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interviews - aug-Oct 2005


Steve Mason (King Biscuit Time)
My first time as interviewer was always going to be slightly nerve-wracking, but when the person I’m scheduled to fire questions at is the former lead singer of the Beta Band, one of my personal favourites, it’s downright scary! Last minute hiccups (a printer that refuses to do its job, delays on the tube) don’t help matters. 

Halfway through a short tour and a couple of hours before show-time, an obviously shattered Steve Mason has to be roused from the couch by his tour manager for a quick ten minutes of quizzing before dinnertime… 

How’s the tour going?
Really good.  (We’re playing) loads of really, really small places so it’s kind of hot and sweaty and it’s been a lot of fun. 

How’s the new material going down?
It’s going down really well. I’m used to doing gigs where people know all the stuff really well so you keep forgetting that people have never heard most of these songs before, but there’s been a great response. 

Are you playing any Beta Band stuff?
I play a couple of acoustic ones, yeah. 

Who have you got playing live with you?
This guy over here (points behind me), Colin Emmanuel (aka C-Swing, producer of Hot Shots II) and another friend of mine, Pete Rankin, who runs an internet radio station called “Old Jock Radio” which is well worth checking out.
 

All I’ve heard of your new stuff is the single (“C I Am 15”). It strikes me as being the most stripped down you’ve ever sounded, and also the most directly political. Is this something we can expect from the album?
Not really. There’s the odd line here and there about being watched by the powers-that-be and having that feeling of not being trusted to be an adult in society, where they seem to want to know everything that you’re doing, who you’re doing it with and why you’re doing it. I really don’t like that idea of not being trusted. Everyone, no matter who they are, breaks the law at some point whether it’s getting a parking ticket or some other misdemeanour. Human beings need a certain amount of freedom and if the government keep on closing us in like this, sooner or later it’s going to go fucking bang! So there are elements of things like that in it but “C I Am…” is the most directly political song, yeah.  

 The rapper on the single is called Topcat – tell us more about him.
Topcat is one of the original British dancehall DJs from way back in the day. He’s made stuff with a lot of Jamaican artists – Cutty Ranks, people like that – and I hooked up with him through a friend of mine who’s a grime producer. He put me in touch with Topcat and he came down and within an hour it was done. He’s a quick worker!

Any other collaborations on the LP?
No, just him. 

In the Beta Band you had four people bringing musical ideas to the table – now it’s just you. How do you think that affects the music?
In some ways it’s more difficult because you have to take every song to its finished conclusion, and what I used to do with the Beta Band was write a song to a point and then deliberately not do much more to it because I knew they would be bringing all these ideas in. To be honest, it’s really refreshing to be able to do what I want, when I want, how I want, for as long as I want. There aren’t three people who you have to constantly run things past or who really want to contribute to a track. I couldn’t have really done a track as stripped down as “C I Am…” in the Beta Band because by the time everybody’s added their bit it’s become this big thing.
 

You’re setting up a record label with Alan McGee, “No Style”. He’s involved with people like Pete Doherty who leads a very different life to you! How did you become involved with him?
I think he’s someone that respected what we did in the Beta Band for a long, long time but our paths just never crossed. Then we sacked our manager and we were thinking about who the hell we could get next, and I was talking to some friends of mine who were in a band and they were saying “Go and see McGee”. We went up there and liked what he was saying so we said yeah, let’s give it a go. It was quite simple.

There’s been a spate of gigs recently called “Don’t Look Back” where bands play what’s thought of as their best album in its entirety. What band would you like to see play a gig like that and what album would they play?
The Who – “Quadrophenia”…or Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique”.

Who would you have play you in the movie of your life?
Danny DeVito.

After a diet?
No, no, he’s fine the way he is!
 

What song have you got stuck in your head at the moment?
It’s actually one of Ian’s songs. (I’ve got) a really, really good friend supporting me tonight, he’s called Ian Anderson and he records under the name Pip Dylan and I’ve just finished mixing his LP so I’ve got a lot of those songs stuck in my head. It’s a really, really great album. I’m hoping to put it out through No Style but I’m not quite sure if that’s going to happen yet.

