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Time Has Told Me: K. Leimer

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Interview with Kerry Leimer.

“There was a sense of the many quiet nights spent bewildered by tape recorders and analog synthesizers, stuff just constantly getting away from me and the few moments when ideas and ability met on level ground.”

—Kerry Leimer

Words: Mark Carry

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RVNG Intl. is a Brooklyn-based music institution that operates on few but heavily fortified principles, dealing with forward-reaching artists that ceaselessly push the sonic envelope. From visionary luminaries such as Julia Holter, Holly Herndon, Blondes, Maxmillion Dunbar et al, RVNG Intl. has consistently delivered some of the most adventurous, enthralling and breathtaking records this past decade. One of the label’s cornerstones has become the awe-inspiring archival series which has featured (and celebrated) musical pioneers Craig Leon, Ariel Kalma and K. Leimer. The third installment of the archival series — released last year — was Seattle-based sound sculptor, K. Leimer and a vast treasure of ambient voyages entitled ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’. I simply cannot think of a more special musical document to have graced my life this past year than Kerry Leimer’s resolutely unique and deeply human canon of pioneering ambient music.

A glimpse into Leimer’s creative process is touched upon on the compilation’s liner notes: “The loop provided an instant structure – a sort of fatalism – the participation of the tape machine in shaping and extending the music was a key to setting self-deterministic systems in motion and held clear relationship to my interests in fine art.”

‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ offers the perfect entry point (across an exhaustive double-album and thirty spellbinding tracks) into the beautifully enthralling and ever-revolving world inhabited by the special soul of Mr. Kerry Leimer.

Recently released on Leimer’s own imprint Palace of Lights, ‘The Grey Catalog’ encompasses an entire spectrum of enthralling sounds and textures; incorporating percussion, electric guitar, bass as well as found sound, digital and analog synthesis and sampled instruments. Album opener ‘Allegory’ gently fades into focus with gorgeous string passages reminiscent of the likes of Kranky’s Christina Vantzou and Leaf Label’s Murcof. Drifting tones of chimes and soft electronic pulses envelop the electronic balladry of ‘Ritual Thinning’. Elements of analog synths and bass are wonderfully incorporated into ‘Clasp’ before the drone soundscapes of ‘Gesture’ evokes ethereal and surreal dreamscapes of blissed-out sounds.

One of the album’s defining moments arrives with the hypnotic ‘Sung’ built on a returning violin motif that is masterfully melded with piano and bass, in turn, creating an utterly transcendent electro-acoustic exploration. Field recordings and thudding percussion expands the dynamic range on ‘Poesie’, further highlighting the wonderful diversity on display throughout ‘The Grey Catalog’. Neo-classical elements are masterfully embedded in the cinematic cut ‘Europe’, whilst the proceeding ‘Casual Suffering’ – the album’s longest piece – further expands the sonic envelope with dense strings reminiscent of the Touch catalog. The stunning closer ‘At Remove’ feels a distant companion to the opening ‘Allegory’ with its scintillating strings that ebb and flow into the forefront of your heart’s mind.

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Interview with Kerry Leimer.

Please discuss for me your childhood and your early exposure to music while growing up in Chicago. Was there a strong musical background in your family? What records would your parents have been listening to at home?

Kerry Leimer: There was no musical background to speak of. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from post WWII Austria, via Canada. They gradually adopted American MOR of the time, stuff I refer to as misogynist cocktail pop — repulsive on many levels. As befits a lad of Austrian extraction I was given a few accordion lessons, mostly focused on learning the accompanying dance steps. It strikes me now that I was most probably tone deaf: music made no sense to me whatsoever. Tonality was something I had to learn to recognize, and given the environment, there was no real compulsion to do so. Early rock was completely lost on me — experiencing even a two minute song from that period remains nightmarish. So I came to an interest quite late, and it took some very specific exposure. A von Karajan recording of Mozart’s Requiem; ‘Epitaph’ and ‘Dust be Diamonds’ managed to cement an interest that had begun to make itself known a few years earlier, through some ill-defined attraction to parts of ‘Revolver’ and most of ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. This interest expanded rapidly but to mostly obscure music. I had a suspicion of and dislike for widely popular forms.

Your family permanently settled in Seattle in 1967. Can you please describe Seattle in the late 60’s/early 70’s? What music of the time resonated powerfully for you that would inspire you to create your own unique blend of music?

KL: Seattle’s effect on me was principally depressive. The town was referred to at the time as The Space Needle and the Box it Came In, the box being the only office tower downtown, headquarters for what was then SeaFirst Bank, no doubt the money laundering arm of Boeing. It was a blue collar town, nice landscape, with an unremarkable manscape bereft even of sea shanties. The only things of immediate interest were learning about the Wobblies and to somehow live in nearly perpetual dark. Most of the people I met and went to school with were actively hostile to the arts, pro-war and, between bullying sessions, deeply involved in various sportsball activities. But my overriding interest was the visual arts, so early days were preoccupied with a study of 20th Century art that isolated me from what I took to be an ignorant and angry social order. In many ways, the ideas I pursue were shaped by the visual arts.

Please take me back to your first experiments with sound. What equipment did you have at your disposal? I believe you collected instruments from the local pawn shop- I am sure you must have some beautiful stories – and magical discoveries – born from these trips. I wonder do you feel the creative process involved, very early on has changed or altered in any way over the subsequent album releases?

KL: That would be tape collage with a little AIWA reel-to-reel. It had a splicing block and some splicing tape and I’d just cut up voice recordings, sometimes shredded to unusable size. It was all there: speed change, direction change, odd juxtaposition. Great fun and instantly rewarding: much less work than drawing or painting and generally neater than collage. Then found sound: mic’d stuff off television, radio, random sounds in- and out- of doors. The equipment was always of greater interest than instruments, if such distinction need be made. I found parts in pawn shops, built a primitive bass guitar, located an echoplex, then acquired a few MXR boxes, a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. Thanks to an interest I had in piano my parents acquired an electric organ — I still do not comprehend this — so first up were loopy echoed drones between rote instruction of “Beautiful Dreamer” and the like. Multi-tracking was still some years off for me, so things were restricted to a single pass and a very few bounces. The first “albums” were done with an art school friend. John Holt had a Les Paul and we produced two cassettes of these sorts of mash-up titled I’d Rather Cadaver, probably a reference to the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse, and Grey Cows which culminates in a sparkling interpretation of Faust’s ‘The Sad Skinhead’.

In terms of ambient music, who do you feel have been pioneers of the genre? I was very interested to read that you felt Cluster’s II record was a key revelation early on. I would love for you to discuss this particular record and its significance on you as an artist and sound sculptor?

KL: All the early work of those artists — Cluster, Harmonia, Neu! –– even to some extent records such as IrrlichtCyborg and Zeit –– seemed in a very particular sense to be simple and within reach. I wouldn’t call them ambient and, given the manner in which the meaning of the term has changed, I wouldn’t really call much of what I do or am interested in to be ambient. The horrors visited upon our understanding by genre definitions remains an issue for some other discussion, but the general attractor for me was a form of simplicity, free of grand gesture, self-regulating and owning to the often overt presence of tape or some recording medium.

In the liner-notes of the RVNG Intl’s compilation ‘A Period Of Review: 1975-1983’, you describe the “instant structure” and “sort of fatalism” the tape loop provided you with. This sense of wonderment and fascination with sound is dotted across the multitude of beguiling tracks contained on this very special compilation. I would love to gain an insight please into the looping process that is inherent in these sonic creations and indeed the layering of the various sounds.

KL: The open loop’s appeal is twofold. If the work is to be additive, the open loop is a very efficient tool for piling up a lot of sound without a lot of instruments or tracks — things that were in very short supply at that time. The other is that it’s somewhat self-deterministic. It doesn’t have to be, but it tends to behave as an automatic way to set limitations and then keep you within them.

There is very much a DIY aesthetic to your unique and revelatory music. I love how there are a myriad of ideas in each and every pristine ambient cut. It must have been a fulfilling project for you to cull together these – many of which are previously unreleased – tracks that offers a wonderful snapshot and retrospective of your work? Which songs in particular do you feel you’re most proud of or in a way surprised you, when you first listened back to the final recordings?

KL: Writing and recording are actually pretty difficult for me. Listening to the work, no matter how far removed in time, becomes a sort of chore. The memories are usually about the particular struggles and consequent shortfalls. There was a sense of the many quiet nights spent bewildered by tape recorders and analog synthesizers, stuff just constantly getting away from me and the few moments when ideas and ability met on level ground. In this instance, at the distance of A Period of Review, there was a bit of nostalgia for other people involved or in proximity. But recall that APOR was curated by individuals other than myself and that at least as many pieces were left out as were included.  There’s simply no point in favourites for me: now that it’s been circulated listeners make their own interpretations and the music assumes its own, independent, life.

You launched the Palace of Lights record label in 1979 with your wife Dorothy Cross. A plethora of innovative albums, on various formats would see the light of day on this pioneering label, including your own solo works. Please take me back to the label’s origins and the year of ’79 when the label was given its wings, so to speak? Can you recount some of your most cherished memories from the Paradise of Lights’ musical venture? 

KL: I need some time to consider this question. It’s Palace of Lights and still exists. It started in 1978, a few years before Dorothy and I met… it was a lot of work and many people wanted us to make them stars, which wasn’t the idea. So the memories oscillate between the great joy of building a studio / label and the utter disillusionment of being confronted with people seeking fame and fortune…


 

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Written by markcarry

January 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Time Has Told Me: The Clean

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Interview with David Kilgour, The Clean.

“Then there are other times people have come up to me and said “your music stopped me from killing myself”….“your music got me thru a very bad time in my life”.. I had that a few times……now that’s special, job done huh?”

—David Kilgour

Words: Mark Carry

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Formed in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1978, The Clean’s unique blend of home-made garage rock, hook-laden melodies and swirling psychedelic gems has proved a trusted constant in a storied career that continues today. The Clean’s distinctive lo-fi indie-pop sound influenced an array of bands, particularly in the U.S. (Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Pavement, Sonic Youth to name but a few).

The Kilgour brothers of Hamish and David formed The Clean in ’78. Hamish played drums, and David played guitar. After some rotating line-ups of those early years, Robert Scott (who would later form The Bats) joined on bass. The core trio of Hamish, David and Bob all wrote songs and absorbing the music that surrounded them – Richman’s rock ‘n’ roll, punk and dreams of bigger things – the band’s debut single ‘Tally Ho!’ was released by the renowned New Zealand independent label Flying Nun in ’81 (in fact, a fan of The Clean formed the label to release their first single). Second single ‘Getting Older’ followed a short time later. During the early 80’s, the band released two EP’s and two singles. ‘Tally Ho!’, ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ and ‘Great Sounds’ all charted in the New Zealand top 20.

Spanning from The Clean, David Kilgour has amassed a reputable solo catalog; Robert Scott later formed The Bats (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), and Hamish Kilgour would become an enduring fixture in New York playing with assorted combos (forming The Mad Scene in the early 90’s). As part of the U.S. independent label, Merge’s 25th Anniversary, The Clean’s ‘Anthology’ (originally released in 2003) was released in splendid quadruple vinyl earlier this year.

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David-Kilgour

Interview with David Kilgour, The Clean.

It’s a real honour to ask you some questions about The Clean – a band cherished by many the world over – who have released a plethora of indie pop treasures these past few decades. Firstly, please take me back to Dunedin, New Zealand in 1978 where The Clean were formed. What was the music scene like in New Zealand during this time? Leading up to the formation of The Clean, I can imagine the Kilgour brothers were always making music and swapping ideas with one another? Who came up with the name of The Clean?

David Kilgour: Hamish came up with The Clean title. Pinched it from an old surf movie (‘Free Ride’?) that has a character called Mr Clean, a shaven headed biker. Punk kind’ve “hit” here a year or two after it started really. Leading up to the formation of The Clean, the music scene was all over the place really: Disco, kind’ve post glam/70s soft rock and a touch of prog. Not a lot of independent labels. Yeh, Hamish and I started toying with the idea of music in our bedroom in the mid – late 70s.

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As the trio of Hamish (drums), David (guitar) and Robert (bass), you all wrote songs so there was this creative spirit inherent in the group from the very beginning. Can you reminisce for me please when you made your first recordings for the Flying Nun label in 1981?

DK: We wanted to write our own music from the very beginning with Peter Gutteridge. As we couldn’t play anyone else’s music, it was much easier! After our experience recording  we decided to go back to self-recording (we had been recording ourselves on a Revox 2 track previous to making ‘Tally Ho!’) with the Teac and Chris Knox and Doug Hood. We realised after making ‘Tally Ho!’ that we could’ve made a better recording with our 2 track!

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It’s amazing to think the band’s debut single, ‘Tally Ho!’ was recorded for a total sum of $60. Can you remember recording this song to tape? The organ and jangle-sound guitars makes such an utterly perfect pop sound. Was this song recorded in a single take?

DK: I think it was one take, with a vocal overdub and a keyboard overdub recorded in a studio which was a heavy metallers living room! Really disappointed with the pressing when it came out, not realising it was probably the recording! I think the studio had an 8 track tape machine. I rang the guy who recorded it a few years ago to see if he still had the master to ‘Tally Ho!’ (yeh it was a longshot) and he said “oh no, we would’ve wiped over that the next week we were so poor and needed tape!”. I didn’t bother pointing out to him that we owned the master!

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The early EP’s ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ and ‘Great Sounds’ have undoubtedly stood the test of time. Can you please discuss the writing and recording process for these songs? I imagine were the songs recorded onto a 4-track? There is such a special, raw and dynamic sound captured on these recordings.

DK: Both EPs were recorded on a Teac 4 track. Usually straight to tape without too much EQing etc. ‘Point That Thing’ dated back to ‘78, as did ‘Anything Could Happen’. We jammed and wrote together but we also brought in songs and ideas. In the early 80’s we would try and get together 3 times a week to play and write.

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During this time, the band’s singles charted in the New Zealand top 20 charts. Did you tour extensively circa the early 80’s?

DK: Yes we toured NZ a lot in this period but no overseas tours.

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I wonder did you play outside of New Zealand at all during those early years? What other bands were you impressed by during those early days?

DK: Punk, post punk, and the history of music in general. Hamish and I had a big hunger for checking it ALL out. We were vinyl junkies before we picked up instruments. All the obvious likes at the time: Ramones, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Wire, New York Dolls, Richman, etc etc

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One of my all-time favourite Clean songs is ‘Slug Song’ with its dreamy feel and deeply affecting chorus refrain of “Don’t ever change your mind”. Who is responsible for writing this gem?

DK: Bob came up with the music/organ riffs I filled in with lyrics and melody. It’s a song directed to the love of my life, Genevieve.

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Can you reminisce for me please recording this particular song and the space and time in which the song was given its wings?

DK: Jammed on the riff in our practice space in Christchurch, where we lived for a while. It all came together straight away from what I can remember. We didn’t bring the keyboards into the line-up (apart from the ‘Tally Ho!’ recording) till just after Boodle I think….the keyboards certainly helped paved our way and inspired a lot of writing.

