The Von Pip Musical Express Podcast – Episode 7 – November 2011

The Von Pip Musical Express podcast featuring an eclectic mix of indie classics and the best new music around. This month we feature the awesomely excellent Two Wounded Birds, sure to be big in 2012 Beth Jeans Houghton, the dark majesty of The Bookhouse Boys, the frenetic sparkling beautiful melancholy of  Veronica Falls alongside indie gods such as  The Cure, The Jesus And Mary Chain And Magazine amongst others. Listen out for special guest appearances and maybe even a  Hollywood legend (or not!! 🙂 )

Listen below or via Mixcloud

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Howling Bells ‘The Loudest Engine’ Special – Album,Gig and Interview.

HOWLING BELLS

‘The Loudest Engine ‘Special.


Juanita Stein-Howling Bells - The Von Pip Musical Express.

“Baby Blue” By Howling Bells.

The Album –“The Loudest Engine.”

The problem with producing a flawless debut album widely regarded by many as a genuine classic, is that there will always be those who demand that subsequent albums endlessly repeat variations on the same theme.  To adopt such a narrow-minded viewpoint means refusing to accept that for artists, exploring different musical directions is all part of the creative process.  This appears to be the reaction Australia’s finest musical exports, Howling Bells have garnered from certain areas of  an increasingly capricious musical press and as such may be forgiven for believing that producing such an immaculate debut has become something of a double-edged sword.  Their sophomore album ‘Radio Wars received a decidedly unenthusiastic critical reception with many reviewers appearing disappointed that the band hadn’t rigidly adhered to the musical template set down on album number one.

However it’s highly unlikely that a selection of ill conceived, luke-warm reviews would have changed ‘the Bells’ approach when it came to writing and recording their third album.  If you exist only to seek the approval of others than invariably you will lose your way as an artist.  Singer Juanita Stein describes the band’s latest album ‘The Loudest Engine’  as “a modern psychedelic record more folk and rock than our last two albums” which “will change people’s perspectives of the band.”   The album is a seductive, edgy and at times downright explosive affair, and sees the band come out with all guns blazing assisted by  Mark Stoermer (of The Killers) on production duties. ‘The Loudest Engine’ defiantly has a trippier vibe in comparison to  the post apocalyptic sound of “Radio Wars” or the sinister, claustrophobic goth-country of their debut, but rest assured the band haven’t been ingesting huge quantities of acid and communing with animal spirit guides whilst recording the album in the Nevada desert.  Whilst it’s an album that rocks it’s not what you’d call an out-and-out rock album, and despite some mightily impressive guitar jams it still retains that magical, ethereal quality that make Howling Bells such an intriguing and beguiling proposition. They inhabit a world were innocence and wonder are seemingly stalked by an unseen, intangible darkness.   Songs such as  “Into The Sky,”Don’t Run,” “Sioux,” “The Faith” and “Baby Blue” all serve notice that you write Howling Bells off at your peril on an album that delivers from start to finish and plays to the bands many strengths.  Juanita’s vocals veer between coquettish seduction and strident imperiousness whilst the band demonstrate just what a formidable musical unit they have become, deftly mixing light and shade with subtlety and raw power.  A great album from a wonderful band who I hope continue to make the music THEY want to make for many years to come.

8.5/10

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The Gig.

Juanita And Joel Stein - Howling Bells - The Von Pip Musical Express

Manchester’s Academy 3 plays host to the last gig of Howling Bells mini tour to promote ‘The Loudest Engine’ and finds the band on spectacular form.  Juanita is almost impish as she somewhat coyly charms the audience and the natural camaraderie that is apparent between the band members combined with the obvious love displayed for their craft immediately translates to an enthusiastic audience. Tonight’s set list, somewhat surprisingly, contains only one song from the ‘Radio Wars’ album, the epic Orwellian ‘Cities Burning Down’ as the band instead decide to weave some choice cuts from their debut album with new material.  Live, the slow burning folk rock, torch song “Sioux” takes on mystical quality with Juanita transforming herself into some sort of ethereal high priestess, whilst the album’s title track sees Joel wigging out with some incredible guitar licks. In many ways ‘The Loudest Engine’ makes perfect sense live, giving the band plenty of scope to ‘rock out.’  The evenings entertainment is drawn to a fitting conclusion  with an encore that  includes a thunderous version of  the classic ‘Low Happening,’ and new song ‘Live On’  as once again Howling Bells  demonstrate just why they are still one of the best live acts around. Long may they continue to chime!

 Howling Bells - The Von Pip Musical Express

Post-Gig-Howling-Bells-The-Von-Pip-Musical-Express

Howling Bells Set-list Manchester 20/09/2011

A quick word about opening act Cold Specks, the conduit through which Canadian singer songwriter Al  Spx performs. With a voice imbued with more soul than New Orleans , Al mesmerised the audience and by the end of the set had them shouting for more, which is quite a rare thing for a support band.  Ones to watch for sure 😉

 The Von Pip Musical Express

“Holland “ by Cold Specks.

Photo slide show

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The Interview.

Howling Bells Brendan-Picchio--Answers-The-Big-Questions--The-Von-Pip-Musical-Express

Brendan Picchio wrestles with 'the big questions'

Prior to The Manchester gig, we went backstage and had a chat with Brendan Picchio, the Howling Bells bassist about the album, stadium gigs, the kindness of Chris Martin, Juanita’s impromptu Alice Cooper impression and life on the road.

VP:  Would you say the intention behind the new album was to do something very different from Radio Wars, to take another musical leap so to speak?  

