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interviews-feb-june 2006

I'm From Barcelona
by Sam Metcalf

How does it feel to be Sweden's biggest band, literally?
We'll, often I don't think of us as a band. When I look around on stage I just see my old friends gathered around. But it'll be hard to return to a band with only four members one day. It's a lot more fun to be a big band!

Is it strange to come to the UK and play smaller venues, when you're on a major label in Sweden?
We have played on all kinds of venues, often very small, so it doesn't feel strange at all. The important thing is to play venues you like, places where you could hang out and enjoy yourself as one in the audience.

How do you know Ian Watson from How Does It Feel?, and are you happy with the compilation you ended up on?
I've have been emailing with him for a while before we played on his club about a week ago. He's a very nice guy and he loves what he does. That kind of people is always the most fun working with.

Is the songwriting process more complicated with there being so many of you?
Right now I'm the one writing the songs. I have always had a hard time trying to write songs with others. I really don't know how to do it. But I'm always searching for my future Lennon or McCartney. Arrangements is a whole different thing, that's when everyone in the band can add their thing and bring life to the songs.

Do you tour in a van ... or a huge lorry?
We usually rent a bus with room for 30 people. I have a friend named Johnny who does the driving. I'm not a good driver, so it feels so good that I don't have to do the driving. It's a lot of fun riding on a bus when your a bunch of friends.
We've been on the bus for like 30 hours in two days, and it's never been a problem. Often I'm disappointed when I can see the lights of our home town. I could sit on that bus forever!

What happens when you all fall out. Do you split into factions. How does inter-band democracy work within IFB?
Explain more, I don't understand?

What do you say to people who think you're a novelty band?
I don't say anything. People can think whatever they want. That's the beauty of art.

Sweden seems to be full of pop bands at the moment - has this always been the way, and why is Sweden so cool?
We had Tages in the sixties and they we're very cool, so I think it's been like this for a while. We're no good dancers, but we seem to enjoy melodies, and I guess that's the thing about Swedish pop music.

Are you surprised at the huge reaction to 'We're From Barcelona'?
Very surprised. I wrote that song almost too ate. It was just two days before we we're going to begin with the first recording session, and I had already written the songs that should be on that cd. Actually I'm surprised at the reaction to all of this. I thought it would last for four weeks last summer.

What's the smallest stage you've played on?
We played in Rough Trade's record store in London a week ago. That must have been the smallest venue we've played. There wasn't even a stage. It felt like a mental hospital blended with a sauna. You can take a look at some of the songs we tried to perform here:

by Victoria Levitt 

Guillemots have just finished a stonking sell out gig on their current UK tour to an appreciative Portsmouth crowd. As they busily loiter the back stage area, I nabbed a quick natter with drummer Grieg Stewart and front man Fyfe Dangerfield, tentatively attempting to unpeel some of the layers of the Guillemots onion. 

Since releasing last year’s debut EP, I Saw Such Things in My Sleep, Guillemots have had plenty of adjectives lobbed their way; “organic”, “sophisticated” and “adventurous” agree the many critics. Radio 1 DJs Jo Whiley, Zane Lowe and Steve Lemacq feel the same way it seems, championing the band ever since they emerged on the scene over two years ago. Their records could have easily been inspired by a lock-in at the local Help the Aged shop, their music is a plethora of egg timers, old fashioned typewriters and Fisher Price instruments. At that gig that night, they entered the stage by meandering through the crowd with a megaphone and percussion, and when I say percussion I mean anything that can be hit and heard is in. “It’s just a nice little ritual” mutters front man Fyfe Dangerfield, a man who pulls off coy naivety with utter charm. “It’s good to be part of a crowd as well. I don’t like it when people are separate, everyone should be in.” That explains the band’s trick of handing out egg shakers to audience members, inviting them to create their own sweet music to accompany the band’s set. And what an interesting set. Double bassist Aristazabel Hawkes (yes that is her real name) wore a wedding dress for that night’s gig. “She bought it a month ago, it’s only the second time she’s worn it” says Fyfe in a decidedly cool tone of voice. It appears that this is a perfectly normal thing to do in the Guillemots' world. 

