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.