BRENDAN: I guess you’d hope every album is a progression of sorts.   It was a long writing process  for ‘The Loudest Engine’ a lot of it done on the road, but rather than progress or move forward I think the predominant feeling was to make a  record that was true and honest and from the heart. After all there are only 12 notes on the music spectrum,  there have been thousands of bands from The Beatles through to the present day, and maybe there’s a feeling that everything’s been kind of done before.  I think we accomplished what we set out to achieve, at the time we were all in a very good head space, very happy, positive and emotionally connected as a band.

VP:  As a band you seem to straddle genres and I think the critics find it hard to pigeonhole you, but you’ve always managed to produce music that has a slight darkness imbued within… Juanita said this record sounds 70’s tinged and psychedelic which happened almost accidentally?

BRENDAN:  Yeah I think some of tension, musically speaking comes from Joel’s guitar playing which has certain intensity to it.  With regard to the album Juanita’s right to a degree, in terms of this album technically speaking we went for a kaleidoscope kind of sound, but it also has a raw airy feel to it. We were very inspired by The Doors documentary we’d watched just before going into the studio. I remember before recording Joel sent an email saying ‘No way am I doing this album unless we record it to tape’ and everyone’s like ‘get the fuck out of here, everything’s on digital these days’. Then the next day Mark [Stoermer–producer] said ‘Hey guys I’ve found a tape machine!’ And that was it!  We went old school and recorded to tape, we did like maybe four takes, listened, picked one, overdubs, done!  It was basically the band in the room playing takes which was really a lot of fun.

VP:  Your debut album was quite rightly universally praised, did this lead to any kind of pressure when making subsequent albums, a weight of expectation perhaps?

BRENDAN:  I didn’t feel any pressure personally as I tend not to think that way but I think maybe some of the guys in the band may have done.  Mind you when we get in the studio it’s just four people trying to make a record to the best of our ability. We generally don’t read reviews as it’s just an opinion, I mean hell, I don’t even trust my own opinion sometimes [laughs]. All I can say is we put our hearts and soul into what we do, and if someone doesn’t like out heart and soul – well…. fuck ‘em !  [laughs]. If you try to concoct some sort of idea of what people are expecting of you it’s never gonna be true and honest. It’s like being with your wife or girlfriend and trying to figure out what she wants you to say rather than what you genuinely feel.

VP: So how did Mark Stoermer from the Killers get involved in producing the album?

BRENDAN:  He’s a genuinely lovely guy; he’s here tonight, I’ll introduce you, we’ve toured with them a few times already and they are very quiet guys. Mark actually seemed initially to be the most serious. In fact the first impression you get is maybe he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he wants to be left alone or he’s upset about something and you best stay away.  It’s strange how things happen but it turned out that Mark was the guy we got on with the best. It was funny because when we flew over to Vegas to meet Mark our flight was seriously delayed and we didn’t get in till midnight. Mark had been waiting for us at the airport arranging stuff for us, since like 10 AM !  I mean this guy could get anyone to do this for him, but there he was getting his hands dirty and doing it himself. When we arrived he was all smiles, hugging us, cracking jokes and we were like ‘Who the fuck is this guy!”  [laughs]  It was there where we really forged our relationship. He’s a fantastic human being and I loved his style of working, it was very free and natural, lots of jams happened, it was a real pleasure.

VP:  On the title track, ‘The Loudest Engine’ it took me a while  to extract the meaning from the lyrics but apparently it’s a kind of homage or love-hate song about your relationship with your tour bus! ?

BRENDAN:  We all do that too! Try and work out what the lyrics are all about [laughs] But yes it was written by Juanita about a particular bus we were on. She’s trying to describe what it means to a band on the road, kind of like the mother ship, you respect it but also resent the time you have to spend on it.

VP: So do  you find yourself going ‘stir crazy’ at times on the tour bus ?

BRENDAN: Well we haven’t toured for two years so we have crammed in all that energy and horseplay into the last five days!  It’s been nauseating 😉  You can’t move without somebody grabbing your nether regions!  But there’s a limit and we kinda know how far we can push each other!

VP : Just before the tour you did a great session for Marc Riley on the BBC, which really wet my appetite for seeing you live again.

BRENDAN: Yeah, we’ve done a few before, but he’s a really great guy, so funny, and he certainly knows his stuff. It was a lot of fun!

VP: Fun!? . . . FUN !?  But I thought the press had pinned you guys down as ‘Alt-Goth-country- doom merchants!

BRENDAN: Ha! There’s nothing gothic about us, except maybe the debut album cover, people just love labels!

VP: Ok so prior to the album’s release you went down the “Pledge” music route and released a digital EP, what was the thinking behind that?

BRENDAN: Really we felt that as we had been away so long we wanted to reconnect with our audience, I don’t really like to use the term ‘fans.’ I mean when we played London there were about fifteen people down at the front who were at our very first gig and have stuck by us. We thought this would be a nice way to involve people without going down the traditional route of through a label and would give us a chance to have some fun.

VP: So the internet/digital age is in many ways a bitter sweet pill for bands? Great to communicate with your fans but not great for sales?

BRENDAN: It can be hard for bands, yeah, because nobody is really making that much money, so you always have to think ways of doing things. With the Pledge campaign the fans were very generous and it all went back into the band fund and enabled us to fund this tour. I mean it’s not like we pocketed it and went down the pub!  So yeah it is getting harder definitely but at the end of the day we do this for the pure love of it. Love it, or get the fuck out, that’s the choice!  Every album and tour we somehow manage to do it and I certainly hope we continue pulling cards out of our sleeves to carry on doing this because we just want to make music.

