Bob Frank and John Murry

Your blood may run cold but it’’s a heart-warming story. 63 year old Bob Frank’’s first and last album was released by the Vanguard label in 1972. Although he never stopped writing songs, he has spent the entire interim working in Oakland as an “irrigation specialist”. This is not the sort of person who, in an industry obsessed with youth and fashion, could reasonably be expected to sign a record deal in 2007, let alone be taken up as the darling of Rolling Stone and Uncut magazines. Yet this is what has happened.

Catalyst in all this is 27 year old John Murry, on the face of it a fearsome man-mountain, who was introduced to Bob Frank as a potential cure for depression following his move to San Francisco (where both can now be found). Immediately tumbling into a love-hate-love-hate relationship (the old ‘can’’t live with or without you’ syndrome), they first of all grew some poppies and then started to write together. The project was to create a canon of murder ballads which nodded in the direction of tradition, but which were based on their own historical research. Thus, the album contains songs about an unrepentant killer (“Boss Weatherford, 1933), about two contrasting lynchings (“Tupelo, Mississippi, 1936” and “Jesse Washington, 1916”) and a legendary Mexican Robin Hood (“Joaquim Murietta, 1853”).

Bloodthirsty, of course, but with a strangely alluring beauty all of their own, the ballads on “World Without End” are encased in sumptuously inventive arrangements by Murry and producer Tim Mooney (American Music Club), but live, they operate as a duo, with Murry’’s scratchy electric guitar inter-acting with Frank’s more traditionally picked acoustic. “”This guy came up to me after a show and accused me of ruining the songs by turning up my volume and drowning out Bob because I was supposedly in a bad mood”, complains John, in a manner that suggests that the audience member should really have kept his mouth shut. “”He didn’t understand that this violent juxtaposition of sound is exactly what we are trying to create.””

And it undoubtedly works. The combination of the grizzled gentleman with the acoustic and the terrifying grunge-rocker (actually a sensitive intellectual with a strange way of showing it) makes for a stage show like you’’ve never seen. Plus, they both have contrasting but equally mellifluous voices. As they brought their songs to a completely unprepared but soon converted European audience (the pair had never previously stepped outside the US), there were numerous cultural divides to be bridged but, as it should be, the music did the talking and the unique, unstudied nature of the characters triumphed. There’s always the danger with these things that there’’s an element of artifice involved, but talk to these two for a couple of minutes and you realize that they are the real deal, innocents abroad almost, and all the better for it. They certainly don’’t belong in the superficial world of the music industry.

Bob is resolutely laid-back about the project. ““It was John’’s idea to write the songs but we wrote them together. John is the creative impetus, hell, he came up with all the instrumentation, he even did all the design work. If I hadn’’t met this guy, it would never have happened.””

John: “”The original idea was to record old murder ballads, but Bob writes story songs anyway, so it just sort of came together. They are as factually accurate as we could make them, but some have different historical versions and others are legends. ‘Bubba Rose’ actually happened, we know that for sure.””

These guys are on an adventure which is the stuff of dreams but they remain blissfully unaware, taking each day as it comes and trying hard not to make reality out of art by actually murdering each other. How it all pans out is set to be one of the most intriguing episodes in recent musical history.

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Grandaddy interview

My top musical memory of 2003 was of Grandaddy, publicly claiming to have “taken every drug we could lay our hands on”, blasting out their charming hybrid of hi-tech and pastoral prog at unthinkable volume to a field full of wasted but adoring Glastonbury-goers. The synergy was perfect, and it’s a moment Grandaddy won’t forget either, a highlight of what, for them, has been a brilliant year. Speaking backstage at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Keyboard player Tim Dryden recalls: “Glastonbury was one of our best shows, and it was a very special moment for us, because we’d never played in front of an audience that size. It was even a little bit frightening, but it meant a lot to us because it showed we’d come out of our shell a bit more and the band had matured. And the technology behaved itself” (frantic knocking on wood).
It’s all a long way from the gang which grew up in Modesto, in the Santa Cruz area of California, a place of surfers, pelicans and silicon chips. This is definitely a band which is a community rather than a business. “Jason and I were in high school together and pretty much all of us met through skateboarding. We were all friends long before we were in a band, we skateboarded together; we’re not one of those bands that had to advertise for members”.
A band as unique as Grandaddy could only really have emerged from the inherent contradictions of life in Southern California. “I can honestly say that all the music is written because of where we came from and the fact that we grew up together. ‘Sumday’, particularly, contains a lot more personal stuff from Jason about things that were happening to him, but anyone listening to our albums will understand that they came about because of where we’re from.”
So what’s with the “sprinklers that come on at 3 am”, then? Tim smiles before explaining the song “The Group Who Couldn’t Say”: “The song is written about people who are cooped up in offices, in a cubicle with a computer, and they don’t have a different experience, you know, they go home, watch TV and go to bed, and they don’t really experience what’s going on around them outdoors, until finally someone takes them to the forest and shows them what life is really all about. It renders them speechless.”
Apart from being the most artistically and commercially successful year of Grandaddy’s career, there was one frightening moment which occurred during their fall tour of the US: “Jim go run over by a truck.”
What?
“Yeah, he was just walking off the tour bus and he tripped on the steps. He was drunk, of course, everyone in this band drinks too much. Anyway, he just fell into the road. It just happened that he fell under a production truck just next to the bus. The truck was moving and Jim somehow managed to roll out of the way so that the wheels just missed his head and caught his shoulder.”
Grandaddy is a unique and precious band. Let’s hope they learn to look after themselves better.

