interviews page 9
The Bandits interview by Paul M, Ged M and Kev O
The Bandits are John (vocals), Gary (guitar), Scott (bass), Richie (lead guitar), Tony (organ) and Swee (drums). Emerging in a haze of weed smoke on Merseyside, theyre in the premiership of Liverpool bands with their cosmic scouse music, with echoes of Love, Beefheart, The Doors, Sinatra, country, world music; you name it, its in the blend. Since Liverpool was a major port city, the whole world seemed to come through those docks. So, in musical terms, why not expect that variety of influences to be assimilated and re-exported? The Bandits established the becoming-legendary Bandwagon nights at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool, where recently (May 2003) Noel Gallagher, in Liverpool because Man City were playing at Anfield, turned up to try out a couple of new Oasis tunes. The Bandits released their first single, The Warning, in 2002 on B-Unique/Centro Del Blanco, followed by Once Upon A Time. The new single Take It And Run comes out on 16 June, followed by the debut album later in the summer. We met the band on 2 May, before their gig at the University of London Union with Hot Hot Heat and Har Mar Superstar.
SXP: Hows the tour going?
Swee: This is the third gig and then were going back to Liverpool to play the Bandwagon while they go to Dublin. Its been good up to now.
John: Were all on the same label so its like a label tour. This is the first one that Har Mar is doing with us. Hes had his [medical] problems, which have been well publicised. Weve just met him going around in his wheelchair. Apparently, there are going to be some nurses involved!
Swee: Were sharing this dressing room with him so Im hoping that the nurses might come up and share the attention out!
SXP: Tell us about the Bandwagon Club at The Zanzibar.
John: We started it about a year and a half ago. It was just set up as a little residency for us, just to play once a month. So we were running round, ringing our mates up, trying to get them to do a few acoustic songs or something before we played, just to make the night more of an event. From there we started thinking that we dont need to go out and get gigs. We knew the fella who owned The Zanzibar; we went to him and said: give us a residency, well DJ, well get the punters in. At first it was slow but we started getting a name, getting a reputation. We had bands: The Coral went big after theyd been playing it. And then the Zutons. Scott knew The Music and we got The Music on as well. It started steamrollering into this big thing and then Soundtrack Of Our Lives got media attention, and the Libertines played there as well. And then we toured with the Libertines out in Spain. That was good fun: good lads!
SXP: Is there a big house on Merseyside with you, The Zutons and The Coral all living in it?
John: *laughs* No, but there used to be a little house on Hale Road which Im sure you dont know and a band called Tramp Attack mostly used to live there. Dave out of the Zutons used to live there and Gary sort of lived there for a while with his girlfriend. Everyone used to congregate round there after going out and playing music and just got wrecked, basically. That may not have been the start of it all but it was an important factor in the whole Liverpool scene.
SXP: The same bands are mentioned in interviews: Beefheart, Love
John: Thats it. We all became friends because of the same music and the things we like. If you go out, you end up dancing to the same songs. For us, whatevers good goes, if its got that undeniable element about it: it could be the Stones or Burt Bacharach, anyone, from whatever country and whatever time.
SXP: Are bands moving away from the influence of the Las?
John: The Las are a brilliant band and we all love them. A lot of bands were into the Las, and you want to be like the Las but I think we all want to be a bit more than the Las too.
SXP: Do you recognise the term used to describe the Liverpool scene: cosmic scouse?
Swee: Theres also Mersey-sippi. And Liver-cool!
John: A lot gets bandied around but its just music at the end of the day and we try not to be pigeonholed.
SXP: Theres always been a fascination in Liverpool with the psychedelic element: bands like Echo and the Bunnymen .
John: and the Teardrop Explodes. Yeah, I can see that. Theres been a dabbling with the slightly left of centre, never mainstream. And I think were the same.
Swee: Its like we said to Noel [Gallagher]: do you like Love? And he said no, its a Scouse thing!
SXP: How did you come together?
John: Gary and Scott were in the same school. I met Dunne just after being at school and we all ended up knowing each other through mutual friends.
Swee: I knew Gary independently from living elsewhere.
John: Richie was in our rehearsal rooms. He got the wrong room! We said: youll do! Wed been playing together for a while and then we got Swee and Richie and a year and a half ago it all kicked off. We just started rehearsing, recorded for John Leckie, showed that around and we had a few record labels after us.
SXP: Is it true that he did it for free because he liked you?
John: He did that pretty much for free. Im not sure if the label ended up paying for it or not but it was free at the time. With maybe a thought to the future.
SXP: Hows the album coming on?
John: Weve got about two more days for a few more percussion bits and maybe a few more backing vocals. Its good having the time away from it so you can have a listen to it with fresh ears. It just needs a bit of tweaking here and there and then itll be ready. It sounds brilliant. Im made up with it!
SXP: Whats it called? Weve seen different names.
John: What have you heard?
SXP: Red Lorry, Mellow Lorry. *room erupts into laughter*
John: That was him [points to Swee] when he was bad!
SXP: Also A Fistful of Green and And They Walked Away.
John: And They Walked Away is the latest and I think were sticking with that one. Thats my favourite for now.
SXP: We saw you at Shepherds Bush, supporting the Vines. How did that tour go?
John: We played the big arenas and it set us in good stead for when we played the Oasis tour and we played huge venues. But it was a bit strange: we were at the bottom of the bill and we werent getting big soundchecks. We didnt get much love off The Vines really but Nada Surf were a great band to tour with: sound fellas. Their drummer came on and did Guns of Brixton with us in a big cowboy hat!
