07 August 2011

Viva Stereo Answers 6

My original intention back in June was to post a week's worth of interviews, but those plans fell through, and I have been sitting on this one interview for quite some time. Then came summer, holidays, writer’s block, and putting things off one week after the other. For that I want to apologize to the members of Viva Stereo, who responded quite some time ago to my questions promptly and in depth. Truly an indie band, hailing from Scotland, I reviewed Viva Stereo’s “Enduring the Dark to See the Stars” (link) back in May, and their song, “We Set Sail,” has since then been one of my favorite epics – and I do love music of epic proportion! So with no further ado, I would like to thank Rob McKinlay and Stuart Gray for taking the time to Answer 6.

1. Who are you musical and non-musical influences?

Rob: Phew, where to begin. Musical wise I'd say Spiritualized, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, the Beta Band, LCD Soundsystem, Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Mogwai, Odeon Beat Club, God Speed! You Black Emperor, King Creosote, James Yorkston, Caribou. Non-musical I'd say Richard Brautigaun, Iris Murdoch, Charles Bukowski, Jack London.

Stuart: I think between the four of us, we have a similar vein of musical influences that run through the music of Viva Stereo. I could list a thousand bands that I like that probably influence me but may not necessary filter into the bands sound. I was listening to a lot of 13th Floor Elevators and 60’s psyche when we were recording the last album but I’m not sure if that can be detected in the songs! But even stuff like movies, comedy – Bill Hicks especially.

2. Ten years into your career, how has the music industry, and your relationship to it, changed?

Rob: Our relationship to the music business has generally been one way with us doing our thing and letting the business know what we are up to, and business paying little or no attention to us. We learnt pretty early on that you can wait for years for something to happen or you can do it yourself. We have seen so many bands either wait forever for just the right thing to come along or appear that they have cracked it with a deal only for nothing to happen for two years and then you hear they've split up.

We haven't really changed the way we deal with the music business since we released our first album back in 2004. Keep doing it because you want to, save a few pennies where you can, don't drink 'all' the money you may make along the way and surround yourself with people you enjoy working with.

As for the music business itself I’d say that they have become even more conservative than I thought possible in the last two or three years. Money is tight and the labels seem to want a band to have an album done and dusted prior to signing them. Meaning of course that they don't have to cover those costs and if it doesn't sell, then they can be dropped or just let go without any lose to the label.

3. Longevity is becoming rarer and rarer in the music industry; how has Viva Stereo accomplished it?

Rob: Having children slows you down so what we could've done in five years we squeezed into ten! Nah, I think it’s a love of playing, writing and recording that keeps us going. We'd all really miss it if we didn't do it. In fact, we had a barren two years prior to this album, and I think we all realized we'd left it too long without much activity.

4. In terms of music, I personally will take Glasgow over London. How has Glasgow seeped into your music?

Rob: Glasgow seeped into the core of the band in the first four or five years when we all pretty much lived there. If you are gigging regularly in Glasgow you can't help but get to know folks around your 'scene.' Although Glasgow is a big place, when it comes to bands it feels more like a small town! You see the same faces, you play with a lot of the bands and you see a lot of gigs. It’s inevitable that you are going to be influenced by what other people are doing. Interestingly, now that we are all over the country with only one of us left in Glasgow, I think Glasgow has left its mark in the darkness/melancholy that permeates a lot of our tunes. It’s as much a Scottish thing as a Glasgow thing but because the weather is so grim, especially in winter, you have to stay indoors for at least six months of the year so playing in a band is almost inevitable.

5. Viva Stereo is truly an "indie" band ... so in this post-broadband revolutionized world, how has the Internet played a role in connecting with fans?

Rob: I'll let someone else answer this one as I’m getting a little tired of the Internet. Or maybe it's just staring at a laptop that tires me out!

Stuart: It has played its part in a big way. We were lucky to get involved in MySpace in the early days. I had a friend from the States who suggested signing up when not very many UK bands had pages. At that time I had lot of time on my hands to ‘spread the word’ and we built up a decent fanbase by doing so. This was before they had invented programs for spamming folk so all communication was direct from us. I guess MySpace got saturated but there’s still plenty of ways of getting your music heard… blogs are great and I’m a big fan as there are some really good ones out there. In the early days we used to book some of our tours solely through speaking to people on MySpace and getting them to recommend venues in their area. It was also great for hooking up with other bands that have similar outlooks. However, I think recently we haven’t really continued down that route. We still have MySpace/Facebook/Reverbnation pages but getting the time to update it all is sometimes a hassle. But obviously with more people buying records online or downloading it is imperative you have a web presence to get your records heard. I just feel a bit sorry for the bands just starting out from scratch that need to shout loudest to get peoples attention as it can’t be easy. But in the Internet does make the world a much smaller place so this obviously helps bands in getting their music

6. The more I listen to the album the more I am entranced by "We Set Sail." Indulge me, I really would love to know the genesis of this song and what the band was hoping to convey with the song.

