An interview with Joshua Skate Party
An interview with Joshua Skate Party
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

An interview with Joshua Skate Party

On July 9th, Joshua Skate Party (consisting of Ann Courtney of Mother Feather and Joshua Valleau of Wolvves) made their live debut at New York City’s Mercury Lounge. For about an hour that night, it was thirty years ago...

I had a chance to catch up with Ann and Josh, and talk with them about all things JSP.

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An Inner View With Red Sleeping Beauty
An Inner View With Red Sleeping Beauty
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

An Inner View With Red Sleeping Beauty

Singer Kristina Borg, singing guitarist Niklas Angergård, guitarist Mikael Matsson, and bassist Carl-Johan Näsström formed Red Sleeping Beauty in Stockholm 30 years ago. Named after the second single (1986) by McCarthy (early project featuring future Stereolab members Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier), the band finally recorded and released it on their current (fourth) album, the brilliant Stockholm (Matinée Recordings). Early singles and EPs were spread across numerous international labels (US, Spain, Germany, Japan) before their 1995 full-length debut (Bedroom) appeared on German imprint Marsh-Marigold, supplementing re-recorded tracks from their self-released Bedroom cassette EP with three new songs.

Niklas and Mikael

The Soundtrack album followed two years on (via the Spanish Siesta and Japanese Quince labels, the latter appending the contemporaneous “Sick & Tired” EP), following which the band members moved on to other projects (Acid House Kings, Shermans, My Finest Hour, The Charade) save another one-off EP (“Single”) and the separate, self-explanatory Singles compilation in 2000, again on Siesta.

Following a lengthy (two decade!) break, three-quarters of the band reformed and released the well-received Kristina album, which found them signed to hometown Labrador Records. Sadly, the album’s namesake was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and was unable to participate fully in the recordings. Happily, that is all in the past now and Borg joined her band mates for full participation on one of this year’s finest albums, Stockholm, paying tribute to their hometown.

Jeff Penczak spoke with the Niklas and Mikael for the following look back at their long, varied, and adventurous career.

I’ve read several indications that the band formed in 1989, yet your first release (“Pop Sounds” mini album) didn’t come out until three years later on the German label, Marsh-Marigold. Did it take a long time to write your earliest songs or did you have the songs ready and it took a while to find a label to release them?

Mikael: The band started as a one-person project (myself). I listened to all this great pop music coming out on small labels and thought: I can do this. I had a 4 track portastudio tape recorder and a drum-machine. I recorded several songs and sent them to some Swedish music papers/fanzines. The first one was reviewed in 1989. If I remember correctly Niklas read the review and contacted me. He had just moved to Stockholm. He was also in Acid House Kings.

Niklas: True that. I think I had some early Red Sleeping Beauty demo tapes and when I moved to Stockholm I wanted to be in a Stockholm-based band, so I wrote Mikael a letter, which is fairly out of character for me.

What was it about that McCartney track that attracted you enough to name the band after it? In retrospect, it doesn’t seem to indicate the type of music you perform. To my ear, you seem more in tune with bands like Saint Etienne, Primitives, Strawberry Switchblade, and Bobby Wratten’s projects like Field Mice, Northern Picture Library, and Trembling Blue Stars.

Mikael: McCarthy was a big influence back then. I still think I Am a Wallet is a great album. I remember buying it and reading the lyric sheet while listening. Jangly guitars and smart political lyrics – that was something different. Also, the album art was by Georg Grosz whom I had made an essay about in school at the time.

When thinking of a name for the band, I thought of “Red Sleeping Beauty”. It just sounded good! It is maybe not my favourite song by McCarthy but it is my favourite band name based on a McCarthy song.

Who were some of the other bands that you enjoyed listening to at the beginning of your career that perhaps encouraged you to form a band and start recording? Were there other Swedish bands playing your type of music or did you listen mostly to British bands?

Mikael: There was 99% British bands. The only Swedish band that I liked was Happydeadmen. Most Swedish bands were into rock or goth, but Happydeadmen sounded like The Smiths. British bands related to Sarah Records and C86 were the main influences.

Mikael, you later formed The Charade with Magnus from Happydaydream. Was it almost a dream come true to be in a band with one of your heroes? Do you think perhaps you may record again in the future?

Mikael: I was a big fan of Happydeadmenm but I wouldn’t say it was a dream come true. Magnus was a friend and we shared musical ideas at the time and we worked well together. I don’t think we will record again.

The songs I’ve heard from the earlier releases have a light and fluffy pop sound similar to the twee pop of labels like Sarah. Did you consider sending demos to them or any other labels, or were you just happy to get your music out to the public and accepted offers from labels who were interested in releasing the songs?

Mikael: Since Niklas’ other band the Acid House Kings had released a single on the German label Marsh-Marigold, we also got the opportunity to release something on the label. I don’t remember sending demos to record labels. We never thought Sarah Records would be interested.

We contributed songs to a lot of compilation tapes/singles/albums, which obviously was a way to get label attention.

Your early material was released on many different international labels (Somersault, Grimsey, and Sunday in the US, Motorway in Japan, Siesta in Spain, the aforementioned Marsh-Marigold in Germany). How did you end up with so many one-offs on different labels? Was that by choice, or did the labels go out of business before they could release a second single?

Mikael: Most labels actually contacted us and asked if we wanted to do a release. Mostly it was for a 7” single. Siesta was the first label that was interested in doing more releases.

Were you familiar with some of the other bands on these labels and enjoyed their music?

We were familiar with the labels and listened to the other bands, so we were, of course, flattered when we got a chance to do a release for them as well.

Luckily for fans, many of the early singles were assembled by Siesta on the “Singles” compilation. After three years, you finally released a full length album. What is it about the single and EP format that attracted you to releasing all your early material that way? Were the labels not interested in committing to a full album or did you not think that the material held together thematically or stylistically to put it all together on an album?

Mikael: The small labels at the time mostly released singles. I think albums were more expensive and maybe a higher risk. Usually, the labels were run by one person.

Niklas: Releasing 7” singles was a very fun way to work. A label showed interest in releasing a single, we wrote and recorded three or four songs and then it was out. And wasn’t the 7” the thing at the time?

I also notice that a lot of the early tracks are very short – close to the 2-minute mark. Do you prefer to write them short and sweet or is that just the way they come out?

Mikael: Yes, we had an idea that the perfect pop song should not be longer than 2 minutes. The ultimate example was Primal Scream´s Velocity Girl clocking in at 1:22!

There’s also a homegrown, minimalist vibe to some tracks. Did you record them at home or in a studio?

Mikael: We recorded most of them in different studios, but they were done with a very low budget. Some songs were recorded on 4-track at home, but that was mostly the songs we used for compilation tapes.

Niklas: I think some of the homegrown vibes was due to the fact that we could not sing or play properly!

rsb smileThe Synthesizer starts to work its way into your music, percolating along quite giddily on the “Smile” EP (‘Don’t Say You Love Me’) and the “Popangelov” magazine cassette compilation (‘Selfish’ is quite like Lush to my ear!) Was that always something you wanted to incorporate into your music? Or did it seem to fit into the type of music that was popular in the 90s and you started to write more songs that incorporated the synth?

Mikael: In the ‘90s we wanted to be a jangly guitar pop band. My problem is that I’m not very good at playing the guitar. But we also listen to music that used synthesizers. I think both me and Niklas started out with listening to synth pop bands like Depeche Mode and Yazoo in the early eighties. This was before Sarah Records. Then came the Smiths and changed that.

Niklas: For the “Smile” EP, we for the first time got outside help with production. Mike Innes from They Go Boom!! did a great job on the EP and it’s the release that has best stood the test of time in my opinion. They Go Boom!! was a very synthesizer-based band, so that moved us in that direction.

When we reunited a few years back, we half-jokingly aimed at becoming the They Go Boom!! for the 2010s!

Several songs from your self-released “Bedroom” cassette are on the cassette that came with Swedish Popangelov magazine #3 and all of the tracks also appear on your debut album. Are these all the same recordings, or did you re-record the songs for the magazine or the album?

Mikael: I don’t remember now but I think we recorded them in a real studio for the album. The cassette versions might have been 4-track versions.rsb bedroom

Niklas: Fact for hardcore fans: ‘Bicycling’, the last song on Bedroom, is from a different recording session than the rest of the songs on the album. It was the fourth song from the They Go Boom!! sessions, but we did not use it for the “Smile” EP.

What do you mean when you proclaim that “Pop is talent, not skill!”? That there is more to writing a pop song than simply being able to play an instrument?

Mikael: Since none of us are very good at playing our instruments in a traditionally skilled way, we thought this slogan sounded good. We thought we made great songs but realised that maybe we are not the most professionally skilled players.

Niklas: It might even be true that if you are too good at singing and playing, you get too caught up in showing off when writing and recording songs. I watched Mandolin Orange live yesterday, though, and they could really sing and play, in a good way.

You also celebrate a lot of happy occasions in your songs (‘Christmas’, Merry Christmas, Marie’, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Summer Tells Stories’, ‘Summer At Its Best’, ‘Seasons Change’). Are you hopeless romantics or do you just enjoy writing upbeat songs instead of gloom and doom songs about politics or the condition of the world?

Mikael: The lyrics are by Niklas and Kristina. I think that the music we were listening to, Sarah Records, twee, and C86 was political, but most lyrics were not. I think we were more concerned with writing the perfect pop song.

Niklas: I think it’s fair to say we have overused the word “summer” a bit. That said, not all our lyrics are hopelessly romantic and in Stockholm, I think some of the more interesting lyrics are of a different school. Personally, my favourite phrase is the “Watching some Netflix, cooking with cake mix, so what?” one from 'Top Love'. I think it’s funny.

On the other hand, I also like the “The Swedish summer, it’s the best day of the year” one and that one ironically includes the word ‘summer’!

Perhaps ‘Popsongs’ best expresses your philosophy: “More pop songs/for everyone/more pop guitars/that's what we need”?

Mikael: Oh, those are actually my lyrics! I’m ashamed. That’s why I do not write the lyrics. :) 

Niklas: Ha ha!

After your second album, “Soundtrack”, there was a three-year delay before you released the “Single” EP along with a compilation of many of your singles, appropriately titled “Singles” (Siesta, 2000). Were you spending this time focusing on your other projects (Acid House Kings, Shermans), so Red Sleeping Beauty was finished? Or was it just put on hold?

Mikael: If I remember correctly I think we had broken up before the “Single” EP and Singles album were released. It was kind of a retrospective.rsb singles

Niklas: Let’s be open about the story! Mikael and Kristina broke up, so Red Sleeping Beauty was no more.

Many of the Acid House Kings songs sound like they could have been Red Sleeping Beauty tracks with Julia Lannerheim stepping in for Kristina.

Niklas: Maybe they sound a little similar, but for me, it has been fairly clear which songs fit which band the best. And with the new Red Sleeping Beauty songs, it’s even easier, since most of the songs are done in a very different way: Mikael records the basic music, I listen to it in the car stereo and write the vocal melody and lyrics. With Acid House Kings, it’s me and a guitar.

Same with The Shermans and The Charade with Mikael’s wife, Ingela.

Mikael: I started the Shermans after Red Sleeping Beauty broke up and Niklas had Acid House Kings in parallel with Red Sleeping Beauty. I think it is natural that there are some resemblances because it’s the same person doing the song writing. And I think that some RSB songs were first meant for Acid House Kings.

About 15 years later, three of the original band decided to reform around 2014 and recorded the “Kristina” album. What was the inspiration to resume the Red Sleeping Beauty project, and can you share why Carl-Johan decided not to join you?

Mikael: Niklas came up with the idea that we should try to do some new Red Sleeping Beauty songs. And we soon realized that it was fun to create songs again together and that they sounded better than ever. Carl-Johan did not have time to be part of the band because of full-time commitment to family life and kids.

Do you consider it a reunion or a comeback?

Mikael: Comeback!

Niklas: Both!

The experience has apparently been very positive, as you have now recorded a second album. Does this mean that your other bands are finished? Or are they on hold, possibly to return to at a later date?

Mikael: I don’t think AHK are finished. They seem to release an album every 5th year or so. The Shermans never officially stopped. Maybe we will return someday?

Niklas: Acid House Kings are very active… on social media! Joking aside, I am fairly sure that new Acid House Kings songs will see the light of day.

Mikael, is it difficult to be in a band with your wife and working in two different bands at the same time!

Mikael: We enjoyed being in a band together. But when I think of it, if we would start doing music together again it might be a better idea to start with a new name and musical direction. The reason for not being very active now in two bands is mainly because of lack of time. Work, family and taking care of the garden at our country house. :) 

The new albums bring the synthesizers to the fore and seem heavily influenced by a love of ‘80s synth-pop bands like Depeche Mode, They Go Boom!!, Erasure, Yazoo, Kraftwerk, Saint Etienne, Pet Shop Boys, et.al. Was there a conscious decision to focus on this style of dance-oriented music?

