Sunday, 1 May 2011

“Between the Lines” – The Lines Interview

The flame first ignited by industrial, working-class artists such as The Jam and The Undertones all those years ago still burns strongly in the heart of Wolverhampton, hometown of The Lines, whose infectious brand of indie pop leaves a lingering flavour of those dearly beloved, iconic bands of the 70s mixed with their determined attitude, hinting that there is much bigger things to come for these four likely lads.

First of all, congratulations on a cracking debut album, a testament to the hard work and care you’ve obviously put into making it; was it a difficult album to create?

Difficult isn't the right word, it's been a fun album to create.  We’ve taken our time over the songs when writing them, and they've evolved over time to what they are now.  We’re all really open to new ideas, so even now we still try to improve on the songs if we get any new ideas for them.  The album is was the culmination of that, and we're really happy with how it turned out, and it's really nice that people like yourself appreciate it as much as we do.

How did you first manage to break in to the competitive music scene? Did you get any significant help distinguishing the band?

The thing we pride ourselves on most is our live performance and as a result we've gained a lot of respect from people within the industry for that and gained a loyal following along the way, this honest approach to it has stood us well. In all honesty we're just four lads playing really good music and can cut it live, and that’s how we've got to where we are.  The one piece of advice we'd offer to anyone is to make sure you can cut it live as if you can't, you get found out rather quickly.

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves? Where are you all from and how did you meet?

In all honesty, there's not much to tell about ourselves.  Al and Dean grew up around the corner from each other, but we've all known each other for a while through gigging in different bands together. We’re just four lads who enjoy hanging out together, listening, making music and having a laugh.

Your music sounds like a proper mish-mash of several artists like The Courteeners, The Bravery, I think I can even hear the ghost of the Stone Roses buried in there somewhere, is there any particular bands that you’d credit as having a major influence on your sound?

We don't have one, two, or even ten particular influences.  The fact that no one can pin us down to one particular band we sound like is testament to this.  We’re all really into a wide variety of music, whether it be the stone roses, the Beatles, doves, or even more leftfield stuff for an 'indie' band like house music, hip-hop, punk, northern soul, whatever.  We just like music that grabs our attention, and that shows because we've taken a wide variety of sounds and created our own sound and by that we don't mean we've just taken brit-pop and given it our own new name...

What is the thought process you go through when you're writing songs?

The song-writing thing comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes Al will come with a demo of a song he’s written and we'll take it from there. Sometimes Danny will have a demo that he brings into the studio and we'll run with that. Another way we come up with songs is that we just start jamming stuff out and see where it goes.  If we like something then we run with it, and if it's not working we leave it.  If you force it, it doesn't work.  But just because it's not working then doesn't mean it won't in the future.  We’ve come back to idea's we had months ago and found it's suddenly started to work, it's just one of those things.  We all chip in with ideas for each other as well; it's really good for the band that we all are confident enough to come up with ideas for the parts that we're not even playing.  And all the while that we're jamming Al will be trying different lyrics out, and over time the song starts to take more and more shape.  It’s really fun when it all eventually comes together. It a really productive time at the moment, we've got ideas pouring out our minds and we're looking forward to getting them down and playing them live.

What do you do to help get the creative juices flowing?

Because we're all always listening to different music we don't really need to do anything to get the creative juices flowing as such.  As soon as we start jamming something we get different ideas from different songs.  We do often sit down and listen to a few different songs to see where the song might go, but yeah, just listening to loads of different music is all we need to do.

You’ve had a fair bit of exposure recently, supporting big name acts such as The Editors and Ocean Colour Scene, have these experiences brought about any influential changes in your personal lives?

The only change we've had since we've supported people like Ocean Colour Scene, Ian Brown and everyone else is that it's proven to us that we can hold our own when playing these bigger gigs supporting people like that.  To get people coming up to you after the gig saying they've never seen a support band that have impressed them so much means a lot.  As the support band it's really easy to get ignored by the crowd who've paid to go and watch bands like that, so we always make sure we play as well as we can to grab the attention of anyone who's never seen us before.

You’ve even had rock royalty singing your praises in the form of Robert Plant who said "There aren't really many good bands coming out of Wolverhampton, just one great band called the Lines". Do you agree with this statement?

The music scene in Wolverhampton, and the West Midlands in general is really strong in all honesty with quite a few decent bands, but when a legend like Robert Plant says that you're "great" you can't really disagree can you? haha

You were at SXSW this year, did you enjoy yourselves and did you manage to catch any of the Scottish talent that was showcased there?

SXSW was amazing, we did 9 or 10 gigs over the course of 5 days, so we kept ourselves really busy, but the only problem with that is that the only band that we got to see who we weren't gigging with was the Wu-Tang Clan! If we'd of had the chance we'd of definitely gone to watch Steve Mason as the Beta Band were mint!

Have you played any gigs that you thought were really special?

I think we all have gigs that will be special to us for different reasons, but the two main ones that stick out were supporting Ian Brown in Amsterdam at the start of last year as obviously he's a massive icon and also as it was at a venue called The Paradiso which is a truly magical place and we cannot recommend highly enough to anyone that they should try to go to a gig there at some point in there life.  But the main one that stands out at the moment would be the last time we played our hometown of Wolverhampton as we played at the Wulfrun Halls, which holds just over 1,100 people, and we sold it out.  To have people you know turned away from a gig is always a bit shit, but when it's such a big gig in such a big venue it is secretly really good for you ego!

You’re playing one of Scotland’s finest music venues King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow on May 4th, are you looking forward to taking on the Scottish crowd? We promise to make it an unforgettable night!

The last time we played in Scotland was actually in Glasgow supporting Ocean Colour Scene at the Barrowlands, which is obviously a big deal as it's a legendary venue.  We’d been told to expect a boisterous crowd, but we buzz off the energy of the crowd, so we always love it whenever we venture north of the border as the crowds up here are always up for it.  To start the tour in a venue like King Tut’s, which has such history, and with a Glaswegian crowd, we couldn't ask for more.  We literally cannot wait.

