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interviews                        [ page 4] 

Late November / Early December 2002

on this page

Donald Ross Skinner
Great Lakes
Mendoza Line
The Pleased

Previous interviews

on page 3

Butterflies of Love
Ian McNabb

on page 2

Dressy Bessy
Neil Halstead
Stephen Hero
Slumber Party
The Workhouse
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

on page 1

Earl Brutus
British Sea Power
Camera Obscura
Mark Eitzel
David Gedge
Jack Hayter
Kristin Hersh
Tom Hingley
Robyn Hytchcock
Lupine Howl

The Pleased interview by Ged M and Paul M

pleased at garage 3.jpg (46893 bytes)The Pleased are a five-piece from San Francisco (or London via SF, in Rich Good’s case): Noah Georgeson (guitar, vocals), Rich Good (guitar, vocals), Joanna Newsom (keyboards), Luckey Remington (bass) and Gennaro Vergoglini (drums).  Joanna and Noah are classically trained and met at conservatory; Joanna is a mean classical harpist!  They’re described by the Face as “the blazer-wearing indie boy's new fave band” which is a neat way of saying that the NME will have them on the front cover in 6 months so get in first!  They’ve got this cool New Wave style and songs that by turns make you cry, think and dance.  Their website www.theplease.com still bears their old name before the enforced change but will sell you some of the coolest, most articulate pop music you’ll hear this year or next, plus some striking t-shirts.  We met Luckey and Joanna, plus Rich, in a coffee bar on Oxford Street before their gig at the Metro Bar in November 2002.       

SXP: Your names – are they your given names, not stage names?

Luckey: Yeah.  The names- they’re all our real names!

SXP: ‘Luckey Remington’ is a great name!

Joanna: It’s his grandfather’s name.

Luckey: *laughs*. It’s a family name, it’s been passed down!  It’s ‘–ey’; if it had been ‘–y’, well…

SXP: You were born into rock ‘n’ roll really! 

Luckey: That’s what they say.  ‘Joanna’ is Joanna’s real name!  She’s rock ‘n’ roll too.  She’s named after the Bob Dylan song.   

SXP: Many reviews make comparisons to The Strokes.  Does that irritate you?

Luckey: Yeah.

Joanne: It tends to get made the most by people for whom The Strokes was their first introduction into a genre of music that doesn't get very big, especially in the US, very often.  There's a huge number of bands playing a certain rock that I don't even know the name for but the Strokes, especially in the US, were the first band to hit Top 40 radio with that sort of music.  I think if you really listen to us...we occasionally get bunched in with the garage rock scene but I think there's a lot more we have in common with a lot of Britpop.  Those are the bands we tend to listen to more.  *laughs* We have one Brit in our band - Rich is an Englishman - so that’s our excuse and we can play Britpop!

SXP: I can hear traces of Sonic Youth and the Smiths and Television as well.

Joanna: Yeah, we love Television.  I think all three of those bands we like.  We tend to get compared to Sonic Youth all the time.  We all like Sonic Youth…

Luckey: I do!

Joanna: …but not enough to consider them an influence.  But I like that as a comparison.  I certainly don’t mind being compared to them! 

SXP: What are your influences as a band?

Joanna: We have super-different influences.

Luckey: I’d say we all have very varying influences. 

SXP: You’re on bass.  Have you listened to a bassline somewhere and thought: I want to reproduce that?

Luckey: For bass, it would be the Stone Roses probably. 

Joanna: Television is one of my favourite bands ever.  I love, love Talking Heads so I’m sure that’s influenced me in some way. 

Luckey: Rich would say Roxy Music, I know that.  Noah might say Pixies. 

Joanna: Yeah, he might say Pixies.  He usually says something about some minimalist composer he’s really, really into.  Terry Riley, maybe John Cage, I don’t know if he likes Cage a lot. 

Luckey: We tend to take a pretty minimalist approach to the music we write anyway.

Joanna: Probably our main thing in practice, if we rework a song, it’s really stripping it down as opposed to building it up.  Trying to make it as clean as possible. 

SXP: Who writes the songs?

pleased at garage 5.jpg (51406 bytes)Luckey: We all do.  We all have songwriting credits.  A song usually comes about with one of us bringing in a melody or a progression and then we all work it from there.  You bring something into the band room, whatever, and it always ends up inevitably changing from what you originally had in mind.  We’ve put a lot of faith in each other not to get too controlling with what you’ve brought into the bandroom.   If I bring something in, and I have something in mind for what I want it to sound like, I try not to get too forceful, like: no,no do this!  I tend to trust everybody in the room to come up with something that, in the end, we’re all going to be happy with.  And I think that’s how a lot of our songs are written.   We all trust one another a lot. 

SXP: Are you all lyricists as well or does one person write more lyrics than the others? 

Joanna: In this band, we all write songs on our own but I think it’s just Rich and Noah who write the lyrics.  Occasionally one of us will throw out a lyric.  I wrote one lyric: I wrote the chorus for One Horse. 

SXP: Are you proud of that one?

Joanna: Oh yeah, very proud!   It’s my one claim to fame! 

SXP: Talking about being proud, what did you think of The Face article that said you were one of the 40 bands to watch?

Joanna: I think we were all pretty honoured to be in the article as well as it making us a little nervous.  We like a lot of the bands in the article as well and it’s a little nerve-wracking to be grouped in with any huge sort of movement of bands.  There’s been no bandwagon-jumping going on.  If you listen to the music it’s pretty different as I said before.   

SXP: Was the list put in order?

Joanna: I don’t know.  I think it was Yeah Yeah Yeahs first and us second, which I don’t think is indicative of any sort of order.  

SXP: It could be.  Although I [Paul] would argue you should be ahead of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, great though they are.

Joanna: Ah, you guys! 

Luckey: *laughs* We’re better than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, correct! 

Joanna: Oh Oh.  I don’t want Karen O beating us up!  But we were really, really excited to be in the article.

Luckey: There were a lot of mixed emotions.  We were excited to get the attention of course but at the same time there’s a lot of pressure.

