Category Archives: interview

Twin Shadow: Born in the 80s

PHOTO BY TUOMO LAMPINEN

 

As he gets prepared to unleash one of the albums of the year, George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, outlines his musical manifesto

George Lewis Jr. is a serious man. “I don’t do irony,” he says, setting the tone early on. “I don’t really believe in it.” As the conversation unfolds, it’s clear there are some subjects to be treated soberly. There’s his music, of course, and by extension, his fashion. “Unless I’m going to really psychoanalyse myself and ask why I dress and why I wear clothes as a human being, I’m pretty sure they come from the same place.”

So when he tells The Skinny that it once took him four hours to do his hair, it’s fairly clear he isn’t joking. How long does it take him to get dressed in the morning? “It depends,” he says, deadpan. “Sometimes I’ll get nerves and I’ll know that some beautiful girl’s going to be at the show and it’ll take me an extra hour or something. But it really depends on my mood.” But boy, does it show. Lewis is a spectacular looking man. He’s tall, elegant and infuriatingly handsome. His dress sense draws a dandy line between Prince and the Cat from Red Dwarf. He looks, walks and talks like the epitome of cool. Seriously cool. Serious, and cool.

“I hear it’s pretty shitty over there at the minute,” he says, semi-sympathetically from his sunny Madrid base, as he receives a report on the climate malaise enveloping the British summer. “That’s too bad. I hope that it’s good for my show, and then gets bad for the Olympics.” He’s in Spain to kick off the European leg of his tour. His second album under the Twin Shadow moniker, Confess, is set to hit the shops in mid-July, right about the time Lewis rolls into town. He’s excited to bring his new songs to the stage and if his forthcoming dates are half as exciting as his latest record, we’re in for a treat. “This is the Wild West of the world!” he says, when asked what we can hope to expect. “You can do whatever you want!”

Lewis’s disdain for irony extends to his lyrics, which, he says, are always unflinchingly honest. Yet, it was left to a friend to dream up the title of the album. “When he said ‘Confess’,” explains Lewis, “it made sense, because it seemed like a culmination of what all the lyrics seemed to be about – kind of letting out an honesty. It’s challenging to tell the truth and to say what you want.” The music onConfess, too, is more direct than what we’re used to hearing from Twin Shadow. Building on the synth-based platform of debut Forget, the record maintains the elements of funk and soul, but is rockier enough to recall – sometimes even simultaneously – TV on the Radio and Bruce Springsteen. It’s ironic, given that the record was partly inspired by a move away from New York City to the glistening surrounds of Los Angeles, a place that allows Lewis to indulge in his newest preoccupation: riding his motorcycle all day long. “It only rains about once a year,” he explains. “It’s perfect.”

Whereas the first record earned Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear a production credit (although George is adamant that his input was mainly to tweak a near-finished product), this one is Lewis’ baby, from start to finish. “It was certainly exhausting,” he says of the effort required. “But I’ve found that I prefer to be responsible for everything. I like to feel at the end of the day that everything is up to me and I don’t have to depend on anyone else. That’s very important to me.”

Indeed, this need for control is what led to the inception of the Twin Shadow project a few years back when Lewis was living between Berlin and Copenhagen, working for a theatre company. He’d spent his formative years playing in punk bands – a fact that’s hard to to come to terms with, given his standard getup, and one that raises a wry chuckle even from the man himself. “Yeah, that was me,” says he. “It’s hard to believe in bands anymore, because we’re very different people nowadays. We spend a lot more time alone – everyone’s on his or her computers and things like that. It just made sense, in a way, to create music alone. It’s a cultural thing which is happening; which has happened.”

If there’s one consistency to have bridged both records, then it’s the manner in which they’ve been received: with universal praise. WhereForget helped give Lewis the independence, freedom and wherewithal to do as he pleased, Confess looks set to bring him to a much wider audience. You will struggle, however, to find a single review that doesn’t mention the 1980s, either implicitly or via an obscure, sepia-tinged cultural reference. It almost certainly initially stems from Twin Shadow’s sonic template: drum machine, synthesiser, and Morrissey-esque vocals.

