation Two/Beggars Banquet) is an illusory trip in the seedy felonious world of American urban decay. The record was resolutely out of step with what was happening in the British music scene at the time. Back then, NME and Melody Maker were obsessed in crowning any new band with bad haircuts that spoke in a Mancunian growl as the new messiahs of spangle.

John Leckie of Stone Roses fame, the man with the so-called keys to the kingdom, was brought in to produce. The album has an icy impenetrable sheen to it. Under the hood is a band that seems blisteringly tight, firing on all cylinders. The narrative of this album takes the listener to the scene of the crime, and into the killer’s head and into the bed of one of the many hookers looking for their next trick on the dirty boulevard.

The album’s production seems decidedly more complex than Come Down Heavy’s stripped down snarl. Cinematic in scope and a decidedly broader sound, the band expanded their sonic palette, adding horns and a second guitarist.

The track “Soul Accelerator” has a unique moment that seems to capture some of the menacing tension pervasive throughout the album. Halfway through the song the music pauses for vocalist Jim Jones – at this point seething with a choleric vitriol – who lets it spew forth, spattering the sonic landscape in blood.

The beautiful “Cold Blooded Love” is filled with plangent gorgeous regretful fretwork. This is one of the many high points of the album. I visualize a helicopter shot circling the band as they cruise back from the desert and the light of the new day is just beginning to pierce the horizon. They need to get somewhere dark to sleep it off.

I own both the LP and CD of the album and think the additional tracks “Samedi’s Cookbook” and “Don’t let it get you down” on the CD actually help to bring the album to a much clearer conclusion. “Samedi’s Cookbook” adds a soulful bayou shuffle to the record that with its mantra like backwater Baptist singing giving you time to contemplate the sonic violence you’ve just experienced. The track also works well with “Black River Shuffle” and “Cold Blooded Love” as a key movement of the album.

So why was this album overlooked by the college music/alternative nation that labels were so relentless marketing to at the time? I think the answer is that it had difficult musical references that weren’t easily understood or considered cool by the era’s prevailing musical gentry. How many great albums have suffered similar fates? The time is ripe though for you to go and find this record and listen to it again — having had almost 24 intervening years to catch up to what they were referencing in these tracks.

A fan of the band since college, I decided to track down guitarist Ray Hanson for an email interview to shed some light on this overlooked album. Ray has been keeping busy with his Ray Hanson’s Sonic Whores of Babylon project and when I made contact with him he was more than happy to give us the straight dope on what made this record tick.

Thee H card 001

BLURT: What was the genesis of Soul Glitter & Sin?

RAY HANSON: I have to say, I personally am very proud of this album (“monster rock ‘n’ roll unit”) we created. So here goes…

The genesis of it comes through a few different reasons, but one major inspiration was simply using a change in amp, from the “blues, high energy, rock ‘n’ roll Marshall amp” sound of Come Down Heavy to a more “atmospheric, cinematic, film noir, Fender Twin Reverb amp” sound, tinged with a little bit more melancholic murder ballad style writing here and there. Also, after a pretty traumatic car crash in Minneapolis whilst touring the States, a kind of pause-and-breath of momentum occurred three quarters of the way through promoting Come Down Heavy. [This] allowed us, in recuperation — and myself, personally — to get excited, inspired and hungry to elaborate on writing and sounds (and show people the wide range of my interests) and to explore in more depth our love of other inspirations and influences, musically and thematically, that weren’t necessarily at the fore in our approximately 20 previous official tracks.

[Those influences would include] John Barry, (Bond themes etc., Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt, Dirty Harry etc.) Bernard Hermann (Taxi Driver theme etc.), Elmer Bernstein (The Man with the Golden Arm etc.), and Barry Adamson (ex-Magazine and Bad Seeds), effortlessly cool version Roy Budd (Get Carter), other ‘sexy, cool and dangerous, filmic/cinematic pieces such as music from Blue Velvet, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, [along with film noir and early gangster movies and other Marty Scorsese and David Lynch works and so on.

I should also say the imagery, look, and feel of the whole concept, was just as inspired from these great films. And we did ask our publishers if it was possible to get this album to film directors – for soundtrack use – because, let’s face it! Soul Glitter & Sin is a soundtrack/film score to an imaginary movie as well as a good old rock ‘n’ roll record!