What advice would you give to any up and coming musicians?

The main advice we'd give to bands goes back to what we've said before, listen to as much music as you can so you can take inspiration from as many people as possible.  And you should genuinely enjoy the music you're playing, don't try to write songs because you think it's what you think other people want to hear. Oh, and don't think it's going to happen in a day. 

You can buy tickets to The Lines headlining show here: 

On another related note, fans of the The Lines would do well to check out Rosyth based band The Draymin, another tapestry of power pop sound, who would unquestionably be first in the long list of ‘related artists’.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

“VINYL! SUN! FR!” – Record Store Day, Avalanche Records Edinburgh, 16/04/11

Frightened Rabbit Interview

Buying and creating records on vinyl, as well as spending time within the sanctions of your independent record store is a rapidly dying art, but amidst the impetuous flow of mp3s and FLACs and wavs and ACCs, there remains a flickering flame determined to keep the stuttering institution alive, bringing forth a combination of live performance and the irresistible fortuity of buying your very own, legit record (which I preceded to do for the very first time from Avalanche, birdengine six track 12” vinyl EP, tasty).  This shining beacon of belief and grandeur is, of course, Record Store Day.

I chose to celebrate my Record Store Day within the vivacious confines of Avalanche Record Store in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket on a stickily hot day, to bask in the presence of indie-rock royalty, FRIGHTENED RABBIT. After a cramped and sweaty, but utterly brilliant performance, I was lucky enough to speak to Scott and the boys about their own personal feelings about RSD, charity appeals and how rubbered they’re going to be by the end of the night.

Welcome to Edinburgh on this beautiful spring afternoon to celebrate International Record Store Day. What does this day represent to you?

Billy: It represents just another day working for us, with a few gigs, although todays means that we are releasing a limited edition split-cassette with The Twilight Sad; one side’s our old demos and the other side’s their old demos, it means a lot to us. It’s nice to be in Edinburgh too I guess, you can see the castle from here, it’s a beautiful city. It’s quite hard today for us, we did Edinburgh this morning and Glasgow in the afternoon so it’s kinda a bit pitch and run, it’s alright though.
Scott: For me, it’s places like Avalanche that I was most proud to see my records on the shelves of, because it meant something to me from before I was properly in a band, to now, just being a record buyer and a music lover which I still am. But places like this, which I have always thought were the coolest places on earth,  it was amazing when I finally got my record in there and I think they still play an essential role, I’ve been to cities where nobody would ever have heard of us if it wasn’t for this one really enthusiastic guy who works in a wee record store telling all his customers about Frightened Rabbit.

Have you ever celebrated it before? What did you do?

Billy: I think we did once when we were in Brighton, we were all sat down at the FatCat office and if I’m right, we played in the tiniest little bar, half the size of the stage we just played on, with really low ceilings and it had all these shoes hanging from the roof. We actually played with The Twilight Sad, that must’ve been about four years ago we celebrated RSD last…

Are you off anywhere to party after this, soak up a bit of the spirit of RSD?

Billy: Yeah, we’re playing Mono this afternoon in Glasgow, and after that, it’s my girlfriend’s little brother’s birthday today so he’s having a party tonight, I’ve got a bottle of absinthe in my bag for everyone… we’re gonna get pretty smashed tonight.

Are you releasing anything on vinyl for RSD?

Billy: Just the cassette tape we’re releasing, 400 copies in the UK, 700 in the US. No vinyl records, just the cassettes.

What would you like to say to all those greedy, treacherous Record Stores who haven’t been respecting the rules and have spent all last week pawning off RSD merchandise for a massive profit on ebay?

Grant: Ehhhhh…. Stop it! It’s kinda ridiculous, the whole point of it is to promote independent record stores that are struggling, but because of these chain stores and, obviously downloads and stuff as well… but yeah, that’s not good at al it’s going against the whole ethos of the day, it’s supposed to be a celebration of independent record stores so yeah, fuck off! Fuck those guys!

You have donated a track to the Japanese Red Cross Tsunami Appeal album “Songs for the Land of the Rising Sun”, how did your involvement with this cause transpire?

Grant: It’s been organized by this guy Paul, who runs a night called ‘Pelmet Nites’, he used to do it in Dundee and he booked us years ago, he’s been a fan of ours for a lot longer than most people. He just put it together and he just asked us if we would send him a track, so we did. It’s always good to do as much as you can for charity and for us to donate a song is nothing compared to what a lot of other people have done. If it makes any difference to what’s happened, then all the better.

Did you choose that song specifically or was it just at random?

Scott: It wasn’t at random it was really only because it wasn’t on any other records, and I’d recorded it at home, so I felt like it would be nice to have something on there that not everyone had heard before. So that was really the reason, it was the only thing I had lying about the house!

Who is your favourite other artist on the album?

Scott: Endor. I love Endor, I’ve loved them for years. One of the most underrated Glasgow bands. I haven’t got my copy of the record yet actually, I need to go get one. I think they did a launch night… but yeah, I’m definitely going to buy at least ten!

 Why is the Rabbit Frightened?

Scott: I’ll tell you why, it’s because he was afraid of children. I didn’t like other children when I was wee and I didn’t like talking to them. So that’s where the name came from, and that’s why I was frightened.

Any word on a fourth Frightened Rabbit album?

Scott: Yeah we’ve done quite a few songs, we’re still writing it but we’ve got a good chunk of it written and I’m happy with what we’ve come up with so far. So it’s on the way!

Keep up with all things Frabbit on their website:

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wide Days BORN TO BE WIDE, Thursday April 7, 2011

In the wake of an informative, yet exhausting day at the seminar-laden Wide Days festival in Edinburgh, I donned my notebook and pen and set off into the throng, the smell of anticipation filling the air to the start of what promises to be a thoroughly canorous evening in the heart of Scotland’s capital city.

