interviews - feb 2004
Simon Williams (Fierce Panda)
- Dan Auerbach (The Black
- Marc Elston (The Liberty
Simon Williams (Fierce Panda)
Ten years ago I could
fit into a pair of 32” waist and trousers and could go out and get drunk two
nights on the run without feeling like I was about to die at any second. Oh
yeah, and ten years ago Fierce Panda were just about to start releasing a
run of records that would, if not shake the world to it’s core, at least
make a few people shake their hips a bit more vigorously. Here, tasty talks
to Fierce Panda founder and all-round indie wide boy about how the label has
grown over the last decade….
motivated you to start fierce panda?
The scene known as New Wave Of New Wave, which involved cheerily punkoid
bands like S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men. The only reason fierce panda was
invented was to release an EP called ‘Shagging In The Streets’ as a tribute
to that very scene.
sort of music were you listening to when you started the label?
The raging fires of Britpop – Elastica, Suede, Blur, Pulp…all the good, arty
stuff before Britpop became a competition to see who could sound the most
like The Who and who could snuggle up closest to Paul Weller.
want to create a definite image for fierce panda?
I didn’t actually plan any image and I quite like the way it’s just shambled
along. The key to the panda is that it’s a bit useless and a bit stupid,
which is why we put out records by bands as diverse and non-compatible as
Keane and Winnebago Deal at the same time. No other indie label in the UK
would be so careless.
the first truly successful record on the label?
In truth, it’s the only truly successful record on the label and it’s
‘Wibbling Rivarly’, by Oas*s, featuring fourteen-and-a-half minutes of Noel
and Liam swearing at each other. It got to number 52 in the charts. Some
your job at NME compromise your work with the label, if at all?
It’s strange to look back – peering in from the outside it must have sent
people into absolute rages seeing an NME hack run a label, but in our
defence all I can say is that we were totally naïve and we were making it up
as we went along. As soon as I realised that the label actually had a
longterm future and was going to be a moneymaking venture I left the paper.
Besides which, NME writers don’t actually like fierce panda – out of the 150
records we’ve released, only three have made it to Single Of The Week
surprised at how quickly the label grew?
Well, I still think that we’re a tiny little underground concern but I do
have to say I’m fairly stunned that we are actually still going.
think there has been three definite eras for the label?
I guess so. You certainly could break it down by saying that the NME years
were a shambles, then we went full-time with the backing of
Mushroom-Infectious, which was a shambles on a steep learning curve, and
since 2001 the panda has been on its own again and has been a slightly more
your favourite fierce panda release?
‘Cerebra’ by Hundred Reasons. Grrrrrreat.
your biggest regret with regards to fierce panda?
None whatsoever. It’s been a blast.
How do you
think the label is perceived? You’ve stated that you wanted the label to run
along the lines of Sarah and Creation, etcetera. Do you think this has
I don’t think anyone has quite got a handle on the label,
but then again that’s fine – nor have I! It certainly isn’t the fast track
to success which some dumb managers think it is. And it certainly isn’t a
bloody singles club – we are now onto our third album with Death Cab For
Cutie. I guess we have always been so aware of the achievements of other
indie labels historically that we tend to think of ourselves as being a wee
bit insignificant, so now we’re ten years old it’s time to push on a bit, I
you start up fierce panda today, if it didn’t exist?
Y’know what? I still go to as many gigs now as I did ten years ago (or
twenty years ago, more to the point) so chances are that I would actually
start the label today. After all, the major labels are just as stupid now as
they were in 1994, which is as good a reason as any.
still as enthusiastic about music as you’ve ever been?
Oh totally. I find the whole process completely fascinating and this whole
ten year birthday thing has been really inspirational.
for fierce panda, ideally?
Next step for us is to shake it all up a bit and take this whole malarkey a
hell of a lot more seriously. There’s a good-natured vibe about fierce panda
which a lot of people like but I think if we don’t use our bite more often
then we could end up trapped in a corner marked ‘fluffy indie fools who
couldn’t break into the top 75 with a crowbar’. And having come this far,
that would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it?
effervescent Randi Russo took time out from her hectic schedule to
discuss cynicism, poetry, to define and nail down the anti folk genre
and music in general. The New Yorker tells us about her motivation and
inspiration for her latest album: ‘Solar Bipolar’ (out on Olive Juice
Records), and answers each question with an openness that is reflected
in her music. She swings for slow and mournful to bouncy and angst
filled in the time it takes Alex Ferguson to think up of an excuse for
was last year for you? What have you been doing and what are your plans
for this year? Any plans to come to the UK in the near future?
My year so far has been kind of slow. Like most people,
I have years that are really active and ones that are less exciting.