But again, more disappointment, and to no avail. We always have had, dark clouds following above us and ‘doom’ as a companion!

So anyway, just as influential in creating this album were the drunken, melancholic brilliance of Tom Waits, crime and murder ballads by dudes such as Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, Sinatra, Leonard Cohen – even Dylan. The dark crooning of those guys. ALSO: ‘70s Elvis, the Phil Spector reverb drenched ’50s, early ‘60s doo-wop and soul sounds, girl bands (such as The Shangri-Las, Crystals etc.), the voodoo beats, grooves and atmospheres of Dr Johns “Gris-Gris” and “Sun, Moon and Herbs”, the dynamic sick blues of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, even Ry Cooder, Johnny Thunders’ “Copy Cats” album with Patti Paladin, the Righteous Brothers, Link Wray, a lot of rare burlesque-style ‘bump ‘n’ grind’ sexy strip music from ‘50s/’60s albums.

All this got mixed and mashed with heavy, reverb-soaked, tremolo’d Stooges, MC5, Cramps, New York Dolls, Sonic Youth, super-fuzzed/Big Muff-driven monster riffs, along with a large spoonful of Neil Young, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Big Star, ‘heavy’ Beatles (a la ”Helter Skelter”), Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Gram Parsons, Rowland S. Howard, in a twisted, eclectic, kind of cinematic rock ’n’ roll stew — each song, being a portion of that R’n’R soup, dished out into individual bowls.

Thematically [the album involved] loss of love, rage, cut-up lyric style “Tales of the Sonic Underworld, ” like verses and chapters in the bible. I should say I got the name of the album from watching the early ‘70s movie “Klute” where Donald Sutherland says to Jane Fonda, “She has the soul and sin of the city, and I just added ‘glitter’ into the mix. Incidentally, myself and the much missed and passed-on (later to be bassist) Craig “Little Boy Blue” Pike used to joke, that when a dangerous, scarred-up, drug-carrying junkie girl came into our dressing room, we’d say, “She’s got the eyes of the city”! The album portrays the darker side of city life, being on the road, our lives – amongst other things – seen through our eyes.

 In the studio what was the set up, and how was the recording process different from the Come Down Heavy sessions? 

It basically was a similar setup in that we recorded the bass, drums and guitar with a guide vocal, and then decorated the hell out of the best take, with more guitars, piano, Hammond, percussion, marimbas, harp and the real vocal – and horns or whatever had been decided for that relevant track.

What were the first songs that were recorded for the record? How long had they been floating around as ideas before the band decided to lay them down in the studio?

Well, a few of those ideas within the album, I had knockin’ around in my head, and on demos, about 5 years previously (such as the music for “Cold Blooded Love”), but mostly it would work when I would bring the riffs and ideas and sounds to the rehearsal, and start banging them out and then everyone was at liberty to jam them. Then we would arrange them, completely immersed in our own world. Jim’s main lyrics would come nearer the end of the process, after melodies and phrasing etc. was established. Sometimes I would suggest titles or the odd line that he would take on board, such as the album title Soul Glitter and Sin (Tales from the Sonic Underworld, “Kissed By the Flames,” and other bits, as did Phil (Smith, Thee Hypnotics drummer), who specifically came up with the “Samedi’s Cookbook” title, which was recorded as a B side to the earlier released 12-inch “Floating in my Hoodoo Dream” which we had recorded maybe 6 months [prior] to the SG&S sessions. We basically made that up on the spot, very Dr. John inspired 8 min, odyssey (opus) kind of thing, which I played some basic piano on, and Jim had this great, gospel melody hook, and Phil’s almost “second line” brush, new Orleans funeral-ish style rhythm, as a kind of reprise to the A side. [We did this with] a friend, producer Harvey Birrell, in the “House in The Woods” studio.

Friends of mine who heard SG&S were divided into two camps. Some felt the production drowned the album in an impenetrable cold sheen, while others, myself included, felt it had a gritty nocturnal roar. What were you guys shooting for with the sound on this album?

