Monthly Archives: March 2015

RENAISSANCE MEN: Vanilla Fudge

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“We bring the energy and the drama every night”: The band that stormed the charts in 1967 with a heavy rock cover of one of the least likely choices ever is back—doing songs from ’67 in its signature heavy rock style.

BY MIKE SHANLEY

Few bands could match the heaviness of Vanilla Fudge’s interpretation of “You Keep Me Hanging On,” when it hit the airwaves in 1967. A three-minute edit of the song became a Top 10 hit, but the seven-minute version on the band’s self-titled album offers the truly visceral experience. A gonzo E-chord rush of heavy guitar licks, cymbal washes and that ubiquitous Hammond organ would be enough of an intro on its own, but the band goes through two more patterns before they even get to the song. And when organist Mark Stein finally hits the opening line, the song is noticeably slower and more dramatic than the danceable one which the Supremes had released a year earlier. While overindulgence would begin creeping into rock and roll music within a few years, the clean cut guys on the album’s liner photos never let the song get excessive.

It sounds debatable, but Vanilla Fudge created seismic waves that would impact the future of hard rock. English blokes Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore copped the band’s Bolero-from-Marshall-stack approach when they formed Deep Purple. When an ex-Yardbirds guitarist brought his new band to the States, the Fudge had Led Zeppelin open for them. (Incidentally, by the fifth and final album of the Fudge’s first run, the clean cut look had given way to a band with long hair that made early Zeppelin look tame.)

Like many ’60s acts, Vanilla Fudge has reappeared over the years in various lineups of original and newer members. But currently they won’t be mistaken for a ghost group cashing in on nostalgia. Stumbling across a video of their 2011 appearance on The Jimmy Fallon Show, I was impressed to hear them pound out their signature hit as if 1967 never ended. Original members Stein (still working a massive Hammond), drummer Carmine Appice and guitarist Vince Martell have continued on with Pete Bremy ably filling the role of bassist Tim Bogert.

In early March the band released Spirit of 1967, a set of songs from the title year, reworked Vanilla Fudge style. Like the early days, they take liberties with “Break on Through,” “I Can See For Miles” and “I’m a Believer,” the latter featuring a solid groove that gives the Monkees/Neil Diamond song an extra kick. Aside from a questionable rap in opening funky take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” the band hasn’t lost their touch.

In addition to performing, Stein also penned You Keep Me Hanging On; The Raging Story of Rock Music’s Golden Age, a 2011 memoir, written with Larry Schweikart, a historian known for his book A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’ Discovery to America’s Age of Entitlement. Though he might be known better in more conservative political circles, Stein says his co-author was in the audience in Phoenix, Arizona when the Fudge opened for Jimi Hendrix.

Stein spoke with Blurt by phone on the eve of the new album’s release, discussing past and present, including the new album, the story behind their creepy take on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and — a totally good sport — one more explanation of the sophomore album that almost zapped them.

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 BLURT: How does the volume at your current shows compare to the early days?

STEIN: Well, it’s a power band. We’re a powerful band, a lot of drama, a lot of dynamics. Carmine’s always had a huge drum sound. I’ve always had my keyboard sound with the Hammond, and synthesizers now. It’s always pretty full. Vinnie loves to crank it up. We are a loud band. But the good news is our dynamics make it a little more fun. We come down in volume a lot too, and bring out the drama in our arrangements.

When I saw the appearance you did on the Jimmy Fallon Show (from 2011), I was impressed that you use the Hammond B3 rather than a smaller keyboard that can recreate it.

It’s like my security blanket. But with the original B3 I throw my body into it. I grab it and I swing it and I play. There are only a few of us left who do it. The good news is, it’s part of the backline so it’s not like the crew has to actually bring it, like you’re bringing a guitar or a bass. I mean the bloody thing is like, what 450 pounds?

When you started, what did audiences think of what you were doing?

We started putting these production arrangements together, these sonic arrangements. At the time, audiences came to dance. And they couldn’t dance to us. So they just started watching, and coming closer to the stage. They were sitting and standing there and just watching and getting into the show.

We actually got thrown out of a couple of clubs in the Village. A place called the Eighth Wonder in Greenwich Village and some other places up on the East Coast. The owner called our manager and said, “Look, people can’t dance to these guys. We don’t want them back.”

But it didn’t discourage you.

No, we were young at it was us against the world. We were just hellbent on making our sound acceptable. That’s what we did.

How much of an influence were the Young Rascals when you started out?

Huge. I was playing in a Top 40 band called Rick Martin and Showmen when I was about 18 years old. We were doing a lot of club dates in New York City and up and down the East Coast. I heard about this band the Young Rascals that were packing him and getting this huge buzz. This was around 1966. So I went to the city and went to see them at a place called the Phone Booth. It was a discotheque, not a disco. This was before that, [these were the] ones where they had the dancers in the boxes, shaking their butts and all that good stuff.

The first time I saw the Young Rascals I was blown away. Felix Cavaliere was this monster behind a Hammond organ. It was the first time I saw a Hammond organ in a rock band. The guy was singing and playing foot pedals. It was this thick, amazing, wide sound. His voice was killing it. The whole concept — blue eyed soul, power rock that they had going.

I went to see them a couple times and that was it. I told my father. I was playing a cheap portable organ. I said, “Dad, I gotta get this thing called a Hammond B3. I just have to get one.” My dad was a hard working guy and he went over the top and got one for me. Of course I paid him back later on. The Rascals had an immense effect on us, vocally and of course from the Hammond perspective.

Actually it was the Vagrants [with guitarist Leslie West, pre-Mountain] that were my second inspiration. The first time I saw the Vagrants, I was so blown away with the way they were taking songs and making productions out of them. That’s what really inspired me to start getting into arranging. It was really the combination of the Rascals’ blue eyed soul and all that stuff combined with the dramatics that the Vagrants were doing. Put those two together and you’ve got Vanilla Fudge. Just took it to the next level.

It was a pretty fertile time, with the way music was evolving.

It was amazing. Things started happening so fast. We didn’t know what hit us. We had this huge album on our hands. All of a sudden, we’re playing with the Mamas and the Papas, going to England, we’re playing with the Who, playing with Traffic. I was just fan of all these things and here I am in the middle of the pop music universe, you know. It was pretty wild.

How old were you?

I was 20.

When you made the first record, who called the shots? [Producer] Shadow Morton? You guys?

The first album primarily was what we played in the clubs. What we played was our arrangements. Shadow didn’t arrange anything. He was more like a spiritual advisor, to be honest. He was the perfect vibe for this band at that time, with that first album.

So we went into a place called Mirror Sound, which was in the basement of a hotel in New York City. “You Keep Me Hanging On” was the first thing we did. It was in one take. And it was in mono. (Laughs) The classic thing that went on for half a century was just one take. I remember going into the control room and Joey Veneri – I remember his name, he was the engineer – and Shadow were just beaming. They kept listening to the playback. It was just the instrumental track before we put the vocals on. It was just like a symphony. Everybody knew we had something really special.

Then you were working on what would become Renaissance and Shadow approached you with the concept for The Beat Goes On, right?

This is the deal. We hate talking about this but we have to because it’s this huge skeleton in Vanilla Fudge’s closet, The Beat Goes On. It’s probably the biggest business blunder in the history of classic rock. Here, we have a huge album and it opened up this fantastic new market for bands all over the world. Everybody is talking about Vanilla Fudge. Then Shadow had this idea to do this album called The Beat Goes On; a chronological musical history for two centuries, how music evolved. I don’t know. We were like lambs being led to the slaughter, to be quite honest.

I just did an interview on Sirius Radio last week with Carmine. It was the first thing they brought up. [They asked] how in the hell did these marketing people allow this to happen when you got off to this incredible start? In retrospect I look back and I say, it was ridiculous. Why Shadow wanted it to happen, and Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic – they thought it was going to be big. But we knew it was over the minute it came out. It was an embarrassing situation. If we wanted to do a concept album, we should’ve done it three or four albums down the line. Keep developing the market. All we had to do was a second album with the same approach; we would’ve been right up there with the Cream, with the bands of that era that got off to a flying start. Anyway, then we came back with an album called Renaissance where we started writing songs. We had to come back to get something happen.

Speaking of the Renaissance album, “Season of the Witch” scared the hell out of me when I first heard it.

Oh cool!

I’ve always wondered about it. I know the spoken middle part is from an Essra Mohawk song, but is there a back story? [NOTE: Between verses, one member of the band whispers, “Help me,” in a desperate voice. It ends with the scream, “God – if you can’t help us you better listen. Please?!”]

It was from the first album’s sessions. There wasn’t any room on the first album to put it. Basically, it was the same approach that we did [on the rest of the first album]. I heard Donovan’s version and the lyrics. We wanted to make it sound eerie and haunting. It’s about witches, that whole vibe. We slowed it down to this funeral dirge, dramatic type of thing. We kind of looked at it like a play. That thing that Shadow did, that oration, was pretty special.

That’s Shadow?!

Yeah, that’s Shadow Morton. He sounds like Richard Burton or something. That’s one of my favorite Fudge arrangements, even today.

When the band broke up, do you feel like you reached a limit or was it a personality thing?

It did reach a limit. We got burned out. At one point, it became a one trick pony. The creative inspiration started to wane. We weren’t really developed as songwriters yet. After touring with the Cream, with Ginger Baker and the late Jack Bruce —God rest his soul — Carmine and Timmy started getting into solos. They wanted to do different stuff, and me and Vinnie wanted to continue doing what we were doing. The strain just basically broke us apart.

So they went on to do their thing with Jeff Beck [Beck, Bogert & Appice] and Cactus. Then Vinnie and I disbanded and I formed a band called Boomerang which was kind of like a Whitesnake/Deep Purple English rock band.

When did you tour with Alice Cooper?

I toured with Alice Cooper in 1977 on the Welcome to my Nightmare tour in the southern hemisphere. That was in Australia and New Zealand. What was cool about that was, at the time, Carmine was playing with Rod Stewart. So he was down in Australia. That was the biggest box office tour at the time, the late ’70s, the Rod Stewart tour with Carmine playing drums with him. And when the Welcome to My Nightmare show followed, then that tour broke all those records.