Mikael: Yes, when we started doing music again we didn’t want to do the same as before. We wanted to try something different. But I think you can still hear it is the same RSB.

Niklas: It was a very conscious decision. We actually recorded at least one song from Kristina in our old guitar / bass / drums style and it sounded spectacularly boring. Working in a new way is very energizing.

For example, I’m sure Vince Clarke must love what you did borrowing ‘Situation’ for the coda to ‘Top Love’? And I’m sure I hear Cher’s ‘If You Believe’ hiding inside ‘We Are Magic’! And is that a nod to Kraftwerk in those robotic voices in ‘New York City Girls’?

Mikael: Yazoo and Kraftwerk are influences and they tend to show up in our songs. I have not thought about Cher though.

Niklas: We use some virtual synthesizers on the album and one personal favourite is the U-he Repro-1. It has a pre-set that’s called “YazzLead”, which sounds exactly like Yaz / Yazoo, so I just had to use it! I remember Mikael not liking it at all at first!

I think the robotic voice is both a Kraftwerk and a Pet Shop Boys nod.

Last year you recorded a song for Sweden’s World Cup participation, ‘Dressed In Yellow and Blue’. Are you big football fans, or were you just happy to contribute to your label (Matineé)’s “World Cup” EP?

Mikael: The record label asked us if we wanted to contribute with a song. And the easy thing was to do a new version of The Charade’s old football song 'Dressed In Yellow and Blue'. I’m not a big football fan. I think maybe Kristina is the biggest football fan.

Niklas: Nah, not a soccer fan.

It has a wonderful, high energy melody. I can almost feel myself racing across the pitch while listening! Did any of the players (or the Swedish Football Association) hear it or provide feedback? Would have been nice to know if they played it in the locker room before the matches!

Mikael: Don’t think so. But the first version that I recorded with The Charade [for the 2006 World Cup] got a review in one of the big Swedish new papers and got top score.

You’ve written several songs about America (‘Florida’, ‘Don’t Cry For Me, California’, ‘New York City Girls’). Have you ever toured the U.S. and are these based on personal experiences, or are these fantasy songs about what you think these places are like?

Mikael: Would be fun to go to America. I have never been there. The lyrics are by Niklas.

Niklas: I have been to Florida, California, and New York, so the lyrics are not entirely fantasies. On the other hand, lyrics, at least mine, are to some extent always fictional.

You also tease us with some of your song titles and cover songs. I love the Stevie Wonder reference in the pun in ‘I Just Called To Say Jag Älskar Dig’ and, of course, The Smiths’ nod in AHK’s ‘Heaven Knows I Miss Him Now’. On your reunion/comeback album (“Kristina”), you record a song called ‘Always’, and on the new album you record a different song called ‘Always On Your Side’. You also recorded an early song called ‘For Fun’, but one of your first recordings, after you reunited, was a cover of Alpaca Sport’s ‘Just For Fun’ These are each different songs with similar titles, yes? Is this just coincidence or all according to a giant plan to confuse us, while having fun at the same time? In the event, perhaps all done “just for fun”?

Niklas: You missed that one of the tracks on the “Always on Your Side” EP is called ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’, while a completely different song on our new album Stockholm is called ‘Tonight’. :)  Some of these are just pure chance, while others, like the Stevie Wonder and Smiths references, are very intentional.

Now that Red Sleeping Beauty is back in full force, do you hope the project will continue? Or are you all looking to return to your other projects? It seems there are still a few 12” remixes of your more danceable tracks waiting to get out on the dance floor and we can never have too many affectionate glances back at those wonderful 80s…from a 21stcentury vantage point, of course! So what is next for Red Sleeping Beauty?

Mikael: There will be some more singles from the album and a Swedish version of ‘Tonight’ called ‘Ikväll’. The original version of the song was in Swedish and I think it is even better than the English one.

Niklas: We will release another EP in June or July with one album track and three songs not on the album including a cover of one of the greatest Sarah Records songs. We are also contributing songs to upcoming Matinée Recordings and Sunday Records compilations.

 

Jeff Penczak
A Conversation With Meat Puppet's Drummer Derrick Bostrom
A Conversation With Meat Puppet's Drummer Derrick Bostrom
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

A Conversation With Meat Puppet's Drummer Derrick Bostrom

While many will associate the Meat Puppets with the ’90s (thanks in no small part to their drop-in on Nirvana’s famed 1994 unplugged set), the Arizona band has quietly spent the past decade releasing one fantastic release after another.

Derrick Bostrom, who recently reunited with the Kirkwood brothers after a two-decade hiatus from the group, was kind enough to take some time and discuss all things Meat Puppets, including their latest release, Dusty Notes.

Soundblab (SB): First and foremost, thanks for taking some time to chat. Curt and Cris first reunited with you back in August 2017, when the three of you performed a set at your Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame induction ceremony - what was it like being back on stage together after all those years?

Derrick Bostrom (DB): For me, it was the first time behind the kit in twenty years. In all that time, I never played with anyone else, and that night, it was obvious why. The feeling of reconnection between the three of us was instantaneous.

(SB): How did the reunion come about?

(DB): I had not been in contact with the band for years. I actually heard about the Hall of Fame thing from a co-worker. I reached out to the band through their manager, who helped arrange a call with Curt. As we spoke, the years seemed to melt away. I found myself getting excited all over again.

(SB): How do you think the writing/recording of Dusty Notes impacted by your return?meat puppets dusty notes copy

(DB): I came on board in the middle of the project. The basic tracks had already been recorded. I took them home and woodshedded on my own for a few weeks, then came into the studio and played them along to a click track. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually worked really well. I had the freedom to work out my parts in advance, to make sure everything fit just right.

(SB): It’s been six years since the release of Rat Farm, which, in a way, felt like a ‘back to basics’ return to your DIY roots; how does Dusty Notes compare to that release?

(DB): Curt wrote the current batch of songs with Ron in mind. After Curt came up with the basic structures, the two of them got together and fleshed out the arrangements with keyboard parts. The goal was to end up with songs that would stay in the band's live set.

(SB): Talk about what Keyboardist Ron Stabinsky and Curt’s son Elmo brought to the recording process.

(DB): Elmo actually plays more guitar on the album than his father does. Curt envisioned the songs with himself mostly on acoustic. Elmo's electric work really stands out on this record. Every day during the recording process, he came up with something surprising and delightful. Elmo is my new hero.

(SB): Will Ron and Elmo be touring with the band?

(DB): It's not the band without Ron and Elmo.

(SB): With so many classics to choose from, do you have a favorite song to perform live?

(DB): The best parts of any set are the parts un-planned for. We live for those moments of on-the-fly composition (I guess you call it "improvisation"). It could happen at any time, during any song. It's why I look forward to getting on stage every night.

(SB): With the legendary status of early albums like II, and the mainstream success that came along with Too High To Die, a lot of people might be surprised to learn that you guys have released some of your best music in recent years (Lollipop is pure genius). Is there an album from the last twenty years that you’d like to highlight for someone who might have lost touch with your music?

(DB): Though it's no longer in print, I encourage fans to keep an eye out for Curt's 2005 solo album, "Snow."

(SB): The first single, “Warranty”, is a vintage Meat Puppets country-punk romp, albeit, with one of the band’s strongest hooks in recent memory. Is there a story behind how that song came about?

(DB): We prefer to let our songs speak for themselves. To paraphrase the song itself, "what you hear is what I am."

(SB): In the past, you guys have recorded albums pretty quickly, and because of this, there’s a spontaneous energy permeating most of your records. While Dusty Notes still has that trademark ‘Meat Puppets’ feel, the record is also incredibly nuanced (“The Great Awakening” and “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy” immediately come to mind) and layered. Did you guys do anything different with the writing and recording process this time around?

(DB): The Meat Puppets always approach each album differently. Dusty Notes is no exception. This album represents the end of a five-year hiatus, both of recording and writing. In the interim, Cris developed a relationship with Phoenix's Premier Studio and its owner Jeremy Parker. He talked Curt into recording there. Curt gave Jeremy a pretty free hand, as he did Ron, Elmo and myself. The final product was so successful that Curt shared production credit with Jeremy and the whole band, representing the collaborative nature of the project. The album, buoyed by the ecstatic reunion of the original trio, is filled with artistic discovery and creative connections, which is how it should be.

(SB): Anything final thoughts on Dusty Notes you’d like to share?

(DB): Another important contributor to "Dusty Notes" is artist Sam Hundley, who designed the album cover. Curt and Sam were childhood friends who formed a bond over their mutual creative energy. The two of the reconnected recently, and it turned out he fit right into the Meat Puppets family, giving us a new look that still manages to resonate our crazy unique energy.

meat puppets promo 2

Photos by Joseph Cultice

 

A Quick Chat With Hippo Campus
A Quick Chat With Hippo Campus
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

A Quick Chat With Hippo Campus

Hippo Campus is an indie rock quintet from St. Paul who make infectious funky pop look easy. Over the course of the last six years, they’ve produced a handful of eclectic EPs and two very diverse LPs. They’ve toured the world – playing festivals like Bonnaroo and sold out iconic U.S. venues like Union Transfer in Philadelphia, and the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.

As they set out on their latest world tour in support of 2018’s Bambi, I sat down with core band member Nathan Stoker ahead of their sold out Kansas City show at the Truman on January 25th.

Soundblab: Hey Nathan

Nathan:  Hey!

Soundblab: Looks like you’ve been to Kansas City quite a bit.

Nathan: Yeah we’ve been there a lot, love that city.

Soundblab: You have quite the following here.

Nathan: Every time we’ve been there it’s been a great experience

Soundblab: This will be your largest venue show here, last time you played the Record Bar, but the Truman is over twice the size.

Nathan:  That’s awesome.

Soundblab: Got a few questions here for you. How did you come up with the band name?

Nathan: Age old story is not very interesting. I was in psychology class and came across the term in a textbook and we had started just kind of sketching ideas. Nothing like super set in stone. But I always like to fantasize about naming bands. That’s the story.

Soundblab: What is the hardest thing about working in a group?

Nathan: There are so many things. The first thing that comes to mind is ego. Being okay with your ideas not being the best. Just shut up and listen type of thing. Always having respect for other ideas. How do I stick to my guns without coming off like an asshole? Maintaining friendships

Soundblab: Is Hippo Campus your first band?

Nathan: I was in a band with Whistler (Allen) our drummer in high school. That was the first band I was in and then this one.

Soundblab: What is your favorite song that you’ve written?

Nathan: They’re all kind of like our children so it’s hard to pick and choose. Usually, the songs we release are the ones that fit best with the album. But the ones we don’t release and haven’t found a place for yet are very special. “Alexandra” was a banger, so good, and it has yet to be released because it didn’t make the cut. So something unreleased I guess.

Soundblab: It doesn’t make the cut because?

Nathan:  Band consensus, not the label. Labels are pretty easy going. Some songs just don’t mesh together as well as they could in terms of an album. No cohesion.

Soundblab: What was the meaning or inspiration for the song “South?”

Nathan: We were just writing over the summer, just set up with our parents. It’s about being an angsty teenager. And feeling like choices are being made for you and you can’t do anything about it.

Soundblab: Any bizarre stories from the road? There was a rumor that Rivers Cuomo required his dressing room to be decorated to look like a womb. Any brown M&M situations?

Nathan: Whoa. Um… there’s a venue in Portland that separates the minors and adults in different sections – like completely gated off from each other, which was kind of strange.

Soundblab: In lieu of stamps on hands or wristbands?

Nathan: Yeah just separated by like a barricade. We’re pretty low maintenance though, so we don’t make any crazy demands.

Soundblab: Anything current music wise you’re really into?

Nathan: I just got into Tom Waits, I’d never really listened to him before. Rex Allen, this old country star. Cautious Clay is pretty cool. Frog.

Soundblab: Frog?

Nathan: Yeah they are like a two-piece from New York. I just got into the new Amen Dunes record too.

Soundblab: Freedom. Probably his best one

Nathan: He’s pretty rad. And then I’m digging a lot of ambient stuff. Just a little taste for ya.

Soundblab: Variety of listens going on. What’s influencing your sound?

Nathan: That’s a good question.

Soundblab: Overall. When you woke up and decided to be in a band…

Nathan: We were listening to a lot of British indie bands like Bombay Bicycle Club. Not a lot of OG musicians, but stuff that’s been around for a while. Our individual influences are pretty scattered. Like I grew up around a lot of church music so there was always a lot of driving, physical force behind wanting to be in a band that was not religion based. Playing guitar on stage is a draw for me and continues to be a thing that I love. In terms of sound, big bands like Low did have an influence.