Yet, there are many things about George Lewis Jr. ‘The Package’ that reinforces the aesthetic. There’s the enormous, immaculately sculpted hair; the pornstar moustache; the image of him speeding down the Californian freeway atop a Harley Davidson in a tight leather jacket and, of course, the front cover of his new album, with his mug beaming back at you, kitted out like an extra from the Rockers. While Lewis insists he’s keen to distance himself from the comparison, in reality, he seems to be doing everything he can to perpetuate it.

“Yeah,” comes his resigned response. “This thing comes up a lot. It’s usually the people who I really feel understand the music a lot that never once mention the 80s. They only take it in as songs and listen to the lyrics first and not the production. The production is just atmosphere – it doesn’t matter. It’s like asking what kind of camera you shot a beautiful scene on. Unfortunately a lot of intelligent people love to hate something because of a description that somebody they admire has written. So I hate to lose these people before they even try it [the music] out, because of people saying ‘it’s 80s this; 80s that.’ The truth is, I don’t even like the 80s… I couldn’t give a fuck about the 80s!”

It is, indeed, unlikely that Lewis remembers much about the 1980s. He was born in 1983 in the Dominican Republic, but left as a child after his mother was mugged at a service station. His parents have since returned to Hispaniola and his homeland has assumed more prominence in Lewis’s life. “There’s a thing about Latin blood,” he says, thoughtfully. “I truly believe there’s a spiritual connection to your homeland that’s unavoidable. When I go there, I feel like I’ve returned home. The people are so kind and very different from Americans. They’re real salt of the earth people.”

For many in the UK, the Dominican Republic represents a cheap Caribbean getaway: a land of white sands and turquoise coral. For the locals, however, the reality is much harsher – 10 per cent of the population live on less than $2 per day. Lewis, though, is a realist. “I don’t diss the resorts at all. It’s a tough country; a very poor, poor place. But the resorts are just as important to that country as the shitty parts. That’s how a lot of people there make a living.”

Upon leaving the Caribbean, Lewis’s family rocked up in Venice, Florida – a place he recalls in less glowing terms. We put it to him that Florida is like LA: a sunny getaway; a Tropicana of palm trees, patrolled by scantily-clad rollerbladers and perfect for riding his motorcycle. “No,” comes his curt reply. “It’s a strange place. It’s just like the South, but it’s more like the South than the South. When people think of the South, they think of ignorance, but at least it has culture and a lot of character. Florida has some character, but it’s just a bunch of ignorant people and lots of old people, lots of shopping malls and lots of alligators, just behind the shopping malls.”

Lewis goes on to describe the Sunshine State (to give it its euphemistic nickname) as “uninspiring” and “devoid of good music.” His memories, far from being filled with sunshine, are dreary and depressing. The KKK, for instance, once confronted him at a party at which he was playing guitar. He never goes back, despite the “load of friends who love to get married and call me up for their weddings.” Yet, it was in the jam bars of Florida that he took his steps into music and as unlikely as it may have seemed to him at the time, his first record, Forget, turned out to be an ode to his childhood home. “There’s no such thing as Florida music,” says Lewis, “but if there was, I think my music would be it. It’s music for people who understand how strange Florida is. When I listen to Forget now, I picture everything about the place. If you listen to that record in Florida, you’ll know what I mean.”

His adult years have been nomadic. At various points, he’s been “settled” in Boston, Europe, New York and now, of course, Los Angeles. “Nobody knows I live in LA,” he says, somewhat cryptically. “My friends all think I still live in New York, so it’s kind of a secret that I live in Los Angeles.” It’s the fear of boredom that keeps Lewis on the move: when somewhere stops interesting him, he simply packs up his stuff and heads for pastures new. So does he view himself as some sort of wandering minstrel; collating a scrapbook of stories and music from wherever he lays his hat?

“Well, I really believe in storytelling through songs,” he says. “Even in the 80s, they had amazing songwriters who were writing songs similarly to the Beatles or Harry Nilsson. They had that type of songwriting, but production that was of the time period – the drum machines and synths. I’m from the same songwriting schools as those people. I really believe in the complete song: not just a mood song, or a song that’s just about the beat or some repeated hook.

“I believe in storytelling and that’s something that isn’t done a lot these days. People think of it as being old school, but it isn’t: it’s something that will continue forever and ever. Storytelling will never change, but its popularity wanes and comes back again. I’m going to keep doing it until it becomes popular again and then they’ll say: ‘You know what? I guess he wasn’t so 80s after all.’”

