Well the tables have been turned on The VPME as those nice people at Record Of The Day (the music industries top weekly in house magazine,) have interviewed Mr Von Pip (as an “influential” blogger no less!) You can read the interview by clicking the link below. Chuckle, as he is prodded, probed and reveals his deepest and most shocking secrets (or not.)
Wintersleep have been together since 2002 and their intelligent, evocative brand of Indie rock has attracted a sizeable fan base on the other side of the pond, where they regularly play to 1000+ audiences. They have yet to make their mark in Europe but their new album “Welcome To The Night Sky” (produced by Tony Doogan – Mogwai, Super Furry Animals, and Explosions In The Sky) looks set to change all that. It’s an album which recalls early R.E.M.(minus the pomposity), Arcade Fire (minus the strained vocals), Kings Of Leon ( before they decided they wanted to be The Eagles, ) Radiohead and even a hint Snow Patrol (minus Mr. Lightbody’s recent plodding stadium rock by numbers approach). Epic songs such as “Miasmal Smoke and Yellow Bellied Freaks,” “Drunk On Aluminum” and “Murderer” demonstrate why Tom Yorke must be sleeping with one eye open, and are just a few examples of why this album could be one of the breakthrough albums of 2009.
Wintersleep’s chief lyricist Paul Murphy certainly has a way with words; however his early exposure to music was fairly limited. He’d listen to his parent’s classical records, a bit of Roy Orbison, maybe some Leonard Cohen. His father then attempted to add variety by way of adding Simon and Garfunkel to the family music collection. Alas after reading the lyrics to “Cecilia”, it was decided that Paul Simon was a pervert and was never to be played again, granted it certainly does contain some disturbing lyrical content. “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/Up in my bedroom, /I got up to wash my face/When I come back to bed/Someone’s taken my place!” BLIMEY ! One can only assume Cecilia was some sort of insatiable nymphomaniac and the other chap was the ultimate opportunist, was he hiding in the wardrobe? I mean the song’s narrator had only gone to wash his face for God’s sake! One dreads to think what may have happened if he’d nipped out for a newspaper? Another huge influence came from literature and poetry, Kafka, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Palth all left an indelible impression on young Paul and this in turn led to him being drawn to the more literary songwriters, Leonard Cohen, Mark Lanegan, Thom Yorke, Bill Calahan, Morrissey, Nick Drake, Velvet Underground, Pixies, et cetera. Despite releasing two previous, critically acclaimed albums in Canada “Welcome To The Night Sky” is the band’s first release in Europe. The band have three London shows in December then return to Europe in February 2009 around the time of the album release. We spoke to Paul about 2008 and the band’s plans for the new year.
VP: You have built up quite a following in your native Canada and are about to tour Europe next year, after a number of London shows in December. So for the unenlightened what’s the story behind bands “conception”?
PAUL: I guess there was never really any heavy idea behind the band’s conception. I think it was just initially a way to write songs and record with friends.. We were in two different bands at the time. Tim and Paul [me] in a band called Kary [now defunct] and Loel and Tim in a band called Contrived [still active].. We made a demo in Loel’s apartment and people seemed to like it.. From there we decided to maybe do a few shows which turned into a tour to Ontario which turned into a cross-Canada tour, etc., eventually taking us to your lovely continent 🙂
VP: “Welcome to the Night Sky” will be officially released in the UK next year How would you describe the album, and was recording it an enjoyable process ?
PAUL: The process was very enjoyable.. Feels like our first proper record. The first one we had a real budget to work with and that we were able to do in a 3 week block, a song a day essentially. Working with Tony was really fantastic. He brought a really amazing work ethic and taste. He really made us work, taught us alot. We’re really happy with the end result.
VP: Who would you say the band’s musical influences are?
PAUL: I think it’s pretty much all over the place.. Neil Young.. Led Zeppelin are a pretty huge influence on all of us.. Fugazi.. Radiohead. Hank Williams. Sonic Youth is a big one.. Dinosaur Jr…We like lots of music though.. Hard to pin it down to just a few so I’ll stop trying to..
VP: You’ve played alongside some big names in the past, what have been your highlights during your time together as a band?
PAUL: Wolf Parade in the US was probably one of the funnest tours we’ve been on.. A Wintersleep / Wooden Stars cross Canada tour.. Tragically Hip in the US.. We did a stint recently in the UK with Black Mountain that was pretty amazing. One of the shows in Bristol at a church was particularly mind blowing..
VP: What’s been your weirdest band related experience?
PAUL: I don’t know if it is the weirdest but recently, on this US tour we’re doing right now, we played a church rec center…… It was in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. It was all fine and dandy until a few of the people in the band were taken aside by the promoter and told “no booze, no cussin’ and or mischief with the women” and that Jesus loved them and that he, the promoter, also loved them as a matter of fact..
After the show Mike and Tim and Jon went to a bar and met a police officer who loved hardcore music and racism apparently or Nazism or both [we can guess he liked both:)].. He liked them too, the guys in our band, and made them drink shots and listen to why Obama shouldn’t be president.. When he went to the bathroom they all left very quickly as you can probably imagine..
VP: What’s the music scene like in Canada these days, any bands you’d recommend?
PAUL: Dog Day, Holy F*ck, Contrived, Brian Borcherdt, Land of Talk, Constantines, Chad van Gaalen, Black Mountain, LadyHawk
VP: 2008’s been a bit of an odd year, the credit crunch, the end of George W Bush, what have been your abiding memories of 08
PAUL: The election of Obama stands out. We were in Rochester that night. A really great night. Such an amazing thing..
VP: What are your plans for 2009?
PAUL: Seems to be lots of UK in the 2009 playbook……. working on a new record whenever we get the chance.