The band recently returned from North America where they began to build the foundations of a Guillemots' following - not an easy task, considering they were only there for two weeks. “We hope to go back and spend like three months there to really concentrate on it.” Grieg earnestly says.  Fyfe tries to recreate the time when the band played to an audience of fifty in a 500 capacity venue. “We were like, ‘Hello Toronto!...please come forward? Please stand at the front?’ It was tough but you just have to keep going back.” One plus point, however, did arise from a gig they did in LA. “Kirsten Dunst and Jake Gylenhall came!” Dangerfield excitedly tells me, bursting to disclose the tasty tabloid fodder that these two are no longer an “item”. How I fought the urge to run off at that moment and alert Hello! magazine, I do not know.  “He came backstage to say hi and was like ‘Hey, I listen to you in my car and know all the words to your songs!’" Talking about flattery, I mention one review which proclaimed the Guillemots to be, “a sure bet for the Mercury Music Prize!” Immediately I’m met with simultaneous “pffffff”’s from the men. Grieg explains, “It’s like, let us make a record then comment on it, that’s the best way, we’ve only had two EP’s out!” “I mean it’s nice, as long as it doesn’t go to your head.” Fyfe adds. 

We then moved on to the exposure bucket perched on any band’s shelf, the ever so alluring myspace. “Scary, scary world.” Dangerfield says. “It’s good but it’s like one of those things that once you get into it’s hard to stop.” Grieg joins in, “You spend a few hours on myspace but then you think you could have spent the time writing songs.” Fyfe then chips, “But it’s good! If people like our records the least we can do is thank and talk to them.” What about those shifty drawbacks of the Internet, illegal downloading? “As long as it doesn’t replace people buying records - that’s the only thing. It just scares me that people will download from iTunes instead of buying a record from an independent record shop.” The band recently embraced all this downloading fun when they fed fans the track By the Water for free on this year’s Valentine’s Day. “It’s great making a record then a week later putting it on the Internet” Fyfe says, enthusiastically bobbing his head. How noble. 

As a band well known for their admiration of the artist Bjork, I wondered if there’d be any other artists they would like to work with. “Apart from Bjork? You’ve stumped us, I just want to say Bjork!”  After much deliberation and a lot of “hmmmm…” the guys then come to the conclusion that backing Bob Dylan would have to suffice, if Bjork was definitely and unequivocally out of the question. “And maybe Leonard Cohen’s backing band too?” For now though, there’s the rest of 2006 to deal with. “Touring.” Grieg defiantly says. “Hoping the record gets a good response from people and critics. Then maybe tour around Europe and UK? And lots more songs.” With that the Guillemots, in their usual fashion, mysteriously dissolve into the night, the word on the street was that they headed off for a jamming session at the nearest Salvation Army shop.  

Made up Love Song #43 out June 26th 

Victoria Levitt

British Fiction: Twilight's Lost and Dreaming of Modern Peacocks
Alex Clark 

Whilst at school, Kay Wilkinson would spend most of her free time teaching the guitarist of her band, Diverse, how to play power-chords. The band was chiefly a high-school project, yet it enjoyed a four-year run of gigs and musical talent honing. The band only went on to split up as individual members ventured off to University. The music consisted primarily of Kay screaming her words over the top of frantic guitars and she now freely admits that the dissolution of the band was 'probably for the best'. 

Guitarist Dan Watts and drummer, Alex King speedily grew tired the 'prog-rock' outfit they were part of and deciding that there was more to life than playing to forty-year old ELP and Yes aficionados, they decamped. They left two former band members to continue living the astral-dream on their relocating to France. 

When Matt Clark's former band members went from being idle Saturday musicians to deciding to quit their day jobs with the intention of conquering the world and elsewhere on a shoe-string budget of eight-hundred pounds apiece, he decided that enough ambiguity was enough. Without further prompting, he packed up his Candy-apple Fender bass and Big Muff distortion-peddle and bade his farewells. Soon after, Watts and King approached him with an offer to try out as a three-piece and it was an invitation that Clark greedily accepted.  