Soundblab: Low’s Double Negative was Soundblab’s Album of the Year…

Nathan: Yeah the new one is sick.

Soundblab: You worked with BJ Burton, who also worked on that album, along with others by Bon Iver and James Blake. What was that like?

Nathan: Um it was weird. BJ has been a really interesting influence on the way we approach music in the first place. The way we look at it now, after working in the studio with others it’s just weird but… overall it’s been great. A lot of interesting growing up that had been done between us in the band and BJ. He really challenged us, pushed boundaries. It’s an ongoing thing too, trying to figure out where we go after the experience with BJ - working outside of that in kind of a foreign land. Very talented dude.

Soundblab: What’s it like going from smaller venues to larger venues in less than two years? 

Nathan: Every time we’re in a new city or town I’m amazed. There are elements of the smaller venues that are awesome, the intimacy. But the larger venues, it’s kind of nice to be able to take a shower and have a dressing room. Both have their perks. But no matter where we are we have the mindset that you can play in front of five fans and be awesome, or play in front of five thousand and suck.

Be sure to catch Hippo Campus on tour this spring, see dates below.

01/24 - Des Moines, IA @ Wooly's * [SOLD OUT]
01/25 - Kansas City, MO @ The Truman * [SOLD OUT]
01/26 - Denver, CO @ Ogden * [SOLD OUT]
01/28 - Santa Fe, NM @ Sunshine Theater *
01/29 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren *
01/30 - Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory *
02/01 - LA, CA @ Novo* [SOLD OUT]
02/02 - San Francisco, CA @ Fox Theatre *
02/04 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom *
02/06 - Seattle, WA @ Neptune Theater *
02/07 - Seattle, WA @ Neptune Theater *
02/08 - Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
02/10 - Boise, ID @ The Egyptian Theater *
02/11 - Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot *
04/18 - Indianapolis, IN @ Egyptian Room %
04/19 - Columbus, MO @ The Blue Note %
04/20 - Tulsa, OK @ Cain's Ballroom %
04/22 - Iowa City, IA @ Blue Moose %
04/23 - Peoria, IL @ Monarch Music Hall %
04/25 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol Auditorium %
04/26 - Madison, WI @ The Sylvee %
04/27 - Grand Rapids, MI @ The Intersection %
04/29 - South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground %
04/30 - Montreal, QC @ L"Astral %
05/01 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre %
05/03 - Clifton Park, NY @ Upstate Concert Hall %
05/04 - Portland, ME @ State Theatre %
05/06 - Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues %
05/07 - Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live!
05/09 - Syracuse, NY @ Westcott Theater %
05/10 - Providence, RI @ Fete Music Hall %
05/31 - New York, NY @ Governor's Ball
06/15 - Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo
06/17 - Ponte Vedra Beach, FL @ Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
06/18 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room
06/19 - Orlando, FL @ The Plaza Live
06/21 - Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore
06/22 - Dover, DE @ Firefly Music Festival
07/17 - Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks #
07/18 - Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks #
* w/ Now Now
# w/The Head & The Heart
% w/ Samia

Tim Sentz
Second Sun discuss Swedish Prog, past and present
Second Sun discuss Swedish Prog, past and present
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Second Sun discuss Swedish Prog, past and present

I was fortunate to review Second Sun’s album Eländes Elände. And the band were kind enough to answer my interview questions. This is a record that breathes new life in the prog/rock ethos of 1972, and it will warm the hearts of the fans of Argus era Wishbone Ash and early Uriah Heep.

Are you all from Stockholm, Sweden?

Hey! This is Jakob from Second Sun speaking. We all live in Stockholm, Marcus and Adam are from here, I am from a small town called Arvika close to the Norwegian border and David comes from Sandviken which is also a fairly small town.

All right, introduce the band and list each member’s favorite record. (And I’m not a Tribulation fan.)

Adam Lindmark / Drums / Eagles – Desperado; Marcus Hedman / Bass guitar & Vocals / Roky Erickson - Roky Erickson & the Aliens; David Grannas / Guitars & Vocals / Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind; Jakob Ljungberg / Vocals & Guitars / Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick

(I understand, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. You should really give The Formulas of Death a spin though, it has a lot of prog elements in it, particularly some Swedish folk prog stuff inspired by Bo Hansson and such.)

You sing in Swedish. That’s different from The Flower Kings or another band I just reviewed called Wheel in the Sky (who are from Uppsala). Why is that important to you?

Wheel in the Sky are great, a truly magnificent album, their last one! When we started the band, the idea was to have lyrics in both Swedish and English, because I like to write in Swedish and the founding drummer Micael (of Lamagaia fame, grade A kraut/space rock - check it out!) wrote really cool lyrics in English. We parted ways for logistic reasons and the only song that has his lyrics that stood the test of time and made it to a professional recording is Autonomic Pilot, found on the 7” that Electric Assault recently released. Our only song to this date with English lyrics. The Swedish language is easier for me to express myself in. I know exactly what words mean and their nuances, that makes saying what I want to say easier. Plus, for some reason I can sing higher notes in Swedish, ha ha.

And the title (thanks to Google translation), means “Elandes Elk.” Explain that title. And, because I enjoy the written (and sung) word, could you give two or three lines from the record in their English equivalent that present the ethos of the band.

Eländes Elände means roughly Woed Misery, or something in the vicinity. It’s an old expression, I guess it is kind of theatrical. But we thought it was funny and fitting to match it with our kind of down to earth lyrical approach. From the first song: The world goes under if we continue / That’s the heart of the matter / Out of the way hippie scum / Here’s money to be made! Soon there’ll be no one left to blame / And it’s not that hard to see / Everything is only going one way and soon it won’t matter / whose fault anything is anymore.

My note: So much for Google Translation! But a nice bit of lyricism.

Is there a world tour? Can I see you guys in America?

We’d love to tour the world. Book us and we will come! Unfortunately, the starting cost for getting to (especially) the US is huge, so we’ll have to bide our time and make it financially work before we can come. But who knows, if we get a good festival gig or something that can finance a small tour of one of the coasts or something that would be lovely!

How do you fit into the history of Swedish prog, with such a history of bands like Samla Mannas Mannas, November, Kaipa, Flasket Brinner, Archimedes Badkar, and of course, Made in Sweden?

I don’t know if we do actually. We never listened extensively to that type of bands. November is kinda cool, a little too bluesy for my taste, but they rock from time to time! My favorite from the Swedish prog scene is Bo Hansson, his Lord of the Rings album and Attic Thoughts are two of the best albums ever made in Sweden or elsewhere! Sofia, the keyboard player that handles the organ and synthesizer on half the album is into a lot of cool Swedish prog and showed us some really good stuff, but I think I’m more into the British side of things. Check her bands out! Klotet, Gravmaskin and Contaminazione - fantastic instrumental prog!

My note: I’m really stupid for not mentioning the great Bo Hansson!

Does the Silence label still exist? (I buy anything on that label!)

I have no idea actually. Silence Studios was up and running a few years back and they released killer Swedish Pixies-rock band Bob Hund a while ago - other than that I don’t know.

Hopp/Fortvivlan was your first record. How have you made prog rock relevant? And what is your intended progression? Is there a third album in the works?

We don’t really have a thought-out progression arc. It feels now like we’re heading into a more guitar driven hard rocking direction. But we never know and now our spectrum for how the band sound is pretty wide, which makes for a bigger diversity of tunes, which is great! A third album is in the making. We’ll work more on it during the winter months!

How is the music composed?

Pretty standard I guess - someone has an idea or two, we meet up, learn the parts, rearrange it a couple of times and then it’s a song. We work a lot compression, quality over quantity so to speak. I write the lyrics, we figure out extra stuff (percussion, harmonies and so on) and then we record it.

How does Swedish prog rock differ from Italian, French, UK, or German varieties?

I guess some of it is very influenced by folk music, but that’s true for some UK prog too. I wouldn’t know actually, I haven’t gone in very much in depth on Italian or French prog.

Explain the name Second Sun. And what is the Swedish translation?

In Swedish it would be ’Andra Solen’, it comes from when we listened to a band called Moonstone Continuum and they spoke a lot of “first and second earth”. I mixed it up while talking to Micael and said “first and second sun”, and we thought it sounded pretty cool. It’s got a little sci-fi sound to it, which is nice

Now, I really hear the dual guitar work of Ted Turner and Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash. Do you know the classic album Argus? And am I wrong to suggest there is, like Wishbone (or Fairport), quite a bit of folk tradition in your music?

Yes, Argus is one of my/our favorites! You are absolutely not wrong, I love Fairport Convention and the folk tradition is very much present, Swedish and Irish folk music was a part of my upbringing! That was the idea from the beginning; Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span meets Hawkwind. Later we threw in some late 70’s Judas Priest in the mix too, but the main idea is still pretty much the same!

Name a few other influences.

Wolf People (without whom we probably wouldn’t exist), Camel, the soundtrack to Castlevania 1-3 on the NES, Eloy and Grails. We also take inspiration from things that does not sound like us. For example, I have been listening to Bathory’s masterpiece Twilight of the Gods a lot lately, but I don’t think that the next thing will sound like that. Would be kinda cool though, ha ha.

My Note: Wolf People are fantastic! And their fans will love this record.

Do I hear a Uriah Heep heavy guitar/keyboard interplay in your music, especially in a track like “Panikangestattatck”?

Sure! Uriah Heep is great, I like the mix of fantasy style stuff and more down to earth rocking, and the keyboard parts are great! I remember us talking about certain parts as ‘the Uriah Heep’ part, while working on the songs with Sofia!

Just an idea: I really like how the end of the album reprises the beginning. Any comment?

I always thought it would be cool to do that thing Wishbone Ash does on Pilgrimage with the song coming and going throughout the album. We were thinking of putting it as an outro and intro to each side but it felt a bit too much.

Why are there so many great bands in Sweden.? To just name a few: Agusa, The Amazing, Beardfish, Dungen, Moon Safari, Liquid Scarlet, Mats/Morgan, Anglagard, Ritual, Anekdoten, Simon Says, Witchcraft, and Landberk. This may be better than the prog heyday in the 70’s.

Wow, I haven’t heard half of those, so I’ll have to take your word for that, ha ha! We’ve always had a lot of money in the cultural sector. Free/cheap instrument lessons, cheap rehearsal spaces and lots of people involved in young people’s activities. Those things lets almost everyone have the chance to at least try music. Which is super important.

Let’s get personal about Swedish prog:

Rag I Ryggen is a fabulous record. Any thoughts?

I never listened much to it, but it’s cool. It’s got a punk edge that I really enjoy!

Fata Morgana by Ragnarok is a favorite album. Again, any thoughts?

I haven’t heard it, it. I love the first one, but I’ll have to track it down

Kebnekaise were a brilliant band. Their III, Ljus Fran Africa, and Elefanten are great records. Do you know this music?

Yes, Kebnekajse is great! I don’t like all of it but when they keep it dark and instrumental it’s beautiful.

And have you heard Kenny Hakansson’s Springlekar Och Ganglatar? That album feeds back into my head.

Haven’t heard it. One more to the list!!

My note: My knowledge of Swedish prog is, thank you, in great debt to 1980’s import companies called Breakthru and Wayside who kindly sent hard copy catalogs before the internet (oh my!) sort of defeated the point of those much-anticipated catalogs. Now I simply press ‘place order.’ But, trust me, those were the wonderful and long-ago days.

What other Swedish bands must the world hear?

Ok, cool! People need to listen to Klotet, Hällas, Laser, Twin Pigs, Night Viper, Bomber, CC Company and Vojd!

My note: Hallas is great! I reviewed their record for Soundblab sometime ago. And you have grown my list by a name or two.

So, finally, what advice do a few great Swedish musicians have for music lovers all over the world?

Work less on regular jobs, buy less shit, take the bus - money is worthless, time is all you have!

My note: You have simply surmised the central idea from many great novels.

Just another idea from a lover of Swedish music: really nice album guys!  

Thank you very much, take it easy! All the best! Jakob

Bill Golembeski
Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade
Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade Discusses the Final Chapter of His Surreal Trilogy

Dodson and Fogg's alter-ego Chris Wade is the king of the multi-taskers! Over the last half-dozen years, he's released over a dozen albums, written half a dozen novels, and penned nearly 60 film and music books. He's also just completed the final film in his Surreal Trilogy, so we sat down for a chinwag while he caught his breath between projects!

