Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 73 / the alternative music tabloid
Iâ€™ve been Tobias Jesso Jr... Top 40 Albums of the Year | Fat White Family CASisDEAD | Hinds | Rosie Lowe Roots Manuva | Jeffrey Lewis draws the songs of The Fall
ALbums of the year – 12 Roots manuva – 14 CaSISDEAD – 18 HINDS – 20 rosie lowe – 24 a gift from jeffrey lewis – 29 Fat white family – 32 tobias jesso jr. - 36
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 73 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
I’ve been Tobias Jesso Jr... Top 40 Albums of the Year | Fat White Family CASisDEAD | Hinds | Rosie Lowe Roots Manuva | Jeffrey Lewis draws the songs of The Fall
c o v er ph o t o g r aph y Brian Guido
We don’t often interview people twice within the same year, but the artists we like don’t often do what Tobias Jesso Jr. has done in 2015. I met Tobias in January, just before his debut album came out. Before that I’d been sporadically receiving flexi-discs in the post from him, of his simple piano songs that were always going to be likened to Randy Newman and Harry Neilson. The only track I knew of Newman’s was ‘You’ve Got A Friend in Me’, from Toy Story, which I can’t really stand, but I instantly liked Tobias’ no frills ballads about failing to make it in Hollywood and being dumped. They were songs that hadn’t been fussed with, performed in such a rudimentary fashion as to suggest that you could probably give it a go yourself. Guitar bands have inspired in much a similar way sinceThe Velvet Underground, but who adopts the learn-as-you-perform ethic to an upright piano?! From the outside it seems like Tobias has waltzed through the 10 months in between, comfortably exceeding his goal to be half as successful as Girls, a band that inspired him, but consisted of two people – it’s simple mathematics, he explained to me when I met him at his home in L.A. this month. That’s not what’s extraordinary about Tobias’ year, though – the fact that he’s written for and with his favourite artist is. Because his favourite artist is Adele. ‘25’ became the fastest selling album in U.S. history the same day I knocked for Tobias, which in turn has suddenly presented him with a world of financial and creative opportunities. It turns out that it couldn’t have come sooner for a man who never wanted to sing his own songs in the first place, and has loathed to play the star to such an extent that he’s recently pulled all of his live show with no desire to pick them back up again. Over the course of an afternoon he told me about turning into a parody of himself, his plans for the best TV show in the world and smoking to impress his idol. Stuart Stubbs
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ale x wisg ar d, Ambe r M a ho ne y, Amy Pe ttif e r , Chr is Wa tke ys, dav id zammitt, Danie l D y l a n- W r a y , De r e k Robe r tson, Elino r J o ne s, Edg ar Smith, hayle y s co tt, he nr y wilkinson, IAN ROE BUCK , jack dohe r ty, J AMES f . T ho m p so n, Janine B u llman, j e nna fo x to n, je nnif e r Jonson, joe g o ggins, jang e lo molinar i, le e b ul l m a n, liam kone mann, Gabr i e l G r e e n, g ar e th ar r owsmith, Ge m ha r r is, Mandy Dr ake , Nathan W e stl e y, P hil Shar p , Re e f You nis, S a m co r nfo r th, samu e l ballar d, Sam Wa l to n, so p hie bar loc, tom f e nwick.
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The views expressed in Loud And Quiet are those of the respective contributors and do not necessari ly reflect the opinions of the magazine or its staff. All rights reserved 2015 Loud And Quiet LTD. ISSN 2049-9892 Printed by S harman & Company LTD . Distri buted by loud and quiet LTD. & forte
10 Years of Loud And Quiet
Did I Love 2005? Rounding off our 10-year anniversary celebrations and this interview series is a man who made what became 2005’s ultimate cult album. Tom Vek recalls the year he released ‘We Have Sound’ and gave progressive electro pop to a new generation A s t o l d t o st u art st ub b s
The start of 2005 was crazy. I’d just signed my deal with Island to license my album from (indie label) Tummy Touch and I’d managed to negotiate that it would be a “Go!Beat” release, the legendary label that released Portishead. I was probably finishing up the sleeve artwork, which I really enjoyed – I was exploring phasing designs. The year ended in a bit of a tumultuous mess. The live band I had assembled had disintegrated in the middle of a US tour ending up with me playing drums and singing for the last shows of that tour. I remember the San Fransisco and LA shows being OK. I was just running on adrenalin. When I got home I was pretty angry about it, but then we got a call about appearing on The OC (the holy grail for bands at that time) and it ended on a high. I was living in a huge ground and basement flat in Wapping with a few guys including director and uni-mate Chris Cairns. We had access to this equally huge derelict flat next door that we converted into a space to shoot music videos in. Chris and other film-maker friends of ours used it to shoot stuff, and I’m pretty sure a Klaxons video was shot down there.The bedrooms had no natural light so I got into a bad habit of waking up pretty late, especially if we had been playing shows; all my live gear was strewn around this giant flat. We spent a lot of time in pubs and hanging around Brick Lane for parties and gigs at 93 Feet East. It really was a great year for new music and young Paul Epworth was responsible for a few great records around that time. But basically, I think, without sounding too cyber-cynical, that the pre-Internet delivery routes of music made it seem
a lot more magical and inspiring, and allowed you to exist alongside your influences without as much scrutiny. I feel like everyone was proud to be doing their own thing and not so critical, because you were just focusing on your own thing, not watching what everyone else was doing. I’d find out a fan of mine liked Bloc Party because they wore a T-shirt to my gig, and that was about all the analytics I cared for. Alternative music had been having a good time, and we’d all been ’90s kids with impeccable reference points for interesting music. 2005 was the last year of the old music industry. Myspace changed everything. Maybe I’d argue that it was the last year that people might have lived with an album for longer, which forges a deep connection with that artist – it’s a nice foundation to have when you put out new stuff. I remember my then manager telling me “I think this is going to be a cult record” (about ‘We Have Sound’) – I thought he was just making me feel better that it hadn’t sold much. But I get the odd story told to me about that record that makes me think it had the right character to make it an approachable record because I was a kid having a great time with music and being bratty and imperfect and rough around the edges – something that wasn’t pretentious, which was important to me, believe it or not. The thing about that record when I listen back to it now is how fragile and tenuous it was to have come together – it was the perfect timing of me wanting to pull from a few different areas and meeting a producer whose approach was exciting
and fast – I owe Tom Rixton an enormous amount. What happened with the next record was I thought I could do it on my own – I was wrong, but I had learnt so much that by the time I came to work on the third album I could finally truly do an album on my own. But I’m incredibly proud of ‘We Have Sound’ – I love how scrappy it is, it sounds terrible if you play it loud. I’m glad it captured some optimism, and a few people have told me what a positive sentiment “Nothing But Green Lights” is. I didn’t even realise it at the time maybe. It’s a reminder to put more slap bass in stuff. I feel like [the sound of 2005] was all down toThe Rapture. I think they were responsible for DJs (at Trash, Afterschool and White Heat) digging out danceable guitar music, and so you got Talking Heads and New Order getting played out all the time too. Also LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’ was a profound moment, and I remember asking Erol Alkan at Trash what it was when he played it. There was a little scene of bands I was playing with, at White Heat specifically. The early versions of Testicicles were around; Balls and Intense Dudes, I played drums for them a couple of times. Loads of good stuff, but I find it interesting that it gets described as “electronic” so much – it was just the occasional drum machine and casio keyboard that a lot of other people were doing, I felt. The biggest myth of 2005, though, is that Nathan Barley was the first attack on the “hipster” – the satire was already in full flow with The Shoreditch Twat zine, that would get slipped under windscreen wipers of cars on Brick Lane. Hipsters never had it easy, even pre 2koh5.
books + second life
Bum Note Reef Younis investigates what rock stars do next No.15: Dexter Holland / his own boutique hot sauce brand in 2006. “Making a good hot sauce turned out to be far harder than I thought,” he told the LA Times in 2009. “People take it so seriously and trying to figure out how people make a quality hot sauce is tough. It’s guarded, somewhat.” After two years of crafting the recipe through trial and error, some scientific nous, and simply by leaving bottles in Huntingdon beach bars, Gringo Bandito was born and slowly introduced to the world. Co-ordinated from a space next door to his California studio, by 2009, 300 gallon’s of the stuff was being bottled per month, appearing coast-tocoast in the US, emerging in Australia, Japan, Canada, and Europe, and, latterly, keeping 40 or so Amazon customers pretty happy. With a personal guarantee of experiencing “a party in your mouth” that Holland “tried to make easy on the pooper”, the testimonials soon rolled in. From competitive eaters (“Gringo Bandito goes in my eat hole, then I smile”) and NOFX’s El Hefe’s seal of approval (“Damn, that’s a cold ass honky”) to being Playboy magazine’s hot sauce of choice, Gringo Bandito is the proof that Dexter Holland can still Burn It Up almost 25 years later. Even if it is in the bathroom.
Bryan Keith “Dexter” Holland is known to most as the peroxide blonde, toilet brush-haired singer of The Offspring. But in and around touring and releasing records, he not only graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in molecular biology, he also designed software for BlackBerry and proved that he was Pretty Fly (for a white guy) by earning his pilot license, becoming a fully certified flight instructor, and buying a few of his own planes in the process. With ‘Smash’ shifting over 15 million units to become the highest selling independent album of all time, and mainstream breakthrough album ‘Americana’ also powering to platinum status, he could afford it, but that wasn’t the end of his nonmusic endeavours. After churning out seven albums with the band, releasing a handful of 90s college common roomconquering singles, and enjoying a comedy spat with Axl Rose after Holland threatened to steal the much delayed Guns n Roses album title, ‘Chinese Democracy’ for The Offspring’s forthcoming LP (“Axl ripped off my braids, so I ripped off his album title” – they called it ‘Splinter’ instead), his next move was about as obvious as the rest of them – Holland created and launched
The Bag I’m In by Sam Knee Cicada
Sam Knee’s The Bag I’m In beautifully captures the movements and moments that felt like they would last forever – the fleeting zeitgeists, youth cults and street tribes that defined entire generations. The pictures included in this book are all previously unpublished, painstakingly collected by the author from and of the people who took part – the goths, the mods, the punks and the rockabillies from cities and towns the length and breadth of the country. The attention to detail is startling, as is the fact that many of the hip young things at the book’s outset will be pensioners by now. The Bag I’m In is wonderful and important, and should be owned by everyone who ever lost themselves to music and clothes. Book of the year. By a mile.
They all Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson
Pirelli, The Calendar: 50 Years And More by Phillippe Daverio
Bruce Robinson, the writer and film-maker who gave us one of the funniest British films ever, Withnail and I, has turned his attention to busting Jack the Ripper. In They All Love Jack, freemasons, corruption and incompetence cover up the crimes that Robinson contends were committed by musician (and freemason) Michael Maybrick. Robinson makes his feelings on the Ripper known early on and has no time for the myth that has grown up around Saucy Jack. His fifteen years of research shows, and his conclusion sounds plausible, even if he ignores how the inherent mystery is what really fuels our obsession with this ever-present, grisly and ultimate who-done-it.
Since it was published on its first limited edition run in 1964, the Pirelli calendar has offered a unique take on a changing world. This new collection of the story so far contains fifty years’ worth of calendars featuring the world’s most famous models, actors and writers, all shot by its most celebrated and influential photographers. The images within cover everything from sixties soft-focus to cokey eighties excess. As you might expect, it’s an artfully designed thing of beauty, and as well as the calendar shots themselves, the book contains the pictures which were at the time deemed too racy for public consumption. An insight into the world’s only iconic calendar.
Il l u str a ti o n : Di o go F r e it a s
b y j an i ne & L ee b ullman
getting to know you
John Cale Next month, John Cale releases ‘M:Fan’, a reimagined version of his 1982 album ‘Music For a New Society’. He doesn’t discredit his greater known legacy as a founding member of The Velvet Underground, though, as you can see from what he’d rescue from a burning building /
Your biggest fear Not being able to make music. The worst date you’ve been on A girl I picked up at Mudd Club – ‘nuff said!
Your favourite word
Your favourite item of clothing Lately, it’s my Hood By Air dress.
Your style icon Rick Owens.
How would you like to die? I’d evaporate
Your hidden talent Orchestral conducting. The best piece of advice you’ve been given Stop trying to make a killing and focus on making a living. The film you can quote the most of Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
Your pet-hate The political right wing. The worst job you’ve had Working in the mailroom at a bookstore was tedious. There was no imagination needed. If you had to eat one food forever, it would be... Spinach.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them The term ‘celebrity’ has been hijacked so the list is too long! Your biggest disappointment Time wasted using drugs. The worst present you’ve received A birthday gift that ‘got lost’ in the mail. What is success to you? Being unpredictable, and originality. The one song you wish you’d written I guess it should be ‘Hallelujah’ for obvious reasons.
People’s biggest misconception of you I don’t know. I have enough problems without paying attention to what other’s think of me.
What would you change about your physical appearance? I’d be two inches taller, please. Your first big extravagance When I got an A&R job at Warner Bros Records I bought myself a Cobra – I could barely drive at the time! What is the most overrated thing in the world? Relgion. The characteristic you most like about yourself My work ethic. Who would play you in a film of your life? Someone taller, darker and more handsome.
Favourite place in the world Bridgehampton, NY, because it reminds me of Wales. The best book in the world I read about 4 or 5 books each week and it’s impossible to choose.
What talent do you wish you had? Acting.
your guilty pleasure
What’s your biggest turn-off? People who are afraid of themselves. What would you tell your 15-year-old-self? Stick to it, it’s all downhill from here.)
The thing you’d rescue from a burning building IThe viola I played in the Velvet Underground.
Your best piece of advice for others Be careful, you never know who’s listening.