Nine months later and with notes still resonating in the air, the trio agreed that the sound was right and all that was needed now was a singer.  

Nursing a monumental hangover, Kay Wilkinson puts distance between herself and the world by hiding behind a pair of heavily tinted sunglasses. Being one of the most gifted young female singers around means little to her right now; she only offers a weak smile when her band mates tell me that of all the auditions they held, Kay was the standout best. In fact, Kay was the first to try out and she delivered her performance with such conviction and aplomb that the band concedes to wasting their time by holding further auditions.   

Kay, naturally modest, doesn't offer any comments; she prefers to sit in silence and hold onto the glass of ice-cold orange juice for dear life. 

The driving April showers force us out God's kitchen and away from idyllic views of the river Aire and Kirkstall abbey, surrounded by its verdant meadows. Now we repair indoors and into a cramped corner of the Bridge Inn's basement room. My tape-recorder struggles to catch the interview. The sounds of pool-cues crashing against the stone floor and live football on 32-inch plasma TV all vie for attention.    

This being the band's first interview, I didn't need to act sheepish around asking how they came about choosing British Fiction as their name. It was a question that Alex King was happy to answer.

"It comes from a poem called Scottish Fiction by Edwin Morgan… it's basically about Scottish identity and the poem just sings with pride and individuality. We wanted a name that people would remember and one that would mean something to each of us. In the end, we all agreed that it was right for the band. It was a clear favourite." 

In the group's infancy, they flirted with some unfortunate monikers, Pigeon Dungarees and Modern Peacock being two of the more memorable ones. Modern Peacock is something the band have still to get out of their systems and indeed, one of their songs has it as a working title and it may yet be unleashed on the world.   

Pride and individuality is prevalent throughout British Fiction and they regard their music and their audience with a respect that necessitated in nine months of playing together and intense rehearsing before they released their sound. British Fiction couldn't seem father detached from the adolescent ideals of learning their instruments on stage and simply waiting to see what happens on the night. Dan harrumphs at the idea of performing a song to an audience that was written only the day before.  

Matt Clark also offers an abrupt opinion.  

"Well, you wouldn't promote a chocolate bar if it tasted like dog-shit, would you?"  

"Sure, there'd be a market for it, somewhere," Dan added, "but like any good product, you hone it to perfection, you make it as good as you possibly can at the time and that's what we strive to achieve. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't believe in ourselves and our product." 

British Fiction are reluctant to pigeonhole their sound. They don't claim to be alternative or emo or grunge, rather they will forge a brand of their own.  

"The bigger a genre becomes, the more diluted it will get," Dan says. He will allow that British Fiction is a rock group because of the electric guitars and the volume, but that is as far as he will go to pin the group down to a branding. 

A perennial pet hate of this author's is that a band or indeed any artist will claim to be original. Sure, an artist or musician can make a genre or style his own, but can he be completely unique? Matt goes to the bar to buy pints of good, brown beer and I ask Dan what his thoughts were.  

"I'd say that what we are doing is good; damn good, but I wouldn't say that British Fiction's music is ground-breaking; it really isn't. But then you can ask yourself, what do you have to do to be different? Perhaps for British Fiction to do so, we'd have to produce a piece of music, which would be no more than, say, the sounds of a distant heartbeat with Kay screaming why me! why me! over the top. And I think if you were to come up with a piece as avant-garde as that, then you'll probably end up finding that it is, well, abstract bollocks, to put it bluntly." 

If you fancied taking on British Fiction, you'd have your work cut out; the music of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nine-Inch Nails, Radiohead and even Celine Dion(!) would have to be ingested in large quantities before you could even begin, but like a lot of accomplished musicians, three members of British Fiction have their roots in classical music. In his early teens, Matt Clark sang front-line choir until his voice broke and he was catapulted to back-line. Dan Watts cites a whole range of classic music from medieval to baroque to neo-classical as his inspiration and musical guide. Kay started out as a classically trained pianist before early band-members cajoled her into singing. 

