tasty 22 - interviews
by Aline Lemos
In an interview at
their recent Nottingham date with Lee Thomson and Gavin Dunbar,
respectively the band's drummer and bassist, a step towards change and
wholeness is outspoken.
They reveal their contempt concerning the new album, development as
musicians, comparisons to Belle and Sebastian, among other topics.
How has the band changed since 'biggest bluest hi-fi'?
(Gavin) - Well, a lot. Some people changed, left the band; we got a new
record label. We became a lot more confident about recording, we are
just really excited, to go back and try a few things as we did on the
record. It's like a step forward for us.
(Lee) - As Gavin said, I think we are more confident with each other, we
are better with our line up and we're a bit faster and it's become more
fun, maybe because we sound better, you know. We know what we are doing
this time, which is great and is working better.
Listening to your new album it's inevitable to try to describe it
using several adjectives, such as mellow, delicate, sad, happy. You get
very sad songs (and I don't mean that in a bad way), such as 'your
picture' and very joyful songs like 'let me go home', which reminds you
of 50's music. Would you say that is intentional? What can you say about
the composition of the album?
(Gavin)- It was pretty much like the first album; John wrote the
basic songs. Carey as well, and when the band rehearses everyone brings
ideas, we all work towards making them sound like Camera Obscura. To be
able to start we record some lyrics and basic melodies and everyone
works hard to sounds quite simple and authentic.
(Lee) - The 50's resemblance is quite true with the single, 'Teenager'.
I mean, it's not like people are writing songs trying to rip anyone off
but there is generally a feeling that they reckon what they like and
they would like their own songs to sound in the vein of. Generally a lot
of us listen to a lot of old stuff, so it might sounds like the fifties.
So you got that because we got a bit more studio wise and we know what
we can do in a studio. We've been working quite well with Geoff, who
knows pretty much what we want; he's been helping us to achieve this.
It's pretty fun to make it sound quite fifties or whatever.
You are talking about rip off and stuff. I don't know if you get this
all the time but how do you feel about being compared to Belle and
(Lee) I think it used to annoy people more in the beginning. When we
played in Spain, especially with 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi', lots of people
would bring the B&S thing. I think now it's being less mentioned! It
just seems to me that the Spanish press and a lot of people who listen
to music actually just listen to a record 'per se' and don't have this
kind of thing that we got in Britain. It may apply especially in British
based journalism, which is pure lazy and it's easy just to lump people
in together. I think now that we don't get it so much is quite nice,
we've made a record that has its own merits, but it's still annoying.
Most people I know don't see the connection at all. It may be an
aesthetics thing, maybe the seven of us, same instruments; I can see
certain aspects of it but it sounds completely different.
(Gavin) I feel pretty much similar to that. We do have a lot of similar
influences, of same bands in the past and obviously that has an effect
on how it sounds but when we first started we were always compared to
In your songs, do the lyrics relate to your personal lives/realities?
(Lee) - They are pretty much grounded to it; Traceyanne's lyrics
especially, are very personal.
(Gavin) - Yes, I think it's a consequence on the way you live life, for
the most part I think. John's lyrics are different, maybe more general,
they talk about drinking and broken hearts.
(Lee) - That's life!
And the 'NPL'.
(Gavin) - Yeah, when you have a good night out you write a song about
For the band, how important is it to tour and play live?
(Lee) - I think it's become more important now. Some bands don't play so
often and they still sell records. Through playing in Spain we became
more encouraged and started to feel more comfortable.
(Gavin) - Right now since we gathered more stability we enjoy playing
live more, while before it was probably too much of an ordeal for us.
It's good to play live, especially when you see people enjoying
themselves, cause it makes you enjoy it more.
Sometimes playing live can sound quite different from the studio
recordings, because, for instance, you can't have the same sound
effects. Does this affect Camera Obscura playing live?