top 40 Albums 01
Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
Gwenno Y Dydd Olaf
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly
Tobias Jesso Jr. Goon
( He av e n ly )
(Po lyd o r)
Julia Holter Have You In My Wilderness
(Be ll a Un ion )
( T r u e P a n th er S o u n ds )
(D o mi no )
Girl Band Holding Hands With Jamie
Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell
Vince Staples Summertime â€™06
Wand 1000 Days
Sleater Kinney No Cities To Love
(Asthm a tic Kitty )
(Vi rgi n EMI )
(D ra g C ity )
( S ub P o p )
Grimm Grimm Hazy Eyes Maybe
Floating Points Elaenia
Ought Sun Coming Down
Jamie xx In Colour
Joanna Newsom Divers
(A T P)
( P lut o )
(C o n st e lla ti o n)
(Yo un g T ur ks )
( Dr a g City )
Blanck Mass Dumb Flesh
Mbongwana Star From Kinshasa
US Girls Half Free
Holly Herndon Platform
(War p )
( Sa cre d B o ne s )
(Wo r ld C i rcuit )
(4 A D )
( 4 A D)
(R o ugh Tr a d e)
the l i s t
of 2015 21
Beirut No No No
Unknown Mortal Orchestra Multi-Love
Oneohtrix Point Never Garden Of Delete
Ezra Furman Perpetual Motion People
Rival Consoles Howl
( J ag ja g uwar)
(Wa rp )
(B ella U n ion )
Protomartyr The Agent Intellect
Viet Cong Viet Cong
Lana Del Ray Honeymoon
Roots Manuva Bleeds
(H ar dly Ar t )
( J ag ja g uwar)
(P olydo r)
(Bi g D ada )
Little Simz A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons
( Er a s ed Tape s )
( A g e 1 01 )
Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat The Most Important Place In The World
The Eccentronic Research Council Johnny Rocket, Narcissist and Music Machine... Iâ€™m Your Biggest Fan
Jenna Hval Apocalypse Girl
Carly Rae Jepson Emotion
(Sac r ed B one s )
( P olydo r )
(N i nja T une )
( C hem ik al U nde rgr ound )
(W i thout C on s ent )
Stealing Sheep Not Real
Lightning Bolt Fantasy Empire
Bad Guys Bad Guynaecology
Natalie Prass Natalie Prass
(H eavenly )
( T hri ll Joc key )
(S i nde r lyn )
(R iot Sea s on )
( Spacebomb )
ROOTS MANUVA Rodney Smith walks and talks David Zammitt through his hometown of Stockwell Photography: gabriel green / writer: david zammitt
hen I arrive at Ninja Tune’s Kennington Lane headquarters to speak to Rodney Hylton Smith, it becomes clear, quickly, which of us is the most nervous about our interview. As I clutch my neatly folded list of questions, the elder statesman of British hip hop is getting stuck into his Greggs in a pretty big way, barely looking up through round, pitchblack sunglasses as I’m introduced. “What did you get?” I enquire, trying to break the ice as an avalanche of crumbs tumble. “Huh?” comes the mumbled response, Smith’s full mouth agape. “What did you get in Greggs?” “Bread puddin’!” is the terse reply when it eventually comes, as if to say, “What difference would it possibly make if it was a cream finger?” He seems to be enjoying it, at least, and we settle into things swiftly, with Smith soon revealing himself to be a warm, beguiling soul; every bit as eccentric as the genre-defying work he makes as Roots Manuva. He is overwhelmingly confident; selfpossession doesn’t come close to describing the performance I’m treated to as he jumps, both from topic to topic and literally, springing to his feet and bounding around the room whenever a subject proves sufficiently inspiring. Perpetually spiralling off on apparently unrelated tangents, it is pure theatre as he flicks between characters and accents; acting out both sides of conversations he’s had with scolding Jamaican aunts, a booming Pentecostal preacher father, and his own young sons. But before we embark upon our trip to Stockwell, the South London neighbourhood where it all began, I’m keen to get a feel for what makes the 43-year-old veteran rapper tick. We discuss his latest offering, ‘Bleeds’, an album that takes its name from Smith having bled for his art. “I was put through the wringer doing it,” he
says. “An album made by committee is just a nightmare. I would never do it again. Management, label, everyone said their piece. And every piece had to be put into this jigsaw.” He sighs heavily and counts the various interferences on his fingers. “The order of the tracks, the selection of the tracks, the number of the tracks, the title of the album. Everybody had a fucking input. Normally I just say, ‘There it is. Gimme my money.’ Not this time.” It seems strange that creative licence would be an issue so deep into a career that’s garnered critical acclaim at every turn, but Smith explains that his options have become limited now he’s signed solely to Ninja Tune’s Big Dada imprint, handing the power to the label he’s called home since dropping his bedroom-produced debut ‘Brand New Second Hand’ in the spring of 1999. “It’s primarily because I’m not signed as Roots Manuva anymore. I’m signed as Rodney Smith. So it’s hook, line and sinker. I’ve got no way out from this place.” He laughs wryly and glances around at the four walls of the label’s nerve centre. “I’m fucking stuck! Before, I had one foot in BMG, one foot here, one foot doing another thing but now I’m HERE.” He looks up at the ceiling in faux anguish and shouts, fists clenched. “My two feet are here!” The reaction to Roots Manuva’s new release, of course, has again been overwhelmingly positive but Smith is evasive when it comes to praise. “It’s always good to get a good response but I can’t really listen to an album for probably five to ten years. I can’t listen to it properly. It’s work for me – it’s just noise. For the first time in ages I was able to detach myself and listen to ‘Fighting For?’, the last track on the new album, not to check if the snare’s too loud or if the bass isn’t deep enough. The first time that happened
was a couple of days ago. And I was like, ‘Ooh, this is quite good, innit?’” Yes, it is quite good.The man who’s worked with everyone from the Maccabees and Leftfield to Coldcut and Gorillaz has widened his sonic horizons yet further, bolstered by the hands of UK production heavyweights Four Tet, Adrian Sherwood and Switch to create a motley palette that mixes hip hop and grime with house, soul and funk so that Roots’s 9th LP functions as a quasi greatest hits; a succinct sampler of the many musical masks he’s held up over the years. From first track ‘Hard Bastards’, a caustic State of the Nation from the poet laureate of inner city London, to closer ‘Fighting For?,’ a stirring, pianoled call to arms, ‘Bleeds’’ dexterity is remarkable. Its depth, however, means that the process of replicating it in a live setting has been a daunting one. “It’s a pain in the arse because all the tracks have got so much detail in. I’ve got to get help on the cue points. I need tonnes of help because the arrangements aren’t straight up.” He leans forward, holding an imaginary mic as he mime-MCs over its intricate, non-linear structures. “Rap-then-stop. Rap-then-stop.There’s a whole lot of shit going on, of different layers of production that’s gone into it. A lot of the people that contributed to the album I haven’t even met – I don’t even know them!” He trails off, as though the mere thought is draining. “It was a big project. A big, big project. I don’t like to think about it too much or else it makes my brain hurt.” On the plan for a 10th album, however, he’s unequivocal. There isn’t one. “At this point the plan is just to tour the album, but there’s no rush to make and release more music because there’s enough music there to play live and there’s enough music there that I’ve never even played live. I’d like to
do a Grateful Dead; buy my own tour bus and just keep going. Have the whole family living on the tour bus, going from place to place.” It’s the first mention of a word that we return to time and time again. Family, his children in particular, is always top of mind, even if it isn’t always straight forward. “It’s very complicated. Some serious phone bills, some serious maintenance bills and emotional depletion. It’s tough.” He pauses, looks at the floor and reflects, pressing the tips of his fingers together. I’m not sure if it’s as far as he’s going to go on the subject, for it takes some time to tune into the jerky, idiosyncratic rhythm of a Roots Manuva conversation. Stories are relayed in staccato, long silences punctuated with stabs of frenzied energy, words fired with rapid velocity. A second later, however, he springs back into life, his head and limbs waking, marionette-like, from their slumber. “But it’s good, man. The rewards are good!” He smiles and stares off into the distance as I ask him how the rewards manifest themselves. It instigates the first act of today’s Rodney Smith play. “It happens when you’re not looking. Like being out in Richmond Park this weekend with the wife and the son. The best buzz in the world. Here we are,” he exclaims, mock-roaring into a mock-wilderness. “Beautiful surroundings! Beautiful people! I had a hand in making these people! This is my family, this is my choice. HERE IAAAM! RICHMOOOND! Running around Richmond Park with big sticks going, ‘YEEAAHHH! WE’RE HERE! LOOK AT US!’” Smith’s relationships with both family and place are complex and interwoven, and when I ask about his mother, who died recently after moving back to Jamaica from Stockwell, his response reveals how life’s paradoxical ebb and flow fits into
Rodne y smit h in h is o ld me e t ing plac e o f St ockw e ll skate p ar k, aka Brixt on b e ac h , wh er e he ’d fall off h is b m x
his philosophy. “I’m still in the grieving process,” he says, and he smiles as though dusting himself down in his mind. “But it’s good – she left a really nice house! We’ve got a house in Jamaica now,” he repeats, as though saying it out loud will make it seem more real. And while he doesn’t make it to the Caribbean island so often, he’s still discovering strands of the wider family at 43 years of age.
“It’s hard to keep up with the amount of cousins. It’s hard to know which extended family are cool or not, so I stick to the ones I know. I keep meeting new cousins all the time. Lucky I’m a married man.” There are some goodlooking ones, then? “Yeah,” he giggles. “Fucking hell!” Having moved to the relatively leafy surroundings of Esher, Surrey when he was in his thirties, going back
to his childhood home in Stockwell has become a strange experience. His father tried to sell the house a few years ago, but it never happened and so the building he grew up in is the one he brings his own children to when they’re visiting Grandad. “It’s like a museum. Just too weird, man. Being with my sons in the house I was born in and my sons calling my dad ‘Grandad’ and me telling my sons that
my place S mi t h a t t h e el ec t ric b r i x t o n , w h i c h h e st il l calls The fridge and r ememb er s as t h e ABC c i n ema b ef o r e t h a t
I’m going to get my dad on you and they’re like, ‘He’s not your dad, he’s Grandad!’ It’s weird. He gets on with them, though, and takes them shopping.” Smith’s own relationship with his family, however, is a little more complicated. “It’s funny,” he says, “when I’m around family I just turn into a right idiot. I don’t understand. I just regress into a daft fool that needs to be told off.” And does he get told off? The answer comes quick as a flash. “Of course! By my dad, by my brothers, by my uncles...” The South London he visits now is a very different beast to the one which shaped him through its skate parks, community recording studios and soundsystem culture. Since then, gentrification has pushed into Stockwell, squeezing its sides from the increasingly yuppie-fied Brixton to the south and Clapham to the west. Its incumbents, he says, aren’t concerned with the idea of building a community. “It’s more transient. People just come, throw in some money and move on. People move to Stockwell, stay for a few years and then move to Croydon. It’s more like a dormitory. There aren’t any kids playing in the street. No one stays for thirty, forty, fifty years.” But there are pockets where the old way continues to exist and as Smith speaks of SW9’s characters he laughs quietly at the pictures flickering in his brain.
“There are some people there who have been doing the same thing for forty years! I just went to a DJ equipment shop that I used to go to for years. And the same guy that was there twenty years ago was still there when I went to get a new needle. Still there, bloody hell,” he says, shaking his head. “These streets are still strong and there’s still good bargains there! There’s still crazy, angry groups of African women arguing with Cockney market traders. It’s good to see.” When I ask where we should visit, he rhymes off a list of the places that shaped him. Stockwell Primary School, the area’s skate park, and Angell Town Studio, where he first cut his teeth in the production game, are all rifled off without blinking. But it’s the former site of the Fridge nightclub that is top of the list. “The Electric, which I still call the Fridge, used to be the ABC cinema. I went to see James Holden there recently and all these memories were flashing in my mind – these memories of being in there with my aunt when it was the cinema. The strangest feeling in the world. I’m 43 years old but things that I thought I should’ve forgot with the amount of drink and drugs that I’ve taken are just clearer than clear in my head. It’s like, ‘Fuck, I need some more drink and some more drugs to get rid of these memories.’” He howls with laughter but there’s a melancholy that bubbles underneath. Unfortunately the
Electric’s beer has gotten so expensive he might struggle. “I complained, man. You need a mortgage to get a round in there!” Also in Brixton, the Angell Town Studio had a huge impact on a rookie Roots Manuva as he manned the mixing desk for the first time in his teens. “That was there for years. It just fell apart because it couldn’t get the funding to keep it going. The elements of the idea have morphed into totally different projects. There’s a project that I’m a patron of called Respond Academy in Hastings. They’ve got a radio station and a studio and they work with expelled kids and the people who run that kind of came out of the Angell Town Studio.” It taps into Smith’s thesis that the spirit of a place can exist long after the place itself. “The studio ain’t around but the whole idea of community multimedia efforts is still around. There’s a kids’ radio station in Brixton and there’s a kids’ magazine in Brixton as well and those ideas are what the studio was trying to build.” Though he never graduated beyond the basics – and getting his hands on the equipment was a perennial issue – Stockwell’s skate park and its inhabitants had a strong influence on a young Smith. “I never really had a skateboard. I used to ride my BMX but I wasn’t really that good at going down the big dip.” He mimics the bike flying downwards – “fffsshheeeooo.” But it was the vibe and the community that it gave birth to which attracted him and kept him coming back. “It was still such a great meeting place, a place that was a symbol of the escape from concrete jungle even though it’s made from concrete. That was the beach – I think they even call it Brixton Beach!” Stockwell Primary, on the other hand, is described in muted tones and I get the sense that Smith takes me there to exorcise some demons. “[It was] quite a shit school, really,” he grins. “Lambeth Council back then was a bit corrupt so it didn’t get much money. That school was designed to make criminals, I think.” I ask if he has any good memories from the place. “Primary school, not that much. It was just like a warzone. Secondary school was good. It was a whole different world.“ Geography, music and R.E. were favourites. “Oh yeah, and Spanish. I liked it because I was taking the piss out of the teacher and he kept saying, ‘That’s good, that’s what you need to
do!’” Surely English was a forte for the budding lyricist, I suggest. “Yeah! I had a good teacher who used to explain things really well. She was arrogant. She said, ‘People in my class always do well,’ and she wooed me with that opening line. She was so cooooold,” he says, play-crying. “She would cut people down with two words. It was like there was a gun underneath her desk or something.” While his past remains firmly anchored in South London – and he is firmly proud of his upbringing – when I press him about his Britishness he is resolutely antipathetic. “It doesn’t mean shit. What’s more important to me is this new European thing that’s going on. The migration of all these European cultures coming together and people from France and Germany and all these places. That’s much more important. Britishness is an old school, old-fashioned thing. The thing is, it’s not about Brixton, and it’s not about Stockwell. I’m a London-born European. It’s different.” Fittingly, as he speaks we wander past shops and restaurants run by Portuguese, Polish and beyond. “It’s interesting to take the piss out of and dip your toe in but I’d rather wave a European flag. Me and Nigel Farage ain’t gonna get on!” As we finally make our way back to Kennington, I’m interested to know how the son of Jamaican immigrants feels about the UK’s politics turning gradually inwards. As we return to a vision of Little England not seen since the 1980s, Roots is unperturbed. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s good to know who’s who and what’s what. It’s good to rattle the consciousness of a nation to find out what everybody wants. If the old school want to hang on to their old riches then it’s good to know.” It all comes down to the fact that ultimately, for Smith, place may shape but it doesn’t define. “It doesn’t matter where you are. If you’re a natural thief you’ll be a thief, if you’re a natural killer you’ll be a killer. And if you’re a natural trapeze artist you’re gonna find something to swing from.”
CASisDead The mysterious North Londoner hoping that Nigella Lawson will dig his new take on cassette-released grime Photography: phil sharp / writer: david zammitt
I meet Stu Stubbs, Founder and Editor of Loud And Quiet, as he hops off his bicycle on a cold November morning in Holborn. Shifting from foot to foot in an effort to keep warm, a frisson of excitement runs through me as I take delivery of the brown paper envelope at the centre of the transaction. Onlookers watch on in quiet curiosity, our hushed conversation condensing in the crisp, cool air. I’ve just been handed a Walkman, it turns out. As in, an actual grey plastic cassette player. I’ve Googled it and I’ve seen what passes for a Walkman in 2015 but this one doesn’t play mp3s, let alone mp4s – whatever they are. “It has a rewind button,” Stu enthuses, “so you don’t have to take the tape out and turn it around.” Bliss, really. Accompanying this sleek piece of throwback hardware is a tape that will form my homework over the next couple of days, before I get the chance to speak to CAS (also known at CASisDEAD), the North London grime artist behind ‘Commercial 2’. And putting my dry, superior wit to one side for a moment, I have to admit that this is the most excited I’ve been to stick on a pair of headphones in quite some time. “It’s old, innit?” says CAS, when I eventually ask him about the format (his latest music really isn’t available in any other format). “In every sense of the word. The vibe’s old. Even the physical music itself is old. It’s from years ago. People only seem to be catching up now, so I thought it would be fitting to put it on tape. “The exclusivity of it intrigued me. Nowadays everything is so readily available,” he complains with good reason. “Everyone has everything right now, whenever they want it. And I think it takes away from the beauty of it so I wanted to make it a bit more challenging for people, you know? If they want it, then they have to get it.” CAS is a mysterious character. He wears a mask, for a start, and though I’m never quite sure when to take him seriously – there’s a razor sharp sense of humour behind the (literal) façade – he’s confident that it’s been a permanent feature for quite a while. “As long as I can remember. It’s part of my head now, bruv. I can’t even get it off. Always wearing it. Shagging birds with it.” Indeed, he’s even adapted it over time to deal with a changing
lifestyle. “I’ve fitted a little bit under me nostril so I can do gear and that. Design and technology weren’t wasted on me in school.” But if there’s a healthy helping of front, there’s also an acute sensitivity to the nuances of his art form. ‘Commercial 2’ – a sequel to another tape constructed solely from CAS rapping over ad music – takes chic eighties synthpop and puts it through the grime wringer.Think Wiley getting his hands on the Drive soundtrack and you’re pretty much there. It sounds fresh and it was a labour of love, and the mere mention of the eighties pop experimentation which underpins it piques his interest immediately. “I just feel a sense of belonging. I feel like that’s where I’m supposed to be. Maybe I died in the eighties and that’s when I was reincarnated,” he suggests. “I hear songs that I’ve never heard before and they sound familiar.” It’s revealing of his central aim to stay true to the music he loves, regardless of outside influences. “I think a lot of people like music because it’s hot or because everyone says that’s the in thing but I don’t really do that. I like to listen to what sounds good to me and there’s something about that era that resonates with me. I listen to more older music – eighties, nineties, early 2000s.” Indeed, the liner notes contain shout-outs to Steve Strange and Gary Numan, revealing an obsession with the craft of pop music that you might not expect from a grime artist. “Pop music was cool, from soul and RnB like SOS Band. And then the rock was cool. Even the cheesy songs were cool. I would struggle to tell you the last pop record that I liked.” It’s the indelible, timeless quality of a great hook that CAS hopes to emulate with his own work, which he believes stands in contrast to the get-rich-quick approach of his peers. “All these dons who are coming up fast and in a year no-one will remember them. They’re going for cheap thrills and there’s a formula that seems to work in this crappy music economy that we seem to have right now but it won’t last very long. I intend to make stuff with a
LEF T : C AS t a k i n g a c a l l a t th e f o u r qu a r t er s g a mi n g bar i n p ec k h a m, l o n d o n .
longer shelf-life so that even after I’m gone people are still listening and they say, ‘That was fuckin’ serious, man.’” CAS bristles as he talks but I suggest that it would be nice to get some recognition in his own lifetime. “Well, if that’s what happens then that’s what happens. Que sera, sera,” he muses. “I’m starting to try and relax a bit more and be less neurotic.” While the beats on ‘Commercial 2’ are easy on the ears, the collection elevates itself by adding clinical substance to its stylistic pomp. All dry ice and neon, the smooth eighties samples would be empty without the hard lyrical content. Standout track ‘Tick Tock’ is a case in point, telling the tale of an abusive uncle and the mixed emotion the rapper felt when the aggressor died in a road accident. “It’s easier to say it in the booth because I just have to say it for those three minutes and I don’t have to talk about it ever again, you know?” He struggles with the topic, he says, even with those close to him, but the music provides a succinct, one-way conversation that allows him to at least get some of the pain off his shoulders. “If I speak to people about personal shit then they’re going to pick me apart and ask me this and that and try and find the ins and outs of how it happened, why it happened. And that’s when I get pissed off.” He trails off into silence, and it’s clear that he doesn’t want to go any further. As well as namedropping CAS’s musical influences, the mixtape’s sleeve sadly reads like an obituary section of a local newspaper. “It’s mad,” he says, flabbergasted as he thinks of the friends and family who have died in recent years. “The people that I’ve lost were quite a big part of what we were doing so it’s pretty devastating. People, especially rappers, talk a lot about killing but no one really thinks about what happens when someone gets killed. There’s so much pieces to pick up afterwards.” It’s a touching counterpoint to the chutzpah that bubbles under throughout our conversation. “My brother, I lost him this year in really tragic circumstances. But I know he wouldn’t want us to slow down. He was there, every show,” he says fondly. “So there’s more pressure on us now to go on and do this because it’s for him!” The atmosphere is understandably
heavy, but there’s a determination in the air that suggests this is a character who won’t give up until he’s achieved what he feels is his destiny. He’s careful to keep his cards close to his chest, however, when I broach the subject of a debut album. “It’s just coming along organically,” he insists. “If I were to book a month in a studio for a month’s time it’d be like leading up to a boxing match. Too much pressure.” He tuts. “It’s got to be natural. I’m in no rush and I’ve got lots of little projects to keep people quiet.” One of those, he hints, might be to take the skills he has honed making his music videos to its logical conclusion. “I’ve got something coming on the film side of things in the ew Year so keep tuned for that one. I don’t want to say much now but it’ll be scary, that’s all you need to know.You’ll be shitting yourself,” he reassures me. It all comes from a celluloid fascination picked up when he had extra time on his hands. “When I was up to no good in my younger days,” he reminisces, “there wasn’t much I could do apart from sit in various derelict houses watching television and waiting, so a good DVD would pass the time while I was waiting for – let’s just say – business communication.” Before I leave him to it, I have to mention the apple of his eye, Nigella Lucy Lawson. “Oh, my babes,” he coos. Unfortunately, Ms Lawson just doesn’t understand. Yet. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s acting silly. She ain’t returning my calls. Nothing. I’ve reached out to her loads of times.” Her coyness is perhaps understandable given recent romantic tribulations, and CAS is understanding. “That geezer, he obviously didn’t care about her. Saatchi, he was just mugging her off. She was just a little trophy wife, but I genuinely love this bird and I could give her the time of her life.” That isn’t, he’s quick to explain, innuendo. “I’m not saying that in a disrespectful or vulgar way or anything like that. I just want to go out with her.” The penny drops. “I’ll cook for her! How about that? I’ll say this publicly. Nigella, I’ll cook something for you. I’ll make a wicked spag bol or shepherd’s pie or something. We’ll have a nice evening in, watch some films.” Well, you can’t say fairer than that. Nigella, if you’re reading: get in touch.