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One of the greatest possible compliments (and a fitting testament to the legacy of The Clean) must be just how hugely influential the band’s unique indie pop sound have been on a seamless array of bands in later decades. For example, I recall first coming across The Clean in the early 00’s in the form of a Rough Trade compilation in which The Hidden Cameras covered one of your songs. Looking over the band’s career, what were your most cherished memories? It must be a nice feeling to know many bands out there have drawn so much inspiration from your work?

DK: It continues to blow my mind that the interest is still there around the world albeit in that underground way. Cherished memories?….mmmmm, that’s a hard one, there were some magical moments recording, like wow we are quite good and we have caught something magic e.g. ‘Point That Thing’, ‘Getting Older’ etc. Someone asked my partner Genivieve about how great it must’ve been during those early 80s and she kind’ve nailed it by saying the really magic years was when it was all coming together, late 70’s period when we were all trying to get it together and seeing the “scene” grow outta that. Yeh it was a special time.

Then there are other times people have come up to me and said “your music stopped me from killing myself”….“your music got me thru a very bad time in my life”.. I had that a few times……now that’s special, job done huh? The music has given me a life outside of the norm, thank goodness, I’ve also made so many good friends all over the world really thanks to the music. The travel has been fantastic too though most of it has been in the USA, I know the USA pretty well! To write some music 30 years that still seems to resonate round the globe is also mind-blowing for the country kid from the bottom of the world!

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After a brief hiatus, you recorded ‘Vehicle’, the band’s debut album in 1989. A collection of psych pop odysseys and enlightening garage rock gems are dotted all over this special debut record. How was the album received back in New Zealand when ‘Vehicle’ was released originally? The album was amazingly made in three days. What are your memories of these three days? I wonder did you all have the songs fleshed out before arriving to the studio?

DK: The LP was well received here, there was some scepticism about us reforming and recording but the tour we did to promote was really successful and people dug the LP.

I remember running between control room and studio…there’s a good explanation of the recording in the liner notes! I recently discovered it was actually four days recorded and mixed. Geoff and Alan later remixed 2 tracks. Yeh we wrote all the songs before we toured, we realised straight away that we could only reform if we had new material to play. We wrote most of the LP in Dunedin over a week or two.

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In 2009, The Clean’s immaculate pop record, ‘Mister Pop’ was released on Morr Music. Two years previously, your toured New Zealand and celebrating a 50th birthday while playing a show in Auckland. It must have been a very special feeling to come back and make new music together again? Did the creative process change or alter in any way for the making of ‘Mister Pop’ in comparison to the previous LP’s? I love the tight sound that the band has on ‘Mister Pop’ and also the glorious production.

DK: Well we have been regularly getting together to tour over the years and making LPs so it wasn’t super new. But yeh it’s always refreshing to have breaks. We mainly jammed the songs up. Bob and I brought one or two songs in. No big change in the process.

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One of the great hallmarks of The Clean is the wide range of sounds you effortlessly unleashed, lovingly reflected on The Clean’s ‘Anthology’ collection. The piano ballad ‘Franz Kafka At The Zoo’ is incredible. ‘Linger Longer’ is a classic. There are so many new discoveries and rarities present on this career-spanning collection. You must have enjoyed compiling these songs together? I must ask too who is responsible for the band’s beautiful artwork? If you had to pick (just!) one, what song are you most proud of writing? What’s next for The Clean?

DK: The art work on Anthology is Hamsih’s. I think ‘Getting Older’ is one fave. Also ‘Point That Thing’. We actually put the track listing together when making the CD many years ago. I think we sat in Flying Nun’s office and made it up in about 30 minutes!

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https://www.facebook.com/The-Clean
http://www.mergerecords.com/the-clean

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Written by markcarry

November 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Time Has Told Me: Linda Perhacs

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Interview with Linda Perhacs.

“The universe has many, many interesting sounds – the sound of a whale; the sound of a planet moving, its torque and movement through the universe – there are sounds everywhere.”

—Linda Perhacs

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See the waves that break,
Upon the rocks and stones,
Hear the winds that play,
Upon the ice and foam,
And it breathes, it breathes,
Within

— ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’

Words: Mark Carry

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2014 has marked the eagerly-awaited return of song-writing greats Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan and Mark Fry who have all been synonymous with the golden age of psych-folk music of the early 70’s. This autumn, English singer-songwriters Vashti Bunyan and Mark Fry have released their latest masterworks in the form of ‘Heartleap’ and ‘South Wind, Clear Sky’, respectively, having forged their own unique footprint in the psych folk explorations at the turn of the 70’s. This effect – which is enlightening, powerful and deeply touching – has lasted all these decades later. The title-track of Bunyan’s ‘Just Another Diamond Day’ is one of the most stunningly beautiful folk gems to have graced this earth. Similarly, Fry’s ‘Dreaming With Alice’ contains some of the most other-worldly psych folk creations – ‘Dreaming With Alice’’s dreamy verses, which are dotted across the record’s rich canvas – that belongs to the here and now as much it ever has. Some forty four years on from the release of the richly compelling and timeless psych-folk gem of ‘Parallelograms’, the American songstress, Linda Perhacs has returned with the follow-up, ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’. Sharing the aspects of ‘Parallelograms’’s healing force, cosmic spirit and visionary soundscapes, ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’ feels like the natural progression from this special soul and resolutely unique artist.

Raised in beautiful Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, music and nature would attract Perhacs, even as a child that would become a reoccurring motif throughout her life. At the very young age of six and seven years old, Perhacs started to write fairly complex compositions wherein song-writing surfaced naturally and freely, amazing people that surrounded the young girl’s family and friends. In the mid-60’s, the San Francisco-native attended USC (University of Southern California) on a full-tuition scholarship, focusing on a dental hygiene career. The career path entailed a healing profession, something that served a strong parallel with the songs Perhacs would later begin to write (and form the songs contained on ‘Parallelograms’).

A turning point occurred a short time later when Perhacs moved to Topanga Canyon; a rich environment full of artistic people, described by Perhacs as “an upward energy consciousness”. The music of the time included Crosby Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell and the songwriters of the Laurel Canyon. Inspiration surrounded the young student in the act of travelling up through the Big Sur coastline and up to Alaska and a deep reverent love of nature- the wilderness; pure, pristine and wild. The pivotal role played by the movie composer Leonard Roseman (who was a patient at an upscale Beverly Hills periodontal office) was hugely influential that led to Perhacs following down the music path (Roseman would produce the 1970 album ‘Parallelograms’). The unique mind of Perhacs was nothing short of staggering, as the gifted artist entered an “incredible sphere of musical imagination”. Central to the music-making process (and which continues on this year’s ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’) is the innate ability to visualize sound and colour wherein songs would be envisioned in picture form: “I have seen colours, sound and form inwardly all my life” (Perhacs would write on the liner notes of ‘Parallelograms’).

The essence of the rich musical tapestry of Perhacs’ cherished songbook is the empowering spiritual element that prevails throughout the American artist’s tower of song. For me, this is what bridges ‘Parallelograms’ and ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’- a cosmic spirit that floats majestically with each quivering voice and rise and fall of each musical note. As Perhacs as previously explained: “As I compose, I am working from the spirit. This is why I can jump from the healing sciences and musical composition with a fast pivot, because they are all one in spirit.” Forward several decades to ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ and the album closer ‘Song of The Planets’ serves the perfect embodiment of the creator’s masterful works, and relight my first glimmering memories of hearing the song ‘Parallelograms’ for the very first time, some years ago:

Like a hymn, like a prayer,
Filling all the universe
The most beautiful tones,
I have ever heard

Song of The Planets

On ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, Perhacs collaborated closely with some of the leading lights of the current generation of luminaries; Julia Holter (a next-door neighbour and close friend), Ramona Gonzales (aka Nite Jewel) and the album’s co-producers (and co-songwriters on several songs) Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price. A special and illuminating batch of songs would be constructed that soon would see the light of day.

The angelic lament of ‘Freely’ is built on a gentle ripple of acoustic guitar notes and piano accompaniment that shares gorgeous shades of Leonard Cohen. The lyrics are sheer poetry: “High as a bird that flies/Warm as a wind on the rise” is sung by Perhacs on a later verse. ‘Intensity’ feels akin to ‘Parallelograms’ re-worked for the 21st Century such is its achingly beautiful three-dimensional sphere of sounds. A soulful symphony is forged like stars in the night-sky with mesmerising harmonies blended effortlessly together. The sound waves and vibrational energies ascend into the forefront of one’s heart and mind, where each sumptuous tone and texture offers a personal geography of the earth. The song’s intense groove is rooted in “the rhythm of an energy sea”. Holter’s voice coalesces masterfully with Perhacs on the uplifting chorus refrain, feeling a cross between Spector’s wall of sound and ‘Rumours’-era Fleetwood Mac. The universe and all its complex, inter-weaving systems serves the vital pulse to ‘Intensity’’s immaculate song-cycle.

A similarly other-worldly feel ascends on ‘Prisms of Glass’, a duet between Holter and Perhacs, sung beneath an ambient backdrop of celestial harmonies and shimmering keys. The heartfelt lament is closer to a prayer as a meditative quality exudes from the prisms of musical patterns. Music rarely feels so divine. A peace and tranquillity breathes like “the wind that play” as a vivid sense of joy and awakening floods through each and every aching heart pore. The resultant effect of ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ is the healing power that spirals from each of these stunningly beautiful and highly-innovative sonic creations. To enter the incredible sphere of musical imagination sculpted by Perhacs is a feeling of pure joy and wonder.

Having re-visited the sacred opus of ‘Parallelograms’ endless times (and attaining infinite solace and healing from the album’s spell-binding creations), I decided to write a fan-mail to its peerless creator (at the tail-end of 2012). Little did I know what beautiful set of events would soon transpire. A short time later, a lovely and detailed message would come back, directly from the gracious artist. Included was a news update that a new record was in the works. After a few more correspondences, Linda very kindly sent on a few working demos of these new songs, namely ‘Freely’, ‘Intensity’ and ‘The Soul of All Natural Things’. In much the same way as the bewitching effect of ‘Parallelograms’, the new songs immediately cast an illuminating spell to truly sweep you off your feet, and heighten, empower, and strengthen your very being and the world that surrounds you.

A few months later, I would finally get to talk with Linda from her California home, on a Saturday afternoon in August 2013. During this time, Linda had begun touring the West coast with her band featuring Julia Holter, Ramona Gonzales, Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price in support of the new album, ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’. Just like her music, the voice at the end of the line offered an endless array of inspiration and enlightenment.

Still, maybe the stars will disappear,
Still, maybe the clouds will reappear,
Yet morning comes and you are still the same,
Daybreak comes and you’re amazed as anyone

—‘Daybreak’

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Interview with Linda Perhacs (August 2013).

Linda Perhacs: We just did a show in Pasadena – I’m sure you saw the pretty pictures on the website – it’s the one in the little amphitheatre with pretty lights. Well, Julia [Holter] was onstage that night and then the next day she left for Europe. She was helping us and Ramona Gonzales [Nite Jewel] was on keyboard that night and then Chris [Price] and Fernando [Perdomo] were both onstage; they handle all kinds of keyboards and guitars. And then the two back-up girls – there’s a beautiful history here – there was a black woman there and her name is Durga McBroom. But she was the backing singer with Pink Floyd when they were doing major, major work with a tour for two years where they toured constantly and they had this huge display of light show and visuals – it was exceptional for its era, it was one of the biggest ever – and she was one of the three black ladies onstage doing all the back-up singing. So, Durga was with us for the last two shows and it was so much fun. We did one in Big Sur – the last day in June – and then we did this one in Pasadena which would have been the Fourth of July weekend. And they were both just wonderful experiences, I can’t tell you; it was just great.

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It must be lovely to be playing both your songs off ‘Parallelograms’ and these new songs at these shows. It must be a special feeling.

LP: It is, it really is. As long as I am talking the creative end of it, I am in my element and totally in love and we’re having just a ball. But the contractual stuff; thank heavens for my two co-producers Chris and Fernando because I don’t think I could handle it. It’s very very digital type stuff, it has understandings that you would have to have from more their era – Chris is about 28 and Fernando is about 33 – they’re just prime for understanding all that. It goes over my head to be honest [laughs].

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The music should be the priority, I mean it must be difficult when all the other things become the focal point.

LP: Yeah, well I’m so glad that I am working with people in that age bracket to be my co-producers because in this era you have to be very astute to understand all that. Between the three of us, it’s been a tight team and a wonderful, wonderful experience and all the other people that contribute musically have been – like sentiment I can’t tell you; it’s not like studio work where you just call someone in who is an expert in something. This has been like God almost sending me these people, it’s just so, so special.

Tell me about you, Mark? I never quite understood, do you have other things that you do, like another job on top of that?

Oh I do, Linda. Well my passion has always been with music so I love this hobby of interviewing musicians like yourself and you know, just to write about music. But then I actually have a degree in science. Well, it’s not quite your path but biotechnology.

LP: Well, fantastic. No wonder you like all those layered sounds that are closer to the universe that draw you into thinking about it. It’s those of us who have that background where we come from nature and from a study of the universe. Close to music, it’s a wonderful combo because it’s all united, you know.

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In relation to your music Linda, nature and the universe is something so integral to your music.

LP: Yes, yes. I love the co-creation of it. You know, we make medicines and we try heal people and try to help; I hate to say this but in our country, it’s becoming very mechanical and it’s a business disguised as a healing profession. We’ve kind of become disassociated with healing for the sake of helping people –well I would say very disassociated – and money is just way too out there in the prime importance is the flow of the money through this whole healing situation and healing is getting lost in the shuffle. So, when I look at nature and God and the universe, I see a creation like the DNA molecules, it has a little repair crew. I mean what kind of mind would create something so beautiful? So I’m in awe of him because it’s taking care of the system while it uses the system. In man’s way, we destroy the system while we use the system. We have so much to learn. So much.

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I agree with you absolutely. You were very kind to send me two songs, two demos, and the song ‘Intensity’ encompasses so much of this feeling as well.

LP: Well it takes a special person to have the patience to even listen through that piece. I want to send you the title-track of the album, which is called ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’. I was thinking of making ‘Intensity’ the name of the album and also the title-track but it’s going over too many people’s heads, because they’re in a hurry and it’s a very long piece. The song ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, when we played that for anyone and watch the reaction, it’s just 100% wow and it’s quiet and they just stay with it. It’s also a good title for an album that’s trying to still remember the people who love the 70’s album [‘Parallelograms’] as well as people who are merging into this era.

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The title itself – when I read it first – I feel those words really sum up your whole ethos and musical philosophy.

LP: Yes, we’re kind of growing into that. It’s pretty much decided that we’ll put it first and that will be the title [laughs]. And at the shows, I take the time to talk to the people and tell them the stories that go with some of the songs that will draw them even more towards thinking more about these balances. And the crowds, Mark are predominately aged 19 through 37 and any age after that. But so many of them are what I would call young and the best the world has to offer to face the future, you know that’s a very important age bracket. And the questions that they ask are marvellous but I know that many of those questions are because they want to explore invisible energies; they realize taking artificial substances has a risk but they also realize they need to understand it. And I’m really good at explaining to them how to deal with this choice between taking too much that’s not natural and being able to do this in a natural way.

