January 2010


I’ve never been to an instore before, so being told that the wonderful Withered Hand would be playing at the amazing RPM Records in Newcastle was just the thing to help me break my duck. There were only around ten people there unfortunately, but Dan Willson still smiled, chatted with the crowd and played his wonderfully funny, lovelorn tunes to us with all the aplomb of a performer playing to a packed room. It was just a nice little serenade for us all (if you can consider lyrics about masturbating on someone’s futon a serenade) and a perfect chance to see an artist I haven’t seen live before in a situation I wouldn’t usually be able to. Lovely.

Withered Hand – Cornflake (YSI)

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A few days ago I was lucky enough to interview a real-life genius-man, Scroobius Pip (who I may or may not have mentioned several thousand times before on this very blog) for my student paper, the Newcastle Courier. He was a bloody nice man, and what you find below is what happened…

Well, given that we’re a Newcastle paper, why aren’t you coming to our fair city on the tour?

It’s terrible isn’t it? We tend to alternate between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, but we’re not making either on this tour. It’s purely because with the offers we got in, and the space we had time-wise it’s all we could fit in. If you look at our gig listings, and they’re about to be updated to even more, we literally haven’t got a day off in between. But at some point I’m sure we’ll get back to Newcastle.

Having heard the new single, ‘Get Better’ and songs like ‘Angles’ and ‘Tommy C’ on the first album, do you feel you write about issues more than subjects?

It’s about tying the two together really, tackling particular subjects that are issues. All I’ve done there is reword your question and it doesn’t mean anything! It’s looking at issues and subjects aren’t normally covered in songs and try to address those things. It’s always annoyed me, particularly in the last few years, for example green or political issues have become really fashionable for bands to talk about in interviews and then on their actual songs they just go and sing another love song. 10% of your fanbase will see that interview and get that message, whereas 100% of your fanbase will hear the song where you’re talking about absolutely nothing. It’s always been my thought that if there was something I would talk about or felt passionate about I’d put it in the songs, where it’s getting directly to the audience.

So are you trying to get a message across to change your fans or are you just expressing your own views?

It’s just my own views. It’s always something that people can misconstrue, they see all of it as being preachy, but it’s always my own views. Often I’ll turn them into a story as a vessel for getting my message across, but there’s also a huge awareness that I’m a 28 year old dude from Essex you know? I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, my opinions change regularly, I’m sure there’s stuff on Angles [Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s debut album] that I’d feel differently about now. It’s just opinions, it’s not saying “if you disagree, you’re wrong”. ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ is a prime example, the point of that is half of it contradicts itself anyway, the only important one is “Thou shalt think for yourselves” because you shouldn’t be able to listen to every opinion in the song and agree with it. It’s things like not putting artists on pedestals when I’ve previously said ‘Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer in vain’ – they do contradict themselves and that’s the whole point. A lot of people did say, “you shouldn’t tell people what to think” and I’m not! I’m saying think for yourselves.

When you re-recorded the song with Posdnous from De La Soul were addressing some of those changes in opinion then or were you just adding to that list of contradictions?

It’s a bit of a weird one, I wish that there was a thought of “I have to put right what I got wrong” in a Quantum Leap kind of way, but to be honest it was originally just going to be just new vocals from Pos and the old vocals from me, but we got Pos’ vocals through and it just had me itching and I said “I just have to write some new, better ones”. It was just hearing a legend, I listened to 3 Feet High and Rising at school and to have Pos covering one of our songs was amazing, and I couldn’t just put that with the old lyrics, so I then rewrote and added some new bits purely out of excitement and being a hip-hop fan.

So when you say he was covering your song, did he offer to do that or did you approach him?

It was the label that asked him if he was interested, and he was! He wrote his parts and we actually recorded it all before meeting because he was in America. Then he came over and we did some press together and it was just amazing hearing him saying what he liked about the song. On 3 Feet High De La Soul basically invented the hip-hop skit and he said that people don’t realise that those skits are just as important to the group as the songs, and that ‘Thou Shalt’ reminded him of those skits but we had the balls to go and make a whole song out of it. It is quite light-hearted but has a serious point, just like those early De La Soul skits. It was just great hearing all that from a living legend.

You reference a lot of your favourite hip-hop artists on ‘Development’, do you have any more star fans itching to work on your new records?

We’ve not got anyone lined up, but there’s obviously numerous people we’d love to work with. Actually, through Pos we got details for people like Q-Tip but we never got round to actually doing it basically because we stopped working with our American manager and things like that so it never came about. It would be a dream to work with them, and now I guess it’s strangely achievable. We never expected to get the chance to work with Pos but now that that’s happened you can sit there with the most ridiculous list of hip-hop legends when a month beforehand you never would have dreamt of getting a chance to work with and go, “well, it’s possible”!