Any new or underrated bands you’d like to big up?
Not that I know of. To be honest I don’t go out and see gigs. I always really liked The Magnificents and that’s why we took them on our last tour with us. I think they’re kind of underrated. They’re like a much more aggressive version of Kraftwerk and I quite like that.

Who are your heroes and villains?
Really obvious people like Malcolm X who went through this intense phase where he was quite racist and really aggressive and then after he’d been off to Africa and Mecca and places like that, came back to America with a much more rounded perspective on human beings and on life. People like that who are very focused on what they want to do but still open to new ideas, who are intelligent and try to bring people together. Because education is the key. Our government and the American government are just about keeping people in the dark and not really telling them what’s going on, because that’s power…power of information.

 

Have you seen the documentary “Outfoxed” about the Fox Network?
No, I haven’t. 

It’s an independent documentary which highlighted how completely right-wing the Fox Network is, and how that’s being pumped out the majority of America.
Well, one of the heads of the Fox network is Bush’s cousin or brother-in-law or something like that. The Bush tentacles extend into every part of our lives!
 

So, villains…apart from George Bush?
I think the big one has to be Tony Blair because he really did promise so much. When he came in it felt like this revolution and he seemed really young, enthusiastic and full of ideas but he just turned out to be another right-wing lunatic. With election turnouts getting less and less, it’s people like him that are directly responsible for that; people that promise so much and deliver war, theft, and more and more CCTV cameras, and chips they want to put in you now, and ID cards.  

So people are basically becoming so disillusioned they don’t even bother to vote?
Yeah. I mean, I said it in the last American election…everyone was going “Oh no, what if Bush gets in!” but I don’t think Al Gore would have really been any different. They’re just a representative of a system that’s already in place. I think you’re fooling yourself if you think that things are really going to change dramatically under any of these people. I think the whole thing has to be dismantled. I’m not an anarchist, I believe in democracy but I think we need to start again. 
 

What song in your back-catalogue are you most proud of?
(Long pause). 

Do you want to come back to that one?
It’s a really difficult question because they’re all so different. I’m proud of every single one of them in different ways. I suppose ‘Assessment’ came straight into my brain because it’s got a bit of power and I like the lyrics, the melody and the vocal.
 

Given your experiences with the Beta Band, what advice would you give to up-and-coming bands who want to make a career out of music?
If you can, set up your own label. Get a website and put everything you’ve got into it. Get out there and play gigs, and don’t compromise yourself. Have a clear vision. Make sure the music that you’re making makes you happy and don’t be trying to make other people happy because it’s the roots of fucking mediocrity. Don’t be chasing the money or the big record contract because it’ll bite you on the arse! You might have to go for a few more years with less money but when it does start rolling in then it’s your money to keep, and then you have the power.

Will Columbine


Silver Mt Zion
Sometimes art can only be appreciated when it is twisted and convulsed until it is completely foreign. From Merzbow’s sonic experimentation to the frantic cut-up writings of William Burroughs and Picasso’s jagged portrayals of the human form, it seems the further away things get from what we are brought upto being told is “art”, the more we can admire it.

Anyways, enough philosophy. “Horses In The Sky” is the fifth release from ASMZ, (an abbreviation of their full name; Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Choir and Tra-La-La Band) and, like previous releases it reaches into the outer regions of language and sound and creates something as unique as it is beautiful.