VP: You’ve seen the other side of music too, the huge tours alongside The Killers and Coldplay. How does that compare to the more intimate shows. Is it nerve wracking playing to stadium sized crowds?

BRENDAN: Luckily I don’t really get nervous; walking out in front of 15 people or 50,000 people is all the same to me. Obviously you feel more distant from the crowd due to the scale; mind you I’m always interested in other bands fans reaction to us because I believe we are a good enough band to merit people’s attention. Y’know with Juanita’s voice and the way we craft the music around it, I think it’s interesting.  But really the big tours you have to take them with a pinch of salt, and personally you reach a point when the money runs out!  Let me take you through a day on a big tour:

A limo picks us up from the apartment then drives us to an air force base; you walk through security feeling like you own the joint. These flights are amazing you can do what you like really, then you land 45 minutes later where a motorcade with police outriders picks you up takes you through security to the stadium. You then eat some good food and play a show in front of 50,000 people. You fly back ……and then realise. . . . you can’t afford a cab and have to walk back to your girlfriends place! [laughs] That certainly gives you perspective, but you get to have these incredible experiences. I wouldn’t trade my band’s history and experiences for a billion dollars.

VP: Isn’t it tempting to do a bit of mad partying on tour?

BRENDAN: We used to at first, but jeez we’re getting on, we’re in our thirties now ! These days we’re pretty clean living and probably bigger foodies than drinkers. Maybe if you were on the same level as your Coldplays you might take advantage ( not that they do) , but at our level you have to be on your toes and you don’t want to let people down. I mean every time you suck live might lose you some fans and then other people in your team have to take up the slack, I think we have too much respect for what we do to let each other down. Buy hey we still get to meet crazy people and have amazing experiences!

VP: Talking of Coldplay what was that tour like, I know other Howling Bells fans that aren’t really keen on them, but it must have been a great opportunity to get your music out to an even bigger audience?

BRENDAN: Well from our point of view we were really happy and fortunate to get the chance to be involved in such a huge production, and y’know what? They are genuinely, honestly really nice guys, seriously! Like when Juanita broke her guitar on tour and the next day a brand new one arrived wrapped with a big bow, we were like ‘Fuck! A new guitar!”  But this is how they roll. They are lovely to all their crew, seriously great guys, and they work fucking hard. So y’know you really have to respect them for that!

VP: Finally Brendan, off the top of your head, what would you say is your most memorable band moment?

BRENDAN: Jeez man, this is a tough one, so many…arrrgh…. OK I think maybe when we sold out our first headline London show at ICA and we were like ‘holy crap, we sold it out ! And I remember there was no air conditioning and my shirt was stuck to me after the gig and had to be literally peeled off my back! Juanita came off stage looking like Alice Cooper as her makeup had run down her face and her hair was plastered to her forehead!

Everybody looked disgusting, but we were on such a high, which may have been in some part due to a lack of salts and dehydration induced euphoria! We nearly died that night it was so hot but it was a great gig !

Buy The new Album here


Berndan and Juanita -Howling Bells Live - The Von Pip Musical Express

Songs To Learn and Sing – Jim Reid And Jesus And Mary Chain Deluxe Albums

JAMC - Album reissues plus new Jim Reid song

“Black And Blues”  By Jim Reid.

Jim Reid of the Jesus And Mary Chain has previewed a new song on his soundcloud account and if that’s not enough to get fans of the Mary Chain excited  today also sees the first copies  of the much anticipated expanded Deluxe editions of all of the bands studio albums, starting with the seminal ‘Psychocandy‘. The deluxe expanded edition features all the non-album b-sides, as well as previously unreleased demos, rare outtakes including controversial early track “Jesus Fuck” which the pressing plant refused to manufacture at the time due to the blasphemous lyrics – Also included is a DVD featuring all the promo videos plus previously unreleased TV appearances, including their  live TV debut on the Old Grey Whistle Test,  and never before seen footage of the infamous riot at North London Polytechnic –including  interviews with all four original members, and scenes of the crowd destroying the venue!

3d Album Previews and Links to buy

Totally Wired – The Whip Interview/Album Review

The Whip - Wired Together - Interview VPME - 2011

‘Riot’ By The Whip.

Manchester has long been a fertile breeding ground for electronic music, be it the nihilistic, heart wrenching poetry of Joy Division, set against the backdrop of a bleak, grey  post-industrial Manchester through to the pill popping hedonistic indie dance crossover championed by the likes of New Order and ACR .

Such a legacy could prove to be something of a burden to lesser bands than The Whip, who also hail from greater Manchester, a fact some critics have used in an attempt to pigeon hole and define them. However The Whip could care less about narrow-minded assumptions and ill fitting labels and instead approach their music with the kind of infectious alacrity that is difficult to resist. In truth they produce a fusion of intoxicating indie, dance and electronica that owes as much to Daft Punk and Cabaret Voltaire as it does to New Order or the Hacienda sound.