Rob: I was aiming for a proper Spiritualized tune with “We Set Sail,” something in the vain of "Lazer Guided Melodies" where its just a good feeling/vibe to the tune. I wanted it to be a performance caught on tape, with a drone and a sense of the meander about it. Things would come and go with no real sense of building up to a finish. I love my long intros and tunes that draw you in and make you lose sense of time. Lost in music indeed. Stuart came up with the title, and talk of the sea led us to the simple drums with the washes of cymbals. We actually started with a drum machine but Gavin Brown (aka onthefly) was playing drums on the other tracks of the album, so we just tried it with him drumming and it freed the tune up even more, increasing the human element of it all. What we were actually trying to convey I’m not sure, but with it being the last track on the album maybe subconsciously we were trying to send people off to sleep with a nice tune in their head!

Stuart: Lyrically a lot of the new album is a bit more mature than our previous three albums. The first three albums all contained stuff that centred around how life, work, personal relationships can get you down but as long as the weekend is around the corner then everything is fine. However, this album I personally have written more from a reflective point of view. ‘We Set Sail’ is basically saying how we get through life and we mess up but we are different people from what we were. People make mistakes and sometimes it takes time to make you see how much you have messed up. Something like that anyway! Maybe it’s our ‘My Way’ for the drone/shoegaze generation!

Keep up with Viva Stereo at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the radio edit version of Viva Stereo’s “Endure the Dark, to See the Stars” from their Bandcamp page.

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04 August 2011

Retrospective on The Glove's "Blue Sunshine"

“Move inside my daydream, like fingers in a glove, twisting round and round and round…” ["Perfect Murder"] No single line describes The Glove’s “Blue Sunshine” (August 1983) better than this one. It is one of those lines that have haunted me for many, many years, so I knew I had to write about The Glove eventually. When I told a friend that I wanted to write this retrospective about The Glove, she sort of looked at me with that “why” look, and my internal reaction was, “That’s why!” It would be extremely easy to write about an older album that is well known (which I have done and will be doing again soon), but this is more of a personal crusade to save an album from obscurity, consciously shedding light on a single moment that is way too often ignored.

Though many people may never have heard of The Glove, they may be quite familiar with the heart of the band: Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Robert Smith of The Cure. After the implosion of The Cure in 1982 after The Pornography Tour, Smith would join the Banshees as their guitarist for a second time (the first being in 1979, when Smith performed with The Cure as the opening band and then with Siouxsie and the Banshees as their guitarist on The Join Hands Tour). The Cure, however, was not completely disbanded, as Smith (with Lol Tolhurst) would release three ultrapop singles: “Let’s Go to Bed,” “The Walk,” and “Love Cats” – taking The Cure from obscurity to international curiosity. On the other side of things, Siouxsie and the Banshees, though they may never have reached the heights of The Cure, were already a well-established band, whose influence was already noted in the post-punk and goth scenes. The ever mounting pressures of touring at the time (captured in the “Nocturne” album and video) and to continue to be one of the most cutting edge bands out of the UK was definitely weighing on Severin. Smith would go on to record with the Banshees (“Hyæna” album) but leave the Banshees to record and tour to “The Top” with The Cure. But much of what both bands would do in the future was so evident when these master craftsmen collaborated on this album – in fact, much of what would follow for both bands for the next few years was laid out in “Blue Sunshine.”

Not your traditional post-punk, dark but not really goth, pop but worlds always from generic new wave, “Blue Sunshine” truly whirls track-to-track like a person caught in an ever-shifting daydream. Jeaanette Landray joined Severin and Smith on vocals due to the fact that Smith was not contractually allowed to be the lead vocalist of any other band. She was Siouxsie and the Banshees’ drummer’s (Budgie) then girlfriend and dancer of the Zoo troop from “Top of the Pops.” Also in the mix were Andy Anderson on drums (who would later join The Cure) and multi-instrumentalist, incredibly talented Martin McCarrick (who would later join Siouxsie and the Banshees). The album is named after a late-70s horror film about LSD and homicide, while the cover and the band’s name take a big cue from The Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine.”