hin d s, L-R: An a Ga rcia Perro t e, Ad e Ma rt in , Ca rl o t t a Co sia l s a n d Amb er Grimb erg en
Hinds The Spanish garage band who fled their home town as soon as they’d played their first show at a Battle of The Bands in Madrid Photography: sophie barl0c / writer: dominic haley
Carlotta Cosials’ eyes light up when I ask her about her recent US tour. “Everyone is just so curious and grateful. They tell you that making music is a really worthwhile thing to do and you’re doing good for the world. Even airhostesses, when they find out you’re in a band, they’re like: ‘You’re doing a good thing, here have a free drink!’ “In Europe, people are more like: ‘What is that? A guitar? You must be rich, so you have to pay extra.’” “We always meet security guards who are like: ‘You guys are in a band? But you’re girls,’” says the band’s drummer, Amber Grimbergen. Ana Garcia Perrote (guitar) sadly nods in agreement. “It’s like it doesn’t compute to some people; they look at us like we’re hippies or something. They assume that the only reason we have a guitar is to play Bob Marley covers around a campfire.” Chatting with Hinds is a window onto the amount of bullshit girls in bands sometimes have to deal with. Sat around a kitchen table in Clapton after an afternoon navigating Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, vocalists Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote chat like two best friends should, constantly interrupting and laughing with each other. On the opposite side of the table, bassist Ade Martín is quieter, slowly smoking cigarettes and nursing a can of Stella, while Grimbergen, the band’s Dutch-born drummer, is the most thoughtful of all. She sits there quietly, with the occasional knowing smile spreading across her face whenever one of her bandmates cracks a joke. There’s a very clear dynamic to Hinds. Cosails and Perrote have known each other for years and started the
band back in 2011 after a trip to the seaside with their then boyfriends. Jamming out a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ on an acoustic guitar, the duo resolved to form a band when they returned to Madrid. Originally they only intended to play a set of covers to mates and relatives. “It was nothing more than a hobby at first,” says Perrotte, recalling the days when Hinds were known as Deers, before being pressured to changed their name by Montreal band The Dears. They’d played the Velvet Underground, too – a group whose scrappy, lose play they’ve inherited. “For our mums it was probably a bit of a joke,” says Cosials, “but we took it super seriously – we really wanted to make sure that we were doing the best covers we possibly could.”
eforming after a year-long hiatus in late 2013, almost no band I can think of has hit the ground running as fast as Hinds have. Their first two demos, ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Trippy Gum’, were plastered all over the US and UK music press almost as soon as they’d been posted on the band’s BandCamp and Soundcloud pages. Soon after, the likes of the Pastels, Patrick Carney and Bobby Gillespie were heaping on the praise. Since adding Grimbergen and Martín, they’ve become a unit. The contrast between the band’s first UK shows at the Lexington and their more recent gigs supporting Florence and the Machine highlight how far the band has come in twelve short months. Where at first, they were similar to a
lot of objective garage rock outfits – all colliding, ramshackle guitars and nonchalant attitude – Hinds have grown into a reasonably slick pop band these days. Draping sweet-voiced call and response vocals over strutting reverb-drenched guitar and low-slung bass, they’ve gone from scatty college band to (on account of their singing accents) CCS doing the MC5 pretty much overnight. The noise Hinds make might sound effortless – or even careless – on the outside, but Stephen King said it best when he said “the only thing that separates talented people from successful people is hard work.” “I don’t know how some people do it”, exclaims Perrote with an exasperated huff. “I recently heard how Mac DeMarco just locks himself in his house for a few weeks and writes like 20 songs. We can’t even do that! If we disappeared for like five hours, our manager would be straight on our case. We’ve got no time for that.” People like my dad would love the girls in Hinds – dictionary definition of grafters. Most of the band hardly knew how to play their instruments when they got together in 2013. For Cosials, the very idea that some bands would prefer to sit back and see what happens seems absolutely crazy. “Even before we started this band we all worked really very hard on the things we were doing in our lives,” she says. “We have a real passion for what we do, and it makes you want to put the hours in. We’re constantly asking how we can improve, how we can be better.” “We don’t have a background in music,” admits Perrote, “and it makes us work so much harder. It’s like
throwing a baby into a swimming pool; it has to learn and has to learn fast. Being in Hinds is a bit like that.” Hinds have been on the road almost constantly since they played their very first show at a battle of the bands in Madrid, which they won. By their fourth show they were in London, and then Berlin for their fifth. “At one point we were playing sold out shows in London and a lot of my friends back home didn’t even know I was in a band,” says Perrote. At SXSW they crammed in 16 shows in five days. “We didn’t eat. We didn’t sleep. We didn’t shower. We ran everywhere while we were drunk all of the time,” they told Interview magazine at the time. But touring has brought them into contact with a lot of people who can’t seem to get their heads around the idea of an all-female rock band, even in this day and age. “I’m sure stuff like that happens to boys too, but it seems to happen to us all the time,” says Perrote who, like her bandmates is keen to stress that these kinds of incidents are thankfully rare. “It’s like we’re very young and we’re girls in a band, it blows some people’s minds.” Sexism and the music business is a hot topic at the moment and it’s a question that Hinds have had to deal with a lot. In the week before I meet the band, NME was sharing a video of the women reacting to Apple Music’s Jimmy Lovine’s ill-judged comments, where he said on a CBS broadcast, “I always knew that women find it very difficult at times – some women – to find music.” “Being in this band has been a real education for us,” says Cosials. “We’ve been doing a lot of press this week, and it’s made me realise how passionate
H ind s at lond o n’ s mo s t f e s tive tour is t t r a p , winte r wo nd e r la n d , h y d e p ar k.
we get about all this stuff. I think some of the anger stems from the last two gigs we played in Spain and all the nasty comments and stuff we’re still receiving. The bad comments about sexism and stuff, mostly come from Spain – the UK, Australia, Germany, America, have all treated us without fault. The idea that we have to prove ourselves to our home is ridiculous!” Hinds of course find the abuse perplexing. Looking over their Facebook and YouTube videos, it’s obvious that Hinds love their fans and for the most part, their fans love them straight back. However, among all the positivity, there are a few comments that lay the vitriol on pretty thick. “It’s like they think the rest of the world is stupid,” explains Cosials rolling her eyes. “They’re like; ‘you guys probably don’t realise this, but this band is only popular because they have contacts, or they’re a product of their manager, or they’re cute, or because their boyfriends helped them.’ It’s impossible for them to even imagine that we can be successful in music all by ourselves.” “It’s a shame really; I love Spain and Spanish people,” adds Perrote. “All these people who make all this noise kind of stick in your mind. I mean, take those two gigs we just played – they were both sold out, everyone was having fun, everyone came to get
pictures with us and partied with us, but then, because of all the reviews and shitty YouTube comments, you just remember the bad things.You have to remember that it’s the number of people who came and had fun that is the important thing, not the people who showed up just to write shit.” Listening to the girls laugh and joke around with each other, it’s apparent that Hinds are having way too much fun to let a few shitty comments bother them that much. Besides, they have bigger fish to fry – namely, their recently recorded debut album for Matador, ‘Leave me Alone’. Up until now the band have only written songs designed for a live audience, so writing a collection of songs that have to work as a cohesive record has been a whole new experience. As you’d expect, Hinds were keen to treat it as an opportunity to develop their sound. “We didn’t want to do an album that was just about getting drunk all the time – 45 minutes of drunk songs would get a bit boring, eventually,” ponders Perrote as we talk about the range of moods on ‘Leave me Alone’. “We went through a completely different process of songwriting. It was winter, we were always in a rush, we were sad, and we missed doing certain things. It was a really weird time, but we didn’t force ourselves to
be happy or joyful or whatever – if we were sad or feeling more chilled, we said let’s just use that.” The album shows a new side to Hinds’ music. As carefree and as charmingly ramshackle as their early demos and singles, the debut album displays a new, sharper control of tempo and texture. More surprisingly, it has a hefty sense of emotional weight to go alongside the chunkier guitar sounds and more fleshed out bass. Unlike a lot of bands inhabiting the garage rock genre, Hinds have always backed up the wide-eyed exuberance of the music with a soulful sense of longing in their lyrics and vocals. But this is something new. Songs like ‘Fat Calmed Kids’ and ‘I’ll Give Your Flowers Back’ add an almost mournful quality to their music. Like the Beach Boys managed on tracks like ‘Let Him Run Wild’ and ‘Wendy’, there’s a suckerpunch of bitterness hidden in a kiss of sweet, melodic pop music. “We’ve always written in a very intuitive way,” explains Perrote when I ask about the band’s writing process. “We don’t really know any scales or anything like that; it’s more like me and Carlotta riffing off each other. I think it’s a really good way of working – I mean, I’ve learned a few pentatonics just through the sheer amount of music we’ve been writing, but I still try and forget the stuff I know and
figure songs out as I go along. “I think we write music as a listener not as musicians,” says Cosials. “As a listener you can think something is stupid and still like it; it doesn’t have to be rational.” “We only do the music we’d like to listen to; that’s one of the only rules we have,” agrees Perrote. “The idea of playing a finger-tapping 8 minute guitar solo seems kind of ridiculous to me.” One of their friends shows up with some more beer and the girls noisily scamper over to the room next door to grab one. I grab my coat and prepare to head out into the cold November night. As I’m working the latch on the front door, Perrote comes bounding out of the lounge with one of the new sleeves for ‘Leave Me Alone’. “It’s exciting isn’t it?” she says, thrusting the case into my hand. It’s hard not to agree with her.
L EFT : RO S IE L OWE p h o t o g r a p h ed a t s t a mf o r d w o r k s , DA L S TON , l o n d o n .
Rosie Lowe The future RnB star who will tell you everything Photography: jenna foxton / writer: ian roebuck
Rosie Lowe orders a mint tea, slowly leans back and begins to talk. Her openness is immediate. “Ask her anything,” her PR had said and within seconds it certainly feels like I could. So after niceties about the jazz playing softly from the speaker above, we move on to her regular therapy, with Rosie’s bright smile inviting the abrupt change in tone. “Oh well, we can talk about that… I need it to deal with the music industry!” she says. “I’d say that music helps me to understand how I am feeling and therapy helps me understand me. A lot of it is linked to music – this industry is a struggle but my sessions have helped me find peace with it.” Therapy seems to be doing the trick, and on the surface, at least, Lowe seems relaxed and ready for anything. With her debut album, ‘Control’, due for release in the New Year, the artist and the woman in front of me is heading for a great release in both real and metaphysical terms. “It’s probably the same stuff on my record that I talk about in my therapy,” she says. “It’s been amazing as it’s been such an incredible tool for keeping tabs on myself, in dealing with all those voices that are so negative, especially when you are putting yourself in such a vulnerable position through music, so it releases a lot of stuff for me.” The 25-year old’s debut album is a remarkable synth-soul confession that’s instrumentally sparse yet thick with rich lyrical content. Like Rosie, the album glows with warmth and like Rosie it feels bold and outspoken. She’s called it ‘Control’ for a reason. “Basically, 80% of the songs have control in the lyrics, it wasn’t thought about at all,” she says. “It must be
something that I am dealing with a lot and I am still dealing with. Not trying to control everything is a struggle for me, it’s all based on fear and the only time when I have no control is when I am writing music.” I ask her what that feels like. “Well I totally forget,” she says. “I go into a complete daze and I never remember after. The whole feeling around being controlling and letting go and trying to adhere to this idea of perfection, which of course doesn’t exist, has been a huge theme to the writing process of the last two years, so that had to be the name for the album. I wrote the song ‘Control’ towards the end of the process. I was in Devon and I had a big debate with my Dad about how controlling he was, not with me but with himself – he wanted to control stuff after he dies and put everything in place. I told him to have some faith in your kids, let’s not talk about you dying! We had this heated debate and I wrote the song from the hours of 4am till 7am and watched the sun rise. The next day when I listened to it I remember the feeling very well.” Such an atmospherically dense album could only have been written by escaping to the country, right? Rosie laughs before explaining: “That’s why I go back to Devon to write – I feel like I need that space. That mental space to actually get right in and think what’s going on here, without all that noise going on physically and mentally. When I am in solitude, that’s when I know I can really set my mind to something and can think properly.” Now, this house in Devon isn’t your normal two up, two down – when Rosie mentions solitude, it really
is just that. “Yes. Dad still lives in the house that we grew up in and that he built. It’s honestly going back to the opposite of my life in London, which is really nice. It’s got electricity now, finally. It didn’t have when we were really young. There is still no heating though, so you have to light a fire, or any hot water, you light the fire for that too. Even with the washing up, you need to boil up some water. It’s like camping but it’s actually really annoying. I’m like: ‘Dad can you just get it sorted? Come on.’ He loves it but I don’t know what he is going to do when he is 80. “I do think that if you have lived in the city all of your life and you have never had to make heat yourself you do take that switch for granted. I still think it’s bonkers; it’s like the best invention ever. I have heating on all the time!” Rosie jokes that it’s getting a little like therapy now, talking about her parents, but her family’s influence and sense of roots is an obvious throughline on ‘Control’. “Definitely!” she gesticulates wildly. “There was a lot of jazz in the house – I became very obsessed with it at a very young age. I used to sit in my dad’s car and break down Ella Fitzgerald tracks for hours and hours. My mum also had a massive influence on me too: Dad was jazz and world music and Mum was very much soul and RnB, so she used to dance round the kitchen to Sade and Annie Lennox and Erykah Badu, who has been a huge influence on me throughout my career and still is. “My dad was in a jazz band and my sister was singing,” she continues. “One day I stood in for her as she had tonsillitis and then that was that. I have
less confidence now, though. I was young and it didn’t bother me; I knew jazz songs very well by that point – it must have been mad thinking about it! That’s how it started and I did it every weekend. When I was at Goldsmiths [College, London] I used to drive back to Devon every single weekend to do these gigs. It’s how I afforded to live as it was quite well paid by that point and it was just crazy. Now I think about it, it was actually mental how far I would drive. I remember one time from Devon back to London, 9 hours it took me! It was really good to train in the art of performing and everything that comes with it, the good and the bad. It was helpful for my work ethic and musical grounding.” It was that very grounding and musical capability that drew Rosie to the Invisible’s Dave Okumu. After working with such singers as Jesse Ware and Anna Calvi, Okumu clearly combines well with strong-minded female artists and on that level Rosie is a perfect fit. “Well, I am very funny about who I write with,” she says. “I really love collaborating but there are a few people who bring that same stuff out of me. I think 80% of the album I wrote on my own, and while I am writing I am recording onto Logic and trying to capture that feeling and that goes for all the raw elements – the piano sound, the drum feel – I just think that’s all as one and it’s trying to capture an emotion and then I take it as far as I can and then give it to Dave. He takes the stems and there is kind of an unspoken understanding with him. I don’t give him notes as to what I want; he just gets where I am going and it gives me the opportunity to stand
S et D e sig n b y Sa ra h R ob ert s. Ma ke-up b y Po p py Fra n cis u sin g n a rs.
back. I’m so sensitive and it’s really rare to find that sensitivity, he never overcrowds a song and he really considers the narrative; he picks up on the feeling and supports that. There are a lot of producers who fucking shove on 25 drum tracks – that’s not for me. It’s a really vulnerable situation to give someone a second baby, and a really raw one at that, so it’s just been amazing working with him; he gives my songs a home.” Although passionate throughout our hour together, Rosie does draw back a little when comparisons are mentioned. I drop in the aforementioned Ware, who Rosie clearly shares her intimate RnB sound with, but also James Blake, an artist whose work is defined by the space allowed within it. “It’s a generation thing isn’t it,
comparing singers. I actually love the James Blake comparison because I can hear that, I can hear the space in the music, but I can also understand the Jesse Ware one, although it’s quite an easy one to make as Dave worked with us both – I can easily hear those influences and I love her music. I guess the thing I find really hard is when Rosie is the next Banks or whatever. I didn’t hear Banks’ music and think oh I am going to do that tomorrow; this has been evolving for years. There is a lot of music coming out right now that has a similar sound, we’re not copying each other, it’s because we have grown up with the same influences, like ’90s RnB, M-People, Lighthouse Family, that would have all been fed into our lives from a very young age and so we’re all playing on those things. There is always going to
be comparisons, the thing that annoys me is when I am not compared musically. I am compared because I am a girl and I have long brown hair, and that’s lazy journalism. It’s a different world.” Would lazy journalism also be calling her a feminist? Her music is certainly empowering and feminine tropes fill track after track (just check out her new single ‘Woman’, which plainly speaks of cosmetic pressures put upon women today – “I have analysed every single inch of my skin / And comparisons I can’t seem to break in my daily routine”) but as Rosie tells me, she is simply giving herself over to the music, isn’t she? “I never wanted to make it a female-only album just an honest one,” she says. “I don’t want to alienate half my audience. I am a total advocate for female rights, any rights! It’s
become a very loaded term right now but that’s fine as I am going to keep on calling myself a feminist, it’s quite simple really. I would feel quite concerned bringing a daughter into the world – maybe I would move to Devon and not show them any media. The expectations they put on you… it’s OK now because I have an amazing team around me but I see it happening to a lot of my incredible friends – they value their worth on how they look and not their intelligence. It’s such a controlled thing; I’m just so surprised this image of the perfect woman hasn’t changed for so many years. Surely we are due a shift, surely we are due a change? It’s still some kind of unrealistic shape, height and yeah I am tall and thin but I still find it tough. It’s tough out here!” We find ourselves back at that word control again, something we both seem to acknowledge at once. Rosie smiles before revealing her parting shot. “I am so excited about relinquishing control and giving it to other people,” she says. “I don’t want the album to sit on my computer anymore. I’m not up for controlling this music anymore; we’ve been doing writing sessions the last few weekends so I am reconnecting, it reminds me of why I am doing it, but this is my debut album. This is really key for me – I am a career artist, I am not interested in just getting music out there as quickly as possible and getting some PRS money to buy a house in Devon. I want to be doing this forever.”