Their debut album, 2008’s ‘X Marks Destination,’ received high praise from many quarters and the band hit the festival circuit gathering rave reviews from punters and critics alike. Three years on and the Whip return with a new album entitled ‘Wired Together’ which picks up where their debut album left off.  They continue to mix pounding rhythms, surging dance floor beats and sleazy electro keyboards but on this occasion their music has noticeably less of the driving indie guitar riffs as the band and producer Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream, Massive Attack, Ladytron, Kasabian)  pursue an electronic centric agenda. This time around The Whip’s songs embrace a more celebratory tone whilst still remaining true to their original ethos.  And of course there is still a sinister underbelly prevalent in many of their tunes, the dystopian floor filler and strangely prescient ‘Riot’ is a full of edgy futuristic paranoia and pent up energy, ‘Keep Or Delete’ resolutely stomps about the dance floor like an army of marauding and ever so slightly horny Cyberman. ‘Metal Law’ captures the essence of Cabaret Voltaire circa their ‘Groovy Laid Back And Nasty’ phase to a tee, whilst blissed out album closer ‘Slow Down’ encapsulates the post rave euphoria come down perfectly. ‘Wired Together’ is indeed a bold step forward, both lyrically and sonically producing a more polished expansive sound but one  that still retains the spirit of the band’s debut. Danceable, credible and hugely enjoyable they once again manage to whip up a storm.

8/10

And we sat down for tea and biscuits with The Whip’s front man Bruce Carter to talk about the album and ascertain exactly what the band had been up to these past three years 😉

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VP: Hello, it’s been a few years since your much praised debut,  and you’re about to release the follow up, ‘Wired Together’ . You’ve obviously been busy gigging and going down a storm on the festival circuit and travelling the world but did you plan to have such a gap between releases.

BRUCE: It used to be a pet hate of mine to see bands take ages between albums. I could just picture them sat about watching Jeremy Kyle and DVD’s all day when they could be releasing new music but now I can sympathize! We’ve been non stop since the first album came out at different times over the world which we toured relentlessly. We would get back from 5 weeks in America and then go around Europe for month before a Japanese trip. It’s all amazing fun and we recorded most of the demo’s for the new album on the road. On the bus, in dressing rooms or hotel rooms on days off. We had to draw the line and stop touring to get on with the new record, we tried out lots of different producers which took time and we worked on the demo’s back in Manchester in between.


We met Jagz Kooner who went on to produce the album at the start of last year and after working with him for a couple of days we knew he was the right guy for the job. He came up to manchester for a couple of months with us in a rehearsal room working on the demo’s, once we had the live bass, drums and guitar stuff worked out we moved down to London for most of last year. We recorded the live instruments with Mark Ralph at Club Ralph and then went to Jagz’s show box sizd studio and worked on synths and vocal for ages!!!  It’s taken a while as we wanted to see what would happen if we really pushed ourselves to make it as good as possible.


I guess that’s the shortest way of summing up what we’ve been up to!  I’m just so happy to have it finished and can’t wait to get it out and get on with the next one. We’ve got so many songs sat about that are ready to go.

VP: What would you say is the biggest difference between ‘X Marks Destination’  and ‘Wired Together’? Did you feel more pressure writing and recording this album?

BRUCE:  I think because we took out time ironing out everything we didn’t feel the pressure while making the record. I was pushed to get the vocals as good as possible on this record, I remember to get the right vibe on a song called ‘Riot’ I was literally beaten up while I was singing the vocal takes. You can hear me taking a few blows for the team if you listen carefully. The main difference between the albums was that the 1st album changed very little from the demo’s as we were in the studio with Jim Abyss for about a month as opposed to a year with this one.

VP: You’ve put half the album on line giving people the chance to listen before it arrives in September, was part of the thinking behind this giving people the chance to hear them before you tour?

BRUCE: We’re just so eager to let people hear the new music that this seemed like the best way of doing it. It’s been nice to see a people singing along to the new bits at shows we’ve played recently.  We’ve played quite a few of the songs live for a while and the response has been wicked with people jumping around and going crazy at the right bits.

VP: You’ve also been involved in remixing other people’s songs, which have been the ones you’ve enjoyed?  And how does it work, do they approach you or vice versa ?

BRUCE: We love remixing peoples songs, mostly you get approached or sometimes you do a mutual remix swap with someone. I like the Black Ghosts remix that we did and we played it live for a couple of years, the crowd reaction was always wicked.

VP: I’ve also been checking out some of your mix tapes available on your site some tunes on there that might surprise people The Pointer Sisters to Earth Wind and Fire to Fleetwood Mac.  Do you think music fans generally these days are less genre-centric?  That there’s less indie (or indeed pop) snobbery prevalent?

BRUCE: That’s totally the case, it’s so much healthier to listen to a variety of music rather than just one strict genre and there is so much good music out there. We listen to lots of different stuff, it’s good to be open minded about everything in life. I love indie as much as the next person but there is so many different tasty nibbles at the musical buffet.

VP: What was the idea behind the art work for ‘Wired Together’  and who’s responsible for it?

BRUCE: I’d had a picture from the 70’s Italian horror film ‘Suspiria’ on my phone for ages. It’s a beautiful still of the ornamental peacock from near the end of the film, I guess the image spoke to me while we we’re working on the album demo’s. We put the image in the hands of a Manchester based artist, Enge and after some serious talking he developed it in to the beast we have on the sleeve. It’s amazing to look at really close up on the poster, the detail is bonkers, it goes on and on.

VP: As previously mentioned you’ve played around the world, what have been your most bizarre tour experiences?

BRUCE: It’s amazing to be able to visit some of the places we get to. Our first trip to Japan was pretty amazing as it was the first time that we had travelled so far to play music. At the time we didn’t have an album out and everyone knew who we we’re which is a bonkers feeling.
We do get up to some crazy partying stuff on tour and you meet people that you share really amazing nights with only to know that you’ll probably never get to see them again. We had an amazing night camping in Joshua Tree park on our last USA tour, I’ve never seen so many stars.