The release of 2004’s ‘Pretty Lightning Paw EP’ disappointed some fans, with many seeing it as little more than a stop-gap release and primarily a solo record. However, ‘Horses in The Sky’ returns to the ‘full band’ sound of their second album ‘Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards’

When asked on whether the release has consciously been more of a ‘sum of all parts’ Efrim writes, in the same fractured language that’s litters the artwork of the release:

“we stand in a circle and throw our clumsy bits and pieces and knotted strands onto the floor…and try to fit these anxious shards and jagged fragments into each other”

Although reluctant to state direct influences, Efrim mentions Husker Dú and Roscoe Holcomb in the course of the interview, along with Nina Simone, who features in the artwork to the album and even in the lyrics of the first track of the album; ‘God Bless Our Dead Marines’

This fifth release also saw a fifth line up change, the adoption of seventh member Scott, a polyinstrumentalist involved with the band Black Ox Orkestra, who ASMZ bassist Thierry and violinist Sophie are also part of. On the line-up Efrim says there are no planned changes, but with the ongoing evolution of the band this remains to be seen.

The current obsession in the british media with the ‘new’ wave of bands coming out of Canada seems to have passed ASMZ. While tired “post-rock” bands wax lyrical about the influence of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band in which core ASMZ members Efrim, Sophie and Thierry were/are part of, very little column space has been given to the band in comparison while fellow Canadians The Dears, The Arcade Fire and DFA1979. Not that this bothers the band. When asked of the ‘scene’ and the celebration of it Efrim remarks:

“We refused the invitation to that party quite a few years ago, and don't expect to be invited again any time soon. 

Which brings us to the plan regarding promoting the album. The band don’t plan to tour the UK again until early 2006 and Efrim is adamant the band will not release a single from the album, and never will release one unless they create “two short songs that didn't fit anywhere else”. Although in the current climate a track like “Horses In The Sky” could prove a success, it becomes apparent that (in his opinion at the very least) radio play and media attention are irrelevant as a judge of success:

“We are proud of our ruckus, proud of the messes we've made together, proud to sing together, proud of the clamour our seven hearts make when they pound all at once, excited and awkward and loud”

Jordan Dowling


Plans and Apologies
Skirting and thrusting around the local and national scene for a good three years now, Plans and Apologies are Derby’s best band – fact. As they prepared for their next step on the ladder towards international domination, Sam Metcalf talked to the indie Blazin’ Squad its okay to like about loads of things, includes inter-band bondage. Kinky devils… 

Can you give me some background on how you all met, and how the band got together?
It all started when Miikhul met Danyul around the age of 2yrs.Miikhul's sister and Danyuls brother went to nursery together. The foundations for a firm friendship, we're sure you'll agree. Later they holidayed together on the west coast of France. Miikhul started enjoying Beavers at the age of 7. There he met Jamie who always had cherryade stains at the sides of his mouth (he now doesn't suffer from slightly chapped lips). Dave was soon to be introduced to Miikhul after moving to Derby from the Sun Centre in Rhyll. Secondary school arrived and with it the boys started a crap band called The Filthy Plebs who began practicing intesively in Danyuls dining room. Shortly thereafter pubs would be graced with bad gigs.

Time went on, band fell apart a bit and fell back together again with new members Steve, Dan and Robwyn. Somewhere along the line we got good and released an album called Torn Out Pages From The Middle Agez with the help of Jyoti Mishra (White Town) who done paid for it. We followed that with a lovely vinyl picture disc on Mr & Mrs Moo Records. That brings us pretty much up to speed. We've just released an EP (The Tree Dee Pee E.P.) and the next album should be out in a few months.

Does having so many people in the band make it harder or easier to write songs?
It doesn't make it harder to write songs, arranging them is more
difficult though. It'd probably help if we had 7 intelligent people in the band.

In the last issue of Sandman, Jyoti Mishra railed against the jealousy apparent in Derby regarding the success of Komakino. What do you think about this?
I don't think that kind of thing is specific to Derby at all. People are naturally jealous of the opportunities they've had but they've made those opportunities for themselves. The fact is that not all bands put in that much effort. We'd all love to snort crack off some supermodel's arse every now and again but we can't all be famous.

Some of you have now left
Derby - why is this?
Things got too hectic back home, with 13yr old girls lustfully chasing us round the park. Not really. Steve ran away to London like Boy George to seek his fortune. The rest of us moved around because of usual crap like work or Uni.