Jeffrey Lewis draws 100 songs by The Fall Currently hanging at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City is ‘Landfill Indie’, Jeffrey Lewis’ first major exhibition of comic book illustrations. On the spread overleaf we’ve printed a piece of work from it called ‘100 Fall Songs’ in which Lewis went over brief to depict 112 songs by The Fall. See how many you can spot, with or without our reference list.
Live at the Witch Trials (1978) 1. Rebellious Jukebox 2. Live at the Witch Trials 3. 4. 5.
Dragnet (1979) Your Heart Out Specter vs. Rector Before the Moon Falls
Totale’s Turns (1980) Cary Grant’s Wedding Fiery Jack
Grotesque (1980) Container Drivers New Face in Hell
10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
Hex Enduction Hour (1982) Winter Who Makes the Nazis? Hip Priest Jawbone and the Air Rifle Iceland
15. 16. 17.
Room to Live (1982) Marquis Cha-Cha Papal Visit Joker Hysterical Face
29. I Am Damo Suzuki 30. Spoilt Victorian Child 31. 32. 33.
Bend Sinister (1986) Riddler! Shoulder Pads Mr Pharmacist
The Frenz Experiment (1988) 34. Athlete Cured 35. Twister 36. Carry Bag Man 37. The Steak Place 38. Victoria 39. 40. 41.
I Am Kurious Orange (1988) Cab It Up! Hit the North Jerusalem
Seminal Live (1989) 42. Pinball Machine 43. Squid Law 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.
Perverted by Language (1983) 18. Garden 19. Hotel Blöedel 20. Eat Y’self Fitter 21. Smile 22. Neighbourhood of Infinity 51. 52. The Wonderful and 53. Frightening World Of... (1984) 23. Elves 54. 24. 2 x 4 55. 56. This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985) 25. Mansion 57. 26. L.A. 58. 27. Gut of the Quantifier 28. My New House
Extricate (1990) Arms Control Poseur Popcorn Double Feature British People in Hot Weather Telephone Thing Sing! Harpy Chicago Now The Littlest Rebel Shift Work (1991) The Mixer High Tension Line Blood Outta Stone Code: Selfish (1992) Gentleman’s Agreement Married, 2 Kids Two-Face! Ed’s Babe EP (1992) Pumpkin Head Xcapes The Knight the Devil and Death
The Infotainment Scan (1993) 59. Lost in Music 60. The League of Bald-Headed Men 61. Service 62. Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room Middle Class Revolt (1994) 63. The $500 Bottle of Wine 64. M5 65. Behind the Counter Cerebral Caustic (1995) 66. The Aphid 67. Rainmaster The Light User Syndrome (1996) 68. Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain 69. D.I.Y. Meat 70. Powder Keg 71. The Chiselers 72. The Coliseum 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78.
Levitate (1997) I’m a Mummy Jungle Rock Jap Kid Levitate Ten Houses of Eve Masquerade
The Marshall Suite (1999) 79. The Crying Marshall 80. Touch Sensitive 81. 82. 83. 84.
The Unutterable (2000) Cyber Insekt Serum Pumpkin Soup & Mashed Potatoes Dr. Buck’s Letter
Are You Are Missing Winner (2001) Crop Dust Kick the Can
87. 88. 89. 90.
The Real New Fall LP (2003) Theme From Sparta F.C. Janet, Johnny & James Mountain Energei Green-Eyed Loco Man
Fall Heads Roll (2005) 91. Clasp Hands 92. Blindness Reformation Post-TLC (2007) 93. Coach & Horses 94. Fall Sound Imperial Wax Solvent (2008) 95. 50 Year Old Man 96. Latch Key Kid 97. Exploding Chimney Your Future, Our Clutter (2010) 98. Weather Report 2 99. Hot Cake 100. Cowboy George Ersatz G.B. (2011) 101. Laptop Dog Re-Mit (2013) 102. Jetplane Sub-Lingual Tablet (2015) 103. Black Roof Singles and Bonus Tracks 104. Bingo Master’s Breakout 105. City Hobgoblins 106. Totally Wired 107. How I Wrote Elastic Man 108. There’s a Ghost in my House 109. Backdrop 110. I’m Into C.B. 111. Wings 112. The Man Whose Head Expanded
1oo fall songs by jeffrey lewis
Mothers Ruin Fat White Family’s new album is extremely offensive, but perhaps not thoughtlessly so. We tried to interview them about ‘Songs For Our Mothers’, but only one of them turned up to explain the thinking behind songs about Hitler, Harold Shipman and abusive relationships Photography: dan kendall / writer: daniel dylan wray
“It’s a fucking horrible song; I do not want to hear this today.” So Lias Saudi of the Fat White Family tells me in a pub in Brixton, as the sound of the New Radicals ‘You Get What You Give’ blares loudly through the speakers. Saudi was up until the early hours getting stuck into the cocaine “Studio 54 style” with Randy from the Village People. It’s not quite as odd of a situation as it sounds – Randy is guesting with Saudi’s other band, The Moonlandingz, on their debut album, a project that joins the forces of Saudi and fellow Fat White Family member Saul Adamczewski with Sheffield’s excellent The Eccentronic Research Council. Saudi is alone today, however, with Adamczewski being a late cancellation due to ongoing health reasons and the rest of the band nowhere to be seen. Since the group appeared seemingly from nowhere in 2013, the Fat White Family have been something of a godsend for sensationalist music writers – their squat-living roots, penchant for drugs, live nudity, outspoken manner, filthy songs and general skid mark aesthetic has been written about as much as, if not more than, their actual music. It’s an understandably appealing tendency – if you’re faced with having to write about bands on a regular basis, who are ostensibly dressed by their sponsors, coming across a band like the Fat White Family, a group so filthy in every way they look, it’s an enjoyable cesspit to dive into. In fact, as we chat over pints and chips there is still a notable security tag attached to Saudi’s
jumper, which I’m guessing he’s stolen. After the release of their debut album, ‘Champagne Holocaust’, and extensive touring, which has seen the group develop into genuinely one of the most exciting and fiery live bands in the country, they return with their second album next month, called ‘Songs for Our Mothers’. The album will, no question about it, offend a great deal of people. A quick scan of the song titles is enough to indicate that: ‘Love Is The Crack’, ‘When Shipman Decides’, ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, ‘Goodbye Goebbels’, ‘Lebensraum’. At surface level it looks like shock tactics – an extension of the group’s supposed persona intended to stand out from the crowd, and, as a result, perhaps it’s nothing more than a vacuous bellow intended to stir up trouble and publicity. Truthfully, though, it’s a complex record and one that goes beyond shock value and crass, tasteless offence. Ultimately, it’s an album that instils genuine debate more than it creates recoiled horror – it has a purpose and it’s far more of a personal record than a great deal of the provocative subject matter would suggest. It’s not long before one of the main areas for potential offence arises: the inclusion of Primo Levi (holocaust survivor, writer and chemist) in a song as a vision, performing oral sex on the protagonist. The song in question is ‘Satisfied’, taken from a session the band did with Sean Lennon in Upstate New York. “It’s about my sexual anxiety, my fear of sex, a sort of vertigo
and having visions of Primo Levi sucking your cock,” says Saudi. I guess the question to propose is why Levi? “It’s just the image of him sucking marrow out of a bone… ‘My penis was an oblong pebble / My balls two benevolent stones / She looked like Primo Levi sucking marrow out of a bone’ … he’s a holocaust Jew; he was starving for quite a long time. I’ve read If This is a Man and Truce and there’s no direct mention of bones and marrow but you don’t have to use your imagination for very long to get there. I also wanted to lower the tone as far as is humanly possible with that statement… You can use people like historical characters, popular culture characters, icons, whatever it is – they are just different colours you use to paint your picture. I consider everything to be fair game. Absolutely everything, which is why I’ll put Primo Levi in a song about getting head because I just don’t see why I should be held. As an artist I have license and I couldn’t care less if people get upset about it. I’m quite certain I’m not a racist. “Abusive relationships are a recurrent theme on this record,” Saudi then tells me, “partly inspired by my working relationship with Saul.” It’s this relationship that really runs through the core of the record. On ‘Love Is the Crack’ (‘… of somebody else’s whip’) it describes Saudi’s feelings of a fractious creative partnership. “We drive each other up the fucking wall,” he says, “but he’s always been the one who cracks the whip,
with me anyway. On this record I’m interested in how that abusive relationship can be a creative thing; how abuse and violence can lead there. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure and abuse and that I was being treated like shit all the time and made to feel like a cunt, but that I had to do this thing anyway. The only way of pushing through would be to create something outside of yourself – a song, basically – and it’s like an exorcism: you can expel this stuff by making these statements, clean yourself, give your soul a good fucking scrub. By writing this stuff and putting it out, it’s no longer yours; it’s everybody else’s. I’m interested in how something awful ends up becoming kind of useful.” This ties in closely with the track ‘Hits, Hits, Hits’, a sonically tender, sexy and intoxicatingly groovy song
L ia s sa ud i, min us t he rest o f his fa t whit e fa mily in B rix t o n , L o n d o n .
driven by a slowed down drum machine beat. It’s a track about the abusive relationship of Ike and Tina Turner, a narrative manoeuvre employed to project Saudi and Adamczewski’s own difficulties into a larger context. “I’m Tina, I’m pretty sure I’m Tina,” says Saudi. “Those videos you see of her playing live, the way Ike struts behind but when she’s singing she’s in the driving seat – she’s kind of a hero. She’s a valid idol for anyone; a heroic character. Everybody loves those records, don’t they? They are universally adored and it was born out of violence and aggression and hatred and someone having the shit beaten out of them. I wanted to get at that and explore that side so I thought I’d take my flaccid emotional state and project into a bigger version of that. It’s an egotistical thing to do, I
suppose.” I ask Saudi about the extent of the abuse in the relationship with Adamczewski and whether it’s forgiving and playful enough to be able to usually move on. “It’s forgiving and playful enough 95% of the time and then there’s the 5% where it gets bad and we can have quite a traumatic relationship and have terrible, terrible fall outs. What can I say? I love the guy to bits but sometimes he can be a right horrible cunt, but who can’t? So can I. We push each other and that’s what’s led us here.” And how aware is Adamczewski of the material being directly written about him? “I didn’t tell him directly, I told him ‘Hits, Hits, Hits’ was about Ike and Tina, but Saul’s not a fucking muppet, he knows I write a lot about our
relationship… I think outside of my direct family he’s probably the person I’ve been most in love with so in a way this album is like a collection of love songs, to an extent, based on that relationship, if you want the God’s honest truth, and I don’t care if he reads that. For me that’s what inspired it.” Another key moment on the album that’s bound to cause an affront is ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, whether it’s because it will be seen to glorify or advocate the use of hard drugs or because of its use of David Clapson as a character in the song. Clapson was an army veteran who had signed onto Job Seeker’s Allowance but as a result of missing one appointment was sanctioned and had his benefits cut. Without that money he couldn’t afford to power his own home, and with no
electricity he couldn’t run his fridge and the insulin he was dependent on as a diabetic could not continue to work without the refrigeration. He died with almost no money in his bank, no food in his stomach and a pile of CVs stacked up next to him. In the song he appears as an apparition knocking on the window of a drugs party. I ask Saudi about the meaning of the song as a whole. “Well, it’s about smoking heroin, isn’t it? Of course it is. I just wanted to conjure up these images of young hedonistic situations cascading over each other and I like the fact that it sounds like disco. I thought it would be good if we had a heroin song that sounded like disco. So, you have these young people enjoying themselves ‘there’s glamour in the hills tonight’, it’s all nice and warm, ‘it’s autumn in my loins’, which
sounds kind of nice, even though it’s quite tragic really, and then put it up against the image of David Clapson knocking on the window with his CVs like the Ghost of Christmas Future, like this nightmare-ish skag hallucination, I guess… I don’t see why that subject should be taboo as far as I’m concerned. “I think the drug itself should be taboo – I think it ruins people’s lives. I’ve watched huge swathes of my immediate community descend into complete heroin abuse. Five years ago I don’t think I’d ever even seen somebody smoke heroin and then it was like a big brown cloud came over South London and every fucking cunt you know all of a sudden is hitting the skag. That’s why I wanted to write about it – it’s become a huge part of my life whether I like it or not.” And the use of David Clapson, other than the right of artistic licence to explore his narrative, what role does he serve here? “He’s in there as a reference point to the malicious and utterly abusive and disgusting murderous governmental policy regarding welfare. It’s so explicit; the guy was murdered by the government. He was cut out of existence… literally. So, you have these young people partying their way out of existence in a sort of tinfoil bliss and you have this other character who has just been dropped and they’re all getting dropped really. It’s gone to shit. Everything is getting worse and there’s nothing anyone can do about it so I think it’s important to have him [Clapson] in there.” Saudi becomes more animated, impassioned and angry as he continues to talk about Clapson. “When I read that story it really broke my heart,” he says. “I found it absolutely heart breaking… they fucking killed him, man. They may as well of walked up to him and put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. George Osborne
sau di on the p latf or m of br ixt on mai nline r ailway st at ion, lono n.
may as well have pulled the trigger. I would love to have that lot lined up against the wall and fucking shot, I would take no displeasure in it; I would like to see those guys fucking hung. I fucking hate them, with a passion, with a fucking passion.” To state his stance on the inclusion of such controversial characters, Saudi says explicitly and fervidly, “He’s not on there as a joke.Tina’s not on there as a joke and neither is Primo. They’re not jokes, they’re symbols… I think if you find this album shocking then you need to tune in.You need to really tune in.” Which brings us to our next controversial symbol. Harold Shipman and the track ‘When Shipman Decides’, which is an uncomfortably woozy song, almost intended to place the listener under sedation and in the position of the doctor’s chair as he administers a lethal dose. “He was pumping these old women full of a thing called pethidine, which is basically just smack, and so I wanted to just capture the sitting in the waiting room, you’re getting the shot, passing out to death via bliss in an opiate heaven, so it’s a different kind of drug song. He kills himself at the end, ‘he exits with pride’, he takes himself out. We’re not Shipman worshippers, thank you very much, we have that in the song; he had the decency to top himself because he’s a horrible, nasty, evil bastard.” I ask Saudi if he would stand by Shipman’s inclusion if challenged by victims’ families? “My theoretical response would be that it’s my right to say and describe whatever I like, and that as a writer I can tackle any subject, no matter how coarse or difficult, and I’d like to think that we approached it with a whiff of sensitivity and that there’s nothing to get upset about, it’s just a portrait of what’s happened.”
audi continues to elaborate on this sort of ground zero that the band have found themselves in, in which everything is fair game and where they genuinely don’t care about… well… anything. “When we started this band it was done with a sense of militancy because we were sick of our own fucking lives,” he explains. “We were sick of feeling like we didn’t have any opportunities because there were no opportunities. We started this band with a sense of fuck everybody, fuck the music scene, fuck even trying to get a record deal, just fuck hope, basically – there isn’t any so let’s just play with anything. So once you get to that point, that low point, then suddenly everything becomes malleable – you can have Primo and Tina and everybody because it just doesn’t matter anymore; it’s all valid. The only power you have as an artist is your imagination and your ability to put things together constructively and in a way that changes people’s way of thinking, so we wanted to do something that would have an impact and part of that is rubbing people’s noses in things that are unpleasant or taboo. “I think about how disgustingly tame things have become and it’s shocking. The fact that people find our band shocking itself is unbelievable. For fuck’s sake, how long ago was GG Allin? We’re going backwards, we’re going fucking backwards.” We simultaneously reach the end of our time together and ‘Songs For Our Mothers’’ closing track, ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ – a song that captures the final moments in Hitler’s bunker with his propaganda minister, in what can only be described as a rather tender and loving way. “I wanted it to make you sad, to make you tingle a little bit and think, ‘God, this is tragic, this is horrible,’” says Saudi. “But again, these things happened. For me it’s probably the most romantic thing that ever occurred. You’re talking about guys that have made this worldwide cataclysm; they’ve shifted history from one place to another with this horrible, demonic vision.” Of course, it’s statements like. “for me it’s probably the most romantic thing that ever occurred,” that’s only going to fuel the accusatory fire, as it has more than a ring of sympathy to it. Rather than skirt around the subject I ask Saudi directly if this is the case. “I have absolutely no sympathy for those guys, no, of course not. I think that should be perfectly explicit, but I can understand why someone would ask that question if I say that is the most romantic thing that ever happened. The fact that it happened is just so amazing. I mean, can you imagine being in that bunker? I mean literally the entire fucking world are
coming to get you and you’re down there but you’re thinking about the good times. There must have been something romantic there between them, talking about the old days, nostalgia, these are real things that must have occurred. There must have been genuine, real love between those two men. Again, I’m not making a judgement but it must have just been one of the most fascinating human situations that’s ever occurred, so why not write about it?” So, from the title of their debut album including the word Holocaust, through to Primo Levi, a song called Lebensraum (the territorial expansion of the Nazi’s) to ending in Hitler’s bunker, what, I enquire, is the clear fascination with Nazism? “I don’t understand how everybody isn’t obsessed by it. I’m definitely obsessed by the Third Reich, given that our world was born out of its dissolution – the stuff we love about our world anyway – the post-war agreement. I think it’s a healthy thing to have an obsession about; I think more people should be obsessed by Nazism and Fascism because it’s coming back in my opinion. I think this is stuff we should be reminding ourselves of.” And was the end of Nazism huddled up in a bunker as the world closed in another thinly veiled description for some sort of end within the band or with Adamczewski? “I was envisioning the end in a sense, yeah. An end point, at least in this period of our lives, yeah. I don’t know how long our band will last or how long our relationship will last but at that point in time, at the tail end of making the album, it felt like a good idea to have a conclusive statement and what better way than down in the bunker? How much more perversely egotistical can you get? It’s kind of extreme. I’m sure lots of people will give us shit about it. There will definitely be accusations of antiSemitism without a doubt, but I think, again, I’m going to claim artistic license on it. I’m fascinated by something that happened, it’s real, it’s historical and it’s my right to write about it – it’s not anti-sematic to me to make the film Downfall is it? It’s exactly the same thing.” And despite the offence that will inevitably come from some (or many) camps, it’s unlikely to deter the Fat White Family from exploring territory – lyrically and sonically – as Saudi clearly states, ending with a thumping message: “People’s opinions I couldn’t care less about. If they’re upset about it they’re fucking morons.”