I come from a family line – I don’t know if I told you this Mark – where many of the people would be able to see ahead and they could tell years ahead, how many children they would have and little things like that. But my father was astounding, he was in World War II and he saved many, many lives because of his keen, almost – it was almost like an Indian where they just knew there was danger off to the left, whether they could see it, smell it, taste it, whatever; they perceived it vibrationally. And my father was drafted I guess for World War II and he ended up being an active duty in the middle of Italy and then into the area where Hitler was and so it was very, very dangerous. He was asked to train the troops in survival I harsh cold, like mountain-climbing, back-packing; all the harsh conditions that would be the mountain.

Then the rest of his career they sent him all over the world into Japan, Alaska, Colorado; any place that had high, cold, snowy, icy conditions to train troops in survival. So he took his intuitive which was a gift that we seem to have in that blood line, and he would say to the troops “don’t go over there to the left, there are mines there; you can’t see them but they’re there” and when people disobeyed them they usually got blown up. So he developed a reputation for, you know pay attention to what this man says and he was an officer so that helped. Many times they would use him for that purpose; they would put him on a jeep – on the front of the jeep – and ask him as they drove through places like where Italy might be; where are the Turkish people, whatever the different groups are. He would tell them where they were; which part of the mountains they were hiding in or which part of the train because he could sense it, he knew where they were.

And then the one astounding one is that they put him on a battle boat at about three in the morning to land in Alaskan waters where they were trying to get rid of the Japanese because the war wasn’t over yet and the Japanese were still trying to attack through the Alaskan islands. So they put him on the bowel of the boat and they had to turn the lights off on the boat and the engine and drift ashore because they couldn’t afford to make any noise. And they pulled him up on the bowel and said “can you give us any idea the amount of danger? Where are we at out here?” and he said “it’s extreme danger at the moment; they are on the island”, he said not only do I know they’re there but I can smell the cigarette, I can smell the fire, I can smell the food; it’s very, very current that they are here. And actually by the time they walked on ground, the Japanese were so scared that they ran away. He would give a twelve hour prediction of what they would find in a situation; a twenty four hour and a forty eight hour; he kind of made a time-frame for them so they would know how fresh the signals were; those intuitive signals as well as smells, anything he could pick up.

So I came through the doorway of nature. My young husband when I was married introduced me to nature in a very beautiful way, we’d only go to wild and beautiful country. I met him when I was at UFC. But anyway, he got me out into raw wilderness, it was the first time ever I was in country that wild and he taught me so much and I’m so grateful for what he taught me. But the whole point I’m making is even in my love for God, I had to come through nature first; nature came first, nature and sciences and the understanding that this kind of magnificence has to be the result of a very, very clear, high, clean, loving being; it’s just the natural progression. And the more you study the more involved you are [laughs]. I am sure you can relate to that Mark.

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Definitely, Linda. They were some beautiful stories about your father.

LP: Yeah, it’s all true. It’s documented. My family on that side have saved the documentation of these things. It’s all true, that’s what he did. But it runs in that family line, they’ve been listening inwardly for two hundred years that I know of in history and most of them are from Ireland, Scotland and England, almost the whole blood line through my father’s line. My mother’s people would have been England more; proper and a little colder but not as loving of God so it’s my Dad’s people I relate to the most and he’s no longer alive but neither is my mother. But all my blood line comes from the same part of the world where you’re in. Well I feel it you know, as I hear a Celtic piece of music or those wonderful modal tones, I mean I just stand still, it just gets to me; I just love those sounds [laughs].

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I love how you’ve said before – exactly what you said so nicely there about your blood line – how you’ve always seen colours and sound and form, you know, inwardly all your life. It must be an amazing process that goes on to make your music.

LP: Yes. The title-theme, ‘The Soul of all Natural Things’, that was probably one of the closest where I had to work. I think inwardly; I pray inwardly; I listen inwardly and this particular piece I can tell you there was a light in the room over my head; the lighted beam over my head, at like twelve at midnight when we had time to create this piece and I did not do it all by myself. Sometimes if you just ask for it, He will come to anybody if they would just take the time. You know what it is, you know we’ve got these cell phones and we call each other, which is like sending signals out to the world, and we’re on these things constantly and all our digital stuff constantly. When you really need help, like if it’s a 911 situation and buildings are blowing up, you’ve got to send the signal straight up – I’m sure you know that – like, help and you have to have the signal reach its mark in seconds if not sooner and you need to know how to hear the answer. It’s our mechanism; it’s available to all of us, it’s just a matter that we know how to use the cell phones, we need to take a little time to figure out how to go straight up and ask God for help too. So, do I do this daily? Yes. Did my father? Yes.

I think we need to work in the world we’re in. Our children who have now become teenagers; making marvellous discoveries even in medicine at age fifteen. I can only remember one of them but all of these people were fourteen or fifteen and one of them was from a very poor part of our country – I think he was in Harlem and he was in the advanced programming and he was put into a more advanced school because he did seem to be pretty exceptional- there was three very recent occurrences where they knocked the medical world on their feet by learning how to do a cancer screening from blood or something like that. Apparently it was amazing enough they asked the young man, “how did you come up with this idea?” and his answer was “well how come you didn’t?’” [laughs] So yes, our children are going to be such a help because they understand that world but we cannot forget the invisible part too which is also an energy-based wavelength phenomenon.

And when I go to these concerts, after we do our singing and the young people come up and they just want to talk about that and they want to understand these energies. They have some very good questions. Well I try to work with them on these levels because of feeling it is so important they even ask these questions and study them. And you know, when you think about what my father could pick up and what I can pick up and all the family line and many, many, many other people but they just don’t talk about it – they’re working on those levels – it is a wavelength, someday we’ll be able to put it on a graph like a heartbeat and we’ll understand them better but right now, it’s still sort of a mystery but it is a natural phenomenon. It’s not an unnatural thing that I know.

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I can imagine it’s like how the healing world and the musical world are like one entity.

LP: Absolutely and I can do more healing through the music now than I can in the fast clinical world.

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I think the song ‘Parallelograms’ itself is a wonderful example of healing, it’s like this three-dimensional structure.

LP: Yes. Well when we do it live we sort of kick through and make it a little bit louder in the middle section because it’s fun for the audience. But I know what you mean Mark and again you can hear the Celtic sounds in there too. We were also asked to go to Big Sur. I’ve been there many times because of course it’s in California where I live. But they still have uncut timber there on the private properties and we were doing this special festival that they do once a year, way up high where the eagles might be looking straight down at the magnificent beauty of the cliff sides that go into the Pacific ocean. So we had an unobstructed view of nature from a very high point, right directly above the ocean and they put us into a little cabin like a Henry David Thereau type cabin, all very rustic and charming and then also a little house that was more modern. But the tickets I could read on their website were $120 a piece and they said it was limited to only five hundred people but that can’t be true it must have been five hundred cars because when we got there, there was no less than fifteen hundred people – maybe more there were a lot of people there [laughs] – and I think it was two to three days and we were the headliner for the Saturday night. I can’t tell you how breath-taking and wonderful the experience was; the crowd was a nature crowd and the vibes were just fabulous. It was very special and I will have to go back again [laughs]. It was really a lot of fun.

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One of my favourite stories about ‘Parallelograms’, I remember reading about Leonard Roseman and how he was just a patient where you worked.

LP: To this day I’ve never knocked on a door, Mark. The powers to be have sent people to me. And sometimes I don’t recognise it right away, I have to be reminded you know. But Leonard and Kay were my favourite patients at this large, prestigious periodontal office in Beverly Hills. It was right almost on Rodeo Drive, it couldn’t have been more central to the entertainment world and just huge flows of money in the world passed through that area, especially in that era. And I have just come out of UFC and I’ve been there for free on this scholarship – a full tuition scholarship – for four years so I was sophisticated enough to figure all these things out but again I must have been led. The professor who had run that office in Beverly Hills was a professor in UFC and he asked for one hygienist student with the helping of a special project and he said “what I want is patience; I don’t want speed, I want patience” so they said “well Linda is the one to choose for that”. So they put us together and we did this research project together and then he said “when you have your licenses, as soon as you do, don’t even interview, come to my office and work for me” and that’s how I got into that whole arena of people; I never even did an interview. I was with him for fifteen years so I got some of the best training you could ever have and his whole clientele were world-class famous people and I had to learn to be in harmony with their level of thinking which for a person at my age at the time was a challenge.

But Leonard and Kay were my favourites because they were creators; they weren’t the stars of a film but they were creating the music behind the film. So after about ten or more appointments with both of them, finally Leonard, the husband spoke up and he said “I can’t believe this is all you do” and he was looking at me with curiosity because he sensed something and I said to him “well, I have a very creative husband and we live in Topanga Canyon and he has a bird collection; we had to move there from UFC where we had to keep his birds in a rural situation and there hawks, falcons and birds of flight. And then my ex-husband would take the birds to UCLA and lecture on aerospace dynamics showing the difference in the feathers, the wings and in the form and function of these birds. Then in addition he was a sculptor and a painter ad he was just an enormously creative guy”. So I’m telling Leonard that it’s my husband who is creative and Leonard said “well what do you do then when he takes you into the wilderness and he’s climbing mountains and cliff spaces and stuff?” I said “well not me, I take solitary walks and I write little songs” [laughs] and Leonard says “You live in Topanga Canyon, you’re in your middle twenties, the hippies are all over there as well as Laurel Canyon etc”, he said “we get a fineness to need to write music about the hippy world, we’re about twenty years too old to have that flavour and feel, could you help us?

So my original invitation from them to join them was to help them capture that flavour for their assignments. But once Leonard began to see the composition ‘Parallelograms’ that I wanted to somehow, he said “that’s it, we’ve got to do an album”, he said “this has to be done with you and it has to be your album”. So he walked over to Universal Studios where he knew everybody and said “we need a budget” and he had so much power and respect, they just said, “well do four of them- maybe four to six – we’ll give a budget for that, we’ll review it and see if we’ll give you the full budget for the album”. So as soon as they heard our first four, they said it’s a done-deal. But we didn’t do ‘Parallelograms’ initially for him because he said “that’s too small for them, they won’t understand it” so we did more normal songs. When they would come into the room, the black suited business men, he said “you can’t do this piece of music around them Linda as they won’t understand”. And yet that is the piece of music that has carried the album for forty years, the ones the executives didn’t understand.

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And the world for the past forty years since the album has been out, you know there is such a deep love for this album.

LP: This has come as a surprise to me, Mark. I’m still sort of wondering what’s going on.

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I remember too how you said that the song ‘Parallelograms’ just came to you one night.

LP: Oh I saw that one Mark. I saw it. I came home from Leonard and Kay’s house at eleven in the evening and then driving on a major freeway here in Los Angeles going back home to Topanga Canyon. And I looked up in the sky and I could see exactly what I tried to draw, I think you’ve seen the drawing of it. It looked like a light show; beautiful colours but yet it was moving like music would move, it was almost in a scroll like if you write music but at the same time it was creating three dimensional shapes of geometric shapes. There was just something about it I couldn’t hear any sound but I knew that what I was saying was the light pattern of music. So we have screensavers now that help this generation understand that phenomenon but this was a girl who only had coffee and some Italian spaghetti that day: Leonard and Kay had filled me with eight hours of all kinds of music; they played everything in their repertoire on big speakers in a very magnificent home as well, I was just infused with music as I was driving home in the silence and I saw this amazing phenomenon in the sky. I scribbled it down on tiny note paper in the dark and pulled off the freeway, and wrote it the best I could and I presented the idea to Leonard a week or so later. I said “I’ve already written a celtic tune, I didn’t know what to do with it; now I know what to do; I’m going to put the celtic sounds on either side to frame it like you frame a picture and in the middle I need to somehow convey these geometric shapes and the movement of the music the way I saw it”. And I said each colour represents a tone. Each colour, so if it was blue or green it would be a lower note. If it was high bright brassy yellow, it is a higher pitched frequency, you know like a high flute. And he loved the idea, he said “we’ve got to do this”. And that’s how it all happened.

Leonard was working in electronic sounds in his day at the time he is talking to me about this piece. He was using the only thing available to modulate the human voice and it was called a ring modulator. He was already attaching that to the sounds from a contralto; a beautiful woman contralto named Sally Cherry and he was using it in very avant garde classical pieces that were not meant for film or TV – it was his great passion to do these pieces of music – so he let me hear those sounds that day I saw this phenomenon in the sky. And I had already said to him “Leonard, we’ve got to use these sounds; I love it, what are you doing to that lady’s voice? It’s wild!” So Leonard was already using these sounds and then he would play some of the unusual tones and things in space movies when they assigned him to do a space movie. The point I’m trying to make is I made an era now in trying to make my second album –well now I’ve done it – but everybody wanted it to stay totally organic. In the future I’m going to start to do, maybe song by song – maybe even put out a single – I’m going to return to a great passion that I had and I was sharing it with Leonard. I like some of those electronic sounds. The universe has many, many interesting sounds – the sound of a whale; the sound of a planet moving, its torque and movement through the universe – there are sounds everywhere. I like those sounds because they are natural, we’re just a little primitive in the creation of them right now. In nature, those sounds exist everywhere, so I’m not afraid of them. I think there is a strong division between those who are doing techno sounds and those who are not. I believe it’s because the techno people have gone too corny in many ways; they haven’t used these sounds with great compositional skill, maybe. But I’m going to start experimenting with some of those pulsating sounds because I know they are in nature and I happen to be intrigued by them [laughs]. So, I’m not against those sounds, it’s how you use them.

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‘The Soul of all Natural Things’ is out now on Asthmatic Kitty

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http://www.lindaperhacs.com/

http://asthmatickitty.com/

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Time Has Told Me: The Moles

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Interview with Richard Davies.

Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.”

—Richard Davies

Words: Mark Carry

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This year marked the release of legendary Australian band The Moles’ first comprehensive retrospective collection, courtesy of independent label, Fire Records. ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ and follow-up ‘Instinct’ (the latter was heralded by The Sea And Cake’s Archer Prewitt as being “as close to perfection as any Beatles or Beach Boys record and it stands on its own as a classic in my book”) and a whole plethora of b-sides and rarities, culled from various EP’s and singles.

Led by Richard Davies (who later would join Eric Mathews and form Cardinal), The Moles were formed in Sydney in the late 80’s and unleashed a resolutely unique sound of orchestral pop, psych, garage and indie gems that inspired many bands (such as The Flaming Lips) and wowed audiences worldwide. The original band line-up consisted of Glenn Fredericks, Richard Davies, Warren Armstrong and Carl Zadra, friends from law school who were fans of Flying Nun, The Fall and The Go Betweens, drawing their name from a reference to ‘Wind In The Willows’ and spy novels (John Le Carré and Graham Greene).

A series of EP’s were released at the turn of the 90’s – ‘Untune The Sky’ and ‘Tendrils and Paracetamol’ – that would eventually see the release of the band’s first full-length release in 1992 (also titled ‘Untune The Sky’). The Moles re-located to New York, where they released a pair of seven inch singles (packaged together as the Double single EP). A move to London followed that lasted a year (that would include recording a John Peel session and many great gigs) and in 1994, the original line-up of The Moles split.

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‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.

http://www.firerecords.com/

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Interview with Richard Davies

It’s wonderful to ask you some questions about the music of The Moles, Richard. Please take me back to the late 80’s in Sydney where The Moles began? I would love for you to discuss the music scene happening in Sydney during this time. Also, can you recount your memories of forming the band The Moles, and who played with you in the original line-up?