Well, I agree, it’s both a “gritty nocturnal roar” and laden with a kinda Phil Spector(ish) reverb-drenched [sound], but like I said, it originated from my Fender Twin sound, and John Leckie came to the rehearsals and magnified and basically exaggerated the sound he was hearing in his production of the disc. Which I think helped give it its uniqueness and timeless quality. With the assistance of hindsight it just improves with age, which I’m incredibly proud of. We did do a remix of “Coast to Coast,” for example, with the late, great Jimmy Miller, who just “dried it up a bit,” for want of a better word. And then Jimmy, proceeded to share a bottle of Jack Daniels, with myself and Jim, and told us great Stones stories into the night. But ours and Leckie’s mix was big, cavernous, epic almost. I think everyone in the band is more than pleased with Soul Glitter & Sin as a good little piece of “art”.

John Leckie as producer: besides his fabled early career working with the likes of John Lennon and Syd Barrett as a sound engineer, the late 80s and early 90s was the time of Madchester and a string of bands trying to replicate the success of the Stone Roses (Trash Can Sinatras are one example). What led you to work with him, given that his work at that time seemed much more centered on spangly British rock than heavy rock?

Well we were completely disconnected to the fickle fashions that were going on. Like I said, we were ensconced in our utopian/dystopian, cinematic, psychedelic universe, oblivious to the ‘trends’ that ‘infected’ the majority (“the great ignorant unwashed”). We had a few choices that Beggars Banquet suggested, and after talking to John about wanting to mix that “high energy, blues/punk rock ‘n’ roll rage” that we were doing with a sense, feel and sound of the “cinematic” influence, he got it straightaway. I guess it was a lot different from the stuff you mentioned he had currently done — a challenge, a freshness, maybe, for the smart guy he is? And of course we were all impressed [with his] roles in making records with heroes of ours, like Syd Barrett and John Lennon. That certainly didn’t hurt!!

Leckie

Was he the bands first choice for the new record or was it something that was pushed upon you by the record company? Who were some of the other producers you guys wanted to work with for the record before Leckie was settled upon?

I think you got that answer in the last question, but I think it just had to be John. Although, seeing for the 1st time on MTV whilst in Rockfield recording SG&S, and subsequently touring with, The Black Crowes, talk of Chris Robinson producing, was an embryonic idea for ‘sometime in the future’ — but not for Soul Glitter And Sin. Later on, we would record 1994’s The Very Crystal Speed Machine with Chris in LA. So basically it was John, for us. But if my memory serves me well, I think I remember Steve Albini’s name being thrown around, which could have been interesting. He then went on to record Nirvana’s In Utero of course.

What were those initial sessions like? What do you remember about meeting John Leckie? Was he a fan of the bands musical output up to that point? 

I certainly remember John being keen to work with us, although whilst recording in a residential well-known studio in Wales, Rockfield Studios, it might have appeared that John didn’t whole-heartedly approve of all of our antics, and myself and Jim can be a little demanding, now and again. Only in the fact that the devil’s in the details, and we always have had a clear vision of what we like and want. But everything was pretty cool, and John had the patience to let myself indulge in different instruments, such as piano, Hammond organ, marimbas, different percussion, vox, etc. that weren’t necessarily, at the time, my ‘forte, like the guitar and writing is. And there were the occasional parties that we invited a bunch of friends up from London, in the odd ‘downtime’ moments, that got a bit wild. But I really enjoyed working with John Leckie — would do it again, in a heartbeat!

You always hear stories of dictatorial producers who meddle with a bands sound like a pharaoh of sorts. XTC and Todd Rundgren come especially to mind. That said, did you guys get on well with him and how much of the sound came from his executive decisions and how much was already in place before you walked into the studio?

Well, he made a few ‘executive decisions’ here and there, told myself and Jim to stop interfering, whilst he was trying to mix something. Because we would be saying, “Do you think the bass drum needs to be up a bit,” etc. and discussions like that. But essentially, no, we had a clear view of what we wanted, from the off and John was respectful of that. He added some great ideas and creativeness and experience into the whole production/mix, such as backward guitars, echoes and reverb, and engineer and production techniques — [techniques] I have used since at home recordings of my recent project Ray ‘Sonic’ Hanson’s Whores Of Babylon in the last 15 odd years. So John has been and still is an inspiration, in many ways, for me personally. You gotta learn from people like that. Everyone’s your teacher, right?

RayPinkGuitar

 Where was the album recorded? Can you tell us about some of the recording techniques used? What guitar and type of amp and pedal set up were you using?