2005 - 2015
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 65 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Thank you for reading
Tobias Jesso Jr. only started singing his own songs because nobody else would. At the end of a year in which he’s released his debut album, struggled with playing the pop star and fulfilled his ultimate dream in writing with Adele, he’s questioning if he really needs to put himself on stage anymore Photography: brian guido / writer: stuart stubbs
...Goodnight!? “I won a raffle one time, and I won a hat. And it was a very expensive, prestigious hat, made by the best hat maker. His name was Gunner Fox, and he made this hat. It was the most expensive thing that I had ever owned and I won it in a raffle between hundreds of people who had paid waaay more money than me for multiple tickets. I paid five dollars for one ticket, I won the hat, he made it custom to me, I wanted it to be huge… so I ask for this hat. It took him a month. He made it out of the finest beaver felt, with a belt wrapped around it. I’m telling you, this hat was maaagic. And a few days later that same hat was stolen off the top of my head, as I was wearing it.” This story sums up Tobias Jesso Jr’s life so far – a guy who attracts the best of luck and the worst of luck, sometimes on consecutive days. On Black Friday 2015, he happens to be on a massive upswing, big enough to carry even him clear of misfortune’s retribution. Yesterday he bought his first house, in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. If it’s pure coincidence that the same day Adele’s ‘25’ became the fastest selling album in U.S. history, it’s a spooky one. Tobias co-wrote what’s sure to be its second single, ‘When We Were Young’, and a second track – ‘Lay Me Down’ – that appears on the version of the album sold at American chain store Target. Contributing to a record that’s sold 6 million times over in seven days has its financial rewards, but for Tobias it’s only half the story, or less. He’s been Adele’s biggest fan since he first heard her music in 2009; right around the time he arrived in LA from Vancouver to make it as a songwriting gun for hire. He failed spectacularly, and after
four years of trying (half-arsedly, he admits) he was forced to move back home where he aborted his grand plans and took yet another manual labour job, at his friend’s mom and pop removal company. By the time he’d taught himself a little piano, recorded some demos just for fun and almost accidentally signed himself a record deal with Matador label True Panther Sounds, Tobias wasted no time name-checking Adele in his very first interview in late 2014. Talking of his derailed Hollywood hustle, he told Pitchfork: “I wanted to be in the studio writing songs for pop artists. I would still love to do that; Adele’s my favourite artist. But that time in L.A. was also like a wake-up call that that’s not going to happen. Everything came down to a point where I was like, ‘I’m not that guy! I’m the guy that makes those guys coffee, and that’s that.’ And my record is about exactly that: Los Angeles and failing and a breakup.” Today he marvels with the rest of us at ‘25’’s rolling sale statistics that belong to a pre-file-sharing age, only he’s a guy who’s played a part in all of them. He hasn’t been to Target to buy a copy of the version with ‘Lay Me Down’ on it yet, and is worried that he might now struggle to find it in stock. “There was only 1 million made,” he says and pauses. “Imagine that – a run of a million copies being a limited edition!” He laughs his high-pitched laugh in disbelief as we walk back down the hill he lives on in Hollywood. “My manager made me sit down,” he tells me over lunch at the café on his street. “I’m like: ‘What’s going on?’ I was in the middle of a breakdown at the time, right on the edge. He said: ‘Who would you most like that to
work with in the entire world?’ and I couldn’t even fathom Adele, so I was thinking of producers and stuff. As soon as he said Adele, I was like: ‘H-ol-y shit!’” The blood drains from his face; he freezes; he recreates his widening stare. “From my toes to my head all the happiness was flowing in. It was like winning the lottery or something, and then you start to believe it. And he was like: ‘Yeah, she’s coming to LA and you’re going to get to meet her and go in a room with her and you’re going to do something together.’ I was like a giddy schoolgirl. The happiness was at the top of my head and then the panic started to push it down. So I went to work and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. “I spent 10 days writing songs and ideas for her, and the second she walked in the room I forgot every single one. And I was like: ‘Errrr, I don’t know what to say.’ She was like: ‘I’m going to go out and have a fag, do you want to come with me?’ I smoked two packs of cigarettes in four hours that day and I don’t even smoke that much. And then we just talked a lot, and within an hour or so, as we were going through life stories, I’d remember a chord progression, or she’d tell me something and I’d be like: ‘Oh I’ve got something that would really work with that.’ We went back into the room, I sat down and started playing and she sang almost the song that came out. All my friends say, ‘I hear you all over that song,’ but no, the amount of changes we had to do for her that I would not normally do, it’s crazy, and I’m so glad for it.” Tobias comes alive when he recounts the few days he spent with Adele at his manager’s grandparent’s house. Whenever she left, he and his
manager would sit in the room she’d been singing in and relive the day with one another. “And then Sia dropped by and we did a couple,” he says. “Sia ended up using a couple of [Adele’s] songs, and I was another huge fan of Sia, and when she came in I’d never been so scared. Talk about Adele putting you at ease, Sia was the opposite. It’s like: ‘NO! IT’S THIS CHORD, and it starts HERRRE,” Tobias shrieks a piercing note. “And I saw Adele sat in the back there laughing at the whole scene, because she knew how nervous I was.” “It was the best, most life-changing experience I’ll ever have,” he says deadly serious, and he’s probably right. “You can’t even put that down to a good year. No, no – meeting Adele and getting to write with Adele is probably the most important thing that’s going to happen in my life.”
obias lives on a street in Hollywood that’s appeared in a thousand tourist photographs. It’s the one where the HOLLYWOOD sign is directly in front of you from the moment you turn onto it, despite how long it goes on for. At the end of the day we giggle whilst adding to the problem of people stepping in front of cars to hopelessly attempt to make it look as though their pinching or eating the famous landmark.The actual joke is in our purposefully posing way off line, something that Tobias sees on a daily basis and finds great amusement in. His sense of humour is what I like most about him – it’s absurd, and he’s quick to riff off a joke you swing for or
B el o w a n d r i g h t : t o b ia s jes s o j r . i n t h e f r on t g a r d en o f h i s h o l l ywo o d h o me, l o s a n g el es .
any bizarre imagery you throw at him in casual conversation. He’s got an easy laugh and an obsessive and complex imagination, which is best demonstrated during our photo shoot when we become completely sidetracked as he tells us in extreme detail an idea he’s had for a TV show for the past four or five years. It’s called Serious Drama and it might be the best idea for anything that I’ve ever heard – a dark comedy about a misunderstood writer who is molested by Bigfoot at scout camp. Of course, written down just like that it sounds nothing but gross, but Tobias’ pitch is incredible – for his enthusiasm, conceived gags and plot twists, and the sheer amount of time he’s clearly spent thinking about and developing this one idea that most of us would have entertained and left in the pub. He says it would take him
hours to explain the whole thing and I believe him, but for 30 minutes or so he gives it a go, outlining its camera angles, callbacks (Tobias is good at callbacks), character synopsis and even proposed marketing ideas to promote it. It is completely fully formed. We arrived at this topic because Tobias played a show earlier in the year dressed as Bigfoot, his band in Boy Scout costumes. Talk about forward planning, he did it in order to capture the show for a line in a TV show he hasn’t had commissioned yet. “I’ve been telling them about Serious Drama,” he tells his manager, Mason, as he steps out of the house to see how we’re getting on. “Oh wow,” he says. “It’s a journey.” Mason manages Tobias with his business partner Ben; the three of them live here in the street’s most rustic looking house together with
Noah who plays in punk-pop band Partybaby, also represented by the managers. It’s a boys house, from its sofa area and drawn shades at 11am to Ben’s new toy – one of those handless Segway hoverboards that every kid’s going to want this Christmas – which everyone in the house has mastered, and Ben and Tobias jump on and off as they tell me about how Black Friday is America’s most embarrassing day of the year. Ben shows me a video of a grown woman snatching a reduced toy from a four-year old to illustrate the point. Tobias has a third, day-to-day manager also, which seems a little excessive for an artist so completely solo that he originally toured alone, accompanied only by the piano that overwhelmingly sits at the heart of his songs. When discussing his year, though, it’s apparent just how necessary this team has been to his success, his happiness and ultimately his sanity. “Ben and Mason was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he tells me. When I arrive at the house in the morning, Tobias is familiar as the person I interviewed at the beginning of the year – a joker with a reason to be happy; a guy who’s making his way in show business after it killed his spirit the first time around. The more we talk, though, the more I realise that the intervening months haven’t been a breeze as they’ve appeared to be. There’s a good chance that he wasn’t as carefree as I thought he was back in January, either. Momentarily, the joking around on our shoot stops when Brian, our photographer, asks Tobias if he has any shows coming up. He did, but he’s just pulled bookings all over the world, from Europe to Australia. When Brian asks if it’s because he needs a little time to regroup, Tobias says in a solemn tone that appears uncharacteristic: “No, it’s just no life for me. I’d become a parody of myself.” Today, at least, he has no desire to play his songs in front of an audience again. “I’m not the type of performer I want to be,” he says, before expressing how sorry he is to those fans that have bought tickets to his shows that have been cancelled. He worries when he looks at his phone to see that more shows have been announced as scratched, expecting disappointed fans to be in touch soon. “The worst is when I get an email from someone saying that they’ve booked a trip to come and see me – that’s not good at all. But I also got this email from
someone who came to one of my shows saying, ‘hey, I came to the show and was really disappointed by it’ – that’s worse and made me feel terrible.” There is no ‘official line’ about the dates that have suddenly dropped off the calendar, no ‘exhaustion’ baloney or ‘health issues’ spin, although both are kinda true. He says he’s sat down to try and explain his feelings and decision in a statement more than once, but he can never find the words. “I was doing more things that I hated than I was doing that I loved,” he explains to me over lunch. “For me, if I had any other job that was like that I would quit. A lot of people don’t understand that, and a lot of people are in jobs that they hate and they feel like I’m copping out – like I’m one of those new kids who can’t handle an honest day’s work, and being on tour is the most dishonest day’s work you can do. I was left with more than a little embarrassment after I played. And it’s not for anything that I would have any control over – it was a feeling inside, like, ‘man, that didn’t make me feel good.’” Tobias was drinking heavily, but the real problems began when he started playing with a full band – they were too good. “They could play anything,” he says, “so by the end I was just entertaining myself onstage, which doesn’t do anybody any good. So I’d be like: ‘What do you guys want us to play? We’ll do anything.’ And the audience would be like:‘Errr, Outkast!’, so we’d play an Outkast song,” he says wearily, “and I’d look up the lyrics on Google.” He looks ashamed when he tells me that he answered his phone to take a call a few times onstage. “That’s a sad, sad story.” Within a few short months, Tobias’ original concept for his show – the show of a songwriter and his songs, not of a performer and his act – was history. And he’d only started playing live a couple of months before that – just him, his piano and his sweetly imperfect voice. Having seen him perform twice, each time on his own, it’s only when I search online for his Bigfoot show that I realise just how estranged his live performances had become from those early gigs that so accurately represented his debut album, ‘Goon’. Alone at a piano, there was a learn-as-you-play charm to seeing an artist unsure of himself performing his simple but beautiful songs. His record was venerable and rudimentary, and so too were his live renditions of songs about
the time he moved to L.A. and got his heart broken. He played slow because it was the only way he could; he sang like a guy trying because he was. The Bigfoot show isn’t that, and not just because Tobias is dressed as a Sasquatch – it’s a cabaret sound: more professional and slick, but more ordinary also. More than that, he’d arrived at a point where he was covering other people’s material. This, from a guy who was so desperate to have his music heard he reluctantly decided to sing the songs himself because nobody else would. “As a songwriter first, I don’t know how to describe it,” he says. “I imagine what I do in a very specific way – songwriting is all I like and all I care about. If I was to describe myself, it would be as a songwriter, there would be no ‘singer’ attached. No ‘singer’ slash…, no nothing; it would just be ‘songwriter’. So I feel that there’s a very specific way to showcase that to the world. It’s definitely an indie thing, it’s not a mainstream thing – it’s for people who appreciate songs, for their structure and their lyrics. And I think that playing solo is the ultimate way to hear a songwriter play. “I was a big fan of Girls, but I would really, really hold onto a Christopher Owens show, of just him. I got a little lost along the way, and it was like, the shows are going to get bigger, so we need the sound to be bigger… and I was so insecure about playing shows that we added a band. “It was great for my confidence level, but it lost a bit of that identity. I was like: ‘Wait, now I’m trying to be a singer, because I’m trying to play with a band, and my voice has to be as powerful as this band that’s backing me up’, so the sound has to grow so we need to rearrange the songs, and at that point everything I’ve tried to hang onto as my core, the core is hollow now and I’m trying to be an act.” He sounds exasperated at the explanation, like a man who had stopped respecting his own songs in an attempt to fall in line with how he felt half of the audience were feeling. Whilst he had been petrified alone onstage, at least he knew that the people in front of him were there for the songs, because there really wasn’t anything else to be there for. Once you’ve got a kick-ass show band, the songs themselves, say Tobias, are buried under a hundred other elements that people can enjoy almost in isolation. He says it felt like there were those who’d come to hear the songs, and
those that were there enjoying the band. “And I guarantee that the people who came to see the band, if they saw me solo they’d be disappointed. I’m not interested in those people because they are not my fans – they are not the people who are interested in what I do and what I’m about. Those are people who just like a sound that comes from a full band – it could be my songs, it could be anybody’s songs, and that’s not as special to me as someone who says, I just like his songs. That’s someone who I want as a fan because that’s someone who I am as a fan.
“There are those people who are just like: ‘Oh, I heard this on the radio…’” he says. “All the power to those people, I love them, but they’re not the kind of people who make me feel good about what I do – they are the people who think I need singing lessons, secretly.” I ask him if he’s now considering reverting back to his original plan of writing songs for pop stars and retiring from his brief career in front of the music. God knows that the Adele effect would allow it. “The songwriting thing is
something I feel great about,” he says, “and it’s going to be very important to me and my happiness, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to give up on the touring just because I didn’t have a good run of it the first time around, because I didn’t write good songs for the first four years of my life. Every time I cancel a show I’m burning a bridge, though, I know that much. But who knows, I’ll give it some time, and it’s better than suffering.” “Do you know what my ultimate would be?” he says. “That if I had a steady job playing at the same place
every week, and people would come down to hear the new songs and be like, ‘I like that one’, or, ‘I don’t like that one so much.’ And at the end of the night you get your 200 bucks for food, and it’s all about the songs.”
ou’ve caught me at a really good time,” say Tobias once our shoot is over. “I met Rick Ruben two days ago and he changed my life.” He tells me how he drove out to Malibu to meet Ruben at his mythical retreat-come-studio, Shangri-La, suspicious of what all the fuss was about – why did everyone care so much about this producer who can’t even play music himself, or record it, for that matter? How is that producing? It’s a fair question and Tobias got his answer after a couple of hours spent with Ruben in a white, empty room. “He’s like a life coach, or something,” Tobias buzzes. “He was sat there on the souls of his feet and we just spoke and I told him all about the problems I’ve been having and after a while he didn’t say, ‘oh, just don’t do it then,’ far from it, he said: ‘From what you’re saying, it sounds like you do really want to tour and play shows, but you’re just not happy with how you’re doing that at the moment.’ And that’s exactly it. His whole thing is about working with artists not to say, hey, this would make this song better, but to just ask them, is this song everything you want it to be, artistically? It’s up to you then to say, no, let’s go back to its beginning.” It’s hook-ups like face time with legendary music gurus – and, more importantly, how they’re handled – that make Tobias’ managers so indispensible. When I ask him how I can get to meet Ruben, Tobias genuinely hasn’t a clue. “These things just tend to happen,” he says, giving full credit to Mason, Ben and third manager Will. “They sorted it out and then explained it to me casually, like, ‘oh, tomorrow we’re just going to drive out to Malibu to see Rick Ruben.’ That way I don’t get overwhelmed,” he says, “because life is constantly overwhelming me.” Similarly, he’s been kept in the dark about just how many phone calls his work with Adele has generated – “They’d keep that a secret because they’ve set my life up so that I won’t have a breakdown.” Without Ruben’s pep-talk, he admits that he would have wanted to cancel our meeting today, following a year of press interviews that he’s struggled with as much as anything else. Just as his band were “too good”,
so too have his press interviews been too positive about the man behind the sad piano ballads. It sounds like complaining for complaining’s sake, and you’d think that constantly being described as Mr Nice Guy or a hopeless romantic would do wonders for your confidence, but not for Tobias, who loathed the pressure of living up to his happy-guy-singing-sad-songs public persona. Still, I can see how every interviewer that’s met him has come to the same conclusion. I did myself in January, and after larking around with the HOLLYWOOD sign and hearing all about Serious Drama, I still do today. Tobias Jesso Jr. is a nice guy – the kind you want to be friends with – but clearly he’s right when he insists that it’s not the entire story. “I just feel like I was not meant for an artist career,” he says, plainly. “I know that there are people out there with very private lives as artists who are much more well known than me, like FKA Twigs, who’s known as her artist career, but the difference is that my artist career was me – it was me being me… and getting judged for it.” I offer him the consolation that he’s at least got his growing pains over within record time – few artists start the year without a debut album and end it a credible Pitchfork darling who’s figured out exactly what he does and doesn’t want to do. He might even be the first to also shoe-in an all-time
dream collaboration that could quite possibly set him up for life, creatively, if not financially. “You say that, but I have a mental breakdown at least once a week,” he only half jokes. “I’m having a good time sat here eating this delicious meal, but put me in a stressful situation I haven’t been in and see how much learning I’ve done then. “I’m not saying that I’ve suffered more than anyone else this year,” he adds, “and I wouldn’t change any of the bad, because I’ve been given some amazing opportunities. If I wasn’t an artist there’s just no way I would have got to work with Adele. “The past year has been the year in which I’ve suffered and learned the most, of any year in my life, and also been given the most. I’ve gotten the most, I’ve had the best luck and I’ve also had the worst times of my life. “Just don’t make me seem ungrateful,” he politely requests of me later, “because I’m really not.” I don’t think that he is, however complaints of the press being too nice might come across in print. Tobias tells me that his issue with interviews is that they lead to people writing about his character without really knowing him at all, and that includes me, of course. After spending an afternoon with him on his street, and at the risk of adding to the problem, I’d say that the nice-guy-playing-sad-songs thing
– the hopeless romantic, jolly giant with a soft heart bit – rings true, and happily so. He shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed about that. But it isn’t where Tobias Jesso Jr. starts and ends. He is, obsessively, a songwriter, who ultimately wants others to respect the core of popular music as much as he does. The bells and whistles he considered distracting noise, or at least he does when they’ve been hung on him – a guy who always wanted “proper singers” to sing his songs. He says that he doesn’t know how much real money he stands to make from his work on ‘25’, but he doesn’t think it’ll be enough to retire on like I suggest it might be. That kind of information is how Tobias gets overwhelmed with life, and he’s happy that his managers have kept it to themselves for now. As for the other collaborations he worked on since ‘When We Were Young’, he’s not sure if he can tell me who they are yet, but on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being someone of Adele’s caliber and 1 being an artist in the ballpark of Tobias Jesso Jr., he says he’s written for a couple of 4’s and one 9. “And you know that Adele is the only 10, right?” That puts a negative, it’s-alldownhill-from-here slant on the future, but then Tobias – the raffle winner who never got to fully enjoy his hat – does say to me: “I’ve been on such a gain recently that I think a crash is on its way.” Maybe’s he’s right – over his accelerated first year and album campaign maybe he has peaked, so what the hell is he going to do next? “TV shows,” he says in a flash and with the raise of his eyebrows. If there’s any truth in that, I’ve no doubt that that’s what he’ll do. Things don’t come easily to Tobias, but his has an uncanny knack of getting there in the end. “I know what a perfect part sounds like,” he says. “I haven’t written a perfect song, to me, and I’m always searching for that. Like, the chorus to [‘Goon’ track] ‘Without You’, that’s like a 95% chorus – I love it. It would love to strive for the 100 (verse) 100 (chorus). It wouldn’t be my voice on it, it would be someone like Adele, if we worked together again.” “At the beginning of the year, I was eager and I had a lot of ideas about what I could be. I used to say that I always thought of the music industry as one big hotel, and I just wanted one broom closet with a piano to be like, ‘at least it’s my own thing – I’m not trying to rip anyone off, I’m heavily influenced,’” he laughs, “and now I feel like the room is a little bit bigger and it’s still mine, I just need to invite bigger people in there to work with me, and that’s how I can afford it.”