But things came about a little differently for Alex King. 

"At the Drive In; Relationship of Command -- that was a real creative inspiration for me.

I used to listen to the album in my car; it was a horrible old thing that only had one working speaker and of course the album was recorded in stereo, so what I was hearing was a version of the record with all the fat trimmed out of it. I was being drawn to these really great, but really simple melodies and drum parts and then later on, when I bought a better car with a working sound system I thought god, where are all these guitars coming from? All of a sudden the album didn't seem quite so pure and innocent anymore.

Listening to it in full stereo kind of ruined it for me."  

I've since given it a go; I've disengaged one of my speakers and the music certainly does carry a certain austere charm about it, which adds fuel to the old adage that less is generally more.    

One thing that strikes you as odd about the members of British Fiction is just how damn casual and down to earth they all are. I mean, I never had them down as vulgar reprobates with a penchant for hard drugs and violence, but I thought they would have at least some degree of competitive edge about them. 

Usually, a sure-fire way of fuelling bravados in bands and promoting controversial comments is to bring up the subject of rivals and how they intend to outdo them.  

"We don't have any," Matt says matter-of-factly, "we don’t compare ourselves to anyone and we don't consider anybody to be rivals of us. All we want to do is give our sound to the audience and it's up to them to like it, or otherwise." 

Gee, thanks for making my life as a journalist that bit harder. 

"No, the topic of rivals and competition is not something that ever really occurs to me," Dan tells me.  

He's sincere, I believe him.  

"As soon as you start comparing yourselves with other bands and trying to better them, that's when this whole thing stops being fun. All four of us are in here to enjoy ourselves, that's all. You have to remember; this is just a game." 

Boy, this is getting worse! 

At the time of writing, British Fiction's gigging past reads as follows: played two shows, headlined both of them. And that's with three other good, established bands on the same bill.  

Matt, Dan and Alex are fresh into their thirties; gigging and playing to an audience is nothing new. Kay, on the other hand, is only 21 years old. Perhaps headlining at such an early stage has its down sides. Was there any sense of bypassing the necessary learning curve and a subsequent moral backlash?  

"No." She pauses for a second, she tickles the silver bar that runs through her left eyebrow as though it were animate - as though it was a very much an essential biological component. 

"No… no, not really." 

That's right; she's just as cool and calculated as the rest of her band. 

They tell me that they'd much rather be traveling Europe, playing Florentine and Parisian bars, selling their records to men and woman who speak not a word of English, than stay at home and bid for mainstream success.   

There's no wonder they've got a song named, The Diary of a Charming Man; I'm sure Jacques Brel would posthumously approve of that one.


OK, the afternoon's winding down, the beer's run dry and I've asked all the questions the band care to answer. But I fancy asking just one more. An acid question. One that should goad the band into saying something daring and rakish. Here goes…  

"The industry is a quagmire of  'popcorn' thrills with bands making the grade for their uncanny ability to become an overnight sensation, only to slip away unnoticed as soon as the next swaggering bunch of Braggadocios with fancy hair and low-slung jeans come along. So, if it could lead to a speedy fame and fortune, would you be willing to dumb British Fiction down?" 

A resounding and emphatic 'no' rings out from the four-corners of the table   

And that was that.

Alex Clark

Black Ramps
by Victoria Levitt

After John Peel rang I put the phone down and thought, “I'm such a dork” 

A band familiar to the gigging scene after supporting such bands as The Cribs and Nine Black Alps, Black Ramps are amongst a number of bands with the sticker “next big thing” slapped across their sweaty foreheads. Citing such indie bands as Pavement, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth among their list of influences, Rupert, Andrew and Warren are in the latest “Lo-fi” band to cause ripples in the British music scene’s muddy little puddle. After encountering interest from both sides of the Atlantic, the band appear to be in an enviable position, but despite a complimentary phone call by John Peel and recent admiration from Steve Lamacq, things haven’t always run smoothly... 