Written for The Skinny

First Listen: Jack White’s Blunderbuss

Jack White with the Mayor of Lambeth

 

The debating chamber of London County Hall is a stately affair, tucked away amid the marble hallways and royal blue rope barriers, and decked out with hardwood pews, an imposing lectern and Georgian era watercolours. It’s a strange place for Jack White to launch his rambunctious, southern fried new album, Blunderbuss, which is played in its duration to the darkened theatre, with a big screen showing the record spinning in real time. The respectfully quiet gaggle of journalists, strategically subdued by the aqua blueBlunderbuss cocktails doled out beforehand (Jack Daniels, blue curacao, lemonade) listen attentively, squinting at their lyric books, impossible to decipher in the low light. Strange, and not very practical.

Things take a further turn for the curious once the record finishes playing. Up steps Christiana Valcarcel, the mayor of Lambeth, in full mayoral robes and regalia to “grill” White on Blunderbuss and life in general. “You are a talent. Don’t get big-headed – but you should be proud of yourself,” she shouts at a puzzled White. “I can’t do both!” comes the reply. The stage is set for one of the oddest interviews you’ll ever see. Jack White, for his part, looks healthy and slimline. He passes himself humbly and amicably and is clearly excited about the first album bearing his own name.

“I didn’t know I was really doing it until I was doing it about four or five songs in,” he says of the record’s inception. “Then it felt like it was turning into something. There was a session booked [to record] a 45 in my studio and it got cancelled. I had flown in some players from out of town to play that day and I had nothing for them to do, so I thought I guess we’ll do one of my songs. I got three songs on the first day out of that session and I just kind of kept going, but I didn’t know whether to put out a Dead Weather record or Raconteurs record and by the sixth or seventh song it just felt like a kind of complete record. I thought: ‘I guess I’ll just call it me…’”

Blunderbuss is an aggregation of White’s career to date: a mixture of classic rock, country, blues and straight up, old school rock and roll. He speaks of playing the conductor, moving from instrument to instrument and no longer being just the guitar player – a trend that began with the 45s he’s been churning out for three years in his Third Man record label. He explains: “If I didn’t move to Nashville I don’t think I would’ve made this record. Through all these 45s I’ve done, I’ve got a humongous family of pedal-steel players, violinists and harpists. Last year everything changed when I started production… there were ten or 12 people at times in the room playing live… it was the first time I’d really ever conducted an orchestra. I would say: “When the chorus comes in, I need the harps to do a D Minor chord and then the piano comes in for the break. There are so many session musicians, songwriters, people playing for tourists and stuff, where else would you have access to that much talent in the neighbourhood, you know?”

The conversation turns at various points to upholstery (White used to be an apprentice and last year opened an upholstery store), the word ‘love’ (“It’s hard to use the word “love” in a song, it’s been so used for so long thousands of times, plays, paintings, poems and if you’re going to say that word, I think you sort of have to put a twist on it.”) and White’s statistics (“6’1, 185 lbs”), before Valcarcel lets him off the hook and he makes an exit stage right. If there’s one thing you can glean from looking through his back catalogue, it’s that Jack White is rarely content to play by convention – and tonight in the County Hall is no different.

 Originally published here

Lambchop: “I’m sure my doctors would prefer me to become a little more prudent”

As the world around him rushes from pillar to post, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner has always been happy to keep his own pace
The promotional trailer for Lambchop’s forthcoming tour is brilliant. Black and white, with a building guitar riff, Kurt Wagner walks onto the stage of an empty hall, sits on a stool in the spotlight and lights a cigarette. He strums his guitar as the shot pans out, then tips some ash in his hand, before blowing it into the air. It’s simple, clean and lovely. For 25 years Lambchop have been making music that celebrates the beauty and complexity that lies between the grey textures of everyday life. Never forced or overegged. The video is (no doubt purposely) analogous, and it works. “Love the ambience,” posts one commenter. “Even if this is all he did on stage, I’d get a ticket for it.”

“Sometimes I talk to journalists I’ve been talking to for ten years and they’ll ask me: ‘What’s new with Lambchop? What’s new on this record?’” Wagner laughs, as he does at every juncture, emphatic and wheezy. “But I guess every release is a current event. That’s what’s new. For me, that’s significant and we do try to move forward in little ways, which are hopefully exciting enough for people.”