The album opens with the first single, “Like An Animal.” If I am correct, it was Robert Smith’s first time writing and performing his own song on an acoustic guitar, with Severin’s traditional high-pitched bass, which borders on melody. The lyrics are as surreal as the music: “One mile in the air, that’s where she lives, her body looks so thin and pink; and small dropping eggs from nervous shaking hands, and swallowing her fingers as they fall.” Lyrics like these make you wonder exactly how these two collaborators challenged their sobriety. Though the tempo drops for the following track, “Looking Glass Girl,” the surreality is taken up a notch in this allegory of a little dancer in a child’s toy musical box: “Like a looking glass girl, in a miniature world, she saw you dressed in rags in-and-out of a jack-in-the-box because she’s a looking glass girl, in a miniature world, whirl your see-saw arms and ride the Catherine wheel…”

“Sex-Eye-Make-Up” follows: “Run around the chairs in your Sunday dress, it’s the best thing money can buy. Or leave me on the stairs with my feet in the air, I think that I’m jazzy like Christ.” It is a mediation of how women are seen by society. From the Sunday dress church going woman to the whore, the song eerily hints at how women are forced into these roles: “she just woke up today to do as she’s told.” The next track is one of my favorite songs of all time, “Mr. Alphabet Says” – one of the few songs that Smith was able to sing. Allow me to quote substantially from this jazzy, piano driven number, which I can easily dedicate to the vast majority of political and religious leaders: “Here comes the book, the book of rules, if you play this game, you won’t stay the same…. Mr. Alphabet says, ‘Smile like a weasel as I cover you, cover you in teacle’. We all know impatience is a sin, so do as you’re told do, it SO rewarding to …. Mr Alphabet says, ‘Give me all your money, just to cover you, cover you in honey.’” This is followed by one of two instrumentals “Blues in Drag,” which softness counterbalances the previous track – it’s title, however, is an oxymoron if ever there was one: drag and blues, theoretically, are mutually exclusive, unless the first is poking fun at the second.

If there is one track that music lovers may recognize, it will be the second single, “Punish Me With Kisses.” Kitsch meets new wave, a brilliant ostinato and electro-pad percussion for effect; this is one of the most brilliantly written songs ever. Similarly formatted, “This Green City” chimes in with more of a synthpop edge, and perhaps the “gothiest” track on the album. The arabesque is finally unleashed in “Orgy”: “A disease in under my fingernails, its stains me like a tattoo, back on the rack, aching with time, your face is familiar from another crime. And we could swim, we could swim, my little fishes with me.” A return to the surreal and the post-punk stream-of-conscious lyrics, in many ways this is the most experimental track on the album. It takes something that is intrinsic in The Cure’s music, the arabesque, and is layered and arranged in the same manner as a track from “Kiss in the Dreamhouse” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. It is truly the meeting of two worlds!

Then comes “Perfect Murder,” quoted above. This is a psychedelic, electropop track, which subtle pop sensibility is belied by lyrics. When listening to the bassline of this song, you realize that it is years ahead of its time in terms of the synthpop mainstream. Then comes the final instrumental, “Relax.” This would be the moment I would be getting ready to turn over the translucent blue vinyl over in the player – these ten tracks above are the original ten songs on the “Blue Sunshine” vinyl, before the days of the antiquated CDs and decades before the prevalence of digital downloads.

The Glove’s “Blue Sunshine” is more than just a singular moment in time that gives insight into two amazing bands. This album is the moment where two of the most seminal bands in music history, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, literally cross-pollinated. The mutual influence that Severin and Smith would have on another was more than apparent for years, though rarely (if ever) commented on. Any lover of either of these bands should stop, take a moment, and truly (re)listen to this album. But any lover of music in general, who wants to hear worlds collide and what impromtu experimentation with music can yield, should also take a good listen. This is an album that cannot be lost to the obscurity of history.

Track Listing (Deluxe Issue):
Disc One
1. Like An Animal
2. Looking Glass Girl
3. Sex-Eye-Make-Up
4. Mr. Alphabet Says
5. A Blues in Drag
6. Punish Me With Kisses
7. This Green City
8. Orgy
9. Perfect Murder
10. Relax
11. The Man from Nowhere
12. Mouth to Mouth
13. Punish Me with Kisses, Mike Hedges Mix
14. The Tightrope
15. Like an Animal, 12” Club? What Club? Mix
Disc Two
1. Like An Animal, RS Vocal Demo
2. Looking Glass Girl, RS Vocal Demo
3. Sex-Eye-Make-Up, RS Vocal Demo
4. Mr. Alphabet Says, Alt RS Vocal Demo
5. A Blues in Drag, RS Vocal Demo
6. Punish Me With Kisses, RS Vocal Demo
7. This Green City, RS Vocal Demo
8. Orgy, RS Vocal Demo
9. Perfect Murder, Alt RS Vocal Demo
10. Relax, Alt RS Vocal Demo
11. The Man From Nowhere, Alt Instrumental Demo
12. Mouth to Mouth, RS Vocal Demo
13. Opened the Box (A Waltz), RS Vocal Demo
14. The Tightrope (Almost Time), RS Vocal Demo
15. And All Around Us the Mermaids Sang (aka Torment), RS Vocal Demo
16. Holiday 80, Original Instrumental Mix

Keep up with Steven Severin at his homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Keep up with Robert Smith at The Cure’s homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is a mimed performance of “Punish Me With Kisses” at Riverside from the steveseverin YouTube Channel.