SXP: Youve got festivals coming up. Are you nervous?
John: No, Im looking forward to it, especially Glastonbury. Hopefully were going to have loads of the bands who played the Bandwagon - The Hokum Clones, The Stands, The Zutons with us, one after the other. Itll be great a feeling of home. Especially with Glastonbury being the place where we sort of started getting the idea together. Its a great place and weve always wanted to play there. T In The Park and Wittness: were looking forward to them too.
Swee: Were doing the Fuji Festival in Japan too.
SXP: Why did you choose to cover the MC5s Looking At You?
Swee: Ive always liked the MC5, since I was a kid. I told the other boys and it was like: wow lets do it! You can shoot yourself in the foot with cover versions but if you get the right one and do it right you can make it your own.
John: Looking At You is amazing. I love it because Im a singer and I love the melodies, the energy about it, and the solos.
Swee: Its mad. With Guns of Brixton, we made it our own and we got to play with Joe Strummer. Then Joe Strummer dies! And we do the MC5 song and three of the members get back together for a gig sponsored by Levis! So well do Voodoo Chile next and Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding will get back together with some jive guitar!
John: Jimi Hendrix will be resurrected! Thats the curse of the Bandits. Everytime we go and record something, something bad happens like someones nan dies. The first time we went in to record was September 11th!
SXP: Youve had The Warning remixed by the Mad Professor. How did that come about?
John: We havent met him unfortunately, but hes playing the Bandwagon this month. Someone from our record company got in touch with him. We wanted someone from the other side of our influences, the reggae side. He did a dub of it. We released a live version of Guns of Brixton on the other side to show our reggae influence, on a 12, disco style!
SXP: You do a really good version of the song.
John: Nice one. Ive got records of the Clash doing it live. I thought that, because of this lot behind me, we did it better than the Clash because of all the intricacies of the song.
Swee: Joe Strummer actually said to us that it was a very musical version! We asked him if he was getting up with us to do it and he said: nah, its Simmos tune, innit!
SXP: Whats the most rock n roll thing youve done?
John: Getting Swee in the band!
Swee: I set myself on fire. That was quite rock n roll.
John: Hes gone through all the elements. He set himself on fire, hes walked into service stations and thrown water around everywhere, then denied it and did it again!
Swee: I woke up once in a hotel, on the floor. I could see the marks where the bed legs should have been. I looked at the window and the bed was jammed halfway in and out of the window it was stuck! I actually threw a Queen Anne chesterfield armchair out of a window one night. It landed on railings and split. These two fellas picked it up and took it off, and then there was a knock at the door. I thought shit! and opened the door and they were there with a brand new chair for me! *laughs* That was ages ago: Im calm now!
SXP: I take it you werent exactly sober?
Swee: No, I was under the influence of .several things. But Im not like that anymore. I cant do it you get into trouble!
SXP: You banned from any hotels?
Swee: Yeah, but you just assume a different name!
John: This is his third name.
Swee: We all had different names when we came back from Spain, names like Nathan Scoundrel. We had this period of speaking in Australian accents as well. Full on, all day long, for a week solid. It was getting too real. People believed us.
John: Apart from Daniel, Garys little brother, whos accent was terrible! It was getting too much for our heads. I actually took it on stage once: gidday, fair dinkum! Its the fatigue of touring. You just do these things to fill the time.
SXP: Are all of the stories about you true or embellished?. Like the Peter Beardsley one.
John: Yeah, Garys nan used to live round the corner from Peter Beardsley. He used to call him The Little Bandit cos he always had a Smith and Wesson cap gun. Thats where the name comes from. Of course he didnt say call your band The Bandits when you grow up! Or whatever you do in life, call it the Bandits! But thats where it comes from. And if you change it round, it becomes itsthebanditsthebanditstheband . We didnt realise that until another boring session!
The Suffrajets interview by Micky K
I posted the Suffrajets gig [see Gig reviews page May 2003] on the SoundsXP notice board (as I always do), but everybody was busy. Ah, sod the lot of you Im going on my own anyway. Whats more important, a Champions League semi-final or the future of Rock n Roll? Theres no saving some people. Then came the e-mail from the Eds. Micky, are you going to The Suffrajets gig tonight? Duh! Stupid question as everybody knows I go to all their gigs if I can. Any chances you can do an interview while youre there?
Before diving headlong into the nuts and bolts of the evening, heres a very quick resume of The Suffrajet - They first came to fame on a Satellite TV Programme called Roadies. At that time they were a 3-piece, and incredibly young. They had something special about them even then. I saw them for the first time about 2 years ago and immediately saw they had some sort of spark. They released a couple of EPs that didnt really trouble the charts, but had hints of things to come. They toured, toured, and tour some more, honing their live act into a finely tuned rock and roll machine. Things were looking good, and labels were sniffing. Anyway, spin forwards to the end of April 2002 and they were involved in a horrendous motoring accident that wrote off their tour bus, and put their bass player Charlie in hospital with a smashed collarbone. They were lucky to get out alive. Following the accident, it all went quiet for several months. No gigs or releases were forthcoming, and to most people thought that was it, we wont see them again. Then, out of nowhere earlier this year, they returned with a new 4-piece line up, minus Charlie, but with an additional guitarist. The return gig was at the Garage, and they blew the other bands away with a performance that can only be described as the greatest come back since Lazarus. It was as tight as I remembered from before, just bigger and better. Anyway, thats enough of the history lesson.