VP: What’s your opinion on how mp3’s, the net, I-tunes etc have changed the musical landscape?
PAUL: I think it definitely evens the playing field out a bit more.. independent music seems to be thriving more than ever.. A lot more access to really great bands that you’d never gain access to through more traditional mediums. I guess it makes bands have to be good live bands as you can’t rely on CD sales anymore….. maybe you never really could, I don’t know…? Personally, I’ve become a bit more of an ADD type of listener. Just the fact that there are so many possibilities at your fingertips makes it more difficult for me to sit through a full record by one band…..maybe you lose a bit of intimacy in that way..
On Planet Pop following the path of least resistance may seem prudent; it may open doors and could quite conceivably lead to quick fix fame, but at what price? Would you be prepared to compromise your artistic integrity for a shot at stardom? Or do you have a little more veracity and believe that sometimes, slow burn success and retaining your dignity can ultimately be far more rewarding? Compromise and losing artistic control for fames sake does not always bring happiness… Would you dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
In the 1980’s a group of ex- welders and miners from Sunderland, in the north east of England, were intent on becoming the UK’s biggest death metal act, collectively known as “The Culture” they were convinced that their self penned song “Really Hurt Me” was destined for big things. They were soon spotted by A&R men and within weeks they had signed a contract with a major label, but that was when things began to spiral out of control. The record label decided to “smooth out the bands rough edges,” lead vocalist George takes up the story, “Wae’aye man, like, they wanted us to have a total makeover, like, and wear these crazy clowns outfits, it was the decade that style forgot, like, so we went along with it, being young, naïve and full of enthusiasm. They even wanted us to pretend not to be “northern”- they said it made us sound “as thick as pig shit” and “working class.” –Sadly in the 80’s admitting to being working class was rather like admitting you molest kittens,( London at one point in the 1980’s, actually became a “scouse exclusion zone.” ) After a few “minor content tweaks “and a “slight image realignment,” the lads were unleashed upon an unsuspecting world, but all was not happy in The Culture camp. George takes up the story “Wae’aye, bonnie lad, I thought we’d lost our soul, like, I felt proper daft in the clothes, all my mates back in Sunderland took the piss something wicked, –I eventually started taking drugs to make dressing up like a berk a wee bit easier .” When their debut single, which George describes as “complete bollocks,” was released things went “fookin’ mental”, and the band, rechristened Culture Club, at the record labels behest, became a world wide phenomenon.
Sadly despite all their success George, Mikey, Jon and Roy felt like they’d signed away their integrity in what they viewed as a kind of Faustian pact with the label. To assuage their guilt they spent millions, on women, drink and drugs, the remainder of the money was just wasted. Eventually the band imploded as the pressure placed upon them by the record company became unbearable, there were diktats from upon high that the band were required to learn to juggle, swallow swords, eat fire and appear on stage astride uni-cycles. “It was becoming a circus” said George “We told them to shove it.” With threats of breach of contact ringing in their ears, and legal action hanging above their head like the sword of Damocles, the band returned to their native Sunderland , chastened, humiliated and ashamed. Haunted by their past, which Mikey described as “A Fooking embarrassment-strangers would shout Karma Chameleon at me in the street, it was terrible, like, ” they tried to rebuild their shattered reputations and regain a modicum of self respect. George is now a part-time DJ, a qualified plumber and a doting Dad to boot! “ I’m happy now like, it’s an honest profession, I couldn’t be happier with a ball cock in my hand, fitting an Essex flange or fiddling with a leaky O-ring but I still sometimes think what could have been, if we’d have stuck to our guns.”
Compromise can indeed be a terrible thing, take the case of Ukrainian play write, Belize Johanavitchvitchovitch who explains “ Da, in my script “Spin Me A Dream” the central character Romanoff Burgundinski works in the news media and is becoming increasingly disconnected with the world. As the story unfolds Burgundinski develops a progressively unhinged and nihilistic word view as he examines the futility of his own existence, his shallow relationships, the corrupt nature of media spin, and the failure of us all to reach out to other human beings and really connect. His desire, namely to cleanse the airwaves of what he sees as “media whores” ultimately leads to tragedy. For those who survive the bloody finale, there is a spiritual rebirth and a re-examination of society’s complicit acceptance of the discredited capitalist system. I actually pitched it to the studio as “Taxi Driver in a newsroom,” they loved it ! We came to an agreement that there would be some “modification” to the screenplay, I guess I should have been suspicious when they cast “ Elf star” Will Ferrell as Burgundinski changed the characters name to Ron Burgundy ( The studio said American movie-goers don’t like foreign sounding names with “Commie Pinko undertones” ) and made a banal, infantile movie called “Anchorman.” As a result my reputation as a serious writer was in tatters”
Two cautionary tales I’m sure you’ll agree, and ones which flamboyant NYC based singer songwriter, Atarah Valentine may find deeply disturbing. He is without doubt hugely talented, yet it appears despite the quality of his work, record labels aren’t quite sure how to market him.. He’s not a rock band, he’s not an Indie band, he’s’ not techno, hip hope shoegaze or nugaze, nope, his songs are recorded live with a 13 piece string section and his rather androgynous, theatrical sense of style (think part dandy, part Russell Brand or maybe The Mighty Boosh after raiding Robert Helpmann’s wardrobe ) doesn’t really seem to fit into an easily identifiable category. The fact that he’s actually produced a fine body of work and writes emotive, meaningful music should say it all, alas, it seems these days more than ever, record labels are only interested in the “sure thing” ( yes Mr Cowell, I’m pointing my finger at you yet again!) This sort of attitude obviously makes it far more difficult for new and original talent, who refuse to compromise their artistic vision, to break through. We spoke to Mr Valentine about his life his music and his frustrations.