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Diego Garcia: "Laura"

On the subtle advice of a friend, I decided to enjoy my summer holiday, instead of trying to write; the advice was spot on, with days at the beach, catching up with friends, and finally having the time to listen to some old music, I finally feel relaxed and receptive. Totally recharged for the first time in weeks, I sat down yesterday to write, looking at the ever-mounting list of new albums I want to write about, and where better to start with than Diego Garcia’s “Laura” (April 12, 2011 in the USA). If his name sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Elefant, the New York City based, post-punk band that Garcia fronted. Elefant officially dissolved in June 2010, and then word spread of a Garcia solo album shortly afterward. I think the original expectation was a continuation of Elefant, following the vein of other artists who have released solo albums that are merely a continuation of their bands’ signature sound. But Diego Garcia offers a complete about-face that is disarming, embracing broodiness and acoustic arrangements woven in subtlety instead of the bass-driven post-punk of Elefant.

Diego Garcia was born in Detroit, Michigan to Argentine parents and is a graduate of Brown University. What makes “Laura” an amazing album is that this time around Garcia is embracing both traditional Latin American and Spanish music and infusing an American folk, story-telling tradition, while his post-punk roots lurk secretly in the mix. The sincerity and profoundness of “Laura,” named after his wife, is felt as much in the music as the lyrics. This is one of the few albums where music and lyrics work in such tight tandem that they become inseparable from one another. But it is not just the music or the quality and theme of the lyrics that have shifted; Garcia has revamped and restyled his singing. No more do you hear the post-punk indifference of simply carrying a tune; these songs are full of vocal melodies that are alluring and full of conviction.

Thematically, the album is obviously the musical interpretation of the journey of his relationship with his wife, capturing the woes and joys – aptly ending with “All Eyes on You,” the most upbeat song on the album. With ambient strings, a disco-esque bassline, and Latin influenced beats and guitar arrangements, the song is the perfect ending to this particular album. It is not a perfect fairy tale ending, as no relationship truly is, and the song hints at this and the anxiety about relationships (“To everything there is a beginning and end, but in between a reason we can all pretend.”) However, the song is not about the end, but rather the middle, that moment where relationships are full of potential. And it is with that feeling of ultimate potential that the album leaves you, but getting to that point is an intriguing musical journey.

The realistic look into relationships is what makes this album a stand out. There are no sugarcoated, feigned longings for wishful lullaby dreams; this album smacks of reality from beginning to end. “Inside My Heart,” with some of the most beautiful guitar arrangements on the album, captures this reality, with the conscious acknowledgment that “they” may not always be together, but “you will always live inside my heart” (the one thing we never like to admit about people who have left our lives). But every song on the album is a gem: the post-punk is faintly present in “Roses and Wine,” while “Stay” sports a very dreamy take on flamenco guitar playing. “Nothing to Hide” is the most subtle of anthems, while “Separate Lives” is flirtingly playful. Each song, though, is packed with emotional power. It may be simple to slip this album on in the background and just enjoy the sound, but, if one gives into the album with reckless abandon, the visceral journey will lead to introspection and catharsis.

Since I have started writing / posting on this blog, there has not been a single album I have reviewed that has moved me as much Diego Garcia’s “Laura.” From the musical arrangements to the emotionally laden crooning, there is something about this album that makes it moving, alluring, and arresting: sincerity. Unlike so many albums that are based on feigned feelings, and others on highly dramatized representations of artists’ true feelings, this album’s sincerity captures the imagination in a way that I have not felt in a very long time. Diego Garcia’s “Laura” is the biggest surprise of the year - the biggest since I started writing this blog - give this album a serious listen.

Track Listing:
1. Inside My Heart
2. You Were Never There
3. Nothing to Hide
4. Roses and Wine
5. Separate Lives
6. Laura
7. Under This Spell
8. Stay
9. All Eyes on You

Keep up with Diego Garcia at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the video for “You Were Never There” from the diegogarciatv YouTube Channel.

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