Richard Davies: The Sydney music scene was a no-goer. It was crap. Lots of crappin’ covers bands doing songs not worth covering. Not organic in any sense. Really, a drag. There were a couple of good bands, one called Crow, and The Moles. (We weren’t “good” but we were good). Not much going on at all. Had to get out of there to do anything of interest!

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One of the great hallmarks of The Moles is how richly diverse and utterly compelling the songs are; belonging very much to the here and now, packed with such a freshly innovative sound. I would love to gain an insight into the creative process and particularly, your song-writing please? I feel that you must have a myriad of ideas and inspiration ceaselessly surrounding you, and writing non-stop. Would that be the case?

RD: I must say your questions are particularly celtic. It seems I can’t help writing. Also I like impact in music, intensity. Not intensity that comes from relentless distorted guitars and screamed vocals. That kind of intensity is reductionist – although done with wit, like say, The Stooges, it has artistic merit as well. So, I am restless, and I like surprises.

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Growing up and indeed during the formative years of your musical-upbringing, what records made a biggest impact upon you, Richard? Were you heavily immersed in music from a young age? I’d love to know what instruments you first learned to play? 

RD: I played nothing properly until I was about 20. I twanged on a terrible Korean guitar, the brand was called ‘Kapok’, which is kind of like the sound it made, when I was 15. Just one string, aping Beatles basslines and Johnny Cash lead guitar. Upon reflection that was more sophisticated than I imagined.

My Dad, Welsh old-school chain smoking WWII veteran, would come in and say “Put down that bloody twanger”.

When he wasn’t telling me to leave the bloody twanger alone (and I mean guitar by that) we would both listen to Simon and Garfunkel, The Bee Gees, and even The Beatles at a stretch. He would drink scotch on New Year’s Eve and shed tears to Handel’s Messiah, though he was an atheist. I never had the chance to ask him to explain that discrepancy. I inherited a couple of records from my sister Anne, Sam n Dave, The Exciters’ “Tell Him”, and one early crackling Parlophone vinyl single by The Beatles.

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The debut full-length album, ‘Untune The Sky’ was released in 1992, after a string of EPs. The album opener — and my first taste of witnessing the indie-pop brilliance of The Moles — ‘Bury Me Happy’ is a scintillating and heartfelt slice of indie-bliss. Do you have any particular memories of writing this song, and indeed recording the track in the studio? It’s such a perfect opening to a remarkable record. 

RD: When I was in my early twenties I was a slow learner on the social front. A little behind the pace. Now I realize my shyness was likely due to my deafness, which is quite profound. My friends would go to the student union bar and chug beers and try to pull girls. I would smile a lot and sip Coca Colas. I think that environment and my quiet reaction to it was what that song was about.

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What was the recording process like for ‘Untune The Sky’. What was the set-up like? I imagine a lot of the tracks were recorded in one or two takes, as there is such a raw and immediate feel to these takes. 

RD: Most recorded very quickly. We were bootstapping it. That was the only way to make a record, nothing deluxe for The Moles and their ilk. In one studio, the engineer was very upset that we wanted to try a thing called an “over-dub”.

Since there was no window from the control room to the recording “area” I should have appreciated his concern. There were some rats in the studio however.

He complained that a band should “come in, do a cover, and get out”, and not screw around or waste his time with stuff like writing their own songs or recording overdubs.

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Is there a song you’re most proud of from ‘Untune The Sky’, Richard?

RD: ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’ is, as has been described, the crown jewel of the recorded output of The Moles, although I’m partial to ‘Accidental Saint’ and a few of the others too. I like ‘Wires’ and ‘Curdle’, they get the job done.

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I love the aesthetic and flow to the record, and how the songs are formed from such a vast sonic canvas.  Also, I love the hidden details embedded in the songs, for example ‘Curdle’ which contains some audio-recording/found sounds during the intro. How important was this aspect to the music-making process for you? 

RD: Who knows what can be included in the palette? It’s always an adventure. The idea of The Moles — anonymous, spies, double agents, elusive, ambiguous — always makes a Moles record an excuse for imagination first.

I love the concept. The name and the idea is a license. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry.

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The instrumentation, which is really daring and adventurous is another reason why the record sounds so ahead of its time and resolutely unique. Were there particular techniques you employed during the recording sessions?  I love the addition of brass on tracks like ‘Surf’s Up’ and the worlds of sound that are so effortlessly unleashed. Was the song-title an ode to The Beach Boys’ album? (One of my favourite moments of ‘Untune The Sky’ arrives on the chorus refrain of ‘Surf’s Up’ where you sing “Let the waves roll over me”). 

RD: ‘Surf’s Up’ was about a recurring dream I had for many years of taking a nap at the part of the beach where the waves roll onto the sand, and the water is warm, and it is very calming and soothing. It always helped me wake up refreshed and enthusiastic.

The Moles are music-and-ideas-first by necessity. They never did and never will depend on business strategies, tactics, log-rolling, posturing, name-calling, back biting, and petty fighting, which seems to happen to even the most aesthetically “pure” bands the longer they are around.

The only thing The Moles possess now that they never did before is connections — to powerful and imperious musical neptunes who cast their mighty tridents upon certain objects, and in certain directions, and lo, I’m answering these questions for you.

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I must say the album centrepiece for me, must be ‘Lonely Hearts Get What They Deserve’. The backing harmonies and piano/organ sounds are breathtakingly beautiful. There is a vivid sense of loneliness etched across the sprawling canvas of sound. Also, your vocal delivery is immense, charged with raw emotion. I would love for you to talk me through the construction of this song and your memories of writing/recording it? 

RD: That was the first song I wrote that was ‘complicated’. It was complicated musically, and emotionally. It was the second or third song I tackled. It came out of a troubled period with a girlfriend in my early twenties, the usual thing that people get mixed up in with relationships, finding out what is involved in being in love beyond the first few weeks. I had it written in a little brown notepad along with ‘Bury Me Happy’ and ‘Accidental Saint’, which came out of the same period. It was an intense time, more happy than is reflected in the song.

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A short time after the release of ‘Untune The Sky’, the group re-located to New York, where you released a couple of seven-inch singles. Following this, you moved to London and gathered critical acclaim from all corners. Was there a feeling of dismay, following the release of the debut record and despite receiving unanimous praise, commercial sales wouldn’t follow? Did The Moles tour a lot during your stint in the UK? What were your impressions of the music world at this time? 

RD: The Moles, at the time we were praised, were working in factories, a candle factory in London on the 11.00 PM-7AM shift. I was stealing tomatoes off street stalls to add to the pasta for dinner.

A bloke from Spiritualized’s record label said “Mate, we shall set you up, I’ll shall give you 70,000 pounds.” Well, OK…

“Come down to the office and we’ll get you sorted, yeah?” Well, alright.

“See that bloke over there? That’s Brett Anderson mate…” Well, OK…

I was already 28 and knew, despite my sensitive artistic nature, that the joke’s on all of us. No-one gets off free. I’m no more of an angel than anybody else, no less of a shyster.

I have received kindly compliments and salutations from all kinds of artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and poets. I also remember, back in those days, standing at a bus-stop in Stoke Newington in the rain. A filthy crotchety old bastard, the kind that only London can produce, was standing next to me and he thought I was too close to him with my umbrella, and he said “Yer, you’re no good at all, you’ll ‘ave a coom-down mate.” That’s the first and only thing he said to me.

It’s all part of the fun.

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This year marked a special retrospective release of The Moles, entitled ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences’ containing a treasure chest of bonus material from various EPs and singles. It must be a lovely feeling for you to see this musical document of The Moles been given the light of day? Looking back on the music of The Moles today, does your perspective of these songs change for you, in any way? 

RD: When I play Moles songs, I am putting on the cowl. There is a particular attitude. It fits me better than most other incarnations. It is the most natural habitat.

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Following The Moles, you of course went on to create utterly timeless sonic creations, alongside Eric Matthews in Cardinal; a collaborative project with Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices) under the name of Cosmos, and your own outstanding solo records. Do you feel there is a common thread inter-woven in all these works? With the virtue of hindsight, in what way do you think the chapter of The Moles led its way into the musical projects that followed? 

RD: At this stage The Moles feel like where I am most comfortable.

 


 

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Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ is out now on Fire Records.

http://www.firerecords.com/

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Written by markcarry

September 9, 2014 at 10:21 am

Time Has Told Me: Emerald Web

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Interview with Kat Epple, Emerald Web.

“My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.”

—Kat Epple

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs courtesy Kat Epple.

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Emerald Web comprised the duo of Kat Epple and Bob Stohl who created a unique blend of “electronic space music”, fusing early electronic and organic musical hybrids with use of innovative synthesizer orchestration. The band recorded composed on keyboards, digital orchestrations, flutes and Lyricon. Their eleven studio albums include: “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”, “Whispered Visions”, “Sound Trek”, “Valley Of The Birds”, “Aqua Regia”, “Nocturne”, “Lights Of The Ivory Plains”, “Traces Of Time”, “Catspaw”, “Dreamspun”, and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune”. In addition to self-published albums, the duo were also signed with record labels Fortuna Records, Celestial Harmonies, Passport Audion Records and Scarlett Records. The album “Catspaw” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1986. Other musicians who performed or recorded with Emerald Web include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, Ben Carriel and Steve Weiner. Emerald Web also composed soundtracks for the legendary Carl Sagan.

Named after a laser show formation, and combining influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum, the husband and wife duo would balance day jobs as synth programmers as well as TV and film soundtrackers under the moniker of BobKat productions with evening synthesizer shows at galleries, spiritual centers and even punk clubs. The near-mythical composers were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation in a studio equipped with Arp 2600, Mini Moog, EML Synkey, Roland RS202 String Ensemble and Electro-Harmonix Vocoder (audio processor), plus a range of woodwind; both Kat and Bob were trained flautists, making colourful use of Bill Bernardi’s innovative Lyricon, a hybrid flute/synthesizer, with some guitar assists by friend and co-composer, Barry Cleveland.

Ever since their ’79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales”, the other-worldly music unleashed by Emerald Web has ceaselessly illuminated the star-lit skies above with each passing note, in its stunning beauty and divine radiance. A band who constantly pushed the sonic envelope and created new age music borne from the ‘70’s prog scene (later to be dubbed “space music”), the band’s final studio recording would be “Manatee Dreams Of Neptune” after Bob’s untimely passing in 1989 at the age of 34.

“The Stargate Tapes”  was recently released on Finders Keepers Records,  a compilation comprising tracks from Emerald Web’s storied career. Later this year will see more special releases by this treasured group. Let the Lights Of The Ivory Plains accompany your path.

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Interview with Kat Epple.

It’s a real pleasure and honour to ask you some questions about your ground-breaking and visionary music. Under the alias of Emerald Web, you and your late husband, Bob Stohl have been responsible for some of the most beautiful and innovative musical explorations to have graced the earth — shifting between ambient, electronic and new age. Firstly, please take me back to the inception of Emerald Web and the musical telepathy that exists between you and Bob. I imagine the creative process behind these works of art must have been a deeply fulfilling time?

Kat Epple: Thank you, Mark, for your appreciation of our music!

We collaborated and co-composed music very spontaneously together, but we each had very different approaches. Sometimes Bob and I would play music together and come up with a theme or texture that we both wanted to develop and further explore. At other times, one or the other of us would play a musical idea that would inspire the other to add his/her melody or timbre. We usually would record the rough idea to tape, to remind ourselves of what we were working on. We never used sheet music unless we were working with another musician who was more comfortable with notes on paper.

When I listen to Emerald Web music, I can tell which of us (Bob or I) created the original music idea. Each of us had a very different compositional approach. For instance, I created the original tracks on “Valley of the Birds” and Bob created the original tracks on “Stepper”. Our styles were a good combination for collaboration because we each added our own unique elements.

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One of the many hallmarks of Emerald Web’s otherworldly sound is the innovative synthesizer orchestration utilized on the recordings. Furthermore, you were among the first to DIY blend synthesizers and acoustic instrumentation. Can you please talk me through the electronic elements of Emerald Web’s musical trajectory please? 

KE: We both played silver flute, guitar, keyboards, other woodwinds and vocals when we met. Shortly after that, we began to study music synthesis, and our music became very synth based, but also incorporated acoustic instruments. We caught a lot of flak for “bringing a flute into a synthesizer studio” from some electronic music purists, but we always thought the wind instruments added a lot of dimension and air to the otherwise electronic sound.

The first synthesizers on which we composed music were the Moog 10 and a Buchla with a touch-plate keyboard. We also incorporated Musique Concréte, utilizing nature sounds. At the same time, we were experimenting with Flute Electronique which was a flute with a contact microphone patched through octave divider, ring modulators, guitar pedals, and tape manipulation. It certainly didn’t sound like a flute unless we mixed in the acoustic sound with the electronic sound. The Flute Electronique is featured on our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales”.

As technology advanced, synthesizers incorporated preset programs and additive synthesis. The introduction of digital samplers brought a huge array of new sounds to the mix. Multi-track tape recorders increased the number of tracks available. Our sound grew more complex, and incorporated orchestral elements. We continued to incorporate traditional acoustic instruments along with the high-tech synths. We were both recording engineers, and strived to be on the cutting edge of technology.

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Outside of Emerald Web, you were instrumental in assisting synthesizer companies via feedback and consultancy in developing instruments such as the Lyricon wind synth. I would love to gain an insight into developing instruments and the process involved. For example, the enchanting sounds of the Lyricon has shades of guitar strings, oboe and french horn; a sound that is steeped in stunning beauty.

KE: Lyricon inventor Bill Bernardi, was a supporter of Emerald Web, and gave us a Lyricon 1 to experiment with, and to use on our albums. We often met with him at Computone to talk about ideas for improvements, changes and upgrades to the instrument. We were/are huge fans of the Lyricon. It is a unique and innovative instrument, and can be played very expressively.

We also worked extensively with Connecticut-based Electronic Music Laboratories (EML). They created some of the most innovative synths of the time. EML synthesizers are featured on our albums: “Whispered Visions”, and “Sound Trek”. Another interesting instrument that we worked with, was The VAKO Polyphonic Orchestron, which was the brainchild of David Van Koevering. The Orchestron was a keyboard instrument that played orchestral sounds (brass, strings, organ, vocal chorus) from spinning optical discs. It was similar to a Mellotron.

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Recording studio of the electronic/acoustic band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) 1986. Photograph courtesy Kat Epple.

Your flute playing of course is central to this new age sound that you and Bob so masterfully created. Can you please talk me through your musical upbringing and your reasoning for choosing the flute instrument? 

KE: Listening to classical music records as a young child, took me to distant lands and wonderful adventures in my imagination. That is where I first heard the sound of the flute. Although I didn’t know the name of the instrument, upon hearing it, I knew that I wanted to learn to play it. In fact, I wanted to learn to play the sound of the entire orchestra and to create my own musical stories (which is what I am doing now)

I started playing piano at 6 years old, and flute at the age of 7.  Even at that time, I wrote my own songs and arrangements. I later played oboe, mandolin, guitar, and ethnic world flutes.

As a young child, I lived in Appalachia. The gospel, folk, Appalachian musicians who played out in the hollows and backroads, and in my Grandma’s country church, were exciting to hear and to watch. Although the style of music was not exactly what I wanted to do, the way they all improvised, and did not rely on sheet music, structure, or formal music training was something that I found inspiring.

