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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
“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”.
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
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
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
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. Or...no I'm getting too
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
Interview by Mike Cornin
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
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
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
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
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
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
www.myspace.com/yvonnelakemusic which is updated regularly, for the
Cob or bun?
Interview by Michael Simon