This year was the latter of the two. The only thing that was really
exciting was my tour to the UK and Paris this past April. I was
received so warmly in
I would welcome that feeling again. I wanted to go back to the
UK this Fall, but I'll be recording my next record then,
and for financial reasons, I can't do both. Besides, when I record, I
like to stay focused -- and that means working on it consistently, not
taking breaks to go abroad. But, I do hope to tour the UK again in the
Spring... maybe in March. I should have my new album out by then.
I sense the influence of Sylvia Plath in your lyrics.
Do read or write much write poetry?
I have read a lot of Sylvia Plath's works (her poetry and
'The Bell Jar') and I really like where she's coming from. It's
honest. Some people confuse 'dark sentiments' as being negative; I see
the dark side as just the other half of the truth.
I used to write a lot of poetry in the past, but I don't
write poetry too often any more. I used to be a painter as well, but I
don't do much of that either these days. Most of my creativity is
channelled into music. I'm very much focused that way.
Your album 'Solar Bipolar' can be described as
Cynical, Angry, cathartic yet soothing to listen to. What are your views
on it and was it painful to make?
I've received all of the above adjectives in reviews of
that album. It was a cathartic experience for me; writing & performing
music is cathartic. I usually don't think of myself as angry because
I'm quite a quiet person. I keep a lot of my emotions inside and I take
out a lot of my anger on myself. But, if I look at it from an
outsider's perspective (which is not easy to do), I can see how my
music is angry and cynical at times. I guess I am a pretty angry
person, but there's a lot going on in the world today to make one angry
(here, in America, things are all wrong altogether!). I can also see
how the album is soothing -- with songs like 'We Forget' and 'Push-Pull'
and 'Wonderland'; there are enough songs on the album to counter balance
all the 'negativity.'
The album was painful to make, but not because of my
emotions. It was a laborious effort and relations between me and some
of my band mates became strained. We came through it though, and we
collectively made what I think is a good album.
What are your current musical influences?
There are so many good acts here in NYC that receive very
little attention that are quite frankly amazing. It's a total injustice
that these acts are not more popular... people like Paleface, Diane
Cluck, Prewar Yardsale are some to name a few of the many talented
people in this antifolk scene. A lot of musicians in this antifolk scene
influence me. Currently, I'm listening to a lot of Nick Drake and
Leonard Cohen. They are really influencing me now. Cat Power is also a
big influence. My next album is going to be less rock-n-roll, and more
contemplative. I'm also listening to a lot of John Lennon's songs from
his days in the Beatles. I was never a big Beatles fan, but someone
gave me a mix of the songs that John wrote, and I like how his songs mix
tough and tender emotions so smoothly. That mix of tough and tender is
what I look for in a songwriter.
Has being a New Yorker dictated the type of music you
make or do you think your music would be the same no matter where your
are from or where you lived?
Well, I wouldn't say that being a New Yorker has
the kind of music I make, but I know for sure that I'd be making
different kind of music if I lived elsewhere. A lot of the music here
in the local NYC scene has definitely influenced me ... the competition
here has made me a better songwriter. There's a style that is innately
mine, but there's nuances of things that are 'borrowed' from other
artists, and a lot of that borrowing is from the artists in the NY
In the past you have played the violin and the piano
is there any inclination in the future to incorporate those or new
instruments into your music?
I do play piano (as rudimentary as it may be), and I've
played some piano on my recordings. I have some 4-track stuff that I
did by myself that has more piano-based songs. But guitar is my main
instrument. I played violin and flute when I was a child, and I don't
recall being particularly good at either of those instruments. I
suppose I'd pick up those instruments again someday if I had the money
and time to explore different aspects of music.
What song, poem or book would you say
sums you up if any?
That's a tough question, and my answer would probably
change depending upon what I was reading or listening to at the time.
Right now, I'd say that The Beatles/John Lennon's "She Said" is a good
one ("She said: I know what it's like to be dead; I know what it is to
be sad." -- as depressing as this lyric may sound, it's very honest, and
it really sums up how I feel a lot of the time.), or Bob Dylan's
"Buckets of Rain"; Herman Hesse's 'Siddhartha' may sum me up as well.
Also, nearly any poem written by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Track 'Adored' on the Solar Bipolar Album gives out a very simplistic
message: "I just wanna feel adored" this song is good for its straight
forwardness and the fact that it is in touch with reality. This seems to
be a theme in your as in alum 'so it must be true' you give the
impression that people expect too much from life and love. Is your album
and your philosophy on life: "don't chase the stars"?