So there I was, rushing across town at breakneck speed in the Monkey mobile for an 8 oclock rendezvous with arguably the best young live band in London with recorder in hand, and hastily prepared notes in my pocket. God knows what the poor girls thought when I boarded their tour bus breathing heavily with more than a healthy sweat forming on my brow. At the back of the bus I found them encamped round the single table. Alex (singer and guitarist), Sam (bass and vocals), and sister Shelley (guitar and vocals) sitting on the small bench seats, while Gemma (drums) is perched up on the top bunk with the air of the King (or should that be Queen) of the castle. The greeting is warm, the atmosphere relaxed and there is a surprising lack of alcoholic beverages on show (though there is an abundance of Marlboro Lights tick!). They talk freely, and the air of the bus is more like an extended family holiday that a hotbed of hedonism. Up the front it the tour manager, who has both the air of a kindly uncle, mixed in with the hardness of life on the road. You can imagine him changing the wheels on the bus without needing to use the jack. Also, I bet they never have any trouble getting paid by local promoters. They also have a crew with them, 2 young guys who say little but are there for their technical acumen not their conversational skills. Also on the bus is their record company rep, who you can just tell is passionate about them without being gushy and over the top. She doesnt sit over them and oversee everything they say or do, and doesnt need to as shes more than aware that these kids are more suss than the average 20 year old. Shes always within earshot, chipping in amusing anecdotes or reminiscing about events in the past. Ive been there 5 minutes and I feel like getting an acoustic guitar out and singing Summer Holiday. Everythings cool, and theyre chatty. Working in this industry means I get to meet quite a few celeb types, and believe me when I say its normally the young ones who have chips on their shoulders and rotten attitudes. If only all interviews were as pleasant as this.
You first can to public attention in the TV Programme Roadies, has that had a positive effect on your career, or was a bit of an albatross?
Alex: I was good for us, gave us a lot of exposure when we were relatively unknown and generated a lot of positive feedback.
Gemma: It was embarrassing though watching it back later. I didnt say that did I?
Is that still how the majority of your audience know you?
G: Its about 50/50, that and the fact that we had been gigging almost constantly for 2 years. Weve probably done over 500 gigs by now, so from back in those days thats where most of our fan base has from come up and down the country. We dont have any mates at home anymore, theyre scattered all over the country!
500 gigs? It does show in your performances.
G: Really? Thats cool thanks!
A: Were good!
Do you ever think when you come off stage after a show that youre really good?
G: When we come off stage we can be like were the fucking bollocks! The adrenalins flowing and if its been a good gig you just cant beat that.
A: I nearly threw up after the last gig from all the adrenalin, but it makes you feel confident in your own ability.
G: You can never get too confident though, cos it comes across and people dont like you for it.
Shelley: Yeah, it can get fake.
A: Its not like weve got big egos or anything.
G: You can never think youre the best, theres always ways to get better.
As long as youre enjoying it, it will always come across.
A: Thats it, we just love it man!
You were a 3-piece, then you disappeared for months before re-emerging as a 4-piece minus Charlie the bass player. What happened there?
A: Well basically we got booted up the arse by an articulated lorry in our old tour bus. It took the fire brigade an hour to cut us out, and Charlie got a really badly broken collarbone that took 4 months to heal. Following that she couldnt get back on board the bus again. We didnt play live for over 10 months after the accident.
G: It was a quite amicable split. We couldnt make her stay with us.
So there was nothing untoward under the surface then?
A: Oh no, we were tight, we were a firm, everyone who knew us knew that. It was a shame at the time, but now obviously weve got these two and were rocking out again. Youve got to move on if you want to get somewhere. Youve got to go for it, you cant look back.
So how did you get Sam and Shelley involved? Did you know them before?
G: It was typical Suffrajet fate; everything that happens to us is fate. I believe the crash was fate now, cos were back fifty times stronger. It was literally the day after we had the talk with Charlie; we were in the pub,
A: the Entertainer of all names
G: and our mate said I know 2 girls who play, so we met them and bang, thats done! Oh, and on the back of our old tour bus it said Walker in big black letters.
Sam: And were the Walker sisters.
G: Now thats fate!
Sh: It was meant to be.
So if fate hadnt conspired for you to meet the girls, and a good male bass player had come along, would you have taken him on or did it have to be a female?
G: We discussed it, and yeah we would have done but probably not as a permanent member. I mean you cant be called the Suffrajets with a guy in it really, but we were desperate just to play again at that time. The bass player from King Prawn volunteered to fill in for us but it never came about in the end.
A: Wed have had to put him in a wig and dress, and shave his beard off!
G: Bless him!
So now youve got 4 members, how has that changed things?
A: Oh, such a difference, totally. Initially it was strange having been a 3 piece for so long. We were looking for a bass player just so we could get out and gig again, but they said we come as a pair, so you have to take both of us.
Sm: I think it makes it more powerful.
G: In reviews weve had in the past its been said that we lacked the second guitar that would give us that lift we needed. Now weve got cock-rock solos, 3 part harmonies and you cant beat it!
How did a British band with an average age of 19 manage to get a gig at the famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go?
G: The guys we were recording with in the U.S.A. got us the gig. They went there and said weve got this great band from England that youve got to put on and the rest is history.
Favourable reaction from the locals?
A: Yeah it was great, they really took to us. We were booked to play the Viper Room as well, but because of the 9/11 incident they were shutting everything down.
G: We were meant to be flying back on that day. Another bit of fate!