VP: If you had an unlimited budget what would you add to your live shows?

BRUCE: That is my favourite question in the world, we’d love to add visuals and all sorts of lasers at some stage. I love the feeling of playing music engulfed in smoke with strobes around my feet; it’s a wild feeling to see how far you can take yourself before you have an epileptic fit. In all seriousness if the lighting guy asks us what vibe to go for the one word we give is “epileptic”.

VP: Desert Island disc time,  if  you could take only one piece of music to your desert island, what would that be ?

BRUCE: I guess something with melody and vocals but nice electronic vibes too, KRAFTWERK MAN MACHINE covers a lot of bases for me!

VP:  Five words to sum up ‘Wired Together’

BRUCE : Heavy, Hypnotic, floaty magic disco.

Links

Official Site

Facebook

Twitter

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Video.

The VPME Podcast – August 2011 – This IS Music


VPME Podcast JAMC

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Hurrah and Huzzah ! It’s the  latest VPME podcast!!!  Featuring the best new music from the past, present and future and a Dj as intresting as socks .

Listen out for special guest appearances from the godlike  Jim Reid  of  80’s/90’s legends The Jesus & Mary Chain, Emma Andreson from Lush, plus songs by the likes of The Cramps, Suede,The  Psychedelic Furs nestling snugly alonside  new music from The Whip, Strangers, Seize The Chair, Pris, Freezepop  and Deep Cut. Click on the player below or if you prefer go to http://www.mixcloud.com/TheVonPipMusicalExpress/the-von-pip-musical-express-podcast-episode-4-august-2011/

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Virtual Reality -Emmy The Great Interview/Review

Emmy The Great Interview 2011 The Von Pip Musical Express.“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” By Emmy The Great.

It wasn’t quite love at first listen with regard to  Emmy The Great’s debut album ‘First Love’, purely because we’d become smitten with Emmy’s oeuvre long before her debut.  She was probably one of the first artists  we’d discovered via myspace (remember that kids? Back in the day before Murdoch’s money poisoned the well rendering it completely unusable?) We were drawn to her wit, her natural melody, her poetic lyricism and her idiosyncratic musings. So in a sense, it was love at second listen in relation to ‘First Love’,  an album we also bestowed our much coveted album of the year award upon in 2009.

If ‘First Love’ proved that Emmy ‘s rough demo’s and EP’s scrubbed up rather well, then ‘Virtue’ sees her music in full make up wearing killer heels and stepping out onto the red carpet. It’s an album of such delicate heartbreaking beauty that it would leave only the stoniest of hearts unmoved. Informed by some life changing experiences, it demonstrates a keenness of mind and a hugeness of spirit that is sadly lacking in a lot of big label music these days.

The albums starts slowly with ‘Dinosaur Sex’  a song which  is possibly bleaker than catching Morrissey’s  worbegone visage refelcted in a coffin plate.  But after this  rather disquieting  opener the album really finds its feet and demonstrates that  Emmy has taken her  song writing and melodies to a whole new level. Gone is the naive whimsy of some of her early work, and the occasional self conscious pop culture references, replaced by somebody finding a new perspective, taking risks and not being afraid to express their most intimate thoughts.  ‘Virtue’ is  informed by the spectre of lost love and contains the sort of erudite  lyrical observations that elude most songwriters.  She shows that  just one of her softly sung couplets contains more wit wisdom and insight into the human condition than a thousand overwrought yodels from the likes of self proclaimed ‘people’s poet’ James Allan.  Subtlety is so often overlooked in favour of bombast in a lot of modern day music and so we should cherish somebody who’s intelligent song writing deftly holds a mirror up to our own hopes and dreams as she makes an album that is deeply personal and yet universal.  The album closes with ‘Trellick Tower, a building that many perceive as a brutal architectural scar on west London’s skyline which in this  instance  becomes emblematic of emotional scarring, it’s also probably  Emmy’s most personal song to date. The building acts as a kind of austere  memorial to a relationship, to a love lost,  an implacable spectator that casts a mighty shadow and still prevails when life has moved on. It’s a tale of heartbreak, acceptance, and is a tender goodbye….

So is ‘Virtue’  better than ‘First Love?’  We think so . Is it a contender for album of the year? It will surely be there or there abouts , and does it prove Emma lives up to her nom de plume? Definitely.

Album rating 9.5/10

We had a chat with Emma about the album, weddings and the life changing events which helped ‘Virtue’ take shape.

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VP:   Hi Emma, congrats on the new album which is fantastic.  What made you go down the Pledge music route and how did the experience work for you? Any bizarre pledges to fulfil?

EMMA : Thanks Andy! I went down the Pledge route for a number of reasons. I didn’t feel like I had to demo the songs to record them for the album, and in order to get label funding before we recorded it, I’d have had to. As well as that, you probably know that I was in the middle of some gnarly personal stuff, and the idea of interacting with strangers and possibly expanding my uses as a musician with things like workshops was incredibly attractive.  Anything to get me away from my house and my own thoughts.  I’m really glad I did it. I met some amazing people. I can’t think of anything bizarre right now but there were definitely unique experiences, like meeting some of the people I now consider friends.

VP:   As you know I loved ‘First Love’ but ‘Virtue’ sounds like a much more confident and mature body of work. Without prying I know you had quite a turbulent time personally whilst writing the album, did that provide a seismic shift in terms of the tone of the album?

EMMA : I think I was already heading towards new pastures sonically, but in terms of the personal tone of the record – I didn’t realise it was going to be like that until the second half of the writing, after my wedding got cancelled. If you had told me in March that I’d spend the summer living with my parents and researching theology, I’d have been shocked, but a month later, that’s what happened, and the album became what it is.

