I don’t know if you already know Shauna McLarnon at all. She’s the tireless singer/songwriter/PR person/mother who, together with husband/composer/co-frontperson Alexx Kretov make up Ukrainian stargazing duo Ummagma.
Not unlike Tears Run Rings, Shauna and I have been trying madly to get Ummagma on AE with a success rate hovering around zero. It could be due to sheer laziness, mutual distraction, my subliminal aversion to Pink Floyd, or, most likely, the simple absence of a musical moment to capitalise on.
Fear no more, dear readers, for that moment is now. AE, along with a couple dozen other blogs from around the world, has been selected to premiere Ummagma’s newest video – a trippy wander through time and down ‘The Road to Lees’
We feels speshul.
Far be it for us to simply thwack an embed code into a post and call it a completed entry – at AE, we’re all about analysis, critique, debate, and poking our nose into other people’s business. And how kind of Shauna to comply.
Coming up – “Why would you reference Pink Floyd, are you out to get me?”, “What’s a music video do, anyway?” and “So…. Ukraine, huh?”.
But first – ‘The Road to Lees’
It sounds innocuous enough – ‘where’s your name from?’. But I’m asking YOU specifically, because “Ummagma” sounds a lot like the first Pink Floyd album I heard. Ummagumma, the album, caused a dull, persistent cranial throb the instant I turned it on and from that day forth PF and I have been unable to make nice. So my question to you is – WHY? Why are you Ummagma?
That’s a good question – I’m not sure I ever heard an explanation of why Cocteau Twins decided to call themselves that, or even Pink Floyd for that matter – that name must have sounded pretty faggy at that time (now you’ve got me wondering about that) but I do recall hearing the story about Duran Duran being named after a comics character. I must admit, our story is likely just as silly as that.
There is indeed a link between the name Ummagma and Pink Floyd’s fourth studio album – the short version is that, yes, Ummagma is a shortened and much easier-to-pronounce version of Ummagumma. Go figure.
The long version goes like this: Once upon a time when Alexx was a boy, his dad was big time into Pink Floyd, slyly managing to obtain such recordings when many could not. He shared that love with Alexx, who, you might notice, was inspired by Pink Floyd more than most – you can hear that their effect on a lot of our music today. Pink Floyd were among the first groups to treat songs as if they were soundscapes worth exploring and they took the listener on that journey with them. Now Alexx was using this nickname on various photography and sound forums (it seems a bunch of those old messages will be on the net forever now) and we both considered this name for our duo, along with “Antigravity”. Ummagma won out and thus were born the name of the band, the self-titled album and the accompanying “other” debut release issued on the same day.
What is the story behind ‘The Road to Lees’? How come you chose to make a video for it?
‘The Road to Lees’ was composed a few years ago, when Alexx wasn’t sleeping well. At about 5 a.m. one morning, he was out having a cup of coffee on the balcony of our apartment when birds started to sing. He grabbed a recording device to capture the sound and that is what you hear at the beginning of this track. The rest of the song was inspired by a vision of a journey from there to a fantastical timeless place called Lees and the brilliant experience en route.
We thought about the ‘timeless’ element of the song in its audio form and we wanted, in making the video, to somehow translate that into something related to time and its meaning. We didn’t see this so much about the future as about the past and present and the connection between the two. We wanted nostalgia and the intangibility of time and past events to be part of the concept for this new video.
Unfortunately however, apart from that which was familial or community-based, what we knew as the “good old days” were based on a faulty foundation, which we’re only figuring out now. Just the same, this is still a happy place for many. It is this happy place, these memories, that help us to overcome all the crap we’ve experienced on the way, letting us move forward.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: How is the situation in Ukraine affecting your music making or musical direction? Or, more broadly, what do you find the effect of politics on art to be?
Well, speaking for myself, my psyche has taken a real beating during this time. It’s really hard to be in the kind of mindset I need to be in for creating – that applies to melodies and lyrics both. Writer’s block, you know? Alexx has been prolific in making music, as he always is, but it takes forever to complete & perfect a song when you are not motivated to hang out in the recording studio very often. Protests, unrest, mobilization, Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, mercenary clandestine activity, tons of violence, information overload, and now conscription. None of this has been very positive for our mindset or anybody else’s here in Ukraine. I’m sure you can imagine.
We’ve had to apply ourselves to living this dream however we can – basically whenever inspiration finds its way in. And for me, there has been a lot of networking, research and organizational stuff happening in the background when songwriting escapes me, which basically has been for the past four months. Once in a while, we manage to pull a song off – either just involving Alexx or us both. In all of this, we’ve tried our best to muster up strength to create something beautiful despite all the ugliness surrounding us. Isn’t the light supposed to ultimately win out?