A: It was a crazy gig, great fun. There are all these signs up saying no stage diving, no moshing and this and that, and were thinking oh no this is going to be shit. Then when youre playing, in between songs where in England the crowd would be yelling and stuff, theyd be applauding and from out of nowhere youd hear rock n roll and wed be all whoa, they really do that!
G: You see it in films and videos, but you dont believe it really happens.
A: It was like being in Waynes World!
So youve been recording in the U.S.A. then?
G: Yeah, weve been doing some new songs.
A: And re-recording our older stuff, cos now weve a different line up we sound totally different to our original recordings. It had to be done.
G: Weve got a new single called Distinction out on July 7th.
A: And a launch party at the Garage on the 6th.
Having heard your early recordings, its probably fair to say that you havent as yet captured you live sound and energy. Do you think the producers that youre using this time have managed to do it?
A: That was the main fear for all of us. Can we get this live sound weve got across. So weve got a producer that understands us and seen us play live, and he got us in the studio, whipped us up and licked us into shape.
G: It was all very energetic and raw. Some of my drum tracks were done in two takes instead of sitting in a studio all day doing take after take to get it right.
A: It was all very chilled out.
Sh: He wanted to capture it as we are.
Did you have input into the mixing, or was it a case of leave it to us we know what were doing?
A: Oh no, we know what we want and theyd involve us and say what do you think of this. Wed be, no, this or that needs to go up or down or whatever, so we had a lot of say in it.
With some big name producers you can get a case of been there done that, we know better than you.
G: Were fortunate that weve got quite a lot of recording experience, so they gave us respect in the fact we knew what we were doing, and what sound we wanted. Were not all over excited in the studio, and demanding that were all louder than the other members in the band.
A: Every band knows how they want to sound, and should be allowed to have a say in it, but you need a good producer to bring out the little things in the mix and apply the polish. Thats where you have to trust in their experience.
When can we expect to see the album in the shops?
A: Probably around Christmas or New Year.
Quite a way off then?
A: Yeah but weve got a couple of singles to release before then.
Sm: Three singles I think.
A: Thats the plan, at the moment! Weve recorded 16 tracks, but that will probably end up as 13 or 14 on the finished album.
G: I wanted to do a 35-track album!
A: Well we do have enough songs to do that. You should have heard us deciding what songs went on. We all wanted different tracks so we recorded all the songs we really wanted, then we can argue afterwards about which ones go on.
Sm: You never know how theyre going to turn out until youve recorded them properly.
How many new tracks have made the cut?
G: 6 or 7 totally new ones, as in songs we hadnt already recorded before in America.
Any Jazz odysseys, or just pure Suffrajets?
G: Its pure Suffrajets, with a bit of cock-rock!
A: One track goes on a while, and we just leave Sam to it.
Sm: Its got the touch of the Walker sisters now!
G: I always say it cos its true, weve got a pop song, a punk song, a grunge song and a rock song. We never say we cant write that because its not like us. Theres not a typical style of music we do, we do everything. Its quite a mixture.
Sh: Theres no limits really.
A: It does make it difficult to decide on the order of songs on the album though.
Sm: You cant limit yourself or try to fit to a pigeonhole cos you run the risk of becoming predictable.
It sounds like youre getting good support from your record label?
A: Yeah, were the main band on the subsidiary label, so theyre putting a lot behind us. Obviously its not always smooth and there are the usual record company disagreements. They like a bit of a row so we have to sort them out, bat them over the head then tell them we love em!
G: They love it. In fact they only do it cos they love it. The Abbotts, theyre good boys and have been good to us.
So back on the road over the next couple of months then?
G: Were doing the Ladyfest Tour with Kat Wife and The Metro club in July
(Record Company Rep: Thats been extended for a few more dates in July, and a big date in Liverpool for Ladyfest and the Big Issue)
A: See, they never tell us this. They turn up round our houses early in the morning in the bus and tell us were gigging again!
G: Its true, we get on in our pyjamas and go back to sleep.
A: If you wake up on the bus, you have to think for a second before realising its ok, we still must be on tour. Done it so many times, wake up and think, ah, not going home again today!
You spend a lot of time touring and gigging, so which band are you waiting for to call you up and offer you a support slot?
A: The Foo Fighters, probably.
Do you think youd appeal to their audience?
A: I think theyd get us and understand where were coming from.
Sm: Green day would be pretty close.
A: I think thats the only comparison you can make that gets anywhere near to us, somewhere between The Foos and Green Day.
G: We were talking about this only last night, put those two in a blender with a bit of pop, a bit of the old Zeppelin cock-rock, that would be us.
A bit of Metallica and S Club 7?
G: Yeah youve got it!
Sm: Now thats the new original sound!
G: Actually while I think of it, and this hasnt been announced yet, were supporting Liberty-X and N-Trance at the Coventry Music Festival on July 26th.
A: Oh yes!.
G: Us, a dance act, N-Trance and Liberty-X.
A: Oh yes!
Sh: Cant imagine whats going to happen that day!
A lot of laughing Id guess!
A: Yeah, but itll probably be a lot of 5 year olds, so at least we wont get bottled.
Sh: Its quite scary really.
A: Well, a lot of scared 5 year olds anyway.
With all the gigs youve done, have there been any bands that have supported you that you think have what it takes to be successful?
A: Bloody hell, theres been so many.
G: Span, theyre a Norwegian band that are wicked. The Fantastic Super Foofs.
A: Oh, at the Metro. They were great.