I wouldn't say so because, in my own way, I'm a
star-chaser, and I expect a lot from life. I don't want to be really
famous or anything... but to be 'kind of famous' would be nice. :) I
have expectations of my life and my music, and when they're broken, I
feel really hurt. As a reaction to that hurt, I guard myself against
future hurts, and take fewer risks. This makes me overly cautious,
which I think makes me a self-sabotager of my own success (Sorry... I
think I went off on a tangent there). I really don't know where
"Adored" came from... I wrote the song in less than 20 minutes so I
could have a new song ready for an open mic... I thought of the song as
a total joke at the time because there was this dominatrix vibe to it.
But, I guess it isn't a joke because, at the end of the day, we all want
to feel adored.
"So It Must Be True" is a more serious song for me. It's
about putting your faith into a system that continually lets you down,
and you're finally getting wise to the truth that you don't necessarily
fit into this system. Many of my songs are about being an outsider...
even "Adored" is about that. I suppose the album and my philosophy on
life is "Go for the stars, but don't be surprised if you get burned when
they shine brightly" -- this kind of combines the cynic in me and the
romantic in me. Part of "going for the stars" for me is being socially
accepted and respected... a lot of my struggles have to do with this --
wanting to be insider, but always finding myself on the outside.
Who or what pisses you off?
George W. Bush and his croneys, corporate greed, any kind
of social injustice, etc.
have contributed to an antifolk compilation cd, how would you describe
the anti-folk genre to those who haven't a clue as to what it means?
It's hard to describe antifolk. As a musical style, some
would say it would have to be songs filled with wit and/or honesty,
while playing an acoustic guitar in a folk-punk style. But, that
definition doesn't include many of the acts that are considered antifolk. Some
artists play electric guitar, for instance. ...but what we all have in
common is that we're doing a our own thing, and each person seems to
have their own unique take on folk music (music OF and FOR the people).
Being somewhat innovative (whether lyrically, like Kimya Dawson or
Jeffrey Lewis; or musically, like Knot Pinebox) is at the heart of
antifolk. There's no bullshit in antifolk music... well, some of it is
semi-bullshit (some people have the most ridiculous lyrics), but
underneath the bullshit, there's always something that's there to hit a
raw nerve. Antifolk is raw, honest, and unrelenting in its rawness
and honesty. This is what real music is and should be about.
Musically, it's a combination of traditional folk and punk rock ethos.
What Motivates you in life?
Music is the one thing that really keeps me going (as
cliche as that may sound). Writing music sustains me when all else is
For more information go to
from The Black Keys
The Black Keys are two young men hailing
from Akron Ohio and producing a kind of raw, dirty blues rock that would
make the devil change colour. Comparisons to The White Stripes and The Kills
are common place and quite unfair, so no further mention will be made of
this topic. I caught up with Dan before their sell out gig at the Night &
Day in Manchester, he is an amiable 21 year old who answered every question
enthusiasm as though it was his first ever interview.
Paul Weller recently dubbed Major Record
Labels ‘Scum’ and added that ‘The Jam’ would not have made it in this day
and age as they did not have an instant hit the first two albums sold
slowly. Is his a true reflection of the music industry and are you worried?
Yeah, it’s all major label bullshit. We
spoke to a few major labels, but decided not to go with them because
independent labels can do the same thing. We are not worried because we are
signed to an independent label ( Epitath).
Is the Bass as dying species?
(Dan emits a wry
smile at this point) I like
the bass. I played bass on the album (Thickfreakness out on Epitath
There is a tinge of poetry in some of your
songs for example, ‘Midnight In Her Eyes’ & ‘I Cry Alone’ do you read much
and how often do you write material for your songs?
I don’t really read much at all. The more
I write the better it gets, I try to write everyday.
The nature of your set up is very close
knit and intimate with there just being the two of you. Do you have many
“creative differences” or flare ups and how do you resolve them?
We have been playing together since school so we understand each other. We
just talk our troubles out.
What music are you listening to of late?
Oooh I listen to so much… Rap ( old school
mainly), Neil Young (Decade) an eclectic mix really.
What do you want people to take out of your
gigs? How do you want to leave them feeling?
We just want people to enjoy and we give
Many indie & alternative bands are
hypocritical in their criticism of manufactured boy and girl bands, as they
are manufactured themselves with the use of drum machines, pre-recorded
vocals and guitars. However, this cannot be said of you and Patrick, so go
(Dan smiles modestly at this point, before replying) Major labels will jump
on anything from the Datsuns to boy bands, it’s the way they operate.
What makes you angry ?
Nothing really, except for selfish people.