Reviews / Albums
Hinds Leave Me Alone Ma ta dor By alex wi s gar d. In sto re s Jan 8
For a country that hosts some of the most popular and respected festivals in the world, Spain’s own music scene has remained surprisingly under the radar. Compared with other parts of the continent, most Spanish music doesn’t seem to have entered the public consciousness far beyond the occasional flamenco and a handful of electronic artists like John Talabot, Delorean and El Guincho. Granted, the country is home to the excellent Elefant Records, but outside of releasing early material by The School and Camera Obscura, that Madrid-based label is all but invisible outside of a certain audience. Hell, the only revelation I’ve ever had about modern Spanish music was via the ‘Rough Trade Shops Indiepop 1’ compilation. Coming right after Felt’s maudlin masterpiece ‘PenelopeTree’, Juniper
Moon’s ‘El Resto De Mi Vida’ practically leapt out of the stereo – a restless, effervescent classic, which actually compelled the album’s compiler to take Spanish classes at night school, “just to know what I was singing.” Enter Hinds. The rise in popularity for the Madrid quartet has been as swift as it has been unexpected, and their debut album comes barely a year since they first came to the UK to play their fourth ever gig. ‘Leave Me Alone’ peddles a distinctly DIY brand of ramshackle girl-gang garage pop, itself an unholy collision of The Raincoats, Kenickie and Mac DeMarco. The album is way more lo-fi than most buzzbands’ debuts dare to be; songs shift tempo out of nowhere and Carlotta Cosials and Ana García Perrote trade vocals like two teenagers giddily sharing a bottle of
cider in a park. And while the songs aren’t exactly fragmentary collages, their elusive hooks replace each other pretty quickly; this, by the way, is a good thing, and their enthusiasm is contagious. On opening track ‘Garden’, you can easily imagine the four Hinds members trading excited glances at each other, as if to say, “Holy shit, we’re a real band!” Cosials and Perrote’s frank lyrics – some of which, the pair admit, were written with the assistance of Google Translate – sound like a mix between unfiltered, heartfelt confessions (“I am flirting with this guy just to pretend I’m fine…”) and instantly regretted drunken texts. And great as they are, extra lose tracks like ‘Walking Home’ and ‘Chili Town’ sound like pop music that’s held together with string and Pritt Stick. Only a couple of songs sound like
ideas drawn to their logical conclusions. With its we’ve-gotyour-back chorus (“Don’t let him waste your smile!”), ‘Warts’ provides ‘Leave Me Alone’’s sweetest moment. Meanwhile, ‘Bamboo’ comes on like a clattering attempt at classic Shangri-La’s style pop, right down to its lyrics, which brutally take a boy down for being too aloof for his own good – “I know you’re not hungover today,” they yelp, “you’re classifying your cassettes!” ‘Leave MeAlone’ is an unassuming debut album – the kind of record you wouldn’t think could reach the kind of following the band already has. Then again, after such a sudden surge in popularity, it’s all the more impressive that Hinds haven’t compromised a thing about their music. If you don’t want to take Hinds as they are, they won’t miss you… but it’s your loss.
Savages Adore Life Ma ta dor By gemma samway s. I n sto res jan 22
It’s difficult to think of a band more in control of their collective identity than Savages. Every aspect of their art – and its mediation to the masses – is planned and executed with meticulous care. The fact this fastidiousness is clearly motivated by love and respect for their craft, themselves and their audience, means that this love and respect is reciprocated by their fans tenfold. Last January, they played a ninedate residency in New York, with audiences acting as unwitting but enthusiastic focus groups for new material. Each performance was filmed and analysed in detail, helping the quartet to gauge the crowd’s reactions and fine-tune songs
accordingly. By basing any adjustments on empirical evidence, the band have imbued this second album with a sense of vindication that ‘Silence Yourself’ lacked. This increased confidence manifests itself in a number of ways. With a mutual trust and understanding now firmly established between themselves and their listeners, there’s no need to include a mission statement on the record cover again. As the band themselves have explained, “It’s about the music and the message: together, one and the same.” Another significant development is that Jehnny Beth has become comfortable enough to let her guard
down, and shift her lyrical focus to the “softer” subject of love. Unsurprisingly, in Savages’ hands, there’s very little soft about it. On ‘Adore Life’, romantic desire is portrayed as a visceral, allconsuming experience, rather than a passive state. During ‘Sad Person’, Beth describes the emotion as “a disease” that infects lovers like “a rush of cocaine – the more you have, the more you crave,” and teases predatorily, “I’m not gonna hurt you, ‘cause I’m flirting with you”. Lust looms large throughout, bringing pain and vulnerability as well as power, and Beth’s exploration of this dichotomy lends the album real emotional heft.
‘Adore’ is the stand-out. Though rendered in the same stark, greyscale palette as the rest of the record, it swaps the compelling, punk aggression of ‘T.I.W.Y.G.’, ‘I Need Something New’ and ‘The Answer’ for a disquieting calmness conjured by Ayşe Hassan’s undulating bass line, Gemma Thompson’s trickling guitar work and Beth’s regretfuelled, almost Piaf-like vocal. After a five-second pause, the final two minutes gradually build to a swirling climax, guided by the refrain, “I adore life, do you adore life?” It’s a call to arms that succinctly encapsulates the record’s overriding message: embrace the moment, whether good or bad, because it’s all any of us have.
It’s not often that an album’s artwork is worthy of a mention, but the cover for this record is remarkable, harking back to something you might have seen in the mid-seventies enveloping a sci-fi concept album. Which is, in fact, what NZCA Lines’ second LP transpires to be – ‘Infinite Summer’, we’re given to understand, is a window into a future where humanity is doomed having decided to engage in a perpetual party. A pretty timely idea, then. Rather than sounding like a
concept album, though, it feels like a relatively straightforward collection of shiny, well-polished electro pop tracks, with the requisite high-toned vocals in tact. That Charlotte Hatherley (of Ash) features here is really the only unexpected twist, and once again this is very much Michael Lovett’s project and these are his perfectly crafted pop songs, which really are... well... perfectly crafted. The problem is that they’re a little too clinically assembled. ‘Two Hearts’, for
instance, could easily have served as the soundtrack to a mid-nineties video game, and you find yourself held back, emotionally constrained, anticipating an irresistible chorus or a smack-round-the-chops melody that never quite arrives. It’s akin to Hot Chip minus the hooks. ‘How Long Does It Take’ is much better – a chunky, semi-epic slice of electronic euphoria – but sadly it’s the tracks that frustratingly underachieve that characterise this album.
NZCA Lines Infinite Summer Me m ph is I ndu s tri e s By C h r is Wat key s. In sto res Jan 22
Aidan Knight Each Other
Sunn O))) Kannon
The Prettiots Fun’s Cool
f ul l ti m e h o bby
so n y
So uth e rn Lo rd
Ro u g h t r a de
By t om f en wi ck . I n stor es Jan 15
By Sa m wa l t on. In s t o re s ja n 2 2
B y d a ni el d yl a n wra y. I n st o r e s n ow
B y h a y l e y s c o t t . I n s to r e s fe b 5
If there was any justice in the world, Aidan Knight might be one of your favourite artists. But life is unfair, and Knight’s career has flown beneath the radar since his 2010 debut album. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t released a record in three years, but, poor time-keeping aside, this Canadian troubadour is in need of the wider acclaim that ‘Each Other’ once again suggests he deservers. Knight’s third album sets us adrift in a sea of opulent, folksypop. It might be short, running a shade over thirty minutes, but in just eight tracks he packs together the bittersweet melancholia of Sufjan Stevens (‘St. Christina’), the lush arrangements of Andrew Bird (‘What Light (Never Goes Dim)’) and the wistful vocals of Jeff Buckley (‘All Clear’). It pays off on Knight’s early promise, showing that while he might not be as prolific as his contemporaries, he’s more than their musical equal. “I know there’s power left in the way we sing to each other” he on standout track ‘Funeral Singers’: ‘Each Other’ proof positive that sentiment is true, just as 2012’s ‘Small Reveal’ was so apt a title.
Chairlift’s remarkable pop streamlining continues at thrilling pace: after breaking through as a kooky indie band soundtracking iPod ads in 2008, their first giant leap came with ‘Something’, their second album of irresistible Madonnaindebted hooks in 2012. Now, ‘Moth’ is another major progression: preserved from ‘Something’ is the duo’s preternatural ear for melody, simultaneously novel and familiar, and Caroline Polachek’s knack for the sort of gut-punching lyrics normally found on Joni Mitchell albums (particular the gorgeously sad centrepiece ‘Crying In Public’). Added to the recipe is an elegance of arrangement and weightless production that lifts the whole album effortlessly from the speakers (the latter probably aided by the band’s work on Beyoncé’s latest LP). What’s more, Chairlift’s tendency to let albums sag towards their end is entirely shaken off here: ‘Moth’’s final trio of songs are a delightful demonstration of the breadth of the pair’s skills. Seductive, nuanced, sophisticated and, perhaps most importantly, continued progress.
If there is a single group who could be seen, sonically, to be “perceiving the sounds (or cries) of the world” then Sunn O))) are certainly a mighty contender. In this context, however, it is the name of an aspect of Buddha – Kannon – and the ostensible subject of this album. ‘Kannon’ [the album] is constructed of three pieces, each one a heavy slab of the band’s trademark sustained drones, with the icy, steel-like guitar wrestling with the shuddering, groundsplitting bass. There are slow, prolonged chants and mantras delivered with gargled black metal snarl from regular collaborator Attila Cshir, which adds further to the already explicit metal tone to the album. The shuddering shifts throughout the record are fluid yet deeply forceful in their dynamic morphing and it’s a constantly complete and occupying listen. For a group who have perfected the art of extracting as much from a single musical note as is humanly possible, it’s startling to hear how much breadth for evolution and continued experimentation Sunn O))) have left themselves with to play with.
The Prettiots’ tongue-in-cheek depiction of primitive American twee is nothing if not divisive, and you’ll either adore or revile their debut album. The LA trio prevail when they have more in common with old-school groups than the zany, nursery-rhyme like gimmicks this album exhibits on first impressions: ‘Hope You’re Happy’ shares a propensity for the same melodic call-and-response harmonies employed by the likes of The Shangri La’s, and their unashamed darkness in the lyrics of songs like ‘Suicide Hotline’ is an admirable facet in a world where there’s still too much stigma surrounding issues of mental health. Ultimately, though, there’s something a little contrived here, and this type of witty, selfdepreciating indie pop has been done to death – it only works if its charm is effortless and unintended, like that of Beat Happening’s, for example. Moreover, it’s just a bit too one dimensional for repeated listens, so naturally it lacks endurance. The Prettiots might benefit from adding a bit more chaos to their formula next time.
In a statement supplied with this second record, Money-frontman Jamie Lee discusses his dissatisfaction with the band’s debut. “‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ had a gloss to it, which didn’t feel right,” he explains, adding, “This time, I wanted more truth, for it to sound more organic and natural.” By these criteria, ‘Suicide Songs’ is a success. Now a trio, Money have become impressionistic in their approach, loosely daubing sounds onto the
canvas, with broad brushstrokes. During ‘I Am The Lord’ it works particularly well. Building from a burbling beginning, redolent of Suede’s on ‘Still Life’, the band gradually add layers of acoustic guitar, dilruba and ‘Sea Change’-like strings. Set adrift amongst the waves of sound, Lee is all-but overwhelmed as he rues, “A world swims inside of me, and I’m going to drown.” Throughout, the onus is on vocal takes that are emotionally honest rather than technically perfect, and
this rawness helps strengthen the record’s desolate narrative. On ‘Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s NewYear’, Lee slurs over sparse piano and the muted warmth of brass, and you can vividly picture him propping up the bar alone. This method-style performance is certainly more in keeping with Money’s live shows, but on tracks like ‘Hopeless World’ – where a ragged vocal delivery is combined with a meandering melody – it can start to seem self-indulgent.
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Money Suicide Songs Be l l a Un i on By ge mma s amways. I n stores Jan 29
Junior Boys Big Black Coat
Promise & The Monster Feed The Fire
Villagers Where Have You Been All My Life
Alex Smoke Love Over Will
ci ty sl an g
be l l a uni o n
By j oe goggi ns. I n sto res fe b 5
B y h e n r y w i l k i ns o n. I n s to r e s j an 2 2
R&S B y r eef y o u n is . I n s t o r es j a n 2 2
d o m i no By gui a c o r ta ssa. I n s to r e s j a n 8
This first Junior Boys record in four years is also their first since parting ways with long-time label Domino; you get the impression right from the off that the split with the company who’d released all of their material to date has loosened them up a little bit. The Canadian duo had made dark, pristine electropop their calling card right up until 2011’s ‘It’s All True’, and that remains the case here, except they don’t sound like they’re wound quite as tight. ‘Big Black Coat’ is a sprawling affair that takes a succession of minimal beats and figures out different ways to play around with them; big eighties synths on ‘Baby Give Up on It’, for instance, followed by the off-kilter techno that runs through ‘Love Is a Fire’. When it works, it comes off spectacularly (the rippling ambience of ‘What You Won’t Do for Love’ and ‘Baby Don’t Hurt Me’ are both highlights) but the record feels bloated in places, too. A little more quality control could have made this a stirring comeback for Junior Boys; instead, they do enough to remind us of what we’ve been missing, but only just.
There’s something darkly seductive about Billie Lindahl’s debut release for Bella Union as Promise and the Monster, drawing you in to a Wicker Man-like web that’s simultaneously unnerving and exhilarating. Ostensibly an alt-folk album, ‘Feed The Fire’ is a slow-burner, only tentatively pushed along by vapourthin vocals and gentle acoustics that can occasionally drift over towards the intangible. You might label some of these tracks forgettable or, being more generous, acknowledge the unplaceable and dream-like quality they lend the record. Either way there are some stand-out moments worth waiting around for while the use of a Chinese violin and Mariachi style horns see Lindahl rightfully earn her multi-instrumentalist tag. ‘Julingvallen’ is like the soundtrack to a Scandinavian horror, though during a scene of rare comfort and companionship, while standouttrack ‘Machines’ is instantly catchy and melodic: a nocturnal croon, the kind of which might play on the jukebox in Twin Peaks’ R and R diner. A few more like these and the album would be a whole lot more intriguing.
After Conor O’Brien released ‘Darling Arithmetic’ earlier in 2015 – Villagers’ third album, and a record of acoustic, stripped-down folk – he found himself re-thinking the previous two records that made his name: a couple of LPs that were fully arranged and multi-layered, but no longer represented where he was at or how his touring live show sounded. It lead to the Irish musician reflecting on what the first five years of Villagers have been about and inspired him to return to the core of his songs for this anthology of rerecorded, simplified tracks. Thus, O’Brien stopped at London’s RAK Studios to cut the new, intimate versions of his songs, each one in no more than a couple of takes, not to lose the feeling and heart of each composition. The result is quite incredible, and ‘Where Have You Been All My Life?’ feels more thought out and honest than a lazy ‘Villagers Unplugged’ record. Here we can feel the intense and heartfelt atmosphere of Villagers’ music, free from electronic stopgaps and excessive baroque scores.