Ukraine’s not the greatest place to be at the moment, so you can hardly fault Shauna and Alexx for their retreat into memories and nostalgia. You’ve already got my constant call to support music ringing in your ears. As it happens, a lot of Ummagma’s stuff you’ll find for free, but if you feel it’s worth it, buy it.
I have to apologise for being so slack. I wouldn’t normally, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want, but the thing is I have had what, in journalistic terms is called a SCOOP, for close to two months now and I have selfishly kept it all to myself.
Tears Run Rings are, as we speak, in the process of putting together their third album – In Surges
Ed, Dwayne, Laura and Matthew aka the very mysterious, very beautiful Tears Run Rings came out with their A Question and An Answer EP in 2007 – classic shoegaze: all Slowdive reverb and MBV percussion. They followed it rapidly enough with the Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never full-length in 2008 on which you’ll find the unforgettable ‘Mind The Wires’. Their third album, Distance, is bags sweeter than these two and came out in 2010. You can read all about it here.
Before getting to the good stuff, I’d just like to give a shoutout to fellow TRR-fanatic Jim Payne who helped my staid little brain think outside the box and gave me the thoughtful, tailored questions that I would never have managed to think up myself.
I’d also like to thank Jeff Ware of Deep Space Recordings for getting me in touch with this ostensibly elusive group and starting this whole interview process… in 2012. No excuses, Ed and I were both super slack (see, we’re made for each other) but it’s all kismat, because the delay means that we’ve now got answers from the entire band, except to the most crucial question.
I tried, but we’ll never know the lyrics to ‘Mind The Wires’.
Mind The Wires was a track we originally wrote back in the late 90s, but never had a chance to record it. We only played it live a few times with our noisy Autocollants-side project, Diplomat Haircuts.
There are three cities between the four members of the band. On your website, Tears Run Rings are described as a long distance relationship. So how does it work? do each of you independently record your sections of the track and then email them over to the others? Where does the final product come out of?
We start by recording drums and bass as a “live band.” Then we usually record parts over that, sometimes independently and sometimes when we get together 3 or 4 times a year. We used to use CDs and mail them, but now we can share tracks over Dropbox. The final product is usually a result of a long weekend of all of us sitting around together and scrutinizing each song.
What does it take to bring a Tears Run Rings album together? Is it a long spell of recording and ‘oh, we have a dozen songs, we’re ready for an album’ kind of thing, or is it a ‘let’s make an album that sounds like [this]‘ kind of thing?
We get together over a week or two and write as many songs as possible as a full band. We don’t try to sound like anything in particular. Then we take the next few years to shape the songs in the studio. It is not surprising that most of our songs get rewritten two or three times before we are happy with them and really love listening to them.
Are there tracks that have been recorded that have not yet made it onto Tears Run Rings albums and may see the light of day in the future?
We have a lot of unfinished tracks that we ended up not completing for all sorts of reasons. Every so often we’ll revisit them to see if they are salvageable or can morph into an entirely new idea. As far as a future release of bonus/unreleased tracks, doubt that will be happening any time soon. We are more focused on moving forward with new material.
What’s the scene with live shows? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a poster for a Tears Run Rings gig, but I could have missed it. Do you perform?
We did have the wonderful opportunity to tour with Secret Shine in 2008. It was an awesome experience and we love them! However, since then we all have such limited time that we spend together, it’s a challenge for us to actually practice as a band. We tend to focus our time more on creating and recording our music. We would love to play and someday we will. World Tour 2025 maybe?
Who are the bands that originally inspired the type of music played by Tears Run Rings? Are there any bands on the horizon that have just recently been discovered by yourself or other band members that really stand out?
We have a wide variety of inspirations. We obviously make music that we like to listen to ourselves, so clearly classic shoegaze bands are high on the list (for example, Pale Saints, Blind Mr. Jones, and maybe a little Slowdive - heh). However, each of us have totally different ideas that we bring to our music. As for newer bands, some of the groups that we have been collectively listening to are Flyying Colours, Chris Cohen, Lower Dens, Violens, and Frankie Rose.
Do you find inspiration from artists on an ongoing basis that finds itself being incorporated in any way into current recordings of your own, or do you purposefully make an effort to avoid using any sounds that you feel may sound too similar to others?
Sometimes when we write songs, it ends up sounding too familiar to us, so we try and change it up to be more reflective of our own sound. We try to sound like ourselves, not any other band so we just do what we want to do. We’re totally happy in our own little shell.
Did the band start with an idea to have a series of ‘Happiness’ songs or was that just something that occurred over time through natural inspiration? Do you foresee further ‘Happiness’ installments on future albums?
Yeah it happened over time. We liked how the songs framed the first album as intro and outros, so we continued the idea on our second and soon third album. We like bookends. There’s also a secret embedded within each Happiness track, but we’re not tellin’.