You have expressed an aversion to Celine
Dion in past interviews; do you still feel the same way?
okay with Celine Dion. She can do what she likes as long as it is not in my
You have been touring incessantly for the
past year. What has been your fondest memory?
Just playing shows where everyone is satisfied. I don’t get to many places,
I haven’t been out of this building since coming to Manchester.
Do you think there is a danger of your band
becoming too big for the venues that you currently play and that you relish
We love playing the small basement type venues, but we have played in front
of 12,000 people in a support slot and that was ok. You need to be prepared
to take things to the next level. I like shows in old style theatres and
would like to be able to progress enough to pull it off.
(The Liberty Ship)
The Liberty Ship have just cemented their status
as one of Britain's finest exponents of guitar pop with the release
of their excellent 'Tide' album on Matinee Records. Here, vocalist and
guitarist Marc Elston tells tasty how the band and album came about...and
how he considers knitting a hobby, but not The Liberty Ship....well,
something like that anyway...
How did the band come about, and how
difficult was it to meet like-minded people in Nottingham?
To be honest I think people get hung up about getting
musicians from the Indie 'scene'. If like minded means
a detailed knowledge of Sarah B-sides then I'm not
interested. If it means people with enthusiasm and an
open mind then I'm happy, that's what we've got. The
band started as a song writing and home recording thing
but I like having people to bounce ideas off and I
wanted to play live. Hence Tim, Steve and Rachel who
all bring their own ideas and influence.
Did all four of you set out to create a specific sound?
I initially wanted to form a jangly
and the songs I already had like 'Cabin Fever and 'I
Guess You Didn't See Her' are pretty much in that
vein. As we rehearsed everybody else brought their
ideas in and the sound expanded...for the better I
How happy are you with the new album?
Love it, hate it, love it....when you record stuff
yourself you never have much perspective, you're too
close to it. I tend to over analyse sounds (one of the
problems of listening to too much music) When I try to
step back from it I'm pretty proud of it. I don't want
to turn into a Lee Mavers or Brian Wilson figure,
never happy with the way something sounds. There
How do the Liberty Ship compare with your
I guess the Ship are most like Bulldozer Crash in
sound and influences. I've played in a few bands
including as bass guitarist in a Smashing Pumpkins
influenced band which is the closest I've been to
major labels (we were demoed by Island) I also play in
Johnny Domino which is great because it's a very
different musical world from The Liberty Ship.
The album covers a lot of ground - why do you think it's turned out as
eclectically as it has?
More by luck than judgement. I get brainwaves, an
analogue synth here, a mandolin there! Recording at
home you don't have one eye on the clock watching
another £25 worth of studio time ticking by, you can
explore your flights of fancy. Like a lot of albums at
our level it was recorded over a number of months so
Does it disappoint you that you have to
release Liberty Ship records through an overseas label?
Not a problem really when the label is as well
organised and well publicised as Matinee. It would be
nice to have that small label scene that I grew up
with in the late '80's but I think those days are long
How did you get in touch with Matinee?
Graeme (Slipslide, my brother) gave me a list of
labels and I think had already made contact with
Jimmy. I sent a tape and bigged up The Bulldozer Crash
thing, luckily Jimmy had heard of us!
There really aren't that many bands in the East
Midlands that are similar to The Liberty Ship - do
you think that this helps or hinders you?
We are quite happy to play on bills with all sorts of
bands but it would be great if there was a ready made
circuit. Hopefully the current crop of Post-punk
influenced bands like Franz Ferdinand and Electrelane
will stimulate interest in guitar pop generally. Bands
seem to be going for the spikey end of the post-punk thing, it might branch into the more melodic end of
things and see bands influenced by Orange Juice and
Aztec Camera...then we'll pounce!
You've been compared to bands like Hurrah and East Village and The Bodines
- I guess you take this as a compliment?
They're all bands I like so I guess I do take it as a
compliment. Band members get very arsey about being
compared to other bands don't they? It's just a
reference point for people to get a handle on where
you are coming from. East Village were criminally
Would you like to tour abroad with The Liberty Ship, or is it more of a
Hobby? The word sort implies people sitting in Garden
sheds making Spanish galleons out of matchsticks or
checking on their homebrew ale....it's very English. I
would be miserable if I wasn't making music in some
way so I suppose it's a bit more than a hobby. I'm not
sure I would want to make a living from it even if I
could, that would be like.....WORK!
Much as I love playing exotic venues in the glamorous
East Midlands we'd love to play abroad especially the
West coast of the U.S.A., Italy, Spain, the Isle of
Man...wherever....bring it on.
What do you get, personally, from the
Release, friends, a good distraction!
And what of the future?
Recording the new songs we are learning. Gigs! Serious