VP: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to make music
AV: I was always a performer at heart. My father was in an early incarnation of the group that would become “Skid Row” here in the United States . He left to have more of a normal life and to settle down and have kids. I think a part of him always wished that he had taken his career further though, especially after Skid Row went on to be pretty successful. As a child I was given a guitar in the 2nd grade for Christmas, I would just strum it with an open chord and yell over the top of it. I went on to play Saxophone and trumpet. Then I discovered Nirvana. I felt like I related to this person more than I’d ever done with anyone up to that point! This inspired me to put all of my thoughts on paper, write music, and record my songs. 1994, suicide, devastation……
Meshing with my peers in high school proved to be more and more difficult. At this point, I was cutting my own hair, shaving my eyebrows, making my own clothes. I was stuck in a small town, and I couldn’t figure out what my role was. I was becoming bored with the guitar; I bought a cello. I continued playing, moved to Los Angeles after receiving a scholarship for Fashion Design and started a band called “Hollowood.” Warren Zevon lived in my building. I had no idea who he was, but he knocked on my door one day, literally, and then continued to come by my house to listen to me sing and play my cello. My dad was really excited! After I graduated I moved to NYC. In that first 6 Months I wrote 30 new songs for a project called “New Radio”. We were together for 5 years, had a steady following and were introduced to Leigh Lust who would be the catalyst to a big change in my career. Leigh was A&R at Atlantic records. He got in contact with me to see my band play, and, a few days later we played an acoustic set for him in my tiny apartment in Brooklyn . An hour later we were invited to play the Iceland airwaves Music Festival in Reykjavik . This led to Atlantic Records signing me, because I wrote all of the songs, was the one in charge, and my band was to be paid through me. We broke up. I was devastated, but it was a blessing in disguise. I took a year out to write all new material.
After several other ups and downs, I ended up with a record that I couldn’t be happier with. I worked with producers Eli Janny (Girls Against Boys) and Damian Taylor (Bjork, Prodigy, UNKLE.) I feel for the first time I have something that is an honest representation of my character. I believe I made something special. My label on the other hand, isn’t sure what to do with me.
VP: What have you /or are planning to release in the future?
AV: Right now, I have a finished record. We are trying to figure out how to get it through the system. I hope I can build enough hype to make my record label look it over again. I’d love to launch out of the UK . I just don’t have any way of coming there right now (ideas anybody?) I have my second record written already. Writing is my life. At the rate things are moving, my second record will turn into a box set. I’m also shooting a video for my song “One Month” In December, with an internet release for January. It’s going to be pretty provocative.
VP: How would you describe your music?
AV: I’d call my music Dark Chamber Pop
VP: And who would you say are your major musical influences?
AV: I don’t think I have major musical influences. Writing music, for me, is therapeutic. I write what I feel. Also, most of the music I listen to doesn’t reflect what I do at all i.e.- Sonny and Cher , Eartha Kitt, Carole King, Peggy Lee, Queen, Devo. I’m more, directly, inspired by performers. I love watching a great performer- Madonna, Freddie Mercury, Bjork, Steven Tyler, etc I think these people are really great at sharing their energy. You feel like you know them just by watching them perform. It’s intense. It’s massive. It’s pure electricity. They have certain attributes that are uniquely theirs on stage. From watching these people, I’ve learned a lot about who I am as a performer.
VP: How healthy is the music scene in your opinion at the moment?
AV: I think, like the economy, there is a huge gap in the music industry. Some have the golden pass and some have a meal ticket, if they’re lucky. There are a lot of really wealthy people and a lot of really poor people. The middle class is shrinking. There are a lot of really successful bands, and a lot of bands that are going nowhere. There isn’t a middle ground. You are either playing a dive bar, or playing the VMA’s. Everything is too extreme right now. You’re well connected or you’re not. This is my opinion. Commercialism is killing the music industry. There is too much American Idol and not enough individuality. It used to be about promoting talent that you believed in. Now it’s about how much of a profit you can make in the shortest time possible. There’s no investment on the labels part. It’s sad. Too much business, not enough passion.
VP: What’s been your favourite record this year?
AV: Randy Newman- Harps and Angels
VP: Is the digital age a help or a hindrance to new artist?
AV: Both. We’re in a difficult time. I don’t mean to make this a “not fun” interview. I hate those, BUT the state of the music industry is shaky. People aren’t taking risks. Labels aren’t promoting new acts properly. There’s no funding for anything! Music fans get mad when an artist they like allows a commercial to use there song, yet they download their record for free. Artists don’t make money off of their records. Especially not in these times. People aren’t paying for music. Licensing is a great way to make money as an artist. Look at the Santogold record. It’s great. She is getting a lot of exposure through those bud lime and converse commercials. Look at Nicole’s (Atkins) AMEX commercial. These things help an artist survive when their label isn’t doing anything for them. Yet, people want to crucify these girls for “selling out”. Why do people have a problem with success? They don’t want to buy your record, but they will slay you if you try and make a bit of money. I don’t understand that mentality. I still buy records AND I support the decisions of artists I like. On the other hand, the internet and file sharing allow new artist to get their music to people all around the world. This doesn’t solve the problem of financial backing for tour, PR, etc, so it is still quite limiting. We have along way to go until the new prototype is presented.
VP:If you could work with any artists past or present who would they be and why?
AV: If I could work with any artist past or present I would work with Damian Taylor again. I’m so proud of the record we made and I feel like there is a lot more to come. We’ve just scratched the surface.
VP: If you’re having a bad day which song is one that always seems to lift your mood?
AV: If I’m having a bad day I tend to listen to something that just exacerbates the way I feel. This is horrible, I know. “Hey Jupiter” by Tori Amos always does the trick though.