 “We've kinda had a few false starts,” muses lead singer and song writer Warren, “Last year when we were gigging around London and getting everything planned for the future, Rupert (the drummer) dislocated his knee and couldn't play for like 3 or 4 months, so that set us back.” A bump in the road for other young bands who’s break in schedule may cause it’s untimely demise as the bassist secludes himself to find his personal emotional clarity and the lead guitarist elopes with the girl from the fish and chip shop. The Ramps, however, took it in their stride, after all, it wasn't the only “false start” they've experienced. “We were going to be on a compilation with Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs but then they got their record deals and pulled out, so the compilation never got released.” Again, this was another occurrence that owned the potential to dampen the band's spirits, but the group pushed on relentless. A string of dates up and down the country ensured the Ramps gained a loyal and fresh fan-base. Their most recent and poignant blow however arose from Domino Record’s apparent interest in the band's output. After what appeared to be a high level of curiosity on the Big Suits behalf, the phone mysteriously stopped ringing and the band didn't hear anything from them again. Not long afterwards Domino's newest signing was revealed, the infamous Artic Monkeys who hastily met with widespread adoration, released a record, yadda yadda, the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Assuming that at that time the Ramps were in the same league of competition with the Monkeys to get the Domino deal, Warren is quietly chuffed, “It's funny that, I can't even believe that we were in that kinda level.” 

Interest in this punchy three piece rock band is not a recent manifestation, as Warren keenly and bouncily describes one individual's admiration for the band, “He just rang me up and I heard, “Hello, it's John Peel.” I thought it was a joke at first and kept asking if it was really him, after I put the phone down I thought, “I'm such a dork.”” Peel had listened to over 200 demos that weekend and the one that stood out the most was a track Warren had written when he was just 15. Interestingly, those songs composed amid those pubescent, hormone angst filled years are often included in the band's set list of today. “My style has not progressed at all, I write the same songs I did when I was at school.” These songs have experienced a diverse range of critical opinion, from the infinitely sublime to the scruffy shambolic. One ingredient of the Ramps' output that frequently commands opinion, is the seemingly cryptic and random lyrical style of the songs. 

“I try and write songs which are not necessarily obvious, I hate it when you listen to a song and you can guess what they're going to sing next.” A point aptly demonstrated by the previously released single, “Saucer Crash” about an extra terrestrial incident, where the lyric, “What do you do when your girlfriend gets sucked up by a great green goo?” can be found. Yes, definitely not an obvious, familiar lyrical style, but still a bloody good one. “I don't really labour over the songs, it pretty much comes out like a stream of consciousness, I don't write anything down, the good bits just kinda stick around.” The song “Sunset at Deer Creek” originated from Warren seeing an advert in the TV guide for a tacky commemorative plate. Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen them, those annoying sheets that get in the way when finding out the latest Mitchell brothers saga in Eastenders. “I thought it was just a really nice phrase and started thinking of all the things I could do with that.” It's this fresh, distinctive feel to Black Ramps that has caused many a quizzical brow being raised in A&R circles. Radio One's Steve Lamacq and Xfm's Claire Sturgess have both lavished their sentiments of praise upon the band, yet Warren seems decidedly reserved about the Ramps’ current situation, “It's weird when you're on the inside of a band, you don't really think there's millions of people listening to the radio when the record is played, all I think is, “well no one's rung me up today talking about it” you don't really feel the impact or know if people actually like the music.” Despite wanting to jump up and slap his innocent looking face around the cheeks whilst yelling “for god sake man, stop being a pessimist and feel some excitement!” I remember to appear casually cool, take a sip of my drink and remain glued to the chair. After all, thanks to the glories of myspace, album sales have sprung up from nooks and crannies around the continent. Warren still remains modest about the band's potential success, “Well I suppose it's certainly a lot more than my mum thought we would achieve anyway.”  