Do you ever gain inspiration from a song that is of a completely different genre/style, but that which speaks to you on an emotional level and then inspires a song in the musical style of Tears Run Rings?
Yep. For example, The Knife has inspired us in many ways, although we sound nothing like them. Also, a lot of our vocal harmonies are not inspired by shoegaze bands.
We can tell there’s a difference in style between Always, Sometimes… and Distance, but have there ever been times in which band members (or the band as a whole) have discussed incorporating different – unexpected, maybe – musical styles into a song or an album, kind of like what Slowdive did with Pygmalion?
We’ve been using a lot more electronic instrumentation lately, and experimenting with changing sound textures. The new album is probably more ethereal than the last two. However, we didn’t make a conscious decision to do it this way; it just evolved. We probably won’t make a change to our sound intentionally because we like the music we make and we are still enjoying the process.
Do you or any of the other band members listen to artists that others may be surprised to hear are in your own personal musical collections?
Matthew – I listen to a lot of obscure arcane pop, and classic country music. Louvin Brothers are one of my favorite bands.
Laura – I hate country. But I love 80’s music of almost any kind.
Dwayne – I’m big into Swedish dance music and Britpop. The new Suede record is excellent.
Ed- ‘Send the Pain Below’ by Chevelle, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Have you identified a track that’s a fan favourite? What’s the band favourite?
The fan favorite seems to be ‘Mind the Wires.’ We like that one too. We also like ‘Weight of Love,’ ‘Waiting for the End,’ ‘Distance,’ and ‘Divided.’ There are some tracks on the new album that we’re all especially pleased with as well.
Are you big in Japan? The Japanese version of ‘Distance’ contained two additional exclusive tracks. Have you found those tracks to be remarked upon or requested by fans outside of Japan? Any backlash from the local fans?
We don’t really know! We love our fans wherever they are!
Do you have day-jobs, and if so can we ask what you do?
Ed – Yes, I work as a designer and I run Shelflife Records on the side. [Home to AE favourite Airiel - ed]
Matthew -Yes, I am a very successful inventor and also run Shelflife.
Dwayne – Yes, I am a teacher and a father.
Laura – Yes, I work an office job.
What do each of you like to listen to that we wouldn’t expect you to listen to?
Matthew – Abba, Andy Gibb, Perry and Kingsley, Herb Alpert, Hall and Oates, Ministry, Lee Hazelwood, Everly Brothers
Ed – Claudio Rocchi, J. C. Pierric, Belbury Poly, Alan Parsons Project, UTFO
Dwayne – Erasure, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, Man Without Country, Hood
Laura – The Sea and Cake, Benoit Pioulard, Royksopp, Robyn, The Knife
If not shoegaze, Tears Run Rings would be a _____ band.
Matthew – Pop
Ed – Rubber
D – Spacerock [cheater - ed]
L – Electronica
Finally – Who do I have to bribe to get the lyrics to Mind The Wires?
How about you tell us what you think the they are and then we’ll make them the official lyrics. I’m sure they’ll be better than ours.
Here we go – ‘Mind The Wires’ as interpreted by AE
Mind the wires,
Let your love come.
Slow down, slow down,
A million stars,
Meet your devilled cake.
But these words, these words,
Looks like rain, dear.
Am I right, or what?
‘I’m in the best fucking band in London.’
Alex Keevill and I have known each other as physical beings for all of five minutes. We’re at King’s Cross Station where I’ve just come in on a train from Brussels for the last leg of my holiday. When my original plans for accommodation fell through, Alex offered me a roof, bed and kettle for my week in London.
He’s not being ironic when he makes the announcement. Alex genuinely believes that the Microdance are the best fucking band in London. Me, I refuse to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging anyone in this strange new town knows the Microdance at all.
We’ve ditched my stuff at the flat and found ourselves in a bar in Dalston on my first afternoon in the city. The girl behind the counter appears to be mildly hysterical and I can’t understand why. She bursts into giggles every time she looks at Alex.
It all started when she asked him: ‘Aren’t you…?’
‘Aren’t I what…?’ he asked back.
I didn’t hear her speak after that. All I saw were smiles and uncontrollable giggling.
‘What’s all that about?’ I ask him.
‘She knows me from the Microdance.’
‘So I’m Alex Keevill of the fucking Microdance!’
‘So I bet she’ll give me a blowjob.’
‘I’ll go wait by the door.’
TMD’s fifth EP – Yo Yo @ 26 – released this May to a daft amount of online publicity. It could be something to do with In At The Eye Records (their label – always useful to have one of those), or it could be something to do with how music blogs the world over seem to have the mad hots for them; this one wants to be them.
‘Yo Yo @ 26′ – the A-side – is a brazenly good track that, for its obvious brilliance, I very, very reluctantly love. Less song and more sonic tasting platter, it positively bursts with (a selection of…) disarming hooks. Good luck choosing a favourite moment.