VP: Five words to describe the past week?
AV: Five words to describe my past week?- Physical, productive, exciting, disappointing, pro-active
Rock has had a pretty bad press over recent years, there’s maybe been a tendency to concentrate on style over substance, on living the lifestyle, without actually having the music to back it up, and bizarrely there’s always been the strange Rock tradition of pretending your guitar is, and let’s not beat about the bush,…. your willie. Ask people about “Rock” and invariably the response will include references to the following ; poodle premed, spandex clad 80’s rockers shaking their head to Europe’s Camembert infused anthem “The Final Countdown,” the worship of Beelzebub and the sacrifice of vestal virgins, The Zep, Ozzy biting the heads off live bats, Teutonic rockers, The Scorpions, managing to keep resolutely straight faces whilst earnestly singing complete shite like “ I follow the Moskva/down to Gorky Park/ Listening to the wiiiiind of change” and bands such as Whitesnake with their incredibly naff Finbar Saunders style titles such as “Slide It In” “Ready N’ Willing” and “Slip Of The Tongue.”
However the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) gave us hope and started out rather encouragingly, with bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Motörhead, Def Leppard, Angel Witch, and the Tygers of Pan Tang giving rock a new twist but it rapidly disappeared up its own leather clad jacksy as many bands either couldn’t maintain the quality of their early material or moved away from the adrenalin fuelled , noisy speed thrash that the first wave of the NWOBH provided (Motörhead, being one of the exceptions.) Saxon slowly morphed into Spinal Tap sans humour, whilst the likes of Def Leppard started to produce a more generic, clichéd American radio friendly sound, and were soon swept up in the burgeoning L.A. rock scene headed by the likes of Motley Crue and followed later by Guns N Roses. All new musical movements, which are often created by the music press in league with record companies, eventually get marketed and manufactured to such a degree that they become pale corporate imitations of what they once were, to quote David Coverdale “they lose their bollocks” which is a shame. In the beginning the NWOBHM shared the same working class ethos as Punk , (Penetration’s Fred Purser formed the Tygers Of Pan Tang, Motörhead’s Lemmy teamed up with the Damned, whilst the Damned’s former bassist Algy Ward formed critically acclaimed band, Tank) it was all about speed, noise and excitement. Metallica often cite the NWOBHM as a huge influence, but sadly the movement petered out and instead of the “new wave” we were left with more of a “demi –wave.” Rock bands donned increasingly comical stage outfits and many took on the appearance of refugees from the circus of the absurd, as their gravity defying hairstyles contained almost as many ozone damaging toxins as a U2 world tour.
Almost as a reaction to this stadium rock posing, the late 80’s saw a strange movement emanating from the Midlands called “Grebo.” It was scruffy, it was smelly, it was D.I.Y. and it was a fun, if slightly confused affair, taking in disparate groups and artists who seemed to have little in common and drawing influences from Rock, Metal, Indie, folk even hip hop and dance. “Grebo” did produce some wonderfully entertaining bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself, the marvelous Wonder Stuff, erm… Gaye Bykers On Acid and Leicester’s Crazyhead –( Come on, they had a bassist called Porkbeast,- who now incidentally teaches history at DeMontfort University !-Rock n Roll !! ). The music press who essentially invented “Grebo” become confused about what actually constituted a “Grebo” band and after a while seemed to dismiss it, preferring the earnest angst emerging from the likes of Seattle which was making waves across the pond. Yes lank hair and introspective torment made much more sense to the art-school sensibilities of NME journalists and soon we were swept up in a tsunami of “grunge.” Aside from Nirvana (who were great) Babes In Toyland and Pearl Jam, a lot of what was termed as “grunge” went over my head. There were innumerable musical horrors spawned by this movement, as labels signed up anybody who had a vague connection with Seattle, or lank hair coupled with “tortured poet eyes.” Many music fans were repulsed by such needy whining and took solace in the huge array of fantastic bands that labels like 4AD had on their roster, (The Pixies, The Pale Saints, Lush, Throwing Muses, and The Cocteau Twins etc.) This certainly helped music fans through a difficult and confused musical period and enabled them to counter this ego-centric forerunner to Emo, the next time you see Ivo Watts-Russell buy him a drink as a “thank you” for providing a relatively safe haven for your ears.
Is the time now ripe for a rock revival? Led Zeppelin are back, so are Guns N Roses, whilst The Kings Of Leon can’t decide if they are going to turn into a Peter Cetera tribute band (it’s a fine line) and surely we can do better than a sixty year old Geordie singing about school girls. In any other context that would have the Daily Mail, donning its most austere puritanical maiden aunt attire, setting its finger to wag mode and shrieking “Ban This Evil Filth”; but hey it’s AC/DC so don’t worry. Brighton based band IKOMA seem to think it’s time to put the rock back into the roll and they may have a point. IKOMA seem to have a sound that whilst drawing on the fine traditions of American rock also has a melodic Indie snarl. Searing guitar riffs underpin vocals packed with attitude which are far more palatable than the old school “constipated shriek” of yore. They have taken the rock template, updated it and ensured it doesn’t sound hackneyed or clichéd, whilst the band’s image mixes the classic “rawk” look with what appears to be the results of the New York Dolls and Guns and Roses having some sort of logistical mix-up involving stage apparel. IKOMA are fast establishing a reputation for being hugely entertaining in a live setting and their debut single “Last Chance Honey” is set for release in the very near future. It’s got attitude, melody and a good old fashioned big bollocked Rock chorus- it recalls elements of Crazyhead’s excellent cover of the Sonics “Have Love Will Travel” which is a can only be a good thing. Will IKOMA fall between two stools as Crazyhead did many years ago? Considered too Rock for the Indie crowd, yet too Indie for the Rock crowd? -We shall see-meanwhile the band is off to the States soon to play a number of showcase gigs; I donned my spandex trousers and had a chat with guitarist Rikki to discuss all things rockular.