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Notwist interview

April sees Bavaria’s Notwist heading Stateside for a highly-anticipated tour. It’s a bit of a departure for this essentially studio-based band, but they are looking forward to it. Markus Acher:
“We’ll be playing with bands from the Anticon label, which we like very, very much. I just recently toured with my other band Lali Puna, and that was a great experience. Hopefully, stupid George W and his gang won’t make it impossible with his Saddam-neurosis and his greed for oil.”
Yes, well … about those other bands. The Notwist seems, ironically, to be on the back burner at the very moment that their big US breakthrough occurs, courtesy of Domino Recordings, who have picked up their Neon Golden album from City Slang, and released it, complete with three bonus tracks. But Markus (guitar, vocals) his brother Micha (bass, trumpet), electronic maestro Martin Gretschmann and divertingly-named drummer Mecki Messerschmidt have chosen this moment to concentrate on their other projects, Tied + Tickled Trio, Console, MS John Soda and Lali Puna. Basically, they are just tired of touring: “We played a lot when we started, in the earlier Punk/Hardcore-days, I guess every little club or flat in Germany, which is why we are a little bit tired of touring too long. But it’s still important not to lose the energy which made us start this band.”
Just how a German band could sound so American is a slight mystery, but Markus positively glows with pleasure when the Notwist is compared to Pavement: “I’m totally happy with being compared to such a great band!” Which probably explains how they ended up on Domino: “Well, Domino released lots of our all-time favorite records, that’s why we asked them. We are very happy that they are releasing it.”
All the members of the Notwist grew up in Weilheim, Bavaria, “a very small and boring town”, where they still live and record. After playing in a variety of school bands, they ran into Hardcore, punk rock and all kinds of noise. Influenced by bands like Rites of Spring, Dinosaur Jr and Jerry’s Kids, they started out around 1988 as a trio with bass, guitar, drums, and voice.
Markus was also a big fan of Neil Young, so tried singing slow melodies
over noisy and fast HC-stomping backings. At that stage, they played and toured a lot, gradually developing an interest in jazz and electronics, eventually inviting their friend Martin Gretschmann to do some electronics for them: “After a while, he became the fourth member of the band. Now we see ourselves as a kind of a tragic popband”, explains Markus.
How is it that most German rock bands, including the Notwist, write exclusively in English?
“Growing up with music in Germany, the language of pop music was
mostly English. To me, so many things people like Neil Young sang touched
me deeply, although I didn’t understand them totally. That’s why many
English words have a meaning beside their dictionary meaning, which makes it interesting to write in English and not to try to write it like a native speaker. Not understanding it totally gives you the freedom to use it in a different way. I like the distance, the sound, the limitations, the
abstraction. It’s like playing an instrument you can’t play and being
forced to just find the few essential notes.”
The sparsity of the Notwist’s music is a major part of the band’s charm, as is the highly-charged, deeply thoughtful production which underpins particularly this album. Markus gives us an insight into the songwriting and recording process:
We first have the melody, and it takes a lot of time to write lyrics
that fit into the melody and express what I want to say. For Neon Golden, I
was very impressed by some lyrics of Bill Callaghan and Will Oldham, who write very clearly, very simply, but mysterious in its simplicity. Like haikus, the whole picture should be in one single line.
“As for the production, we started composing and producing individually, then we met in the studio and exchanged material. We started recording,
experimenting with all kinds of instruments, invited friends like Saam the
percussion player to improvise on the songs, and overloaded the songs with signals. We then made a break, took the stuff home, rearranged everything and went into the studio again. We wanted to try everything we could think of. After doing this a few times, we came to the point where we thought it should be more minimal and close, and we started to look for the few essential tracks.
Neon Golden is a highly-rewarding listen, revelling in the intimate “closeness” to which Markus refers. But it’s not likely to be a million-seller, and nor is it intended to be:
“We don’t even attempt to be a part of the commercial music business, but I think we’ve found our place and our way to deal with it. It’s difficult. Money must never be a reason for a decision. That sounds like hippie-stuff, but it’s the only way to sing your own song.”
Long may the Notwist continue to sing their own song. 