The Ramps’ personality, like Cilla in her prime, seems full of surprise. Whether it's through their intriguing musical structure and puzzling lyrics they don’t seem very keen to follow the norm. Even when one reviewer labeled the band as sounding like a bunch of 15 year olds practicing in their garage it wasn't hard for the Ramps to disregard it as an insult. “It was one of our favourite reviews, I'm sure it was meant as an insult but we thought, “if we sound that youthful and have that kinda fresh energy it can't be bad.” I can imagine how some balding printer technical assistant relabelled himself as a reviewer and cast an opinion like that. Yes, there’s only three of them. Yes, Warren barely sings in tune but this is full on lo-fi slacker rock, it’s no over produced pop that’s masquerading around as “indie rock”. It’s also a hell of alot of fun to listen to. Should you ever acquire a sense of boredom for one song, which by the way you shouldn't ever have to, the song stops. The Ramps don’t feel the creative need to dally on a drawn out song crowded with long winded guitar solos and thoughtful mawkish melodies. The majority are shackled below three minutes. That, or Warren couldn’t come up with anymore daft lunatic lyrics or Rupert couldn’t play any longer for fear his arms would fall off. Catch him at a live gig, praised for having “personality” on the drums, which as I’m sure you’re aware is a bloody hard feat, the man plays as if possessed. Utterly mesmerizing. 

After a number of false starts the the Ramps’ ignition has finally kicked in and the engine is chugging away, “It's quite exciting at the moment, we've got our first tour and we're playing a big BBC 6 music gig in London.” Regardless of any future successes and opinion the Black Ramps may enjoy, one thing is for certain; the highest point of their career like the last tube out of Camden on a Friday night, has been and scuttled off. “The person who we esteem and hold the highest regard for has already told us that he's impressed by our music, so all reviews don't mean much to us now.” Now pause that Razorlight tune on your ipod and go and enjoy some “slacker rock”.

Nat Johnson / Kevin Gori (Monkey Swallows the Universe)

On the back of two download singles from Sheffield label TheeSPC, Monkey Swallows the Universe have been causing some indiepop/folk ripples on the internet high seas. Luckily, for people who want to hear more they release their debut album 'The Bright Carvings' on 27 Feburary. This is what singer Nat Johnson and guitarist Kevin Gori have to say for themselves:

You both started out as a band then for a while performed as a duo, and now for the recording of this album you're a band again. In your opinion is the MSTU sound improved when beefed up?
Nat: The extra instruments were first brought in to add a bit more depth to one of our existing songs (Martin), but when we heard how it sounded we realised there was a lot of potential for future songs. We've kept a lot of our songs in the classic Nat and Kev MSTU style and we will always do quiet stuff like Sheffield Shanty, Beautiful Never and Down, but the extra instruments give us more freedom to try different styles as well. We can be a bit more poppy and danceable than we've been able to in the past, and make more noise on our 'odd folk' songs!

Kev: I think the sound before was like a stair without a stairlift, a bath without an access door, a porchway without an electrical awning - so simple even a dog can operate it. Now we've got a free carriage clock, and we're doing fine.

Your record label released your single on 'virtual 7" vinyl' - or more commonly known as an MP3 download. Would you have imagined less or more feedback from a proper 7" release of the single?
Nat: I think the mp3 download was the right choice - vinyl is cool, yeah, but as everyone is realising, the internet is a really good way to market yourselves. From this we've appeared on blogs worldwide and people actually do read them I've discovered!

Kev: I think with a 7" we would have had less feedback but more love. Some of those coloured vinyls are works of art. In the future they'll be saying "Shellac? Pah! Give me more of those bugglegum pink pressings of the Motherfuckers from Czechoslovakia". A free download is the thing to do, because if it's convenient and gratis, people will do it, because if they're anything like me, people are lazy and tight.