VP: How did you all meet up and how did the band come together
Rikki: The Ollie and I we’re living together with a bunch of other musicians and friends who later formed a couple of bands such as The Kooks etc. I met Davey through Max (The Kooks) and would constantly visit along with a stream of other musicians and friends. Playing around the circuit and drinking in the same places we would bump into each other often and talk music. Realizing we shared a lot of similar tastes in music, fashion and well..women, we started jamming and haven’t looked back. Davey, Ollie, and I are the original members.
VP: Where does the band name come from?
Rikki: It’s a Japanese mountain… Also, Leah from McQueen, Daveys girlfriend at the time, was showing him some lyrics and featured the word Ikoma. Davey spotted it as a great band name and a great way to describe how we were seperate from the rest. The hard edge rock sound vs the young arty indie kids of Brighton .
VP: You look like a rock band, but have any edgier sound, how would you describe your music?
Rikki: A perfect blend of melody and muscle, heavy pop tunes everyone can sing along with and smash your house up too.
VP: Rock bands have had a bit of a hard time in the past, what with poodle premed rockers of the 80’s, sexism, and erm songs about the “dark side”. How do you feel you can convince people you’re different from the old stereotypes?
Rikki: In our opinion what bands have got wrong in the past, especially in the 80’s, was letting partying come first and music second. We’re not advocates of this theory, the music is number one above all! We have always and will always let the music do the talking. Not drinking champagne out of cowboy boots and snorting your own body weight in blow!
VP: You’ve recorded a single , when’s the release date and any plans for a video ?
Rikki: We currently waiting for our first single ‘Last Chance Honey’ to be mastered. This should be complete by the end of the year and will be released on itunes with a video directed by ‘Sol Friedman’.
VP: You’re off to play America soon, what’s the plan?
Rikki: Playing in America has been a dream of ours due to its prestige’s rock history. We’re gonna be playing the Viper Room, Troubadour, and Spaceland alongside a huge press campaign with radio stations and magazines in LA. We cant wait to get out there because the crowds in LA really know how to rock!!
VP: Who are your musical influences?
Rikki: Rolling Stones, The Doors, Aerosmith, Guns N Roses, Kings Of Leon , The Bronx
VP: What have been your standout moments of the last year?
Rikki: Working with world renown producer ‘Stuart Epps’ (Elton John, Led Zepplin, Oasis, Twisted Sister, Robbie Williams) and played with people such as ‘Mark Ronson’, The Kooks, Funeral For A Friend, Supergrass, Calvin Harris, The Streets, Pendullum…..
VP: You don’t look like what maybe some people would imagine a Brighton band to look like? What’s the scene like there at the moment?
Rikki: Indie kids with more of an interest in being arty and fashionable than being talented musicians. Brighton has a lot of bands but who’s to say that they’re any good! Sift through the shit and guys trying to be cute and you’ll find us, balls to the wall rock n roll that you can sing along too.
Initially Detox Cute And The Beauty Junkies may come across as a great big good-natured sugar coated hug, and with names like Paisley Play-doh and Charlie Darling they also may appear about as sombre as a puppy wearing a bow-tie riding a unicycle across Chuckle Land, but have a closer listen and you’ll realise they shouldn’t be dismissed as mere lightweight pop fluff. No it’s not Radiohead but they are certainly more Dubstar than Five Star, more like The Primitives than 2 Unlimited, and they don’t feel the need to reduce “pop” to the nursery rhyme crap that some acts feel is the only way to express “fun.” When people prattle on about the “fun and innocence and the purity of pop” I narrow my eyes with deep suspicion, furrow my brow and get ready to vigorously wag my finger, as this is usually a preamble to justify a liking for some hideous corporate X-Factor style- monstrosity of a pop song. “But it’s just a bit of fun” they mewl. Really ? “So why the f**k does it sound so bloody awful?“
Does so called “pure pop” really have to be sound like such contrived, stylised rubbish? Obviously the answer is a resounding NO, it can have depth and move people as well as being catchy and danceable. Bands like Detox Cute and The Beauty Junkies and Helen Love prove that pure pop can be clever, funny, tongue in cheek without being soulless dumbed down shite. Detox Cute and The Beauty junkies score very highly on VPME’s “Pop Genius-o-meter,” and in reality band members Paisley Play-doh (wouldn’t it be great if that was her real name kids?) and Charlie Darling also have a far more radical agenda then many so called “edgy” bands, who are about as subversive as Phil Collins in his plus-fours at the local golf club discussing the forthcoming village fete….with Peggy Mount. Yes Charlie and Paisley share the VPME’s dream of wanting to reclaim pop from the insidious grasp of the cankerous Simon Cowell and his demonic hoard, a man who must truly hate music and whose “talent shows” are resolutely “anti-talent.” He has done more harm to pop music over the years than any amount of illegal downloading could ever do….it’s a fight worth fighting- let us take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing end them. Cowell is a musical Ronald McDonald and his “discoveries” are simply the burger flippers for his musical equivalent of fast food …and I tell you what, after a hard and fruitless day trying to change the world, there’s plenty of room in my heart for a bit of Detox Cute and The Beauty Junkies . And there should be in yours too. We spoke to them to find out more about their musical mission, how we can defeat the musical “Dementor” that is Simon Cowell and how to put the joy back into pop.