G: Chris Martin form Coldplay came to see us at that gig. Theres the Water Rats gang of bands like InMe and Reuben.
A: So many bands, but not that many stick out as really special.
G: I like Antiproduct, with all the colours and UV, its wicked. Bungee Jump People Must Die, its mad!
You dont do any covers, but if you had the opportunity which ones would you do?
G: We did Suffrajet City once.
A: That was cool. I know Muse have already done it, but its like my anthem so Id love to do Feelin Good.
G: I really want, and it sounds funny, but I can hear it in my head and it would work.
G: Shakira Whenever Wherever.
G: No serious, cos Sams voice, Sam sounds like her.
A: Ha . Im Sorry!
G: Seriously, you sound like her dont you?
Sm: (agrees grudgingly).
G: Its quite an easy drumbeat and we could really rock it up. But wed never actually do it!
Sm: Id like to do that Justin Timberlake one.
G: We tried the guitar for that one as well.
Sh: I think we should do a Liberty-X cover.
A: Ha, especially for the 26th.
(They burst into an impromptu shouty version of Sexy before rolling about in fits of laughter)
G: Wouldnt you want to do a Guns n Roses song?
Sh: Yeah, Sweet Child O Mine. Nah, you cant force cock-rock down everybodys neck.
Sm: We could do a Bon Jovi song so she can do her big solo.
Living On A Prayer?
A: Oh yeah, I can just see Shell doing that.
Final question, and a serious one to end on, whats more important, commercial success or artistic integrity?
G: Commercial success does allow you to do the things you want I suppose, and I do want to be a celebrity.
A: I know you want to be a celebrity, we just wanna play thats all!
G: That didnt come out right, you know that. Hopefully our artistic integrity will generate commercial success.
A: The way I look at it, we just fucking play. We get up there, we play. We dont think about whether people will like it or not. You either will or you wont, if you dont like it you dont have to listen, but you wont stop us playing. Thats the bottom line. If you can earn money doing something you love, bonus mate!
Sm: We dont even think about it when we write.
A: We just do what we like
So if you could survive doing what you are now, youd still carry on regardless?
A: Of course. If it doesnt take off were still gonna play.
G: The point I was trying to make is that you ask any musician would you rather stay touring doing little gigs here and there, or have 10 million albums sold, theyll take the latter every time cos more people get to hear your music and see your gigs. As long as you have control of you music why not be successful? Just because it is, doesnt mean youre selling out. Anybody who says they dont want to sell a lot of records is lying, not because of the money in particular, but because you get people to hear your songs. Does that make any sense?
Sm: The songs are the most important thing, and performing them is why you do it in the first place.
A: But we all do it just to play live. Thats why I do it.
Sh: You get a kick out of it, you cant beat it.
A: The bottom line is being out there and going mental, just having a laugh, thats it. Thats what its all about.
At this point we concluded the interview, and the girls did their patented Hooray! Song (this involves Gemma slapping a pattern out on her legs, and then all shouting Hooray in the breaks. The switch of youth has been flicked back for a few seconds, and for a moment they are no longer the Great White Hope of British Rock n Roll, but 4 young girls enjoying a private joke between them. You forget the seriousness and professionalism and see the spark of youth that sets them apart for the flock of overly serious fop topped excuses for bands that are treading the boards at venues all round the country every night.
If I wasnt a convert before the interview, I certainly am now. Their enthusiasm for playing music is both frightening, and compelling. The heart is well and truly pinned upon their sleeves, and it beats with the soul of good old-fashioned rock.
I leave them to their pre-gig preparations and adjourn to the venue to sink a beer and absorb the last half an hour. At times its easy to forget that these girls are barely out of their teens, that they are more worldly wise that most of the audience they play to, yet they still have the ability to still enjoy their youth. No matter what they say about success (and theres no doubt that with the correct amount of backing from their record company it will come), you know they are here for the right reasons, and for the long stretch.
& Naomi: Naomi Yang
Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski played bass and drums in the mercurial and much-loved Galaxie 500 on the cusp of the 80s/90s. Following one EP as Pierre Etoile, they became Damon & Naomi and released their first album as a duo, More Sad Hits, in 1991 featuring Damon on vocals, guitar and percussion and Naomi on vocals and bass. They collaborated with Japanese psych-folk band Ghost for a 2000 album, appropriately titled Damon & Naomi with Ghost. Their most recent album is 2002s live Song To The Siren with Ghosts Kurihara, a combination of live show in San Sebastian and DVD of the tour. Over the decade, descriptions have ranged from slow and mysterious to sadcore, dream-pop, acid-folk and an eerily incandescent pairing of melancholy souls who carved a niche for themselves as the bedsit maestros of the fragile, world weary pop classic (by the wonderful Ptolemaic Terrascope). Since 1990, theyve also run their own publishing house, Exact Change, publishing and reprinting works of experimental literature including Apollinaire, Dali, Jarry and Kafka. They play the Bush Hall in London on 28 May. We spoke to Naomi in the US in May 2003.
SXP: You've been involved in music since the late 1980s. How do you keep motivated through the cycle of recording and touring? What keeps it fresh for you?
Naomi: Well, we are not exactly the type of musicians like those you see in music videos: living on our tour bus for years at a time with no other life. We tour just enough to go to fun places, have a good time, remember why touring is so difficult, and then go home! But, that said, we love playing music and we love to travel so what could be better? That was one of the reasons I am delighted that Song to the Siren was released - we get to share our touring experiences a bit with our fans. The fun, the insanity, and also the melancholy of it all.