From Amplifier magazine

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Peter Bruntnell interview

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Peter Bruntnell is American. For a start, although he isn’t too keen on the expression, the songs and structures on his most recent CD, the best-selling “Normal For Bridgwater” fit firmly into the “alt-country” bracket, and he acknowledges the effect that Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” has had on his work.
Further, all three of Peter’s albums have been issued on US labels. The more rock-orientated, yet still mercilessly melodic “Cannibal” and “Camelot In Smithereens” both appeared on Almo Sounds, a label set up by the indefatigable Herb Alpert, a man who knows his way round a good tune. And the career-defining “Normal For Bridgwater” is released by the American label Slow River.
Yet Peter is as un-American as can be. Still living in outer London, though in the process of relocating with his family to deepest Devon, he considers himself to be a native of the suburban town of Kingston on Thames, although he was actually born in New Zealand, of Welsh parentage. In actual fact, the album reflects several lengthy periods spent in Vancouver, so the feel is more Canadian than anything else.
Peter’s natural environment is playing in crowded bars, either with his four-piece band or with his guitarist sidekick and brilliant instrumentalist James Walbourne. Ten years on the dole and playing throughout the UK and Europe, plus six or seven Stateside visits, have turned Peter into a consummate live performer, to the extent that he thinks (possibly correctly, although to the non-hyper critical ear, the album sounds just magnificent) that “Normal For Bridgwater” is best experienced live:
“I suppose I do feel happy with it, although I did get quite a shock when I listened to it about two months ago, because we play the songs live now with a lot more dynamics and in a more relaxed way. But I do still like the record and I like the songs on it.”
It sounds very much as though Peter, after casting around for a musical modus operandi, has experienced the serendipity of choosing a style which also happens to be truly commercially accessible.
“Well, I don’t set out to write for anybody other than myself, so I don’t really consider it commercial, even though it might be. It’s not something I’m conscious of.”
Are the songs on the forthcoming album in the same style?
“Yes, they’re a continuation of the last record. With my first two albums, I was confused, whereas with ‘Normal For Bridgwater’, I decided I was going to do exactly what I wanted to do, and if people like it, great, and if they don’t, tough. That’s why I’m quite pleased that the one I consider much more honest is the one that people like more.”
What on earth can be the significance of that odd album title, and indeed the languid “NFB”, its accompanying song?
“A couple who are friends of mine ran a particularly rough pub in Bridgwater (a small town in the UK West Country), and the landlady was telling me one day that the doctors in Bridgwater use the abbreviation NFB (= Normal For Bridgwater) when describing their test results for slightly disturbed local patients.”
If you think that’s eccentric, it’s not half as charming as the album’s undoubted highlight (and live tour de force) “By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix”.
“That was an item on a news programme one evening, where there was a group of people in England who wanted their bodies sent to Phoenix, Arizona for preservation in some cryogenic tanks, to be frozen and then revived in the future. But the weight of a human body made it too expensive to ship in an aeroplane, so they’re going to cut the head off the first one that dies and freeze that.”
A new album from Peter is eagerly awaited, but it seems the wait will have to be a little longer:
“I’ve got twelve songs written and my management company is in the process of talking to a couple of labels, so the record will be recorded before the end of this year and released early next year.”
Does this mean that the association with Slow River is no more? Suddenly, the normally intensely communicative singer finds himself totally speechless. After a long pause, all Peter will offer is:
“Umm … I don’t think we’re gonna do another record with Slow River.”
Would you care to elaborate?
“No.”
So that’s that. But the moment the conversation returns to music, Peter is back on top form:
“There’s a song on the new album called ‘Tabloid Reporter’. It’s about a journalist from the News Of The World who posed as a potential business partner, lured the Radio 1 DJ Johnnie Walker into a meeting and asked him to score him some coke. Consequently, Johnnie got thrown off the BBC for a while, so I wrote this angry song which attacks that journalist and others like him.”
It’s going to be another classic.
From Amplifier magazine, November 2001 