Wagner views Mr M. as the most progressive album the band’s recorded for years. It comes on the coattails of Invariable Heartache, an album of country covers he recorded with Cortney Tidwell under the imaginative moniker KORT, which made him readdress his work with Lambchop. “KORT had a pretty significant affect on how I approach things,” he says. “It started out as a concept, and then all of a sudden I was having to sing these songs, which were pretty straightforward and corny. I learnt that I can become almost clichéd; that’s pretty out there for me. You can almost transcend how you go about it. It’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. On the record, I’m trying to sing a bit better and some of the songs are the most direct I’ve ever done. There’s a song on [Mr M] called The Good Life that’s pretty straight ahead country in progression and theme.”

For the casual listener though, the glacial-paced change from one record to the next is best noticed through a time-lapse len­s. It’s the thoughtfulness and attention to detail that keeps them coming back for more, and the story behind the opening track to 2006’s stellarDamaged is part of Lambchop folklore. Wagner was commissioned to write Paperback Bible for a radio documentary about life in Middle America. The producers sent him some excerpts from a Tennessee radio show called Swap Shop – essentially a live, audio classifieds section – to turn into a song. “And I’ve got some things/That I’d like to put on out there/Like a pony cart and/an old bird bath/A kitchen sink and a rocking chair,” Wagner croons, impossibly emotively, on what equates to a startling piece of music. “Yeah, that was something I thought I’d try,” he laughs modestly.

But what of the new album? What, today, inspires a man who has previously found his muse within the sheets of the Oxford English Dictionary? “I guess that song’s about people watching,” he says when asked about Gone Tomorrow, one of the standout tracks from the new record, which sees Wagner at his lyrical best. “The studio where I wrote that particular song, they’re doing some improvements around the corner from it. There were some homeless dudes hanging around and they have those little camps. It’s on this road that’s used by people who don’t have vehicles, like these guys, to get from one part of town to the other. There’s a railroad crossing and all the time I was there, there was just an influx of people. I pretty much wrote it from that position, looking at this place from different perspectives.”

Mr M. is Mr Met, named for the past tense of ‘meet’ rather than the New York baseball team’s mascot, who must’ve been feeling particularly litigious the day he heard the album’s original title. “It’s a reference to a friend of mine,” Wagner says, his voice slowing, “who, ah. Who died recently.” He’s referring to Vic Chesnutt, the iconic modern folk singer who died from an overdose in late 2009. The pair shared a musical philosophy best summed up by an oft-quoted line Chesnutt once gave the New York News: “Other people write about the bling and the booty. I write about the pus and the gnats. To me, that’s beautiful.” Lambchop acted as his backing band for the 1998 album The Salesman and Bernadette; Wagner says it would be hard to overstate the impact Chesnutt had on his life. “Vic was part of my musical life since I started out. I wanted to make sure we remembered him.”

Collaborations like these permeate Wagner’s body of work. Lambchop can be anything from one to 12 strong, depending on where they’re playing, and this synergetic spirit, he says, has kept things fresh. “One of the things I’ve tried to do with Lambchop is to have this general kind of collective of ideas. It’s not just me, it’s everyone I work with and it’s fun to include them. It feels more like a family operation, or at least we’re connected by friendship. I love the fact that it allows me to connect with these people and luckily it still continues.”

Away from music, Wagner has built up a network of associates that he works with from time to time, too. An art graduate, he’s picked up his brushes again in recent years after almost a decade long hiatus. He created the cover for Mr M., part of a series of character-based portraits. It sits well among the band’s backlog of cover art which includes typographically wonderful Nixon by his childhood friend Wayne Wright and (OH) Ohio’s infamous nude sleeve, New Orleans Public Beating, painted by an old art professor Michael Peed, with whom he reconnected in Barcelona in the 2000s after losing touch years before.

“In general, the songs and the paintings were created at the same time,” he says, before exploding into laughter. “I wrote the songs when I should’ve been painting. I was playing hooky! Interesting, it always seems to be the least opportune moment for me when I start to think about something else.” But Wagner is non-committal when pushed for a connection between his art and his music. “I find it difficult to connect them. Maybe it’s not a good idea to try. I’ve thought about it for years, but never saw a way I thought the two could get along. Have you ever been to an art opening that had a musical performance? It’s like the worst kind of thing you could ever go to. Aw, it’s horrible man. The business side of both of those things are completely ignorant of each other. They don’t even understand what the other’s trying to do.”