The first port of call is the amorously secluded Sneaky Pete’s. Snuggled in between the glowering, dark appendages of the Cowgate, the venue, despite it’s tiny 100 (barely) capacity, manages to mop up a swab of endless Scottish talent on a regular basis, and has bags of character. Tonight, it plays host to festival openers LETTERS, and the behemoth-driven scuzz trio, PAWS.

Photo: Dom Holt
After a bit of a futz around LETTERS shuffle on to the stage (if you can call it that), eyes filled with the sight of a packed crowd, off-duty and ready to let loose. The quintet certainly didn’t digress from the task, providing punchy pop tunes and feisty summer jangles, soaked with clamorings that were resonant with inclinations of veteran Scottish indie maestros We Were Promised Jetpacks.

Photo: Tiffany Barber
Next on the bill were Scotland’s answer to Dinosaur Jr. PAWS, who have been making (very loud) noises in the underground grunge movement of late, with impressive slots supporting heroes of the genus Yuck, Ty Segall and Wavves. From the moment Phillip Taylor’s fingers touched the strings of his cherry red “pussy-strat”, full on carnage was released, resulting in a barrage of sonic buzz that literally shook the walls and had my heart pumping. They hit the crowd for sixes by producing a scrummy torrent of fuzzy distortion out of their living, breathing instruments. Powering through an electric body of some melodic tasters such as “Salem” off their ‘Mermaid’ EP, augmented by some visceral, face-numbing angst-y riffs, their feedback nourished set was a resounding success, leaving everyone exiting the club looking as though they’d just had the best sex of their lives.

The dying April sun finally making its bed behind the captivating architecture of Edinburgh city as I made my way along to our second venue in the twilight, eager to arrive at the penultimate Wide Days haunt, Cabaret Voltaire.

Photo: Dom Holt
First to grace the stage in this 450 capacity stronghold was Highland-based songstress RACHEL SERMANNI. The 19 year old has already racked up a scorching resume; travelling the States at SXSW, supporting slots with KT Tunstall and Newton Faulkner, and peaking the interest of contemporaries Mumford and Sons to name a few of her accolades. It’s almost impossible not to fall completely in love with Rachel, her sharp collection of lyrical, folk-infused ballads lay bare the soul of a genuine performer, who’s intricate finger-plucking radiates around the room creating a warm glow in everyone present.

Photo: Dom Holt
Buzzed from his return from America and finally at liberty to put all that “visa crap” behind him, the tumultuous congregation greet Dan Willson, better known under the moniker Withered Hand on to the stage for his first post-SXSW appearance. Rather than opting for the more familiar lone performer guise, he is accompanied by several of his friends and colleagues, providing a grumbling bass line, adventurous bluegrass influences and subtle classical flavours to his euphonious endeavours. Those accustomed to his more weathered appearance may have been confused as to his newly groomed, clean shaven look, but these questions were soon buried as he unearths a story explaining that his former-self was “the spitting-image” of his US manager’s ex-wife.
Withered Hand proved to be a strong favourite with the baying audience, his quivering, spritely vocals turning heads from the back of the room, his whispered, clandestine lyrics delivered with all the intensity of a raging bonfire, cementing claims that this man’s songwriting abilities can be regarded in the same esteem as some of the other great enigmatic lyricists such as Daniel Johnston, who’s shadowy stylings have had more than a marginal influence on Mr. Willson.

Third stop off of the night was Electric Circus, a grimy looking bizarre-o club that was perfect for closing acts CAPITALS and GOGOBOTS and a suitable finishing line to the evening’s palpable good-natured festivities.

 A surprisingly minimal set-up commandeered by electro-pop group CAPITALS comprised of synths, guitar and vocals, that defied the dynamic and enriched sound they produced. Taut drum loops churned in with clobbering bass lines paved the way for Angus Carbarn’s ethereal vocals to gleam through, with a little touch of the Brandon Flowers inflection to it.

Now, if Glasgow-based GOGOBOTS know much about anything, the one thing they can do beyond a shadow of a doubt, is party. Taking their cues from the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Pendulum, they deliver a bombastic, emotionally driven wave of pure energy that floods the dark confines of the club inviting even the cynical naysayers to allow themselves a cheeky nod of the head.

The Wide Days festival is a great way for musicians and friends to share their knowledge and create a community of talent, a noble cause if ever there was one. Definitely pencilled in for next year.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Rachel Sermanni interview, Caberet Voltaire Thursday, 7th April 2011

There’s a lot of things I find adorable in this world… puppies, spring flowers, the sight of Martin Hardie heading home the winner in injury time to set the glorious Pars top of the table… but none of those delectations could have prepared me for meeting Miss Rachel Sermanni, whose beautiful fresh looks, naturally captivating personality, as well as her insanely cute Carrbridge accent made my heart skip a beat.
But if you think by now that I might have just the tiniest soft spot for this alba-infused folk singer, please don’t take my word for it. Her wonderfully clandestine lyrics carry an air of hopelessly endearing vulnerability, as well as her introvert-yet-alluring stage presence, which will have you clinging to every syllable of every word.
Hot on the heels of her visit to the States for SXSW, I got the chance to speak to her in the wake of her enchanting set at Wide Days, and saw a once in a lifetime opportunity, which I grabbed with both hands…

No band tonight… any reason for that?

Well, sometimes the band plays with me and sometimes they don’t, I quite like it that way, you can chop-and-change.

Great set tonight, how do you feel it went?

I felt everybody was really attentive, so that was nice, I don’t think I waffled too much, I made that key because it had to be a short set and I couldn’t waffle like I am now… But yeah, it went really well and I really enjoyed singing the songs.

Photo: Dom Holt
What affect has the attention from the likes of Vic Galloway and the BBC had on you, in terms of how you view your future in the Scottish music scene or possibly further afield?

People like Vic and a whole host of people who provide the public with something to listen to are really useful because if you get them on your side obviously they’re going to really really contribute to your goals, they build your fanbase and your listeners. If anyone’s listening to their radio show it means they were listening to you, and then also, on another level it has helped because other radio people will hear you… so the public listen, the business hear about you and then with things like PRS (Performing Right Society), you get paid for it, so it’s all good!