But before that, I played with Tommy Bolin after he replaced Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple. He left Deep Purple and got a new record deal and formed a new band. I joined forces with Tommy in ’75. It was a really hot jazz rock fusion band with Narada Michael Walden, an amazing drummer, in the first configuration. Reggie McBride, the funky bass player from Stevie Wonder’s band, me on keyboards and vocals, and Norma Jean Bell, a sax player and vocalist.

It was a really cool band. A lot of fusion people came to see us. It didn’t last long. Tommy had his demons that he couldn’t overcome, unfortunately. He left this world at 25 [in 1976]. He would’ve been one of the great greats today, I’m sure of it.

So Vanilla Fudge has had a few reunions over the years.

We did a reunion album called Mystery around 1982. [NOTE: The album was released in 1984.] Spencer Proffer was producing the project, which we were really excited about. He was also producing Quiet Riot in another studio, before anybody knew about them. So there was a big buzz about the Fudge with this Mystery album. Unfortunately we imploded as a band, personally and legally. To make a long story short, we had a lot of problems that led to the demise of that record. It really never got the promotion that it should have. In the meantime the irony of it all was Quiet Riot comes out and it becomes the biggest album in the world, like 7-8 million copies and starts the big heavy metal thing again.

Vanilla Fudge CD

With the new album, how did you narrow down the song list?

Cleopatra signed the band. Brian [Perera], the head of the company, said he wanted to call it The Spirit of 1967. He said, “You guys should do what you did on the first album and try to do that same approach. Pick all songs from 1967.” So they gave us a list and the band all picked out songs that we thought we’d be able to approach. Songs like “The Letter” and “Ruby Tuesday,” I arranged at home in pre-production on the piano, and we worked out the arrangements from there. “Break on Through” is something we started jamming in the studio and came up with this really cool groove and theme. “The Letter,” I just sat down at the piano and started singing it like a ballad. Then boom…we broke into that Mad Dogs and Englishmen Joe Cocker kind of riff in there.

When I was doing “Break on Through,” I had this piece [that comes in the middle] I came up with, out of nowhere. I call it “The Afterlife Suite in D minor.” The song says “Break on through to the other side,” and suddenly I try to take the audience into the afterlife. I don’t want to sound condescending, but with that song I felt like I was on the other side in the afterlife, you know? I just got a chill when that came out. I said, “Where’d that come from?” Then it goes into the Dio [riff]. Ronnie James Dio was really great friends with Carmine and we were really close. And he’s gone. Then, [the harmonies] are like the O’Jays on the end, “Break on through to the oooother side.” I was just so excited about the arrangement.

The only thing I wasn’t too sure about was the rap at the end of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Well I don’t know, I kind of heard that post-whatever. Some people like it and some people don’t know, like you said. You thought we were trying to be too commercial?

My feeling was more like, with Vanilla Fudge, I want to hear heavy rock. You have this history but at the same time, you’re doing new albums. Is it hard getting notoriety beyond nostalgia circuit?

Well we do what we do. The band rocks. People come see us and they’re always [telling us], for guys our age, we bring it. We bring it every night. I don’t look at it as nostalgia. To me, we’re rockers. We bring the energy and the drama every night. We come offstage soaking wet like when we were kids. And I always get comments, “We go to see old bands, they go up there just play to make the money but we don’t know anybody that rocks like Vanilla Fudge does.”

Does it still feel as powerful playing “You Keep Me Hanging On” as it did in 1967?

Oh yeah. Every time we play it, you can feel the tension and energy from the crowd. We play it as the last song in the set or sometimes we use it as an encore. And there’s a love between the crowd and Fudge when we do that song. It’s very, very special because it brings back a great time for everybody that’s in the house. I don’t think there’s ever been one night that it wasn’t a successful experience.

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UNDAMAGED GOODS: Gang of Four

GO4-Photo Credit Leo Cackett

Though down to only one original member, the legendary UK post-punk band remains as complex and powerful as ever. “We are a vibrant, dynamic, evolving project,” declares guitarist Andy Gill.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The wildly influential post-punk band Gang of Four have been written off before. They first called it quits in the ‘80s and again in the late ‘90s. But when vocalist and co-founder Jon King decided to leave the band recently, it seemed like the final chapter. The group was beginning work on the follow up to 2011’s Content at the time.

But Andy Gill, guitarist/vocalist and King’s partner since day one, simply saw the departure as an opportunity to reinvent the band’s sound. Soldiering on, he called in a handful of musicians to help take turns on the mic, including Alison Mosshart from The Kills, Robbie Furze from The Big Pink, Gail Ann Dorsey and Herbert Gronemeyer. Japanese guitarist Hotei put his mark on a song as well.

The result can be heard on the new What Happens Next (Metropolis), a complex and powerful entry to Gang of Four’s already storied musical canon. Gill, preparing for the band’s U.S. tour, spoke recently about the record, opening Gang of Four up to others and the group’s future.

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BLURT: This is your first record without Jon on vocals. Did you consider singing all of these songs yourself or auditioning full-time singers as a replacement?

GILL: Well I always sing on a number of songs on any Gang of Four album and one of the favorite Gang of Four formats is where there is a back-and-forth between different voices; so there are different voices, sometimes a narrator who have a dialogue or one comments on what the other is saying. But at no point did think I would do all the singing.

I had wanted to do a record for some time that involved collaborations but that didn’t fly with Jon King, so with this record it seem natural to do the collaboration thing. And yes, it did cross my mind that I might have to do a bunch of auditions for the main singing role.

As I worked on the early songs on this record, I wanted someone who would come and sing them, initially I thought as demos, and I asked my manager for ideas. Gaoler [John Sterry] just popped down to the studio one day, I had never met him, to give me a hand singing my vocals in a better way – for quite a long time he was a session singer for me. As I got to know him better, I liked him more and more, and I really liked his voice and it seemed to be a natural thought to maybe try doing a gig with him. We did a little semi-secret gig in London at the Lexington and it went very well; we’ve now been all over the world with him.

It was a pretty novel idea to use an array of different voices – and it worked out very well. How difficult was it to find the right people and lineup everyone’s schedules? 

I’m glad you feel it worked out well. The process of working with the other individuals seem to happen very simply; the process was quite intuitive for me. It was not thought out.  I had done a little bit of work with the Kills in the studio and Alison (Mosshart) just sprang to mind when I was thinking about someone to sing “Broken Talk.” She was very happy to come down to the studio and sing a couple of the songs.

I loved that song “Dominoes” that the Big Pink did a few years back. I got in touch with Robbie Furze and asked him if he wanted to sing on this track I was working on and he came down to the studio a few times and sang this wonderfully hard edged, “geometric” vocal

Gail Ann Dorsey is a very old friend and she of course has been in different Gang of Four lineups over the years as a bass player. She is a fantastic musician and a great, great singer. The song she sings on, “First World Citizen,” was simply crying out for her voice.

Herbert’s [Gronemeyer] a friend – I’ve known him at least 20 years – Anton Corbijn introduced us back then. I was talking to Herbert about the new record, I guess 18 months ago, and he wondered if I would like him to sing something on it. The particular thing that he does that I really love are the rather ‘angst’ melancholy ballads. I knew I had to write a song which could incorporate that particular aspect of his character so, more than any other track, it really had to be tailor-made and I can tell you it was difficult. I had to work at that and I went down a lot of blind alleys until I came up with the music of the dying rays. It was quite an extraordinary experience hearing him sing it as I had heard it in my head – only, better than I had heard it in my head.

Tomoyasu Hotei is Japan’s biggest rock guitarist; he spends quite a bit of time going round Japanese stadiums. Anyway, he’s always been a big fan of my guitar playing and we got to know each other. Eventually, we decided to write something together. The opening riff of “Dead Souls” is pure Hotei.

Gang of Four CD

Was it odd to be working on a Gang of Four album without Jon?

Jon can be an absolute genius when it comes to lyrics, but I didn’t feel he had been bringing a whole lot to the records for some time. After Content was released, we had only done a few gigs at the point when Jon signaled it was over for him; he wanted to focus on his advertising career. As I began working on this new record, I felt reinvigorated and seized the opportunity to reimagine Gang of Four from the ground up. To an outsider, the writing process would have looked little different: I’ve always written and produced all the music, with Jon coming in with some of the lyrics, and I always wrote Gang of Four lyrics too, about half of them. But right from the first song I began to interrogate everything I was doing more rigorously and take creative inspiration more widely. What Happens Next is very obviously a Gang of Four record but I found myself approaching it with the energy and daring of a first album

I read somewhere where you also let go of the reins a bit on this one and rather than handling everything yourself – from writing to mixing – you worked with others. What brought about that decision?

I think it makes so much sense to have some kind of producer or co-producer helping with the process, that’s why everybody does it! When I am songwriting in the studio it often just seamlessly morphs into recording the final master, which I think is the main reason that in recent years I’ve not worked with a co-producer; at what point do you bring someone in? This time I did get someone in to have, in a way that kind of role; Joshua Rumble, but it wasn’t till quite late on in the record. I did really want to have somebody else mix it and I think Simon Gogerley did a fantastic job and I’m really pleased I went with that decision to use him

Gang of Four has been cited by many, many musicians over the years as a major influence. What is your reaction when a band calls out your guitar style or songwriting as inspiration? 

I’m grateful for the good things that other artists that I respect enormously say about me and the band, it’s kind of them. Gang of Four is a vibrant, dynamic, evolving project, and the band is continuously picking up new and younger audiences. I think it’s partly to do with the bands that have been influenced by Gang of Four in the first place – it was bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s like Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. and Rage Against the Machine and Kurt Cobain. But then there was a new and younger set of bands like Bloc Party, Futureheads,  Franz Ferdinand that were always name checking Gang of Four –  and that draws a younger audience towards the band which I’m glad about. Over the last year I’ve been really interested in what St Vincent is getting up to and so I was completely surprised, and delighted, when she recently named me as her favorite guitarist.