How about writing a book? “I’ve thought about that, too. But I don’t know. I’ve worked on a book with a visual artist, which hasn’t been published yet. I provide the text to go with his photographs. But as far as a novel or something like that… that’s a lot of commitment. I can’t get my head round how anyone can accomplish it at all. You read a book, and maybe it takes you somewhere. But if you ever think about what went into it… it’s scary.”

All the way through the conversation, Kurt Wager is in great spirits. His laugh acts as both a prefix and suffix to most things he says, and it’s extremely contagious. The last time The Skinny spoke with him, four years ago, he was more reflective – relieved even – having then recently recovered from cancer. “It’s alright, I’m happy to report,” he says, of his health. Has it changed his lifestyle? “You would think it would. I probably could tidy up my smoking and my consumption of food and alcohol. I’m sure my doctors would prefer me to become a little more prudent. But there’s still time for that.” When it comes to Lambchop, the acquisition of moderation requires just as much patience as everything else.

 Written for The Skinny

We Are Augustines: Back from the Brink

It’s cold, dark and miserable in Camden – a night to turn your breath to crystal, decked out in the full complement of seasonal greys and browns. Your correspondent has been shivering outside a creaky old bar for fifteen minutes, before being revived, suddenly, by approaching, oblivious laughter. “You wanna come join us in our dressing room?” comes the greeting. Around the corner, a humble eight seater awaits, or as We Are Augustines will come to know it over the next couple of weeks: home. Remarking on how tidy it is, The Skinny climbs in and is confronted with three faces from which the smiles rarely stray over the course of forty minutes’ chat.

Frontman Billy McCarthy, plumped in the backseat in a porkpie hat, could pass for a burlier Brad Pitt. Bassist Eric Sanderson is urbane and dapper, and newly recruited drummer Rob Allen is the picture of contentment: all three are happy to be on board. It’s only fifteen minutes later, when Billy says: “we’re not a tragic band, despite having seen plenty of tragedy,” that a bright pink floods our cheeks, as an earlier preconception comes to mind. It had been decided that if anyone were to be forgiven for being miserable, it would be this lot. It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes a rock band can surprise you for all the right reasons.

Their travails predate this current guise, and can be traced back to the days of Pela, a band Billy and Eric played in before We Are Augustines. Eric takes up the story: “The band hit a brick wall, due to a lack of opportunities and resources. We were on a label with a tiny budget. We had little or no support. We self-produced our first record and the label kept telling us that nobody liked it, which is not what you want to hear. Then the year-end came and we ended up on over 30 lists. We went to the label and asked them: “What the hell’s wrong with you?” We got to the point where we were selling out shows across the country but couldn’t afford to get to them. We were doing our own PR, management, merchandising, support, everything. Eventually the pressure got so great that the band crumbled and we broke up after seven and a half years. We were left with remnants of a record, no career, no support, no band, lots of debt and lots of binding contracts.”

As the band’s professional career lay in tatters, personal tragedy was to strike, particularly for Billy. His brother Jim had spent years living rough in California, moving from psychiatric wards to homeless shelters. He was diagnosed as being schizophrenic a number of years back, after he stabbed a shelter staff member with a knife. He spent time in solitary confinement, while being treated in a hospital ward. Upon learning he was being sentenced to the fate for a second time, Jim took his own life. He hanged himself.

In his bereavement, Billy penned Book of James, a song about his brother that’s powerful and emotive, but also acceptant. The chorus ends with the couplet: “And all the words can all get spoken / 
Well I know we tried and you’re forgiven,” and Billy says that yes, his music has been cathartic, but has also given him the opportunity to speak out about an ignorance and a taboo that he feels contributed to his brother’s death. “It (debut album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships) is almost a concept record about family. It can be tough to play, but the upside is seeing people respond to it. Wherever I am in the world, when I see people react to the issues I’m talking about, it makes it worthwhile. Mental illness isn’t talked about. It’s not… it’s a huge taboo. When you’re a kid and you invite your friends to your house, you have no problem saying: ‘my mom’s not well, she has a bad back.’ But rarely would you hear a kid say: ‘my mom’s unwell. She has a sick brain. She’s manic-depressive.’ People don’t talk about it, and that’s wrong. So if this album does a little bit of good, raises any awareness at all, then I’m happy.”