Joanna: And they described us as the “skinny white tied indie boy’s favourite band” which just made us feel like: what?!

Luckey: There ‘s a lot of weird comments in that article.

Joanna: They didn’t ever misquote us unkindly – they never made us say stuff that we were like “what! They shouldn’t have said that ” - but we definitely didn’t say anything that they’ve quoted us as saying!  

SXP: They were probably nice, like representative soundbites.

Joanna: Which is fine.  They were probably more eloquent than we were! 

Luckey: Joanna was featured in the Face by herself the next month: September.  They flew her to New York!

Joanna: I got a trip to New York out of it.  They flew me to New York, took a big, ridiculous picture where I’m not even recognisable, like a spread, and sent me home again.

SXP: Was that a fashion thing? 

Joanna: It was for an article on the new women in rock.  There were five of us. It was a weird theme and I don’t know why they picked the people that they picked. 

SXP: It must have been based on the Face article.

Joanna: I think so, but it was mostly electroclash people, and then me! 

SXP: Do you get a lot of reaction to the article?

Luckey: Not overwhelming, but there surprisingly is.  At every show this past week, there’s been a handful of people saying “I’ve seen the Face article”.

Joanna: Or bringing the article to have it signed.

SXP: Are you reasonably big in San Francisco?  Fair-to-middling?

[Rich joins us]

Rich: Huge!  Huge in San Francisco.

pleased at garage 4.jpg (57503 bytes)Joanna: The bands that are huge in San Francisco are not usually from San Francisco, they’re usually…[thinks hard]…the Dave Matthews Band, and Phish and stuff.

SXP: Is there a scene?

Joanna: There is a scene.  It’s small and, like, very straight faced.

SXP: And you’re top of it aren’t you? 

Joanna: I don’t really know.  You can’t really tell with those people.  They look at you and refuse to tap their foot.

Rich: Yeah, San Francisco audiences are very difficult to break through to. 

Luckey: I would say, in the public consciousness, we are probably one of the bigger bands there.  Nobody would admit it! 

SXP: Did you form in 2001?  And how did you come together?

Luckey: Yeah.  Rich moved to America three years ago.  We were all living in this town and we all started playing music together.  We were all playing music in the town and in a smaller town and we all knew of each other. 

Joanna: Noah and I were going to school together.

SXP: Rich, were you in a band in the UK before you went to San Francisco?

Rich: Nothing worth mentioning [the others laugh].  

Joanna: Plenty worth digging up and making fun of!

SXP: Was it beyond bedroom?

Rich: Just.  Barely beyond bedroom. 

SXP: Ever release anything?

Rich: No.  Definitely not.  One of the bands was called The Rocket Reducer, which was an MC5 song title.  But I can’t take any credit for anything.  And that’s about as interesting as it gets. 

SXP: We probably know people who’ve seen The Rocket Reducer.

Rich: [insistent] No, no, you really wouldn’t have!  I guarantee that you haven’t.  We played three gigs or something! 

SXP: If you formed in 2001, you’ve come a long way in a short time.  You’ve already supported the Vines and the Von Bondies.

Joanna: And Clinic.  That was the one we were the most excited about. 

Rich: And the Music.  We’ve just played with The Music, two weeks ago. 

SXP: Do you like them?

Rich: Do I like them?  I like them more and more!

Joanna: There’s some dissention in the band.  I love them.  I think they’re great. 

Luckey: I think we all like them. 

Rich: They’re the nicest guys in the world as well.

SXP: How did you manage to get a gig with the Vines?  Because they’re big now.

Luckey: We played with them just before they got massive.  This is before the cover of Rolling Stone, before I think the album was even released.  There was still a buzz around them but their album hadn’t been released. 

Joanna: We knew that it was a big deal but half the people who came didn’t even know.    

Rich: And the venue that they played at was one that we played quite a few times and had drawn a lot of people in and I think that’s why…I don’t know if they chose us but whoever chose us just knew that we could open the show for that kind of band. 

SXP: Who are the best band that you’ve played with? 

Joanna: The Walkmen are good.  We love the Walkmen.

Rich: The Walkmen and the French Kicks and Clinic, by far. 

Joanna: There’s been someone else really good.  Oh, the High Drivers.  We love the High Drivers. 

Rich: The High Drivers from Northampton.  Make sure you mention them! 

Joanna: They’re sweet guys and they’re really good. You should drop their name in.

SXP: Tell us about your records.  You’re releasing them yourselves.  There was the first EP which became the second EP and now you’ve got an album out.  Why have you done it like that? 

Rich: Because everything we do is random.  There’s no structure to anything.

Joanna: We keep getting excited about one or two new songs that we have and we’ll want to record them and we want them to be heard and accessible immediately.  And it’s like: well, we can’t sell a CD with two songs on it so why don’t we add it to our other songs? 

Rich: The nice thing about being unsigned at the moment is that we can do whatever the hell we want.  Why not re-record the song and put it out at the next show? 

SXP: Will the album be on sale at your show? 

Rich: Yeah.  And Rough Trade will have it very soon.   And it’s all hand done.  

Luckey: Everything in this band, from the t-shirts to every design, is us.

SXP: Who’s responsible for the artwork?  Does one of you have a particular artistic bent?

Rich: I put it together but it’s generally pretty collaborative in terms of designs we use. 

SXP: So do they mean anything: the flamingo, the castles, the horses? 

Rich: Well, the flamingo is The Flamingo in Vegas, but you wouldn’t know it.

Joanna: It’s a hotel, right?   Are we allowed to say where the castles are from? We might get sued!

Rich: I don’t think we should say where the castles are from.  Leave that in a total mystical place.

Joanna: They have a connection with mystical, childhood, enchanted fiction. 

Rich: We’re a very mystical band!

SXP: There are loads of 80s-influenced bands like Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Radio 4.  Do you feel any affinity with them?  It’s mainly a New York thing.

Luckey: I think the continental divide between the West Coast and the East Coast keeps us separate from anything in New York. So if anything we’re almost challenging that notion of East Coast retro-80s or New Wave or whatever.