The past 12 months has brought with it some amazing opportunities for you and your band; where do you see yourself in another year and do you have anything else exciting lined up in the near future?

Exciting-wise in the near future we’ve got lots of things; I’m going to America again in about two weeks to LA, to enjoy some more… I mean to work! I’m going to sing for a festival called Musexpo, which is an industry festival for music to go with films or adverts and stuff like that, then a summer of festivals, hopefully there will be a tour of some sort so we get to see a bit more of Britain and have some more people of Britain see me, and in a years time… I hope it will have progressed to the point where I have at least got a release out of some sort, even just something on a small scale, it needs to be done!

Your music if very traditionally “Scottish-orientated”, you can see it in your style and lyrics, how big a part do you think growing up in the Highlands has played in your influences, and even your life in general?

Photo: Dom Holt
I think a lot of people play up on it… I love to say that I’m from the Highlands, I’m very proud of that. I personally cant see too much of an influence but at the same time I’ve got quite traditional musicians playing with me in the band, so that would obviously have an influence, and I played a lot of traditional music when I was younger. It has to have filtered through that. I’m really grateful for being able to play a couple of other instruments, its great fun to join in the traditional scene. I’m a part of a few circles, which is lovely, I’m really appreciative of it and it’s probably helped me a great deal.

Do you have any favourite Highland-based acts you’d like to recommend to us?

There’s a boy called Motty Parrot, he’s great… there’s some bands that have been there for a long time like Mystic Shoes, they’re good fun, and another singer called Maryann Frew… Oh there’s so many!

Thank you so much, I did have one last question but now that we’ve come to it, it seems cheeky to ask…

Go for it.

Any chance of a kiss?

Absolutely! For a gentleman as incessantly handsome and talented as you, how could I decline!? MWAH

…ahem… genuine ending there to my interview with the charming Rachel Sermanni. You’d be insane not to catch her at the Stag and Dagger music festival in Glasgow on May 21. Get yer tickets now!

PAWS interview, Sneaky Petes Thursday, 7th April 2011

Noise rock is noisily making a noisy resurgence, and right at the forefront of the movement, poking their scuzzy little beaks into the same cup drunk from by trend-setters Dinosaur Jr. Sonic Youth and Nirvana before them, we have three lads from Glasgow; Phillip Taylor, Matthew Scott and Joshua Swinney, making their own squeals and rumblings with their insatiable cacophony of twangy indulgence – PAWS.

Ears still buzzing from a blistering set at Sneaky Pete’s, I managed to catch Phillip and Josh for an impromptu chat.

Photo: Tiffany Barber

Brilliant set, you looked like you really enjoyed yourselves up there! I always get the biggest feeling off you guys, I don’t know if it’s the songs or your stage presence, that you’re all in this for the sheer and utter banter! Really refreshing attitude to experience, but do you ever see yourself so absorbed in it that it becomes more than just a hobby?

Phillip: I dunno, that’s a weird question. I guess it would just be the same as it is now, but I’d have money. I don’t really know how to do anything else; this is all I know how to do so I’d just feel so normal regardless of what the situation was around us, we’d still just be three people making music. But yeah it would be good to make a living out of it.

How did you choose the songs that you played tonight?

Josh: We just wanted to find the most punchy, energetic ones… and a couple of singles as well. So it was a mixture of madness and a bit more poppy.

Who is your favourite of the other acts that are playing throughout the city tonight?

Capitals. They’re really, really cool.

What are your opinions on the current Scottish music scene?

Phillip: I think it’s great. A while ago there was just a load of bands who were really plastic, who just watched too much NME:TV and bought too many Topman shirts and everything was just the same. That’s just my perspective, but there’s always been a handful of really good bands in Glasgow and Edinburgh I feel that recently it’s not just Glasgow and Edinburgh anymore, there’s awesome bands in Aberdeen like Min Diesel, in Stonehaven there’s Pre Teens, here’s you’ve got Lady North, and through in Glasgow there’s just so many like Male Pattern Band, Mondegreen, Bronto Skylift… there’s a whole collective of bands who are doing the same things for the same reasons and there’s a big sense of friendship amongst us all, so I really love the scene right now. It sort of just feels like friends playing at each other’s shows and everyone’s supporting each other’s bands 100%...  people are doing split-releases and working together so it feels really good that there genuinely is a real scene at the moment… everyone’s helping each other out and collaborating together, surely that’s what a scene is.

What five words best describe PAWS?

Phillip: totally.
Josh: fucking.
Phillip: rad.
Josh: shit.
Phillip: fuck.

You can catch PAWS beating the shit out of their instruments on April 23 with Bronto Skylift and St Deluxe @ King Tuts, and April 27 with Pensioner at Sneaky Pete’s where they will undoubtedly be giving away free copies of their new ‘Mermaid’ EP.

Withered Hand interview, Caberet Voltaire Thursday, 7th April 2011

It’s a shame that modern day folk music has been commandeered by the likes of faux-pas acts such as Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale et al, to such an extent that the border lines have become almost invisible between genuine folk and commercialized, marketable ‘folkLite’. It is refreshing then, to see that some of the genres artists have managed to stay resilient to conformity, and it was exactly this kind of admirable feat that enticed me towards Withered Hand.

What really sets him apart from his wholly nauseating, quasi-folk orientated ilk is his ability to captivate the entire room with his haunting whispered live performances and delicately woven articulations that leave you transfixed.

I spoke to Dan Willson, aka Withered Hand following a beautifully harmonious and personal rendition of his exquisite compositions at the Wide Days festival in Edinburgh.

Photo: Dom Holt

Are you enjoying yourself tonight?

So far… yeah, I am! The gig was great; it was busier than I thought it would be. I’ve played some shows there before but I just thought that tonight… well, someone did some promoting because I didn’t do that much!