VP: The pop culture references from the first album have all but disappeared, ( 24, M.I.A. etc) was this a conscious decision ?

EMMA : There are still references in this record. Maybe they’re less pop culture and more myth and literature, but those things are closely related. There’s Cassandra in Cassandra, and the last verse of that is based on the poster for the original film of Lolita, and there’s Rapunzel in Trellick Tower, there’s Trellick Tower…there are a couple songs based on the Sylvia Plath quote ‘Character is fate’, and Paper Forest is lifted from the last line of a Patti Smith song, which is lifted from the Bible. So there are still pop culture references, they’re just less direct.

VP: I guess  ‘Trellick Tower’ is your most personal song to date but  what’s the actual significance of the building in terms of the song ? (Apparently it ‘s also the inspiration for High Rise By JG Ballard so you’re in good company!)

EMMA : I lived really close to Trellick Tower when I was engaged and it was something i talked about with my ex a lot. When he did his thing I was there alone and the Tower took on extra significance, like it linked me with him, or with our past. Then as I got over what happened, it became something that was mine. I was the one who was still there; I was the one who still had a relationship with the building etc. I still use it as my personal sat nav replacement when I’m driving in London and need to get home.   I’ve been recommended High Rise by a few people now and I’m definitely going to read it.

VP:  How’s your relationship with religion these days?

EMMA : It’s funny, because I always thought I’d be really angry at Christianity after this, but I can’t be. When I went soul searching, I discovered such lovely branches of Christians – liberal ones, who actively fight for gay and female clergy – that I can’t possibly be mad at the entire religion. But there are certain types of Christianity that I came across that shocked me. It tends to do with taking the Bible literally and patriarchy/ moral conservatism/ science denial. To my mind there’s rational religion and irrational religion, and rational religion is something I have lots of time for.

VP: Ha the way you go about song writing changed over the years? For example do you sit down and think, I will write till 1.30 , clock off for lunch and then come back and write till five ? Or is it a case of writing as and when you feel inspired?

EMMA : I need routine. I take notes when I’m inspired but I don’t put it all together until I sit down to work. And then, yeah, it’s a case of starting at 11, taking lunch, finishing at 5 etc. It’s not like that’s the only time I come up with ideas, but that’s the time I know I’ll have something solid finished, and that gives me licence not to be thinking of songs when I’m doing other things.

VP:   You said that with “Virtue,” it’s the first album that you really wanted people to hear?  Could you explain that statement? Is it a question of being more confident in your song writing?

EMMA : I think just being more confident overall. Now that this album is out and I feel like I’ve got a body of work behind me, I don’t mind people hearing First Love either. I was always so insecure that people wouldn’t think that I could move forward, now if people hear the first, and know what the second sounds like, I feel like they’ll believe me that I can do something interesting for the third as well.

VP:  And you’ve just played Glastonbury, how was the festival for you ?  And how did you come to be involved in Water Aid?

EMMA :  I wrote to Water Aid before my first album I think. Not as a musician, just as a supporter. But as it happened Joe and Mel from Water Aid had been to one of my gigs (maybe just Joe?) and they asked me to come down. We were all going to Glastonbury that year so I said I’d spend my free time campaigning. I’ve campaigned for them every summer now. I really love them, as a charity and as people.

VP:  I gather from your recent comments that you were a big fan of the Royal Wedding? Let’s face it , it really did unify the nation and make us all forget about public sector cuts and old Etonians lording it over the serfs didn’t it ….erm …nope…

EMMA : The thing I heard most over that period was, “What’s wrong with a bit of escapism?” But the reason we all felt the need for escapism was because the establishment had let us down (repeatedly) and we were watching things like libraries and the arts crumbling around us. In this instance, you’ll have to explain how paying out of our taxes for a couple of already wealthy people to tie to the knot in incredibly regressive circumstances, in the company of a crowd so right wing that ex-PRIME MINISTERS were considered not posh enough to attend, counts as an effective form of escapism?

And I don’t know Kate Middleton, so I don’t know if the focus of the press coverage was reflective of a pathological interest in fashion on her part – but seriously – could there have been just the tiniest story that wasn’t about the make of the her boots and the gloss of her hair?

VP:  And you and Tim [ Wheeler] have recorded a Christmas album ?? What can you tell us about that?  Are they originals? Covers ? What’s the deal ?

EMMA : They’re mostly puns. We got snowed in over Christmas 2010 – like literally snowed in – and ended up missing four flights between us and so we wrote the songs (or at least the titles) for the Christmas record. There’s only one cover and it’s a full album.

VP: Finally five tips that would help us all become more ‘virtuous’

EMMA : Don’t stray from the path/ Appearances can be deceiving/ Keep your promises/ Do the right thing/ Follow your heart (full version of my guide to virtuosity can be found here: http://emmythegreat.com/details.aspx?id=18.63.Keep-Your-Virtue-A-Handy-Guide)

Links

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Emmy the Great Facebook

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Emmy the Great Myspace

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“Don’t Slow Down” – The Primitives Interview 2011

The Primitives Interview 2011 - The VPME

“Rattle My Cage” By The Primitives.