Joanna: Many of the bands that we’ve been influenced by, their most creative period was the 80s but I don’t think it’s an ironic or a sort of retro reference.  It’s more the things that we’re inspired by and building on that, rather than anything that’s reminiscent in any sort of overt way.  

SXP: Thank you!   


Great Lakes interview by Ged

great lakes gig.jpg (36603 bytes)Great Lakes are based around the core of Dan Donahue, Ben Crum and Jamey Huggins.  Once based in Athens, they’re now dispersed, Dan in San Francisco, Ben in New York and Jamey still in Athens. Their first album was released in 2000 on Kindercore in the US (released here by Track and Field) and they recently released an album ‘The Distance Between’ that collected various single releases and B-sides, and a stunning double A-sided single Conquistadors/ Sister City.  I spoke to Dan and Ben at the end of their UK tour in November 2002. (their website is at http://www.angelfire.com/band/greatlakes/ and http://www.trackandfield.org.uk/ is an ever reliable source of information).

SXP: I loved Conquistadors which closed the Water Rats set [on 19 November].  I thought it would never end!

Ben: In fact, they pulled the plug on us, really abruptly.  Paul comes running up and says “Stop! Stop! We’re going to get banned from this place!” 

SXP: The new album is ‘The Distance Between’ album.  Is that all b-sides and singles?

Dan: There are a handful of new songs on there which haven’t been released.  Let’s see, what had been? 

Ben: Well, actually, I think there’s only one.  Ever So Over is a song that wasn’t on anything else.

SXP: You all came together in Athens? 

Ben: Yeah, all of us gelled together as the group that exists now but Dan and I met earlier than that.  We went to high school together, outside Atlanta.  We started to write songs when we were 15 or something.

Dan: Having fun, mostly, without any thought of records.

Ben: He had a four-track and we’d hang out in his parents’ basement and we’d…

Dan: Steal beers!

SXP: Why is Athens is such a fertile source of bands?

Ben: Well, you have the fact that the South is not very receptive in general to anything out of the ordinary.  Blues will go fine anywhere but anyone who’s interested in anything that could be called art music – not that we’re like that, experimental, weird or anything, it’s just that we’re not middle of the road – anyone who does that in the South gravitates to this one little town so it’s full of great musicians and people who are really trying to come up with new sounds.  So it’s cool.  And the fact that the university’s there.  You have this built-in audience of kids who are all willing to come out and pay five bucks and just see what’s going on. 

Dan: And it’s cheap!  It’s insanely cheap and you can live and make your art at a pace that’s human. There’s a Southern pace.  You’re not rushing around and breaking your neck to make a living.  You can hold a bar job or a record store job and pay the rent. 

Ben: And have plenty of money to go out drinking! 

Dan: Beers are cheap.  And there’s such a community atmosphere that you know everybody.  Cheap beer, cheap records, whatever!      

SXP: When you were making music aged 15, were you always making this sort of music or did you ever flirt with Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Dan: We flirted more with Teenage Fanclub and the Jesus and Mary Chain.  I definitely think we were influenced by them.

Ben: Galaxie 500 and the Jesus and Mary Chain.  We wanted to combine those bands when we were starting.  That was our ideal.  We maybe did one song that sounds like that.  But then we were huge Teenage Fanclub fans - we still are.  We don’t try to sound like that now but in our early days we just ripped them off. 

SXP: You now live in different parts of the States: San Francisco, Athens, New York. 

Ben: Yeah, he lives in San Francisco and I live in Brooklyn. 

SXP: How do you manage to keep the group together?

Dan: Telephone calls, I guess.

Ben: We’ve done an amazingly good job of continuing to write songs since he’s been in California and me in New York. 

Dan: I visit New York a lot, as much as I can.  Fortunately I have a life that brings me there so I always try and wind up there and me and Ben will find time to sneak away from the city long enough to write for a little bit. 

SXP: Dan, are you into the San Francisco music scene?

Dan: I really haven’t tied into the music scene out there, only because I’m gone a lot with my work.  I’m a freelance type of designer so I’ve been away on projects and maintaining writing music with Ben, and working with my friend who’s still in Athens, so I haven’t settled into San Francisco.  I know there’s great stuff, I just haven’t hit upon it yet.  But I’ll look out for it, for sure!  

SXP: What sort of things do you design?

Dan: I design album covers and I do some films, I have a clothing line that I do.  Basically, it’s a hustle!  I like doing visual things.

Ben: He’s done a bunch of cool stuff.  He made videos for Pavement and Belle and Sebastian and a couple of years ago he made a tour film to play behind REM when they toured.  He just did one for the Rolling Stones actually. 

Dan: Ben was on it.  Star of the show!

Ben: I didn’t go to the show but evidently I’m projected behind the Stones!      

Dan: It’s been pretty crazy.  San Francisco’s pretty great.  I walk around and think about all that came from it, the psychedelic movement.  It’s a pretty freaky place.

SXP: When you’re on tour you have an extended family of musicians who play with you. How do you choose them?

Ben: They kind of choose us, really.  They’re a bunch of musicians that we know in Athens.  When we made the first record, Dan would write the lyrics and Jamie and I would put it to music and he and I would largely play most of the instruments and we’d pull in Heather [McIntosh], who plays the cello, and Scott [Spillane] who plays the horns.  Dottie [Alexander] did a bunch of stuff, she played clarinet, flute, stuff like that. And then it was time to start playing live and it’s: “hey, you guys want to do it?” And some of them did, some of them were busy.  Whoever wanted to do it, they were sort of invited.  It’s still like that.  Every time we want to do something we call them up and say “you want to do this?  We’re going to go on tour, would you be interested?”

SXP: What’s behind your songwriting?