Who would you say has helped you most during your time together as a band?
Obviously Jyoti for the cash, Moo from celebrity good band Twinkie for the vinyl, all the Arses Against Success, Bullethead for the studio time. If you check out our Tree Dee Pee EP then there is a more comprehensive thanks list in there. And Bono, thank god for Bono!

A couple of years ago you were being touted as the next big thing...then it all went quiet. What happened?
You went deaf? 

How difficult is it to put a record out in the East Midlands?
Releasing a record in the
Midlands is as easy as releasing a record anywhere. Getting people to listen to it is still tricky though. Essentially, you just get a 4track, record some songs, put them on cdr's, design some artwork and slap your made up record label name on it. Then just flog it wherever you can. Indie record shops, gigs, the internet, mail order distros, etc. Anyone who waits around for some label to deem their music ready for the public is missing the point. Does a cdr sound worse than a professionally pressed CD? does it fuck.

Homemade artwork usually works better than a print up for grabbing peoples attention anyway. Just look at the last Little Explorer release, nearly every review mentioned how ace the artwork was cos they were all hand printed and people don't mind paying out for (as opposed to downloading) something with a personal touch like that.

What's been the best gig you've done so far, would you say? I saw you play with Architecture in
Helsinki not long ago - what did you think to them?
Mr & Mrs Moo's wedding. Lots of good people, good drinks and one of the most fun gigs we've played. Playing with the Killers was funny, scary and exciting. Bunch of cocks. The Architecture In Helsinki gig was awesome too, they were really nice guys and fucking good live.

Who are your musical heroes, international, national and local?
Frivolous Vitamin Nonsense. No wait, we'll do you a mixtape.

Do you worry about what other people think about you?
Yes, anyone who says they don't is probably lying. Except Steve, he genuinely doesn't care. The sea is a cruel mistress.

What's been the proudest moment together as a band so far?
As we record all our own material, which is often a long process,
we tend to feel the evil grip of pride most when we finally finish a song, and sit back and listen to the outcome of our efforts. Then we punish one another if we enjoy it too much. Whips.

What of the future? World domination, or what?
Although each member of the Cru has their own individual plans for becoming Master of The Universe, at present we are content to keep on truckin'. Band wise, there's an album on the way. We have been saying this for two years, but it now actually exists, and we just have to mix it, listen to it, mix it again, listen to it, mix it again, listen to it, etc. World domination would be nice - to achieve this send donations to us at the contact on our website, www.plansandapologies.com


Do it now!


Mark Monnone of the Lucksmiths

Warmer Corners has been getting pant-wettingly good reviews at home and abroad.  How do you think the band's sound has changed since the early days, with your self-titled album?  Are you still inspired by the same things?
Since that first album we discovered it was possible to record onto more than two tracks.  And we also discovered the joys of loud rock music.  As of the turn of the twenty-first century, Marty’s guitar amplifier has grown, as has Tali’s drumkit.  It now boasts a snare drum AND a floor tom.  We’re still inspired by the same things: silly book titles, advertising slogans, food, smells, getting out of the house.

Uncharacteristically, the new album namechecks non-Aussie cities, San Francisco being the most obvious example.  Where have you had the best time on tour?
Well, obviously we can’t remember the best times.  Just kidding.  Um, San Francisco springs to mind.

Many of the Lucksmiths lyrics feel intensely personal: are they based on real-life people and situations?  Do you feel that you can follow your personal narrative through the band's output? 
Lots of our songs are based on our own lives, only we embellish them beyond recognition until they resemble something remotely interesting.  That’s the intention anyway.  Maybe the intensely depressing songs are fairly close to home, because we like to wallow just like anyone. 

How do you feel about the comparisons with Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Housemartins, etc?  Do you think they'll be trotted out more with the spangly new horn and string arrangements on the new album?
Probably. Most people who talk or write about music seem to love making lazy comparisons. I do.  We’ve used horns since our second recording and would’ve used them on the first too, had we known we were actually making an album.