VP: Tell us how you got together and became Detox Cute and the Beauty Junkies
Charlie: I had written a load of pop songs and people I played them to thought were great. After some encouragement and harassment from a good friend I decided, yes, I’ll get them out there! At the time I felt the best way to do this would be to see if I could get a band together to rehearse and play them live. I put an ad on Gumtree, and ended up with a singer, a guitarist, nearly a drummer and Paisley , who was to be the keyboard player.
Paisley: Yeah, after being in lots of bands over the last few years I was once again trawling the web to find another one! I love music and I love singing. Unfortunately my playing abilities stretch to the tambourine and hand clapping, so I was on the lookout for some great musicians. As soon as I saw the ad and heard ‘Pop Trash’ I was excited and desperate to be a part of the band, even though Charlie told me he had a singer already. I agreed to play keys but thank goodness it never came to that, as that could have been very embarrassing. Where is middle ‘C’ anyway?
Charlie: The ‘band’ never got past the first rehearsals, as the question of money raised its ugly head. Who gets paid to turn up for rehearsals anyway? So it turned out that Paisley was left still wanting to get the songs out there with me, so we decided to give it a go as a twosome. Happily, this has worked out really well – organising everything from rehearsals to videos is so easy when there are only two of you!
Paisley: And we must let everyone know why the name ‘Detox Cute and the Beauty Junkies’. No, it’s not because there are only two of us that we need to make up for it with a really long band name!
Charlie: Detox Cute & The Beauty Junkies is the name of a fictional band from my unpublished novel; ‘Paul King Stole My Haircut’ (a quote directly to me from Catatonia record producer Paul Sampson who bemoaned his failure as a pop star in the early 80’s, attributing blame to the aforementioned King for ‘stealing’ his trademark uber-mullet).
VP: Your mission is to stop people being afraid of pop, despite Simon Cowell, how would you do that? Hasn’t Cowell and his dark forces besmirched the good name of pop and extracted the joy from it, replacing it with something more sinister?
Charlie: Precisely. Adam Ant said: “the devil’ll take your stereo” and that’s exactly what’s happened. Cowell has sucked the soul from pop music and turned it into a product, a commodity to be paid for in blood. Therefore, today’s TV popstars are soul-less puppets, their strings being pulled by the deadliest puppet master of them all. People are fully justified in being afraid, very afraid. I can’t believe Cowell understands that pop music is supposed to be fun and not the sort of entertainment that leaves you feeling like you’d rather poke your own eyeballs out with a sharp implement than endure yet another rendition of ‘Unchained Melody’ sung by some pre-pubescent dishcloth with the face of a wet lettuce and as much personality as the inside of a ping-pong ball. We want to reclaim the charts from his grubby mits, show people that pop can be fun and doesn’t have to be sold with a sob story. T-Rex rescued pop from the grasp of long-haired doom merchants of prog rock and gave it back to those who wanted to be entertained. Adam Ant was just the tonic the doctor ordered to remedy an ailing pop world, suffering under a cloud of Bee Gees induced influenza and the hangover from Punk’s demise and the early mumblings of a Phil Collins led Genesis and musicians wearing their jackets with sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
Paisley: – Not to harp on but bless it, the X Factor really is a pain in the bot. I mean, we have had Christmas stolen by Leona, then Leon, who next, Leo? They are who little ‘uns look up to as their musical heroes. Now, that’s what I call scary!
VP: What have you been up to in 2008?
Paisley: Watching Cliff Richard movies and ‘The Neverending Story’, ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Total Recall’; listening to Paul Bevoir and waiting for Charlie’s hair to grow after a terrible haircut in Soho ;
Charlie: We recorded the songs you can hear on our MySpace at Bunker Studios in London , and we shot the videos too, down in Brighton . It’s a Punk work ethic – Do It Yourself – after all, no-one is going to do it for you. Oh, and played some gigs too in the Indie hell that is Camden Town . Remember, Indie kids, just wearing a hat does not make you a fashion icon – hats are not an image!
VP: What sort of music would you say influences your sound and ethos? Helen Love that sort of thing?
Charlie: The Beatles, obviously, T-Rex, Adam Ant, Abba, Cliff are the oldies and then contemporary songwriters such as Edwyn Collins, Frank Read from the Trashcan Sinatras and Stephen Duffy. Oh, and we absolutely adore Chris Martin and The Coldplay! (Just kidding!!! We’d rather eat our own sick than listen to that old nonsense.) Helen Love are a great band because they’re fun – they don’t take themselves too seriously and it comes across that they have a genuine love for The Ramones. And who else could name check The Kursaal Flyers or The Ohio Express and still be one of the coolest bands on the planet? Although our songs are very poppy we like to think the lyrics say something more than just ‘boy meets girl’. John Lennon, (when talking about ‘Imagine’) once said that if you want to get your message across then wrap it up in sugar. We give people great tunes but hope that our lyrics aren’t perceived as banal just because we’re a pop band.
Paisley: – Yeah, what he said really. I just like all sorts of music and can’t pick the best or what influences me – all of it does! Dolly is an icon and Elvis is king – obvious I know – but that’s me! Blimey, it really is so difficult, that question really harshes my mellow!
VP: If there’s one song you’d love to cover and give it the full on “pop” sound what would it be (and why)?
Charlie: ‘La La La Lu’ as sung by Cilla Black in the film ‘Please Sir’, although it’s already quite poppy, but it’s a great song that few people would have heard and also folk need to know that Cilla was a great singer before all that ‘Surprise Surprise’ wailing. We’ve thought about seriously putting together an ‘Abba and The Ants’ tribute band – so we could try singing ‘Whip In My Valise’ in four-part harmony, Beatle-esque piano and full string orchestra or alternatively, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You …. Ahhhhhh Haaaaaaa!’ dooom di doooom, (in a ‘Prince Charming yelp stylee). However, the thought of crossing Bananarama with Nirvana and getting Nivanaramerama and doing ‘Teen spirit’ in the style of ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ has quite an appeal!