SXP: Has the way in which you write changed over the years? Are you more lyrical now?
Naomi: I think the most significant change to our songwriting is that we are actually doing the singing these days. In Galaxie 500, we would all write riffs and then bring them into rehearsal and hash them out together, further defining the song but working on it from the point of view of the band sound. The lyrics always came last (sometimes moments before recording them); Dean often wrote the lyrics since he was usually the one singing them.
But, as we've made records as a duo, we've really come to appreciate the power of singing and the emotional power of lyrics. It's a very different thing to perform as a duo, with no drums or amps to turn up for power.
As for being more lyrical in the other sense of the word "lyric" - well, I think so. I am very drawn to music, films, art, that have a strong sense of the introspective or the lyrical - those moments or experiences that seem to defy words. Capturing them is one of my hopes for our music.
SXP: The DVD on 'Song to the Siren: Damon & Naomi on tour with Kurihara' is very entertaining. Why did you do it? Did you have any particular ambitions for it? And will you document future tours in the same way?
Naomi: I have always taken photographs on tour - and Damon had given me a mini-DV camera as a present the year that we toured with Kurihara. I was a bit bewildered by the camera (moving pictures?! Sound?!) but I thought it would be fun to bring on tour and see what happened. So, at first, I didn't set out to make a film, I was just playing with the camera. I thought it would be interesting to give the camera, every night, to a different friend or sometimes a fan in the audience and see what they recorded of our show. I was delighted to see how everyone chose to film in a different way.
As the tour went along, I became more and more interested in the possibilities of recording our experiences with the mini-DV - that being able to record time passing was somehow very related to the act of listening to/playing music. When I came home I edited the footage, thinking of making a souvenir of our trip for ourselves and our friends to see. It had been an incredible tour - playing with Kurihara every night had been a great experience; we had all become so comfortable playing together that we were really able to take the songs a step further. To quote Kurihara from an interview with Ptolemaic Terrascope because he put it so well:
"there were a number of amazing moments when we got this real synergy between the vibrations of the audience and the vibrations that we on stage were putting out. I guess that's what people mean when they talk about "magic". These kinds of experiences are irreplaceable."
I think we all felt that way about the tour. And, hence, our desire to document it in the Live in San Sebastian recording. We sent that recording along with the movie to Sub Pop and to our delight they said "let's put it out as a CD/DVD." Suddenly, it seemed like then the whole thing could be more than a souvenir for ourselves, it could be for our fans as well!
But then I had to learn how to make a DVD! And once we were doing a DVD we thought it should have a commentary (which we did in one take cause we thought it would keep it from being boring) and we wanted Japanese subtitles since Kurihara was in the film.
As for doing it again in the future, I don't know. There was something so innocent about the way I was able to record everything because I didn't know what I was doing and no one else thought I was making a "movie." But maybe - I never know what I am going to do!
SXP: You've produced a number of cover versions, including an excellent Song To The Siren. How do you stamp your own mark on these songs, especially when they're well known?
Naomi: Well, often we have chosen songs that we thought were great songs but that could be done in another way, so we have an idea to begin with about how to do it differently. But, I suppose, when a song or a lyric speaks to you and you take it into your repertoire, you can't help but make it more your own.
SXP: I have an image of you as precise, perfectionist musicians, at home in the studio. Do you have a preference for touring or recording?
Naomi: Hmmm, do we wear our neuroses on our sleeves? Actually, we are not really at all technically perfectionists - I mean, ok, we are trying to sing in tune and all but more important to us is the mood of a performance of a song. Now the Japanese on the other hand. . . . that's perfectionism!!!!
SXP: Will you be accompanied on this tour by Kurihara?
Naomi: We will be performing, at least part of our set at the Le Weekend Festival in Stirling, Scotland, with Kurihara and Takizawa (also in Ghost). But, unfortunately they won't be in London with us as they have to return to Japan.
SXP: On the DVD, Damon says that "whisky's on our rider for touring". What's on the rider for this tour?
Naomi: Well, whisky, of course. And probably tea. We don't have very exotic requests on our rider. Sometimes getting a nice whisky is hard enough!
SXP: You set up a Musicians for Peace website after 11 September. It seems in the US in particular that there is pressure on those, especially artists, who express dissent at the war. Have you encountered problems because of your stand?
Naomi: Not recently. When we first set up the site we got a lot of hate mail, but later when so many people from around the world stood up and made themselves heard it was really gratifying. Unfortunately, nothing seems to stop the White House from doing whatever the hell they want.
SXP: How did you feel when Turn of the Century was used in an episode of the Sopranos? Did you gain any fans or sales as a result?
Naomi: We thought it was amusing, but I don't think it resulted in any perceptible sales or fans. It was funny how it happened too. We actually were on tour in England when the show called Sub Pop and asked to use our song. Sub Pop contacted us and said they were faxing us the page from the script where they wanted to use our song, but they were worried we wouldn't say "yes" because it was for a scene where Meadow is deciding whether or not to use crystal meth to help her study for exams. This was before the first season of the Sopranos had aired. We just thought, "some HBO series --who is going to see it anyway? And, well, we're all for studying for one's exams." So we said yes. We didn't really think about it.
Months later, after the Sopranos had become huge, we saw an ad go by on a bus for the show and Damon said, "I think that was the show that asked to use our song. . . ." We went and looked at the contract and it was. We live without a TV, so we had no idea.