You've collaborated with the Ladybug Transistor in the past, and old-time conspirator Louis Richter is now a fully paid-up member of the band.  Who's next on the Lucksmiths' Collaboration Wishlist?
Tom Waits.

Speaking of which, how do you think the newest addition has influenced the band's sound?

Louis plays guitar in a way that all of us love but are kind of too embarrassed to admit.  Like a sizzling bluesy Keith Richards riff or something from the Jackson 5.  We’ve all known Louis for years, so he knows what we like, but he’s also not afraid to challenge things a little.  He’s also very polite and thinks the rest of us know what we’re doing.

Are you worried that Edwyn Collins is going to kick your ass when he hears the bassline to "A Hiccup in Your Happiness"?
I’d doubt he’s in any state to kick anything right now.  We wish him all the best in his recovery.

If you could only make records OR play gigs, which would you pick and why?
That’s like trying to choose between pickles and chutney.  I couldn’t live without either.  I’m serious.

What's your opinion of Australian indie pop at the moment?  Are you inspired by other bands working along the same lines, or are you inspired to fill a void left by the lack of an indie pop 'scene'?
To tell you the truth I’m not really in a position to say, as I’m now living in London, and spent most of last year chopping firewood in Tasmania where indiepop is as elusive as a decent soy flat-white.  Having said that, I’m constantly inspired by bands like The Zebras, The Bank Holidays, The Smallgoods, The Go-Betweens, and most definitely Architecture in Helsinki. Their shows in the UK recently made me feel like a teenager again, like when you hear something that you shouldn’t quite like, but it just so happens you do.

Back in the mid-90s you were part of the live Fred Astereo line-up.  Why did Paulzen decide to go it alone?
Because the rest of us got sick of waiting for the world to appreciate doo-wop again.

I hear rumours that you're planning to move to London: what does this mean for the future of the Lucksmiths?  Reviews of the new album have described it as the work of a band "at the height of their powers".  Is world domination the next step?  Or are you content with the board game [from Candle Records]?
We’ve lived in different countries before.  It’s nice to not be in each others’ faces all the time.  But as usual we have no plan for anything, let alone world domination.  It’d be nice to do some shows again in the near-future.

Will you and Tali be writing more songs now that Marty's set to become a papa?  How will you react if he tries to 'do a Kevin Smith' and come over all schmaltzy after the bambino's born?
I’d say there’s very little chance of taming the beast that is Marty Donald.

Do you have any guilty pleasures, music-wise?
The other day I was in a record store and was stopped in my tracks when they put Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland on.  I hadn’t heard it since I was a freaky teen and it still does me right!  I guess I have also been enjoying a little F. Mac and H&O. Just like everybody, right?


Maths and Physics Club
Sam Metcalf talks to James and Charles

Hi, can you give me a little bit of history about the band? James:  Charles and I grew up together in Olympia (Washington), but we didn’t pick up guitars until we were in college.  We kept at it in fits and starts over the years until about a year ago when we connected with Kevin, followed by Saundrah, and finally, Ethan, who we met by chance at an open mic.  Math and Physics Club began marching forward very quickly once everyone was assembled.  It was only a couple months later that we first got in touch with Jimmy at Matinée.

How did you manage to hook up with Matinée?
Charles:  We really admired the bands on the label, and the care that Jimmy puts into the look and feel of each release, so we had our hearts set on Matinée for a while.  We had read that Jimmy listens to all the music bands send him, so it was the first place we mailed our demo.  As it turned out, Mark Monnone from the Lucksmiths was staying with him about the time our cd arrived, and they listened to a bunch of demos together.  The way Mark tells it, we owe him, not Jimmy, for getting on Matinée.  I think he’s just trying to extort us.        

James:  We’ve always wanted to record and release records.  It just seemed a little ridiculous to think someone would actually help us do that when it was just Charles and I sitting around in the basement with a rough bunch of songs.  But with Kevin, Ethan, and Saundrah on board, we got up the nerve to send something to Jimmy.