The record, like the band, is anything but depressing – if anything, it’s rousing: a call to arms. Watching them on stage later that night, it’s clear that We Are Augustines have been galvanised by the hardship they’ve faced and that their audience respond to that. “Sure, they don’t all know what the songs are about,” says Eric, but that’s not important. Everyone can find their own meaning in them.” The Skinnyis pleased that the parallel drawn with the infamous Alan Partridge ‘Bloody Sunday’ moment raises a chuckle. Right now, this band is determined to have some fun, no matter how bad the jokes are.

 Written for The Skinny
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An Audience with Leonard Cohen

Ten years ago, Leonard Cohen told a journalist that he’d “read somewhere that as you get older the brain cells associated with anxiety begin to die. So, I might have saved myself the rigours of monastic life if I had just waited until it happened.” And so, Cohen’s Zen-like demeanour tonight in the opulent Mayfair Hotel shouldn’t have come as a surprise: after all, his “monastic life” has continued since his ordination as a Buddhist monk 16 years ago, and at the ripe old age of 77 – coaxed out of retirement last decade because of bankruptcy – those anxious brain cells must be few and far between. Pleasingly, they seem to be the only grey matter on the wane.

Cohen’s here to hold court over the first playback of his new album,Old Ideas, which alludes as much to his advancing years and the shadow of death as it does to his strong, spiritual beliefs. Greeted onto the stage by the equally dapper, corduroy-clad Jarvis Cocker (this evening’s host), Cohen graciously bows to the assembled Who’s Who of Europe’s music press, removing his signature fedora for the only time in the night. His voice is an octave lower still, the wrinkles more defined on his face, and his shoulders slightly slumped. But he retains what will always be his essence: his wit. If there was ever any doubt that he would grow old gracefully, it’s been swiftly dispelled tonight.

“What’s it like listening to your own album in a roomful of people?” asks Jarvis, when the playback’s complete (there’s something wonderfully Lynchian about listening to Leonard Cohen sing about himself in the third person, while his handwritten lyrics are projected onto the wall, then looking up to see the back of his head, listening and reading along with you). “I wasn’t listening,” says Cohen, instantly, wryly. And so the tone is set. Cocker admits that the early Pulp album It was a rip-off of Cohen’s work. Leonard is flattered, but modest. “You just work with what you got. I never had a strategy. I always felt I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I never had the sense that I was standing in front of a buffet table.”

What unfolds is a delightful game of cat and mouse, in which Cohen hilariously shirks his interrogator’s attempts to find meaning in his songs. “I’ll buy into that,” he says, with a smirk, as Cocker expounds his theory on Darkness, one of the best cuts from the excellent Old Ideas. To those assembled, it’s a brilliant dose of good-natured schadenfreude. This eminent raconteur leads Cocker, so often an enigma toward the media, on a merry dance, until the questions are open to the floor.

Cohen holds forth on his womanising (“Back then it was agreeable to have a reputation or some kind of list of credentials so you didn’t have to start from scratch with every woman you walked into. Now it doesn’t really matter one way or the other.”), Chuck Berry (“’Roll over Beethoven / Tell Tchaikovsky the news.’ I’d like to write a line like that.”) and even indulges a populist query on Hallelujah (“I wrote many, many verses. I don’t know if it was eighty, maybe more or a little less. My tiny trouble is that before I can discard a verse, I have to write it. I have to work on it, and I have to polish it and bring it to as close to finished as I can. It’s only then that I can discard it.”) All the while, he’s humble, gracious and magnificently entertaining.

In the twilight of his career, Cohen, at last, seems content. The “rigours of monastic life” have vaporised his niggling self-doubt and depression. As he sits back, smiling at each question, no matter how ridiculous, it strikes us that Cohen the lothario has gone, replaced instead by Cohen the patriarch – the most relevant septuagenarian you could ever imagine.

 Written for The Skinny

Josh T Pearson: The Pariah Returns

There’s an aura surrounding Josh T. Pearson, one that’s helped make him one of the most enigmatic, whispered about singers of recent times. It’s apparent in the authoritative, stark initial that punctuates his name. It’s evoked by the fabled, crash and burn story behind his old band, Lift to Experience. You can hear it in the ten-minute-plus vehicles for self-flagellation that appear on his album, and see it in the flowing, messianic beard he wears to his chest. It percolates through everything that’s been said or written about Pearson this year so strongly, that whenever he lifts the phone and announces himself to The Skinny in his thick, Texan drawl, it sounds like a proclamation from on high.