Andy Gill by Tom Sheehan

Have you ever been surprised by some of the bands who cite you and Gang of Four as an influence? 

No not really.  I tend to like, to a greater or lesser extent, the bands that have been influenced to whatever extent by Gang of Four or in particular by me as a guitarist and songwriter. There are plenty of bands that I really don’t like at all and none of those have even the tiniest bit of tasty Gang of Four influence in there

Do you see Gang of Four continuing to make music after this record?

Absolutely. There are one or two collaborations which are in the works now and the next record already has five or six fairly advanced songs done.

Are you working on any other projects?

What has happened with this record and the previous record, Content, is that I get to a point where it becomes obvious that unless I work 100% full on at the record it just won’t get finished. But once that process is over I become a little more open to working with other artists who interest me.

Gill photo by Tom Sheehan; band photo by Leo Cackett. Below: vintage GoF from 1983.

MOVING TARGET: Ben Watt

Ben Watt by Edward Bishop 2

Following his run with Everything But The Girl and success as both a DJ and a label owner, the acclaimed British musician now turns his attention to solo work as a singer-songwriter.

BY DAVE STEINFELD

Ben Watt is best known to many people as being the male half of Everything But The Girl. The English duo — which consisted of Watt and Tracey Thorn, who later became his wife — released an eclectic and prolific series of albums between 1984 and 1999. Commercially, they hit their pinnacle with the song “Missing.” Originally released on their 1994 disc Amplified Heart, the Todd Terry remix hit number two on the pop charts here in the States and essentially provided the musical template for their next, more electronic phase. But the fact is, Everything But the Girl (like Watt himself) always defied easy categorization. Their albums drew on many genres, ranging from folk music to boss nova, before the general public took note of them for “Missing.”

Although it was Thorn who took lead vocals on the vast majority of EBTG songs (and, to be fair, has one of the most sublime voices in popular music), to these ears the rare songs that Watt sang were always highlights. “25th December” (which also appeared on Amplified Heart) and “The Night I Heard Caruso Sing” (from the earlier Idlewild), were concise, beautiful songs that dealt with family — a subject that Watt has returned to repeatedly in his work.

Everything But The Girl went on an indefinite hiatus around the turn of the new millennium but Watt has stayed busy since then — mostly as a DJ and label owner. He immersed himself further in electronics and dance music, producing remixes for Sade (who first emerged on the scene around the same time as EBTG did), Maxwell, Zero 7 and others. In 2003, he launched his label Buzzin’ Fly (in typically eclectic fashion, Watt took the name from a song by the late singer-songwriter Tim Buckley). He also co-founded the deep house club series Lazy Dog in his native London and, on a more general level, became a presence to be reckoned with in house music for much of the decade… Which is why the two projects he unveiled in 2014 took much of his recent fan base by surprise.

Last year, Watt released both a book and an album he’d been working on for some time. The book, Romany and Tom, is an exhaustive and moving memoir about his parents. (It’s actually Watt’s second tome; Patient, released in 1996, chronicles his brush with the rare autoimmune disease Churg-Strauss Syndrome, which altered his appearance considerably and almost cost him his life.) The album, Hendra, is also his second. Watt actually released a solo effort called North Marine Drive back in 1983 but it made much bigger waves in the UK than it did here. So in a sense, he took three decades and change to release his sophomore album — a fact whose humor is not lost on him. “Sometimes I laugh and think it could be the definition of the difficult second album,” says Watt. “It certainly has been a long time coming.”

Good things often take time, though, and Hendra was well worth the wait. The 10-track disc finds Watt collaborating primarily with guitarist Bernard Butler (formerly of Suede) and Berlin-based producer Ewan Pearson. These two artists provide him with a lush musical background well suited to his lyrics. Hendra is a deeply personal album and many of its songs deal with loss and aging. “The Levels,” which features a cameo from David Gilmour on guitar [see a video of the two above] is sung from the point of view of Watt’s late half-sister’s husband shortly after her death, while “Matthew Arnold’s Field” finds the singer preparing to empty the urn which contains his father’s ashes. The haunting title track is sung from his half-sister Jennie’s point of view. “Young Man’s Game” takes a slightly tongue in cheek look at the club world while “The Gun,” though also inspired by an experience that Watt had, is somewhat less personal and more sociopolitical. All of these tracks are worth hearing and some are excellent. But best of all may be “Forget.” The second song on Hendra, it pulls off that rare feat of being both infectious and haunting at the same time and is notable as much for what he says as for what he doesn’t say.

I had the chance to speak with Watt shortly before the holidays, on one of the rainiest mornings in recent memory, when he passed through New York City on his first series of non-DJ dates ever in America. [Below: Ben Watt in 1982]

Ben Watt 1982 by David Corio

 

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BLURT: You have two projects out this year…. I was up last night finishing your book, and then I listened to the album again this morning. And certain songs that didn’t hit me before I read the book hit me in a different way now. “Matthew Arnold’s Field” was one. I didn’t know exactly what that was about until this morning.

WATT: Mmmm.

 

One thing that struck me was the chapter in the book where you talk about screaming at [your] therapist about Tracey, about this and that… You said, “I lacked any authenticity in my art.” One thing that’s always struck me about your work, and more so after reading this book, is that it couldn’t get any more authentic. I’m not in your skin but I listen to a lot of music. Your stuff is pretty fucking authentic, you know? So I guess I’m wondering what led you to make a statement like that.

Yes, you’re right. The actual content of what I write I try and make as authentic as possible. But I’m very aware you’re often judged in this business on your form, on your genre. And I sometimes feel that because I present this moving target — one day I’m a writer, the next minute I’m a house DJ, the next minute I’m a label owner, the next minute I’m a singer/songwriter — I wonder whether I don’t give people enough time to get what I’m doing. Therefore, they kind of push me to one side and think “He lacks authenticity because he’s not one thing or the other.”

I think we live in a [time], certainly within music, where people are given credit for doing one thing, sticking with it, [being] true to their roots, never changing. Personally, that doesn’t interest me a huge amount. I really like people [who] work in different mediums, you know, who basically have a central voice which they then use within different forms. But that’s perhaps not as accepted within rock and roll.

 

Tell me a little bit about what it was like doing a solo album after 30 years.

It was like skydiving. It was just sitting at the edge of the plane and finally just, “Gotta go! Let’s do it.” And there was a bit of free fall about it. I had to make sure there were people around me who were supportive. And I got a great team together, Ewan [Pearson] and Bruno, who recorded the [album], were really great. Bernard, of course, was very central to it and got it very quickly. So that was very important to me.

But I made it out of a sense of compulsion, in the end. I mean, it’s something that’s been at the back of my mind for years. I had an emerging career. When I look back, I realize that my first single was produced by Kevin Coyne… There was a real beginning there. I got a full page in Melody Maker and people were saying, “He’s a bit like Tim Buckley, he’s a bit like John Martyn.” You know, I was on the map. But then, of course, I ran into Tracey. I thought that might take three months and of course it took 20 years. Suddenly, we’re a lot further down the track. And then I got diverted by dance music and electronic music… But I think that small voice of ‘When are you gonna do something on your own again?’ was always there. The real kicker for it was when I was finishing Romany and Tom. Because the person I most wanted to read it — and probably the person who was most looking forward to reading it — was Jennie, my half-sister. And just as I was finishing the book, she was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. Three weeks later, she was dead and it was like, bang! She never got to read the book and, you know, it knocked everyone for six. I went into that Christmas in a bit of a daze. But I came out of it last year, January last year. And that’s when I realized [that] I had to write something else. It stirred something up in me, and all the songs for Hendra pretty much came out in that period.

 

So it wasn’t like a storehouse of songs?

No! There were a couple of things. “Matthew Arnold’s Field” — not long after my Dad died in 2007, I wrote the song. But at that point, I was DJ’ing, I was running [a label and] this song came out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to do with it. And because I didn’t think I was going to be making an album with that song, I ended up re-telling the story in Romany and Tom, in prose! Then when it came round to Hendra, Tracey said, “Are you gonna do that song about your Dad?” I said, “Well, I’ve just written about it in the book.” And she said, “Oh no, sing it as well. It’s such a great song.”

 

Even the songs you sung lead on with Everything But The Girl have always resonated with me. And your book Patient also did because I have a chronic stomach ailment. I read an interview with you in the ‘90s where you said something like, “I go to clubs, I have a big song on the charts, people treat me like gold… And then I go to doctors and talk about my bowel movements. If there’s a God, he certainly has a strange sense of humor.” (Watt laughs) I read that 20 years ago and there’s a reason why I still remember it. You know, I don’t remember certain things that happened last week. But that really resonated with me — the disparity of these two simultaneous pieces of your life. So I wanted to tell you that, and ask you about the weirdness of living two lives at once. I don’t know with Churg–Strauss Syndrome if you’re ever completely in remission.

Well, not really. You know, that trigger in my immune system has been switched on now. I have to take drugs to keep it suppressed — and I take them every day of my life. Without them, it would almost certainly come back. So, you know, it’s managed. I lead a full life and I’m touring the world, I’m playing every night. I can do all that stuff. But of course, it’s always in the back of my mind. (long pause) I don’t know whether it’s a kind of driver in some sort of way. I mean, Tracey would say that I’ve always been driven. I talk about that in Patient. A lot of people [told] me after that experience, “Oh my God! Life must seem so much more gorgeous now. The sky must be bluer, having gone to death and back.” And I say, “Yes, up to a point. But I’ve always wanted to live with a kind of drive in life.” I think it’s part of my upbringing, part of my relationship with my parents. I’ve always had this urge to prove myself, to communicate in a very direct, emotional way with people.

So I’ve always had that about me. But perhaps it’s been slightly amplified by my experiences. I’m very aware that life is fragile.

With the title song — does “Hendra” represent something specific?