My heart, however, is set on the B-side – ‘Devour’ is the warmest, fuzziest, breathiest, and possibly darkest, track they have. All introspection, acceptance, angst, and a little bit of sadness – I probably find myself in it.
‘What you hear of us online is not wholly representative of the power of this band. Of course there’s enough there to get a feel for us but the recordings are all compromised for a variety of reasons. But I think time is the biggest one. We’re recording seven minute songs with dual guitars (and the rest!), synths and vocal harmonies in six hours! I’m by no means a natural singer; kind of like Deftones’ Chino isn’t. The difference being that he gets a month to do his vocals, I get an hour! That is also indicative of how the industry is changing. We’ll get there though’
A couple of days later I’m sat on the floor surrounded by five pairs of legs at the Microdance’s rehearsal space on the north end of Brick Lane. Alex doesn’t allow me to melt into the wall, so I take a spot by Gavin’s feet, mesmerised by his pedal board. They do two run-throughs of the set they’ll be playing at the end of the week, cutting off ‘Devour’s feet so it can segue into ‘Goodbye Lily Laser’. The two blend flawlessly, but I’m not too happy about my pet being mistreated. Lily Laser then morphs into the noise fest that will close the set – a nameless monster affectionately called ‘Death Jam’.
I play them a video recording of their ‘performance’. Gavin says something about not realising they were that loud. It’s nonsense. Nothing’s loud to willing ears.
‘I never played you my old bedroom recordings.’
We’re back home and Alex is mucking about with his laptop. He plays a track studded with the natural fuzz of isolation and echoes. It’s layered and textured and lonesome, with a burst of stark guitar. Before I can get a word out:
‘How great is that, eh? I wrote that when I was 22.’
‘It’s great.’ I parrot.
‘It’s that guitar, right? I mean just listen to it!’
He replays the solo. Then he tempers his statement.
‘I don’t play guitar as well as I used to, though. I haven’t played the guitar well for years now.’
Self-deprecation isn’t any more credible than self-aggrandisation. At the rehearsal I’d sat bewitched by song after seamless song punctuated by Alex calling himself and everyone else out on inaudible errors. Right now, he appears to be nothing but entirely honest and all I can do is wonder what ‘well’ sounds like.
There are more demos – demos that have been lying in wait for years. Demos that were recorded yesterday. ‘I wrote a new song!’ he declares every other day, and he plays it on the electric with elation so palpable it makes the room a little bit warmer. It’s always exceptional and it’s always frustrating because he already knows.
‘It changed my life,’ he’s explaining the story behind his side project. ‘my own ideas of self-worth. Before it happened, I thought I was god. After, it was endless days of anxiety, self-doubt and fear.
‘Affirmative meditation has really helped me out. It’s basically just me reminding myself what an awesome bastard I am.’
‘That’s better than having drugs do it for you,’ I concede, understanding the philosophy behind the mantra.
‘It’s the reason I created Captain Keevill and his Darkest Horses. The songs that came out of it were too dark for the Microdance.’
It’s true. While The Microdance aren’t quite the shimmery twee-pop the name might lead you to expect, their songs are extroverted, audacious and sticky – the life of any party. CK + HDH would falter in a crowd but radiate eloquence when left alone. They’re not too keen on being at the party.
London is really tough on a band like us. On our day we give people no chance but to succumb, we overwhelm them and thankfully that is more regular now! But if we’re 20% off our game or the sound in the venue is not up to it, trying to convey this art, which is perhaps a little more complex and profound than what people are used to, can be very difficult – it gets lost on a lot of people. It’s not easy being in a band whose music is about flourishes of spirit and unexpected turns when the appreciation of music these days is largely based on expectation.
We’re at the King’s Head Theatre where Adam Spreadbury-Maher has put together a spectacular production of A Tale of Two Cities. ‘Yo Yo @ 26′ and ‘We Are Made of Evil Things’ fill the room at curtain call. Alex introduces me to Carla – his friend and cousin – who asks me how I’m finding London.
‘It’s like any other city…’ I begin, tactlessly.
She’s not having it. She tells me there’s no other place like it in the world. She explains its culture and personality. She tells me London is beautiful.
Cities are never beautiful, but I don’t say that out loud. Cities are, by their very nature, ugly – loaded with crime, deceit, addiction, xenophobia and violence. Some cities are just better at putting up a front than others. London, I have no doubt, is as ugly as any other city in the world.
But I remedy my mistake and truthfully say I’ve loved everyone I’ve met.
It’s my last evening in London. Bridget‘s come over with her pup, Eugene. Bridget is ex-Microdance and currently the other half of Captain Keevill and his Darkest Horses. We turn the lights down and they start to play. Eugene has sprawled himself across my lap, his head buried between my legs. I like to believe he senses my melancholy, though it’s more likely he’s found a willing slave to scratch his head. Bridget blows him kisses mid-song. The moon is full, and the sky uncharacteristically cloudless.