Dan: There are moments when I feel like I’m trying to say something that’s too difficult for me to deal with in a real way.  Some very big thoughts that don’t find themselves in anything except maybe a song.  It’s just some faraway escapism.  What I miss right now is hearing Ben’s music.  It’s tough for me not to live in the same place because if Ben is playing something in the next room, I used to think: where is that sound going?  There’s something really neat; you’re sitting on the porch and you hear this really beautiful piano coming from the next room and you try to imagine how far it’s going to go, whether it’s going to wind up in a little hook of a song or it’s going to go on for six minutes.

Ben: The writing of the music is just whatever comes out that day.  With Ever So Over, for example, I just had this period when I was listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren and I was like: “God, I need to write a song with all these chords that are made up of more notes than three”.  I tried to write a song, more lush.  Sometimes it’s a direct influence like that.  But we always leave it open in the recording, we don’t have any rules.  

Dan: On something that’s more lush, bigger or open, if it sounds that way I’m going to try and write something that’s, say, more open.  Hopefully they work together. 

Ben: When it comes to our songwriting, he writes the stuff but I’m singing it and that’s very old fashioned, I think.  It doesn’t feel awkward or weird.  But I don’t think I could sing it if the lyrics he writes were “I love you baby” and they’re singer-songwriter lyrics.  We’re not about that kind of thing.  A lot of the stuff he’s writing, it’s more abstract and open to interpretation.  There’s some heart to it.  I can definitely say we have a sort of – not spiritual, that’s too strong a word – intense relationship with it.  That’s why we do it, what drives us to make it.   If some kid could like it the way we liked Teenage Fanclub when we were 15 years old, you know what I’m saying? That’s always been our goal. 

SXP: What’s the Beatles song that you did as part of a three-part cover version at the Water Rats? 

Ben: Oh, that was ridiculous. We fucked it up too.  It’s a early Beatles song, a Paul song.  I don’t even know what it’s called.  On the set list it says ‘Beatles’! 

SXP: Your songs are well arranged and orchestrated.  Is that Jamey?

Dan: Both Ben and Jamey.  Ben has the core of the song down.  It’s something that evolves.

Ben: Jamey puts the indispensable icing on the cake.  He has a ton of ideas, and sometimes I have to argue with him and just cut him off because he can keep going!  He plays a bunch of instruments and he’s by far probably the most talented musician in the band.  He mainly plays the drums, but he’s a phenomenal piano player, he can just pick up any instrument and play it really well, and he sings.  He reminds me of, he has the potential to be like, that guy in the Flaming Lips: Stephen Drozd.  He played the drums but now he’s doing ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and the new record, he plays piano, he plays guitar, the guy’s amazing and Jamey reminds me of that guy.   

SXP: You do three cover versions on ‘The Distance Between’ and I’ve heard you’ve done a Donovan cover.  Do you like doing cover versions?

Ben: Yeah, it’s just fun.  The Nesmith song – I had no intention of that ever being released.  One day we were just goofing around.  I was enjoying playing it, from the ‘Different Drum’ Linda Ronstadt record, and I decided I’m going to record it.  My friend Bill came over and said “I hear this Everly Brothers harmony. It’s not in the original version but can I lay it on you?”  After we did it I though: this is pretty cool, let’s put it out.  The Zombies one, more than any song I had a strong personal desire to record the song.  It’s such a happy song that I remember at a certain moment in my life.  I’m not a sad person but I was particularly sad then.  It’s a weird irony the way a really happy song can strike you at a sad moment: “this will be our year” when in fact you feel like everything’s falling apart at that moment.  “The Morning of My Life” song Dan suggested – he’s like: “we have to do it”!

Dan: I heard the Nina Simone version and just thought “oh shit, there’s nothing better!”

Ben: And we found that early Bee Gees record which was just phenomenal.  I’ve never seen their version on anything else.  I think it was previously unreleased but it is such a good song. 

Dan: I found it in Glasgow on some budget Bee Gees compilation! 

Ben: It seems like the kind of lyrics that you would have written anyway.

Dan:  That was the part where I wanted to give up when I heard it.  I was: that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my whole damn life!   I urge people to seek out both versions and listen to them.  I don’t think it gets any better.

Ben: The Donovan one was just because Darla, the record label, wrote to us and said do you want to do a song? And we did it in literally one day.  I like it, it turned out pretty well.

Dan: It’s weird because Ben had done it without me.  I was listening to it and I didn’t even recognise it as the Donovan song.  Not that it sounds different or anything but for some reason I never paid much attention to that Donovan song and now I love it.   I’ve gone back and listened to the Donovan song over and over and over and I really had this feeling that the world missed out on a hit with that song.  I just think it’s underrated.  Donovan gets remembered for some goofy shit and that was one of those bittersweet songs that would have done more for him. 

SXP: Have you been asked to do the Italian Pavement tribute album?  

Ben: No.  But if we were asked, I know what we would do.   We should do Here but we wouldn’t. We’d do Give It a Day.  And I’d do it on piano.  In fact I think about doing it all the time.  But doing a Pavement song I don’t know.  It’s just too recent.  We’re definitely huge Pavement fans.

Dan: It’s weird.  I did a lot of work with them.  I spent a lot of time working on videos as well as documenting them.  I still talk to Stephen when I see him but never had the nerve to tell him…

Ben: How big a fan you were?

Dan: Yeah, how in particular the song Here is monumental. 

Ben: I don’t think I’d touch Here though.  We’re a little reverential about that one.  “I was dressed for success but success never comes”.  You can’t write lyrics better than that.    

SXP: There’s a new Pavement DVD so is some of your work on there?

Dan: A lot of it, yeah.  A lot of the menu screens and stuff are photographs and my friend Lance [Bangs], who’s mostly responsible for the entire thing, I helped him a lot.  But we did three videos on there, and the documentary stuff and there’s a lot of me on there, which is really embarrassing. 

Ben: Which is the song on the video where you’re singing along? He’s, like, the star of it. 

Dan: Oh, Major Leagues.  The only reason I’m a star is that with DVD, all your fancy technology and director’s commentaries, you’ll hear we tried to shoot other versions and nobody liked the other videos.  We shot a last ditch thing where I was lip-synching it!  It wound up being not the best video ever made but a real earnest attempt.     