Oh yeah. I was talking about Jennie. You know, I talk about in Romany and Tom how she was very unlucky in her early years. Suffered neurosis, fucked up all her 20s, all her education pretty much. She was one of triplets from my mother’s first marriage [and] while her brothers were going to University and getting careers, she was dealing with this shit. It took her a long time to shake it off. She ended up married to a guy called Eddie. They ran a tiny corner shop in a small village in the west of England. Groceries, amenities — nothing glamorous at all. Lived above the shop. Up at five, not to bed until 10 — you know, it was tough.

But [whenever] she could get away, she used to [tell] me about going to this place called Hendra. It turned out that she and Eddie had taken this place on the edge of Cornwall. It was a little house that they used to get to, to try and get away from the shop. When she died, I looked it up. And it turned out that not only was it the name of the road on which this house was located, it was also a very old Cornish word. “Hendra” means “home” or “farmstead.” Dotted around Cornwall, you’ll find all these places: Hendra Farm, Hendra Road, Hendra Beach. It struck me as not only very personal because of Jennie’s connection [but] I liked its sort of semi-mythological quality. It almost sounds like something Greek and unknowable. All these things just sort of came together in my mind. I mean, the album, in a way, is a coming home to something: me coming back to my songwriting. So “Hendra” just bubbled up as the perfect name for the record.

 

And “The Levels.” My friend Anuja and I both found that song really haunting. Was that sung from Jennie’s husband’s perspective?

Of course, yeah. That’s his perspective now. It’s a song about what Eddie, her husband, was left with. And how he couldn’t hear to go back to the shop, basically, after she died. I just tried to write a simple song about grief and fortitude, if you like, and how the two things have to go hand in hand. You know, you feel you can’t get up in the mornings but you have to get up in the mornings. It’s that Samuel Beckett thing, you know? “I can’t go on, we must go on.”

So yeah, that’s pretty much what that song is about. And I think, in a way, that’s a lot of what the [whole] record’s about. It’s about resilience. It’s about finding those methods to get to the next day after we’re hit by another blow in life. Saul Bellow says, “Life comes in blows.”

 

“The Gun” is a song that seems a little bit less personal but I like that one a lot. And I think this year it’s probably taken on more meaning, at least in America, than you probably even thought it would when you wrote it. In England, if I remember, policemen don’t carry guns.

No. They have to be licensed to or it has to be kind of activated as part of a specific situation.

“The Gun” was [inspired] again by something that happened to me… I was in southern California a few years ago. I went for a walk along a beach, got lost, tried to get back onto the road and found myself in this gated community. I’d never been in one before and [I] actually found it quite spooky. There was no one around. It was just CCTV cameras, armed response signs, there was a patrol car going by. And these huge, opulent houses overlooking the ocean, just patrolled and protected by private security. At the same time, I happened to read a couple of stories in one of the local papers — one about a boy who was killed by a random bullet. There was another report, in USA Today actually, about the escalation in casual gun use as a recreational sport. And it just [all] came together as a story in my mind. How any amount of wealth, opulence and private security won’t protect you from grief if you live within a casual gun culture. That was sort of the idea behind the song.

 

What inspired “Forget?”

It’s a past relationship song. About how stuff stays with you and can be very vivid. You may regret the end of that particular relationship, and it may be something that you can never shrug off and wish you’d done things differently. But as with the rest of the record, it’s something you just have to accept.

It’s quite a simple song, really. I think that line in “Forget” is perhaps the most quoted line from the album. “You can push things to the back of your mind but you can never forget.” Everybody seems to bring that up when they talk about the record. It sticks with them. [But] when I wrote it, I didn’t actually register that as being quite so catchy (laughs). I prefer the slightly darker, more metaphorical language in that song. I like the lines like “I saved a creature from the heat of the fire.” [Below: Watt performing in 2014 at Joe’s Pub in NYC]

Photo by Greg Cristman | www.gregCphotography.com

 

I do wanna ask you about “25th of December.” It’s so simple but so beautiful. I imagine that was also autobiographical?

Mmm-hmm. Well, obviously it’s set on Christmas Day. I think I talk about being 30 in the song. It sketches a quick picture of what Christmas was like and [also] about how your relationship with your parents remains complicated even as they get older. How it’s difficult for parents being parents. How you can be 30 and still feel you don’t know anything. And then the last verse is in a different location. It’s actually in the Oxford house, where my parents lived in their 60s. You’ll know about that because it’s in Romany and Tom. And just about how this clunkiness in your relationship with your parents keeps going on throughout your life. There’s the image of my mother: she’s stormed out of the house [and] she’s crying on the towpath, by the river. And I’m sitting at the top of the stairs, you know, angry again at how we’ve come to blows in some argument. But then feeling the urge to repair — to pick up a key that’s too big for my hands and somehow unlock this problem between us. I think in some ways [that song] is a precursor to the whole relationship with my parents in Romany and Tom.

Relationships remain difficult. And what do you do? You walk away or you try and unlock them.

 

On a totally different tack — you said that early on, some of the comparisons with your music were to Tim Buckley. And your label was called Buzzing Fly. I’m just curious: are you a Tim Buckley fan?

I very much like the early Tim Buckley [stuff]. I really like Blue Afternoon and I like the first album. Lots of people go on about the ‘freer’ records, like Lorca and Starsailor, which I don’t really care [for]. But I love that fluidity. It’s like the great [Van] Morrison records — you know, Veedon Fleece, Astral Weeks — where you’re reaching into music that isn’t rock. You’re borrowing from folk and from jazz but you’re trying to create a fluidity — a sort of transcendence within the flow of the music. I’ve always been really attracted to that.

I became aware of those people at a very early age. You know, this was post-punk. But somehow I stumbled people like Kevin Coyne and Robert Wyatt and Tim Buckley and John Martyn. I discovered Nick Drake in 1982. Nobody was talking about Nick Drake at that point! I remember doing a radio session in Manchester for Mark Radcliffe, who’s become one of the leading radio DJs on 6 Music, a modern day John Peel kind of figure. He reminded me when we spoke recently about how I’d gone to do a radio session in his early days as a DJ. We were in this house together and I was rifling through all these records and I pulled out these Nick Drake records. [Mark said], “I have no idea who you’re talking about. Who is this guy?” And now, of course, he’s absolutely lionized.

 

To bring it full circle, what do you have on the horizon for 2015? Are you gonna continue supporting Hendra? Do you wanna take a breather for awhile? Is Everything But The Girl totally finished? Do you have something entirely different in the works?

Well, the first thing I’d say is I have never planned anything in my life. I just wait for the moment to arrive and then incrementally I seem to make up my mind about what I want to do. I think with me, it’s lots of tiny decisions — which I’m not really aware that I’m making — and then I just suddenly find that this is the position I’m in and this is what I want to do next.

That said, obviously there are two sets of competing sets of pressures on me now. Romany and Tom has done very well; Bloomsbury are very excited with its success. It just got nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize in the UK, which is like a National Book Award kind of thing, which they’re jumping up and down about. I didn’t win it but I got nominated. And they like the style of my writing so now they’re [asking if I would] consider writing a novel for them. My editor is Alexandra Pringle who looks after Richard Ford [and] William Boyd. You know, I’m thinking, “Fuck! Is she really serious? She wants me to write a novel?” (laughs) I’m slightly flattered and slightly daunted by that. So that’s in my mind. But then of course, I’m very much enjoying touring and singing and playing guitar and working with Bernard. I’ve written some new songs recently. So I think I just wanna take a break over Christmas and wake up in the new year and I’ll make a decision [but] I’m not quite sure which one it’ll be.

In terms of Everything But The Girl, it really is on a near-permanent hiatus. I never say never about anything. But in the foreseeable future, I can’t see me and Tracey reactivating the name. You know, we’re both very happy in the solo careers that we’ve carved out for ourselves. We’re creative people and I would much rather be in [this] position than be doing the nostalgia circle and having to live off stuff I wrote 20 years ago.

You know, we all love to go see Fleetwood Mac. But what’s it really like being Fleetwood Mac? I just read [that] they’re headlining The Isle of Wight Festival next year. And I just think we are absolutely obsessed with the past. I think there’s a new generation of young music writers and music fans who are basically jealous that they missed the heyday of rock and roll — you know, the late ’60s, ’70s, up to the early ’80s.

 

Yeah, I feel like the late ’60s/early ’70s was one heyday and the late ’70s/early ’80s was another. I’m used to people saying, “There’s no good music anymore. It’s not like when we were growing up!” And my response is, “There’s plenty of good music — by both new and older artists.” The difference — at least in America, I don’t know if this is true in the UK — but in America, when I was a kid, you could turn on the radio and hear a lot of that good music. You can’t do that anymore. You have to seek it out. And people sometimes don’t know where to seek it out. I have a lot of it sent to me because of my work so I have an advantage in that sense. But it’s out there!

Of course it is. We’re wading chest-high through a deluge of new music… I mean, the barriers to production [and] distribution of music have come down. You can make great-sounding albums on a laptop, in your house. You can distribute them on the Internet for nothing. You can build up a fan base with very little marketing spent… Inevitably, we are living in an absolute flood of music. But that means there is very, very good music out there. It’s just [that] you need a good filtering system to find it.

But it also drives the rewards in music right back down to base level. [If] the market’s flooded, what happens to the price? It goes way down. And that’s why lots of people aren’t making any money [from] music anymore.

 

You talk about resilience. Everything is relative but you’ve been dealt a certain amount of success and a certain amount of blows in your life so far. And the blows have been pretty big ones. How do you find the resilience? When you wake up on the days when you don’t wanna get out of bed, what gets you out of bed?