Jeff Penczak
Read more
Soundblab interviews Current Joys
Soundblab interviews Current Joys
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Current Joys - when I write, I try to cut out all the bullshit

L.A.-based artist Nick Rattigan, now touring under the moniker, Current Joys, can be difficult to pin-down both sonically and creatively. Rattigan plays in both the indie duo, Surf Curse and, as a solo act, in Current Joys. The latter project has just released, A Different Age, which defies genre. The album is a collection of nine distinct songs but also functions as a larger cohesive whole. Ultimately A Different Age feels more like music-as-therapy than art made for art’s sake. Given that the album was born from a severe case of writer’s block, A Different Age captures Rattigan strumming, wailing and arranging his way back to creative fertility. It’s a fascinating, tense and ultimately pleasurable listening experience for anyone who invests the time and energy required to really hear the album. Interestingly, hearing is not the only way one can receive A Different Age.

A devout cinephile, Rattigan shot a full video for each song on his new record. The New German Cinema served as a major inspiration for the musician-cum-director who ultimately realized the solution to writer’s block might lie in film. Chantal Akerman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, two of Rattigan’s favorite auteurs, provided the most direct influence for his video series. Akerman, in particular, offered the kind of slow paced, real life, deeply humanistic experience Rattigan was seeking to convey with his short videos. When we caught-up with Nick Rattigan he was on the eve of kicking off a major tour, coming down from a hellish SXSW experience and ready for an introspective conversation about music, film and the rigors of performing live. 

 

Soundblab (SB): So where are you from, originally? The press materials said you split your time between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.How much time do you spend in NV vs. CA?

Nick Rattigan (NR): I’m from Las Vegas originally but I live in Los Angeles now. I’ve lived in Reno for four years and New York for a year but now I’m in Los Angeles. I divide up my time pretty chaotically because I am in two bands that tour a lot. When I’m not in Los Angeles I am usually touring somewhere.

 

SB: The sound styles are very different between Surf Curse and Current Joys. Do you tailor songs for each band? Do you write songs, try them in both, and see what sticks? How do you divvy up the work?

NR: There are certain sounds that make more sense with each band specifically. But now I just write songs without thinking about which band will play it. Then I’ll either show it to Jacob [Rubneck of Surf Curse] and he’ll give his input as to whether or not it’s a Surf Curse song. I try to keep the two bands as sonically distinctive as possible. Otherwise what’s the point of doing two projects?

 

SB: What acts or artists most directly influenced Current Joys sound?

NR: It changes all the time but right now I’d say Big Star, The Replacements and Neil Young. A little Elliott Smith… But I mostly get influenced by films. Usually the way I write a song is, I’ll watch a movie and find the vibe or mindset the movie put me into. Then I’ll write a song to try and capture that mood. So honestly its more directors and filmmakers whose moods I try to recreate.

 

SB: When I first heard Surf Curse it reminded me of Wolf Parade. With Current Joys you’re mining some really unique, hard to classify, territory. Who have you been compared to? What’s the craziest comparison you’ve received?

NR: With Surf Curse, when we’re on tour, a sound guy will usually compare us to some random band. We got Gun Club one time! I told him that I’d take it because they’re cool but, I don’t know? With Current Joys, one time I got ‘this is kind of like Jimmy Eat World if it was just one person…’ People just want to make sense of something so they put us into a bubble they can understand.

 

SB: The PR material I received discusses you disdain for irony and apathy. It goes on to talk about the ways in which your art seeks to confront mental health issues. How do irony and apathy relate to mental health? How do you remain honest and open with your listeners or viewers in the face of so many stigmas and misconceptions regarding mental health?

NR: When you attend music festivals it can feel like bands are essentially cattle. It can be overwhelming. You do your thing but don’t get to experience anything else at the festival. It’s hard to achieve catharsis in a 45 minute set. Also, this record really requires listeners to sit down and pay attention to get anything out of it.

When I perform, when I write, I try to cut out all the bullshit and have a genuine experience. The post-Capitalist society we live in makes us anxious and depressed. We work to live instead of living to work on things we actually care about. While I was writing [A Different Age] I was working a 70 hour/week job and just felt so inhuman. I’d go and play shows, seeking an experience or feeling, while I was in that mindset it just felt isolated.  

“Become the Warm Jets” is about whether you can really experience a song in the moment or if you can only experience a song because you have a nostalgic connection to it. Are you really listening to a song or is it just attached to a warm or comforting memory? It can be scary.

It’s not all doom and gloom. I do have an optimistic outlook on everything. It’s just easier, when you’re trying to be critical of an idea, to focus on the bad and nasty side of it. I do have hope for the world though.

 

SB: What is more appealing to you right now? Film or music?

NR: Both are such exciting mediums to work with, especially film. I’m actually reading [Andrei] Tarkovsky’s Sculpting In Time right now which is his manifesto and autobiography and it’s getting me so excited about film. The big takeaway is that it is still such a young art form and there is still so much to be done with it. Whereas with music it’s been around for centuries! Tarkovsky talks about how film has fallen into this capitalistic, Hollywood-style, narrative. But obviously, if you watch Tarkovsky movies you can see there’s this visceral experience to be had that is not just storytelling. So, I guess I’d have to say film. There’s just so much that can be done—especially now, going into a digital era. It’s exciting!

 

SB: Any specific cities or venues you’re looking forward to about the tour?

NR: I love new cities so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to playing Montreal. It’s one of the coolest cities and the venue we’re playing is small, 120 people or so. We played it with Surf Curse and it was so nice.

 

SB: What’s next for you, creatively speaking?

NR: I’m working on both a new Current Joys and a new Surf Curse record—which we’ve already started recording. I make a lot of photo zines too. I’ve been doing this thing where I make a zine and put a download code for five songs at the end of the zine. It becomes an album that you can only get if you have the physical copy. I have a few of those saved up and ready to go. It’s going to be a busy, busy year with touring and recording all the albums.

 

 

Jon Burke
A brief conversation with FACS...
A brief conversation with FACS...
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

A brief conversation with FACS...

Negative Houses, the new record by Chicago's own, FACS, is arguably the best debut album of 2018. We spoke briefly with the group last week to discuss the band's formation in the wake of the break-up of Disappears (their former band), their musical influences, wild sax solos and how to maintain sanity while on the road. It was a great exchange and, we hope, the first of many interviews we'll be conducting with this incredible new band.

Soundblab (SB): Disappears always struck me as having the sound bands like Interpol dreamed of making but lacked both the necessary talent, and edge, in order to do so. With FACS, you seem to have moved from Disappears’ post-punk sound toward a more experimental or post-rock style. Though I’ve read comparisons of your sound to PIL, I was reminded a number of times of Baltimore acts like Lungfish and Wilderness. How did your collective music appetites evolve between the disbanding of Disappears and formation of FACS? Were there any specific bands, records or sounds that influenced Negative Houses? In a pinch, how do you describe your music to the uninitiated?

FACS: I'm glad you picked up on the Lungfish thing, they're a really important band to myself and Noah. I don't think our tastes evolved after Disappears per say, but we tried to focus on some specific aspects of what we'd been doing with that band. Sound wise we wanted to focus on bringing the negative space to the front, almost like linear playing - meaning we're playing around each other instead of with each other. But we also wanted to just let things happen and not over think them, let the ideas come as they did and not define the sound before it came out. I think we fall under the "art rock" umbrella, it's minimal...I don't know. My friend recently told me that this is what punk music sounds like in 2018 which made me fell pretty good hahaha.

SB: How did Negative Houses come about? Was the goal always to make a record? Did you workout the songs live before recording them? Were any of the songs in existence prior to FACS or are these all FACS originals? How long between the dissolution of Disappears and the recording of Negative Houses?

FACS: It was really natural, we played for about 6 months with no real goals in mind other than making music. We wanted to be productive and have some internal momentum but we weren't interested in rushing back into doing shows. I used a bunch of the lyrics from the last batch of Disappears songs but musically everything was new. One song has some elements from one of the last Disappears songs but it's pretty unrecognizable. It was about a year between Disappears breaking up and us recording Negative Houses. Everything was worked out before we hit the studio, mainly because we weren't on any other time line than our own so we were able to take our time and get things where we wanted them.

SB: Do you have a favorite(s) song on the record? Did you have any songs from the recording process you wish had made the record but got cut? Can you talk about the experience of recording at Electrical Audio? How did the singles get chosen? The “Primary” video is exactly what I was expecting from that song, visually speaking. “Skylarking” on the other hand, though rather minimalist and haunting, features a dancer—which was unexpected. How did the video come about?

FACS: I don't know if I have a favorite song - I love how the drums turned out on "Skylarking", and the sax solo on "Houses Breathing" is really amazing to me. That's Nick Mazzarella - he did two takes and we used the second one, he's so talented. We left a song off the album, it didn't seem to match the mood of the others and I didn't think it was that good. Electrical Audio is a really amazing studio, we did a lot of Disappears stuff there, it's a really nice facility where everything works and you can feel comfortable and experiment. Singles get chosen pretty randomly. "Primary" wasn't going to be one but the guys who were making the video requested to use that song instead of the original choice. I had the dancer idea for "Skylarking", I'd seen some modern dance and was really inspired by it and thought it would be cool to have a dancer improvise something to one of our songs. Luckily we had some friends who had worked with a choreographer and our other friend who is a great director, everything fell into place.

SB: It seems impossible to remain on the sidelines in this political climate. Given that your formation coincided with the beginning of our new national nightmare, how did politics inform the creation of Negative Houses? As a band playing dark, edgier music, have you noticed any changes at your live shows in terms of audience behavior or how you’re received? As a group are FACS united behind any specific ideolog(y/ies)? Are there any issues that divide the group and, if so, how do you manage those situations? How have your line-up changes impacted the group dynamic?

FACS: I think we're really informed by the consciousness of politics. Musically, focusing on the energy in politics is more important to me than the idea, I'd rather try and interpret a feeling and translate that into the music than be explicit on some issue. I haven't noticed much of a change in our live show, the people who we relate to and the issues that we share have always been there, everything is just really hyper right now. As individuals we come at issues from different perspectives, which is helpful for me in understanding how we connect, but I wouldn't say we disagree on anything too important. The line up changes have helped keep things fresh, you lose some of the collective references and language you've developed over the years but you gain an outside perspective on those references which can be just as helpful. 

SB: Will you be hitting the road in support of the record? Who plays that insane sax part from “Houses Breathing” during your live set? Do you have any favorite cities or venues you’re looking forward to playing? What does your live show entail? Is it minimalist or do you have a visual component? Do you play only FACS songs? Any covers or Disappears tunes in the mix? What music do you bring with you to play in the van/bus while you’re traveling? Do you ever get annoyed with each other’s musical choices?

FACS: We've got an east cost tour with Suuns in May, some west coast dates in July and then we'll be in Europe / UK in the fall. No live sax unfortunately, although that's something I'd love to explore more. We have some visuals we use if the situation is right but we try and think about the room and decide from there what the presentation will be. There are so many places we're looking forward to getting back to - we've got a lot of friends we only see when we're out doing shows so we're looking forward to seeing them. But this is a new band, I don't know what is going to be the same and what will change in terms of where we feel welcome, it's part of the exciting thing right now about being "new". No Disappears songs, although we have been working on a Eurythmics cover I'm excited about. We don't always play music when traveling, it's nice to spend time in our own heads. But we listen to podcasts and interviews, try and talk to each other and keep on the same page about what we are doing together. 

SB: After the tour, what’s next for FACS?

FACS: We're getting new songs together, hopefully we'll get something new recorded by the end of the year.

 

Watch the video for Primary and stream Skylarking below.

Debut album Negative Houses is released Friday March 30th on Trouble In Mind Records and can be purchased here.

Photo by Zoran Orlic.

 

Jon Burke
Linqua Franqa
Linqua Franqa
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Linqua Franqa - Keepin' it real in the street, the classroom and on the campaign trail

As a community, Soundblab writers couldn’t be more different in terms of individual music tastes. Though we’re a wholly eclectic bunch, it’s a rare album that catches our collective ear—especially when it comes to hip hop. That said, Model Minority, the debut album from Mariah Parker, a.k.a. Linqua Franqa, grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go. Existing at the nexus of innate ability, rigorous practice, academic analysis, explosive outrage and surgical precision, Linqua Franqa truly is what many rappers can only claim to be: extraordinary.

Throughout Model Minority, Parker gives clear, poetic voice to the litany of psychological, sociological and ontological problems which have come to define 2018. She does so, in an almost comedic fashion, by first laying bare all her own fears, insecurities and shortcomings, before quickly shifting focus toward the violence, hypocrisy and malice lying at the heart of our gender, racial and class struggles. Rarely has a record this intensely personal been so applicable to society at-large.