I think about what Carla said the night before and I find myself believing it.
In this moment – in tremolo evenings and lamplight – London is beautiful.
I think about what Alex said on my very first day, and, incredibly, I can believe that too.
The Microdance are the best fucking band in London.
No really, BUY MORE MUSIC
bloody knives don’t fucking care.
they aren’t fussed that they don’t have guitars.
they can’t be arsed pressing the shift key.
no one listens beyond two minutes.
no one is worth more than ten.
morality is an illusion.
death is an inevitability.
Wonky Doll and the Echo – named so because it’s shorter than saying “George Lemons, YIOS, Kostas Antonakoglou and Octapus” but not by much. Wonky Doll and The Echo are from Athens. The one in Greece. If you ever see them, introduce yourself. That’s George on the vocals and the guitar, there’s YIOS on the bass and the backing vocals, you can find Kostas on the synths and the guitar and behind them you have Octapus on the drums.”
First things first – what is up with that name? George says “Our name symbolizes something beautiful and worn at the same time, mainly because of the time passed or its mistreatment. The echo interferes in order to give the essence of sound.”
Wonky Doll and the Echo are three years old – yes really – formed in 2010, by George and YIOS. Says George: “We created some songs we actually liked and we decided to form a band. By that time we met Kostas, whose part is to play the synth and occasionally the guitar. Then, we found Octapus and after a while we became a solid team.”
He continues: “Our first goal was to make songs we enjoy. After that, we realized that many people like our songs too so we started doing live shows and a few months later we recorded our first LP. Wonky Doll and the Echo is a vehicle for artistic expression for all four of us.”
They’ve got a video out – heads up: it’s got blood, scorpions, and a wonky doll (natch). The director of this creepfest is this fellow called Costas Gounaris who the band met through a friend at their album’s release gig in October 2012. Just look at what he made for them… wtf was the brief? Kostas (the one in the band) explains
“We told him we wanted something impressive, so, he came up with the brilliant idea of making a double project, a music video and a short movie. He also proposed getting the budget through crowd-funding (on Indiegogo). And so it happened, in February 2013, thanks to our friends and fans we were ready to start shooting. After two months of pre-production, shootings and post-production, we now all enjoy our first music video. The short movie is still on the post-production stage and we have taken care of the soundtrack!”
It’s more than just mindless gore – you can’t help but feel there’s meant to be some sort of profound message hiding under there. What is it? The band doesn’t elaborate much and George declares elusively that it’s all “just symbolic images of the director, visualizing the lyrics and the atmosphere of the song.” – yes, sure. We believe that.
Here’s what’s interesting: Wonky Doll and The Echo – you hadn’t heard of them till now – but they’ve gone and come out with this, yes, ok creepy, but also impressively executed… music video. Who even makes music videos anymore? And what indie band would invest so much in a video of this calibre? Why a video? Why now? Kostas puffs up with pride and explains the band’s aesthetic preference: “I cannot vouch for other bands, but we are definitely one of those that believe audio and video mixed together can give a very impressive and artistic result. Not to mention the fact that music videos bring you closer to the audience. And it’s not just music videos, we recently started to add video art on our gigs and it really enriches the atmosphere. It’s perfect!”
Speaking of gigs… what are they like? “Every gig we’ve done is quite memorable,” says Octapus, “but I would choose the one we supported Clan of Xymox, in December 2011, for various reasons. It was our second gig and we were playing for the first time in front of more than 300 people. Plus, at the end of the show, Panos from Geheimnis Records, proposed to start discussing the release of an album in vinyl. After a few months, Pleasant Thoughts was in our hands in vinyl!”
The album – Pleasant Thoughts - is as, if not more, admirably put together as the video. ‘The Cut’, listened to without the visuals, is a jewel. The album’s got the Cure-ish quality that makes it as suited to a dim flat brimming with desperately mingling dark-haired 37-year-olds as to a cable-laden haven of a teenager going through the paces of self-discovery and deliberately imposed self-loathing. Apathy masks depth and aggression masks melancholy. Despite its blatant complexity, YIOS explains: “The album has a DIY production. It was recorded in George’s bedroom which we “redecorated” a bit of course. We were lucky to have all necessary equipment. The biggest challenge was the production process, mainly done by me and George. It lasted for about two months and we spent many hours each day working on the songs. We almost started hating seeing each other.” He laughs.
You wouldn’t believe it if they hadn’t told you – there isn’t the faintest hint of bedroom recording on Pleasant Thoughts. George adds “The more we play together, the more we evolve as musicians. This is affecting our sound that changes day by day. We have a lot of material and we really want to share it with everyone soon. I have to tell you, I’m excited about our forthcoming work. Our new material sounds deeper, atmospheric but with even more catchier rhythms.”