(long pause) If lack of resilience — depression, if you like — is a kind of paralysis of motivation, it’s just trying to find those things in life that make you motivated. At the moment, I do feel very motivated by what I’m doing. In some ways, I feel like I’m just following up my first album. And that feels like a huge battle ahead — which it is in many ways. You know, Everything But The Girl kind of means nothing [now]. All of my success as a DJ and running Buzzin’ Fly [Records] for 10 years means nothing. I’m suddenly saying, “No, actually I’m a singer-songwriter again and this is the follow-up to North Marine Drive. Come and see me on this basis.” And it’s not as though people are flooding through the doors of these clubs to come and see me. It’s a battle. I’m playing to hundreds, rather than thousands, of people — sometimes tens of people! I [went] to Phoenix and I played to 80 people the other night. And I’m not ashamed to say that. I accept that’s part of the process. It’s part of what I was talking about, about presenting this moving target. You know, constantly doing different things. But what it does mean is that the people who do come to the shows are incredibly into it.  [Below: Watt DJing in 2009]

Ben Watt DJ 2009 by Richard Haughton

 

Oh yeah! My friend who I brought to your show at Joe’s Pub was blown away. And she didn’t know anything about you. I’m not so much into the dance scene myself, so I really knew your work from Everything But The Girl and reading Patient. When I found out you were doing a sort of singer-songwriter album, I thought “Wow, that’s the guy that I remember!”

 A lot of people feel that way. I think what’s happened is that I’ve reactivated that fan base [or] whatever you want to call it. That group of people who remember me from that period who are looking forward to hearing Hendra but hoping I’m gonna sing “The Night I Heard Caruso Sing” and “25th of December” and all that kind of stuff. Which I do, because I still love those songs. But I also thought what I’d do is bring a younger generation who’d been interested in Buzzin’ Fly and my DJ-ing along for the ride as well. I think that I’ve been slightly thrown off track by how few of those people have come with me on this journey.

 

They’re two very different worlds.

Well, they are. We’re going back to [what] I was talking about earlier on. I’m interested in people who have content but do different things with different forms. But perhaps I have to accept that the general public out there aren’t so nimble in their decision making.

You just feel, “Look. It’s not hard to make a connection with people. It doesn’t matter what background they come from. You know, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been into heavy metal all their life or they’ve been a deep house DJ. Just walk into the room, I’ll come to the front of the stage and I’ll tell you some stories that you will see yourself in.” That’s all I’m trying to do here.

Ben Watt by Edward Bishop 1

Photos by Edward Bishop, Richard Haughton, David Corio and Greg Cristman. Ben Watt will be playing selected UK dates during the spring—there will also be a special “In Conversation” appearance April 18 that also features EBTG bandmate Tracey Thorn. Full details at Watt’s website.

 

 

 

15 QUESTIONS FOR… Bill Roe of Trouble In Mind Records

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 And… here’s the fourth installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1 (Slumberland Records), HERE for #2 (12XU) and HERE for #3 (Saint Marie).

BY TIM HINELY

As you can see, the Trouble in Mind record label has only been around a little more than five years. I always lumped it in with other garage punk labels of recent day (the first record I picked up on the label was Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut). I then recently checked the site and was pleasantly surprised to see recent reissues of not only 80’s UK pop band The Dentists but also a reissue of long out of print 1968 masterpiece from Del Shannon, The Further Adventures of Charles Westover. Now I was really curious. I sent label owners Bill and Lisa Roe some questions to find out just what the heck is going on over there in the Trouble in Mind headquarters.

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ROEs_byJohnSturdy_8639

When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

Bill: My wife Lisa & I (both pictured above) formed the label in the Fall of 2009. Lisa was pregnant with our daughter, Ronnie & our band (CoCoComa) was on “hiatus” at the time (due to the pregnancy & our OG keyboardist/bassist Mike Fitzpatrick moving to NY State). I had always wanted to have a label & (as cheesy as it sounds) it seemed like a great way to – if we couldn’t be IN a band – keep music in our lives… we had originally planned to have the White Wires’ “Pretty Girl” single (TIM002) be the first release, but instead we started with what would be the last 7-inch by our band. We figured our name recognition could sell enough to make that money back & more in order to finance the White Wires record & it just snowballed from there.

 

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

I have designed almost everything for the label myself. There have been three different logos: the OG “peacock” logo (designed by me), a very short-lived “slime” logo designed by Johnny Sampson (only used on the Woollen Kits album I believe), & the current “bubble” one (designed by me). I was dissatisfied w/the original peacock logo & had struggled with it for a long time – I wanted something ‘iconic’ a la the Brain logo or Vertigo Records or something… the ‘bubble’ logo finally came about around the beginning of 2013 & we’ve used it ever since. Not sure if it’s reached “iconic” status yet. I’ll get back to you…

What was your first release?

Our first release was (mine & Lisa’s band) CoCoComa’s “Ask, Don’t Tell” b/w The Anchor” single. We sold around 700 copies I think? Recorded & mixed by our pal Kenny Rasmussen at his loft. We did 4 songs that day – those two for the single , a cover of “Messenger” by The Wipers (released on our first Record Store Day covers 7-inch back in 2010) & an as-yet unreleased song.

 

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Stax, Motown, Brain, Vertigo, Sky, SST, Touch & Go, AmRep, Flying Nun, Crypt. I guess I was enamored by the (what i perceived as) “community” these labels fostered & still strive to do the same with our label. When we started the label I had mounds of (probably) really stupid & obvious questions that a few people were nice enough to humor me with answers to like Larry from in The Red, Eric & Zac from Goner, Gerard of 12XU, Bryan from Douchemaster, & Kevin from Dusty Medical Records. Thanks for not making fun of me to my face, guys.

 

If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who would it be?

Oh man, that’s a hard one. I mean if time & space are out of the question? I dunno – Love? (Our son’s name is Arthur Lee, so we’re huge fans). As far as present day, I have to say we’ve been lucky enough to have worked with many of my favorite current bands, so wish granted as far as that’s concerned!

 TiM047.JACCO.COC.cover.RGB

What has been your best seller to date?

Probably Jacco Gardner’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” (above), I’d guess? Followed closely by Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut (below) The first pressing of Fuzz’s debut single sold out in about 5 hours & we’ve repressed it a couple of times. We’ve been pretty lucky…

TIM031.MikalCronin_s-t.1600x1600

 

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

Only just the one time… and we learned our lesson & broke up soon after that. Ha! We’re better off as advocates & cheerleaders for other bands.

 

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Oh yes – we have both a Facebook & Twitter account as well as a (sorely underused) Instagram account. I think they are pretty valuable tools if used for good (but they rarely are). Facebook has been a good way to communicate with other bands & fans of the label on an immediate level. Sort of how MySpace used to be. That won’t last too much longer I’d guess, & for now we’ll just keep ignoring people’s Buzzfeed quiz results.

 

Is the Chicago music community supportive of the label?

Sure – we definitely have our fans locally. We seem to have a more responsive & growing fanbase overseas it seems. We put out many international artists, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Below: TIM recording artist Paperhead

Paperhead.VAN.pic

 

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Well it all depends on the release, really. Some sell well digitally & some sell better as physical LPs. Honestly I’m consistently surprised that anyone will buy a download of an album in this day & age (and THANK YOU to those who do – you’re the best! KEEP IT UP.)

 

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Well the short answer is yes. But in the grand scope of who’s buying albums (those that actually BUY albums) I think vinyl is still a small portion of sales overall. WE do well at it, but we’d always love to sell more (ha!). It’s a weird time to be both a record seller (as a label) and a record buyer (as a fan). “Vinyl” never went away for me, so… still surging!

 

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

Vinyl – always & forever. I fell in love with music as a young child & the first LP I bought of my own volition & my own money was Thriller by Michael Jackson in 1982 – I was 8 years old. I guess my dad was probably the one who instilled the importance of music in me? He’d take the time to point out songs on classic rock radio & explain who they were & talk about the time, etc. it definitely made me cherish music & value it as something more than background noise. But I think 7-inches are probably my favorite – I love the immediacy of a great 2-sided banger of a single. When it’s great, it can be really exhilarating & life-affirming.

 

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

In The Red, Goner, Permanent, Faux Discx, RIP Society, Homeless, Ghost Box, Deep Distance, Polytechnic Youth, Death Waltz, Total Punk, Umor Rex, 12XU, Moniker, Magnetic South, Superior Viaduct… lots more…

 

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

Bill: Yes & no – it’s how we discovered quite a few of our artists (The Limiñanas, Night Beats, Paperhead, Ultimate Painting, Holögrama, & 31Ø8 were all unsolicited). We definitely try to listen to anything sent our way, & we tend to know what we like right away. Sadly we can’t put everything out – that’d be pretty expensive. Bands/Artists are welcome to get in touch thru our website, but no guarantees…

TIM082-DelShannon-FurtherAdv_FRONT_COVER

Please tell us the story behind the Del Shannon reissue. How did it come about? [The Further Adventures of Charles Westover was Shannon’s 1968 album, originally released on the Liberty label.]

Well to be honest I can still hardly believe we actually pulled it off. I’ve been working on this one for about 2 years. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time & after listening to it for so long & recommending it to so many people with the caveat “good luck finding one though!” it just became ridiculous that no one had reissued it. I guess we were feeling pretty good after our Dentists reissue (which was easy to arrange, working directly w/the band) & I thought “fuck it – we’ll do it”. It took ages to even find out who even owned the masters anymore & when we did (Universal Music Group), it took even longer to get it in motion. I’m sure we were pretty low on their priority list, but geez. After that it’s pretty unglamorous – lotsa emails back & forth with UMG employees who could give a shit, but it eventually happened & here we are. It’s significantly more expensive than our normal LP releases, but we wanted to do it right, so we had it remastered specifically for vinyl by Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering Service & housed em in beautiful tip-on jackets with restored artwork by Henry Owings of Chunklet (who also does restoration/design for both Numero & Light In The Attic – he rules to the max & I highly recommend him).

All of that’s not cheap, but all total it’s probably 1/6 of what you’d pay for an OG. Plus I think it sounds fantastic – the remaster brings out so much more in the recordings that I hadn’t noticed before without sacrificing the integrity of the original master. All told it was a lot of frustrating work, but worth it in the end when we cracked that first box & I held one in my hands. I got a lil’ teary-eyed. That’s still my favorite thing to do – opening that first box & seeing the finished album for the first time. I’m an ol’ softie.