Yeh it was recorded in Rockfield [as well as] Mono Valley in Wales, using lots of psychedelic techniques: turning tapes over to achieve backwards Hammond organ, reverb, echo, drum fills, horns played by a great quartet called The Kick Horns (who had played with The Who), and other engineering and production techniques that John had experience of using. My guitar setup was pretty much the same as it is now: Fender Twin, Marshalls, Voxes, Big Muffs, Super Fuzzes, Wah-Wahs, Tremolo, Vibrato, Octave fuzz, Black Cat Echo units, Reverbs; and played with, Gibson SGs, Mosrites, Fender Tele, Thinlie, Epiphone Wilshire, Les Pauls, and some good acoustic guitars too.

Over what period of time was the album recorded? Did the sessions go smoothly? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?

Yeh, think it was done over approximately three weeks to a month, with the odd extra days to do horns and some vocals and odds and sods in London, and done with lots of enthusiasm, soul, passion, rage, energy — and some “chemical inspiration” of course! (Name a good album that isn’t.) Quite a luxury, for us really, good preparation leading into the next album, Crystal Speed Machine, which was smashed out in two weeks flat. It all went pretty smooth, generally, and the wind downtime was pretty good fun too. Better not go into too much detail, might get arrested!

Given the fact that at this point the bands sound expanded with extra players on the record, did this translate to a much more complex situation in order to render these songs live in front of an audience? Or were they stripped down for a live setting?

Actually, it was mainly, the four of us, (myself Jim, Phil and Will). Rob’s (Robert Zyn, additional guitars and percussion) input was limited on that record, but helped us for live work, because I had put down sometimes 4/5 guitars on certain tracks, and we got some cool keys players to do the piano, Hammond Rhodes, Wurlitzer etc. One regret, really, was to not get a quartet of horns [for the stage show], which I desperately wanted to do. Unfortunately to no avail – financial and logistic reasons really. But there is still time to maybe do that, which I would love to do one day – you never know – with my new stuff (“Whores of Babylon”), which I have put quite a bit of horns on.

[Possibly even with] Thee Hypnotics once again? And do it the way it was, meant to be… unfinished business!

What are your personal favorite tracks on the album? Some of my favorites are Point Blank Mystery and Samedi’s Cookbook.

Yeh, I love those two. “Point blank Mystery”: punk, rock ‘n’ roll, lyrical attack, at certain parts of journalism, amongst other metaphors, that crashes and burns into a kinda psychedelic fallout. “Samedi’s Cookbook”: voodoo gospellish, in a trance hypnotic groove, if you can swim in it, it’s usually a good sign! I think they all came out pretty good, in their own way. [But] it’s too difficult to say favourites, you know, they’re all like, children, babies? You know the score?

And who decided the running order of the album? Because the first side has this aggressive almost criminal Mafioso vibe to it as opposed to the second side, which is more sedate and less in your face.

The whole idea/concept is as a whole thing; every detail was thought about, with much love. Every track is like a chapter in a novel, so you couldn’t pick a favourite chapter, could you? As always, some fulfill their potential a bit more than other. And, yeh, those details go down to the order of songs: side one is more aggressive, maybe for the beginning of the evening, and the other side, more late night listening, a bit more chilled out — a physical side and maybe a slightly more cerebral one. But I would hope that in its entirety, it has heart, soul, mind, and raw physical running all the way through it, beginning to end, and that people could have the attention span to listen to it as a whole thing. Although, these days I wonder if people have the attention span for an album, top to bottom?

Besides LP running time constraints, why were “Samedi’s Cookbook” and “Don’t let it get you down” left off the LP? (They were included on the American release of the CD.)

There was a CD with those two tracks included that was released, but some versions of the album didn’t include those two extra tracks. I would have preferred all of them on every version of the album, personally. This same predicament has occurred on our other albums too. I don’t see why all tracks recorded shouldn’t be on the albums. Record companies and producers sometimes have other plans, though.

Tell us about the Situation Two imprint of Beggars Banquet – was there any pressure to follow up Come Down Heavy?  Were you hands-on with the original SG&S LP release?

No pressure, it was all our choice – they wouldn’t dare! Definitely ‘hands off’ [on the part of the label] and it isn’t such a radical departure from Come Down Heavy to Soul .Glitter & Sin, when you think about it. Certainly not in my mind.