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I was interested to read how you both began as flute players in a south Florida jam session, which must have been one of the pre-cursors to Emerald Web’s formation. How soon would you begin your fascination with synthesizers and begin to think of combining the organic and synthetic? It must have been a very exciting time when you both began to experiment in this way.

KE: Bob Stohl and I met at the University of South Florida (1972) at a jam session, where we were both playing flutes. Shortly after that, we fell in love, and both studied electronic music and recording engineering at SYCOM (Systems Complex for the Recording and Performing Arts).

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My favourite album at the moment is “Valley Of The Birds” and particularly the epic title-track. This piece of music takes you on a wholly uplifting voyage, led by the mesmerising flute-led melody. Can you please take me back to the recording of this record, Kat? Can you discuss the inspiration of Valley of the Birds in Berkley Hills where you resided? 

KE: “Valley of the Birds” is still one of my favorite albums and tracks too. It was recorded in our 4 track reel-to-reel studio. The sequencers and synth tracks were recorded as the first 2 tracks, then we added flutes and Lyricon as the other 2 tracks. At the time we recorded this album, we were living in a beautiful ashram in the Berkeley, California hills. The view from our apartment looked over acres of trees, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco. The trees were filled with birds, and their singing.

This is a quote from a review of “Valley of the Birds”:

“Emerald Web never presents a truly ambient music — behind each musical soundscape lies the intertwined melodies of Bob and Kat’s flutes caressing one’s ear and heart.”

(Ramana Das Yoga Journal)

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Looking back over the immaculate songbook of Emerald Web’s vast recordings, is there a particular album that holds most resonance with you today? I would love to know if your techniques — be it writing, composing, studio recording, production, engineering — had changed or transformed in any way throughout the years?

KE: I guess “Valley of the Birds” and “Manatee Dreams of Neptune” are my favorite Emerald Web albums. All of those techniques you mentioned have changed immensely, partly because of the changes in technology, but also because I have grown as a musician and as a person.

I still enjoy most of our old music.  A couple of years ago, I had the music restored and archived from the old reel-to-reel master tapes. Some of it I had not heard in decades, but as I listen to it now, I think it holds up well.

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You combined influences from science fiction films, fantasy novels and a broad musical spectrum. These worlds are forever present in the music of Emerald Web as a vivid sense of mystery, fantasy, nature and sheer beauty is interwoven in the music’s rich tapestry. What were the films, books and music that you and Bob were obsessed with most that served inspiration for your own music?

KE: The first time I remember hearing electronic music was on the soundtrack of the movie “Forbidden Planet”, and I was enchanted by the sounds.

Our first album, “Dragon Wings and Wizard Tales” was inspired by Usula LeGuin’s “Earthsea Trilogy”. In fact, when we sent her a copy of the album, she sent us a reply saying that she thought the music was beautiful and powerful.

I would say that JRR Tolkien was a definite influence too.

Bob and I were both studying Silat Kung Fu at that time, and that was an inspiration.

Science Fiction was very important to our sound too. We read Asimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Bradbury, etc. Sci Fi movies had a major impact on us and our music too. In fact, we enjoyed performing at Star Trek and Star Wars conventions as the featured “Space Music Band”.

Musically, some of our influences were King Crimson, Gustav Holst, Vangelis, Larry Fast, Walter Carlos, Pink Floyd, John Cage, and Claude Debussy.

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The band Emerald Web (Bob Stohl and Kat Epple) in their recording studio in 1979. Photograph by Charles O’Connor; courtesy Kat Epple.

Please discuss for me the soundtracks you composed for Carl Sagan? This really does feel like a match made in heaven, where sight and sound becomes one giant mass of unknown beauty. Please take me back to these special collaborative projects you were involved with Carl, and indeed what the process entailed? Was it a case of being given some visuals/scenes and then composing music to identify a certain mood? I can imagine working on these soundtracks must have been hugely rewarding for you and Bob?

KE: We were huge fans of Carl Sagan and the “Cosmos” television series. It was honestly a thrill to work with him!

We worked with Carl Sagan on several films about the SETI program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The documentary, titled “Is There Anybody Out There?” on PBS, included Steven Spielberg, and featured Lily Tomlin as on-camera host and narrator.

Later, we worked with Carl Sagan and his production team, when the Voyager 2 Spacecraft reached Neptune. Emerald Web worked on films and television specials as Voyager 2 gave our planet its first glimpse of Neptune, as the extraordinary photos began to arrive back on Earth.

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In recent years, you have been working closely with the Finders Keepers label as part of the Emerald Web archival project. This has already led to the incredible compilation, “The Stargate Tapes” from last year and Emerald Web’s ‘79 debut “Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales” to be released on CD for the very first time. It must be lovely for you to think there is such a special interest in these recordings that formed such a big part of your life, throughout the 80’s. What more hidden gems do you hope will see the light of day from the archives, Kat? 

KE: It has been a great experience working with Andy Votel, and his archival record label, Finders Keepers. It is really good to have the early Emerald Web music restored and available for people to hear again. I appreciate the new fans that are hearing the music for the first time.

Finders Keepers plans to re-issue the album “Whispered Visions” in 2014, and to release other early Emerald Web albums in the future.

There will also be a collector’s limited edition of the album “Catspaw”, on the Anodize Record Label.

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Other musicians you performed and recorded with include Barry Cleveland, Jon Serrie, and Steve Weiner. Barry Cleveland co-composed several Emerald Web compositions, as well as adding some gorgeous guitar parts. It must have been special to have friends to contribute to what the core duo of Emerald Web were creating? 

KE: We always loved collaborating with other musicians. I recall many late night music sessions with a variety of artists and instrumentalists playing harp, guitar, cello, violin, synths, dance, video, and more. Unfortunately, we either didn’t record those magical experiences, or the tapes have long since been lost.

We played on albums with Barry Cleveland, Carlos Reyes, Michael Masley, Patrick Ball, Steven Halpern and more. Barry Cleveland is a long-time friend, and we are scheduled to play some music together in autumn of 2014.

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In terms of live performance, Emerald Web played concerts at galleries, spiritual centres and even punk clubs. Did you tour much during this time? I can imagine it must have been difficult to replicate the Emerald Web sound in the live context? Do you have particular favourite shows from Emerald Web concerts?

KE: It took a lot of musical equipment on stage to re-create the music from our albums, but we did it. My very first synth was an Arp 2600 which consistently drifted out of tune. I developed the technique of manually tuning the oscillators “on the fly” as I performed on stage with it.  Our sequencers had “volatile memory”, which meant that we had to program the sequences right before the concert, and as we were performed on stage. It took several hours to set up the equipment for our full show.

Among my favourite concerts were the ones at Morrison Planetarium at The California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. We would collaborate with the planetarium’s star show and laser show artists/technicians to create a powerful audio/visual experience.  I remember standing on a stage under the planetarium dome, while over our heads, the stars would be moving, planets spinning, and laser beams flashing. Sometimes I had to hold onto the keyboard stand or mic stand to steady myself in this dizzying setting. Argon laser beams flashed just a few feet above our heads to create a criss-crossing matrix of green laser light…….an Emerald Web.

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What are your thoughts on the contemporary music scene? Do you have personal favourite records from the past few years? 

KE: There is an amazing variety of music that is easily accessible today, in contrast to the early days before digital downloads. Back then, it was more difficult to find new and unusual music. There is also so much more music available since a musician doesn’t have to be signed to a major record label in order to get his/her music heard. But of course, just because your music is on iTunes, etc., doesn’t mean that people will find it or buy it.

I listen to many types of music: World, Electronic, Americana, Jazz, Classical, Electronic Dance Music, Latin, Film Scores, to name a few.

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Lastly, I would love to ask you what your philosophy on life is? 

KE: My music comes from my connection with nature and spirit. In fact, all of the music of Emerald Web was created as a part of our spiritual journey. I continue to create music from that place of magic, wonder, and inspiration. After all, that is what makes it fun to make music.

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Thank you for the truly beautiful music you have created and all the best for both the present and future.

KE: Thank you! Thanks to all of the people who have appreciated the music of Emerald Web over the years, and to those who are hearing it for the first time.

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http://www.katepple.com
http://www.discogs.com/artist/84389-Emerald-Web

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Written by admin

August 13, 2014 at 10:18 am

Time Has Told Me: The Monks

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Interview with Eddie Shaw, The Monks.

“Their melodies were pop destructive and must be played to your younger brother.”

—Jack White

Words: Mark Carry

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As described by David Fricke of Rolling Stone, “The Monks were the original exiles on main street — ex-GI’s playing heavy attitude freakrock in the hard-luck bars and roughhouse teen clubs of the 60’s Cold War Germany.” The story of The Monks — whose ground-breaking full-length record ‘Black Monk Time’ (released in March 1966) journeyed into garage, psych and punk many years before any Sex Pistols or aforementioned movement would surface — is beautifully told by Monks bassist, Thomas Edward Shaw in the aptly titled autobiography ‘Black Monk Time’.

The Monks were five beat playing American GI’s stationed in Germany, who after their discharge, decided to stay and continue their musical mission, in the words of Shaw: “Our creation is the material expression of an inner spiritual reality”. The line-up for The Monks comprised: Gary Burger (Minnesota, guitar); Roger Johnston (Texas, drums); Larry Clark (Chicago, organ); Dave Day (Washington, banjo) and Eddie Shaw (California, bass). Starting out as good-time surf band The Torquays, their metamorphosis into the Monks occurred during the mid-60’s after a chance-encounter with a team of local managers after which time the five-person order forged a fuzz-drenched evolution of sound, bursting with social commentary and futuristic primitive rhythms.

Some forty years after the original release of the band’s landmark studio album, ‘Black Monk Time’, Light In The Attic Records lovingly assembled the U.S. group’s recorded legacy, including ‘The Early Years 1964-1965’ and numerous period photographs (many unseen) included in both releases.

“You’re a monk, I’m a monk, we’re all monks!
Dave, Larry, Eddie, Roger, everybody, let’s go!
It’s beat time, it’s hop time, it’s monk time now!”

—Taken from ‘Monk Time’, the album opener to ‘Black Monk Time’ (Polydor Records, 1966).

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It’s a real honour to ask you some questions about the Monks and the rich musical legacy that five American GIs have left behind. Firstly, before discussing the band’s cult-classic — 1966’s ‘Black Monk Time’ — I would love to gain an insight into the inception of The Monks. You originally were The Torquays, a good time surf band. Please discuss these few years together as the Torquays and your cherished memories of this period. It is clear a solid foundation for the band’s peerless musicianship developed naturally during this time. 

Eddie Shaw: I was a trumpet player and began playing professionally when I was 15 years old, playing at The Nugget Casino in Carson City, Nevada. I was on the backroom stage, while Wayne Newton, 12 years old, was on the main stage with his brother.

After boot camp in the army, I was assigned to the Sixth Army Band, at the Presideo in San Francisco — the same company assigned to Herb Alpert and Chet Baker. It was a prestigious assignment. Not many musical people are given this opportunity, but I was too naive (Dumb? Adventurous?) to understand it. Since I thought it was too close to home, and since I wanted to see the world — I asked for to be sent somewhere else. That’s how I came to Germany. I realized I had made a mistake when I got there and found myself assigned to a combat unit where I became a computer in an artillery battalion. At that time there were no electronic computers. A person was the computer, and my job was to calculate the locations of targets using Geometry (the Pythagoras Theory).

Stationed in Gelnhausen Germany, there were many amateur musical groups on this army base, because playing music was a way to relieve the tension caused by more serious matters. For awhile when off duty, I played drums in a Dave Brubeck style trio — both in boot camp, on the troop ship, then for the officer’s club. When this group was unable to stay together, I played drums in a country band for the non-commissioned officers’ club in Gelnhausen.

I didn’t enjoy playing country, when I noticed two guys who played weekends, off base, in town. Gary Burger and Dave Day were guitar players, and they played for whatever money people might put in their guitar case on the barroom floor. It was simple three chords, Chuck Berry type rockabilly. When I heard them practicing in a small room in the servicmen’s club, I went to a music store, bought a bass guitar, practiced the three chords for about a week and then approached them. After awhile there were six people in the group. It’s all described in the book. The song list was expanded into new songs, some of which included the Beach Boys — and later the English groups. Gary sang the high falsetto parts.

I was the first to get out of the army, and when an agent (Hans Reich) heard us playing at the Maxim Bar in Gelnhausen, he suggested he could get us full-time gigs. I agreed to stay in Germany if the others would stay, when they got out, as well. They did. Being in a foreign country, we stuck together. We played the German clubs, seven nights a week, six to eight hours a day (2 hour matinees on Sundays) — and did nothing else but that.

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You found yourselves together because of the army, stationed in Germany. After your discharge, the band decided to stay and continue your musical mission. After reading your wonderfully insightful and enlightening book, ‘Black Monk Time’, there were many memorable club shows during those early years. Can you please talk me through the various shows you performed together during the pre-Monks years. It’s amazing to read how diverse the audiences were, depending on the space and time. I can imagine you must have faced many difficulties and hardships being so far away from home, and as a result, a closeness must have formed quickly between all the band members?

ES: I don’t think it’s easy for five healthy males to eat together, live together, travel and work together without some kind of tension. As time passes and there is an awareness of being noticed, there is also a competition of egos or perhaps feelings of trying to maintain positions — it’s a common condition in rock groups.

The Beatles experienced it. The Rolling Stones all have separate dressing rooms when they perform today. In time we get to know too much about each other, causing each person to look for his own space. Years later, when we did our reunion performances, we began to recognize that circumstance. We are individual people and still we’re all Monks — together.

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The lineup of the Monks were Gary Burger (lead vocals, guitar), Roger Johnston (drums), Larry Clark (organ), Dave Day (banjo), and your bass prowess. Can you please explain how you adapted to each other’s styles and preferences? The essence of the Monks could perhaps be seen as that truly captivating hybrid sound you unleashed, which became the blueprint for punk, psych, krautrock and garage music. 

ES: Gary Burger was a country/folk guitar player, with no professional experience before the army. Dave was an Elvis fan — with some experience playing three chord songs. Larry was a taught piano player (Chopin, Brahms, etc.), who loved the song ‘Green Onions’ and could play it just like the record. Roger was a country swing drummer from Texas, who may have played some gigs before the army, and I was a person who played different instruments and had spent about two years working in a Nevada based jazz quartet (“E Pluribus Quatro”). The individual members of The Torquays had nothing in common with each other, regarding musical influences and tastes. And this is what eventually became the basis for our hybrid sound.

We played month-long engagements for a year and a half as the Torquays, playing whatever was the hit songs of the day. In that year and a half, we only had three nights off. For me, it was the opportunity to travel, to see the world — or at least Germany. We returned often to the Odeon Keller in Heidelberg, and there we did a couple of our own recordings, written by Gary and Dave, but they were conventional tunes, not particularly interesting to anyone looking for something new.

When our managers discovered us in Stuttgart, we realized that in order to find our own sound and perform our own songs, we would have to compromise our individual musical tastes. Each person had to change some element of his style to make the mixture more cohesive. Gary could not play country. Dave could not play Chuck Berry licks over and over. And I could not play jazz progressions. We deconstructed the songs, minimized the words and chordal elements and changed the normal 12 — 8 bar passages to odd counts, like 15 bars or other odd length progressions — with key changes to break up the minimalist repetition. We did this to put tension into the music.