Below: the label’s latest signing, Dick Diver, recently reviewed HERE at Blurt

DickDiver.by.Mia_Mala_McDonald

 

email: troubleinmindrecs@gmail.com

website/shop: www.troubleinmindrecs.com

Faceboook: www.facebook.com/TroubleInMindRecs

Twitter: www.twitter.com/trouble_in_mind

Instagram : www.instagram.com/troubleinmindrecords

Blurt Heads To Austin 2015!

 

Ginger Man

We plan to do it up right again with Dogfish Head at the Ginger Man Pub, natch. Waco Brothers, Everymen, Rev. Peyton, Drivin’ N Cryin’, Chuck Prophet and loads more slated to perform. Below, take a gander at our party posters as rendered by Jonboy Langford.

By Thee Editors

Once again we are headed to Austin for our annual March getaway—not so coincidentally, during the annual SXSW bacchanal which draws music biz types and punters from all over the globe. Bands? Yeah, we’ve seen a few over the years… This time around our trip will run March 18-21,and for most of those days we plan to be hunkered down on the legendary outdoor patio of the Ginger Man pub, located at 301 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701.

Dogfish Head logo

Our partner in crime, as usual, is the estimable Dogfish Head brewing company – you might’ve heard of ’em, eh? Tasty! We cannot stress enough the importance of getting to the venue early, as each year we have had a line out the door for over an hour at numerous times during the day. Therefore it may sometimes be difficult to get in – don’t arrive late to enter in time for your favorite band’s performance! With that in mind, please note that entry is absolutely free, with no wristbands or badges required.

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17th Annual Industry of Music Showcase / Austin 2015 – March 18-21

Proudly presented by; Dogfish Head and Blurt Magazine.

Wednesday 2015

~Wednesday, March 18th
1pm – Bobby Bare Jr.
2pm – Whiskey Shivers
3pm – Banditos
4pm – Lee Bains III & Glory Fires
5pm – Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers

6pm – The Everymen

perfect day 2015

~Thursday, March 19th (Jon Langford from The Mekons and Waco Bros will host the day’s event!)
1pm – Walter Salas-Humara (of The Silos)

2pm – American Aquarium
3pm – Churchwood
4pm – Jon Langford & The Far Forlorn
5pm – Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds
6pm – Waco Brothers
7pm – Jane Lee Hooker
8pm – The Bluebonnets

9pm – Ice Cold Singles
10pm – Yoko Darling

Friday 2015

~Friday, March 20th

1pm – Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
2pm – Lily Meola & Insects vs Robots
3pm – Waylon Speed
4pm – New Madrid
5pm – Mandolin Orange
6pm – LITE
7pm – Drivin’ N Cryin’
8pm – Girls Guns and Glory
9pm – The Sidewinders
10pm – Enemy Planes
11pm –So Long, Problems

Saturday 2015
~Saturday, March 21st

1pm – Low Cut Connie
2pm – Della Mae
3pm – Stone Foxes
4pm – Mastersons
5pm – Black Linen
6pm – Chuck Prophet
7pm – City of the Sun

8pm – “Special Guest”
9pm – The Boxers
10pm – Teen Men
11pm – Great Peacock

RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SONS: feedtime

feedtime 1 (2012)

The Aussie trio’s patented—or, more accurately, sculpted ‘n’ jackhammered—“concrete urban blues” has never sounded more elegantly explosive, as evidenced on a new single for Sub Pop. The band’s also currently touring Australia with the Oblivians. Herein, we pay tribute…

BY FRED MILLS

A few years ago, in 2012, BLURT published a kind of mini-roundup of relatively new Australian bands we felt were worth keeping an eye on. Among them was Sydney trio feedtime (no capital letters, please), definitely not a newcomer; the group’s initial heyday was in the ‘80s. But because Sub Pop had just released a box set of their four early albums and plans were afoot for a brief reunion tour to promote the box, a profile of the band—long one of yours truly faves—seemed in order.

Well, it’s 2015, and against all odds, feedtime is once again back, and this time not only touring, but with new studio material, the group’s first in two decades. Cut with Mikey Young (Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring), the “Flatiron” b/w “Stick Up Jack” 45 (Sub Pop) is everything a classic single should be: blazingly powerful and straight to the point, boasting irresistible hooks and both sides clocking in at under 2 ½ minutes. With a slide-guit-powered A-side that is pure f-time blooze-punk (like they walked out the door and then walked right back), and a 1-chord locomotive raveup for the B-side, the single’s a no-brainer to be on year-end best-of lists. Can an album be in the works?

The magic 8-ball says “quite possibly”—the group did some shows in 2014; read a revealing interview with all three of them last year for Mess and Noise HERE—and have just recently embarked upon a March tour of Australia supporting the Oblivians.

2015 tour poster

Well, who knows what the future will hold; feedtime was always more about being “in the moment,” or perhaps of the moment, than laying long-term plans. The trio– Rick, Al, and Tom, first names only, please, although for publishing purposes the surnames listed on the Sub Pop single read Johnson, Larkin and Sturm—on guitar, bass and drums, respectively, originally formed in Sydney circa ’79 and went on to cut four hugely influential albums in the ‘80s before splitting at the end of the decade: feedtime, Shovel, Cooper-S and Suction, all released in Australia via Bruce Griffiths’ iconoclastic punk/noise label Aberrant (Rough Trade released the latter 3 in the US). The group’s 1989 breakup came on the eve of an American tour, Rick years later admitting in an interview with Seattle’s The Stranger, “feedtime broke up because I was having a breakdown, that’s all. There was a lot of anger and darkness that underlaid a lot of feedtime’s makeup. I had to remake myself or die. Allen felt that he might have to do some repair work as well. … Some stuff about feedtime involves very hard stuff and needs to be left alone.”

There was also a brief reunion with a slightly different lineup (Tom replaced by a new drummer) in the mid ‘90s that resulted in the Billy album for Amphetamine Reptile, and then they were no longer once again.

Though feedtime never toured the US during its initial heyday, American fans of pure, primal, skronky blooze-noise eagerly embraced the band—Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, for example, was a very vocal supporter—and they became a mainstay of the fanzine underground. Yours truly can testify to the trio’s prowess; during the ‘80s I authored an Australian music column for east coast rock zine The Bob, and feedtime was a fixture in the column. I also oversaw the release of a 7-song Australian flexidisc for issue #34 of The Bob, and feedtime’s “Trouble” was one of the key tracks. The accompanying interview I did with the band remains one of my fondest memories of that period: far from being the thuggish neanderthals that their heavier-than-heaven sound might have conveyed, they were funny and engaging, humble to a fault, and eager to reach out to their fanbase while clear-eyed about their overall position in the music world.

When Sub Pop released the four-CD The Aberrant Years, then, it was like manna from heaven for longtime fans of the band. Three of the discs contained bonus tracks, and a thick booklet completed the picture. As the label put it:

This burning energy existed for some ten years and produced some of the most powerful, creative and personal rock and roll music we are ever likely to hear. The songs are out there to discover and relate to and when they hit they explode and you’re never the same again, but you’re grateful for the experience. This isn’t “noise rock,” this is a groundbreaking FORM of music that knows its roots but applies the lessons to a wider scope than their peers.


It’s heavy but life is too and some of us know this and we channel that power into art and sometimes beautiful things are created. Sometimes it’s too heavy and nothing seems to work out. Sometimes you just need to laugh it off and stand at the back of the room for a while. This is perfect sound and pure art. Avant-garde pub-rock. All hail the concrete urban blues.

Feedtime now

***

 

Hail hail indeed. In 2012 I conducted an email interview with feedtime’s Rick plus their friend and old label boss Bruce Griffith to get the lowdown on the box, a then concurrent outtakes/unreleased compilation titled This Is Friday on the S.S. label, and the possibility of a full reunion and tour for the original trio. At the time they were adamant that wasn’t going to happen. (Griffith: “There are no feedtime plans beyond the 2012 US tour. This is it, folks.  If you wanna see feedtime, you need to attend one of these shows.”). But as you might surmise from the arrival of the Sub Pop single and the news about the upcoming tour with The Oblivians, things changed. Here’s that 2012 interview, never published in its entirety; following that is some updating from a more recent Australian interview. (Below: feedtime live in 2012)

 

***

Feedtime Sydney Opera House

 

BLURT: What the hell has everyone been doing in the years since feedtime disappeared?

RICK: We been just mutting along doin’ stuff.

 

Why feedtime in 2012? I thought we buried you guys good and proper…

RICK: Scott Soriano, of S.S. Records, asked us to a birthday party in 2011… and Sub Pop’s Mr. Poneman was interviewed one day said he’d have done shovel if he had the chance. Bruce got in contact, and off we go!

BRUCE: In late 2010 I received an email from Scott Soriano, asking if there was any chance feedtime would play the label’s 10th anniversary weekend in May 2011 if he covered airfares and accommodation.  He’d long been a fan, and the band was part of his “dream 10th anniversary line-up,” and as much as it was a massive long-shot, he had to at least ask.  Much to his surprise, the band said yes.

A little before that, and entirely unconnected, Carmel, drummer Tom’s wife, heard Jonathan from Sub Pop being interviewed on national “youth” radio station, Triple J, discussing the five albums he wished Sub Pop had released.  shovel was one of them.  Carmel tipped me off and, as we were looking for someone to remaster and reissue the Aberrant feedtime albums and Sub Pop was literally the “dream label” (and their natural home), I sent Jon an email – “Would you like to…” – and immediately received a “YES.”

The [anniversary show in San Francisco], a “one-off,” was so good that Dean from Sub Pop, who’d traveled down for it, took me aside afterwards and asked what the chance was of an 8-10 gig tour in 2012 to promote The Aberrant Years re-releases. The guys liked what was proposed and what’s actually an 11-gig 2012 tour is the result.

What is the Australian press—and fans—saying about feedtime? Long memories? Fond memories? I know you guys were, in a sense, the “odd men out” of the scene back in the day when I covered you for The Bob and other US mags, yet your very underground nature seems to be what has made your legacy, as it were, endure.