You referred to them as hip-hop legends and yourself as a hip-hop fan – do you not consider yourself a hip-hop artist as much, or is that something that’s growing as you continue doing what you’re doing?

It’s really tough, because the term hip-hop is a really awkward one these days. Generally, hip-hop is thought of as Kanye West and 50 Cent and I’ve got no problem with them but I wouldn’t consider the genre that we do to be the same as the one they do. I’m a huge hip-hop fan, and particularly on the new album there are certain tracks that are very much hip-hop tracks in beat, delivery and content so I still see myself as a hip-hop fan who just happens to have the chance to make the music and work with some amazing people.

A lot of people refer to you as a spoken word artist or a poet, do you see yourself as that rather than a hip-hop artist or do they work together?

I come from the spoken word scene and the first stuff I did with Dan was when he did remixes of my stuff. So I do come from that scene but I don’t think there has to be a definition between them. If you listen to some of the KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions stuff, Public Enemy, Rakim, it can be as powerful, productive and moving as any poetry. When I got into Sage Francis and Saul Williams I realised that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be one and the same thing. Saying that, I do generally refer to myself as a spoken word artist just because of that confusion over what people might perceive to be hip-hop. Literally, I speak words, bang. It’s descriptive and blunt, that’s what I do for a living.

Speaking of spoken word, are you planning to do anything like No Commercial Breaks [Pip’s debut spoken word album] again?

I’m not sure. At the moment all the focus is the work with Dan. A lot of people ask if I’m planning to do solo stuff and that’s not really how my brain works. I’ll be writing something and think, “man, I need to talk to Dan and get a good beat to this”, not “I’ll put that in the solo cupboard”. At some point I would like to do another solo EP that would be a change from the sound Dan and I have developed but it’s not on my radar at present. It’s just too exciting to have a new record to push and be doing what I’m doing.

So with the new record, do you feel there’s a switch of style since Angles or has there been a development?

I think there’s a development from Dan and I on this one. There are tracks with a really full sound but then there’s tracks like ‘5 Minutes’ where Dan’s made an amazing, basic drumbeat. Even the single’s a beautifully bare electro beat that builds up and gets bigger. What I loved about was the swell of it – the original had an intro that was about a minute and a half long as we slowly added more synth sounds. I guess it’s something that comes with more confidence or experience as a writer as there’s not the need to jump in and start the song immediately, you can let the beat build and then jump in. I think there is a development of Dan’s production and with my vocals – I’m a bit more at flow as well as with my subject matter.

The single’s been described as Italo-Disco, was that a conscious effort by Dan?

I wouldn’t really know! We work over email and the reason for that is because I have no knowledge of dance, beginning, middle or end. I mean, I know what I love and the reason I started working with Dan isn’t because of his name in the dance scene, it was just because I thought his work sounded awesome. It’s weird to have got more into the dance scene, because dance is the one genre I’ve never really got my head round! To be in an act that in a lot of record shops comes under the dance section is quite strange, but it’s great in that respect. I’ve always been into punk and metal, and then hip-hop, but dance is the one thing I never got. I’d go to clubs at uni and people would be loving it, off their nuts, and I’d just be going “Nah, I don’t get it”. In that way, Dan’s opened the door for me.

Do you feel that, as an act, you’re quite far removed from other artists because of that fusion of genres?

Yeah, we don’t quite fit into the dance scene because I’m not a garage or drum ‘n’ bass MC, I can’t just jump up and ramble about nothing. Equally, we don’t sit comfortably in the UK hip-hop scene because the sounds of Dan’s production are so diverse and different from what the UK hip-hop scene is. There is an unusual mixture, and I don’t mean that in a “look, we’re so special” kind of way, because it was never a planned thing – it comes from both of us working in record shops for years and having such broad musical tastes that they come together like they do.

Are you planning on hitting the festival season this year?

Last year we really eased off because the year before we headlined a stage at Reading and Leeds and we wanted to come back with the new record. We’d done two years of playing every festival with the same songs, and it’d feel weird to do another season and say “here’s the songs we played two years ago, hope you enjoy them again, I’m wearing a different shirt”. This time we’ve got so many new tracks and it’ll be great to get them out there.

Do you enjoy touring and festival season as much as the recording process?