‘catchy’ – not exactly the word I’d go for when describing something this heavy and bleak but HEY, whatever floats your boat. Listen for yourself:
Having had quite enough of promo-babble, we move on to the SERIOUS BIT – the one with all the opinions and profundity. Sadly, at this point I cannot think of anything to be opinionated and profound about beyond a long drawn out variation of: ‘so… Bandcamp, huh?’
Until we got signed, we tried to play off people’s kind hearts and offered our stuff for ‘pay what you want’ – about 10% would pay above the going rate of a dollar a song, or whatever it is and 90% would pay nothing. I guess we also knew that we were offering a slightly compromised version of what we are capable of (due to time/money restraints while recording) and perhaps felt bad demanding a set price; but giving away music with no other revenue stream from your art isn’t sustainable. What really gets me is at the start of this ‘collapse’ when people used to complain that £15 was extortionate for a CD. I was in a bar one evening and my friend who happened to be buying a round of drinks while talking to me said something to the effect of ‘I would buy the new Deftones album but it’s £15 in HMV, that’s ridiculous!’. Anyway, it turns out the round of drinks he was buying cost something like £22, we left the bar an hour later and that album Saturday Night Wrist is still regularly bringing me great pleasure, healing great pain and helping me finish runs with a sprint seven years later! The political argument behind that is something else; but if it’s straight up quantifying the worth of great music, no £15 is not too much for an hour of wonderful art which is available to you in perpetuity. Another valid point: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it!
A lovely thought, just the place to toss out an optimistic chestnut like: ‘it’s great that you’re making music, but how long do you think you can keep it up?’
Musically, I genuinely believe that this band has the capability for longevity. And if that is the case, whether the money is coming from record sales, licensing or slightly inflated concert tickets doesn’t really matter – the industry has to recalibrate, that’s obvious. I like to think that we make music with a bit of substance and that lends itself to loyalty. I am fiercely loyal to those bands I grew up listening to; the guys who provided me with a soundtrack to my life and shaped my musical appreciation. Those bands worked on a number of levels – the singles drew me in and the deep cuts kept me there. I think we have that too: if something like ‘We Are Made of Evil Things’ draws people in to listen to ‘Fucking Fucker’, then hopefully the latter will become their favourite in time. What else is encouraging is that a band like The Joy Formidable is now enjoying transatlantic success. I’d liken us to them in the sense that they do big, emotive music with enough barbs to catch the ears of the radio indie kids but more under the surface to keep the deep lovers involved; we’re not quite at their level when it comes to production yet – The Big Roar was HUGE – but I think the LP is a critical move for us and I have a feeling we’ll play it well.
This seems as good a moment as any to get a bit meta. Where does the music come from? Why do some people create music while listening keeps the others content? What’s the difference between the two kinds?
I’m not sure there’s that much of a difference, that’s to say I definitely loved music just as much before I began to make it. The difference is that it felt unobtainable; I equated everything to ‘that magical sound’ now, after years in a studio, it’s more like ‘if I dissect this enough, I can work out that he’s running that guitar through 3 phasers, some tape delay, reversing it and only tracking the feedback!’ – I wouldn’t say it’s lost its magic, it’s just magic science that I understand now, rather than something preternatural. I’m almost certainly the least naturally musical person you’ve ever interviewed – so this has been very difficult for me, and it’s hard to explain to someone who loves music as much as I do why I HAD to do this, but those days of practicing guitar for 8 hours were not much fun!
I think that after years of recording, I’m just finding my vocal range and getting comfortable with it. I’m really looking forward to bringing back those super complex 9 minute songs I wrote when I was 20 but didn’t quite have the chops to execute. This band right now is a monster, absolutely the first time I’ve thought to myself – ‘here’s a real opportunity to get those sounds/feelings in my head out there and do them justice’.
I’m the kind of guy that likes to be up there with my idols; I hate the thought of admiring something and not aspiring to it. There’s a lyric in our song ‘Goodbye Lily Laser’: “I punch the sky, I’m ready made, No need to dream, I’m that awesome kid” - Lily Laser is the female personification of that part of me (how clichéd!) that was so complacent with what it was blessed with naturally that it kind of let me become crap and lazy. I woke up one day and realised that the world will overtake you if you let that slip in. So, that song is kind of a message to the part of me that wants to make a life out of music. I’d still rather have been a professional footballer though!
Background noise or sacred vibrations: any hard and fast rules when it comes to listening?
If you’re making toast when Siamese Dream is on, we’re over.
OK – so what should people be doing when listening to Yo Yo @26?