When the audience seemed at ease, while we performed; talking to each other and not paying much attention to the group onstage, it was a sign of failure. We knew we had to do something to keep the audience’s eyes focused on the stage. Tension and controversy were discovered to be the best approach for having people remember the group. As mentioned earlier, this insight was gained from being onstage for hours — watching people. After a while you begin to experiment with the audience. A summation of this experience is also in the book.

At the time, we never knew that our music was groundbreaking in any way. We only knew that whenever anyone heard us, they knew who it was. It was our sound. We “owned” our music, as some musicians might say. And it was not easy to own something that left people perplexed and sometimes angry.

Almost forty years later, following publication of my book ‘Black Monk Time’, we monks found ourselves doing various interviews and being featured in new articles. It was as if the group had come back to life. To my surprise I was told that The Monks had some effect on the “Krautrock” movement, which included Faust, Tangerine Dream, Can, Kraftwerk, and many more German artists who played a new form of progressive rock music in Germany in the 1970s. Suddenly there were a number of artists who released monk songs on different record labels — including Das Furlines; The Lunachicks, Mark E Smith’s The Fall; Kelley Stolz; The Graves Brothers Deluxe; and London’s The Nuns — and other groups that I am unaware of.

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Can you discuss for me your fascination with jazz music, Eddie? What were the first records you heard that opened a doorway into jazz? As a bassist, were there certain musicians you looked up to in a big way?

ES: I began playing Dixieland style music, Louis Armstrong, etc. after seeing all the groups that came through the local casinos where I lived in Nevada. It was the prevalent style. And I did my first recording when I was fifteen years old — playing live.

When I was a teenager, there was a late night radio program that featured modern jazz — and when I heard Dave Brubeck for the first time, I was intrigued. The music was more complex and wasn’t easy to understand on the first hearing. The songs contained layers of counterpoint, counter melodies and sophisticated rhythms which offered a diverse listening experience — and the improvisation made the music seem more personal. It got me — and from there, I discovered Duke Ellington who did some very complex and interesting arrangements, just as Stan Kenton did. From that I got into the Eastern U.S. jazz music with performers like Miles Davis and John Coltrane — the more avant-garde the better. I felt I was exploring new thresholds (some of today’s contemporary musicians in the rock scene are doing that same thing now).

In time I was copying the sound and style of Miles, even turning my back on the audience, when I performed onstage, to show how hip I thought I was. Of course, it was kid stuff, but I was hooked. I never intended to play rock and roll music, but then being in the army and discovering that rock music is generally about what you cannot get — like satisfaction, I found it to offer a release from the problems of the day. When we invented our monks style, I felt more satisfied, as if this is what a jazz player would do in the same circumstances.

After the Monks, I returned to the trumpet and a jazz based style, playing cities like Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and recording in Nashville. That group was known as Copperhead, later named Minnesoda on Capitol Records. It was a 180-degree change from the style of the Monks — my reaction after feeling failure.

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Your favourite live band were the Tielman Brothers, hailing from Indonesia. You saw them playing live many times and shared the stage with them on occasion. What was it about this band that made such a deep impression on you?

ES: We never shared the stage with the Tielman Brothers. While we were in the army, we did go to Hanau many times, to see them perform at the Jolly Bar. They were there often and in Hamburg as well. I knew little about them, but Gary and Dave were avid Tielman Brothers admirers. The Tielman’s style was like Cliff Richards — tightly synchronized guitars, at a low concise-mixed volume. You could hear every instrument’s part as the drums played in the mix, not over it. Gary would always marvel about Andy Tilman, the lead guitarist, by saying, “Look how long his fingers are.” Andy was a very precise player, as you can hear on ‘Java Guitars’, but on the recording/s, you can’t hear the stereophonic effect between the guitars. The Tielman Brothers were much better live than they were on recordings.

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Can you please recount for me the first time onstage as the Monks, in Heidelberg, Germany? I really enjoyed this part of your book as it was a significant turning point for you all personally, where many people were not ready for such a dramatic transition? Also, the fact each member had shaved tonsures into the tops of their heads and were wearing black clothing with rope ties must have stopped a lot of people in their tracks. 

ES: As soon as we left the barber in Frankfurt, after getting our tonsures, we knew that our lives would be different. We saw it on the street, immediately. Old women smiled at us, not the same as when we had long hair. Young people would not make eye contact, always averting their eyes if we said anything directly to them. Our image was a challenge to us, as we suddenly realized that people reacted to us as some kind of authority (priests — religious figures or serious serious guys) — but when we were drinking beer, talking rough and eyeing the girls, we were also very aware of the shocked faces that watched our behavior. Of course the black clothing and the rope ties had something to do with it as well. We were always conscious of being watched, no matter where we were.

When we were the Torquays, the Odeon Keller was always packed in Heidelberg. Everyone loved the conventional show and top pop tunes. We were an easy group to like and everyone seemed to be our friend. But the first night we showed up as the Monks — and Heidelberg was our first gig as the Monks — there was a very shocked reaction from our old friends. No one danced. No one applauded. They just sat at their tables and stared at us. The most often asked question was, “Why?”

They could not understand that we wanted to do our own music, not someone else’s — and especially there was the question, why the “I hate you,” stuff and “Why did you get that kind of haircut?” We spent a miserable month there and I don’t think we ever returned, after that. The owner, Herr Friedman, was pissed. “I do not want the Monks. I want the Torquays.” And of course, we could not turn back. The Torquays no longer existed. The further south, in Germany, we went, the more extreme the reactions to us were. In Hamburg we were like irreligious heroes, like we were making fun of serious matters and the naughty people of the St. Pauli District of Hamburg considered us as one of them. The Beatles crowd in the Top Ten would sing “I want to hold your hand” while the Monks crowd would sing, “I want to fuck your hand.” It wasn’t nice was it?

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Please discuss the beat scene in Hamburg during the mid-60’s, Eddie? It was described as the Mecca for music, and you resided quite a lot in the legendary Top Ten Club. I loved your description of Hamburg in the book: “I felt the dirt and decided that I would till it.” I would love to hear about your memories of Hamburg and indeed the musical scene during this time?

ES: In the 1960s, Hamburg, Germany was the origin of many rock musicians’ careers. As New Orleans had an effect on early American jazz, the same could be said for Hamburg, the city that provided an environment for upcoming rock groups. Some of these groups dominated the 1960’s popular music worldwide. It could be said that Hamburg was the training grounds for the oncoming British Invasion.

The main music scene was along the Reeperbahn (a wide street filled with neon lights, strip clubs and restaurants). This is where a narrow street, Grossfreiheitstrasse (“Big Freedom Street”) contained more of the same — including the famous clubs; the Kaiserkeller, The Star Club, and The Indira Club. A few yards south of the corner at Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit was the popular club known as The Top Ten Club.

The Beatles and other emerging groups played in these clubs as did the Monks who followed the Beatles in 1965. This district, known as St. Pauli, was also known as a home to prostitutes and hustlers who plied their trade on the streets. It could be dangerous place for those who wandered into the area, unaware. According to one Beatle, it was where the Beatles spent their apprenticeship. According to another Beatle, “We improved a thousand fold in Hamburg and when we returned to Liverpool, no group could touch us.”

The Top Ten was formerly known as the Hippodrome (Reeperbahn 136); designed as a circus like structure with naked ladies riding horses around a dirt-floored ring. In 1960 Peter Eckhorn turned it into a fashionable beat club, the same club the Beatles played three years earlier before we monks arrived. Like the Beatles, The “Anti-beatles” slept on the second floor, in the same small two-room area with dismal bunks and lockers, the same bunks and lockers described by the Beatles. When we were there, there were bullet holes in the lockers put there as a warning by the owner, to keep the volume down.

According to Tony Sheridan who recorded ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’, with the Beatles, “It was terrible, now that I look back. We washed our shirts and socks so the place smelt like a Chinese laundry. And I’m afraid we used to tease the life out of the old lady who [took care of] us.” And he was talking about the elderly woman who worked in the men’s restroom, referred to as “Mama” in various Beatles’ biographies — the same woman referred to, by us monks, as “Oma” (grandmother).

As the Monks discovered, like the Beatles, our Hamburg female companions were prostitutes, strippers and dancers who appeared at the club in various versions of sexy attire — before and after performing their own venues. Those of us, who spent time there, do agree it was one of the most naughty cities in the world.

According to rocker, Gerry Marsden, frontman for Gerry and the Pacemakers, in the nearby Herberstrasse brothels, located on a blocked-off street where women sat in windows, one would find experiences offered nowhere else in the world, and you better watch out. As the book ‘Black Monk Time’ stated, many of these women were friends of monks. Nightly in the Top Ten Club, Oma would supply Preludin to our drummer, Roger Johnston, to help him stay awake on stage. Even the waiters in the clubs would offer a pill when they saw a musician unable to perform because of too much drink or exhaustion.

You could buy anything in Hamburg, no matter if it was legal or not. It was a place where a musician might come, get hooked on the environment and everything it offered, and never return home — like Beatles’ first drummer, Stu Sutcliffe who stayed there and died of a brain hemorrhage; or like singer, Tony Sheridan, who used to stand in front of the stage when the monks played the Top Ten, making fun of Dave Day playing the banjo (as described in my book). Sheridan never left Hamburg and died there in 2013.

Hamburg was the stomping grounds of many groups: Cream, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Earth who became Black Sabbath, The Pretty Things, The Liverbirds, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, members of groups in King Crimson; The Indonsian group, The Tielman Brothers; and even some well-known Americans: Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a live album at the Star Club. The Americans who came there included; Bill Haley, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Ray Charles and even Brenda Lee. How could any rock group claim they had appeared at all of the world’s most important rock music scenes if they hadn’t been in Hamburg?

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The band’s near-mythical studio album, ‘Black Monk Time’ was recorded in Cologne. I can imagine it must have been difficult to record your songs to tape, in a studio environment, after the extensive nights of touring clubs and venues? The primitive technology and the band’s attempt to replicate the fuzz-drenched revolutionary sound from the live setting to a studio environment must have been riddled with difficulties? 

ES: We were playing in Cologne, at Storyville. It was a relatively short gig each night (four hours) so when we finished at 1:00 am, we packed our gear and drove to a nearby town where we set up our equipment and recorded until about five or six in the morning. It took three nights (early mornings) to complete the LP. After recording we had to pack up our equipment and take it back to the club, the next night repeating the whole cycle. We were exhausted.

At the time, everything was done on four tracks — multiple track recording and remixing were not done, so everything had to be done as perfect as possible. Because our music required volume, it was hard to individually separate the sound of the instruments. Aggressive sound waves clashed in the studio making a lot of rumble and noise. Our engineer ran a loop of recording tape across the control room to a door handle approximately thirty feet away. The cycles of this tape going through one track of the recording machine was adjusted to put the clashing rhythms in sync. It worked and everyone congratulated the engineer who first said it would be impossible. Our producer, Jimmy Bowien, was a very smart man who encouraged recording studio experimentation.

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Please talk me through the album’s opening track ‘Monk Time’? It is clear it quickly became the cornerstone of the Monks’ songbook. The lyrics are bustling with a social commentary that even today, immediately sends shockwaves to your very core.

ES: Our lyrics and music was a combined effort. If only one person wrote each song, the music would not have been the same. We had to analyze what we were saying, especially to a non-English speaking audience, creating lyrics with irony, humor, or word play to make the meanings universal. One person could not do it, therefore the shared credits. ‘Monk Time’ created the most contention between us. We were ex-GIs and the last thing I wanted to do was appear unpatriotic. I was against, “Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam?” and we argued about it for days.

When Walther, our manager tried to make peace, he suggested, “Why not add the words, ‘mad Vietcong’?” This helped me reconsider the meaning — and I finally agreed to do it — because yeah there were mad Vietcong. ‘Monk Time’ was an overt anti-war song and we did not like the Vietnam War. It was obvious. Our other songs were more social protest, or statements of irony; Be a liar everywhere, shut up don’t cry.

Or Higgle dy Piggle dy — Way down to heaven which loosely translated means arses and elbows, we’re on our way down to heaven. The song, ‘Wie Du’, was comprised of wordplay. We do as you, We do, Wie Du, Wie Du Wie Du – means, “We do as you, We do, We You, We You We You.”

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Looking back on the album, do you have a particular favourite song from ‘Black Monk Time’, Eddie? 

ES: ‘Shut Up, Don’t Cry’. It was fun to experiment with and invent a new style of minimalism — just as any jazz based person would like doing if he were playing rock today. Nothing has changed — lots of people are experimenting with new pop songs today. I like it!

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Soon after the album’s release, the Monks toured extensively throughout Germany, including slots alongside Bill Haley and the Comets, and the Storyville club. What are your memories of the ‘Black Monk Time’ tour? I recall a moment in your book, supporting Casey and the Governors at Zirkus Krone, and having no soundcheck. There must have been many high and low points during this pressurized time of attaining (much-deserved) recognition, particularly concerning album sales?

ES: The tours were tests of courage. The further south in Germany we went, the more people we met, who hated us. We were attacked on stage by irate audience members a couple of times. Some of the British groups, when they first heard us said, “Are you crazy?” My friend, Ian Wallace, who later played drums for King Crimson, was one who asked me that same question. Casey Jones was another, who would smile and you knew what he was thinking — crazy yanks! And yet, no matter where we went, we got attention because we demanded it — except for the first concert we played with Casey Jones. We weren’t ready for that. As long as I could think I was doing a new form of music, I enjoyed it, no matter what the criticism was. When music turns into business, it begins to feel as if it is no longer music. With corporate accountants measuring the earnings, we began to find ourselves under pressure to make money — a new priority when it came to writing a song. And it took away the magic for me. I experienced this same thing, years later in Nashville, in the 1970s – as if formula music is the only kind of music a person can play if he or she wants to be on a major label. The tunes become deliberately designed with the right hooks, words, and most popular expressions. There are templates and formulas. There’s more of that today, than ever — and I never liked it and never wanted to be a part of it. Even as I could understand the algorithms in both music and math — economic formulas were not the reason I wanted to play music.

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There is a very powerful line in the book ‘Black Monk Time’ towards the end: “We’ve been monks for a long time, and we don’t seem to be making any headway”. Can you touch upon the feelings the band were going through during this time? It must have been especially hard considering the promises the record label executives were giving you at the time of ‘Black Monk Time’s recording and subsequent release?

ES: This was when everyone in the group began to question why he was there — as if there might be some better place to be. Three of us monks discovered the group no longer existed, the day before we were supposed to fly to Asia. We were on a rare two-week vacation when two monks left Germany. I got the information in a letter. There was no one to blame. When it all fell apart, all I could feel was a sense of relief. We were tired. When I went home after being gone for seven years (trying to explain my experience to my family at home) I tried to play this music for my mother. She was a good piano player, and when I put the Monks recording on the record player, she ignored it, like she didn’t hear it. Before I had gone to Germany, when I played drums and trumpet, all the jazz stuff —she’d say, “Great! Do that again!” It wasn’t the case with monks’ music.

When I played the ‘Black Monk Time’ LP for an uncle who played western music in a local Nevada casino, he turned the player off, and said, “You used to be a better musician than that! Why did you do that?”