Ben: But it works.  It’s a nice video.  And it came along at that time where videos weren’t a big deal, videos were something that kids watched.

Dan: I think they were geared for overseas anyway.  MTV has just turned into…unless you’re Missy Elliott they’re not going to do you any good.   They do Missy Elliott a lot of good!

SXP: Is that the new slimmed down Missy Elliott? 

Dan: She looks good to me!  I think she’s a fun woman.  I really salute her.  She’s a producer, a songwriter, a freak, she likes to have fun.  I miss that now.  She’s got class. 

SXP: Coming from Athens, do people lump you in with the Elephant 6 collective?

Ben: Yeah but at the same time that was such a nurturing thing for us: the time between 1996 and 1999.  Everyone’s in different places now, Jeff Mangum’s in New York, Will and Bill don’t really work together anymore, the Apples are doing their own thing, but in that time it was an amazing thing to be around. 

Dan: A lot of people are coming on to it now, it feels like maybe you’re pushing it over here, all those Elephant 6 bands.  But it’s gone and it should be gone because what movement lasts forever?

Ben: It really doesn’t exist anymore.  It was a beautiful idea in a certain time period that was really inspiring.

Dan: I couldn’t imagine us being, musically, who we are without it. 

SXP: How close were you to the main players?

Dan: Athens is a small town.  It’s not like a scene in New York. 

Ben: A very small town and you know everybody

Dan: Literally, you were going to walk into these people every day.  You were going to rent a movie from them or they were going sell you a record.  The town’s four blocks long! 

Ben: Or they’re going to stop by your house and say “what are you recording? How about I play something on it?”  It was just very good times.

Dan: And I think it was really good for us and opened a lot of doors. 

SXP: How’s your tour been? 

Dan: Great.  Absolutely great.

Ben: Really fantastic. We go back tomorrow. 

SXP: Are you going to make another record?

Ben: Yeah.  I tend to speak about the future in a long term way but there’s another record definitely.

SXP: I heard Stephen and Paul sent you into the studio on your day off.   

Ben: Yeah.  We had a blast. It was really fun.  We’ve always recorded in a house.  We’ve never been in a big studio but to be able to work that fast, with the ease of editing that new computers and pro-tools offers you, it was just pretty eye-opening.  My dream and goal would be for Great Lakes to make a record in that way some time.  Not with some enormous budget or crazy amount of time but just to be able to spend the required amount of time to make the record that we’re definitely capable of, that we’re really bursting at the seams to make.  We could make a really big professional-sounding record, we just don’t have the equipment to do it ourselves. That’s the hope. One day.   

SXP: Thanks!


Donald Ross Skinner interview by Tone

Donald Ross Skinner needs no introduction if you’re a fan of Julian Cope.  In 1984 he played guitar for Julian and stayed with him until 1994.  He has rejoined Julian for his last two UK tours.   Donald has just finished recording his first album with Chrissie Nicolson, who together are called Kiosk.  I spotted Donald playing guitar for AMP when they supported Interpol at 93 Feet East.  When I asked him for an interview, he was quite shocked that I wanted to talk to him until I quoted every band that I’ve seen him play in.  This is only his third ever interview.  Read on…

SXP: I first became aware of you because of your work with Julian Cope.  Legend has it you knocked on his front door and said: “can I play guitar with you?”.

DRS: Not quite true.  I knocked on his door because he moved back to Tamworth which is where I lived. (laughs)   I had been chucked by my girlfriend of 2 months and I had been playing all these records that depressed me – as you do! (laughs)   And I was playing ‘Wilder’ and I thought: he’s moved back to Tamworth, I’ll go down and get my album signed.   And Dorian - they weren’t married yet – opened the door and said “he’s in Liverpool”.  But I found out later he was hiding because it was his post- acid-paranoia-Teardrops-split-up business.   I called around again and he was actually away and then a mate of mine at school had been around to see him and we went around but I had known him nearly the best part of a year before he asked me to play.  It never occurred to me even though I was a guitar player.  It would be a normal thing to say but I didn’t ask.  Then there was a Kid Jensen session in January 1984 and he said “do you want to play on it?” or something.  Like, yes!  

SXP: By that stage I imagine you were quite a good guitar player.  What was your musical history prior to that: were you in bands?

DRS: Just, you know, mates at school, that sort of thing, playing at the local youth club.  I was in a band called DHSS; at that time there was a punk band called the Renaults – because of Renault cars – which I wasn’t in but that splintered and became DHSS and I got pally with them and joined but nothing more than that,  nothing serious.

SXP: Did you ever wish you were in The Teardrop Explodes?


DRS: No, I was just a fan at the time.  I only ever saw them once.  I saw them at Birmingham Odeon in 1982, just before ‘Wilder’ came out.


SXP: What was the first record that you played on?


DRS: It was from that session [for Kid Jensen] actually.   It was 24a Velocity Crescent, which was the b-side of The Greatness and Perfection of LoveThat was my first vinyl, which was a bit of a thrill.  


SXP: So you basically just carried on playing with him after that?


DRS: Yeah, he asked me to go on tour so I gave up my job but Steve Lovell, who produced him and played guitar, was in the band as well and there wasn’t enough for me to do really.  So I didn’t get to do that and I was passed over but more things started to creep in and I ended up doing demos with him in Birmingham at the Abbatoir, which is UB40’s place and it grew that way.  Eventually the first tour was like a week in Italy in 1985.  And that’s pretty much when the band started.


SXP: The famous Julian Cope Band.

DRS: JCB! (laughs)

SXP: Did you all get on well in the JCB?


DRS: Yeah, it was fun.


SXP: I got into it in 1986, I think.  The main reason I went was because it was Cope and the Mighty Lemon Drops on the same bill.


DRS: At the Boston Arms.  It was the first London gig we’d done.  It was packed, it was roasting hot and Sean Hughes was on the t-shirt stall.   He turned up with his mate and said “can we get in?”  The manager said “do you wanna do the merchandise stall?” which years later I found out about. 