Yeh, myself and Jim were always ‘hands on’ with every release, artwork etc., although timing of releases and proper distribution etc. have gone a bit “belly up” in the past. Which was down to record company logistics, and stuff like that.

Tell us a little about coming to the U.S. for SG&S shows – what was the audience’s reaction?

Well, mostly it was toured in Europe with the Cult in 10,000 seat type venues, The Black Crowes in the UK, and us on our own in Europe and the UK, although some of the songs from that album were played in the States and Canada. It seemed as though, with my sketchy memory, that songs from all three albums and touring the UK, Europe and the States kind of bled into each other, as we were back and forth between those territories quite a bit. But the audience reaction was always good, mostly. Naturally, some more memorable than others. I mean we played every nook and cranny! In Europe, and the States!

What were the hardest tracks to perform live?

Maybe the more textural ones, but then again the energy level should never be a walk in the park. Like I say, it would be good to do it really well one day with all the instrumentation etc. It’s kinda still unfinished business in my eyes to play it live with the horns and all the frills and details.

Did you guys ever make it to Japan, where some of your records were released?

Unfortunately no, we wanted to play there and Australia, but we never made it. The records did, though. Someone told me Thee Hypnotics were on a jukebox in the middle of the outback!

Thee H Soul Glitter Sin 001

Let’s now talk about the artwork, and the photo inside the sleeve. Where was this photo shot? The album cover looks like the devils cape with a bit of Vegas thrown in for good measure. Is that seedy glitz what you guys were going for? What were the covers you were thinking about before settling on this one?

 The photo was taken at Phil Staines’ nee Smith’s, local pub, in Peckham, S.E. London. [For the cover] we did want the gold lettering embossed, but you know, record companies’ budget cutting corners, need I say more? And the inside sleeve, photo and lettering, done like an old cinema/film titles poster style, to capture the feel and look we were after. The “Shakedown” single sleeve too, where I’m holding the .38 special. [It was] planned in a ‘30s/’40s’/50s jazz/beatnik, burlesque/ gangster style. Very much about the seedy, glitz, soul, glitter and sin of the urban American inner city nightmare — crime, drugs, prostitution, gangsters, corruption, sex, etc. etc. bright lights, big city! Sin city! A cornucopia of sex, violence, glitter and rock ‘n’ roll.

Kozik Hypnotics poster

Frank Kozik has come up with some pretty incredible gig posters – how did the band come to work with him? 

I think he did regular posters for bands that played at the Bottom Line club in San Francisco, and a couple for us when we occasionally played there. Very cool stuff. I would like to talk and meet him, maybe with “The Whores Of Babylon”, one day soon. I like where he’s coming from.

Was the label behind the promotion of this record? You hear horror stories about bands that are put into pretty compromising situations in order to jump through the promotional hoops. Any situation that you remember that to this day that sticks in your craw, or conversely, that you were super excited to be a part of?

Yeh, they were behind it, but there was always room for improvement — distribution, plugging, so on and so forth. No regrets. To put it bluntly, nothing I’m not proud of really, and yeh, conversely, lots to be excited about: places I’ve been, people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, too many to mention. You might trip over the pile of names I could drop and the stuff that’s gone down over the years.

How was the reception for the record in Europe, the UK and the US? Will there ever be an expanded reissue of the album, demos, and live tracks? 

People seem to put things out, and not even tell the band, which is a bit annoying. You know the official things. They did reissue a remastered Come Down Heavy on Cherry Red Records, in 2010, I think, and apparently were gonna do the same with Soul Glitter and Sin, but for some reason, it didn’t happen. Typical.

But I got shitloads right in front of me now, all on cassettes, so to transfer and make it happen, I would need someone who knows their stuff to collaborate in order to get all this unheard stuff out.

Thee H 45 001

Online there seems to be little if any bootlegs of the band. Did the band have a lot of unreleased material? Any plans for it to ever see the light of day?

Yeh, like I say, I got it all, I’m somewhat of an archivist, with Thee Hypnotics unreleased, unheard, demos, outtakes, new songs, etc. that I’m pretty sure even the rest of the band don’t realize or have forgotten. At least a triple album of stuff, but you know, someone come up and see me sometime and we can talk about it, maybe.

Musically what have you been working on these days?