Quite a few of the lyrics on the new album involve characters with emotions attached to them. They also seem to hold an optomism for a change in their outlook. Are these people/situations made up or are they things you notice going about your daily business?
Nat: A lot of them are made up, but often to disguise something emotional or autobiographical into a nice little story. 'Martin' for example features two made-up characters but the song is really just about feeling inadequate and having two sides to your mood - one half of you is saying 'Oh god what am I doing with my life' and the other half of you is thinking 'Look, you're having fun aren't you, don't worry about it! Everything always turns out ok in the end, cheer up and don't take things so bloody seriously!'.
The 'they' who are leaving town in Sheffield Shanty are real people so that song has a bit more meaning than just pirates, it's about some of our friends.

Some songs are kinda inspired by childhood or teenage emotions, like 'Down', which is about having an imaginary friend or putting too much faith in a pet(hard to explain, don't ask!) and The Chicken Fat Waltz is based on passing someone you like in the corridors in school every day and not being able to say anything to them.

Sheffield, for better or worse, is known to outsiders as a factory for lipgloss clichés or young men with NME pistols aimed at their head, however with your records there is a breath of fresh air. How far do you support your indiepop scene in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, and how far has it supported you?
Nat: The scene in general is great, everyone is really supportive of each other and there's a really good network with websites like L2SB and 'zines like Thee Humbug. They are doing a lot to help Sheffield get noticed for its great musical diversity. There's lots of indiepop fans, we have Offbeat after all! Chris from Offbeat has been a great support, but bar the other bands involved with Thee SPC there's not a huge wealth of indiepop as such. When we first started out we only played with acoustic acts really. Most of the other stuff around here is a bit more rocky I suppose.

Kev: Thereare some phenomenal gigs around the place, though, even if I have to admit I'm lapsing back into ignorance since my financially enforced audience non-participation. Sheffield bands are on the whole very friendly, possibly it's the community spirit engendered by websites such as L2SB and Soundaloud and the regularity of meeting bands as we all play the same few venues again and again.

Since you formed a couple of years ago you've made more trips from the North to London than John Prescott. Would you say that the gig network in London has welcomed MSTU with open arms?
Nat: Yes and no. The thing that we have learned is that you need to choose your venue in London very carefully 'cos it's a long way to go. There were two gigs where we weren't that careful and we ended up playing to very few people, and a couple where we've got it spot on. For example a little place called Monkey Chews in Camden was great for us. We've been more careful in booking our next London gigs and we're really excited about these ones - The Betsey Trotwood sounds like our kind of place and Bush Hall is a beautiful venue we're told.

Where would be the ideal setting for a Monkey Swallows The Universe gig?
Nat: This is a nice question. But it's hard. Maybe by a lake on a summer's evening with lots of pretty lights or, oooh lanterns! Everyone could bring a pretty lantern and they'd all be reflected in the water! I'm gonna plan this gig for summer now! Or in a hedge maze where people could wander about and we'd all be hidden around the maze. I'm getting too silly.

Kev: In a cosy bar, by an open fire, surrounded by our adoring grandchildren, at a benefit for retired socialists, playing a banjo.

Finally, if MSTU were to make a mix tape for someone, what would be the first four songs on it?
Nat: That's really hard cos we all have different tastes! And making a mixtape totally depends on the mood you're in when making it! I think Kev and I would agree with a Joanna Newsom song on there. Right now, if I were thinking about four of my favourite ever songs, you would get: 'I Loves You Porgy' by Nina Simone; 'Sadie' by Joanna Newsom; 'A Message to You Rudy' by the Specials and now I can't choose a fourth... Maybe some Pixies? Or Belle & Sebastian? Or Delgados or PJ Harvey or Eels... I JUST DON'T KNOW! Never ask this again! It's too hard!

If you've not listened to the fantastic 'Sheffield Shanty' or 'Jimmy Down the Well' then follow the links below for two free superb downloads.

Interview by Mike Cornin

Yvonne Lake

Yvonne Lake is a balladeer who sings from the heart, spinning out subtle images across a tune, with an infectious thoughtfulness, demanding the listener to take notice. She manages to lace her words with depth and sincerity, with only the barest hint of maudlin themes, and rises enchantingly above the average, and oh so far beyond ‘Secret Smile.’