RICK: The Australian press is ignoring us completely, except for the mighty Murray Engleheart who writes for Brag mag. But we made some people happy enough when we played in September [at the S.S. Records show]. You can see some on YouTube… feedtime sando.
BRUCE: There seems to be a lot of excitement among fans—old and new, and there seem to be a lot of new—about the re-issues. Deservedly, they sound amazing.  I know some people aren’t keen on ‘remastering’, but going back to the original analog masters and hearing them, and comparing them to the ‘80s pressings, I was astounded by how much was lost [with the original pressings].  The master tapes sound way better than the releases of the day.  The new versions are absolutely true to the recordings – everything is there.  It’s the full glory and as the recordings get better – as they do progressively over the albums – the reissues sound increasingly amazing. The leap in just feedtime is already considerable, but by the time you get to suction, with Trafalgar Studios production values and Butch Vig mixing – woah.

The press never got behind feedtime here, and nothing has changed in that regard.  Murray is their sole supporter. Incidentally, we highly recommend Murray’s book Blood, Sweat & Beers; essentially the story of Rose Tattoo and X, along with The Angels, Billy Thorpe & The Aztec, Coloured Balls, Buffalo.  A great read which captures the era and feel of the music brilliantly.  If that music’s of interest, it’s a must. (Below: feedtime back in the day)

Feedtime early 2
Could you give me some more info on the [Sub Pop approved] feedtime “outtakes & unreleased’ album, Today is Friday, that S.S. Records has released?
BRUCE: It was never a condition of playing SS10, but Scott Soriano was keen to have a feedtime release and asked if we had anything lying around. I knew we did – I had high quality cassettes of the full feedtime session, the full shovel session, Cooper S outtakes, and eight reels of quarter inch tape, their contents largely unknown.  Sub Pop wanted to keep the boxed sets ‘pure’ – precisely as the releases were originally issued, track-wise, with bonus tracks restricted to actual Aberrant releases, hence the singles, B-sides, giveaway tracks, etc.). So they gave their blessing to Scott doing a release of “lost” stuff.

One of the reels contained mixed tracks recorded for shovel, which were only left off because of the limitations, time-wise, of the LP format. The feedtime session produced an entire side’s worth of recordings of songs which didn’t end up on feedtime – again, for time/length reasons – which were re-recorded for shovel.  So there are shovel tracks with feedtime sonic feel, kind of a ‘third side’ of feedtime.  Several of the reels were recorded live at the infamous (and violent) Central Markets Hotel, and we lifted some tracks from them, along with a version of Flipper’s “Life”, recorded in The Pit, a rehearsal/recording space Adrian Symes had dug beneath the floor of the house his was renting at the time.

Among the titles, you’ll spot previously unreleased songs ‘Ebgd’, ‘Garbage Scow’, ‘Tatts Willie’, ‘Life’ (Flipper) and ‘I Don’t Care About You’ (FEAR).  Of the released titles, we made sure to pick versions that offered something unique and different to the previously released versions.

Incidentally, the cover art for Today is Friday is a drawing by Tom’s daughter, Mandie, when she was about five I think.  Scott asked if we had anything like the feedtime cover, which was drawn by original drummer Dave’s son, so Tom and Carmel knew exactly the thing.

feedtime records
Where, if anywhere, is the Billy album in all this?

RICK: Billy‘s no place in this.

BRUCE: Billy wasn’t released on Aberrant and features a different line-up. It’s a solid album, we like it, it’s just not part of the Aberrant era.

 

Why the initial breakup, the reformation, then the next breakup?

BRUCE: It’s a complex [thing]. The ‘89 breakup they always say was because Rick and Al needed to put down the mindset that enabled them to create feedtime music. As feedtime was as much, if not more, about feel than a hostile view of the world, they’re able to do feedtime in 2012 but it still requires going to dark places, mentally—especially for Rick. Hence this will be a very short-term reunion.

 

***

2015 Update: Short term, perhaps, but as we know now, the one-off nature of the tour for The Aberrant Years laid the groundwork for something more long term, and perhaps substantial. In that Mess and Noise interview with the three musicians, referenced at the top of this article, Tom observed how for him, nowadays, “the intensity is the same but with less desperation than there was 25 years ago, certainly at least on my part. I like to think the intensity is the same, but I think maybe 25 years ago it was a crutch that held me up whereas now, like you say, it’s a thing that’s pretty good to do and every time you do it, it evokes something in you.”

Al agreed, adding, “I think collectively, when you’ve got three people creating a single thing, that’s what’s special. And I think the joy you get when that happens is fantastic. And I’m almost thinking when I hear us rehearse or play these days that we’re playing even better than we ever were.”

And Rick summed up the difference between then and now, saying, “You’re not palliating a preexisting painful condition, the meaning of it has changed I think. It’s not an act of divesting yourself of pain or putting a lid on it and shouting about something, it’s just opening up and narrowing down into a focus.”

Hold on to that focus, lads. We’re counting on you.

 

Top photo by Caroline Birkett. Below, watch a video of the band live in Brisbane last year. Feedtime is on tour in Australia right now with America’s own Oblivians. Dates and deets at the feedtime Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH ON FREEDOM HIGHWAY: The Staple Singers

Staples crop

With the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma still fresh, newly reissued Staples’ songs’ messages are as urgent now as they were in 1965. Picture above, L-R: Roebuck “Pops” Staples, Yvonne Staples, Mavis Staples, Pervis Staples.

BY DENISE SULLIVAN

Five songs into their set at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church, the Staple Singers get down to the real, and the reason, they called their gospel meeting on April 9, 1965.

“A few days ago freedom marchers marched on Selma to Montgomery, Alabama,” says Roebuck “Pops” Staples. “And from that march, words were revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway.’ And we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers, and it goes something like this.”

Tearing into their new song as if it was a longtime traditional favorite, the Staples evoke the energy and resistance of the historic freedom trail for voting rights, right there at their South Side parish. Though few could’ve predicted or believed that the messages of the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led movement would still be necessary or relevant 50 years on, this timeless performance at the height of the fight has been mercifully preserved, restored and reissued on Legacy’s new Freedom Highway Complete—Recorded Live at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church, April 9, 1965, for all the world to once again bear witness and hear the beauty in a song.

 

The whole world is wondering what’s wrong with the United States

Yes, we want peace if it can be found

Marching freedom’s highway, 

I’m not gonna turn around…

Stay on freedom’s highway until the day is done

 

Following an introduction from Pops encouraging folks to sing, clap, and shout amen, the group (accompanied by Al Duncan on drums and Phil Upchurch on bass) eases in parishioners with the familiar invocation, “When The Saints Go Marching In.”  But they waste no time getting to the darker stuff, slipping in the Hank Williams tale of “The Funeral,” concerning the closing of the casket on a little curly-headed boy. The secular movement standard, “We Shall Overcome” is delivered easily enough, serving as the crowd-participatory number it was built to be, though in the Staples’ hands, all is holy. Their originals like “Freedom Highway” and “Tell Heaven,” and the arrangements of spirituals like “He’s All Right” strive to tear the roof off the chapel and touch greener pastures, delivering the listener from all earthly distraction. For gospel singers like the Staples family, “Jesus Is All” (one of the set’s previously unreleased tracks) and “Help Me Jesus” are not just proud declarations of their savior’s name, they are a way of life, a deep faith that does not ask its adherents to acquiesce in God’s presence; it puts the holy spirit in charge, so that the faithful may take action on the streets and in all matters of the everyday, fearlessly and free.

Church was where the gospel group first practiced its faith as family singers—Roebuck, Pervis, Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis—in the late forties and early fifties, developing an acoustic folk-gospel style with a bluesy feeling, distinguished by soul-solid lead vocals by Mavis and piercing, bending guitar by “Pops.” They recorded for a number of labels including Vee-Jay (famous for releasing blues acts and later, the Beatles) where they had some early success with “Uncloudy Day,” (a song Bob Dylan recently called the “most mysterious thing” he’d ever heard). In later years they joined the Stax label where during the apex of soul music, they enjoyed Top 40 success with funk-based, gospel-powered hits like “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There.”  In between these distinct eras, the Staples were signed to Epic where their A&R man and producer Billy Sherrill (remembered mostly for his Nashville productions) assisted in the development of merging their sacred and soul sides. For the Freedom Highway session, he arranged the necessary equipment be brought to the church and recorded the service/rally. Mobile units were in their infancy at the time, but the project was not conceived as a “field” recording. Before release, the tracks were edited, telescoped, and worked to conform to studio and broadcast standards, purposefully leaving behind the churchy and ambient parts, though even with the tweaking, the set was a revelation. Becoming one of the era’s most beloved recordings, it was also long left out-of-print, only to become highly sought after (a 1991 Legacy reissue titled Freedom Highway is not the original recording, but rather a compilation).

StapleSinger_cover

Bolstered by the anticipation of the tracks becoming once again available digitally and on vinyl, the new and expanded edition produced by Steve Berkowitz and Nedra Olds-Neal stands to surpass the original’s already relic-like status. By daring to return the tapes to their original form and to recreate the evening from front to back, Freedom Highway becomes all at once a historical document, a spirit-lifting gospel session, and a fist-raising call for freedom now. Accompanied by rock and soul historian Robert Gordon’s liner notes which ascertain the place of race in music and in the country then and now, the Staples brand of “message music” is spelled out for non-believers and anyone else in need of a nudge.

Leaping into faith-based music in times of uncertainty is natural; gospel survives on rock solid melodies and timeless messages of liberation which by design were created to subvert slavery and oppression. And while the marchers in Ferguson, New York and Oakland in recent months may not have exactly had the notes of “Freedom Highway” on their minds when they shut down roadways, its words were already written on their souls.  Built to travel the distance, and as necessary as in the hour they were recorded, these songs performed 50 years ago (and some scored a hundred years before) are available to accompany movement, anytime, anywhere, there is a fight for voting rights, civil rights and human need. These songs’ messages are as urgent now as they were then, as is faith in the idea that the march will ultimately be won, mile by mile, hand in hand.