There seems to be a point for some producers where the beats just aren’t enough. From Calvin Harris and James Blake to a raft of EDM overindulgence, the transition to the microphone isn’t always a smooth one. Not that it’s deterred Glasgow’s Alex Menzies. After vocal dabbles on previous releases, this time his voice is the prevalent, shifting feature throughout ‘Love Over Will’. It emerges as a vocoded baritone on ‘Fair is Foul’, feels mournful and monastic on ‘All My Atoms’, and becomes dark and jumbled on ‘Manacles’. But even with that variety, it’s a forced emphasis that feels like an unnecessary distraction. It’s on vocal-less tracks like ‘Love Over Will’ and ‘Star At The Summit’ that Menzies’ curious fusion of impressively intricate electronica stands out, but when he finds the balance, as he does on the knotty layers of ‘LossGain’ and the stripped back minimalism of ‘Astar Mara’, a cut in the 13-strong tracklist could have given ‘Love Over Will’ the focus and clarity it lacks. Some things are better left unsung.
Recorded on an 18-acre ranch in rural Texas, the sun-scorched desert and a lingering sense of the Great Outdoors loom large on ‘Wabi-Sabi’, the second album from Emily Cross and husband Dan Duszynski who moved to the idyllic town of Dripping Springs from Chicago two years ago. But those aren’t the only themes that connect this record with nature; tracks ebb and flow with the dark, brooding intensity of a thunderstorm, while others pass with the softness and light of April showers.
The assurance and polish that runs through the whole record stems in part from Duszynski’s decadeplus experience as a studio rat, but Cross herself is key; drawing on Alison Mosshart’s howls and Sharon van Etten’s raw emotion, her voice shines like a beacon through the gloom, winding its way past drones and sharp guitar lines. There’s a cinematic quality at play here too – from the horn blasts of opener ‘The Curtains’ to the sludge-y guitars of ‘Wasp In A Jar’,
you can imagine most of these songs soundtracking moments of widescreen drama. Best of all is ‘Hi Rise’, a lumbering giant where acoustic strumming gives way to thundering drums and a piercing, incessant squall of guitar. It meanders back and forth, inviting you to get lost in its twists and turns for hours. And that’s what makes ‘Wabi-Sabi’ so special; let it wash over you, and the smoky atmospherics hook you deep in the mind and the soul.
Cross Record Wabi-Sabi Ba Da Bi n g By de rek robe rtso n. In store s ja n 29
Benji Hughes Songs in the Key of Animals
John Cale M:Fans
The High Llamas Here Come The Rattling Trees d rag City
Milk Lines Ceramic
B y al e x w is gard . I n s to re s j an 2 2
By d e rek ro b e rts o n . I n s t o r es j a n 2 2
B y j a m es f . th o m p s on . In s t o r es n o w
Despite his stature as one of our greatest modern composers, many of John Cale’s most celebrated albums remain out of print. Originally released in 1982, ‘Music for a New Society’ – as unpredictable and uncomfortable as ever – is about to get its first CD release in over two decades. Recorded alone in one frenzied week, it’s not unlike the shattered hymnals of Big Star’s ‘Third’, but with a composition degree from Juilliard. Even better, however, is ‘M:FANS’, a reworking of almost every track on the album – ‘Music for a New Society’ for a new context and a new century. So ‘Changes Made’ becomes the pounding, processed manifesto it always threatened to be, and the stuttering production on ‘Close Watch’ could almost pass for Timbaland. Meanwhile, Cale’s tremulous voice dominates two hauntological, droning – and equally stunning – takes on ‘If You Were Still Around’, recast as timely tributes to Lou Reed. ‘M:FANS’ doesn’t exactly make its parent album an easier listen, but it allows Cale to offer a fascinating new perspective on his darkest work.
A High Llamas album is becoming a rare event indeed. Despite this being the band’s twelfth official release, it’s only the fourth since 2003, a rate that’s more due to demand for Head Llama Sean O’Hagan’s arranging and producing skills than any lack of creative impetus. But it’s also true they’ve suffered from diminishing returns, and their latest record does little to suggest that their easylistening homage to everything from bossa nova to chamber-pop is capable of being anything more than a pleasant, background hum. ‘Here Come The Rattling Trees’ is lovingly produced, and O’Hagan remains a master at constructing sweet, simple harmonies and melodies. But too much here comes off sounding like Mike Flowers Pops doing Brian Wilson; the organs, the delicate string arrangements, the lush, vaguely psychedelic air that permeates almost every track don’t so much borrow from ‘Pet Sounds’era Beach Boys as transplant whole ideas verbatim. O’Hagan needs to figure out a way to channel his influences into something more original than this.
Husband and wife Jeffrey Clarke and Emily Frances have been fronting shows as Milk Lines for the past couple of years, impressing people like fellow Torontonians Fucked Up along the way with a hodgepodge of country, rockabilly and jangly psychedelic rock. Parallels have already been drawn with Tim Presley’s White Fence project but having heard ‘Ceramic’, such lofty comparisons are generous in the extreme. Maybe there’s not enough critical distance here with Clarke and Frances being married, or maybe the pair have already started buying into the plaudits doled out by the local press. Whatever: this first LP is a messy, ramshackle exercise in selfindulgence that often seems to pursue 1960s lo-fi crapulence as an end unto itself at the expense of halfdecent material. ‘Suicide Note’ and ‘Crib Death’ each harbour particularly twisted Johnny Cashstyle narratives and might get fans of old-fashioned rock and roll tapping their toes, but listening to the rest of the record, the songs simply aren’t good enough to justify the overabundance of retro fetishism.
Nevermen describe themselves as a leaderless trio. Trading vocal duties from track to track and verse to verse, “the frontman,” they say, “digests itself,” as they try to stick resolutely to their collectivist manifesto. It should, then, be interesting to see how the three distinct musical personalities of Doseone, TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton are synthesised to form a single whole. But while their selftitled debut is a decent collection of
psychedelic pop songs, Adebimpe’s influence is of such strength and singularity that the album generally comes off as an extended TV on the Radio outtake, a fact that is all the more disappointing for the album’s bloated gestation period – it’s been in the works in one form or another since around 2008. Fortunately, not everything falls into this category and it’s in tracks like lead single ‘Tough Towns’, a caustic trip hop melee, and the epic electronic meditation of ‘Hate On’,
where it really succeeds. Indeed, even ‘Non Babylon,’ an odd fusion of hip-hop and musical theatre, which jars after a while, is at least interesting for its courage to explore new territory. Too often, however, as in the opening triptych of ‘Dark Ear,’ ‘Treat ‘Em Right,’ and ‘Wrong Animal, Right Trap’, we hear nothing new – certainly not from Adebimpe’s camp – meaning that ‘Nevermen’ never really moves beyond mere vanity project.
Do m in o
I n th e r ed
By henr y wilkinson. In sto re s jan 26
It’s possible that the title of an album has never been as revealing as Benji Hughes’ ‘Songs in the Key of Animals’ – a collection he first released via his website in 2014, for free, you’d hope. Firstly, he likes animals. A lot. At times, it sounds like a stand up set comprised solely of tedious animal puns, so much so that it becomes nonsensical. That’s probably the point though. Secondly, its raison d’être seems to be to take established, well-loved song structures and bastardise them (again, hence the title), warping them with an unexpectedly gruff voice and a zany sense of humour. Oh, and more animals. ‘Fall Me in Love’ could be a legitimate pop tune if it weren’t for the off-the-wall yet simultaneously banal spoken confessions throughout, and so could ‘Freaky Feedback Blues’ if it didn’t sound so much like ‘Fall Me in Love’. What else can we take from the record? Probably this: “Girls like parties/Girls like the beach/Girls like shopping…and yoga” from ‘The Love Below’-esque ‘Girls Like Shoes’. Thanks Benji.
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Nevermen Nevermen L ex / I pec ac By dav id zamm itt. In sto re s jan 29
Tortoise The Catastrophist
Your Friend Gumption
Guadalupe Plata Guadalupe Plata
d o mi no
E v er la s t in g
By re e f yo uni s . I n s t o re s j a n 2 9
B y dav id Z a m m itt. I n s t o r es j a n 8
Upon opening Telegram’s page on Soundcloud, the first thing that welcomes the listener is their rendition of Brian Eno’s classic ‘Needles in the Camel’s Eye’ – fair enough for an outfit rising from the ashes of a Roxy Music cover band. Looking like sleek guys from the seventies, the London-based quartet with Welsh origins only share this vintage attire withTemples, although their sound is rawer and more aggressive; their songs, in their own words, “cracked, crepuscular canticles.” ‘Follow’, their first single, that saw the production of Dan Casey (who, among others, already worked with another heavy psychedelic, kraut-informed band: Toy) is possibly the most polished and controlled track among the 13 on this debut album, together with the well arranged and balanced ‘We’ve Got a Friend’. Elsewhere, though, fuzz and reverbs get the better of melodies and sounds, as in the promising ‘Under the NightTime’ and ‘Telegramme’, which unfortunately gets lost in its more than 6 minutes of Syd Barrett-esque indulgent structure.
If Taryn Miller’s ‘Jekyll/Hyde’ EP was a satisfying exercise in downbeat triumph, it’s surprising how quickly ‘Gumption’ marks an early departure from that endearing style. Where tracks like ‘Tame One’ fell somewhere between the sparse tenderness of Explosions in the Sky and the heart-on-sleeve vocals of She Keeps Bees, here Miller explores drones, loops and field recordings with varying degrees of success. Opener ‘Heathering’ is pleasant and plaintive – all drifting vocals wrapped around languid guitar twangs and layered harmonies – but it’s on ‘To Live With’ that the synth-heavier influence surfaces. Coming alive with a foreboding B-movie loop, it thrums into the vocal acrobatics of ‘Desired Things’, and the atmosphere continues on ‘Nothing Moved’ with humming melodies and dark, tribal drums. Title-track ‘Gumption’ briefly lifts some gloom but by the time ‘I Turned In’ has slowed the pace to a contemplative, mournful crawl, it’s a mix of moods that leaves this collection of songs feeling ambivalent and unresolved.
If I were to create a Venn diagram that contained my knowledge of psychedelic music in one set and my familiarity with modern Spanish rock in another, the crossover (it’s called the union in a Venn diagram) would, admittedly, be left a little wanting. And so when Spanish psych-rockers Guadalupe Plata’s latest LP arrived on my desk, I approached it with a concern that I might not be qualified to review the tracks contained therein. It turns out I needn’t have worried, for the creaking, visceral noise they create out of the small southern town of Úbeda is rooted in the universal. Incorporating haunting Spaghetti Western textures, the group share a lineage with Mississippi Blues and Tropicália, while dipping their creative quill in the same incendiary garage rock inkwell as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees have done of late. And yet by incorporating the Moorish and Romany sounds of their homeland, tracks like ‘Calle 24’ and ‘Mecha Corta’ become uniquely Andalusian. Go on – give it a try. You might just realise that you like Spanish psych too.
Daughter’s second album is one of those records whose lyrics elevate it from good to great, and singer Elena Tonra’s lyricism is clearly a forte; her words are soaked in emotion and hugely expressive. ‘Alone / With You’, for instance, is a brutal dissection of domesticity that conjures visions of terrifying dreams and lonely meal times. On ‘DoingThe Right Thing’ lines like “I’ll lose my mind / I’ll lose my children / I’ll lose my love” are genuinely captivating, and Tonra has an ability to eschew
melodrama and write about love in a very incisive way. It’s what made their 2013 debut ‘If You Leave?’ a slow-burning success. Opener, ‘New Ways’ is sweeping and shimmering; the whole song seems to emerge gleaming and wet from a sea of dry ice. Contrast that with closer ‘Made Of Stone’ - a gentle, ballad-like vignette. But between them, and underneath all of its exquisitely chiming layers, ‘Not To Disappear’ is a relatively straightforward indie
album. Think The xx, or Emiliana Torrini. Yet it’s also a thing of real beauty – an album best listened to through headphones whilst walking through a congested city rush hour, its sonic curves and sweeps somehow adding beauty to the everyday. The London trio are a band with a highly unique musical identity, and while that identity has only developed a little since their first release, ‘Not To Disappear’ drips real class from every icy hook.
th r i l l jo cky By s am walton . In sto re s ja n 22
Twenty years into a career that’s influenced not just individual acts but whole scenes, Tortoise could be forgiven for resting on their laurels for album number seven. And while large sections of ‘The Catastrophist’ deliver what Tortoise albums are supposed to – dense, polyrhythmic experiments into texture, timbre and dynamics played with an addictive, virtuoso level of restraint – there are also hints the band are as investigatively restless and playful as ever. David Essex remains one of the more unlikely targets for a Tortoise cover version, but his 1973 single ‘Rock On’, reimagined here, is a hulking beast, and with Georgia Hubley from Yo La Tengo lending vocals to sleepy ballad ‘Yonder Blue’, the band manage to add vocals to their existing sound palate with impressive seamlessness, and that sort of frictionless musical development is the album’s most pleasing characteristic. Tortoise might be appropriating the characteristics of their name: ‘The Catastrophist’ isn’t violently breaking new musical ground – but slow and steady wins the race.
G ramGram B y g ui a c o rt as s a. I n s t o re s fe b 5
Daughter Not to Disappear 4ad By ch r i s watkeys. I n sto re s ja n 15
Albums 0 4/ 1 0
Fat White Family Songs for our Mothers wi th ou t c on sen t By joe goggi n s. In sto re s jan 22
Ever since lurching drunk, stoned and angry out of their grimy Peckham studio flat and into the spotlight in 2013, Fat White Family have seemed hell-bent on courting controversy for controversy’s sake – in art and in life. First album ‘Champagne Holocaust’ was a raw, shambling collection of bluesy folk and psychedelia with lyrics that dissected the minutiae of killing kids, oral sex and paedophilia. It would be easy to dismiss Saudi and his bandmates as nothing more than a rabble of degenerate trolls, goading their audience into taking mortal offence and too strung-out to care about the consequences. Certainly with this new record, the band still seem possessed of a
predilection for the crass, tackling everything from drug addiction (‘Tinfoil Deathstar’; ‘Love is the Crack’) to Nazism (‘Goodbye Goebbels’) via – truly horrifically – serial killing (‘When Shipman Decides’). Outside music, the group haven’t exactly minced their words either. In September, they threatened to join ISIS if Mac Demarco doesn’t stop playing music. For Demarco’s part, he says he simply politely declined their offer to perform together – quite possibly due to a notorious penchant for covering themselves in excrement during shows. “I’m well aware that I’m not doing anything original,” Saudi said
recently. The implication being that Fat White Family are a good deal smarter, more self-aware and politically engaged than their songs and play-acting would have you believe. ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, for instance, sees the ghost of former soldier and austerity measures victim David Clapson looking into a window through the billowing heroin smoke; Clapson died of diabetes in 2014 when he couldn’t afford for his fridge to keep his insulin cool because of cuts to his benefits. In time, perhaps more of this intelligence will permeate Fat White Family’s music. As it is, the majority of ‘Songs for Our Mothers’ is no less shocking than its predecessor but a
good deal more tedious. Opening one-two salvo ‘Whitest Boy On The Beach’ and ‘Satisfied’ hint at what could have been; the former a lazy krautrock odyssey and the latter a collaboration with – bizarrely – Sean Lennon; a Throbbing Gristle-style rumination on a nascent fear of sex. Filthy electro-romp ‘Hits Hits Hits’ also works, grimly drawing parallels between Ike and Tina Turner’s abusive relationship and that of Saudi and lead guitarist Saul Adamczewski at the heart of the band. Elsewhere though, wretched, meandering offence-magnets like ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ fail to elevate the music beyond the gutter where the lyrics belong.
Sheer Agony come off as one of those bands that are very much a product of their environment, even if they say they’re aiming for ‘Sell Out’era Who and The Soft Boys. On the cheekily-titled ‘Masterpiece’, they’ve condensed the sounds that have been de rigueur in their native Montreal these past couple of years and melded them with their own brand of power pop; you can hear the psych swirl of No Joy and post-punk snarl of Ought wrapped up in a breathless succession of
freewheeling guitar tracks. Lead single ‘I Have a Dream’ only just stretches past ninety seconds, but acts as the record itself in microcosm, squealing riffs laid over a familiar lofi template. There’s room for experimentation, too, and the languid, melodic guitar on ‘So Many Zoes’ is a case in point, while the gentle acoustic chamber pop of ‘Literary Arts’ recalls early Shins. Key to the album’s versatility is Jackson McIntosh’s flexible vocal
approach; he flits between loping misery (‘Careers’) and playful deadpan (‘I Used to Be Darker’) in convincing fashion. Sheer Agony have by no means reinvented the wheel with ‘Masterpiece’ (and no, it isn’t one), but they have carved out their own little niche in a crowded local scene. Given the plethora of offbeat guitar bands that have spilled out of Montreal in recent years, still playing catch up to Mac Demarco, that’s no mean feat.
photography: D A N K END A LL
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Sheer Agony Masterpiece c oupl e s kat e By J oe Gogg i ns. I n sto res no w
Reviews / Live
Julia Holter Islington Assembly Hall London 12/ 11/ 20 15 wr it er : J ames F. Tho m p so n Ph otogr apher : max p hythian
Amidst all the hubbub surrounding ‘Have You In My Wilderness’, it can be easy to forget that Julia Holter’s superlative critical and commercial breakthrough LP is her fourth. Perhaps looking to redress any kind of specious overnight success narrative, plenty of the Californian’s set tonight draws from an overtly avant-garde back catalogue that you suspect is probably unfamiliar to large swathes of her audience (although the encore swings the balance back towards to her new record).