Somehow improving their lives. If I’m really out of shape (which is most of the time these days!) and I know it’s time to sort it out, I’ll put Pantera, Slowdive, Kate Bush, M83 or Deftones on my headphones and go running. I’ll hold my hands up to the sky, you know like I’m some boxing protagonist in a Hollywood film and and feel Godlike – almost immediately after feeling like I can’t even get out of bed; that’s the power of music. Music is an elixir in so many ways, it can heal the mind and the body and I hope ours can do that to at least one person.
Besides that, if it’s hot girls – making out!
BONUS QUESTION 1
What is a Yo Yo @ 26?
Yo Yo is a person who lived in Shoreditch, east London at the same point that I did and I met her when she was 26. I think the less said about her, the better. Although, she did provide me with a cool song title. I hope it goes on to become someone’s password!
BONUS QUESTION 2
There is no question
(give your own answer)
We rehearse next to a Brazilian waxing parlour on Brick Lane. We often get girls ringing the buzzer on our rehearsal room and have to politely tell them that they probably want to go next door, unless they can play synth – in which case they’re welcome; before or after their ‘treatment’ – preferably after! We try to politely allude to exactly what establishment they’re looking for without grinning too broadly. It’s a dangerous situation for four men who are going to be in close proximity to each other for four hours trying to make serious art. It’s a surprise we haven’t started to cover Barry White while our minds run with thoughts of what’s going on (or coming off!) next door. There may or may not be a five minute spoken word description of this running through one of our more elegiac recordings!
You’ll find ‘Yo Yo @ 26′, its B-side, ‘Devour’ and much, much more over on TMD’s Bandcamp. If you play synth and want to be a part of The Microdance, there’s nothing stopping you – leave them a note on Facebook, or just get in touch here and we’ll put you through.
Meanwhile, here’s ‘Devour’:
Alex Keevill, Gavin Mata Hari, Thom Browning and Caleb Clayton – peddlers of sonic smoothies, delicious and rich in fibre.
They may only have a single out but Alex tosses out names and a byline as if the Microdance have existed for a decade or more. They haven’t. Not just that, but they’ve got the blandest formation story in the world. Nothing like ‘we met at art school, brought together by our shared love of pointillism’. According to A:
All TMD members have been complete strangers to me prior to joining the band. There have been quite a few lineup changes in the few years that there has actually been a band. I say ‘actually been a band’ because our first two releases were recorded with just our former drummer, James Davies, and me. Well, we had help with some awesome female vocalists… but the point being, I played all the guitars, bass, synth etc. For a while I had neither the energy nor inclination to put a band together; I just kind of forgot about the dream. Then one day I woke up with the renascent desire to do something massive and magical and the live version of the band was born. Finally, now I can say we’re doing the grand vision justice. This is a killer crew!
If it’s a story you seek, just ask about the paradoxically childlike name meant to represent an expansive, introspective sound. The explanation rocks up before the question’s even left your virtual lips. Now you know – before the band, there was the Microdance.
My wife (then girlfriend) and I used to listen to the Postal Service and we’d try to dance, rhythmically, with the smallest possible movements. A particular favourite for this was the ending of their song ‘Clarke Gable’. We called this ‘Microdancing’. Around about that point I was ready to start a new musical venture and the name just fell into place.
You’ll have heard of the Microdance before. You may have seen them pop up on Twitter, or noticed Alex poking around one of the infinity shoegazer pages on Facebook. They’ve been around for a while, but Yo Yo @ 26 is their very first Official Release (they’re on a record label and everything, egad).
The reason you’re only hearing what you’re hearing now is because these are our first releases through a label. That shifts the focus because we now have a commercial vehicle to drive the music with; so we’re no longer talking about our ‘pay what you want’ releases because we have a bona fide commercial strategy in place. I am immensely proud of all of the stuff I have released; those songs are all brilliant to me for different reasons: The Her Ride To The Stars EP was the first time I ever went ‘pop’ and I love the ‘feel’ of that EP. The level of sophistication on some of those songs was way beyond what I wanted to project. Some of those chords and the amount of guitars going on were crazy. But, no matter how wonderful those songs still sound to me, there’s definitely something missing. I didn’t sing it all that well, some of the guitars weren’t biting enough and the end result is one of partial regret. I guess that’s the case with all of those EP’s: Her Ride, Get Dark and Enemies of Love. I’d say I’m somewhere between 50 and 60% satisfied with them. I’d still love for people to go and check them out because the songs are of a very high calibre and there are those moments of real pride when listening back to particular parts, but there’d always have to be that caveat!
EPs upon EPs – is there a full-length in the offing?
Yes! We are currently in pre-production and I can tell you that it’s shaping up to be very special. We really hope to get it out at some point this year;
He breaks into the press release:
It’s gonna be a bright, hopeful sounding record with a million kaleidoscopic guitars, female/male harmonies that will make love to your soul and drumming that will have jazz fans rockers squirming with delight in equal measures.