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It’s easy to look back on the 80’s and remember it as the decade that taste and kindness forgot.  And there was indeed much to rail against, whether it be the musical triumvirate of despair that dominated the charts in the shape of  Stock Aitken and Waterman, the ludicrous new romantics, or witnessing the politics of compassion championed by the likes of Joe Strummer engulfed in a tsunami of greed and selfishness dressed up as empowerment by the evil that was Thatcherism. But if punk had lost its way via the make-up counter and  fancy dress shop, indie music was still very much alive and kicking and the eighties certainly produced a diverse and exciting  range of ‘alternative’ music, all of  which served as the perfect  antidote to the soulless, shrink wrapped kack purveyed by the likes of S.A.W.  Billy Bragg picked up the political torch from The Clash, The Smiths and The Wedding Present introduced romanticised, poetic  kitchen sink drama to a new generation of  angst ridden students. We had the emergence of the coolest band on the planet in the shape of  The Jesus & Mary Chain, who at one stage became as notorious as the Sex Pistols but who crucially had the talent and tunes to back up the hype. And we also saw the birth of  a plethora of fantastic indie labels releasing the sort of music that would induce nervous breakdowns in most  major labels.

From this fertile musical landscape emerged the object of this articles affections, The Primitives, arriving at the tail end of the “C86” scene and producing a perfect blend of  fuzzed up, buzz saw guitar jangle allied to girl group melodies often played at a breakneck speed.  Their influences included The Byrds, The Ramones, The Shangri Las and of course the Mary Chain, whilst in the shape of lead singer, glam blonde bombshell Tracy Tracy, the Prims bequeathed the indie scene a new poster girl for bedsit land. Perhaps it was inevitable given Tracy’s drop dead gorgeous looks that the music press started to tout the Primitives as the “English Blondie,” a label which had the potential to become something of an albatross around any band’s neck. As possibly did Morrissey’s patronage when he made public his high regard for the band?

Moz finally picks a winner !

Moz finally picks a winner !

Their debut album ‘Lovely’ was highly praised and the huge success of their single ‘Crash’ (which in this blogs opinion remains to this day, one of the finest examples of the perfect pop song) led to them crossing over to the mainstream. However the band found it difficult to maintain the momentum produced by the first album and despite producing two more albums of indie pop goodness the band called it a day in 1992.

The sad and untimely death of original bass player Steve Dullaghan in 2009 reunited the remaining members of the band and they resolved to reform, initially as a tribute to mark Steve’s passing. The band seemed somewhat taken aback by the enthusiastic response that greeted their reformation and they soon found themselves touring the UK again!

The Primitives decided to mark their reunion by releasing an EP and  teamed up with their original producer Paul Sampson. The initial idea was a  covers project involving lesser-known songs by female performers/songwriters which included  Lee Hazlewood‘s “Need All The Help I Can Get”  and “Breakaway” recorded by Toni Basil in 1966 (yes That Toni Basil)  When the EP was released earlier this year it included two new songs “Rattle My Cage” and “Never Kill A Secret”, which proved the Prims have still got ‘it.’  As for the future ? Well we won’t speculate, instead we’ll ask Paul and Tracy from the band……

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VP:  Lets go back in time.. How did Tracy, come to join The Primitives originally, didn’t you initially have a male vocalist? And what was the music scene like in post Specials- Coventry back in the mid 80’s,?

PAUL:  Yes, we had a singer called Kieron. We sounded a bit like The Fall, The Gun Club and the Birthday Party. It was a completely different band, but we kept the name after Kieron left. Tracy answered an ad for a new singer. Our paths had already crossed as we’d both worked on the same Youth Opportunity scheme a year or so earlier –  I was painting rocking horses, she was making soft toys, but we didn’t really know each other. At her audition, the band huddled together in one corner and made our usual racket and Tracy stood in another corner and sang a Triffids song. We could tell straight away that it wasn’t going to work out, but I had a couple of ideas for songs that were a bit more structured and melodic, so I worked on those and we got back together the following week, and that was the start of the band as people know it.

I don’t remember much happening in Coventry music-wise in the mid 80s when we started out, but there’d been a lot of interesting stuff in the early 80s. Some 2 tone related bands like The Swinging Cats, and bands like the Furious Apples and The Human Cabbages. Basically the kind of stuff that you would hear on John Peel at that time.

VP:  In the early days what sort of music would you say informed and influenced The Primitives sound?  Did you all have the same sort of musical tastes or did you all bring something different into the mix?

PAUL:  We were influenced by all the obvious stuff really – Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks, Mary Chain, Byrds, Monkees, Ramones, Cramps, Nancy Sinatra and so on.

We all shared similar tastes. I’d be throwing in things like Jim foetus, and 60s garage Punk. Pete and Steve were into bands like Black flag, Paisley Underground stuff and early Pink Floyd. Tracy was into The Shangri Las and the Go Betweens. 

VP: Obviously the mid 80’s spawned some legendary bands and artists The JAMC, MBV, The Wedding Present and of course Rick Astley, amongst your peers were there any bands you were really big fans of? Did you feel part of a ‘scene’ at the time?

PAUL:  If there was a scene, then I guess it was something based around the idea of noisepop, ie a handful of bands that seemed to be on a path forged by the Jesus and Mary Chain.  As far as I can remember we were the only ones that actually followed through and had any kind of  proper success at that time. Of course we all bought Psychocandy as soon it came out and I really liked what the Valentines were doing in 87/88, but press and radio couldn’t give a shit. Nice to see bands being influenced by that stuff all these years later. 

VP:  Tracy, you once said you’d rather break your fingers then sing along to Stock Aitkin and Waterman and their production line pop. What do you make of Cowell and his hellish legion of karaoke warblers?