“Just imagine a bunch of brass instruments are chasing after you.” Holter introduces the booming ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ – a commanding presence behind her keyboard and flanked ironically not by maleficent trumpets and trombones but subtle practitioners of the viola (Dina Maccabee), standup electric bass (Devin Hoff) and drums (Corey Fogel). Maccabee helps out with backing vocals on the marvellously complex and nuanced baroque odyssey ‘Marienbad’ from 2011’s ‘Ekstasis’ (“How a statue
might feel if it knew it could be human,” she says of this one). Of course, the straightforward beauty of the ‘Wilderness’ tracks translates just as well – ‘Vasquez’ sounding especially sumptuous and is met with a polite smattering of whoops and cheers that’s surely the product of a slightly older, fully reverential crowd that befits the intelligence of Holter’s music. The new record’s title track is another standout, the lack of a backing orchestra compensated for with the centrifugal force of Holter’s
voice, soaring from stentorian lows to mellifluous highs towards the song’s haunting coda. In fact, Holter’s only real problem is that she’s competing with herself; labouring on stage against the lustrous strings and burnished production of an album that’s already a modern classic. Without intricate layering and treatment of her vocals, here her voice in particular sounds slightly more fulsome but perhaps less beguilingly mysterious, too – though tonight is ultimately a triumph.
Teeth of the Sea Islington Mill, Manchester
Nicolas Godin The Oval Space, Hackney
20 / 11/ 20 15
1 1 / 1 1 / 2 01 5
wr iter : pa tr ic k g le n
w r iter : S a m Wa lto n Photog r a p h er : T homa s H um er y
There’s something not quite right about Nicolas Godin, one half of lifestyle-furniture debonaires Air, immaculately turned-out Parisian and walking definition of suave, playing an old warehouse in Hackney (indeed, support act Meilyr Jones, once of Race Horses, now peddling J a r v i s - d o e s - Ta l k i n g - H e a d s whimsical pop as a solo indie fop, fits the occasion far better). Still, Godin doesn’t seem too inclined to help his cause: he reels out an hour of his latest, Johann Sebastian Bachinspired solo album with meandering polish but without so much of a glance at the crowd, then disappears. When he shuffles back on, to cover Chic deep cut ‘At Last I’m Free’, there’s a glimmer of the urbane seduction he once mined with such confidence as he croons into the vocoder. But it’s not enough – what’s French for “insouciance”, anyway?
Teeth of the Sea are grizzled musos who have paid ample dues over the last 7 years and four albums of building noise. They are danceable and sometimes riotously noisy, so don’t be put off by their studiously arranged references. Tonight, new album ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’, which is kind of fearsome and sometimes plain oppressive, is reworked into something celebratory. Both album and this gig begin like a lone bullfighter entering a seedy club: a trumpet overture making way for filthy ambience. The record gets darker but live the sounds are broader and give precedence to rhythm rather than texture, while retaining static atmosphere with heavily distorted vocals that are meant to disturb. To those ends, ‘Animal Manservant’ is particularly great for a sublime industrial night in Manchester.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi Electrowerkz, Angel
Majical Cloudz St. John’s, Bethnal Green
Floating Points Islington Assembly Hall
Chairlift Oslo, Hackney
18/ 11/ 20 15
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02 / 1 2 / 2 01 5
wr iter : S am Walton
writ e r: G emm a S am way s
wr it e r: J am e s F. Thom pso n
w r iter : S a m wa lto n
Finnish composer/bedroom producer Jaakko Eino Kalevi begins tonight’s show without fanfare; he simply ambles on, pushes a button and the bulk of ‘Say’ purrs away, setting the pattern for his entire performance: Kalevi sings and tinkles synth lines over the top of the backing track, while a drummer and baritone sax player add the meat of the rhythm section. And it sounds great – yearning, post-Balearic dubby disco that’s as transporting as it is uplifting – but, all the same, it’s difficult to escape the uncanny feeling of the set being on rails: the trio of real musicians on stage are in hock to the ready-meal ones on the hard drive. The night’s biggest cheer comes after a hugely expressive sax solo cuts through Kalevi’s pulsating groove on ‘Flexible Heart’ – it’s a vocal vote for the real over the synthetic.
“Sometimes we joke around when we’re playing shows, but everything about this evening feels super serious,” Devon Welsh deadpans at the end of ‘Silver Car Crash’. “Yeah, it’s not working, I don’t know...” he trails off. A ripple of laughter permeates the packed-out pews, as we silently will him to succeed. ThoughWelsh cuts an uncomfortable figure, eyeballing the audience and rocking from foot to foot in the chancel, this awkwardness only accentuates the intensity of his and Matthew Otto’s minimal synth-pop. It’s almost cleansing to hear Welsh’s (often forceful) baritone ricochet around a place of worship, perhaps because his songs provide solace, however lachrymose the lyrics. “If suddenly I die, I hope they will say that he was obsessed, and it was ok,” he sings during set-closer ‘Downtown’. Its sentiment feels apt.
Whisper it, but judging by tonight, Sam Shepherd isn’t merely a purveyor of electronic music but an outright prog rock revivalist. Replete with an 11-piece orchestra, full backing band and a funky laser display (oh, and the Islington Assembly Hall’s comically ginormous glitter ball), PhDwielding Shepherd takes the whipsmart dance music of long-time pal Caribou and smashes it together with the 1960s Canterbury scene fare of the Soft Machine and Caravan. Where at times new record ‘Elaenia’ occasionally comes off too flimsy or ephemeral, live the 29 year-old Londoner takes no prisoners – centrepiece ‘Silhouettes’ is performed backed by a full choir, treated to a barnstorming saxophone solo mid-way through (courtesy of Shabaka Hutchings) and capped with a thunderous drum solo.
A mixed one, this. Three years since they last graced a UK stage, Chairlift tonight preview their terrific new album ‘Moth’ with varying success: album highlight ‘Crying In Public’ allows singer Caroline Polachek to demonstrate the returns on her recent operatic training with a yearning melancholic glamour, and the LP’s title track retains its recorded counterpart’s thrilling pep. Elsewhere though, there are clumsy false starts, awkward silences between songs as Patrick Wimberly frowns over unresponsive synths, and the set’s brevity – nine songs, no encore – hints at a sense of experimentation that isn’t entirely planned. “It’s only the fourth time we’ve ever played these songs,” pleads Polachek at one point. On that basis, even tonight’s missteps are admirable, and the highs particularly impressive.
Le Guess Who? Various venues, Utrecht 0 8/ 0 8/ 20 15 wr i ter s : dan i el d yla n wra y Ph oto gr aph er : ta sh b right
Le Guess Who? is an inner city festival in the Netherlands, a bit like Camden Crawl but just nowhere near as awful. Instead, it takes place in the canal-lined streets of a beautiful, vibrant city thirty minutes away from Amsterdam and not, well, Camden. The line-up is a supremely programmed mix of alternative and experimental music, fusing a sense of fun, noise and accessibility alongside the more ‘head’ territories that draws expanding ale guts and thinning beards from across Europe. The last time I saw Faust, at Pavement’s 2010 ATP, the German titans were all chainsaw-wielding screeching noise, sparks flying and industrial furnace blast clatter. Opening the festival they are the polar opposite – they have roped in three young women to sit knitting in a semi-circle at the front of the stage for the duration of the performance and despite some heavy, chugging, bass-driven clout leading from the off, the band are melody- and rhythmdriven for the most part of the night. From experimental yelps to solo acoustic performances, it has highs and lows, some aspects of which are glorious, others a little lacking but overall it’s a staggering testament to the on-going desire to push forward and crack new ground by a band who have been at it for 45 years. Day two: The Quietus’ John Doran gives a powerful, funny and intentionally hypnotic reading from his excellent memoir released this year, Jolly Lad, before Mirel Wagner turns the room to silence with a chilling acoustic performance. Blanck Mass closes the evening with a crushing performance, one that takes the often restrained electronics of his solo material and beefs it up to Fuck Buttons-levels of intensity, albeit given a markedly twisted presentation – it’s somehow denser and more broody, less euphoria and more dread perhaps, although still manages to remain fun and immersive amidst the fog. Sunn O))) play a gargantuan set that overruns by some stretch. Smoke billows continuously to create a smog so thick it’s difficult to make out the stage but the sound that cuts through it is monstrous: bass rattles the walls, trombone howls above it, even some cello wails, and guitars crunch the innards
of all who stand in the room. It’s three pieces over about two hours, ‘Aghartha’, ‘Huntin & Gathering (Cydonia)’ and ‘Candlegoat’ with no material from the most recent album being executed. Leaving the performance one feels slightly pulverised, drained and deflated but in a perversely gratifying way, although any feeling of prolonged introspection and any drones left whirring around in your guts are soon kicked into touch but the uplifting rave-like party that is Islam Chipsy/ EEK. The Egyptian keyboardist with dual drummers is an absolute riot; a gushing charge of light relief after the mammoth intensity of Sun O))). Recent L&Q cover stars Ho99o9 continue to prove why they are one of the most exciting live bands around at the moment, playing breakneck speed hardcore merged with glitchy, industrial rap, all of which sounds ferocious and it’s the liveliest audience all festival. Following them is Nah who has been touring with the LA duo recently and is a one-man outfit sat behind a solitary drum kit making a fusion of guitar and rap that’s not dissimilar to Ho99o9’s. He sits behind his kit, playing along to a backing track and samples that he often gets up and plays with, or leaves and takes the mic solo,
screaming into the audience. However, it’s when he finds himself sat behind his kit, playing in screeching harmony with the sampler, that it really works as he pummels the drums frighteningly, sweat constantly rolling from his face down and fired back up from the snare the second it drops onto it. On the final day of the festival I’m lucky enough to make it into the intimate theatre show by The Necks who play one of the most beautifully crafted, poised and thrilling sets of the weekend. The hour-long composition starts with pin-drop silence and builds so slowly and carefully; it is handled with all the deftness and slow release beauty of watching someone paint in real time. The last day of a festival hangover clouds a heavy murkiness in my head and the blissful transcendence of the performance leaves one feeling almost lucid, drifting in and out of space and sonic awareness, coming around at the finish is both euphoric and surreal. Annette Peacock makes a rare performance, clouded in darkness, alone at a piano, moving from solo jazz pieces to those with electronic, dub-like backing tracks. There’s an air of Grace Jones about her, in that she’s pristine in her presentation and direct to the point of almost
appearing brusque when addressing the audience, but she always remains on the right side of classy. She leaves the stage to a pre-recorded voice singing where you presumed it must have been her all along – it’s an exit that is as baffling as it is brilliant. Deerhunter close the festival but seem in a somewhat pissy mood. Having seen them in Leeds two weeks prior they were the very essence of jovialness, playing a varied, experimental and hugely fun set. On the last night of their tour in Utrecht they seem a bit raggedy and ready to go home. The delightfully elongated ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ is a joy as always but chunks of it feels a little running through the motions and it’s a slightly flaccid end to an otherwise brilliant and sprightly festival. Le Guess Who? will celebrate ten years in 2016 and it really is a gem of a festival, the type that has now morphed into the sort where buying a ticket before the line-up is even announced is a solid bet (although Wilco are already announced for next year). If festivals like Unsound or Incubate run a little too deeply into the esoteric and experimental, but festivals like Primavera don’t quite, then Le Guess Who? sits as a happy medium between those two spots.
W r i te r : A n d re w A n d er s on
Phallus In Wonderland (1992)
GWAR first came to my attention a few years ago when a friend played me a clip on YouTube. In it, Oderus Urungus, the lead singer of GWAR, is being interviewed about his bands’ appearance at the Grammy awards in 1993. While he is dressed as a cartoon space alien and talks about destroying all humans, Urungus (aka Dave Brockie) is also incredibly articulate – especially on the subject of why Dave Grohl sucks so much cock. I was intrigued, and I agreed: Dave Grohl does suck. I had to find out more. Well, it turns out there is a lot to know. GWAR have been going since the mid eighties touring all over the world, releasing tons of albums and whole stacks of straight-to-video films along the way. They dress as space aliens and say they are also pledged to create misery for all humans (much in the same way as Simon Cowell). It’s a mission that has served them well or, as Urungus put it during an interview with Joan Rivers, “They throw themselves into our jaws of death… the human race is in love with self destruction – we are simply satisfying a consumer need.” That’s right – GWAR appeared on Joan Rivers’ chat show, and this isn’t the only example of them making incongruous cameos. While their video getting placed in Beavis And
Butthead made sense, Urungus’ stint as a co-host on Fox New’s late-night show Red Eye did not (although perhaps it did, since Fox News also represents pure evil). Over the years they’ve made a habit of getting invited into places they simply shouldn’t be, by people who don’t get the joke. The result is comedy gold. Which brings me back to the Grammys. GWAR were nominated for their film, Phallus in Wonderland, an hour-long bloodbath across outer space and the streets of Richmond, Virginia. How they came to be nominated is a mystery and, needless to say, they didn’t win. It is another example of them making it to the mainstream, which they then proceed to mock. But is the film any good? Before I answer that let’s take a walk through the plot. Well, I say plot, but having watched it a couple of times I’m still not entirely sure what happens. It starts with a news report that Urungus’ cuttlefish (in GWAR language this means his penis) has been stolen. The penis is standing trial for obscenity, with all-American super hero Corporal Punishment the lead witness for the evil Morality Squad. The outcome is that GWAR return to earth to destroy the Morality Squad, recapture Urungus’ penis and generally have a swell time (incidentally this is similar to the plot in Justin Bieber’s Believe).
But while the film is thin on plot the production quality is actually pretty good. GWAR are exceptional model makers, and the costumes and masks look suitably gruesome. The garish lighting and visual effects are also pretty slick for a zero-budget film, certainly no worse than the cult b-movies Phallus in Wonderland is inspired by. If you like your horror in The Toxic Avenger/Evil Dead mould then you’ll definitely enjoy the amount of bodily fluids that squirt, ooze and explode out of various places during the film. But is it any good? Well, to get all pedantic on you, it really depends what you mean by ‘good’. GWAR’s aesthetic brings together slasher films, comic books, super heroes, sci-fi, metal and WWE wrestling. Working out of a space called The Slave Pit in their hometown of Richmond, the group and their allies are actually more of a creative collective than a normal band. Their live shows – which feature fake murders, mutilations and other mayhem – are legendary, something akin to Butthole Surfers doing Muppets puppetry with added Alice Cooper.The point isn’t to make great music – it’s to put on a great show. And so it is with Phallus in Wonderland. It’s stupid, over the top nonsense but at the same time it is also funny. As a film, it doesn’t really
work, but as a spectacle it’s, well, spectacular. Who doesn’t want to see the conservative forces of mainstream America murdered by a bunch of metal-heads dressed as aliens, with added spurting goo? I also think that GWAR stand for something worthwhile. In a world obsessed with violence, death and exploitation, GWAR are simply reflecting the times around them. Only when they murder someone it is a joke – it isn’t real. People go to GWAR gigs because they want to laugh, to enjoy something ridiculous, to escape from the shitty, terrifying world we live in; things have a way of seeming less scary when you can laugh at them. The band themselves probably put it best when, towards the end of her show, Joan Rivers’ asked them if they were worried people would copy their violent antics. “Let them join the army or something, there’s plenty of outlets for them,” answers Urungus. Unless you’re into 80s b-movies you probably don’t need to see Phallus in Wonderland. Instead, get on online and check out videos of the band being interviewed – you’ll laugh, lots. Or read up on how they basically made an entire genre out of nothing and followed their creative dream in spite of all obstacles – you’ll be inspired.
Party wolf The biggest loser: Oh shit! Awards season is a coming, and it looks like this...
hosted by: Either an American celebrity who us Brits think is too small-time for the job (Neil Patrick Harris, say), or one we thought was dead (Billy Crystal).
hosted by: Straight-up Stephen Fry. Every year. If he dies, we’ll just have to shut it down.
hosted by: LL Cool J. Seriously. LL Cool J keeps hosting The Grammys, who, incidentally, falls into BOTH of The Oscars’ prerequisites.
hosted by: Someone “everyone loves”, but always inexplicably, and of course YOU don’t love them. It’s going to be Mrs Brown’s Boys, isn’t it?
THE GUESTS: Here we go! Green Day (regardless), Jay-Z, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ringo Star, Dave Grohl (it’s what Kurt would’ve wanted) and all those millionaire country singers.
THE GUESTS: The cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys, Davina McCall, Ed Sheeran, Little Mix, someone misplaced like Lewis Hamilton, and of course Olly Murs.
THE GUESTS: Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Jack Nicholson Angelina’s leg. The top, top brass, basically.
THE GUESTS: Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, possibly Bradley Cooper (on a coup). Not bad at all, but James Nesbitt will be there too, and when did he last work?
The VIBE: You’ve never seen so many people get so dressed up to be so disinterested for a whole evening. I know we’ve all be drinking since midday, but Lewis Hamilton just said “What’s up, London!?” and you didn’t even notice.
The VIBE: Play a drinking game around the amount of times the British press tag The BAFTAs as a “warm up to the Oscars” and you’ll be dead by the time James McAvoy gives out the Harry Potter Award of Excellence.
The VIBE: The Grammys are contractually obliged to go on for no less than 6 hours, giving it a cute all-attendeesget-a-prize feel. Bowling For Soup like this.
Dramatic high: Did you hear about this selfie that Ellen Degeneres took one year? I did. It was a selfie, like we do, but with famous people. That’s twist one. Twist two: they were smiling. Soooo good!
DRAMATIC HIGH: The BAFTA doesn’t really do drama, which is why it’s essentially the best one. We’re British – let’s get through this and home in time for more Stephen on DAVE.
DRAMATIC HIGH: The Grammys are so notoriously dull they’ve apparently employed a multimillionaire rapper to snatched an award from a 17-year-old and try to give it to his friend this year.
DRAMATIC HIGH: Javis Cocker “mooning” (but not mooning) Michael Jackson. You won’t remember it – they really should try to make a thing of that.
HOW TO WATCH THEM: I like to wear a tux and have some friends over. It’s like you’re there, if you forget that Dan is on a beanbag.
HOW TO WATCH THEM: Well, it is a Sunday night, isn’t it. And there is a grey drama on ITV at the same time... Let’s see how we go.
HOW TO WATCH THEM: It’s easier to enter a career in music and attend in person than find a channel that’s showingThe Grammys.
HOW TO WATCH THEM: Whilst retweeting the jokes you wish you’d made about Grimmy’s hair. The Brits’ stockholm Syndome is powerful.
The VIBE: Stay classy. And please, no correcting John Travolta when he makes up a new name for you – the people at the home are very clear on that.
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The unfortunate world of Ian Beale
My Jamie’s the sheep dog. Which one’s your little’un?
Published on Dec 11, 2015