SXP: With globalisation and the lowest common denominator commercialism of books and music, do you feel it's becoming harder to create your music or publish the books that you like? Are you still publishing books through your 'Exact Change' company?
Naomi: Well, I kind of think that the lowest common denominator has always been there - and it's always been a challenge to make art/books/music that aim higher than that. The one good part of globalisation, though, is that people from all over the world can discover each other so much more easily. For all the corporate globalisation there is also the incredible freedom and information that people can find with access to the internet. Like the way the international peace movement snowballed last winter.
We are still publishing books through Exact Change (http://www.exactchange.com). It is harder right now, but I think that is more because of the terrible economy in the US than the fault of all those lowest common denominator book buyers. . . it's also because the huge chain stores destroy our books and then send them back to us damaged --but that's another story.
SXP: As well as music, do you have other public outlets for your talents: are you also published or exhibited?
Naomi: Damon writes poetry and has his first full-length book coming out from Turtle Point Press, NY, in the fall of 2004. It's called "The Memory Theater Burned" and is a book of prose poems.
I had a show of my paintings a few years ago, but I haven't really been painting recently, I have been concentrating on my photography which I discovered I enjoy more than painting. But, between book design, CD design, filmmaking, DVD authoring I seem to have more than enough public outlets.
SXP: Researching these questions, I found a large number of web pages devoted to Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi and the other bands than sprang from G500. What do you feel about such continuing dedication?
Naomi: I am happy when the work we do can be meaningful to others. It's the greatest reward.
SXP: What's next for Damon & Naomi? Another record?
Naomi: Yes! Some new songs to be debuted in the UK and then back home to work on the new record. We hope to start recording in the fall!
Radio 4 are at the forefront of the current punk-funk scene, whose epicentre is New York. The band are from New York, formed in 1999 and released their first album The New Song and Dance in May 2000 on the Gern Blansten label. In 2001 they released a 12 single of Dance to the Underground which was a big club hit. For their second album Gotham, they hooked up with acclaimed production duo The DFA to produce one of the finest dance-rock records of 2002. The band are Greg Collins (drums, percussion), Anthony Roman (vocals, bass, keyboards), Tommy Williams (vocals, guitar), Gerard Garone (keyboards) and P J OConnor (percussion). We met up with Gerard Garone before the Mean Fiddler gig on 22 March.
SXP: Is there a Brooklyn scene?
Gerard: Its kind of hard to ask me because, if there is a scene, Im right in the middle of it. Its a journalist thing to call it a scene. I dont think us, the Rogers Sisters, OutHud and the Rapture were sitting around and said hey, lets start a scene! It just happened that there were some good bands doing a similar thing at the same time.
SXP: New York must be buzzing at the moment. Are there any bands left because you all seem to be over here?
Gerard: Its strange: in New York everyones cooler than the next person so if anything has any sort of buzz about it, everybodys there automatically to put it down. In a way thats cool. It keeps you humble, thats for sure! We all have real jobs. I still bartend. I bartended in a club for years and there were four bands every night. In three years I saw maybe ten good bands! Then all of a sudden there was a bunch of really good bands playing.
SXP: Do musicians paths cross much in New York?
Gerard: Yeah, were friends with a lot of the bands. Were friends with Interpol. Were somewhat friendly with the Rapture I dont know them that well. But theres this acknowledgement when you see these people. We had a day off not so long ago in Brussels. Interpol were playing so we went and saw them. It was nice to see people you knew who werent in your band.
SXP: Do you all hang out at Anthonys record shop?
Gerard: I dont think people understand how big Brooklyn is! Its a 45-minute train ride from my house. Ill go down there once in a while but its not like I wake up with my coffee and go down to Something Else and hang out with Anthony. If I lived closer, Id probably hang out there a lot more.
SXP: Does he stock the kind of records you like?
Gerard: Oh yeah! Its not a huge store but its definitely about quality not quantity.
SXP: How did the New York punk-funk sound come about?
Gerard: I dont know! I always felt that music moves in cycles and between cities: you had Minneapolis and North Carolina for a little while, and then Seattle. Somehow it just made its way to New York. With us, and a lot of other bands, we were really bored with rock music. It was so stale. I cant think of any great bands that came out in the mid 90s. The only thing left was dance music at the time. It seemed that it was the punk rock of that era.
SXP: Was there a conscious decision to sound like Gang of Four or A Certain Ratio?
Gerard: No. We definitely all knew who those bands were so they were an influence. But all those bands were related to punk rock and punk rock was about rebelling: rebelling against what was going on. It became a reaction against what rock had become: boring, slow and without conviction. Thats what happened to us, without any conscious decision about what, say, the Liars were doing. They werent aware of us, we werent aware of them. The same with the Rapture.
SXP: Your lyrics are quite political. Are you singing about New York politics?
Gerard: Theyre definitely political. We consider ourselves to be socially conscious. Were all affected by certain policies but some hit closer to home than others. We write about things that directly affect us as people who live in New York, without a doubt.
SXP: Weve seen people in the US victimised for speaking out. Have you ever been tempted to tone down your political statements?
Gerard: I dont think we would ever not say anything because it could get us into trouble. It goes against everything that I believe. Thats definitely not something Im willing to compromise.
SXP: So you wouldnt do a Dixie Chicks?
Gerard: I was just going to bring that up! If you mean something and you say it, then back it. Dont back off because your record sales are dropping. Its just the most spineless thing.
SXP: The Clash are obviously an influence. How did you get into them?