In the spirit of “keepin’ it real”—Model Minority’s through-line—Soundblab rang-up Ms. Parker and dove deep into all things Linqua Franqa. The conversation was enjoyable, enlightening and ultimately gave us hope that, despite recent rumors to the contrary, there is a sequel to Model Minority in the works. We also got into linguistic theory, artistic identity and staying sane in the face of virulent racism, sexism and grad school. Plus, we were happy to learn that Mariah Parker may soon be coming to a ballot box near you! She’s certainly got our vote.

 

Soundblab (SB): Will you define what a lingua franca is for our readers? Is it the same thing as a pidgin? Why did you choose that moniker? Also, when and why did you change from “Lingua Franca” to “Linqua Franqa?”  

Mariah Parker (MP): A lingua franca is a language used to communicate across cultural boundaries. A pidgin can be a lingua franca, but not all lingua franca are pidgins. English is a lingua franca, thanks to imperialism and the Internet. I think hip hop is a lingua franca, too. Lingua franca also means frank language or frank tongue in Spanish and Portuguese. Given the ubiquity of the phrase in linguistics, anthropology, and various romance languages, I also wanted to adopt the two-q's to differentiate myself. I want my music to be a lingua franca, but it's also my music. 

 

SB: So how does hip-hop relate to imperialism?

MP: The desire for a sense of unity amongst the African diaspora has made hip hop very appealing to people of African descent in a variety of countries. Thus imperialism and colonization relate to hip hop in that way. In terms of cultural imperialism, both the global dominance of American media and the internet creating access to American cultural products—including hip hop—have furthered the reach of imperialism. This despite the fact that the original creators of hip hop are themselves pawns in an imperialist game.

 

SB: Do you see a way for hip hop to become a part of the solution [to imperialism /colonialism] or is a solution even possible?

MP: Yes, hip hop is very powerful for creating counter-narratives and so people who have always been defined by the dominant group can find a voice and a way to tell their own story and to define themselves. You see that [redefinition] in the way hip hop is taken up in a lot of other contexts. In the African diaspora, in Brazil, parts of Asia… Nationally, hip hop has always existed for the creation of counter-narratives and also for keeping traditions alive in the face of white supremacy and cultural hegemony is really powerful within hip hop. As an educator, I feel like hip hop has potential to be force for education and an inspirational tool in that regard as well.

 

SB: Online press coverage on Linqua Franqa describes her as a “hip hop project,” or a “stage name” depending upon the article. Where is the line between Mariah Parker and Linqua Franqa? Images/footage of you from live shows suggests Linqua Franqa has a big stage persona. Is Linqua Franqa a Ziggy Stardust or Sasha Fierce type alter ego? Does Linqua Franqa have more, or different, agency from your own? 

MP: Mariah Parker to me is water to fish: invisible, inevitable. Commonplace. There's no line between us, but rather LF is what I see when I squint hard at that water and really take stock of it.

The project of identity construction is constant and multifaceted for all of us. That's why it makes sense to me to call LF a project-- it's an identity that I'm a little more conscious of building with the way that I move and speak, the things I choose to say and how I choose to say them. I think LF is constrained by various gazes in some ways-- the male gaze, the white gaze-- but liberated in other ways, and it's very, very blurred territory. I can't ordinarily crawl and flail all on the ground or grab people by their collars and growl in their faces, so regardless of why I do it or for whom, I guess I would say LF has more agency than me.

 

SB: You mentioned that being Linqua Franqa gives you the opportunity to “squint” and scrutinize your life. You also mentioned the inverse which is that while being Linqua Franqa, on-stage, you’re the recipient of various kinds of gaze: gendered gaze, racialized gaze, etc. which are not necessarily welcome. How do you parse that dichotomy? 

MP:  I don’t think I spend enough time truly breaking down what I feel pressured to do as a performer, to look a certain way, to dress a certain way, to move in a certain way versus what feels natural on stage. When I first started, I got a lot of interesting comments from dudes who because I was the only female in hip hop [in the area] at the time would say things like, “You know it’s really interesting that you don’t try to be sexy” and I wasn’t trying to so I didn’t really care that much.

These days I feel a little more pressure to look like a performer—not like I just came from the library in my pajamas. I don’t think I interrogate that pressure enough… like, why is that so, other than its kind of fun and maybe the fun is innocent? Maybe the fun is playing into certain expectations and playing with stereotypes creates a kind of satisfaction or validation because of the cultural dominance?

I don’t really know. I don’t think about it enough but I definitely know it’s there. Being on stage involves playing with those lines. I might get a little more dressed-up than my everyday work clothes but, also, I engage in [stage antics] that kind of freak people out like hissing and growling and grabbing them by the collar or throwing things that might disrupt some behavioral stereotypes as well.

 

SB: Living in a college town myself, I assume that a lot of the local hip hop audience is white, which probably changes the [performer-audience] dynamic too. Are you ever reluctant to perform because of the complicated gendered, racialized dynamics?

MP: When I am performing for white audiences, the gaze makes me feel like an animal caught in a cage sometimes. I am often treated as such because of what people think they can say to me or touch my hair… So I do feel comfortable being a little more aggressive and combative on-stage since that is how I am positioned in the white world; in academia and the music scene. Performing for black audiences, where there is not that dynamic, is hip hop in its purest sense—hip hop for hip hop’s sake. I feel like my hand is forced when performing for white audiences.

Self-deprecation is part of the music I make. My lyrics talk about myself in that way all the time. Sometimes I embrace fetishization because, fuck it. Fuck who I am, fuck what I try to be, because it’s all bullshit. This is secretly how I feel all of the time.

 

SB: That’s one thing I think is incredibly different about your rhymes, the self-deprecation. The self-deprecation, particularly among male artists, seems like a bridge too far for most rappers. There’s very little ability to be self-critical because if one shows any weakness it provides an opportunity for others to attack. And you’re, on the other hand, just super open about everything and willing to goof around and it is just so refreshing.

MP: My attitude is “Come at me, bro! No one can kick my ass like I can”. If someone is going to talk shit about me, I’ll talk shit about myself and take all their ammo away. Then what are they going to do?

 

SB: The beats and samples on Model Minority have this lovely dusty, vintage quality to them. It’s reminiscent of early RZA or Pete Rock at times. Do you make your own beats? Who handles your production? What was the recording process like for you? Do you have a dream producer you’d like to work with someday?

MP: Production is handled by a slew of folks, mainly Letsruntrack (of Savannah), Murk Daddy Flex and Wesdaruler (both of Athens). For the remixes, I had the pleasure of sitting with Wes in the studio and tinkering around with the samples to get the tracks we ended up with, which was the first time we really operated like a band. It was a dream. My dream producers might be Blockhead or J-Zone or El-P, but I'm honestly honored to work with Wes and foresee myself doing so for a long time to come. 

 

SB: You confront race, gender and sexuality directly throughout Model Minority—all targets of hate speech and controversy at present. Have you encountered opposition to your message? Has the Trump era been inspiring your art or is the chaos and violence too distracting?

MP: I haven't actually encountered much opposition, and it has surprised me. At least, any haters I have are smart enough not to talk shit near me. As for Trump, most black people will tell you that things were this bad way before he came along, it's just white folks who are suddenly aghast—so I honestly feel that it hasn't changed much for me, creatively. The continued normalization of black death, like the deaths of Trayvon and Tamir Rice, and the story of girls like Latasha Harlins, has been far more catalytic. 

 

SB: In an era when everyone is expected to be woke, and to declare a position on every issue, how do you negotiate hip hop’s more misogynist, or homophobic, roots? How do you approach the genre’s classic tracks like Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day” or, say, most of Eminem’s career? In this hyper-reactive political climate, I’m curious how you stay true to your art.

MP: You just have to engage in battle with the fuckshit, just like when you're in the cypher, only extemporaneously. The tradition of verbal dueling is so central to hip hop, so I don't feel one has to straight up disavow other hip hop artists who are misogynists or homophobes. It's a matter of entering the conversation with them on some shit that embarrasses them into thinking twice or at least complicates what they thought they knew. 

 

SB: Have you ever had to embarrass someone into rethinking their position? How did that playout?

MP: You’ve got to be really honest and own that in terms of lyricism, and ferocity of delivery, where there is nothing more they can say about it. I’ve been in battles where someone would flippantly say they were going to rape and kidnap my daughter. And I came back at them with the fifteen-to-life they would serve for that shit and bring some reality to the [outlandish] things that people say which tend to not mean much.

I don’t really battle too much anymore but, when someone wants to attack you for who you are, you have to show them you have the verbal tools to dismantle their whole argument and that those categories of repression will not stop someone from being equal [in the cypher].

 

SB: Can you talk about substance use/abuse? Drugs are a frequent topic on Model Minority and I’m curious about the role they play in your life. I imagine frequently staying up late is vital to completing an MA in linguistics. Weed also gets brought up but not nearly to the same extent as uppers. What role do drugs play in your life/art? The stigmas around mental health are obviously problematic and difficult to overcome but you seem fearless when talking about anxiety and depression. How do you cope with stress and anxiety? Does it impact your art? Do you see mental health issues artistic fodder or do they complicate and impede art? Both at once?

MP: I'm very happily not on drugs anymore. Along with making music, kicking hard drugs has seen a slow and steady improvement of my overall mental health, which is wild to me since once upon a time I just assumed suicidal ideation and the like were just who I was as a person. Drugs have forever changed me, as have depression and anxiety, but I am actually glad to have experienced these things. A lot of people do experience them and so I feel in communion with something important about the human experience. 

Being overwhelmed is my art, or at least my toolbox. I am glad to have found daily practices which help--meditation, sobriety, turmeric, St. John's Wort, long walks—but the day I resolve my emotional problems completely is the day I stop making music. 

I also feel that depression and anxiety and addiction are ecological. The environment created for you if you're black can just depress you. Same for being a lady. Same for being queer. It's unlikely that I'll ever stop making music because it's going to be a very, very long time before we have a society that doesn't produce suicidal, anxious, addicted people. Until that day, I'll have to deal with it somehow.

 

SB: So, ultimately, would you prefer an artless life free of adversity or would you rather continue the struggle, as is, and keep-on making brilliant, inspired hip hop?

MP: I need the struggle. I’ve lived my whole life in struggle and, pathologically, I just can’t let it go because it’s all I know. So, I choose the turbulence. As crazy as that seems, as even though I find it hard sometimes to keep my head above water, emotionally… It depends on how busy I am too. If things are chaotic in my personal life I will take on more challenges to remain busy. That’s my reality.

 

SB: So do you see society as making progress over time or do you take the Foucauldian worldview in which progress is just a construct that we apply to our time?

MP: I think for the sake of my mental health, I have to believe progress is possible. Though I also see how progress is a construct. I’ve got to believe progress is possible and, even if it isn’t, we aren’t excused from working toward it anyway. I’ve felt what it is like to believe progress is impossible, and to not try for it, and I would always prefer to try.

 

SB: What role do politics play in your life? I looked on your Facebook page and it appears you’re managing the campaign of a local political candidate. What drew you to the candidate/campaign? How do you make time for the rigors of a campaign, grad school and a music career? Model Minority is both personal, and political, like all the best hip hop. How do you negotiate the edgy bluntness of hip hop while remaining true to your own personal identity(ies?) and politics? 

MP: Tommy Valentine, the candidate I work for and my best friend (who is having his first kid today!), was also a hip hop artist years ago. When we met a show about a year and a half ago we hit it off immediately talking about the parallels between political organizing and show-promoting-crowd-moving and how weird it felt to be PhD students who were heavy in the local hip hop culture at the same time. I don't make time for it all, I am a shitty student for sure, but I try my best and loving the work that I do helps. Also, I think politics needs the bluntness of hip hop. We don't need things spun and softened, we need truths and we need people who will speak them loudly. I don't see a need to negotiate or feel any pressure to stay true to myself, because I am myself and it's non-negotiable. And I hope more minoritized folks who feel the same will embrace politics in this way too.

 

SB: In one article there was a suggestion that Linqua Franqa might be over soon because you’re going after your Ph.D. Is that still the plan? Has the reaction to Model Minority swayed you at all in another direction? Speaking for myself, and everyone at Soundblab, I know there is more than passing critical interest in another Linqua Franqa record!

MP: There was a time where I thought I couldn't balance it all. It's still a constant struggle, but it feeds my writing process, so new songs are definitely emerging, though I imagine they'll need some time to cool and gel, as Model Minority did. I didn't expect my music to resonate with folks as much as it has, or at all, so you're right, that's convinced me to stay and fight a little longer. Also, fun fact! I wrote much of Model Minority in the poisonous miasma of a brutal break-up, and I was recently dumped again (hooray!) so can promise you there will be another LF record, probably sooner than later. :') 

 

SB: I love that term, “poisonous miasma”. Are you too close to the break-up at this point to talk about it, write or rhyme about it? Or is this where you thrive? Do you prefer to be raw and just tear into it or do prefer space, time and clarity before digging into it?