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John Parish interview

It was back in the late seventies and early eighties that John Parish was to be found, playing either drums or guitar, round the lesser-known music venues of the south of England in various small-time punk or new wave bands with names like The Headless Horsemen or Automatic Dlamini. Following that, John went on to teach music performance and recording technology at Yeovil College in Somerset (a trailblazing course, as it turned out), while producing albums by successful indie bands like the Chesterfields and the Brilliant Corners.
Even then, John stood out from the rest as someone not only steeped in natural musicianship, but also as a person of single-minded determination and vision. So it’s no surprise that he is now a highly respected producer, songwriter and performer. The only surprise is that it took so long. But ask him whether he had some master career plan and the response is disarmingly downbeat: “I have no career structure whatsoever. I tend to do the most interesting thing that is on offer at any given time. Sometimes that’s my own thing, sometimes it’s working with somebody (or bodies) else. That’s all there is to it.”
At the end of 2001, critics and fans will be undertaking their annual appraisal of the Albums of the Year. You can bet your life that, among those slugging it out for the number One slot will be Sparklehorse’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, Goldfrapp’s “Felt Mountain” and Eels’ “Souljacker”. It just so happens that John was intimately involved in the generation of all three. The Sparklehorse album contains a number of songs which were produced (and played on) by John in Barcelona. He also plays on several tracks on the Goldfrapp album (Alison Goldfrapp previously worked with John on his “Rosie” soundtrack), and, most tellingly, he has co-written and co-produced “Souljacker” and is currently on a world tour playing guitar in the inimitable Eels.
It’s ironic that all this activity, entailing enormous amounts of travelling and being away from home, has coincided with John’s discovery of the joys of family life at home in Bristol. John’s daughter Honor (after whom his home studio, Honorsound, is sweetly named) is an absolute charmer, and John’s wife Michelle is expecting another child shortly:
“I am a reluctant tourer though,” sighs John. “I enjoy playing the shows, but I hate being away from my family.”
It may also appear ironic that yet another album vying for the top slot, PJ Harvey’s “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea”, has strong John Parish connections but doesn’t actually feature him. After a collaboration lasting over a decade, their careers have, possibly temporarily, gone in different directions. But my suggestion that John “quit” PJ Harvey goes down badly:
“I didn’t ‘quit’ PJ Harvey. PJH does not exist as a band apart from when on tour. I was not asked to work on the ‘Stories From The City ….’ album. Polly knew that I would not be interested in touring a record that I had not been involved in, and she also knew that I did not want to tour at all…..which does beg the question, how come I’m on tour with Eels now?”
So what is the answer to that question?
“Well, E & I met at Top of the Pops. Really. We got on, and talked about doing something together sometime. After Eels had recorded Daisies of the Galaxy, E started working on his ROCK record – and thought I might be the right person to drag in. I went over to LA for a week and we wrote ‘Dog Faced boy’ and ‘Teenage Witch’. After the ‘Daisies’ tour, E called me and we arranged the session for the rest of what became ‘Souljacker’. Having contributed so much to the album, it then felt only right to tour.”
It’s odd that someone as level-headed as John chooses to work with artists who have, at least, the reputation of being “difficult”. Or is that, with regard to E, a false impression?
“He’s not really difficult, no. He does know what he wants , and is not scared to say it. I actually find that position very easy to work with, as you know exactly where you are. I suppose, if you had opposing views as to how to approach things, then you might find him difficult …”
To the layman, “Souljacker” sounds as if it has John Parish stamped all over it.
I wondered how the collaboration between John and E worked out in practical terms?
“For some tracks (‘Dog Faced Boy’, ‘That’s Not Really Funny’, ‘World of Shit’, ‘What Is This Note?’), I wrote and recorded much of the music at home in Bristol. E then added lyrics & other stuff when I came over to LA last January. Some tracks (‘Souljacker Parts 1 & 2’) were already finished before I got involved. Some we wrote together in his studio (‘Bus Stop Boxer’, ‘Woman Driving’ …). We both work fast. The bulk of the album was written, recorded and mixed in three weeks. Our working day had to contain at least an hour’s croquet, which either myself or Butch would win. We took a day off to attend Jennifer Jason Leigh’ssurprise birthday party. I knocked a full glass of wine into her bowl of ornamental wooden carved plantains.”The artist with whom John has been most closely involved over the years is Howe Gelb of Giant Sand. John and his family like to hang out with Howe’s extended family and friends in Arizona:

“If I had to pick one favourite, it’d be Howe Gelb, with or without the rest of Giant Sand, for the constant spontaneity, originality of thought and process, and the way beauty would miraculously appear out of seeming chaos. That doesn’t mean recording him / them was the easiest or most pleasurable experience – sometimes it could be intensely frustrating. I’ve seldom felt as little in control of a session. But that is Howe’s way – you put your trust in chance…”
When John guested with PJ Harvey at the Reading Festival, she introduced him as “more of a god than a man”. This presumably means that relations between them are as strong as ever?
“Yeah, well, that was before I fucked up the intro to ‘Send His Love To Me’, wasn’t it? But yes, relations are good between us, even though I don’t much care for her last album. It’s funny, but I don’t really feel ‘not involved’ – even if we don’t talk for weeks at a time, we always have a very close relationship. We rely on each other as critics. We don’t always agree, obviously, but we know each other’s parameters so well that the other’s opinion is frequently invaluable.
I don’t doubt that we will continue (on and off) to work together on various
projects. In fact, my wife Michelle has often said that she expects Polly and me to end up as some dodgy organ and drums pub duo when we’re in our 60s. Well, my 70s, I suppose…”
The Eels world tour will take John well into next spring. Only then will we get the chance to hear the material he has already recorded for his solo project, “How Animals Move”.
“I was hoping for a March release,” says John, “but now there’s a new baby on the way, I’m putting it back until at least May. I’m planning to tour for a little while. It’s difficult to go out for long with a band the size I need to play this stuff, but I’m hoping to do maybe a month. That would include shows in the US.”

From Amplifier magazine

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Patty Hurst Shifter

What’s in a name? Well, Patty Hurst Shifter, the pride of Raleigh, North Carolina, get asked about theirs all the time, but that’s not the only problem. On their recent UK tour, guitarist Marc E. Smith had to put up with audience members calling out for Fall songs, while drummer Skillet Gilmore had to cope with requests for a sizzling performance. Bassist Jesse James Huebner had a different headache, being an exact visual double of UK comedian Harry Enfield. He had to learn to accept that audience members in fits of laughter weren’t commenting on his bass technique.

So already it’s a cheerful picture, and this is a band that loves to enjoy itself. The European jaunt was an example of this. An exhausting itinerary and no road crew, not to mention this being their first transatlantic trip, could have led to stress, but their “drink a few beers, meet the locals and have a good time” approach meant that they were welcomed with open arms wherever they went. As Gilmore says, “We’re friends, first and foremost. The music is the by-product of us hanging out.”

“There’s a lot of sincerity in what we do, but not in a heavy way,” adds front man and songwriter J. Chris Smith. “It’s fun, but at the same time I think we have a knack for taking painful experiences and imagery and turning it into something that rocks.” And here’s the fascinating thing about Patty Hurst Shifter (by the way, the name started out as a joke and just stuck). They may seem on the surface to be a good time rock band, but still waters run deep, and they don’t run much deeper than Chris. Answering an enquiry about how a song comes together, he gives an intriguing insight into their modus operandi:

“It usually starts with me bringing in a verse and chorus structure, and I make it a rule to leave space in the songs for input from the others. We generally play through this rough version a few times and Jesse and Skillet start to work on the rhythm section’s approach to the song and its different parts. Marc tries different guitar parts and melodies and I work out the vocal delivery. This makes for a much more cohesive final result, and it lets the people in the band really be a band. So, while I write the song and it’s still “my” song, I actually wind up playing the band’s version of it. It’s all very natural to us, and something very elusive and intangibly solid is created by having songs come together this way. It’s funny though, because after writing the songs, I’m often the last to learn my part because I’m waiting to see what it’s going to be.”

Patty Hurst Shifter started playing together around 2000. Marc and Chris are the only players left from the original line-up, but the current band has now been steady for two years. Initially, they formed for only one show to help draw attention to the Drive-By Truckers in their area, who had played a few shows in Raleigh but weren’t drawing any crowds to speak of. It was when the steady line-up gelled that the band forged a true identity. Ex-Whiskeytown drummer Gilmore (who’s married to Caitlin Cary) and the ever-dependable Huebner complete a quartet whose music is pleasingly difficult to classify (it’s not alt-country and it isn’t straight-ahead rock, and it’s serious and deep while remaining positive and “up” in its atmosphere). “Really incredible songs”, commented Ryan Adams, and PHS has patented the most concise band mission statement in history: Rock Like Hell. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

Following their last album “Too Crowded On The Losing End”, they have adopted a bold new policy (in keeping with the changing face of music releasing), namely issuing a series of EPs.