SXP: I interviewed Paul Simpson (of Skyray and formally founder member of The Teardrop Explodes and the Wild Swans) and he toured (with the Wild Swans) with the Mighty Lemon Drops as support and they were looked on as gods.   How did they regard you?  They were big fans judging by their music.

DRS: Yeah, they were.  My band supported them.  It was Freight Train and the Lemon Drops at the Astoria but we supported them a lot and then they ended up doing the Boston Arms so there was always a link between both projects.  

SXP: How did Freight Train come about? 


DRS: That came out of DHSS, me and Barry who played bass. I just turned up for a rehearsal in the bedroom and he said “oh, the band’s split up” so we just carried on noodling on a four-track and we got a drummer in. 


SXP: It was just a three piece on record and just the one 7” single?


DRS.  Yeah.  And it was called Man’s Laughter/ Head on a Plate and Joss, Julian’s brother joined, then my brother Gavin joined.  It was good for a while; we went on tour with the Woodentops.   

SXP: And you did a session for Andy Kershaw as the Remayns with someone else on vocals?

DRS: Cally, who is Julian’s manager.  Julian was actually there with a wig on just being a character, pretending to be a guy called Block Bad but Cally kept calling him Julian all the time.  

SXP: because you did Spacehopper

DRS: First recording of Spacehopper.  Yeah, that was Freight Train with Cally. 

SXP: When you were working with Julian did you ever clash with Julian musically or did he give you free rein? 

DRS: Pretty much so.  You know, it was very much bouncing off each other. 

SXP: He had a lot of the writing because you’re not credited as a co-writer until quite late on. 

DRS: It was usually songs Julian had and I would make things up, add contributions and put things in.  It was only much later on when we were noodling about in his shed on four-track that a few took shape because that was both of us. 

SXP: I believe Mike Joyce (The Smiths) joined JCB at this time?


DRS: When was that?  About 1989.  I think we did three dates in Britain like a warm up and then a Japanese tour.   I think that’s all it was.  Julian used to introduce the band and he got the biggest cheer because of the Smiths.

SXP: Freight Train released one 7”.  Anything else in the can?


DRS: There’s stuff lying about and Julian is always threatening to compile it and I’m like: no, no.  To me it just sounds like a teenager.  It may be interesting one day - it makes me cringe, a lot of it. 


SXP: How was Joss because he hadn’t done a lot of music at that time has he? 


DRS: No, it was just messing about stuff.  He did stuff with Julian in the bedroom and they had a fictitious band called The Flids!  Not very PC.  


SXP: I find them both different characters.  Julian will say ‘hi’ and then ignore you but Joss is shy and quiet.  I got on really well with him and used to see him all the time.


DRS: Joss can talk up a storm when he wants; he’s quite animated and forthright.  I rarely see him and he lives 5 minutes walk from me.  I should make the effort really.  I’ll probably bump into him in Tamworth at Christmas.


SXP: All the time you were working with Julian, did you do anything else?


DRS:  No other band or anything like that but I knocked out some of my own tunes. Freight Train fizzled out.   It was happening at the same time for a while and we’d do some gigs but it ground to a halt.  I was with Julian for ten years. 


SXP: Was that around ‘Jehovahkill’? 


DRS: No, it was ‘Autogeddon’, that was the last album I was on.


SXP: Why did it come to an end?


DRS: It was a disagreement over something.


SXP: Have you heard the albums he’s done since and do you think that he’s gone forward?


DRS: Here and there.  I think he seemed to motor on the same thing, then he was doing his archaeology thing: the what you call it, stone circle books.  That consumed a lot of his time and he didn’t have a record deal any more which suits him down to the ground.   The last time I played with him was a few weeks ago in Newbury.  We just did this 24-minute funkathong thing called Twilight of the Motherfuckers! (laughs).  I don’t think he is fussed about being commercial.       


SXP: I think he got a lot of stick in Blackheath because I saw people go up to him and moan about him playing seated venues so he said “I can do a walkabout and do a 25 minute version of Sunspots”.   I think that’s great!


DRS: I would love to do another band tour but I don’t think it would happen.    


SXP: On the last two tours it was just the two of you and lots of computers and everything on DAT.  Was that better for you both?

DRS: It was good but I’d rather it was a band playing.   But it was quite enjoyable. 

SXP: You fell out when you didn’t record anymore but you didn’t fall out as friends?

DRS: No.  We didn’t speak for 8 years really.  I still need to sit down and read the second part of his autobiography all the way through but when it came out I scanned through it to see what he said about me and it was all good stuff.   

SXP: Paul Simpson told me that Julian has a photographic memory but he chooses not to mention everything.  That’s his way of getting out of things.

DRS: Yeah, nothing truly accurate; you make things up and you end up believing them. 

SXP: It was like with Paul: it was his comic that the name The Teardrop Explodes came from, not Julian’s.   What about the famous Hammersmith Palais incident, where Julian cut himself to pieces during Reynard the Fox?

DRS: That was the tour I never got. I got the next one. 

SXP: But he did it again: Japan, 1989.  How was that, as his friend and on stage with him?

DRS: I didn’t know he’d done it till he walked off the stage and I don’t think it was quite as frenzied as the original but maybe he was more aware of doing it. 

SXP: Maybe he was so stoned he didn’t feel any of it!  


DRS: (laughs) No, not stoned in Japan.  There was nothing there!  We smoked herbs: basil, no, parsley.  It was parsley and we got back and someone bumped into Mike Mooney three weeks later and he was still smoking parsley!  He got into it, which was really strange.


SXP: After the JCB thing finished, didn’t you feel unemployed?  Because it was rather full on.


DRS: Yeah, not so much as there were things to do.  I produced things for a while.  I did stuff for Cud, Salad, I did manga music.  So there were things to do. 


SXP: I had you down for producing Strangelove but you didn’t, you just played with them!


DRS: I produced Hysteria Unknown which was the first single off their first LP.


SXP: How did you find them to work with because they’re nice guys but Patrick is a bit intense.

DRS: He was intense at the time.