MP: I like to be raw about it and just go-in on it and other people. It might be a year later though before I figure out where it fits in the song. It might just be eight bars or snippets floating around in my head. It might be a while before all coalesces into something that tells a story. I’m writing a lot right now but I recognize the process and I don’t have to push myself to try to have songs yet. Right now is the time for raw, churning-out of verses.

 

SB: This isn’t a question but I just wanted to say how much I loved your Abortion is a Miracle shirt [as seen in the “Eight Weeks” video]. 

MP: You used to be able to buy them from the Magnolia Fund and proceeds went to help women get financial and practical support for their procedures in Georgia. It's a shame you can't still.

 

SB: So, final question. Thus far, what has been the most-rewarding or most-gratifying moment of your artistic career?

MP: I grew up in a rural part of Kentucky at the time when downloading shit for free on the internet became cool. Discovering the music of Of Montreal was one of the most important things for me as a young adolescent. It was the most fantastical, transporting musical experience for me. When I got to open for them [Of Montreal], last summer, at Athfest was a huge deal for me. That was my first really big show, in front of 500-600 people or something. Even though we are so different, stylistically. Just knowing that eleven or twelve year old me would have never imagined that moment—even to be possible—because I wasn’t even trying to be a rapper back then!

 

As we wrapped-up, Parker informed us that she is seeking public office, having decided to run for County Commissioner in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. Parker’s progressive platform involves increasing access to public transportation and adult education programs in addition to improving communication between law enforcement and the community it serves. If you’d like to get involved with Parker’s campaign as a volunteer, donor or supporter, please visit: http://www.mariahforathens.org/

Jon Burke
An interview with Mean Mary
An interview with Mean Mary
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Mean Mary - Blazing her own trail

The story of ‘Mean’ Mary James (who is perhaps best known as the intrepid, banjo-wielding songstress behind the inspired storytelling of 2013’s Year of the Sparrow, and the genre-bending follow-up Sweet) reads like a page from some lost rock ‘n roll memoir: she learned to read music before words; she wrote her first song at the age of six (the stagename inspiring “Mean Mary from Alabam’); she spent her childhood traveling the country, playing her music for anyone who would listen...the list goes on and on.  And over the past decade, Mary’s indie-rock take on folk and bluegrass has earned her an eclectic audience that expands far beyond the traditional americana community.

And while her profile these days is buoyed with an increasingly impressive social-media presence (her youtube page now boasts nearly ten million views and counting), Mean Mary’s music is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; you can add award-winning author, playwright, producer, and even television star to her ever-growing resume: the woman is an artistic force of nature.

I recently sat down with Mary to discuss her latest release, Blazing, as well as her upcoming plans for 2018.

Soundblab (SB):  So Blazing is the new album.  There’s the record itself, but it’s more of like a soundtrack or an accompaniment to this other thing you do which I don’t think most people are going to be aware of.  Talk to us about this project which entailed a novel as well.

Mean Mary (MM): Well, I co-write with my Mom, and we co-write songs [as well], but we co-write books and we have a few novels out.  One of our books won the Reader’s Favorite International Book Award for Best Mystery Novel, and this new one is an Award finalist for Best Action Novel there.  But anyway, we write these books and I’m like, ‘Okay, it needs a [soundtrack]', because usually we do a theme-song, and I’ll make a Youtube video.

I have a band project: Mean Mary and the Contrary’s, and it’s a little more rock ‘n roll, and I’ve been putting it aside because I had [this] last album, and so I was gonna spend all of my time concentrating on the new album, and I’m like, ‘You know what?  A new book is coming out; I need to do another Mean Mary solo album; let’s do a soundtrack to the book!’.

Because you always need new stimulation for the next project, and I got really excited about it [and thought], ‘Ok, I’ll put the band project aside and finish this’.  So it was kind of a whirlwind of recording and writing songs, but it was a lot of fun because we kind of took parts of the book...so it was like composing, not just doing the singing and that kind of stuff, but thinking more about composing it.  And so there’s quite a few instrumentals on the album, and then we matched it up to parts of the book.  So yeah, it was fun [laughs].

SB:  So the book, I’m assuming, came first, and this was a musical reaction to it?

MM: Yeah, exactly.  So all the songs were brand-new written after the book, and we actually had the book in hand, and I would look back over it and read parts…’this part is going to be this song right here’, and I’d work out the stuff for it.

SB:  “I Face Somewhere”; that song...it almost feels like a completely different kind of song than I’ve heard before on your records, and what I really like about the record as a whole is that it definitely works as a soundtrack, but as a standalone collection it works as well.  To that end, what got you into being an author?

MM: Oh goodness, I think [I have] always been kind of drawn to the writing, and things like movies and stuff.  In fact, you know I was in California for three years in the movie industry; it all goes hand in hand.  And when I write songs, I kind of write story songs a lot of the time.  And my mom has always been very creative that way; she never pursued writing, but she’d always [been interested] from a child herself.

So, I kinda got her encouraged to write, and so, working as a duo has been really good because I’m really busy with the music and she really needed the encouragement.  And so, working together, she kind of does all the hard work and then I can just come in and say ‘Change that; we need to do this’, [laughs].

SB:  Do you hand her a fleshed-out ‘verse-chorus’ instrumental and she puts lyrics to it, or are you writing to her lyrics?

MM: Sometimes; it just depends.  Lots of times I’ll have a concept, or I’ll have a chorus, like the lyrics for it, and I’ll have a tune and then I’m like, ‘okay, now the hard part.  Now make it all work out...write the verse’, or sometimes she’ll write lyrics and I’ll put a song on it, and I might put in a few words here and there, or workout a verse.  Or sometimes we work completely together, and she does write words too.

On the novels; we travel a lot together, ‘cause if you’ve seen my Youtube videos, that’s me and my mom.  She does all the videography and I do the video editing; so it’s just kind of a two-woman project.

And so we travel together, [on long trips like] two thousand miles from Nashville to here we will flush out ideas, and she’ll take notes and that kind of thing.

SB:  I want to talk about your banjo playing.  What sets you apart from these contemporary folk, throwback country artists is that you have chops; you’re a serious banjo player.  So, what drew you to banjo?

MM: Well, it’s kind of strange, [laughs] how it all fell.  I started [on] the guitar and fiddle, and then banjo.  I was at a pawn shop with my parents and I saw a banjo.  I had never really listened to banjo music...I guess I was seven, and I was like ‘oh, I want to play that instrument’.

So, you know, the banjo just kinda happened, and my mom thought ‘oh, that will be good novelty instrument to play’.  So I started playing it, and it really wasn’t my main instrument…[I’m a] fiddle player; everybody wanted me to play fiddle in a group when I wasn’t touring myself and playing my own stuff.  So I was...known more as a fiddle player growing up as far as ‘lead’ [playing] goes.  

But I played a lot of banjo, you know?  I did historic music, and the banjo is a good instrument for that kind of thing.  And I think the banjo just kind of caught on from Youtube...the popularity of it.  And then I started writing more instrumentals on it.  And I enjoy all kinds of instruments: I enjoy playing guitar; I enjoy playing fiddle, but the banjo...it’s fun.  I don’t really play it in your classical sense, but I like the fact that people are kinda surprised sometimes.  I get a lot of email from people that are like, ‘I never liked the banjo, I never thought the banjo could sound like [that]...what you play is different’.

I just like doing something different with it and I feel like even though I’m not that far from the tradition banjo stuff - I still do the bluegrassy kind of thing - I like finding different ways to kind of make it more of a sweeter, or a more pretty sound.

SB:  That is a really good point.  So, what you do, it sits so well in the mix; it’s definitely a  fresh take on it.

MM: Yeah, I’m really big on ‘the tune’...

SB:  Serving the song and the vocal.

MM: Yeah, I really want people to sit and enjoy what they’re hearing as opposed to [does an awesome shred-banjo impression!]

SB:  Which can be cool...

MM: Yeah, it can be for parts and stuff, but I always want to give the song itself the best, and then just do variations off of that and try to make it enjoyable to ‘my’ ears.

So, it’s fun.  And obviously not just the pretty, sweet stuff, but I like doing that kind of bluesier sound, like “The Iron Horse” and stuff, where I kind of tune it lower and [get] that more soulful sound to it.

SB:  So you did a T.V. show (Nashville TV show, “Never-Ending Street)   Any thoughts or recollections on that?  Do you want to go back to television at some point?

MM: Ummm.  No, not really at this point.  You know, I had my own little T.V. show and then, of course, when I was a kid...and, it’s a lot of work either way.  Right now, I love doing, my mom and I both, love doing the music videos for the songs, and the youtube channel has been growing a lot; my biggest success is from my Youtube subscribers and views.

I like being on the road, but it’s nice to be home doing new projects, and working on new songs, and so the videos kind of give me that opportunity, and it’s very creative and...I enjoy taking the songs and making fun music videos that people can watch.  As far as visual [arts], this year I really want to sit down and do more videos.

SB:  That bring me to my next question: plans for 2018?  

MM: Yes, definitely!  So, I have the Deering crossfire, which is the electric banjo, so I’ll be playing that and electric guitar [in] Mean Mary and the Contrarys...it’s a three piece (with bass and drums), and I might have my brother Frank, who guests on some of the stuff; he’s on all my albums, so he’ll be a part of that too.

So yeah, that’s the new project and I’m finishing that album up, and it’s gonna be a little more ‘rock ‘n roll’; I get to use the wah pedal and all that stuff. [laughs] Wah wah and the banjo’s fun.

And Europe this summer.  [it will be] the longest tour I’ve done, it’ll be almost three months.  And just gettin’ the Blazing album [out], all the videos done for it, and new videos for the band album...all the usual fun stuff!



Photos by Johnny Giles

James Weiskittel
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Mani Draper - The Last Marauder Makes Good

Up until recently, Mani Draper was the best kept secret in hip hop. Fortunately for Draper, and for the state of hip hop itself, the secret’s getting out. With just two albums under his belt, and a third in the works, Draper has completely revamped his production, honed his lyrical skills and created a sound uniquely his own. What’s so fascinating about Draper’s evolution is, despite braggadocio and machismo being so integral to the rap game, the man remains genuine and humble–even as the accolades come pouring in. At the nexus of Mani Draper’s socio-political awareness, strong work ethic and sense of personal responsibility, exists a man who must be able to look himself in the mirror – both the night of and the morning after. Draper is unable to abide the hypocritical hedonism of rhymes glorifying dope, guns and fucking that get thrown in the face of so many people who are suffering. For many artists this dichotomy would lead to a tortured existence but, when speaking to Draper earlier this year, I found the rapper to be passionate, engaged and ready to add his voice to the national discourse at a time when a voice like his is crucial to the conversation.

SoundBlab (SB): What can you tell us about Richmond, California in terms of your upbringing and its place in the Bay Area music scene? How has Richmond changed in your lifetime?

Mani Draper (MD): Richmond is the place that grandparents from both sides of my family migrated to from the south. Richmond was one of the first places in the Bay Area where black people could own a home. It’s always bothered me that we were seen as one of the more dangerous areas due to the crime rate because, when you live here, it feels like the safest place in the world.

Richmond has produced so many creative people – not just musicians but writers and actors. Ryan Coogler for example. Growing up a lot of us felt limited, like we couldn’t dream bigger. Kids should not fear that one mistake, at age twelve, will seal their fate. So many of my friends caught juvenile cases and their lives just stopped. My senior project was an analysis of recidivism is and how all too often rehabilitation isn’t thorough. My brother caught a case his sophomore year and was gone until I was in college. He’s better now but prison changed him. Just on a human-level it’s terrifying to see someone I know first-hand so changed by a system like that. I have a duty to my nieces and nephews. I want a much better society for them and, to do that, it’s going to take a legitimate tribe.

SB: How did you first come to hip hop culture and who introduced you to rap?

MD: My mom and dad were such hip hop heads that I was probably only four or five the first time I heard Geto Boys. It just rocked my world! Scarface and Rakim are my dad’s favorite rappers and I got to listen to that on my way to school while my friends got the whole “you’re too young to listen to that” from their folks. My peers’ introduction to hip hop was Nelly whereas I was listening to Wu-Tang and Pharcyde. My godbrother and aunts were all about ten years older than me. I feel lucky because I got to figure out and experience new music with them. They let me ride shotgun on the way to the record store, every Tuesday, right after school.

I’ll never forget, [Scarface’s] The Diary because I could identify with why my dad liked that so much. It was like a P.O.V. shot; like watching an entire film! It’s trippy and rare for that to happen. Emotionally, we’re all high sometimes, we’re low, we’re sad, we’re fired-up… we experience these emotions on the daily and it was mind-blowing someone shared [as Scarface did on The Diary] in such a real way. For me it was the first time in rap where I realized there was an actual person on the other end of the mic.