“Let’s say amen again,” says Pops Staples on the restored set’s recovered audio tracks. “Let’s keep on marchin’…Keep on marchin’ up freedom highway.”

 

Photos courtesy Sony Music Archives. Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop

 

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE… Blackberry Smoke

BS 2

The Georgia outfit’s new Southern rock blends sass with style.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Blackberry Smoke is a group that adhere to past precepts, and if their sound recalls some standard bearers like AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd, or, dare we say, the Rolling Stones, then it’s proof positive that they’ve learned their lessons well. The Atlanta-based band’s new album, and first for a major label, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Holding all the Roses (Rounder) sometimes seems like a game of name that influence, thanks not only to the familiarity factor but the ageless song overall.

Now nearly fifteen years into their career, the Atlanta-based band (vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr, keyboard player Brandon Still, guitarist/vocalist Paul Jackson, drummer Brit Turner and bassist/vocalist Richard Turner) proudly touts its southern pedigree, even while becoming worldwide attractions. They play more than 250 gigs a year and garnered major kudos from critics, fans and some star supporters, among them, Dierks Bentley, Greg Allman, Billy Gibbons, Jamey Johnson, and Grace Potter—and speaking of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke even released a split record with the Southern Rock stalwarts. Their three previous studio albums, two EPs and pair of live DVDs have bolstered their track record and placed them on many a critic’s one’s to watch list.

BLURT recently caught up with Starr and asked him to share the band’s backstory.

BLURT: For starters, give us your back story. How did the group form? What brought the band together originally?

STARR: We formed in Atlanta back in 2001. Brit, Richard and I had been in a band together since ’97 or so. That situation kinda fell apart, so I called Paul Jackson who I’d known for years and years to be second guitarist, and together with the Turner brothers, we formed Blackberry Smoke. We bought a van and a trailer and started tearing up the U.S., playing any place that would book us.

How about an idea of your earliest influences?

My earliest influence was my father. He plays and sings bluegrass and gospel music. My mother, on the other hand, loved the Stones, Beatles and Dylan. To me, there was no distinction between any of it. I loved it all simply because it was good. Later came the Allman Bros, Skynyrd, the Faces, Cheap Trick, Little Feat, the Dead, NRBQ, Tom Waits, and Led Zeppelin. At some point in there I got deeply into Son House, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Blake.

How did you come up with your name? What’s the hidden meaning?

Chris Robinson gave us that name. We couldn’t think of a good one, and when we were out drinking with him one night, he said, “I’ll name your band”… and he did.

How do you see yourselves fitting into the Southern Rock tradition? Do you feel that you fit that Southern Rock pedigree?

If that tradition or pedigree means that we can enjoy the same musical freedom that those great Southern bands enjoyed, then it’s an honor. If it’s a pigeonhole, then it’s a bummer. We love the music those bands created very much, but we never set out to sound like anyone. We just play and sing in a way that makes us feel comfortable. If it sounds like Southern Rock, well, I guess that’s what it is.

You’re a band that likes to rock and seems to stick to the basics, including riff-ready three minute songs and lots of obvious hooks. Do you consider yourselves retro in any way? Throwbacks to another era perhaps?

I don’t even think about something like that. We’re just two guitars, bass, drums, keys and vocals. Sometimes I write short songs, sometimes long songs. Whatever feels right when we play it, ya know?

How were you able to attract such a loyal fan following?

We’ve toured incessantly for 14 years. The people that like our music keep coming back. It really is a great feeling and we appreciate our fans very much. They’ve given us a reason to keep working… so we do.

How do you think your earlier experience working the clubs prepared you for the bigger venues you play these days?

All those years of playing bars were the dues we paid. We learned how to entertain an audience. …sometimes drunk, sometimes hostile, sometimes apathetic. I wouldn’t trade all of those nights for ten radio hits. Those are the times when you earn your keep.

Is it a challenge to capture that live energy when you’re in a studio situation? Does it get frustrating trying to represent your live dynamic?

We’ve learned over the years that working in the studio is a different animal, altogether different from a live show, and should be treated as such. You could beat your head against the wall trying to capture live energy or the vibe and never get it. You have to capitalize on whatever kind of magic happens in a studio situation and go where that takes you. Sometimes it will change a song completely. But if you let it happen naturally, and don’t over think it, it will work.

How did your signing to Rounder come about?

Our previous label, Southern Ground Records, was gonna close their doors. We knew we were gonna need a new label, so Rounder stepped up at the perfect time. We felt like it would be a good fit and they were ready to roll, so we all hugged and shook hands and here we are. Haha.

I read that George Jones made a guest appearance on one of your recordings? What was that like and how did it come about?

We went into the studio to record a one-off track with a friend, Jamey Johnson. It was “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Willie Nelson and recorded by George and Merle Haggard back in 1981 or so. A good friend of ours knew George and asked him if he’d come by and sing on it. He came over and spent the day with us – it was pretty incredible. Never has there been a better country singer.

How do overseas audiences react to your southern style of rock? Is there any kind of culture clash?

They love it. No clash whatsoever.

On the subject of the new album, what did Brendan bring to the table?

Brendan brought his magic. Years and years of experience and know-how in regards to vintage recording gear and techniques. He makes great records. Plus, he’s a fabulous musician, to boot.

How were the songs selected for the new disc?

I sent Brendan a whole bunch of new song demos and together we whittled it down to about 14 songs to record. We wound up recording 13 of them.

How does this album mark any sort of change or progression from your previous albums?

I think it’s our “biggest” sounding album. Big drums, big guitars, big vocals. We really wanted to make an album that’s a definite listening experience. Our last album, The Whippoorwill, was us just playing live really. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves and make the same record twice. This album has more to listen to.

Do people who are unfamiliar with the band ever get the wrong impression about who you are or what you do based on the way you look or the way you sound?

They probably do. It doesn’t seem to matter much. A lot of people tend to listen with their eyes. There’s nothing we can do to change that though. Oh well…

What’s next for the band?

More touring, more records!

 

Below, watch a complete concert filmed not long ago in North Carolina. Blackberry Smoke will be touring pretty much all spring and well into the summer. Tour dates can be found at their official website.

THE REVOLUTION WILL BE ANTHOLOGIZED: Scott Morgan

Scott with guitar

The erstwhile Rationals/Sonic’s Rendezvous Band vocalist sees his late-‘80s/early-‘90s recordings collected on an impressive set from the ever-astute archivists of all things Motor City, Easy Action.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Scott Morgan has been undergoing a renaissance in the past decade. Between reissues of his seminal work with blue-eyed soul rockers the Rationals from the ‘60s and power rock pioneer Sonic’s Rendezvous Band from the ‘70s and his rediscovery by an enthusiastic generation of Scandinavian rock diehards in the ‘90s, the Detroit rock ‘n’ soul man with the perfect voice for each has a higher profile than ever before. But there was a time when obscurity threatened to engulf his work. After the demise of SRB, Morgan and the rhythm section stayed together, recruiting singer Kathy Deschaine and various guitarists for recording and concert purposes. As the Scott Morgan Band, this lineup produced the 1989 album Rock Action for the French label Revenge. Renaming itself Scots Pirates, the band released a self-titled LP (AKA Action Now in Europe) on Motor City label Schoolkids in 1993 and the follow-up Revolutionary Means in 1995 before splintering.

Scots Pirates 2

Revolutionary Action (Easy Action) collects the tracks from all three records in their entirety, blending them together on two disks rather than presenting them in chronological order. Since production differences are minor – the Means material has a rawer sound, but not so much as to be jarring – the tracks flow nicely, as if they were all recorded for one project. Though known for having a foot in two different camps (Detroit hard rock and blue-eyed soul), on Disc 1 Morgan explores what was at the time a more mainstream rock direction. Less bombastic than Bruce Springsteen, more soulful than John Mellencamp, but not a million miles away from either, songs like “Heaven and Earth” (from the SRB repertoire), “Josie’s Well” and “Detroit” wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock stations in the late ‘80s. “Heartland” takes its title to, um, heart with a shining cut that could’ve come from Brian Setzer’s similarly honed The Knife Feels Like Justice. That’s not to say Morgan doesn’t exploit his R&B roots from time to time – cf. “Misery,” sung by Deschaine, and a cover of Johnnie Taylor’s “Hijackin’ Love.” He even goes pop (or as close to it as he’d ever go) with “Running Away.”

Disc 2 reintroduces the harder rock element most associated with Detroit. To be honest, there’s nothing here with the skronky fury of SRB, the unhinged mania of the Stooges or the sheer power of the MC5. Morgan is more of a craftsperson than his contemporaries, putting the right dollop of rock & roll force into his carefully-hewn compositions, like putting the proper amount of compression on a distorted guitar. “Stick to Your Guns,” “Lovers Leap” and “Bringin’ It All Back Home” rock righteously, with memorable melodies and plenty of energy, while “You Got What You Wanted” and “Flawed Diamonds” dig deeper into the scene’s blues rock bag. Elsewhere the band attaches “Dear Dream Diary” and the explicitly political “Fuck the Violence” to funky soul spines, floats “The Wind Blows the Name of Tazmemert” over jazzy atmospherics before slamming it into power rock anthemry, and indulges in more rootsy heartland rock with “The Road Home,” “Marijuana Wine” and a Chuck Berry-styled cover of the Dynamics’ “I’m the Man.”  From the heartland to the mean streets, Morgan and his Pirates take on the guitar rock of the day and yesterday and make it their own.

Following these records, Morgan began working in Europe with the Hellacopters’ Nicke Andersson in the Hydromatics (Detroitian hard rock) and the Solution (Detroitian soul), formed Powertrane at home for a pair or LPs (including the excellent and sadly overlooked Beyond the Sound) and restarted his solo career with a self-titled album of hard soul and R&B. Illness may have recently knocked the wind out of his sails, but it didn’t kick him out of the game for good, and the welcome reissue of the music on Revolutionary Action keeps the faith until Morgan starts the next chapter of his long, extraordinary career.

Below: a live clip of Morgan with the Sights from 2014. John Sinclair introduces.