How did you musically start out?
I didn’t play guitar until I was 16, although I did use to make up songs on my sister’s Bontempi organ which hummed like a diesel engine when you switched it on. I also remember free-styling songs to the boy at the bottom of the garden about tying his shoelaces, and making up native American chants in my own invented language.

You describe your style as 'punk ballads.' What’s your kind of punk?
I suppose I’m more into New York precursors to punk, or the arty stuff that came after, but Patti Smith’s and Nick Cave are a big inspiration because they mix poetry with punk attitude, and that’s what I try to do.

What are your musical influences?
Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Edith Piaf, Morrissey, and many more.

Do you feel that the darkness of lyrics like those of Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen has rubbed off on you?
If you write ballads, it’s like a little piece of drama, and all drama requires some kind of conflict or ‘darkness’. These artists are masters of this kind of song and have been a big influence.

Do you see covers as homage or exploitation?
I don’t see them as either, songs exist independently of their creator as a text. I don’t think it matters who originally did a song, the important thing is whether the artist has the imagination or not to interpret a song in their own way.

You say that you detest restaurant music. What does that consist of, to you?
James Blunt, Norah Jones, Katie Melua. As a female singer-songwriter I want to avoid being put in an easy-listening bracket. Those kind of artists remind me of a 19th century accomplished lady (James Blunt especially) sitting at the pianoforte. It’s all very pretty but there’s absolutely no originality to it. Listening to Radio 1 is sometimes like Chinese water torture.

What should we do to take it out of the mainstream?
If you care about music you should be true to yourself and not worry about how it’s going to be received. You might not sell millions, but then again you might, and you’ll at least be able to look yourself in the mirror. I think there’s always an audience for people being genuine.

Do you think politics should have a place in music or vice versa?
I think people are entitled to get involved in politics whether they are an artist or not, it’s a free country. I think any kind of art is bad when it preaches, though. People have to be left to make up their own minds. It’s fine to use your influence to highlight worthy causes so long as it’s not done for personal gain.

Why do you think women are under-represented in music, particularly in bands?

Popular music’s in its sixties now, and a lot of bands want to emulate those of their parents’ generation, because they lack imagination and see that as the golden age. Those bands were very male-dominated in terms of attitude, lyrics, and of course all members were male. I think you have to be quite confident to enter the arena, so a lot of girls are put off by the machismo.

What do you think of the local music scene?
What I like best about Nottingham’s music scene is that there are so many different types of music around. I like the fact Nottingham isn’t known for certain bands as, say Liverpool or Manchester are, as I think so many bands form trying to sound like the local heroes and the scene gets really stagnant.

Do you think that local 'scenes' naturally develop or are they a marketing/ retrospective construct?
If a band gets big from a certain town then the scouts are out looking to sign more, as though being from Leeds, for example, means that you’re endorsed by the Kaiser Chiefs, so I think it is largely a marketing concept. Would be great if it happened here though!

Have you had any particularly bad/ interesting/ humorous experiences with gigs?

I played with Circulus at The Social last weekend. They’re great – completely barking! They dress up in medieval garb and call the gig ‘the ceremony’, during which they call upon the god Odin for his blessing!

What exactly is 'a private joke'?
My song ‘A Private Joke’ is about being in love and being happy all the time. It’s a private happiness which just the two of you share, and if it’s a good relationship you have the same humour and laugh at the same things.
You say that you write music rather than writing books. What kind of books would you write?
The writers I admire are Don DeLillo, J G Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Richard Brautigan, Brett Easton Ellis, among a few, so I’d probably try to write something dark about modern Britain or America. I started something in that vein, but then turned to songs.

Do your songs fit together to tell a story?
Yes, but only if you play them backwards.

When's your next gig/ release?
Best bet is to see my website which is updated regularly, for the latest details.

Cob or bun?
Elephant’s foot.

Interview by Michael Simon