Then he remembers he’s now got a label to do PR for him and slips back into Artiste Mode:
Basically, it’s gonna be a PROPER, cohesive album, the like of which we don’t see many of these days. We hope that the record will spawn some kooky b-sides and outtakes – because we really want to convey a focused vision with the long play but have those different avenues to explore the other facets of what we do. Kind of what Devour was to Yo Yo @ 26, I guess.
Haven’t heard Yo Yo @ 26 yet? Put this on loop as you wait for the next part of this thrilling I-i-I
Whispers assured us we were as lost and stoned as anyone else. People come and go, live and die, cities rise and fall, and change. But you – you promised you’d still be there in the morning.
And you were – you are the sound the sun rises to.
And you remain – you’re what the earth spins to.
But you don’t care about your sway over the sun or the earth or the tides.
That’s why we love you.
Happy 20th Birthday, Souvlaki.
No Joy‘s ‘Maggie Says I Love You’ is everything.
It’s bare toes and outstretched arms in summer, it’s a glimpse of the sun in winter, it’s the rationale that overcomes fury, it is the quiet company you seek in solitude.
Things I love about SULK:
- Their name, my constant state of being
- Their hair – moptop (who needs a field of vision, anyway), sideswept (left), sideswept (right), long (enough), rufflable (c’mere, you)
- Their sound – brazen and unafraid.
Every review of Graceless out so far can be summarised thus: SULK sound like the Stone Roses.
It’s possibly an oversimplification, but not a lie. In addition to the smoky monkey man vox, Graceless is a firm devotee of the Britpop sound, flaunting crisp guitars, hair-flippable drums, and such flowery song titles as ‘Diamonds and Ashes’, ‘Back in Bloom’ and, well, ‘Flowers’.
The question – in sounding like our Madchester/Britpop/Acid House/C86 heroes – are SULK any good?
The answer – surprisingly – yes.
For eras as revered as these, it’s a wonder their derivatives have never come anywhere close to the original sound. Books and movies and journal articles have all striven to capture the essence of what made Madchester/baggy, acid house, and Britpop the sensations they were. Still, the Britpop offspring, never really captured the sound and were, despite the technicalities of their success, unbearably insipid.
Britpop itself – a style, a scene that based its success on sounding like everything that had come before it – was unselfconscious enough not to suffer from banality. Half of Elastica (the album) may not even have been composed by Elastica (the band), but we still listen to ‘Waking Up’ every morning (‘make a cup of tea/put a record on’). We still sing along to ‘Champagne Supernova’ with the same conviction that Liam instills into Noel’s ‘slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball‘.
That’s the ‘swagger’ everyone talks about – the obnoxious self-confidence with which the blatantly inane and/or unethical are not only forgiven, but celebrated.
SULK are the first group I’ve come across to have it. While I can’t quite catch any plagiarism on Graceless (apart from the passing similarity between the opening of ‘Marian Shrine’ and German group Selig‘s ‘Ist Es Wichtig’, which I can’t imagine is intentional), and the lyrics seem innocuous enough, SULK radiate poise and self-assurance. They wind 1989-1994 around their fingertips as if the years were their own creation (no pun intended).
It’s not plagiarism, it’s inspiration – or so I react to ‘Marian Shrine’ (aka ‘Manchild’, for those of you not keeping your eyes on the tracklist) the most Roses-y of the lot. A track that prances around a sticky chorus you’re sure you’ve heard before (“maaaaaan-chiiiiiild!”), completely oblivious to the decade it’s in.
Wait, no, it’s clearly ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that’s the most Roses-y. It’s funny how all of us review types are throwing around the word ‘Madchester’ as if there’s some sort of revival going on, when really SULK only sound (exactly) like one of the three bands that defined the sound. Not a sign of the shameless grooves that made the Mondays or the broody mantras of the Carpets. Again, we’ve got a song that sounds so familiar it hurts – but just try to place it… it can’t be done.
Have mercy – from this whirling opener we’re thrown into the breathless ‘Flowers’ whose endless chorus overflows with all the jingle-jangle and ba-ba-ba’s in the world, ensuring you’ll spin around and around till your head flies off. A little later, a song made up of the ocean – ‘Back in Bloom’ (if your eye’s not on tracklist, you’re hearing this as ‘Black and Blue’). Waves of reverb, waves of ricocheting space-vox, and waves of a chorus that spirals in and out of focus (‘she’ll be back in bloom’).
I didn’t ever expect an album like Graceless to come my way, or even to exist. Nostalgia aside, it’s worth admiring the album for the quality of its production (Ed Buller worked on albums by Suede, Pulp and White Lies – SURPRISE!). It’s also worth noting that, despite their FANTASTIC hair, I am praising SULK on the worth of their music. Graceless must be good.