Paisley: – Oooh, and I’d like to put words to the ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ theme and make that a pop song. Plus a B Side featuring Toyah Wilcox from the ‘Blue Marigold’ episode.
VP: Any plans for a single or album to be released in the near future
Charlie: ‘We have a couple of releases coming up very soon. Don’t want to say too much right now in case we jinx it but are we are very, very excited!
Paisley: Yes, all news will be posted on the faithful MySpace as it happens, but the Dick Van Dykes among you may be able to take a look at our ‘top friends’ to see who we might be releasing songs with!
VP: So when you’re not in a “pop” mood what other sorts of music would you listen too?
Charlie: Acoustic singer/songwriters like The Trashcan Sinatras or Alex Lloyd; Punk, Folk, Heavy Metal (strangely, heavy metal bands and pop bands generally get on well – it must be the sense of fun and not taking yourselves too seriously)… Oh, and Razorlite – they’re great !!! NOT.
Paisley: I already admitted two of my American vices but my favourite singer, live performer and person in music is John Otway. I LOVE HIM! I have met him a couple of times and he is such a nice guy. The best YouTube of him has to be when he was on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I’m going to recreate that whole performance at one of our gigs soon. Apart from ripping my top open of course. Oooh, Charlie would look great dressed up as Wild Willy Barrett!
VP: How helpful has the internet been for bands like yourselves getting your music heard ?
Paisley: I love it! I type so much these days I can’t even read my own handwriting anymore, which is fine by me!
Charlie: Fantastic – we can bypass the corporate nonsense and the Simon’s of this world and actually get heard by people who like our sort of music. And not just in London or the UK . London can be too cool for school and the UK is so wrapped up in Indie or TV Talent Show Popstars that you’d be forgiven for thinking that anyone else hasn’t got a hope. But the internet gives us a worldwide audience and also worldwide friends too. We’re regularly in contact with people in Japan , the States, France , Holland , Germany and Spain .
VP: A dilemma …you have the chance to go back in time and rewrite pop history, but you are given just 2 bullets, you have a opportunity to stop the musical crimes perpetrated by Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman and Simon Fuller What do you do?
Charlie: Easy, only one bullet needed and that’s for Cowell. Pete Waterman’s actually ok, and we can forgive him Sonia and Jason Donovan because let’s not forget he also gave Cliff a hit single and was originally behind ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ by Dead Or Alive – one of the best pop records of all time. As for Simon Fuller – well, The Spice Girls were shit but their only real crimes are the fact they think by flouncing around on TOTP a few times that gives them the ability to write books, design clothes or launch perfume ranges. If Geri Halliwell was so talented why did she feel the need to do topless telly before finding fame?
Paisley: Well I would let Mr Waterman live. I asked him where the toilet was once, so I class him as a friend. The Simons can go and get stuffed.
Where do you go when the music stops? If you take away the “snap” and the “crackle” what on earth do you do with the “pop?” I suppose one might suggest this was the dilemma facing Brighton pop group The Pipettes when the artist formerly known as “Riot Becki”- Rebecca Stephens, left the band, hot on the heels of Rose “Rosay” Dougall’s departure with not an original member in sight to shake a polka-dotted skirt at…but that was then and this is now … Thankfully both ex-Pipettes are still intent on staying within the sphere of music and Becki has recently unveiled a new musical project, a transatlantic collaboration with Randy Michael from Atlanta’s sharp suited beat boys The Booze . Their musical partnership, “Electric Blue” is named, either after a line in Bowie’s classic “Sound And Vision” or series of soft porn video “magazines” from the 80’s in which large haired pneumatic ladies indulged in erm.. “fun” with unfeasibly blessed, lantern jawed, orange hued chaps who all seemed to work in the ..service industry -chauffeurs, aerobics instructors, tennis coaches et al. You would not be wrong if you suggested that this video series wasn’t exactly “plot driven” …but thankfully the songs Becki and Randy have produced certainly appear to be been “tune driven.”
So what do they sound like? Well if The Undertones had spent more time watching “Happy Days” instead of pretending to be punks, decided on becoming a female fronted band and replaced their lead singer, who let’s face it was a dead ringer for Mr Punch, they may have produced a sound rather like Electric Blue- “Beauty School Drop-Out” meets “Teenage Kicks.” (In retrospect, it’s hard to square the fact that a movement such as Punk could actually spawn Easter Island statue look-alike and CEO of British Music Rights, Fergal Sharkey, who appears intent on banning everyone who has ever downloaded a music file illegally, like, ever, from having internet access-But that’s a whole other story !)
Electric Blue has a retro punky power-pop edge, which ably straddles and takes reference from various genres, and which should have your feet tapping within seconds (or foot if you’re a certain former Beatles ex) –”Hooks,” big choruses and great melodies were always a large part of Becki and RM’s musical remit in the past and they once again employ these tools to great effect, yes there maybe a nod to the bands from which they have come from but let’s face it, could you really see them reinventing themselves as Slipknot? They certainly are not just replicating what they have done in the past, there’s freshness and a sense of fun here, a new lease of life if you will. Technically it sounds superb, I don’t normally do technical as I find reducing music, which I tend to react to on an emotional level to a series of chords or quavers or techno speak tends to detract from my joy, and this collaboration is definitely infused with an exuberant sense of fun. I therefore cranked up the Von Pip fun mobile and drove off to speak to Randy Michael and Becki to find out what they’d been up to…
VP: When you left the Pips, was it your intention to get straight back into music and was solo and collaborative work something you’d often thought about getting involved in, also after 2007 when you seemed to be on tour constantly was it difficult initially to adjust to some sort of normality ?