It’s the variation that makes it exciting. After a month or two of gigs you get a bit tired of it and then you’ve got festival touring which tends to be a bit more broken up and you’re not playing to just your fanbase so it’s a different task. Writing and recording gives you time off, so being able to switch between them all is what makes the job exciting.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I don’t have that, I don’t think there should be any guilt in pleasure. A good song is a good song. We used to cover ‘Push the Button’ by the Sugababes and that is a fucking brilliant song. It should be a guilty pleasure but I show no guilt at all about it. I’m one of the biggest Cyndi Lauper fans you’ll ever meet. If you look into her back catalogue, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ is nothing to do with Cyndi Lauper. She’s a legend, and I would never refer to it as a guilty pleasure.

What was your favourite album of last year?

I sound like a wanker because it wasn’t even released in the UK, so I sound like a real muso snob but it was just because I didn’t get that much new music last year that excited me. It’s a guy called P.O.S., he’s an American rapper and the album’s called ‘Never Better’ and it’s just amazing. The thing that appeals to me is he comes from a punk background as well and the sound of the beats and delivery sound like no hip-hop I’ve ever heard before. He’s got hints of Chuck D in the way he seems so comfortable and can deliver stuff with such intensity without having to shout. It’s just a great hip-hop album. He toured supporting King Blues and punk bands, and it was great to see punk kids saying “What, this is hip-hop, it doesn’t work” and then winning them over. There’s a great line about when you first become a punk, and that got everyone on board, he just knows what punk’s about.

Now a few friends wanted to ask you some questions of their own, is that ok?

Go for it.

What’s your favourite colour?

Brown. Just because I’m standing in my living room and I’ve got a brown sofa, a brown rug and brown furniture. It’s all brown.

Favourite cereal?

I’m currently on the chocolate crunchy nut clusters. That’s because I’ve just moved and I’ve got particularly deep bowls and they don’t go soggy, that’s the key. With the deep bowls you usually get to the bottom and it’s all soggy, but that doesn’t happen with the clusters.

That was a more technical answer than I expected.

You’ve gotta give technical answers to light-hearted questions.

I’ve got one particularly strange friend who wanted to know if it was actually your beard that does the rapping and you just move your hands around…

The beard has the power. I’d recommend any artist to grow one. In all seriousness, when I was doing spoken word gigs it’s easy to say “the dude with the big beard was good” and you’ll remember the dude with the big beard.

I suppose that works across the board because people refer to Fleet Foxes as the folk band with the beards!

It really does work. Just on a recognisable level, I get recognised when I’m out a lot and it’s not because I’m world famous, it’s just I’m easier to recognise than most indie bands. They’ve got that generic look, I’ve just got a massive beard.

Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip release ‘Get Better’ on 1st March, and the album ‘The Logic of Chance’ is released on the 14th. Coincedentally, that’s also the day they go on tour. Hoorah!

Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip – Waiting For The Beat To Kick In (and ‘Reading My Dreams’) (YSI)

Ever since I first heard them I’ve been a big, big Good Shoes fan. The first song I heard was the demo version of ‘We Are Not The Same’ and I was immediately struck by the odd spiky guitars, slowly entwining instrumentation and just plain strange vocals I was presented with. As I collected more and more early recordings of the band, I became steadily more and more obsessed. I hoovered up facts, reviews of gigs and whatever else I could find in magazines – I even wrote their first Wikipedia page for fuck’s sake (under the name OnionHeadHat fact-checkers!). I was addicted. I think it had something to do with them being the first ‘underground’ band that felt like they were mine – no friend, magazine or other influence had told me to listen, I just heard them and that was it, they were ‘my band’ to introduce to others and rave about. I got my face onto the 7″ sleeve of their single, ‘Photos On My Wall’ and became stupidly excited by it. Think Before You Speak came out, I listened to it intently and loved it intensely – it took the old demos and added new layers and more complex arrangements. I saw them live for the first time soon after (it was brilliant in case you can’t guess what I thought about it). After this ever-increasing love affair, it took a long time for news of a new album to appear. Then a band member was replaced. I was filled with trepidation that a second album might not even appear.

However, come the end of last year we were treated to ‘The Way My Heart Beats’. Then, positive news of the next outing for my favourite Morden boys, No Hope, No Future was confirmed. I was all excited again, just like the first time. It got to January 11th and I was told that the album was exclusively available in indie record shops a full two weeks before the official release – needless to say I rushed out and snapped up my copy that afternoon. I listened to it as soon as I could. I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed. It actually lowered my mood for the day, I complained to my girlfriend and I didn’t listen to it again for a few days. Something didn’t seem quite right, it didn’t have the same feeling as the first album, and Rhys’ usually witty and urbane lyrics felt oddly self-serving and (gulp) simplistic. However, I couldn’t just let this band I’ve loved so much go without another try, so yesterday I gave it another go.