The “Ray ‘Sonic’ Hanson’s Whores Of Babylon” — I never stopped being creative, writing, recording, etc. since (and before) we split in ‘98, just stopped going out, that’s all. And I wish I could share it, but it’s all on analogue and cassette, and slight complications to transfer to the digital medium that everyone seems to be hung up on. Glad to hear vinyl’s back, hope it stays around!

I got five double gatefold sleeves, of “Whores Of Babylon” stuff, about 500 songs I’ve written and recorded that needs to be exposed to the world, a couple of box sets. [Stylistically], musically and otherwise they cover a lot of the same type of ground Thee Hypnotics covered, and some way too much to list or mention.

The bands influences are pretty extensively documented. What are some of the bands that you discovered in the ensuing years since the end of Thee Hypnotics?

Well… quite a bit to mention I suppose I really dig, Queens of the Stone Age, Jack White and his many projects, BMRC, a cool band outta LA at the moment called the Death Valley Girls, Fu Manchu, Nebula, and all those guys. Also Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hog, Beasts of Bourbon and Tex Perkins, Spencer P. Jones, Royal Blood” too, many others. Too many to mention really!

I do tend to return to older music though, generally, stuff I been into for decades. I love Black Merda, the Meters, Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, early to mid James Brown, etc. The Dap-Kings got it goin’ on, in a funky soul way too, you know, Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones — proper Funky stuff! There is a fair old dose of that funked-out heavy soul groove stuff in The Whores, with Blue Cheer, Grand Funk, MC5, Stooges added along with the rest.

Thee H 12 inch

Between SG&S and Come Down Heavy, which album seems to get the most attention from fans?

Kinda equally, really. I know we lost some ‘stoner rock type’ fans or ‘rock’ fans, when SG&S came out, after the sound and feel of the 1st album, but we kind of gained another audience with “soul and glitter”. Reviews and reception, for both records, were nearly always very favourable. But really, at the end of the day, the thread between the two albums always made sense to me, and the Crystal album too. For instance, “The Big Fix” on the second album could be the bastard cousin to “Resurrection Joe” [listen to it below] from the first, just with an edge, more reverb and vibrato. And in turn, “Heavy Liquid” could be the ‘evil twin/whore bitch/stepsister’ to our first 12-inch, “Justice In Freedom” (pictured above). The links are all there to see. That thread that runs through our whole career always was natural and instinctive in my mind. Always. People sometimes need to re-collect their thoughts, over time, to realize that. The eclecticism within my vision with Jim, we had a clear purpose and vision full of clarity and detail, a telepathic understanding, ever since we were young teens — we go back a long way, and I’m Jim Jones’ biggest fan. I love that dude, so in that way, we had a head start I guess.

What is your favorite record between the two?

Again, I can’t say that, because my blood, sweat, tears and passionate plans went into both, for slightly different reasons and perspectives. Both I’m really quite proud with, and yes, I could pick things to bits, in my supposed perfections, but, they are what they are, and individually good in their own rights.

Could Thee Hypnotics have existed in a world of Justin Bieber and Autotune?

No, that’s alien and shit ‘slave to the dollar’ crap, enough said! But maybe, we can come back, ‘phoenix from the flames’ style and smash the shit out of brats like that, and take what’s ours’ back.

 Are you in touch with the other former members of the band?

Yeh I talk sometimes with Jim, and once we start, no one can stop us. Will, not so much, but I’d like to. A bit with Phil, who by the way, has made an interesting documentary on Thee Hypnotics that I hope will get some decent exposure soon. I’m not sure people are aware of this, but if Dave Grohl, the Dandy Warhols [and others] can have these docs, then surely our stories should be told. I rest my case!

What does Thee Hypnotics mean to you when you look back to those days?

Everything. Pride, yeh, not always perfect, but a damn good rock ‘n’ roll band that covered a few angles before a bunch of others did, ‘a whole lotta of rosie.’ Fun, wild, chaotic, unpredictable, creative, inspired, cataclysmic, romantic, loserdom (maybe?), but that’s okay. Literally dying to live, the whole nine yards, and a cool ‘legacy’, in its own li’l way, that will last longer than you and I. It may not be over yet. What do you think?

Will we ever see Thee Hypnotics reform?

You never know!

 

Below: Hanson today. More details on Hanson and his band at his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RayHanson4

 

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