Big change from playing in the likes of America, no doubt. You went down a storm at SXSW, was that your first time there and what did it mean to you to be invited?

It was my first time in the US, and so yeah, that would mean it was my first time at SXSW. It was kinda really good timing, because it has coincided with the US release of my first album. So if there was ever a time where I had thought about doing it… and to be honest, I’d never thought about doing it before. I have a family and lots of other things here. It’s not the most natural thing in the world to just go to America on a whim. But there was lots of things going on that meant I should probably go; to support the album release, to play some shows and to cement the relationship with my label in the States. It was a good learning experience, and the shows were busy which I gather is not always the case, so I feel lucky.

I was shocked to hear that you almost didn’t make it because of some dafty yank administrational error, (I like to think I helped in some part in your success as I signed the petition!) could you shed any light on that little farce?

You did, that’s sweet man! Y’know someone started that petition in Lebanon, where they don’t have proper internet access and what have you… at first I was like, “Oh shit, my visas delayed I’m gonna miss it!” and there was always this little voice in the back of my head going,  “Well… come on you didn’t really think you were actually going to go America,” I’ve never played in Lebanon, but I started seeing names on the petition of people from far away that had seen me play, and it was really moving… these things that you might think are transient and forgettable are quite often remembered, and people wanted to do something, anything, just to show some kind of solidarity. I didn’t actually think it would do anything, but it kind of did… I started getting emails from MSPs and MPs and several other people trying to help in a political way, which was crazy! Properly insane. I don’t really wanna be the ‘visa guy’ or anything, but it didn’t do me any harm… well, I lost a week’s sleep…

Photo: Dom Holt
The other thing is it was kind of twisted a little bit when it was reported, whereas they were questioning my artistic merit or something? I know a lot of people who didn’t get out there… and I did so I was kinda lucky. But there seems to be a slight misinterpretation as to what happened. It’s harder to get in (to SXSW) if you’re a solo artist, because you’re judged on a different scale. If you’re a band, you’re not regarded as being in the same criteria. This is kind of dull, visa language; I had to learn all this crap… But it was really terrible timing, scores of people were having their visas delayed a week before the festival, flights were already booked and it cost a lot of money. It was a heavy investment for me but I think in the long run, it will pay off. I played two shows, one in New York and one in San Francisco which were really busy and there were people there who knew the songs, I was like “What?!”

Does being compared to some of the worlds greatest contemporaries such as Neil Young and, of course, the hopelessly endearing Daniel Johnston ever leave you feeling as though there’s an expectancy you’ve got to live up to?

At first it was really weird, and I don’t agree with the people who say that, but I think it’s nice that they even see shades of, say, those two people, even if someone saw a shadow of what they do in my music… I think it’s really precious. I take it as a huge compliment, but it is kind of weird… I think people are just looking for a hook to hang things on. There are much worse things that people could say. I am my own worst critic. I agonise over finishing songs, they come quite quickly sometimes but I’m really hard on myself. I just think you should do what you think is true and let it go in to the world… connect with people…

Some of your lyrics are, shall we say… interesting. Others are really primitive and can leave me in a deeply pensive state for hours. What’s the thought process behind those wonderfully enigmatic songs?

The words just spill out of my mouth. When I’m playing the guitar, they just come out. I occasionally tweak them, but mostly they just come flying out. I write them down on the back of whatever I have to hand, I used to cycle around and carry a little notebook. I think the most important thing is just to be honest. It depends on what you’re trying to do, and I’m trying to say something authentic, right? I know there’s many different types of music and many different reasons for making it, but when I stand up and sing, I don’t think that I’m just entertaining, I’m trying to tell something real.

Mr. Withered Hand will no doubt be returning triumphantly to play some more Scottish dates soon and when he does, I implore you all to embrace the wickedness, and lend him your ears for the evening.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

the tide is in, st deluxe are sailing...

St Deluxe Interview, Mono Glasgow, March 9, 2011

Despite its dark, brooding exterior, grunge can at times prove to be a jolly, whimsical affair, as was proved by Martin Kirwan of St Deluxe when I met up with him to shoot the breeze over a nice cold one.

The scorching four-piece, made up of brothers Jamie and Ross Cameron, Martin Kirwan and Brian McEwan, are still flying high on the sails of their debut album, which has been met with an abundance of critical acclaim.

And they deserve every ounce of praise they get, for these are guys who graduated from a band that the messiah of grunge, Kurt Cobain was once quoted as saying “if [he] could be in any other band, it would be the BMX Bandits.”

Fans of the early 90s scuzzy rock scene would be well advised to check this bombastic Glaswegian quartet out to the utmost extremes, as every track off the album is a gem, and a quick scour through the dusty cobwebs of the internet will undoubtedly unearth some fantastic little surprises such as Johnny Cash covers and Hitchcock inspired artwork that brings the charm of this band to tasteful new heights.

First of all, would you care to introduce yourselves?

My names Martin, I play guitar, Brian plays bass, Jamie is our lead singer/guitarist, and Ross, the newest member (also incidentally, Jamie’s younger brother), on drums.

How did you all meet?

Well Jamie and I have been friends pretty much forever, we were born on the same day in the same hospital, our dads met in the waiting room, my dad played guitar and his dad played bass so they just got chatting and then about three or four years later Jamie’s family moved into my street. Jamie met Brian through Francis MacDonald from Teenage Fanclub, they were playing together in Francis’ solo project called Nice Man and the Bad Boys, Jamie and Brian were the ‘Bad Boys’. Me and Jamie had been playing in another band called Speeder at the time, but we’d always contemplated starting up something new, so we brought in Brian and just started recording really.

You started out playing music with the mighty ‘BMX Bandits’, what made you four decide to follow a new path with your own band?

We kinda started St Deluxe before we all played in the BMX Bandits, It started out being just Jamie Brian and Stuart (Kidd) and I was asked to join a wee while later, we played a few shows which were great, the good thing about the band was that it was sporadic so we got to do some amazing things like playing a gig in Barcelona, New York, stuff like that.