Gerard: Combat Rock was the first record I ever owned. My dad brought it home for me on eight-track I had to be six years old at the time. I just remember seeing the video for Rock The Casbah and being so obsessed with it, thinking what a great song it was and how good they looked. That had such an impact at such a young age. That one record, to this day, I absolutely adore.
SXP: Which other bands influenced you?
Gerard: Me personally? Nirvana had a huge influence on me. When Nevermind came out I was probably 15 years old and had all that adolescent sense of being lost. It was like: wow! this person totally understands. Had I been older it might have been different. I know Anthony feels the same about the Replacements: Paul Westerberg speaks for adolescent kids in a way not many people can. Kurt Cobain was the same way.
SXP: Was it Nirvana or the whole grunge thing?
Gerard: I definitely liked some of those bands. I thought Mudhoney was amazing. I was a big fan of the Jesus Lizard and Cop Shoot Cop. There was tons of stuff going on. It was a great time in music and I was growing up in that era. I saw The Jesus Lizard at CBGBs when I was 17 and it was my first experience of music and seeing bands.
SXP: Any keyboard influences?
Gerard: I fell into the keyboards by accident. I could never find the right people to play with so I bought a keyboard so I could do everything myself. I just enjoyed it so much I stuck with it. The reason I starting playing keyboards was to play piano because I was a big fan of David Bowie. Bass was my main instrument though thats how I started.
SXP: Where do the reggae and dub influences come from?
Gerard: I think that also started with the Clash such a huge reggae influence. It was like: Pressure Drop, thats a Toots and the Maytals song, Ive got to go check that out.
SXP: Are you pleased that Adrian Sherwood remixed Struggle for a B-side?
Gerard: We love it. Im a big Pop Group fan so I was really excited that he was doing it. When I heard it I thought: this is so not what I expected. Its on the fringe of industrial, but not really. I was really happy with the way it turned out though. Everyone whos done remixes for us has done a really great job.
SXP: Had you heard any of his On-U Sounds recordings?
Gerard: Ive heard bits of On-U records but not actually owned any of his stuff. Ill have to go and check it out. I havent seen him yet but I met Mark Stewart. He actually came on stage with us at the Scala show, which was pretty amazing. Hes a huge guy about 18 feet tall!
SXP: What have DFA done for you in terms of production?
Gerard: Theyve done a lot. I dont think this record would sound the way it does if not for them.
SXP: What would it have sounded like? More like your live sound?
Gerard: I dont know. Probably. Live is very different from on record, especially in terms of keyboards and percussion. Ive heard both arguments: its better live or its better on record. Its up to each person to decide that.
SXP: Has PJ OConnor recovered from his fall? (The percussionist fell off a first floor hotel balcony in London last November, missing subsequent tour dates).
Gerard: Yeah, hes doing quite well! Were actually banned from the Columbia Hotel, which were pretty upset about. They tell us were never allowed back.
SXP: Thats good. It should go on your CV!
Gerard: Its so funny. We had a friend backstage the other day. Hes like: where are all the girls? Where are all the drugs? People have this weird conception of what goes on. [The balcony incident] was a pretty isolated incident. Were pretty mellow. We have our moments but were not as hedonistic as people think we are! Its such a typical way to act: like a jerk, all the time. But thats what people expect. I went through all that when I was younger. Im not 19 years old anymore.
SXP: How does America take to you?
Gerard: We did a few US tours when the record first came out. Its very different because Americas just so big. Touring kind of sucks over there. You have to play crappy places because, if you dont, its a two-day drive to the next city. We tend to do pretty well in the major cities. Probably not as well as we do here but we dont have the backing. Theres not as big a buzz in the US as there is here. Were on an indie label so its not possible.
SXP: Does Gotham mean New York or is it just a cool name?
Gerard: Its definitely a reference to New York. You keep thinking Batman but the name was thought up before Batman was. Its another name for dark city, which New York is.
SXP: Is that a positive or negative thing?
Gerard: I think its both. Theres a certain darkness and seediness which I think is good. Guiliani and Bloomberg might think differently to the way I do!
SXP: Which of you came up with the bands name?
Gerard: That was Anthony.
SXP: Its the Public Image Ltd song rather than the UK radio station?
Gerard: Yes, its nothing more than that. I was in a cab here and talking to the cab driver and he said: I saw posters of you. I thought it was for the radio station! People dont forget it, so thats good.
SXP: What are you doing after this tour?
Gerard: Were going to take a little break and do some writing. Weve been playing these songs since last April, been touring for ten out of the last twelve months. Then play the festivals. Thats the plan at least.
SXP: Which festivals?
Gerard: I know were doing Reading and Glastonbury. Im really excited to play the festivals but I dont know how people actually go and see bands. Im not a big fan of the rain. Being outside and around thousands of people is not my idea of fun!
SXP: Finally, what are your favourite things to talk about?
Gerard: Food and cigarettes. Food.
SXP: New York is a 24-hour city for food.
Gerard: Yes, and its all good. Well, I wouldnt advise you eating the hotdogs, unless you go to Nathans or Coney Island. You ever wonder where the guys who sell hotdogs go to the bathroom? Something to think about!
SXP: When we interviewed the Rogers Sisters, they also talked a lot about food.
Gerard: Actually, the Rogers Sisters own a bar that gives away free hotdogs. This place is really cool, its a nice little bar.
SXP: Would you recommend eating their hotdogs?
Gerard: I think their hotdogs are OK as the bartenders who serve them have a place to go to the bathroom. Theyre not peeing in the water. Thats good!