I don’t know what changed, but it was a different experience altogether. Each song sounded like an improved version of the ones I heard the first time I listened – I noticed the increased focus on the brilliant guitar work of Rhys and Steve, the far deeper sound of the album as a whole and it all started to fit together. This isn’t what I expected from that band I’d known so well, but that’s not the point, there’s a new member, a new subjective focus and with all this change there was bound to be a different feel to it all. The album opens with ‘The Way My Heart Beats’, a sucker punch of driven energy, faster than anything the band have produced before, and then shifts gear dramatically to give us ‘Everything You Do’, a gloomy affair, much slower than anything they’ve released too. It’s a bold statement of intent – this will not be a consistent followthrough from the last album, it’s going to switch things up.

It doesn’t make for a terribly cohesive listening experience, but it’s one that constantly surprises. The best three songs on the album arrive slap-bang in the middle of the album in the form of ‘Do You Remember’ (the song that best recalls the first album and then gives way to a largely instrumental outro full of new ideas), ‘Our Loving Mother In A Pink Diamond’ (the song that sounds least like the first album, powered along by Tom Jones’ drums and an almost proggy guitar pattern) and ‘Times Change’ (which is all about Rhys’ yelping vocals careering about in the verses before controlling itself to tell us that ‘Times change/So have you’). It’s this refusal to stick to one style (which they might have been criticised for doing before) that characterises No Hope, No Future; before the record’s done we have some arty, high-register guitar squeals on ‘Then She Walks By’ that Foals would be proud of and ‘City By The Sea’ closes it all up with something approaching a beautiful lament, as Rhys yearns for ‘a little more time/To feel your heartbeat close to mine’ as slowly tumbling guitar echoes around in lovely fashion.

Now don’t consider this a complete turnaround on my part, I’m still a little fazed by some of the lyrical content (‘I know/I know/I know/Oh no’ isn’t the greatest foundation for a chorus) as well as the gimmicky feeling of lyrical connections between songs (a little too ‘concepty’ for this album, I think) and the strange flow of the album doesn’t seem to sit quite right, but my initial impressions were definitely wrong. This is an exciting, changeable album from a band that offer something consistently different from the usual indie and art-pop crowd, even if their sound isn’t entirely consistent itself. What we have here is an experimental album that isn’t about messing around within songs, rather with them. Each song offers different ideas within the framework of Good Shoes’ usual jagged guitar work and biting look at British culture, and the results are by no means perfect, but definitely very good.

That’s all I could ever have wished for, a very good album from one of my favourite bands, and guess what? With every listen that familiar feeling of ‘my band’ is coming back to me all over again.

Good Shoes – Do You Remember (YSI)
Good Shoes – Our Loving Mother In A Pink Diamond (YSI)

There are some gigs that you just know will resonate with you long after it’s all over. Whether it’s the crowd, the atmosphere, the venue or the band itself, you can feel that you’ll be going over those few hours you spent in your head for days to come. Two nights ago I had the distinct pleasure of seeing one my favourite bands, Future of the Left at my favourite Newcastle venue, The Cluny, and I’m doing that right now.

Seeing FotL up close (I’ve only ever seen them on a the big ol’ NME stage at Reading Festival before) was quite unlike anything else I’d ever witnessed on a music stage. I’ve never properly been to a truly up-close-and-personal ‘angry’ gig before, and if there’s one thing that categorises Andy Falkous it’s his anger, and the energy that gives him on stage. Two songs in, he was drenched in sweat and swigging beer so that he could keep screaming his surreal non-sequiturs at us whilst Jack Egglestone kept their powerful drum sound rolling and Kelson ripped his bass to shreds. Each member knows exactly what to do, and how to do it exactly right, and it’s this that makes them as tight a band as they are; never sloppy, never willing to let the energy of ther music take over and push them out of their scarily regimented style. The audience (myself most definitely included) were lapping it up, screaming with joy at every new song, mosh pits forming every time the tempo was stepped up (‘Small Bones, Small Bodies’ and ‘Land of my Formers’ were positively explosive) and chanting lyrics back at Falko like they were (dark, hilarious) nursery rhymes.