“This is he.”

In March, Pearson released his first solo record, the rapturously received Last of the Country Gentlemen. It’s his first output since the double album The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads ten years ago, which signalled the end of the road for Lift… and the beginning of a nomadic, primitive existence for Pearson. “I was just working,” he reluctantly says of the hiatus.  “I scrubbed toilets, I was a janitor, I did construction, I was painting outdoors, mowing – lots of mowing – I was a caretaker on some property in Texas for a time. Thirteen acres. I was down there with goats and chickens. Just normal straight work.” The idea that he’s happier now to be making a living from his music is quickly dismissed, though. “Not really,” he says. “I’m glad if it does good for people, but being on the damn road, playing the same damn songs; I would’ve written a lot more if I had a straight job.”

Pearson is currently homeless. He’s in Brixton as we speak and is annoyed at having to speak to me from the street, in case the mobile reception won’t hold indoors. “It’s fine,” he says, graciously letting us off the hook. “Except y’all drive on the wrong side of the road. Surprised I ain’t been hit yet, but there’s always tomorrow.” He’s been touring the album, playing songs that stemmed from intense personal heartache, to steadily growing crowds. But rather than enjoying the fruits of his labour, Pearson finds them harrowing. Success is, for him, a poisoned chalice. He hasn’t been able to listen to the record since he recorded it and each performance is a drain. “It’s difficult every time,” he tells us in an austere, considered manner that lightens gradually as the conversation unfolds. “After the last show I swore I’d never play them again but I’m back doing it, since I’d already committed. You’re only as good as your last show. I’m risking a lot every time I step out. If I had easier songs I’d be glad to play them. But I don’t.”

Pearson has never led what you might call a “normal life”.  He comes from Denton, a college town and oasis of music in the barren Texan desert. His father was a Pentecostal preacher and a loyal disciple of the Word of Faith Movement, biblical literalists whose adherence to the scriptures discourages employment (why earn a crust, when Marksays “soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them”?). His father refused to work and his mother, faced with a starving brood, packed up the kids and left when Josh was four.

He’s philosophical about the whole thing. “I’ve got nothing against organised religion,” he says. “We’re all doing our best here to survive this shit out. Denton’s in the Bible Belt so, yeah, it’s going to be a little more religious than other places. If anything, it’s necessary. It’s a hard country. Texas is bigger than France; it takes 16 hours to drive across it. Right now, it’s 38 degrees at the low, 42 at the high. It’s hot and it’s hard; you go crazy there. It’s only natural that the religion is a little extreme.”

“The south,” Pearson explains, “is very, very different from the north.” America isn’t the only country with a north – south divide. He thinks the UK is an inversion of the USA. “They’re conservative in the south of the UK,” he says, “and they’re just wild in the north. It’s the opposite of the US. With Lift… when we got up to Scotland, they were always really up for a rock show. They were passionate and they feel it. It’s much more what I’m used to and that’s what I come from. They get so high and worked up, it’s just like you’re in Texas sometimes. There’s one place in Glasgow, King Tut’s. I always presumed it was good, because the owner would always go for a big hug at the end. I don’t know what the fuck he was saying, but I think he liked it. I was just happy to hug him back.”

Written for The Skinny

L.A. Times: The Californication of M83

Anthony Gonzalez is on the fifteenth floor of a plush hotel in London’s West End. It’s one of the last evenings of summer and the sun is making its leisurely way west, emblazoning the heavens and carving a diorama silhouette from the skyline. The Skinny finds him gazing out of one of the many huge windows that mark the bar’s perimeter. He looks relaxed, casual and boyish in his open shirt, t-shirt and jeans. The flecks of grey that pepper the side of his neatly coiffed hair are the only telltale signs of a man who has recently entered his thirties. One gets the impression that Gonzalez will only ever age with style.

He greets us with a warm, pearly white smile and a handshake. The Skinny compliments him on his freshness (he flew in from L.A. last night and leaves again in the morning), which draws a modest nod. Bubbling beneath the affable surface, though, are stormy undercurrents. The new album by M83, the guise under which Gonzalez has been making music for over a decade, has just leaked online, six weeks before its release. “I don’t feel good,” he admits. “I almost don’t want to fight anymore. The fight is lost.”