When I returned to my hometown in Carson City, Nevada, I considered myself a failure. Old friends joked about it among themselves — and after that I never talked about The Monks to anyone, except one night when I was sitting in a bar, forty years later, drinking a beer and this guy was sitting next to me. We got into a conversation and he told me he had served in Viet Nam. I told him I was in Germany and he said, “Yeah, I was sent to Germany from Vietnam. I had a German girlfriend and we went to Hamburg once, where we saw this group in a nightclub. They were singing some bullshit song about “Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam”. They were dressed like monks and I hated them — I wanted to kill ‘em.”

I drank my beer and I didn’t say anything. It’s a small world, I thought — and after some minutes of silence I quietly said, “I was in that group.”

He turned to me and stared. It was a minute or two before he spoke. “You were one of those guys onstage?”
“Yeah.”
“You were dressed like a monk?”
“Yeah. We were known as the monks.”
“When I listened to that whole bullshit about Vietnam and crap, I had just gotten back from Vietnam. Yeah, I hated you then and I still do.”

“I didn’t like those comments much, myself,” I said rather contritely. “It could have been done better.” I shrugged and added, “But as you turn around and look at it now — thirty years later — when Robert McNamara came on TV and apologized about the war, I suddenly felt that maybe we weren’t wrong. Not that being right was the important thing — the sad thing is that 58,000 American kids died along with all those Vietnamese kids — and for what?”

He shrugged, “Yeah, I thought about it myself, and you’re absolutely right. After all these years,” he stopped for a moment, before adding, “You’re right, but I still hate you.”

I saw him a couple of more times after that, and we never mentioned it again. In fact we did become friends.

After all those years, the Monks disappeared in the “black hole” of the 1960’s as Leonard Cohen described it later, and then something happened. Not thinking about it for twenty-five years, I was reading an interview in People’s Magazine about a female group for New York, Das Furlines.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The article described a strange group, known as the Monks who disappeared without a trace. There were people who claimed these monks were the first punk band, when people didn’t know what punk was. They were a group of GIs who went AWOL and while the military police was searching for them, they showed up on German TV singing, “I hate you but call me”. It made me laugh.

Quite frankly I liked that scenario. It was a fitting end, when one looks back at it. Yes, some things said about The Monks didn’t happen, and some things did. Be a liar everywhere. Shut up don’t cry!

At the time I was studying writing with well-known writer/educator Gil Ralston (aka Gilbert Alexander) and he encouraged me to write the book, ‘Black Monk Time’. And after I wrote it, these two guys showed up at my house, knocked on the front door and when I opened it, they asked if I was Eddie the Monk. I just about fell over.

After they left, I immediately called Gary Burger in Minnesota. When he answered the phone, I said, “You won’t believe this but two guys showed up at my door and are going to do an article about the monks because they read the book and they loved our music—the Monks have people who like them.”

“Fuck you,” Gary said and he hung up. Maybe he thought I was messing with his head. I don’t know. Of course I laughed about it. Suddenly something felt right. As I learned from spending hours onstage, if you want to be an artist you need to feel the ripples of tension going through the audience. All of a sudden I was feeling it, like I did in the good old days. I was lost and now I was found. Something felt familiar. It is good to know that something is causing pushback. If you get a little pushback then you know the key to some hidden truth might be found right there.

You feel the resistance and it says you’re raising a reaction. If you’re getting a reaction, then you’re doing something! Wow! We weren’t failures after all! Okay — now I felt better!

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Forward several decades, the Monks have gained a cult status among the discerning music collector. Light In The Attic re-released the record and included many precious rarities and unseen photos. It must have been extremely gratifying for you, Eddie, to realize how much (deserved) recognition and universal acclaim ‘Black Monk Time’ has received, some forty plus years on? 

ES: To say it took special talent or effort might be an overstatement. I like to believe that what happened was the result of curiosity. Being in a different place, as in a different country. Looking for something that was not obvious — as some people might declare, “Looking for the lost chord.” With perseverance, time, and experience, a person does stumble on something that makes him sit up and say, “Whoa! What was that? I’m gonna do it again.”

Curiosity killed a cat, they claim, and it also can expose a rat. Most groups generally don’t last longer than three years. Once the limits, of what they can do, are reached — repetition sets in. Musicians who are interested in self-expression move on in a different direction, when they cannot get past the boundaries of their latest innovations. If the chemistry is right between individuals, a new discovery is waiting to be uncovered. That’s the fun of working in a curious group. The monks were daring individuals, otherwise they would not have stayed in Germany to see where the experience would take them. Okay to hell with that! It sounds too damned philosophical. And who am I to be talking like that, anyway?

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[Note: After finishing the above interview with Eddie Shaw, I received the news that Gary Burger, guitarist with The Monks, had passed on. In sending on a message of condolence to Eddie, I received the following reply]

ES: I did use a couple of passages from a not yet released Ebook titled, ‘The Resurrection of Black Monk Time.’ It’s a 120 page addition — to be the second part of the first book — it contains photos and notes of the monks doing their reunion tours. I was just about finished with it when Gary died.

His passing came as a shock because I didn’t know he was ill. The email news came to me from stranger a couple of days after he died. For sure there will be other monks leaving, sooner or later. When one monk passes, another will come along. Monks are always going somewhere. And hey, we’re all monks! And of this particular family of monks; it’s three down and two to go. And so what?

What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? Cross out that last statement and replace it with, “Everything is alright. Shut Up! Don’t cry!”

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‘Black Monk Time’, Eddie Shaw’s memoir of The Monks is available now, published by Carson Street Pub Inc.

‘The Early Years 1964-1965’ and ‘Black Monk Time’ have both been re-issued and are available now on Light In The Attic Records.

http://lightintheattic.net/releases/32-black-monk-time

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Time Has Told Me: The Servants

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Interview with David Westlake.

“The Disinterest album came out of a vortex of unspoken, unspeakable frustrations, paranoia, and miscellaneous perversity. Sonically and lyrically, the aim was directly to oppose the on-trend music of the time. No bell-bottomed, baggy banalities playing maraca and wah-wah mumbo-jumbo. More uptight, Kafkaesque outsider pop. More in keeping with the dense, monochrome mood of the film from which the band took its name.”

—David Westlake

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs courtesy David Westlake

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My introduction to English indie treasures, The Servants, arrived last year in the form of a Soundcloud mix made by Cécile Schott (Colleen) based on the music that inspired the French artist’s latest full-length release ‘The Weighing Of The Heart’. The wonderfully eclectic tracklist featured Moondog, Laurie Anderson, Brigitte Fontaine, and the adventurous, ethereal indie pop of ‘People Going Places’ by The Servants (taken from the band’s long lost second album ‘Small Time’). Immediately I became utterly transfixed as the deeply affecting lyrics of frontman David Westlake resonated powerfully — a significant musical discovery loomed.

The Servants formed in 1985 in Hayes, Middlesex, England by singer and songwriter David Westlake. Their unique blend of poignant lyrics, intricate arrangements, and utterly compelling indie-pop sounds was a world away from the mundane and noisy lo-fi scene heralded by the NME’s C-86 compilation the band would later appear on. The Servants’ debut single ‘She’s Always Hiding’ is a delicately beautiful pop lament based on gorgeous, clean tones of guitars and Westlake’s stirring vocals. The opening lyric of “She’s always hiding / Like she doesn’t want to be found” opens up a vast world of beauty as Westlake’s poetic prose ascends into the forefront of the mix. The next single ‘The Sun, A Small Star’ would cast a similarly enchanting spell, before the eventual release of the band’s debut album ‘Disinterest’ in 1989. Amazingly, the debut record was recorded and mixed in office hours over five days in a demo studio in Bromley.

Guitarist Luke Haines (who joined The Servants in 1987, and of future Auteur fame), describes ‘Disinterest’ in his book ‘Bad Vibes’ as “existential art rock, ten years too late and fifteen years too early.” Tragically, the album — a work of true art — generated little commercial success that would sadly see the band disbanding in the early 90’s. Some years later, The Servants received their much deserved recognition by a new generation of music obsessives as the great Cherry Red label culled together the band’s unreleased tracks and singles into one CD, entitled ‘Reserved’. The compilation represents a vital document of a truly great band.

Having long been unreleased, The Servants’ second studio album ‘Small Time’ – and follow-up to debut ‘Disinterest’ – finally saw the light of day in 2012. Armed with two Fostex four-track tape recorders, a DR Rhythm drum machine, an out-of-tune piano, a box of effects pedals and a CAT Octave VCO synth, the duo of Westlake and Haines recorded the album in Haines’s own flat in Cannon Road, Southgate. Later that year, Luke Haines would write songs for his new group, The Auteurs, and David Westlake decided to study law. Alongside the release of ‘Small Time’, the Cherry Red-released compilation contained ‘Hey Hey We’re The Manqués’ on CD2, including rehearsal versions of songs from ‘Disinterest’, taped before the album was recorded. Thanks to UK’s Cherry Red and the US independent label Captured Tracks, the rich musical legacy of The Servants has been justly resurrected. Well, Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch (circa ‘91) was trying to locate Westlake in the hopes of forming a band with him, after all.

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‘Small Time’/‘Hey Hey We’re The Manqués’ re-issued double album is available now on 2CD via Cherry Red and on double LP via Captured Tracks.

http://www.cherryred.co.uk
http://www.capturedtracks.com

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Interview with David Westlake, The Servants.

It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions in relation to your music and the utterly timeless songbook of The Servants. First of all, please take me back to ’85 in Hayes, Middlesex, where The Servants were formed. Talk me through the inception of The Servants, please. What was the original line-up? Who came up with the name The Servants? Can you remember your first rehearsals as a band?

David Westlake: I started a band with a friend called Ed Moran. We’d known each other since age 4, and went to the same schools. Primary in Hayes and on to the Catholic boys’ grammar in Harrow, which was perpetual violence. Ed bought a Fender bass after I started writing songs on an old acoustic. It was Ed who brought in John Mohan on guitar. He was into Django Reinhardt and Scotty Moore. Played a Woolworth’s Top Twenty guitar. We used a drum machine, which meant we could rehearse at home. Work took Ed away, but Mohan stayed with it. We advertised in the NME for other musicians. Phil King rolled up unannounced one Friday evening, after I’d sent him a tape of a few songs. I remember I was taking a bath when the knock came at the door. He played guitar, but we already had two of those. We needed a bass-player, so he agreed to change instrument.

I saw Mohan for the first time in many years after Captured Tracks released the Servants’ Youth Club Disco LP in 2011. We remembered how it was Phil King who persuaded us to play live at all. He gave us an ultimatum: either we play gigs or I’m leaving. Mohan and I would probably have just carried on privately sculpting the art otherwise. We were joined on drums by someone else I knew from school, Eamon Lynam. Phil King nicknamed him Neasden Riots — like the Clash’s Tory Crimes. It was after he was given a police-curfew following his alleged involvement in said fracas. Ed Moran still kept up with the band when he could, helping us out driving to gigs.

We rehearsed at a studio called Westar in Southall, West London. The Cocteau Twins used the place at the same time. The first (unreleased) Servants recordings were by this line-up, for a label called Statik. We were approached by the late Philip Hall about the possibility of signing with Stiff. And Mike Alway at Él, ever the English aesthete, expressed an interest. Neasden Riots’ curfew prevented continued participation in rehearsals and gigs, sadly, so we had to find someone else.

I named the band. The Servant is a 1963 film taken from a novella by Robin Maugham. BBC2 screened it at roughly six-month intervals in the 1980s. I watched spellbound each time. Its certain shade of Englishness — its mood, and what it had to say about the psychology of different types of relationship, about class and power and insidiousness — spoke to me.

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As the singer and songwriter of The Servants, you were responsible for a plethora of captivating and truly compelling pop songs which were way ahead of their time. I would love to know what were the defining albums for you growing up, David? How soon did you realize the importance music would have on your life?

DW: The first single I bought was Sparks’ immaculate “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us”. I fell in love with it on Top of the Pops, and would play the single on repeat — with the arm left off the old-style record-player. Defining albums, among too many others: With the Beatles, John Lennon/PLastic Ono Band, Dusty in Memphis, the Velvet Underground’s third LP, side one of Love’s Da Capo. I was just 12 in 1977, but punk meant a great deal. Music was life itself, and I had very particular ideas about what I liked and what I didn’t. Unapologetic tunnel-vision. The Sex Pistols’ album and the singles from it were magnificent, but I loved the Talking Heads’ 77, too. Mark E. Smith and the Fall had a great strike-rate: Dragnet, Totale’s Turns, Grotesque, the Slates 10”, Hex and more.

I grew up with all kinds of ideas about pop sensibility and the crafting of a song. At the same time, I had an ascetic musical puritanism and a constitutional contrariety, which coincided with punk values. As a kid not quite old enough to be in a band when punk happened, yet completely energized by it, I disdained what the Smash Hits breed of vapid pop acts went on to do in the name of pop music. Especially after the monochrome, inky “Printhead” rigour of the 1970s NME and Sounds, with all their edicts and caveats on “rockism”, and the best in punk and post-punk.

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The Servants’ first single was the gorgeous ballad “She’s Always Hiding”. Listening to the song today, I am reminded of just how current and deeply meaningful these songs of yours are. The clean guitar tones float majestically beneath your vocals. The opening lyric “She’s always hiding / Like she doesn’t want to be found” conjures up the sound of Pavement’s “Here”, which would not exist for another four or five years. Can you please talk me through the construction of this song? Also, in terms of the single-release, can you recall the day the single was released, what label you were signed on, and your hopes and expectations prior to the release of your debut single?

DW: “She’s Always Hiding” was one of the first songs I wrote, in my teens. It was before I knew even how to form certain chords properly — or conventionally, at least — so I searched around the fret-board and hit on just what I thought sounded good. I remember hearing myself on Peel’s show for the first time with “She’s Always Hiding”. It was a thrill. I had pointed out to me one other example of a song said to have something in common with “She’s Always Hiding”, by one-time NME journalist and early-days Creation artist the Legend. The Servants first recorded a version for the Statik label. I prefer the released version — it has a better feel. I like the drums on the later version, though, on Hey Hey We’re The Manqués — the other half of the Servants’ Small Time double-set.
The single of “She’s Always Hiding” was on Head Records. It was a label set up by then-Creation-employee (later head of the Heavenly label) Jeff Barrett. Head was an allusion to the Monkees. I prefer Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones and The Birds, The Bees as albums, but neither of those would have produced a fit label-name.

The aim was always simply to make good art. Any hope of commercial return was by then informed on one hand by the Velvets, and on the other by the putrefying state of English pop as the ’80s drew on. If you grew up watching clips of the Beatles on TV being chased in and out of Marylebone Station or Shea Stadium and tearfully wailed at by adoring young girls, it came at the same time to seem a perennial rarity for great music to win mass appeal. You couldn’t help arriving at this inverse equation. You could hear on record the Velvet Underground delivering effortless brilliance at Max’s Kansas City only for them to be met with a few but barely enough hands clapping to deserve the description applause. Or see how even a popular group like the Kinks failed to chart in England with the manifestly good Village Green album. Then in the ’80s, the masses lapped up the pop-slop dished out by the glossy Smash Hits halfwits. It began to feel like obscurity might equate with greatness, while mass appeal might equate with stupidity. As a theory it was a handy consolation for being not even close to having hit records, in any event.