SB: What were you listening to at age 10, at age 20 and now, at 27, what are you listening to?

MD: Age 10 would have been heavy Jay-Z – that’s when I saw Streets Is Watching for the first time. Also everything on No Limit. They were putting out like an album a week but it wasn’t until Mystikal, and Fiend, though when I heard guys on No Limit who could actually rap their ass-off. At age 20 it would have been DD172, Mos Def, anything Ye and Mike Dean were doing. Kendrick and Big K.R.I.T. too. Right now, a lot of my time is spent studying funk and Afro-beat stuff – a lot of Fela Kuti. I was in NYC right before the album [The Last Marauder] came out and went to this underground club. The DJ played straight Afro-beat for hours. I’ve never seen people have a better time and it just changed my life. Those rhythms were so contagious and no matter who you are or where you’re from you just move to the beat.

SB: What do you listen to outside of rap/hip hop and funk? What artists or albums changed your life?

MD: What’s Going On might have saved my life. My grandfather passed when I was 22 and I had the luxury of spending his last couple days with him. He told me he left something for me in the garage and it was like 800 something records. I’d already had a decent collection by then but not what he had and not original pressings either. His copy of What’s Going On was worn so thin from so many plays that it was fragile. I played that record every night going to bed for years. Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul with that 20 minute intro and Prince too. Grizzly Bear is another one, they are just so advanced. And I can’t forget Erykah. Baduizm and Mama’s Gun had a really big influence on me. Baduizm is like a mad comforting lullaby but at the same time it’s so sophisticated.

SB: What role do politics play in your music? It seems like white America has only just realized there are major problems with poverty, incarceration, police violence, etc. Black Americans have been facing those realities since, well, forever.

MD: For a really long time I was ashamed to admit how much hip hop had raised me. When I got to college I was surprised to learn how much information I already knew simply by listening to hip hop. Before I left for college, my coach who was a white guy from Indiana, told me that I was in for a culture shock. And I was like: my best friend in the world is white, my school is extremely diverse and I’m from the Bay Area… I can’t be in for that much culture shock, can I? Coach just said to be prepared. When I got off that plane, man, I said: oh shit! I didn’t even know that it could get this white. It was so mind blowing. I decided I was going to be challenged in a really healthy way and just planned to learn a lot from that challenge. And thank god for that outlook because I had a great professor who really pushed me to understand the system. The great irony of it all is, I was a criminal justice major and I’m reading about private prisons, and white collar crime, and I’m connecting the dots to hip hop. On the Black Star album for example, they’re putting information into the songs that relate directly to my coursework.

The current climate… it’s just so funny. I’ve had so many different people emailing me to say that something I shared in a song years ago is in the news today. Now with what’s happening, and I try my best not to be offended by it, I’ve had friends from school who’ve written me apologizing for not knowing how bad it really was. The correct response is never ‘I told you so,’ it’s more, ‘what do we do as a unit, now?’ Kate Lamont, who sings on the intro [to The Last Marauder] is white and she and I were talking this past summer about how my entire life [as a black male] has been dedicated to making sure someone else was comfortable and didn’t feel threatened. I work double-time just to exist. It was a casual conversation, over wine, and she suddenly started crying. She said it was fucking mind-blowing and that she’s never had to consider that at all. But it’s a reality. No one is asking for the world to stop but just for enough empathy so that we can change it from its core. Not just a few laws to give the appearance of change but, instead, to actually overhaul this shit so that we can move forward.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who did Between the World and Me, has been my go-to for conversations to help connect everyone to understand what life in the struggle is and how we can start the conversation. The whole book is about him trying to figure out how to have this hard conversation with his son, about being black in America and how heartbreaking it is that nothing had changed for generations.

SB: I watched a lot of your videos on YouTube and I noticed you don’t wear labels and the women in your videos are treated like fellow artists instead of eye candy. How do you relate to your female contemporaries?

MD: I was raised by all women and I’m drawn to women like the next guy but I’m really drawn to women with knowledge, confidence and power. So that’s always been a thing in working with women who are operating on that frequency. It’s such a copout to just bounce some ass for three minutes.

SB: You play live shows with a live band. Why do you do that? Also, I watched one clip that featured your bass player soloing. Who is that dude? Because he is a great bass player.

MD: We need to start with him, Clark Sims. He’ll be nineteen but when I found him he was just seventeen years old and just jamming in his room, practicing solo, Prince and Sly Stone stuff. I went to an open mic in Oakland and saw him, and instantly knew I wanted him in my band. He [Clark Sims] hadn’t heard Thundercat so I gave him Apocalypse and Flying Lotus’ Until the Quiet Comes. He was already a great bass player but now he’s just in a whole other world. He has dedicated himself to learning the intricacies of playing hip hop and started listening to a ton of Organized Noize production and a lot of Madlib loops – just to figure out how he jammed those basslines together.

My grandmother connected me with Brian, from her church, who played in a Canadian pop band and was at the time doing a residency at a hotel in Dubai. He came back from Dubai, we formed a band, and they played the album release party for Ella Mae. It suddenly became clear that we could do this for the next record.

SB: Where did your flow come from? Like I said in the review, I can hear 50 but I can also hear Scarface, Dungeon Family, Rakim, Nas… Are there rappers whose flow that you idolize?

MD: When I realized what was going on with Rakim – I’d be lying if I said I got it right away – it was just so tight and I didn’t realize that when I was younger. He’s a legitimate master of ceremony. Also, Scarface’s voice, the realness of it, the sincerity of it. It always bugs me when everyone talks about Andre 3000 but leaves out how brilliant Big Boi is. The same with Snoop – he doesn’t get credit for his melodic aspect. When you talk about modern day dudes, like Travis Scott, Hieroglyphics influence is so apparent.

Richmond is always classified as “the country” area of The Bay. When folks here say they’re from the South, they are from the south. They have the drawl and everything. My grandmother, god bless her, until the day she passed couldn’t say certain words properly. That [southern influence] just finds its way into you. I think that’s why a lot of that southern music (Organized Noize) stuck for me because it reminds me so much of my aunts and uncles; the stories they told and how they told them, with their unique way of getting to the point.

SB: What is your relationship with criticism? Do you have any sites or authors you read regularly? For me a site like Passion of the Weiss is required reading. How do you feel about hip hop blog culture?

MD: I do read a lot of blogs. Criticism doesn’t really bother me – especially because I know where it’s coming from. I literally won’t go to write or record unless I’m moved. I’m not gonna hit you with a bunch of bullshit and there won’t be much fat to trim.

SB: How do you feel you’ve evolved from Ella Mae to Last Marauder as an artist? How have the sounds of those records evolved over the course of your career?

MD: You can’t unlearn certain things and once you understand the gear, and analog versus digital, you can’t go back. So with Last Marauder I took everything I learned with Ella Mae and applied it. I keep getting love every step of the way and so I want to go bigger each time. The challenger with going bigger though is to never forget the roots: the drum and bass. They are why we’re here. You can add all the strings and guitars but don’t you ever forget the foundation.

SB: If money and access were no problem at all, who would you collaborate with? You do so well with female vocalists, like Jane Hancock and Jasmin Nicole, ideally do you have a female vocalist you’d like to perform with?

MD: Dream collaborator, Q-Tip or Mike Dean for sure. I could learn so much just being in the studio with them. I was so scared and nervous about the new Tribe record but not only did I love it, I was so blown away by their ability to make it so relevant. It can compete right now but it also didn’t compromise anything that they did before and they didn’t sound old.

For singers, I got to see Lauryn for the first time. And she came on right after Nas and I always loved her singing but I realized she is the best rapper I’ve ever heard. She made it look so easy but the control… She can really rap her ass off. It would have to be Lauryn because of what she’s capable of. I’d love to bring back an O.G. who doesn’t get the credit she deserves… someone like Michel'le.

SB: What’s next for Mani Draper?

MD: We’ve already started recording. I’ve been going to Portland – I went last month and I’m going again this month. I went full force and have been studying as much as I can like the Afro-beat stuff. Then the band and I are getting ready to hit the road for Last Marauder when all the college kids are back from Spring Break and that should be a lot of fun.

Photos by Adam Montgomery

Jon Burke
Alternative Music - Interviews - Soundblab

Chris Wade

THE APPLE PICKER
Wisdom Twins Films (2017)
Directed by Chris Wade

Starring: Jack Napier, Shawn Dimery, Chris Wade, Andy Wade, Toyah Willcox, Nigel Planer

Imagine Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries remade by David Lynch and you’ll be in a better mindset to immerse yourself within the debut film from author, musician, and filmmaker Chris Wade, perhaps best known around these parts as the guiding light behind the prolific Dodson and Fogg project. We chatted with Chris to get a handle on what encouraged him to reach out beyond his comfort zone in the recording studio to tackle the silver screen.

What inspired you to make a movie and can you share some of your influences – are there specific directors whose work inspired your approach? I can almost feel like I’m watching Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries remade by David Lynch, particularly with that industrialised, mechanical hum running under so many scenes, as Lynch used throughout Eraserhead.

Well I have always been mad on films and have wanted to attempt one, at least once, for years. The time to actually get off my arse and do it came when I managed to pick up a nice camera, and got an editing program, and I just started experimenting. I like a lot of different directors for varied reasons, and I reckon some of them have influenced the film subconsciously. I love Ken Russell's films, particularly The Devils and even his later horrors like Lair of the White Worm. I also love the spirit of his very later films when he was making them in his garden with home video recorders. He was a hero of mine. I'm in the middle of doing a book on his work actually. Such an eccentric genius. There's a total lack of fear there in all his movies. I also love David Lynch, Blue Velvet is a favourite of mine, as is Eraserhead. And Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola. These are the ones I have always loved to watch and study. But there are so many I just love, but don't know if they've influenced me at all. Woody Allen is one of my favourite filmmakers. Funnily enough, Madonna, who I am not embarrassed to say is one of my favourite artists, made a short film a few years ago, a surreal black and white thing called SecretProjectRevolution, and I loved the slow mood and look of that too. So influences come from all over. 

There’s a surreal element to the film, both in its images and open, agnostic storyline, which leaves plot elements and outcomes to the individual viewer’s personal interpretation. Are you a fan of the work of Buñuel, Dali, Cocteau, and the Surrealists? Or, the ‘60s avant garde film scene in New York – films of Jonas Mekas, Jack Smith, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, et.al.

I am a massive Dali fan and love the films he did with Buñuel. I just love the freedom of the surreal, you can try anything out and don't have to stick to a normal narrative, just keep it loose and free. Anything can happen when you're approaching the surreal, it's very liberating. A director called James Frawley, who I interviewed last year for my Dennis Hopper book - he made films with Orson Welles and Hopper, and has done  a lot of TV (Monkees, Ghost Whisperer) - he said it reminded him of the avant garde New York films of the 50s and 60s. I haven't seen any myself, so that was interesting that you both said that. I am definitely going to check those out. A lot of this is accidental really. I suppose certain people have similar creative outlooks, even if they do exist in different countries and eras.

There’s even a sense of dread and loneliness and isolation that lends a Kafkaesque element to the story?

Yeah, there are moments of dread and isolation in there. Some of it was quite creepy to edit actually, made my bowels go a bit funny. No, seriously, filming it was fun, but in the edit, things took on more of a serious tone. The old man is isolated. He could have 100 people round him but in his state, he might as well be alone, and might not even notice they are there.

The film seems to be composed of over a hundred brief clips edited together in a somewhat random sequence, a la the cut-up work of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson. The film therefore has the feeling of a connected series of set pieces. Did you have a hard time editing the film into its final sequence? It seems that some of the clips are independent enough to have been placed randomly, or at least different from the final running order and still worked within the film’s non-narrative, or at least non-chronological structure.

Yeah, a lot of it was shot out of sequence, whenever new ideas popped into my head and I felt something new coming up. But I kind of knew what I would start and end the film with, and certain bits in the middle had to be in their specific places, but the rest was like rearranging a deck of cards or putting a jigsaw together. It was so much fun. The edit took me a while, I'd say two months on and off. I would write, record, do my work through the day, and see my family of course, and often get up in the night to edit this film. It helped with the mood actually, all dark and quiet, with just the cats sat with me while my partner and daughter were asleep. Other times I'd do a bit of editing through the day. It was hard, but just too fun to feel like proper work, though I did get a bit obsessed with rearranging scenes in different orders. It was experimental and actually really exciting. At times I did stop and wonder what the hell I was actually doing though! Haha.