SXP: That was when he was really fucked up.

DRS: I didn’t really know. I know he drank but I was surprised when his manager stuck him into rehab.  He still is intense even though he doesn’t drink anymore.

SXP: I also have you down for Starfish, which Gavin plays on.  

DRS: Gavin was drumming, Dave Newton from the Lemon Drops and Susie was in The Katydids.

SXP: I believe there was a signed 7” which was 10 or 20 and a diamond encrusted 7” for 1,000.  These were mail order only. 

DRS: That’s news to me.  Starfish!  I’ve never heard of that.  That was just a one-off single. There were going to be more but Dave moved to America and it just fizzled out. 

SXP: Has Gavin been as prolific as you in bands?


DRS: Not in bands.  He’s written a bit.  he plays with Etienne Daho, who is huge in France. 


SXP: And after that you were in the second line up of Tiger.   How did that come about?  How do you choose who you’re going to work with?


DRS: Well, Tiger were managed by Cerne as was Starfish as well as Strangelove and the Lemon Drops.  So they didn’t have a drummer and they wanted to rehearse a few new songs.  So they got Gavin in and then Gavin had to go away so I stood in for Gavin on drums.  Gavin had worked out some songs at Island Studios and when he was away I went in for a bit of pre-production.   Then they got in Stephen Street but I got a few production [credits] on their last album ‘Rosaria’ (Tugboat Records).   Then me and Gavin got the Tiger/Pulp tour with them, that was the ‘This is Hardcore’ tour with Eels.  That was good fun.


SXP: And I believe you produced Beat Glider.


DRS: Yeah.  I was in Prolapse for a while.  I end up in bands.


SXP: What attracts you to bands?


DRS: Sometimes it’s just me.  Someone rings up and says “do you wanna work on this?” and usually I’m into it anyway.  Prolapse, I wasn’t familiar with.  Then you work with them and you end up joining them.  It just happens.  I haven’t produced anything for a while, apart from being involved with my local studio. 


SXP: Do you miss the buzz of an audience? 


DRS: Yeah, just doing it and being on tour.  I like going on tour, something to take yourself out of yourself for a week or two. 


SXP: Anything I missed that you’ve been involved in?


DRS: Subjagger.  I played a few gigs with them. 


SXP: Any plans to work with Julian Cope again?


DRS: Yeah.  He’s busy, writing the follow up to ‘The Modern Antiquarian’. 


SXP: Has he ever done anything that has offended you?


DRS: No, not really, we could always talk sense in the bar.


SXP: He seems down to earth and now he’s more experimental.   What he’s doing isn’t post-rock or Krautrock but it’s heavy rock.  I don’t buy everything now just because it’s Julian, because he’s done a lot of nonsense in the last few years. 


DRS: I’d probably agree with that.  He wouldn’t mind you saying that. 


SXP: I’ve heard the two Brain Donor singles but I don’t think I need to hear the album. 


DRS: Well, he loves Kiss.  He’s making a Brain Donor movie!  I’ve got a part in it apparently! (laughs).  This guy Mark Locke from Tamworth is making it.  He did a Ten Benson video.  Apparently he’s really good. 


SXP: Who are the people you look up to, musically? I assume it was punk rock. 


DRS: Yeah, I usually liked who was on Whistle Test’s New Year’s Eve/Christmas Eve specials.  So I had a year of loving Queen, then Rod Stewart, then the Kinks did their thing and I thought they were awful.  The Who were the first thing that got to me and loads of stuff after that.  Sly and the Family Stone was my favourite thing.  It’s been a long time since I hunched into anything.


SXP: Did you like Interpol?


DRS: I thought they sounded good but they didn’t have any songs.  The singing was a bit mumbled. 


SXP: Onto AMP.  How did you get involved with them?   


DRS: I was driving them.  That’s my other half life.   My friend Ben drives bands around and when he doesn’t do it, I do.  Because it means getting out of the studio and hitting the road and it’s usually fun.


SXP: Would you like to write a book?


DRS: I thought about it today actually, but I don’t think there’s a book in me.  I have written a lot of lyrics this year. 


SXP: Would you like to sing.


DRS: No.


SXP: Don’t you think your voice is good enough? 


DRS: I can sing when I write in the studio.  For my new band Kiosk I just write them and sing them in the studio and then give them to Chrissie the real singer and I usually fuzz mine up but that’s not my method.


SXP: Anything else you’re working on?


DRS: There’s a girl called Tally who comes in with songs with no music and we have a click track and then me and my brother and Andy do something.  


SXP: Future plans?


DRS: Just carry on with this.  See how it goes.


SXP: Thanks for your time. 

The Mendoza Line interview by Ged M

Mendoza13.jpg (85422 bytes)

The Mendoza Line released their excellent fourth album ‘Lost In Revelry’ on Cooking Vinyl in late September.  It’s an album of contrasts: soft and loud, swaggering and introspective, sad and triumphant, hopeful and hateful, all parcelled up in one life-stained package and deposited on a barstool between American Music Club and The Replacements.   The Mendoza Line are: Peter Hoffman (guitar, vocals), Timothy Bracy (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Paul Deppler (bass), Shannon Mary McArdle (guitar, vocals) and Sean Fogerty (drums).   They play in London on 7 and 8 January  2003.  SXP spoke to Timothy Bracy in November 2002.

SXP: 'The Mendoza Line' in baseball seems to be the dividing line between success and failure. Why did you choose that name?

Timothy Bracy: Well, I guess it sort of evoked for us intriguing questions about the nature of "success" as a band.  So many of our heroes in music, the people that inspired us and who we emulated - Big Star, the Replacements, American Music Club - were not really well received in their own time.  That was fascinating and frustrating to us. By choosing the name The Mendoza Line, it was sort of like choosing sides with those bands. You know, like: "if that's what it means to fail- to be like the 'Mats or AMC- then we choose failure".

SXP: How did the Mendoza Line come together? 