TRACY : I’m still of the same opinion about the manufactured bands or solo artist of today……although we’re all manufactured in some way, it’s just that it’s a lot more blatant with some. Not so sure if I’d still go as far as breaking my fingers over singing along to a SAW ditty…ha ha, although Mr Cowell and Co do make my stomach turn.  It also seems that very few of the people who make it through this star making journey have any kind of longevity.

 

PAUL : We used to have Andrew Loog Oldham and Malcolm McLaren, but now we’ve got robots like Cowell.

VP:   What were your highlights the first time around with The Primitives?  And what were your weirdest experiences?


PAUL: Getting a test pressing of our first record and playing it for the first time was a big thrill, and generally just gazing out of the tour bus window at New York or Paris or wherever and thinking how far away is this from the dole queue.

Weird experiences? –

Being on Terry Wogan’s TV chat show doing Thru The Flowers was mighty strange.  It was before we were big, and I’m still not sure quite how we ended up on there. Also Morrissey being in our dressing room at the ICA at around that same time – late 87, chatting to Tracy about Coventry Cathedral.


VP:   Tracy,  as the bands glamorous female front person  and focal point did the chaps ever feel a bit left out with all the cameras being trained on you or was it something you kind of all expected and accepted.

TRACY : Oh thank you, very sweet of you to say…

The front person in a band will always be the focal point and I guess even more so if they’re female, it’s kind of an accepted rule in pop music. Although I remember seeing gig reviews of bands in the NME and if there was, for instance, a female bass player, she’d be the one in the live photo, so it probably had a lot to do with male editors etc.

The guys in the band were not that bothered , and at times I think they were quite glad not to be in the limelight all the time. We always made a point of having all of us in the photo whenever possible, but of course in a review or interview, the publication will always have the choice of what photo they want to use

VP:   I was watching an old interview of you guys on youtube , on ‘The Wide Awake Club’ Did you hate doing that sort of promo, being interviewed by hyperactive TV presenters who clearly didn’t know too much about the music. I remember interviewing Miki and Emma from Lush and Miki often talked about cringing at some of the bizarre TVpromo they had to do…

PAUL: Some of it was dreadfully cheesy. You’d see Britpop bands all over kids TV, but a couple of years earlier it wasn’t really the done thing for a band like us. I remember being at home one time, watching Tracy and Tig helping to introduce kids tea time telly and thinking I’m so fucking glad I’m this side of the TV screen, but then realising that whether I’m there or not, it’s all of us that end up looking like twats.

VP:     So was the reunion purely as a result of Steve’s sad and untimely death getting together as  a tribute  , had the idea ever been mooted before or had you all been to busy on your own projects?

PAUL: Steve’s death was the thing that forced us back into contact with each other.

I had a vague idea of doing something to mark the 20th anniversary of Crash in 2008, but had completely lost touch with Tracy and didn’t think she’d be into it anyhow. I then heard she’d moved to Argentina, so that kind of scuppered any reunion plans. We met for the first time in about 5 years at Steve’s funeral and stayed in touch. We were then asked if we’d get involved with an exhibition at our local art gallery to do with Coventry and its pop music heritage. We ended up playing on the opening night as a tribute to Steve, and played a small secret show a week later in London. Then somehow or other we found ourselves back on tour the following year, 2010.

VP:   Where you worried about coming back after so long?  When did you decide to carry on gigging and then record new material? Did everything click straight away or did it take a while to get used to being a ‘Primitive’ again?

PAUL: It didn’t click straight away and playing the songs again did seem strange at first, but it soon became apparent that a lot of it had stayed programmed in.

We didn’t think so many people would be interested in seeing us again, so it was a nice surprise when the tickets started flying out.  We were getting offers to go abroad after the 2010 UK tour, and things just went on from there.

The EP was done as a little commemorative keepsake to mark our comeback, but then that in itself has created more interest, so it rolls on.

VP: Of the  four tracks on your latest  EP you have two originals and two covers, will you be writing and recording more new material (an album maybe?) . And what was it that drew you to the covers on the Ep?

PAUL: We’ve been working on a covers project of semi obscure female fronted songs, which may end up being an album. We’re choosing songs that haven’t really been touched and that we feel we can ‘Prim up’ in some way.

Not sure about new material. There are a few half written songs, but It takes a lot more commitment and I’m not sure I’d really want to put my neck on that particular line again. Our whole thing is probably just a nostalgia trip anyhow – which is fine because I think that’s what we were pretty much about in the first place. If we’re nothing more than a tribute to ourselves, then who better to do it.

VP: And what have been the most enjoyable moments of being a Primitive again this time around?

PAUL : It’s been a buzz bringing the songs back to life for the odd hour here and there and going overseas again. It’s also been great to be able to do this again without the misery and dread of a manager or record company. It feels much more like a mad adventure than it ever did back then.

VP:   Obviously a  lot of things have changed in music since the Primitives first burst onto the scene. The internet has probably had the biggest impact, what do you make of its effect on the music bizz? Do you think the industry has been slow to react to new technology, do you perhaps think it has in many ways democratised the ability to produce and sell music.  Or is the net effect somewhat overstated?

PAUL: Not really my field of expertise, but obviously there’s been a massive script flip and the whole thing runs in a very different way now. Not sure how I feel about people being able to download your music without having to shell out, but it’s probably mainly a kick in the balls for record companies. It’s great to be able to hear so much stuff so easily, although the thrill of the hunt isn’t really there anymore. Nice that vinyl is re-emerging too, as a kind of reaction to all this digital nothingness, I guess.

NB/ Paul also features in our May Podcast which you can hear HERE

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