(Lee) - I think they are generally quite good. We never play a song
because it's easier to be played or anything like that which means that
playing can be quite hard for us. We try to incorporate everything
that's in it, in one way or another we try to make a melody the same.
Maybe it'd have to be played in another instrument, we get Nigel to play
lots of different instruments!
Would you say there is a 'Glasgow scene'?
(Gavin) - I think it goes in cycles. Maybe sort of mid nineties it could
have happened, with all the bands like Belle and Sebastian, Arab Strap,
Mogwai, The Delgados that appeared at the same time. I don't if it's
partly because at that time there were really good places to play in
Glasgow and people got to know each other and all. then it got quiet for
a while and now it's getting interesting because bands have started to
awaken. It's not like a scene where all the bands sound similar; they
sound quite different but they are all quite good.
(Lee) - Glasgow has always been like that, it's a guitar city! It's a
really good place for live music.
So, one last question: are you pleased with the new album?
(Lee and Gavin) - Yes, definitely.
(Lee) - I think it's a lot stronger, better.
As Spearmint prepare to release their
new album - 'My Missing Days' - we talk to Shirley, lead singer and
all-round genius, about, amongst other things, his quite justified love of
of people have said that the last single - 'Left`Alone Among the
Living' is something of a return to form. Would you agree that the last
two years have been difficult? If so, why is this?
- I think that a lot of people who liked "A Week Away" weren't so keen on
"A Different Lifetime". Conversely, there are a lot of the people who are
into "A Different Lifetime" who don't really get "A Week Away"... it's
just a matter of taste, I guess. The important thing for us is that each
album is different & has its own identity. Having said that, the new
album, "My Missing Days" is my favourite and it's a return to the way
Spearmint sound live, which "A Different Lifetime" moved away from, so I
think the "A Week Away" fans will like this one...
The band seems to enjoy quite a high profile overseas - certainly more
than in the UK - why do you think this is, and does this annoy you at all?
It doesn't annoy me - the ideal situation would to be massive overseas and
unknown at home! Before we toured Europe, I had a very "UK" viewpoint,
bordering on xenophobic, that British music was best & that European stuff
was a bit inferior. Going there has completely changed that & made me
realise how much great music we miss out on over here. Also, in the UK,
the media are always looking for the "next big thing" - I guess that comes
from being in the country that spawned the Beatles, Punk, Britpop, etc -
it's not healthy because there are loads of fantastic different bands who
don't fit into any scene & consequently find it hard to get support... I
still love it here though - I am able to watch ace bands like Comet Gain
being first on in pubs... It's incredible: I mean they're up there with
The Smiths & The Jam & Belle & Sebastian and in this country they
basically just get ignored!
Do the same things inspire you now as when you started the band. Is the
band an intensely personal thing for you all?
- Well, each song, each album is inspired by different things - it's a
bit like bottling little bits of life. "Intensely personal" doesn't begin
to do it justice. It constantly amazes me how much everyone puts into it /
cares about it - the loyalty & passion is incredible...
do you think you'd have all ended up without Spearmint?
- Better off financially & less happy. I'd probably be writing in one form
or another. Ronan said the other day that he'd have been an inventor!
What's your favourite Spearmint song, and why?
- Today it's "Giving It Away" on the new album, because it was quite
tricky to write, record & mix and even trickier to get right live, but
we've cracked it now, so I can relax and I've realised I love it!
are you going to re-release 'Sweeping the Nation' so that it can go
to number one forever?
- Hopefully never. I do love "Sweeping The Nation" and we always enjoy it
live.........anyway it wouldn't even Chart, and it would probably be a
pain if it did...
What's the immediate future hold for the band?
- We're doing gigs around "My Missing Days" & we're enjoying playing the
songs live so we'll probably play quite a lot. We're just back from
Germany (and exhausted) and off to Sweden next. We're doing the Strange
Fruit Festival in London on 22 November (with Ballboy, Airport Girl and
Bearsuit) and I hope we will also do some UK regional shows, maybe with
Some have described Slipslide's album 'The
World Can Wait' as the best Matinee record yet. Here, the London-based
guitar popsters' vocalist, Graeme Elston, has a chat to tasty about life in
not one, but two bands! The greedy beggar!