Explains Chris: “The EP’s are an effort to stay productive and maintain awareness of our presence, but there’s also an element of wanting to show that we can make great records regardless of circumstance. We recorded the first EP, “Fugitive Glue”, primarily in my one room workshop/studio in my back yard and the next one is underway there as well. There’s also a freedom to this EP format that I think is going to really help us find a way to incorporate some new colors that we’ve been wanting to add, but haven’t had the proper context for. There’s less space to establish a flow on an EP with 4-5 songs, so it kind of frees us up to just put whatever we want, wherever we want.”

There’s an air of honesty and integrity about Patty Hurst Shifter. They’re a thrilling live act as well, and a great advertisement for friendship. You’ll love them.

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Joe Jackson interview

A unique new style of show featuring two of the world’s finest songwriters, Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson, rolls into Portsmouth on May 30th. Can it be mere coincidence that Portsmouth is the city chosen to be the first on the eight-date UK tour? Yes, according to Joe, who although famously faithful to the maritime city, denies having strong emotional ties to it.
“It’s actually a pure coincidence. It’s true that, although I wasn’t born there, I grew up there. Portsmouth feels like my home town, but that’s about it. Your home town will always be your home town”.
Nonetheless, Joe’s song “Home Town” is one of the most goose-pimple inducing evocations of a sense of belonging that have ever been recorded. One of the most heart-stopping musical moments of recent years came on the “Laughter and Lust” tour, when the piano introduction to the song was played as the Guildhall clock struck eight o’clock, but still Joe insists that the song is less personal than it seems: “It was an intellectual exercise in writing a nostalgic song. I tend not to be a nostalgic person, but I was trying to create a song which had a sentimental, nostalgic flavour. I guess it expresses a kind of idealized nostalgia”.
“Don’t ask me how this joint tour with Todd Rundgren came about”, warns Joe, “because it’s not remotely interesting. It wasn’t any meeting of minds, it was put together as a one-off event by various players, but what happened was that the show worked so well that the idea of a full tour came up. It was a mad experiment which just clicked. What happens is that there’s an opening set by the string quartet Ethel. That’s not to be missed, so get there early. Then there’s a solo set by me, a Todd solo set, and at the end we all come together and play some JJ songs, some Todd songs and some by other writers.”
On the subject of nostalgia, last year’s reunion tour by the original Joe Jackson band was considered a huge success for all involved. How does Joe feel about it now?
“I feel great about it, although it was always intended to be a one-off. The original band made three albums, but the third one wasn’t that great. What we should have done was taken a couple of years off and come back with the killer fourth album. We did – twenty years later! So now the stake has been driven into the vampire’s heart and we can lay it to rest.”
Local readers may remember observing Joe striding up Winchester High Street on numerous occasions in the mid-nineties. “The reason for that was that I rented a flat in Winchester for eighteen months. It was an attempt to find somewhere convenient between London and Portsmouth, and I love Winchester, but in the end I was falling between two stools and not spending much time there.”
So has Joe now committed himself to New York? “Not at all. I always kept a pied à terre in England even when I was living in New York. Even today, I don’t really know where my main base is, Portsmouth or London. But don’t feel envious of my freedom of movement. Indecision is stressful and not knowing where home is can drive you nuts.”
That won’t prevent Hampshire fans from doing their very best to make Joe feel at home on Monday.