How did you pick the band name? I don’t know why but it always reminds me of a brand of condoms… make of that what you will!

Haha! I actually don’t know, it was Jamie, who’s a bit more of a lateral thinker than me, just came up with it one day, I think a part of it was a b-side to a Gumball record, Gumball was fronted by a guy called Don Fleming who produced Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’, we were both big fans, but it’s a mystery I suppose you’ll have to ask Jamie that one.

I think I can already guess by listening to your songs but who are your biggest influences?

Well there’s Teenage Fanclub obviously, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Mudhoney who we were lucky enough to play with a couple of years ago, also bands like Sebadoh and all the 90s L.A. grunge scene like Dinosaur Jr. but I also like some harder stuff like Black Flag and all the early hardcore American scene, and a bit of electronic stuff, Brian’s into doom metal, so sometimes all these influences come together and create something a wee bit different, just mesh together and create St Deluxe.

St Deluxe have been compared to many pioneering bands of the last decade; Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, does this put you under a lot of pressure to create music that lives up to those standards?

Nah, we’d never put ourselves up against any of those bands, we just sort of keep to the standard of music that we want to make, and as long as we like it then that’s really all that matters. I think once you start trying to appease people or do what other people think you should do, then that’s when it all starts going wrong for you.

You first established yourselves under your own record label ‘Grundioso Records’ (awesome name btw), how did that come about and is it still under your command?

We started it because we wanted to follow down more of a DIY route, we’re lucky in the sense that Jamie and his dad own a recording studio called Riverside Studios, so we can basically get in and record quite a lot if there’s downtime, so that way we can save a bit of money, whereas other bands would have to pay for them. Since the recording facilities are there we just thought instead of us using the money to record, why don’t we release a couple of singles and we took the opportunity to release some songs by other bands that we knew. The first song we released was a song called ‘Distant Light’ which was sort of a ‘here we are’ kinda thing, the next one we released was from a band called The Starlets called ‘The Brides of Frankenstein’ and the next one we did was with a band called Music In Movement which is a guy called Finlay MacDonald (Teenage Fanclub) and he works down the studio now and again.

Have you signed any other bands to that label?

We were never really in the position to sign anybody, it was more about just having fun with it and getting a couple of records out and actually just the excitement of pressing up a vinyl, I’m a big vinyl-head, we’re looking forward to getting a 10” vinyl record that we’re going to be putting out pretty soon.

Who’s the primary song-writing force behind St Deluxe?

It’s kinda evolved from being mine and Jamie’s project, but pretty soon it was more like me and Jamie would brings some ideas to the rehearsal room and we’d all just jam it out and structure it, so more and more everybody’s ideas have been coming to the table. It doesn’t necessarily have to extend from one person all the time which is good because it shares the burden a bit, makes it more diverse and I think that’s really going to show on the next album.

The music video for ‘Stupid Ideas’ off your self titled debut album is a really psychedelic totem of the band that I think suits you very well, was it a lot of fun to make?

Oh aye, that was a labour of love, we were in a disused railway tunnel in the middle of October, and basically most of the band apart from Jamie had to get buried alive in the freezing cold with bats flying about! We made all these weird props too and they were kinda cool, but aye, it was freezing, it took ages, the end products good though and it’s something different so we’re pleased with it.

The album has done incredibly well, making waves overseas in Japan and Germany, is it as big a success as you thought it was going to be?

I think it kinda achieved what we thought it was going to be, maybe a wee bit more in terms of doing full page interviews in the major papers and you get a buzz off of people going “I saw you in the paper!”, but in terms of how much the bands moved forward on the back of that album, getting over to Germany, playing shows with guys like Mudhoney, Spectrum, Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3, we also did a couple of shows with a guy called Stephen Lawrie from a band called The Telescopes and we were his backing band for a few shows, then we played a festival in a place called Bergen in Norway… just all experiences like that opens doors to places you would never think you would end up.

What has been your favourite experience as a band together so far?

Definitely going to SXSW. It was just an amazing opportunity and experience and the place is just totally buzzing, everybody’s there pushing their bands and playing as many shows as they can and going to see loads of bands, it’s just non-stop, it’s like 100 miles an hour. Hopefully we’ll be able to go back next year, we’re trying to schedule it to coincide with the next album, get over and do CMJ as well maybe, so aye SXSW in Texas, it’s a big thing.

What would you say to anyone today with a penchant for grunge music, looking to start a band?

Just go for it man! I think a lot of people starting bands start thinking “nobody ever gives us a break” and that’s why we did the Grundioso Records thing and started releasing singles ourselves and trying to help other bands, getting a few wee plays on the radio, it starts to snowball after that, but it just comes from having the “let’s do it” mentality rather than just talking about it.

What are your plans for the future in terms of recording/touring?

We’re releasing a new EP, and it’s got Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai producing the first track on it and Calvin Johnston producing the second one, and a guy called Joe Foster and Jamie’s dad Duncan co-produced it. We’re doing a launch in London on ‘Record Store Day’ (April 16) in The Brixton Windmill where people will be able to come to the gig and then afterwards buy records in the venue. Then we’re playing Manchester on the 17th and the day after that’s the King Tut’s launch. We’ve got quite a lot of songs recorded, we want to get the best 15 all together then maybe whittle it down to the best 10 or 12 for the album. So there’s that, and we’ll be going on tour again and hopefully be going back to the States and just doing it all again, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Are you considering any summer festivals?

Hopefully aye! Nothing’s in the diary yet but yeah, totally. We played a few just after the album came out like Rockness, Belladrum and Wickerman. So hopefully off the back of the EP we’ll get a few offers in!

Lastly, what are each of your favourite records of all time?