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I must say my all-time favourite Servants song is “She Grew And She Grew”. The energy and immediacy of the song always strikes me. It’s such an irresistible guitar-pop gem that bands decades later can’t come close to replicating. Was this recorded in one take? What was the recording process like? The lyrics are sheer poetry.

DW: Yes, songs tended to be recorded in one take. On account of both economy with studio-time and the feeling of a performance. You might iron out mistakes with repeat takes, but you risk losing the spirit of the delivery. There is a second version on Hey Hey We’re The Manqués. Also one live take.

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Looking back on the Servants’ career, I feel your meeting of guitarist Luke Haines must have been a defining moment where everything just clicked. Did you post an advertisement looking for a guitarist? This is circa ’87 and would lead to your album Westlake, released on Creation in late ’87. I can only imagine you must have had a bucketful of songs ready to record to tape, prior to the recording sessions in Greenhouse Studios, London?

DW: Luke was a joy to work with. I went into music expecting to find any number of like-minds. I don’t mean yes-men. Anyone half-familiar with Luke Haines will know that he would be constitutionally incapable of earning that description. But when you have very particular ideas about what you do you’re incredibly lucky to find even one person you genuinely click with. Luke was that for me. Yes, he answered an NME ad I placed. He replied in the second half of 1986, after the release of the second Servants single, “The Sun, A Small Star”. We met up at a pub outside Ealing Common tube station, the Granville.

The line-up I had up to that point drifted apart the first time we got dropped. In Morrissey’s recent Autobiography he expresses his feeling about Johnny Marr going off to play with the Talking Heads in the words “monogamous I, polygamous he.” The Servants was obviously a far more low-key prospect for any musicians I was lucky to have play my songs with me. But I had much the same intensity of feeling and principle about being in a band. I felt that a great band ought to aim at being a circumscribed union. I was 21, still high on idealism. For a month or two more, at least. I wanted whoever was in the Servants to do only the Servants — monogamously — and not play with any number of other bands, fitting the band in around other bands when convenient. The 1986 line-up’s rhythm section was five to eight years older than me, so they were more pragmatic than about the ups and downs of the musician’s lot. Being good musicians, they had no trouble fitting into other set-ups both while that line-up was still going — polygamous they — and when we got dropped. But I was left out on a limb, not knowing if we would get to make another record. I knew I wanted to keep the Servants going. I liked being in a band, even if the short experience I’d had up to then showed me that the kind of unity I was looking for must be rare. On from that “monogamous I” metaphor, I became wary of “players”.

Luke stayed for five years. For me, the feeling of being part of a unified band came when he joined, so I’m glad that is apparent to someone other than me. We never exchanged a cross word. I was quietly upset when he told me in 1991 he was leaving, but he did everything with absolute integrity. And look what great art he had ready to show the world, so it was natural and right.

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How soon did you realize the special musical telepathy that existed between you and Luke? For me, I think of Jagger/Richards, Lennon/McCartney, Morrissey/Marr, and then there’s Westlake/Haines. It’s such a poignant force and I would love to gain an insight into the collaborative aspect of your work together. Was it a case of having a song written, and Luke would then add his guitar on top? It really feels such an effortless process and forms the cornerstone to the Servants’ greatness and timeless quality.

DW: Luke is his own man, of course. The Servants finished in 1991, and he is known for what he did after, so I cannot presume to speak for him. Speaking for myself, having had close on thirty years with little to no fanfare, I am ready to grab my half of this high praise with both hands and not go through the humility motions. Thank you.

Yes, I would write and demo a song and then Luke would add guitar. You don’t need me to tell you that he is a great musician. Technically proficient musicians are not hugely difficult to find, though. It’s sharing, or complementing, a discriminating aesthetic sensibility that produces good and interesting results. And not being in a position where your mind turns to thoughts of murder that makes it last any decent length of time.

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After a few false starts, the debut album ‘Disinterest’ by the Servants would finally be recorded in 1990. I was very interested to read (more to the point, I was in utter disbelief!) that the album was recorded and mixed in office hours over five days in a demo studio in Bromley. Can you recall the particular equipment and set-up each of you had at your disposal, David? It must have felt good having the space and time to put these songs to tape. What was your aim for this record, from the outset?

DW: A demo studio in Bromley is right. If this is what you mean by the equipment, I played my usual red Gretsch Broadcaster. Luke played his Telecaster and the old Hofner semi. Alice played a Fender Precision. Standard kit for Andy Bennett, the drummer on Disinterest (and Hey Hey We’re The Manqués). I was, simultaneously, glad of the opportunity to make the record and full of a kind of dead energy. At this time I tended to walk around daytimes wired on the outside, fatigued inside. Paradoxically, I felt often like I was too tired to sleep.

We ended up with the record company for whom we did the album not directly through choice. Luke tells the story elsewhere of how the third Servants’ single, “It’s My Turn”, was released on Dave Barker’s Glass label. You couldn’t help but like Dave. And Glass, while it remained his. But organization and drive were not recognizably Dave’s strengths. Clever me put the phrase “in case of Fire break Glass” in the run-off groove to the single taken from Disinterest, because easy-come-easy-go Dave gave up doing Glass to start a new label with Fire’s Clive Solomon.

The Disinterest album came out of a vortex of unspoken, unspeakable frustrations, paranoia, and miscellaneous perversity. Sonically and lyrically, the aim was directly to oppose the on-trend music of the time. No bell-bottomed, baggy banalities playing maraca and wah-wah mumbo-jumbo. More uptight, Kafkaesque outsider pop. More in keeping with the dense, monochrome mood of the film from which the band took its name.

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I think Luke Haines’ description of ‘Disinterest’, in his book ‘Bad Vibes’, perfectly sums up the record and indeed The Servants’ criminally short lifespan: “existential art rock, ten years too late and fifteen years too early.” Looking back on the album’s reception, what were your feelings during this time? It must have been very frustrating to have created such a staggering body of work, only to be kept in relative obscurity.

DW: We had that feeling Luke describes, of being in a tragicomedy scripted by Galton and Simpson. The album would not have happened but for the shared experience of too much of nothing and a resulting attitude of something bordering on nihilism. It was probably a bit unhealthy, but the type of experience you grew up in the ’70s to regard as character-building.

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This takes me onto the Cherry Red label’s release of Reserved in 2006, a collection of the Servants’ unreleased tracks and singles in one CD. This is a beautiful document of The Servants, and especially hearing the live-takes and demos of your many truly innovative works. Can you talk me through the collection of these demos and the feeling of revisiting this part of your life? The song “Loggerheads”, for example, was previously unreleased and what a song it is. There must have been many of such songs that have survived, and many years later thankfully see the light of day.

DW: A bright young man called Neal Handley-Sawer does some occasional work for Cherry Red, and he searched me out with the idea of doing a Servants compilation. Naturally I was delighted. Not to come over all too sentimental, but Cherry Red repaired my long-damaged faith. I had my guard up at first, because of disenchanting previous experience. But Cherry Red has principle where certain others do not. At the same time, there is a Hogarth Press-like aesthetic to Cherry Red. Doing some things simply because they are worth doing. Captured Tracks aims to uphold a similar ethic in America, I think. Luke’s support was invaluable, too.

There were some good songs that didn’t get recorded in the studio. There was talk at different times of both “Water Baby Blonde” and “Who’s Calling You Baby Now?” being singles, for instance. So I was glad to be able to include live and demo versions of a few things like that. It was always a good live band, and some of the records I find I play most often are live albums, like the Velvets’ 1969, or Totale’s Turns. It’d be nice to put out some more live recordings like those on Reserved. There are other unreleased songs.

I wish I had given “Loggerheads” to the NME for the C86 compilation. I held it back at the time because I thought we could record a better version. It was recorded at the same session as “She’s Always Hiding” and the b-side, “Transparent”. At the time, no one was more ambivalent about that compilation than the people who were on it. No one expected it would sell well, and I have still not actually heard it. I always hated “Transparent”. C86 has evolved as a subgenre. Bob Stanley had some interesting things to say about it in the notes to the CD86 edition. The original compilation is being reissued in 2014. And I’ll be playing at the NME C86 show on June 14th in London. My first gig with a band for thirteen years. I’ll be joined by my friend Dan Cross, guitar-great from another ’80s band, Perfect Disaster. He played on my Play Dusty For Me album back in 2001.

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Is there one song that you feel is the best song you’ve written, David? I’d love for you to recount writing this particular song and indeed where and when it was given its wings?

DW: Speaking of the Play Dusty For Me album, there is a song on there called “Back on Track”. That would be one, in part because it had a therapeutic function for me. It is about surviving devastating loss. Bereavement. The recording retains its authenticity and sincerity. Doesn’t become histrionic. Some fantastic musicians contributed to giving the recording the wings of which you speak. Dan Cross on guitar, as mentioned. And Cormac and Willis Moore on bass and drums. Cormac recorded the album at his P.Boy Studio in Ireland’s Kilkenny. It’s a pity that Play Dusty For Me has never been really properly released in physical form. I realize, anyway, that a therapeutic song about loss cannot sound terrifically inviting to the overwhelming many unacquainted with my, er, oeuvre. I like “Song For John”, also from Play Dusty For Me. It’s inspired by a Wordsworth sonnet, “London, 1802”. The apostrophe in that is to John Milton, but the song is from me to John Lennon and my late father, also John. This could all sound ponderous and odd in equal parts, but “Song For John” is still an irresistible little piece of major to minor seventh-ing and sixth-ing, the like of which I wish Love would have made part of a set of shorter songs on a different side two to Da Capo.

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Also included on The Servants’ Reserved collection is the band’s Peel Session from March, 1986. The live songs capture that special spark of brilliance. I love how crisp and clear the instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums are, and your vocal delivery is sublime. My highlight is “You’d Do Me Good”. It must have been an honour for you to record this session for the legendary John Peel. Can you take me back to the day of these recordings and say what it was like to be part of Peel’s sessions?

DW: The Servants’ Peel session was produced at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios by Mott the Hoople’s drummer, Dale Griffin. A privilege in itself. I wanted us to do songs that we hadn’t already recorded and wouldn’t have another chance to record straight away. Dale Griffin was cordial in the morning, but you got the impression he hadn’t been on the cordials at lunchtime. He returned in more waspish frame. He knew his stuff where two guitars, bass and drums were concerned, anyway. The high ceilings at Maida Vale gave a full, resonant sound, as well.

We were surprised when the recording and mixing was completed that we were not allowed a tape of the results. The BBC had a strict rule in connection with intellectual property law which precluded handing out copies. So we had to wait for Peel to broadcast the session and tape ourselves off the radio if we wanted a copy. I understand the Beeb subsequently relaxed the no-copies rule, but it added then to the event of doing it. Having to wait a couple of weeks to hear what you’d done and taping yourself, hoping but not knowing the songs would sound good.

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I must ask you a couple of questions in relation to The Servants’ long-lost second album, ‘Small Time’, recently released for the first time by the New York-based independent label, Captured Tracks. This album is such a momentous record, full of interesting arrangements and innovative instrumentation, and not least poignant lyrics encompassing many dark themes. This album was very much you and Luke working as a duo, am I right? I would love for you to discuss these songs, and the day-to-day sessions that took place during the recording of Small Time.

DW: Captured Tracks are first to release Small Time on vinyl, yes. But the album was released for the first time on Cherry Red in England, on CD. Yes, it was Luke and I as a duo. I am so glad that the album has been released. I like the way of thinking expressed in the songs. The bit in “Everybody Has A Dream” which first laments that all you get is nowhere, but then reasons where is there to get? These songs remain very me. In “Aim In Life”, the line about smiling at the victory that is your own defeat, when still you wouldn’t have it any other way. Or in “Let’s Live A Little”, the carpe diem pop reminder that we won’t be here very long, next to the qualified patience and optimism of saying we have the rest of our lives, but how long is that? We recorded the album in 1991. It was always called Small Time. I would head over to Luke’s place on Cannon Street in Southgate with demos. Lead vocal, harmonies and rhythm guitar over programmed drums and a bass-part, and we would work on overdubs. His percussion on “Everybody Has A Dream” is so good. It’s saucepans.

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My favourite song on the album is a close challenge between “Fear Eats The Soul” and “Slow Dancing”. The latter is such a gorgeous ballad to bring the album to a fitting close. I love how your acoustic guitar is placed prominently in the mix of most of these songs. I was reading in Luke’s liner notes that a certain secret weapon was at your disposal, namely a CAT octave VCO synth?

DW: The acoustic is prominent by necessity, in fact. We recorded the songs on two Fostex four-track tape recorders. I put the main vocal and the acoustic down live on the same track on most of the songs. “The Thrill Of It All” was the biggest challenge to mix. The lead vocal was on the same track as the rhythm guitar. It came out very low in the mix, so everything else had to be balanced in such a way as to make the vocal as audible as possible without losing the feel of the whole.

We loved the CAT. Like other ’70s synthesisers, it was temperamental. It was as if you had to wait for it to be in the mood. And it could give up halfway through a take sometimes, which always sounds unintentionally amusing. Like on the live version of “Decades”, from Joy Division’s Still. In the last verse, it sounds as though Bernard Sumner hits some keys on the synth at random, aware nothing he touches will sound right now the instrument has given up co-operating. No human musician’s temperament is as capricious as those old ’70s machines. You can hear Ian Curtis trying not to laugh at that point, can’t you? Which is a nice moment to have on record, really.

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Looking back today on the Servants’ music, you must feel deeply proud of your work. It is clear that the songs you wrote back then have stood the test of time, and remain as vital today as they did. It must be a lovely feeling to have new audiences and generations discovering your music, and listening to the songs you wrote. Is there one moment during your time with The Servants that you feel is the most cherished memory you have to hold on to today?

DW: I do feel proud of the work. It’s in the notes for Reserved that the Servants — I in particular — earned a reputation for haughtiness. I may have rubbed a few people up the wrong way, on a quest for perfection. But I don’t regret any uncompromising moves made on principle. Yes, it makes it all the richer a feeling if ever and whenever new people discover the music.

I cherish the fact that Small Time is out. Really. I didn’t think it would ever see the light of day. For more than twenty years Luke and I were the only people who had heard it. Luke gave me the tapes for my fortieth birthday, in 2005, and suggested trying to do something with it. The album was like unfinished business, so much work having gone into it all those years ago, never to be heard. Studio-wiz Des Lambert put in a lot of time transferring and synchronizing the tapes. Different parts were on different tapes recorded at minutely varying speeds, so it was a complex job marrying everything together.

The happy epilogue is not only that Small Time did finally get released, but that it was on a better label — Cherry Red — than it would have been at the time. The same can be said of Captured Tracks. And I like the sound. It functions as an antidote when the ear tires of over-worked, over-polished recordings. It is my favourite Servants record.

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‘Small Time’/‘Hey Hey We’re The Manqués’ re-issued double album is available now on 2CD via Cherry Red and on double LP via Captured Tracks.

http://www.cherryred.co.uk
http://www.capturedtracks.com

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Captions for Photographs:

(i) “The Servants – Hey Hey We’re The Manqués, 1990”

(ii) “David Westlake – Servants main man”

(iii) “The Servants – Live, 1986”

(iv) ‘Small Time’ re-issue by Cherry Red Records.

All photographs courtesy David Westlake.

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