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Razorlight interview

It was certainly one of the the more original reasons for leaving a band: “Health Differences” were what caused Christian Smith Pancorvo to quit the Razorlight fold at a rather crucial stage of the band’s career, namely just as their first album “Up All Night” was being released in the UK. Andy Burrows, in a very real sense, saved the band in the nick of time, being selected from hurried auditions and crowned with the ultimate Johnny Borrell accolade: “Andy is a one-in-a-million drummer”.
It’s questionable whether Andy, who has spent much of 2004 touring an album on which he didn’t play, is “health compatible” with Johnny and the Swedish contingent of the band. Johnny’s outspoken – um – self-belief and tendency for Libertines-style lurid drug-related headline-grabbing isn’t, on the face of it, comparable to Andy’s reputation as the “nicest man in rock”. “I fucking love Johnny, he’s great”, he will assert at the beginning of an evening’s drinking. By the end, he’ll be claiming, “He’s a bastard”. But you just said you loved him? “Yeah, I do, I love him”.
No one can deny that Andy has made a huge difference to the live impact of Razorlight or that Johnny’s assessment of his skills is accurate. Luckily, Andy comes from a musical background which has prepared him ideally for this position: For years, he has played in bands with one Peter Hobbs, a similar rock and roll figurehead to Johnny with just a little bit less bravado. Andy had a similar love-hate relationship with Hobbs too.
It’s been a hard year. Spending a very rare couple of free days in his home town of Winchester over Christmas, Andy seemed exhausted and bemused, yet thrilled to be living the rock and roll lifestyle he has craved: “It’s just completely crazy. I don’t get any time to see my friends any more. Since I joined the band, I’ve flown twenty-three times – and I hate flying!” Tried valium? “No, my tranquillizer of choice is whiskey. I start ordering it the moment the plane takes off, and when they refuse to serve me any more, I get the others to order it on my behalf.”
So will the States take to Razorlight? “We’re doing it the traditional way, by coast to coast touring. It’s going to be hard, just traveling with a driver and a tech.” (Razorlight spent the back end of 2004 opening for the Manic Street Preachers in arenas, and later this year have landed the ultimate career maker, a US stadium tour with U2). Meantime, the band has recorded its first songs with Andy drumming, but isn’t it frustrating that he isn’t on the album people are listening to? “Well, it is weird playing someone else’s drum parts, but it’s a nice feeling that there are already two new songs in the set where the drumming is all ‘mine’. My favorite songs to play are ‘Rip It Up’, because that’ s the song we always open with and it gets a great response. I also have affection for ‘Golden Touch’ because that’s the one I auditioned with.”
What does Andy feel he has brought to the band? “Well, a new enthusiasm, I guess. And people tell me we’re now a lot more solid live. For myself, this has definitely been the best year of my life, because I left school seven years ago and at last I’ve got a job!”
My guess is that American music lovers will be initially sceptical about Razorlight, because Johnny Borrell is so full of shit. But they will be won over, because he really does walk it like he talks it, and the rest of the band never let him down. “Up All Night” has a pleasing identity and unity of purpose, like a London version of Lou Reed, with impressively understated tinny production which really works. There’s not a poor track on it, and in “Golden Touch” and “Stumble and Fall”, a couple of classic songs.?
This time round, the only mention of Andy on the cover artwork is in the Thanks to … category. Remembering that Andy is a fine songwriter himself, next time round (assuming they haven’t collapsed from exhaustion), his name will be a lot more prominent.

From Amplifier magazine

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Richmond Fontaine interview

From Portland, Oregon, here’s a brand-new band … hold on, they may be brand new to UK audiences, but in February 2005, Richmond Fontaine celebrates its tenth anniversary. Let Willy Vlautin introduce his band to you and explain the fantastic things that have happened to them over the past year:
“Well, first is Dan Eccles, he’s our guitarist. He’s one of the most positive
and cool guys you’d ever meet. Plus he’s a madman on the guitar.
Sean Oldham is the drummer. When we began playing with him is really when Richmond Fontaine came into its own. He’s an amazing drummer who can play any style he wants and he’s so good he could probably read a book and play all our tunes and watch TV at the same time. Plus he’s an expert
electrian, mechanic, plumber, and carpenter.
Dave Harding is really the heart of Richmond Fontaine. He’s a huge music fan and an encylopedia of knowledge about it. He and I have been at this a long time and still there is no better guy to get a drink with. Plus he’s just a great, great bass player, my favorite bass player around.”
It is evident that these guys are the greatest possible of friends, who like nothing better than gruelling tours such as the one they undertook in Europe in the autumn:
“Hell, just getting to get out of the States was a huge success for us. Only
Sean had been to Europe. I’d never really left the States, nor
had the the other guys. So it was a great adventure. To think that I’d get to travel to the UK and to Ireland and Norway and Spain. Those are things you dream about but never think will really happen. And then to have people actually like our band was even more exciting, and the people we met were really nice and friendly and we all wanted to move to the country we were in at the time. If we were in Spain we’d all say, ‘we should just move here.’ And we’d talk about it and dream about it. It was the same in Ireland and everywhere else. So all in all, a real lucky break.”?
On the other hand, it takes much more than luck for a band to break through in such a dramatic way, and much of the credit must go to Willy’s episodic, story-telling style of songwriting:
“I write in a style of a narrator a lot of the time. I’m usually trying to tell
a story and I want the music to be the soundtrack for the lyrics.
That’s where the band is so great. They’re good at taking the folk song I bring them and changing it into something different altogether. The postcards came from when we’d be on the road in the States and I’d send my grandmother postcards from every town we’d go to. She was one of nicest people I knew so I could never tell her anything except about the weather or about what a great time I was having. That I was making money and being safe and that I wasn’t drinking too much and I was saving for my retirement. All lies, I hate to say. So I started writing these crazy postcards for fun, to let off steam. Walter (a character from the latest album, Post To Wire) came out of that. I get a little nuts on the road, and he’s one of those personalities that comes out after hanging out with the same four guys and drinking every day. Then when JD Foster, our producer, came, I told him about wanting to do a spoken word series on the record and he thought it was a good idea and we gave it a try.”
Anticipation is high for the band’s newly-completed seventh album, “The Fitzgerald”. Willy (who has also just been signed up for a book deal with Faber and Faber for his first novel) has an interesting explanation for why Richmond Fontaine’s progress up the slippery ladder of success has been so gradual:
“Right now we’re just practising and getting ready to eventually hit the road in the States. But all in all we’re taking it pretty easy. That’s how we’ve lasted so long, we just don’t work too hard.”