But between every few songs they’d stop to breathe and unleash some of the funniest stage banter I’ve seen. The humour that characterises their lyrics is clearly a natural thing as they unceremoniously ripped apart any fan foolish enough to shout song requests and insulted their sound man. Frankly the reason this gig was quite so brilliant is because the band refuse to stop entertaining, even when the songs are over. As a case in point, their final song, the live-only ‘Cloak the Dagger’ was extended to a fifteen minute session of feedback and weird interludes as Falko slowly but surely deconstructed the drum kit and scattered it across the stage while Kelson started playing the Inspector Gadget theme tune and mumbled obscure dance track lyrics. I think this is the secret Future of the Left don’t want to let on – beyond all the audience-baiting insults, fury and general moody persona, they put their heart and soul (and throat in Falko’s case) into every gig and it seems like they just want people to enjoy themselves. Well, mission accomplished guys.

Setlist:

1. Arming Eritrea
2. Chin Music
3. Wrigley Scott (YSI)
4. Small Bones, Small Bodies
5. Plague of Onces
6. Manchasm (YSI)
7. You Need Satan More Than He Needs You
8. Stand By Your Manatee
9. Land Of My Formers
10. Fingers Become Thumbs
11. Yin/Post Yin
12. My Gymnastic Past
13. Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood
Encore
14. The Hope That House Built
15. Cloak the Dagger

Here’s a couple of completely different tracks that have caught my ear recently. First up is Worker Bee’s ‘No Dreams’ from their new album, Tangler. The press release that heralded this song was almost enough to turn me off listening to the track at all, describing tracks as “blue dirges” and saying that “space left ajar by the music is quickly occupied by the listener’s own impartments”. Urgh. However, the music is a little more palatable, a metronomic, guitar-led track with a chiming tone and breathy, measured vocals reminiscent of a less harmony-driven Grizzly Bear. Just when you think the slow pace might drag it all down into dullness there’s a moment of raucous noise before the next verse begins, and then a minute of far more upbeat instrumentation to end it all. You won’t be whistling it afterwards, but it’s a confident song, knowing just how to manipulate the listener at the right times and jolt them into interest.

Worker Bee – No Dreams (YSI)

The second track, Givers’ ‘Up, Up, Up’, comes courtesy of the wonderful Come Pick Me Up. The band seem to be capitalising on the success of everyone’s favourite afro-indie scamps, Vampire Weekend, bringing their own upbeat take of that sound to the table with quite some aplomb. The girl-boy vocals and bubbling synths carry the first half of the song along on a cloud of chirpiness before a far rockier outro takes hold, pounding the whole affair along beautifully. This is the perfect summery song to carry me along through the cold, and I suggest you give it a chance too.

Givers – Up, Up, Up (YSI)

In case you’re not from around these parts, you might not know that the UK is really rather snowy at the moment. Apart from being really bloody fun (Heaton Park in Newcastle is just brilliant to sledge in), it does mean walking has become somewhat more necessary recently. In an unrelated incident, a friend and I were arguing the merits of the two Arcade Fire albums. I’m of the opinion that Neon Bible is better because it’s just grandiose and explosive and brilliant throughout. He’s of the opinion that Funeral is better… just because. Whilst I think it’s a bloody good album, it just never got to me in quite the same way as their sophomore effort did, but trudging through the snow today, Funeral found its niche for me. The whole goddamn album is just made for walking through a quiet expanse of whiteness – it’s perfectly pitched between its more restrained moments of plaintive beauty and those times when the whole band just seems to want to scream at you whether for good or for ill, and when you’re enjoying a walk there’s nothing quite like an album that can fluctuate like this one does. So there you are, snow’s not just good for bringing an entire country’s transport infrastructure to a standstill, it helps lil ol’ me get a sense of what an album’s trying to do. Ho-hum.

Arcade Fire – Haiti (YSI)

End of year lists get a lot of bad press. A lot of them (mine included) just validate each other, offering very few differences between each other (*cough*AnimalCollective*cough*), and some clearly suffer where the person involved has simply chosen an order they think will be cool without offering any reason why it should be that way. On the other hand, they can give you a reason to check out a band you’d never thought to explore before or simply just provide a bloody good read (check out the lists by Song, By Toad and Pop Headwound for this category). Or, as I’ve found out, they can reveal truly brilliant bands that you’ve never heard of before.

If I’d heard ‘Two’ by The Antlers before Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, I might not have been so quick to declare ‘Buriedfed’ one of my favourite songs of the year. Both are dark, folk-based laments that crescendo in an unimaginably wonderful way. Both make me question why lyrics aren’t always be rooted in soul-crushing depression (well, this band answer that, I suppose, but let’s ignore that). Both give me faith that there’s a whole lot more to music than is sometimes apparent. The only difference is, I’m not sure I’d have heard The Antlers if it wasn’t for an end of year list (specifically, this one, thank you!), so I for one toast the weird human compulsion to turn everything into a hierarchy. Hoorah!

The Antlers – Two (YSI)
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed (YSI)

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