Timothy Bracy: Pete and I were friends from childhood and began playing music together when we were teenagers.  After college we sort of met up in Athens to put a band together, which had been our plan for many, many years. First we called the band the Incompetones, because we were not good, and really had no intention of being good.  We didn't want to mislead anyone.  But then we sort of inadvertently improved, so we figured we'd better change the name.  The others we just sort of roped into it - Margaret, Lori, Paul - they were friends, girlfriends, whatever.  They were present at the time so we compelled them to participate.  We met Shannon later, and she had very much a complimentary sensibility, so we figured she'd better join up.  This was the case in Athens that nearly everyone we knew wrote stories, painted, played in bands. it was very informal and a lot of fun.

SXP: You can hear echoes of a lot of classic songwriters on your songs. Who are your major influences? 

Timothy Bracy: Well there are many.  Obviously Dylan and Costello who we consider to be quite easily the greatest writers in the folk/pop tradition, certainly in the second half of the 20th century.  But Richard Thompson, Van Morrison, The Stones, Paul Westerberg and Mark Eitzel are constantly on our minds as well.  And many, many others.

SXP: There's a wicked Dylan-sounding vocal on A Damn Good Disguise. Is that homage or parody? 

Timothy Bracy: It wasn't a conscious homage, it's just that the influence is so deeply ingrained, it's difficult not to model one's phrasing and inflection after Dylan. A Damn Good Disguise was actually an effort to record something in the manner of Sweet Virginia from 'Exile On Main Street - we really didn't have Dylan specifically in mind on that track - but obviously his work casts a long shadow over all of our material.

SXP: There is a real variety of songwriting on the album, and a marked difference between the Bracy/Hoffman compositions and the McArdle ones. Are those differences hard to manage in the band? 

Timothy Bracy: Well, we sort of encourage the differences, rather than attempting to make the material all uniform. It seems like a more exciting way to make records.  Our influences and sensibilities are really very much alike, so it is rare that we would object to the direction one of us might like to take a song or a recording. In general the creative differences are really easier to manage than the personal differences, which are similar to those of a family.  They arise as a by-product of the closeness we feel towards one another, but can be deeply felt and tricky to resolve.

SXP: We're All in This Alone (great title!) is a song on the new album and the title of your 2000 album. Was it intended to be on the earlier album? 

Timothy Bracy: Well, I think the song did exist at that time, but we just didn't record it then for whatever reason. It does seem rather perverse.  There is also a song called Lost in Revelry which we neglected to put on the ‘Lost in Revelry’ CD.  As with many things related to the band, it doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense...

SXP: The McArdle songs I'm That and Red Metal Doors have a breathy Mazzy Star or Breeders quality. Is Shannon a fan? 

Timothy Bracy: Interestingly, Shannon has never spent much time listening to either band.  She is constantly surprised at the Mazzy Star comparison, because she has heard only one song of theirs, the one that was a hit.  Also she has never spent much time with the Breeders, although I do believe she likes the Pixies pretty well.  But really her biggest role model as a vocalist is Elvis Costello, whose harmonies and background vocals are a source of mild obsession for her.  She has also expressed real admiration for the singing of Dusty Springfield, Gram and Emmylou, Tammy Wynette, and amongst contemporary artists, Neko Case and Ron

SXP: Your press releases are funny but self-deprecating, especially the Bar/None one. Don't you believe in the usual rock trick of hyping up your band? 

Timothy Bracy: Oh, I don't know.  I don't think there's anything too impressive about writing and singing rock and roll songs. I think it's a fine thing - even a good thing - to do with your life.  But to us, this idea that rock singers should be conflated to the level of demi-gods is just so silly.  I think we're a good band, but it isn't as though we've brought peace to the Middle East or something. We're proud of what we do, but we don't need to celebrate ourselves in that manner.

SXP: The lyrics of Peter and Tim in particularly are gloriously barbed on the subject of relationships. How much of that is autobiographical and is it hard to write about such subjects? 

Timothy Bracy: No, it's rather easy for us to air our grievances in this way.  It's more a reflex than anything.  Both Pete and I are probably guilty of being far more straightforward in articulating our discontent in our songs than in our actual lives.  We're more comfortable expressing anger and frustration in this sort of indirect way.  Shannon is also very articulate about these things in her songs, but she doesn't have such a difficult time saying it to your face either...

SXP: If a fortune teller looked at your loveline, what would she predict for your romantic future? 

Timothy Bracy: Oh God only knows.  I'm sure that Shannon will eventually be very happily married with a family, and the rest of us will end up in jail, or maybe a military tribunal of some kind.  It is entirely possible that Pete and I will end up as old men, living in a cabin somewhere together, having discovered through a process of elimination that no woman on earth can tolerate either of us for an extended period of time.

SXP: You're coming to England in January. Is this your first time and are you looking forward to it? 

Timothy Bracy: The others have travelled more than I have, but it will be my first time overseas and I am very much looking
forward to it.  
Very much.  It is such a thrill to get see new places and play music while we do it.  I can't get over our good fortune.

SXP: When you lived in Athens, Georgia, were you part of the Elephant 6 crowd? Are they an influence on you?

Timothy Bracy: We were, and remain, very friendly with a lot of that crowd, but it was not something we ever really felt a part of aesthetically.  And I can't say it was really too much of an influence.  Although we enjoyed a few of the bands - Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, Of Montreal - the "retro" aspect was not very appealing to us.  We like sixties music very much, but we've never really
esteemed it beyond the contemporary music we grew up with: Costello, the Replacements, the Smiths, Joy Division, AMC.  Why fetishize the music of our parent's generation so much, when the music of our generation was every bit as creative and daring?  That was always our concern with it.  But it was a good time, and they are very nice folks.

SXP: What are your career highlights to date? 

Timothy Bracy: Oh gosh, it's all been a lot of fun.  Travelling around the country, seeing all these cities, meeting nice people and playing songs.  Writing and recording.  These are things we just really delight in doing so it's really been sort of one extended highlight.  Playing music to an audience is really just a privilege, so we try to enjoy every minute until they stop letting us do it, which I'm certain will be imminently...