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The Bravery interview

It’s half an hour after opening time and in time-honoured tradition, the queue stretches “round the block”. Not bad for a band whose live UK record so far stretches to a brief tour of tiny venues and some cancelled support dates with Clinic. The Bravery are late because they have arrived from Holland for this, the opening date of their first full headline tour.
It’s the way of the world with bands nowadays; they’ve hardly sneezed before the UK takes them to its collective heart and makes them instant stars: The Killers, the Scissor Sisters, you name them. But Michael Zakarin of the Bravery isn’t keen on being mentioned in the same breath as such contemporaries: “We always separate ourselves from other bands like that”, he splutters, with just a hint of protesting too much. “Good songs are good songs. Sure, there are synthesisers and guitars and drums, but in the end, it’s just about the songs, not about any other artists that are around.”
The interview hasn’t started very well, and now it’s about to get worse. An innocent question is met by an explosion. “Do you like The Cure?” “No!” barks Michael, shooting me a look of pure venom between the mascara. “It’s okay,” intervenes keyboardist John Conway, “he said ‘Do you like The Cure?’, not ‘Are you like the Cure?'” But Michael is already into his stride: “If you are asking whether they had an influence on our music, I’d say absolutely not. There’s this funny thing where people sort of guess at obvious musical influences, but more of it is really what all of us grew up listening to.” John joins in: “People bring up a lot of English new wave bands, and we probably share a similar mindset, in that in the eighties bands were discovering a lot of new sounds, new technologies and taking advantage of that. But nothing we do is outwardly nostalgic or retro. We try to look to the future.”
But looking to the past just for a moment, it really has been an amazingly fast rise to fame, at least in the UK. John fills in the background: “The band’s only been playing live shows for a little over a year. Initially, it was just a recording project with me and Sam (Endicott, vocals). We started writing and working on some new songs, but when we saw there was something there, we set about putting together an actual band. We put ads in the paper to try and meet people, but in the end, Michael and Mike H, the bass player, were college friends and the drummer was recommended to us. So we started recording at home and actually, the recordings we did are what has ended up as our first album. We just recorded the whole thing in Sam’s apartment on an old iMac. We felt more comfortable that way than going into a studio.”
John, seemingly a crucial part of the creative process, gives an insight into how it all works: “Sam is the main songwriter. He writes all the lyrics and most of the tunes. Literally, the two of us just record everything on synthesisers and old acoustic guitars and then the other guys come in and add their elements.”
To what do they attribute their sudden popularity, and doesn’t this put them under a lot of pressure? Michael is enthused: “There’s no pressure about it, it’s just really exciting! It’s downloading which has helped us achieve our success in the UK, because people like Zane Lowe (Radio 1 DJ) simply downloaded the rough MP3s from our website and played them on the radio.”
At this point, two things happen. First, I suggest taking some photos. Instantly, the two of them leap up and start rearranging their hair in the dressing room mirror. At that moment. The door opens and in strides singer Sam. Realising that photos are on the agenda, he not only takes several minutes sorting out his hair but also insists on changing into his full military style stage outfit. I restrain myself from asking him any questions about musical style, because he, too, is baffled that people say they sound electronic when all the bands they like (Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction) are anything but. But such attention to detail is typical of a band which does everything. They make the videos and the records and do the artwork. Put simply, they know exactly what they are doing.
When the Bravey later blast onto the stage with a carefully rehearsed but hugely impressive sense of high drama, you just know that this is a band which will achieve and maintain long-term success. Singer Sam is a high-kicker in the mike-twiddling-stick-insect tradition, while Jesse Malin lookalike Michael splatters solos over John Conway’s synth layers and makes them ROCK. The groovy lead track from their first EP “Unconditional” makes a great opener, while new single “Honest Mistake” appears two thirds of the way through a set which contains a slew of fabulous songs and an awful amout of beer squirting from bassist and Adam Ant clone Mike H. It works, and it’s fabulously exciting.
In the words of Sam Endicott: “That’s what this band is about: Standing tall and not being afraid”.

From Amplifier magazine

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