Oh god… it’s a really difficult one, I could probably name about five or six! There’s always really important albums that you buy when you’re younger, for me it’s all three Nirvana albums, In Utero’s my favourite, and you just wonder where a band like that would of went if things hadn’t turned out the way they had. I’ll try and answer for the other lads… Jamie would probably go for Dirty by Sonic Youth and Brian, I’d say probably Playing With Fire by Spaceman 3. As for Ross? I have no idea!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

French Wives – Nice N’ Sleazy, Glasgow, 17/03/11

As the fog descends upon a sullen Glasgow twilight, the mood is set for a memorable evening at Sauchiehall St's Nice N' Sleazy where the charismatic quintet French Wives are launching their inaugural EP 'Feel Safe Small'.

At first glance it has to be said that ‘Sleazy’s’ looks anything but; the chic macabre exterior masks what lurks inside, down in the lower echelons where this extravaganza took place.

To my dismay I entered the place to the sound of the dying twangs of the first support act ‘i swim with sharks’, but I was informed in good faith that they had more than adequately piqued the interest of this predominantly ‘hipster-esque’ clan of Glaswegians. Hailing from Leeds, the dynamic three-piece set out at 11am in their “trusty van, Mabel” to show their love for friends French Wives. How admirable.

Follow-up act ‘Pilots’ bore  fleeting resemblances to contemporaries ‘Wild Beast’ and ‘Vampire Weekend’, and held the audience captivated with their jangly hooks and buoyant harmonies. “It’s a shame they’re not from Glasgow,” crooned Caitlin Macmillan, 18, whose enthusiasm for this band was clearly apparent.

After a brief respite, it was the moment for the apex of the night’s musical entertainment to grace the stage, as French Wives assumed their positions behind their instruments, greeted with a barrage of whoops and applause.

They opened with a very obvious crowd pleaser, ‘Big Brave Boy’ which supercharged the crowd into an electrified rousing of the chorus which was sufficiently bellowed back at the band just loud enough for singer Stuart Dougan to crack a smile.

“Thanks for coming to our party” murmured a humble Dougan, putting my mind to rest in regards to the question, “what’s with the multi-coloured ballons scattered everywhere?”

The band put in a stellar performance throughout their time on stage, with a near flawless rendition of ‘Give Him America’, it was evident that it wasn’t just Dougan’s enormous height that was raising the roof. “We love playing at Sleazy’s,” claimed Dougan after the show, “its something special playing to your local crowd”.

As the set came to a close, the inevitable appeal for an encore began to dance about the lips of the thoroughly satisfied throng and once they were appeased, they bestowed French Wives with a revered silence, giving them the respect they unquestionably deserve. The chorus however, triggered an eruption of singing from everyone present, creating a real connection between the crowd and the band, and it was clear that French Wives were having just as much fun as the rest of us.

The performance of last song ‘Halloween’ was one that is bound to stay with the band for a long time and perhaps become a defining moment in their time together. Speaking to Dougan after the show, he said he was “so happy with the reaction for the last song” and that it was “possibly one of the best moments we’ve had as a band”.

Overall the EP launch at Nice N’ Sleazy’s was an absolute triumph for French Wives, helping them cement their signature on the face of Scottish music, especially in Glasgow, where the infallible love for this group is overwhelming. They are currently continuing their UK tour, making 17 stops along the way at places such as Manchester, London and Stornoway.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

あやこ, アヤコ*

Ah, Dunfermline. The consumer market capital of the world. Ahem, ok maybe that’s a bit hard to believe by any stretch of the imagination, but for two creative and ambitious young lads, their world is Dunfermline, and they are already on their way to dominating it with their graphics and web design company, Ayako* graphics.

The ‘lads’ I’m referring to here are graphic design and visual communication graduates Stuart Kirk and Chris Di Placito, whose passion for visual exuberance is evident in the stunning oriental crafts they produce, as well as their natural brains for business, having concocted their venture from the beginning and managed it to what it has become today, all on their own. Both highly commendable students, Stuart won design student of the year 2007 and Chris received a scholarship from a local design agency the same year.

From humble beginnings, this canny little endeavour has blossomed into one of the most revered businesses of its nature, with regular clients from Dundee hailing them as “innovative and free-thinking”, delivering them “artwork to be proud of”. The duo have also done a bit of fishing further afield, trading artwork with fellow designers Cornish Knockers from Cornwall, and the extremely talented and respected Johanna Basford, whose intricate designs have been an inspiration to the boys.  They have not had a single unsatisfied customer to date, and that is no mean feat for a two year old company in such a competitive market. Among those appeased clientele is Craig Pounder from Scotstrings who merits Ayako* for being “energetic… creative… professional… from concept to completion, these guys were a pleasure to work with”.

Ayako* has a beautiful array of Eastern inspired merchandise; from t-shirts to postcards to prints, all dusted with the Ayako* charm of being quirky and whimsical, with an air of purity that makes the pieces so attractive. They also have a collection of characters including ‘samurai kid’ and ‘ayakogirl’, whom you can have emblazoned onto just about anything you like, giving things a nice personal touch.

These gung-ho entrepreneurs are far from reaching their zenith with Ayako* graphics, it’s only a matter of time before ‘samurai kid’ becomes a household brand.

Ayako* graphics merchandise can be purchased from

keep the home fires burning! - French Wives interview.

When five friends from Glasgow University decided to merge their eloquent musical talents to create what is now undeniably an unstoppable force of the Glasgow music scene, I can say with some degree of confidence that none of them ever suspected it would be the overwhelming success it has already become.

Over the short few years the band has been together they have graced the stages of numerous music festivals such as T in the Park and the Loopallu festival, as well as several rambunctious gatherings around the country, creating an exciting buzz about the place that manages to infect the very walls that surround them.

The French Wives are rapidly becoming one of my (many) guilty pleasures and, I am pleased to say, one of which I am legally able to share with you here. Listen to ‘Covered in Grace’ from the brand new EP here, and take a gander at the interview below – keep the home fires burning!

First of all, congratulations on getting signed to Red Hat Records. I see good things coming from this partnership, how did it come to transpire?