One might even allude to hints of the found-footage films like Blair Witch Project or The Ring based on your early framing scene in which Chris Wade, the actor places a video tape into a machine? Is the whole film a film-within-a-film?

It could be if you wanted it to be. The video to me is more like the old man's mind, or something that embodies his cracked consciousness. I don't want to give too much away, because when you explain it, it sounds pretentious... which it probably is, I don't know. But the video is there at the end too. There is a mention of the old man "finding" the tape, but I kind of like people to read into that what they will. The video could be a literal video or a metaphor. I do like film-within-film formats. I am dying to see Orson Welles' Other Side of the Wind, his great lost film about the director Jake Hannaford which is coming out soon after thirty years or more of being on the shelf. I also love a film by Dennis Hopper called The Last Movie, which he made right after Easy Rider. That kind of destroys the movie myth and blurs the line between reality and film. I like films that challenge you in that way.

Was it important that the film didn’t have a “right” or “wrong” meaning, while still enabling you to escape criticism about not knowing yourself how to end the film?

Well I definitely feel like the film ends properly, and I knew all along how it would end. The very beginning and the very end were the first things I filmed. It was the stuff in between that needed filling in and discovering. In my view it comes to a conclusion. Some people say it took two viewings to realise what happens in the end. But I love the fact there is no right or wrong meaning. That might drive some people up the wall, but it also leaves it open so people can see their own conclusions.

Yet even your pre-credit sequence implies that the viewer will have to draw their own conclusions – you hold an apple in each hand, inviting the viewer to actually become “the apple picker”!

Exactly. I like that. You pick out what you see yourself. The two apples are also like having two choices in life, which way to go, good or bad, asleep or conscious. The old man seems to have been largely ignorant to what has happened around him, and as he is today it's kind of fitting that his mind has taken him elsewhere. My partner Linzi thinks he has dementia. It also ends it with the apples too, so it tells people that life doesn't necessarily have to be the way it was for the old man. You can pick a new apple. God, I feel like I'm going off my head talking about this thing!!!

Was shooting in black and white an economic or thematic decision?

I shot it all in colour on the video camera, but changed the tones to black and white and sharpened it up along the way, to make it look more dreamy and more raw. I love black and white myself, so I wanted it to look good. I know people might go, "Oh Jesus, a black and white arty surreal film!" But that's expected. It is a difficult film. Try editing the bastard for two months! Haha.

You use some of your music in the film’s soundtrack. Is this original to the film or are you using excerpts from previously released material? Will there be a formal soundtrack or do you feel the music wouldn’t work if divorced from the visuals?

Some of the music is older stuff, from the Dodson and Fogg albums, but some of it is new stuff just on keyboards. A lot of it is mood establishing so might not be good to just listen to on its own. Pretty soon though I am going to think about getting it into a soundtrack form, definitely.

Who is/are the Moonlight Banquet? Is that another side project of yours or just friends who contributed some music to the soundtrack?

Yeah, that was an album of instrumentals I did back in 2013. Some of it was so creepy that I just knew it would fit into the movie. The bit with the guy with the mask, that was from that album, and it fit the dark mood too well for me not to use it.

Did you spend a lot of time matching the visuals to your music or was it more of a feeling that a particular song would work with the images?

It was a mix really. Sometimes a bit of music just popped into my head that I knew would work, and other times I had to create some new synth music for certain bits. It was a lot of fun actually, and without the music I don't think it would be as effective as it is... if it is effective of course. Doing the music was kind of spontaneous and exciting too.

 Are you familiar with Robert Frost’s poem, “After Apple-Picking”, which is full of decision-making and dream sequences? If so, did that inspire anything in your film? Or, perhaps, did you get the idea for the title from the urban dictionary’s definition of an apple picker as “a balding male who attempts to act younger than his actual age”? The theme of “looking back” for a lost youth may support this reading?

What it was is - my partner Linzi is really good with titles. She came up with The Apple Picker after I filmed my daughter holding those two apples (my daughter is in it a few times actually, I see her in the field at one point and chase her across the grass, but she turns into the ferret-faced bastard). Then it kind of stuck with me. The apples could represent youth, a fresh life, new opportunities, the world being your oyster and your life being ahead of you. It was the optimism I liked. It's yours for the taking... that kind of thing. I haven't heard of Robert Frost's poem, but it might be interesting to have a look now. In truth a lot of the best stuff to do with the film wasn't preconceived, it kind of came out organically and spontaneously. But there is definitely a looking back, that is the main theme here. He might regret it, realise he kind of existed in his won little world, blocking his loved ones out. That's the tragedy in the fact that when he's lost his mind, his life is no different, because he might as well have been asleep his whole life. The old man is looking back into his past but also into his fears and thoughts. He's not in the best state of mind though, so that explains the jarred order and the cut-up appearance of his memories. As the guy says at the end of Night of the Living Dead, "They're all messed up!"

I see that your film was selected for the Sydney World Film Festival. That is some honour for a debut film! How was your film selected and what does this mean to you as a first-time filmmaker?

I know! It's amazing to me. This basically started off a bit of fun, an experiment really. It just came into a shape as I went along and got more confident and into it. But I never thought it would be in festivals. I submitted it to two festivals as a kind of after thought, and didn't really think about it again. Then I got an email to say it was one of the four chosen films for selection at the Sydney one. I was so stunned, it was amazing. I always dreamt of making a film, so this was like some mad dream to me. It's nice that people take it serious. The organisers said that one of their panel loved the film so much they would let me enter their other festival for free, wavering the fee. So there are two more festivals I am waiting to hear back about. I am just so excited about what might be around the corner! It's out there for free if anyone is free for an hour and 11 minutes. Having it for free makes it more fun, so I don't have to think about distribution and all the boring stuff, and can just go on the next project.

Of course, some will complain that this is all a load of bollocks and it doesn’t make a lick of sense, denigrating it as pretentious and self-absorbed. Aside from everyone being entitled to their own opinion, and not giving away too much for those who haven’t seen it, could you put us at ease by confirming that there is an inner logic that will clarify things for the astute viewer. Perhaps a second viewing would reward those who feel cheated, or anyone looking for everything to be tied up in a neat package where all is explained?

Oh yeah there is a logic to it. I think I have made a film with a vague plot running through it, you just have to figure it out. I liked the idea of moods and atmospheres firstly, then linking these images together. He's looking into his own head, but no one can get through to him. Even his wife might as well just be stuffed in the corner, or talking through an old radio with a bad signal. The moon kind of symbolises release too, in the beginning he gazes at it and he does at the end too, only there's a difference at the finale... but I won't spoil the ending. Of course some people will think it's bollocks, and that's OK. To some people it will be, and that's expected. It is a challenge. I'm not gonna kid myself to thinking everyone will rave about it. You have got to have thick skin when you are putting your work out there. When I first started writing books I couldn't take criticism. I was in my early twenties, now I'm in my thirties and can handle negative feedback these days. I take it on board but it doesn't really mean much. But I wanted to make a piece of art, like a moving painting with humour and mystery to it. It's not everyone's cup of tea, they would spit it out if it were tea. But it's definitely mine. Not literally of course, that would just be weird. But in some ways, even though people diss self indulgence, making art is firstly about satisfying yourself. So even if I explain what it's about, a lot of people will undoubtedly think it's tosh. That's something I welcome anyway. If a filmmaker is purposely going to make something that everyone will like and understand, then he's just a salesman of product in some regards. That sounds wanky, but I mean you need to take a risk and challenge yourself too, I think; otherwise, what's the point?

I love films that are a bit baffling at first, but reveal themselves later. Look at Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara. Most people say it's a load of crap, but I love it. The same goes for Neil Young's films, especially Journey Through the Past. I love the free form experimentation of that. But yeah, not everyone likes that kind of thing. Don't get me wrong, I love straight forward films as well, but to make my own film, it had to be something that interested me and kept me on my toes. I was totally out of my comfort zone, though I do have a nice pillow on my office chair. 

The grainy film stock, shaky, hand-held camera, occasional loss of focus, slow motion and reverse filming are all brilliant touches, imbuing the film with an eerie, dreamlike mood in keeping with the thematic element of loss, self-reflection, and our hero’s question – was it all worth it...or, is that all there is to life? One could almost look at some of these scenes as “home movies” running through our hero’s mind as he looks back on his life?

Yeah definitely, I am glad you picked up on that. A lot of it is intended to be snap shots from a mind, broken memories that look a bit fragmented because of his state. Like blurry home movies, smudged memories. And yeah, when I get to the old man's house (me playing the character I mean) and give him the tablets, there is a feeling of "is that it?" But at the same time something happens. What are the pills? Why is he suddenly inside the moon? There's a lot to think about if you have the patience for it. If you don't, feel free to throw tomatoes at the screen.

You also chose to use title cards instead of dialogue, particularly in the scene where the doctor and old man/patient “discuss” the doctor’s lunch habits. Were/are you a fan of silent films and was this a nod to their influence, particularly in using images to tell a story without dialogue?

Yeah I love silent films. I did the cue cards so it was like they didn't even need to talk, or want to. They just write the words down. They even sigh in boredom on the cards too. The day we did that scene, I put some pickled onions in a bag and went up to my father-in-law's house (he plays the old man by the way) and we did it in the woods outside his house. It was a mad idea. I got him to wrap the blanket round himself and then I reversed the film. It was bloody freezing that evening and nearly pitch black. I ate a pickled onion. It was lovely...

As for silent films, I seem to love them more and more as I get older. I love George Méliès’ films, just so unusual, and of course the old Dali silent films... and one of my favourites is Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau. I think they are more pure because they just rely on a strong visual. These days, it's all cool quotable dialogue, plot, special effects and arrogant posturing. But silent films just got on with it and told you a tale through imagination and images. I like establishing a mood and an atmosphere without having to rely on dialogue. One of my bits of the Apple Picker I was really pleased with is when I go past that weird old castle (that was at the far end of Wales on Holy Island) and I stand on the mountain side, and the grass is right in front of the camera, and there is a howling wind but nothing else. I love weird moments like that. It's quite pure doing silent scenes with no voices. Fucking creepy though. It was well weird up there, and those two guys you see in the distance were having a weird chat by he water and didn't know I was there with the camera. The old castle had been burnt down in the 80s by some kids, and it just was left there half destroyed. It looked so cool with the barb wire, but a bit like a concentration camp as well.

I really enjoyed the narrative sequences throughout. Were any of these stories extracts from your In A Strange Slumber album. Which also featured several Nigel Planer narratives.

Yes, one of them, the one with the gravedigger and the cartoon of Sag Hill, that is from the Strange Slumber album. The other two were done especially for the film. I asked Nigel if he fancied recording some VO for it and he said yes. He recorded it on his son's laptop, no fuss, and sent it back to me... then I made scenes to go with them. The bonfire night poem. I had the idea of the drifter reading it as a poem in that weird little book he finds in the grass, then something about it sends him off the rails and he puts his mask on. The diary of a nuisance; I used that for the bit when the writer (played by my real dad) gets angry at his rejection letter, so reacts by typing out what he feels is the best novel of all time, but really it's just this mad diary. I found that really funny in a daft way.

Had Nigel seen the film or was he content to provide the Intermission piece, which may or may not be related to the film that bookends it!

He'd not seen it, no. He was happy to help me out. The scenes hadn't been sorted at that point, so it was fun to work them into the film with his voice already recorded. And as a life long fan of Nigel Planer, it was also quite surreal and a bit unreal too. I've loved his work for so long that it's unreal he is in this. And he's such a nice fella too, so easy going and helpful to my weird needs with no questions asked. I'm lucky to have his brilliant voice in the film. I think I'd be pushing it if I asked him to do it again though. He might pelt me with Maltesers from afar...!

And how about Toyah. Was she doing essentially a cold reading of narrative text without the images to guide her?

Again, Toyah was kind enough to help me out. We did a track together last year which she wrote a verse for. I asked if she would read this monologue, in the voice of the old man's wife, and she did it at home I think and sent it across to me. She enjoyed doing it, she said, so that was cool. I had the scene in mind, but I didn't film all of it until after I had her recording. I got the radio footage filmed afterwards.

Had you filmed the scene before you wrote it and added her narration afterwards, or the other way round?

No but I had taken note of it, planned it out ready to do and told her about it. But she's a great actress so I didn't need to say much. She knows what's doing. I think she added a genuine sadness to it. Really great bit of acting I think.

Has this experience perhaps inspired you to create videos for your songs in the future

I've already made quite a few videos for Dodson and Fogg songs. It was doing them that made me want to make a film actually. If you go on You Tube and type in Dodson and Fogg, you'll see a few videos I've made over the last few years. Little collages of footage and bits and bobs. They're crap mind you....

You can watch The Apple Picker for free here.

Jeff Penczak