Becki: I hadn’t really been heavily involved in music prior to The Pipettes, so I wasn’t sure what would happen, I certainly didn’t have anything planned for after I left. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I started writing, the ideas seemed to flow pretty easily and I couldn’t stop. Returning to a Monday to Friday job has been hugely influential and forced me to re-evaluate many things. Whether or not to be solo or in another band didn’t cross my mind, yet after writing for a few months I realised that I needed to bounce ideas off of somebody else. I’m my own worse enemy, I’m never happy, and I could easily disregard most of what I’ve written. I also didn’t want to fall into the trap of over self-indulgence especially as I mostly listen to upbeat, heavily melodic music and that was what I was interested in making! So it was important to find a person I clicked with; someone who understood where I was, who recognised the good from the bad – the ideas should flow organically – and that’s what I found in Randy.
VP: Randy, how did you and Becki, first meet up? Did you hit it off straight away?
RM: I met Becki under a tent at The Vfest in August of ’06 along with some of the other members of the pips. I wouldn’t say we hit it off right away; I was more interested in their drummer Joe. It was more like “hello, nice to meet you.”
VP: ……..and how did the idea to work together come about?
RM: I wanted to help out on her solo project, which led to me saying, why we don’t just start a power pop band.
Becki: Yeah, we had been chatting over the internet pretty much since we met a couple of years ago, but our conversations became more and more frequent and we joked about writing together. After I told Randy I was no longer in The Pipettes those jokes became less and less ridiculous until we were both questioning the possibility and saying to each other ‘Yeah, but why not?’, and then it just happened!
VP: Did you have an idea of the sound you wanted to produce at the outset or did it just kind of happen naturally?
RM: We wanted to do something pop, and around where I live, we all dig power pop like The Beat, The Nerves and The Boys. So musically, I wanted to take a shot at it. It’s just something I think that suits us both. Because we’d look silly singing death metal and we didn’t want to sound like the bands that we come from. It just seemed like a natural thing to do.
Becki: It wasn’t too hard. We sent so much music back and forth in order to describe what we liked, what we didn’t; which songs had awesome guitar licks, which drum sounds we liked etc etc. I think it was The Nerves ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ that cemented we were going to go down a power pop route, but it’s also a natural musical progression from both of our other bands.
VP: What about the logistics, given that one of you is based in Brighton whilst the others in Atlanta how did the writing, production and recording of the tracks work in practice?
Becki: Writing began with us swapping demos and lyrics. Randy would send some music; I’d sing over it and send it back. Or I’d send Randy a song I’d written and explain which bits needed changing, and then he’d return it fully formed. Everything happened so quickly that it was only a matter of time before reality hit and a ticket was booked for Atlanta. Having written so much over the internet is was great to finally get writing together whilst being in the same room. Two of our demos were actually written in one day, which is why we have so many more to record!
RM: Yeah, Becki and myself, we’d send these demos back and forth, she’s sing about 45 seconds of something and say “Finish that.” and then I’d do the same. Once we had something completed, I’d call Darren Dodd and Wesley Flowers, two of the Best musicians in the city of Atlanta and had them record drums and keys. Then I’d send the finished product back to Becki, and she’d do vocals for it. That way, we were already familiar with the tune, before she flew across the pond.
VP: So the name is from a series of soft porn video collections (so I’m told) who came up with that name? Any others on your short list of potential band names you’d care to share
RM: I think we were so tired of just calling names out to one another that , as soon as we thought of Electric Blue, I said “That sounds tough as f*ck, and it sounds like a power pop band from ’77, let’s use it.” I can’t remember anything else that we considered.
Becki: The name actually comes from Bowie. We knew we had to think of a name ASAP and started talking about what names we liked, what we wanted over breakfast one day. We got talking about colours, realised both of our favourite colour was blue, and just started singing ‘blue, blue electric blue . . . ‘ and there it was. The porn film reference is a happy coincidence.
VP: It was mentioned on MySpace that you have tons more songs written, any idea when these may see the light of day and any plans for any sort of official release in the future?
Becki: Hopefully there will be some 7 inches realised both sides of the pond, which will be fun, and another trip to Atlanta is planned. We’re both still writing, but I have a feeling there will be a few songs that will be recorded with us both in our respective countries. That’ll be jolly interesting!
VP: What sort of music are you both listening to at the moment?
Becki: Loads of stuff as usual. I’ve been on real eighties pop kick at the moment and can’t stop listening to Hall and Oates! Otherwise Born Ruffians, White Denim, Grizzly Bear, Life Without Buildings, The Records, Bob Dylan, The Chi-Lites, Derek Meins and the new Keane record for starters. As I’ve also started a monthly night down in Brighton, I’ve been pulling out the classics such as Charles and Eddie, Apache Indian, Human League, Candi Staton, Grandmaster Flash etc etc. I can’t stop!
RM: I’m listening to loads of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Robert Johnson, The Boys, Thin Lizzy and Elvis Costello.
VP: You’ve also mentioned you’re working on a solo project, can you reveal any more details at this point?
Becki: Yep. It’s called Into Cinders. There’s a MySpace page with a couple of demos on that I recorded before Randy and I started writing together, I’m hopefully recording a couple more in November, which I’ll add when I do. I think it will probably be a project that keeps expanding when I have time. I’m constantly writing and some stuff fits with Electric Blue and some doesn’t. I enjoy the freedom of having full musical control over my own songs, but I’m not sure it’s an alley I’d like to walk down permanently.
VP: What plans do The Booze have for the remainder of the year?
RM: We may release one more EP and close the curtain