Thanks very much! Red Hat Records is a brand new label which is being run by three guys, one of which is our singer Stuart. It’s not a label set up to release only French Wives records, but it made the most sense that their first release was one of ours as they were looking to get started and we were looking to put a record out in the same timeframe.

How useful have your friendships with Vic Galloway and Three Blind Wolves been?

They’ve been great on both a personal and professional level. Vic has been a great servant to new Scottish music and I have no doubts that even though he’s not doing the introducing in Scotland show any more he will still continue to passionately promote Scottish music. In Ally McRae Radio 1 have a very worthy replacement as well. The Wolves are great guys and a great band as well. Obviously Ross was really well established already when we started out, so it was great to do some shows with them to get our name out there a bit. Their manager, Jamie Webster, has been extremely helpful to us since the beginning and we’ll always be really grateful to him for that.

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves? Where are you all from and how did you meet?

We’re kind of from all over the place. Although we’re based in Glasgow, Stuart is the only Glaswegian, and even then are you really a Glaswegian if you come from Milngavie? I’m from Irvine in Ayrshire, Jonny’s from Stranraer, Siobhan is from a tiny place called Killin and Chris might be the poshest Dundonian I’ve ever met. I’ve always wanted in an interview to say a strange way for how we met (because the story is standard and boring and I’m already rambling) so I’m going to say that we’re all half siblings.

Just a couple of years ago, if someone asked 'who are the French Wives?' people would've said 'you should probably ask the French husbands', now you're finding yourself being described as a "steamroller" of the Glasgow music scene, and "one of the most exciting bands in Scotland". Has the exposure brought about any significant changes in your personal lives?

Haha, we wish! On the very rare occasion where someone recognises and speaks to us that isn’t already someone we know I think we’re often a lot more excited about it than they are.

How do you manage to juggle studying at uni and your commitments to the band?

I think juggling is the correct term for it. We all took university seriously and we didn’t want to ever drop out to focus on the band because we wanted not only to get our degrees, and we were never presented with any real reason to do so. If we had I’m not sure whether we’d be much further forward than we are now. If Johnny Big Dick from Big Dick records had come in for us when we were students then we may have considered it, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s perhaps better that that didn’t happen, because now we can be in a band and be all erudite and graduatey at the same time. But yeah, I haven’t answered this question, have I? We basically fitted in the band as much as we could around uni. Quite often they overlapped, particularly for Jonny around finals time, but we just made do and worked as hard as we could.

What is the thought process you go through when you're writing songs?

I think it’s different each time. I’m always really interested by how others write songs, because I’m not sure if we do it the best way or not! Basically I’ll normally come up with a musical idea, we’ll fight about it for a while, then Stuart will add the lyrics and there’s a song!

I was intrigued by the story behind 'Hyndland Weather Bear' and even went onto google street view to see for myself (rainy day?), do you have any other songs with a quirky wee backstory? 

None quite as quirky as that, but Stuart always has an interesting idea or story behind most of his lyrics, I think.

What's your favourite song of your own, and why?

This changes all the time for all of us. The funniest is certainly a song that lasted maybe for our first 2 gigs called The Jealousy Corps. It’s ridiculous. Thankfully the only recording is a shoddy live one and the only person that has it is Stuart. Long may that continue, it’s not fit for public consumption.

What do you do to help get the creative juices flowing?

When I deliberately sit down to write a song, which is rare compared to spur of the moment things I trick my brain into thinking of something, convince myself I can’t do it so that my brain wants to defy itself. It’s hard to explain!

Apart from the obvious launch of your brand new EP 'Feel Safe Small', do you have any other monumental projects coming up? T in the Park, for example? (said with crossed fingers...)

There’s a UK tour to promote the release of the EP, which does kick off with the launch. Following that we will hopefully play at quite a few festivals, if they’ll have us! After that there are plans for a single release in the autumn as well as starting work on an album, but that will be a long process.

Frightened Rabbit said of their TITP set last year that it 'sent tingles up their spines' and it was 'a weekend [they] will never forget'. Have you played any gigs that you thought were really special?

Our first single launch was probably the gig that’s been closest to that for us. It was back in October 2009 and it was held in the tiny Research Club at Glasgow Uni, which is now sadly departed. It was the first time we’d ever heard anyone singing our songs back at us, and it was a pretty special moment for us as a band. It felt like a bit of a turning point from a serious hobby to something that we could spend our lives doing.

While researching French Wives on the internet, I frequently come across a 1970's porno of the same name and wondered if that was possibly the inspiration behind the band's name. Were your maws in it? (sorry, couldn't resist :))

It’s pure coincidence, we discovered the film after we had the name. I’ve not seen it, though (not through lack of trying).

I've heard you being likened to Belle and Sebastian and Arcade Fire in the past, both exemplary bands in my opinion. How do you take these comparisons?

When they’re meant in a complimentary way it’s great. Although we don’t really feel like we sound like them they’re great bands, so to be compared to them is great. However, people often use them as a kind of negative stereotype, which I’ve often found weird, because as I said I don’t think we sound much like them. Maybe we do and we’re too close to the songs to notice.

What advice would you give to any up and coming musicians?

I’d probably feel pretty unworthy to give out any advice, as I think we’re at most up and coming musicians as well. We’ve not really been round the block enough to know the ins and outs of everything as much as others, but if people want to really have a go at being in a band I think it’s just a matter of working as hard as possible. Not just on songs and live sound, but on every aspect.

Lastly, what are each of your favourite records?

Chris’s is Entertainment by Gang of Four, Stuart’s is Funeral by Arcade Fire, Mines at the moment is Thriller by Michael Jackson, although that changes all the time. At the time of writing, Siobhan and Jonny have dishonourably failed to let me know what their favourites are (however I believe Siobhan has the legitimate excuse of being in the Middle East). Therefore I shall choose their favourites for them. Siobhan’s is the iconic 7 by S Club 7 and Jonny’s is the legendary live album Rolf Harris Sings at the Down Under Club, by none other than Rolf Harris.