How important is
the new album to the band?
I'm not sure how important it is to the band as a whole, but for me
personally it means a lot. I've been releasing singles and EP's for a long
time without ever getting it together to record a whole album of (mostly) my
own songs. So it's great to have finally acheived that.
the main themes behind the album? Is it a explicitly personal statement?
Well nine of the songs are mine, and they tend to be fairly heartfelt. I
don't feel comfortable writing from other perspectives very often. Matthew's
two songs are a bit more playful from that point of view, he'll make them
sound like some very personal statement but add a twist. Not that I'm
entirely averse to bending my own rules to make a better narrative! I'm
quite obsessed with time, so that crops up throughout the album, and gave it
it's title. It's also a rather nostalgic album. Nostalgic but impatient!
How do you
the band manage their time between their other bands and Slipslide? Are
there ever any difficulties?
We're all members of Astronaut, but that band seems to be in mothballs at
present which is basically down to Alex, who's the only Astronaut not also
in Slipslide. I personally like having a couple of bands on the go at the
same time, and I really like being a side man not having to make all the
decisions so I'm encouraging him to start up with Astronaut again. He has
some great musical ideas. With Slipslide there are only four of us and the
style of music is a lot more relaxed, so it's far more easy going. It has
the best atmosphere of any band I've ever been in.
relationship with Matinee seems good - how did this come about?
While Astronaut were still active I'd started writing songs for the first
time in four years or so, as I'd lost a lot of confidence towards the end of
my previous band Eva Luna. Astronaut were basically a vehicle for Alex's
songs, so I demoed some songs at home and quite cynically looked for labels
who seemed to fit the influences/background I was coming from. It turned out
Jimmy at Matinee had liked the Love Parade, Pure and Eva Luna and was quite
into Astronaut as well, so my research paid off. I wasn't sure anyone would
be interested. Matinee are a great label, they give us enough freedom to do
what we want but will give us a nudge when we're taking too long to get
something done. Also we're just not a twee type of band, and Jimmy takes a
lot of pride in the look of his releases, so that suits us too.
A lot of
people have said that the album is the first great album on Matinee. What do
you think to this?
It's not something I've heard said, but if it's anyones opinion that's very
pleasing. I'm sure there are several Lucksmiths, Sportique, Windmills etc
etc fans who would disagree. I would say that it's a coherent album because
we took quite a while to put it together, instead of a couple of rushed
you want to take the band - musically as well as 'career wise'?
We're a bit over the 'being pop stars' thing. I've had stabs at that in the
past, and I think Astronaut was our last shot at it! By the time of the
second Astronaut album we'd come to terms with the fact that we weren't
going to be the next Fierce Panda band to get signed to a major, which was a
relief in some ways. Life is grand as it is. Slipslide started as a side
project, so I never had those expectations anyway which is just as well as
we're so far away from what is currently considered hip. Proud as I am of
this album, I'd like the next one to feel more 'live', and maybe a bit less
uptight. But don't go expecting a radical shift in direction!
It must be
good for the band that you work in a recording studio - has this helped the
band a lot?
It can be a hindrance as well as a help, in that it gives endless scope for
fiddling about. I work better to a deadline so I try to set myself one, even
if I know I could take longer. In my day job I'm obsessing about sound
constantly, which maybe isn't the best consideration when making an indie
guitar pop album! It's the songs that matter most of all.
We've just had a song "Love Split" on Matinee's Autumn Assortment sampler
CD, which should give some clues to how the next album will sound, and we've
recorded a cover for a Matinee project which is a not particularly well kept
secret. It'll be interesting to see how that goes down. There's been talk of
some gigs in Spain, which we'd love to do. Any gigs further afield would be
very welcome, the more glamorous the better...