Were you surprised by the reaction to Weekends Away?
Charles:  I think we were all pleased with the way the EP turned out, but we honestly had no idea whether anyone would want to buy it.  Then John Richards at KEXP started spinning it and things sort of ballooned from there.  People have just been amazingly kind!

James:  I was really surprised.  We didn’t record the songs expecting them to become our first EP.  It was just meant to serve as a demo.  But Jimmy sort of said, “Hey, this is great to release just the way it is.” 

Do you think Movie Ending Romance is a definite step forward? Are you happy with it?
Charles: We knew it would be a while before we could get a full-length ready, so our main goal was to bridge the gap between Weekends Away and a proper album.  We recorded it ourselves very quickly, and I think we’re mostly happy with the results, although there are always things you wish you could do differently in hindsight.  I do feel like there’s an overall improvement in sonic quality and arrangements from the first EP.  And I really love the cover art Jimmy designed for this one.   

You sound a lot like The Smiths in parts - you're obviously big fans?
Charles:  Yeah, absolutely.  It’s amazing the impact that band still has today, especially considering most of their catalog is 20 years old!  As far as their influence on our music, I’m probably the biggest culprit there.  I think you can’t help but pick up bits and pieces from the bands you admire most, whether it’s a chord change or vocal phrasing or even an occasional lyric.  After you’ve listened to Strangeways a thousand times it just becomes part of your musical palette, you know?  But we certainly don’t try to sound like anyone in particular, we just try to have fun and play whatever comes out.  Still, without The Smiths we’d certainly be a different band.    

Where did you get your name from?
James:  It was derived from a scene in “The Breakfast Club” where everyone was sitting around discussing Brian’s “demented and sad but social” extracurricular activities.  Breakfast Club is such a great film!  I always loved how they chose the school library as the detention center.  At my school it was the French classroom.

Who else is making great music right now?
Charles:  The new Lucksmiths is really brilliant - my favorite of the year so far.  I’ve just been introduced to Jens Leckman, and Acid House Kings have a great new record.  Lotsa stuff…  I hear Tender Trap has a new record coming too! 

James:  I recently bought the new Dolorean album and think it is great.  Laura Cantrell is fantastic.  Listening to her is like taking a step back in time.

Graduation Day has been released before - what was the reasoning behind putting it on the new ep?
Charles:  Hey, someone’s been digging around on the internet!  It’s true, we did release a version of Graduation Day last year on a cool little internet label called Comfort Stand.  That was before Kevin, Ethan, and Saundrah had joined the band.  Our friend Andrew was playing keyboards with us at the time, and he knew Otis at Comfort Stand.  We thought it would be fun, but we never really intended it to be the definitive version of the song.  For one thing, it had an electronic drum beat that James built in Acid.  After the current lineup came together, we still liked the song and decided to work on a new arrangement for it.  Jimmy originally wanted to use it on the first EP, but we hadn’t quite finished reworking it yet. 
       
James:  I remember we had just gotten into digital recording when we recorded and mixed that version of Graduation Day.  We learned a lot going through the process, but we knew it could be done better.  Up until then we both had tape players we’d use to hastily record songs.  I think Charles used the same boom box he had since high school.  I had a more “sophisticated” tape player that you could plug a microphone into.  Anyway, we were complete recording novices.  It just made sense to rework the song using the talent Ethan, Saundrah, and Kevin infused into the operation.

What do you hope for the future?
James:  A nice cup of Sainsbury's Red Label would be grand.  My stash has been depleted for quite some time.  Beyond cups of tea, having the opportunity to do two EPs in such short order has been great.  Playing live has been loads of fun as well.  But for us the biggest prize of all is to record and release a full length album.  Math and Physics Club is just beginning to gel as a band which is really exciting.  Everyone brings a tremendous amount to the table musically which makes for very fertile ground to build a collection of songs for the album. 

Charles:  Yeah, maybe this time next year we’ll be able to chat with you about a new full-length.  Or better yet, in person!  We would love to play some shows in the UK next year, but time will tell.  Thanks so much for talking to us.  We really appreciate the support.  Cheers!