Pirates aside, though, Gonzalez is a happy man. He’s just swapped the Côte d’Azur for the Hollywood Hills. His English, which is word perfect, has acquired an American twang and he’s found new stimulus for his music, too. “It’s different,” he says excitedly of Los Angeles, “but there are more similarities with my home than you might expect. I think it’s the beach, the mountains, the palm trees and the sunshine. It’s like the South of France, except ten times bigger. The main difference is the culture, but that’s exactly why I went there, to experience something new.”

Confused, we suggest that two places couldn’t seem more different. The L.A. Gonzalez has fallen for, though, is not the L.A. we had in mind. “It’s like everywhere,” comes his measured reply. “Every city is clichéd and in Los Angeles, the cliché is “being superficial”: big boobs, white teeth, Hollywood, fame and movies. That’s not what inspires me about the place, though. I was very influenced by the Californian landscapes. I was often heading into the desert with my computer and keyboards. Most of the instrumental tracks on the album were recorded there. I would rent a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, smoke a big joint and make music for hours.”

At the mention of his recreational pursuits, he flashes another one of his winning smiles, suggesting the Hollywood ideal may not have been completely lost on him. Gonzalez comes from the Mediterranean port of Antibes, a sleepy Roman settlement that was once, briefly, home to Pablo Picasso. It was here that he learned how to play guitar as a ten year old. His upbringing, though, was anything but musical. “My parents didn’t listen to it very much,” he recalls. “They had three records and they played them all the time, but they weren’t inspiring.

“I was very lucky to have an older brother and he introduced me to a lot of great music. Being in France, culturally, we are very curious. We’re not afraid of foreign culture, like from America and England and through my brother, I became more and more interested in lots of different kinds of music. I think our generation, our age group, [The Skinny is too polite to mention that Anthony has a few years on us yet] had similar culture, despite being from different countries. We grew up listening to the same bands and watching the same movies. I barely ever listen to French music. Every time someone is singing in French, it kind of makes me sick!”

Unsurprisingly, then, M83’s lyrics are all in English. “It’s more natural for me,” he explains. We suggest that the UK should be ashamed of its poor linguistic record, citing our pidgin French as Exhibit A. “I learnt English in school, but I agree. How they teach languages in schools is not the best. But through music, I have travelled a lot and picked it up.”

There is one French artist, though, who has had a big influence Gonzalez’s music. “I will always remember being seven years old and watching this television show which featured a performance from Jean Michel Jarre. I have to say, it was a real shock. He looked so beautiful. He was surrounded by synths and lights and looked so picturesque; like a spaceship. This was the first time I realised that music could be so powerful and since then, I’ve had this love for synths and electronic music.”

Despite his polite protestations to the contrary, there is something decidedly Francophile about M83’s music. Along with Daft Punk, Justice and Cassius, to name but a few, they have been pivotal in establishing France as the planet’s primary breeding ground for indie – dance crossover acts par excellence. Over recent years, though, the band’s sound has incorporated more “rock” sounds into their oeuvre.Saturdays = Youth, the 2008 album that brought M83 to a wider audience and which reaped universal critical acclaim, drew heavily from the shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins (with whom the album’s producer, Ken Thomas, worked extensively).

Gonzalez’s attitude towards the album is surprisingly aloof. “I was a little less proud of that one. Approaching the new album, I felt the pressure of Saturdays… and I didn’t like having that. I wasn’t scared to make another album; I just didn’t want people to think I wanted to make Saturdays… number two. I wanted to do something different and was a little afraid of the reaction.”

When speaking of the earlier entries to his back catalogue, though, he beams with pride. The recording ofHurry Up, We’re Dreaming in Los Angeles ushered in a new era for M83. The previous records were all laid down in France. Most of them were made on a shoestring and Gonzalez recalls his early days in the band, alongside his former musical partner Nicolas Fromageau (who has sinced moved on to front the sublime Team Ghost), with misty-eyed nostalgia. “Ah!” he exclaims, with his head tossed back. “When you release your first album, you never know what’s going to happen. Are you going to find some people who like your music? It’s like jumping into a big black hole. You don’t know what to expect. Nicolas and I made the first two albums (M83 and Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts) on a shitty 8-track recorder in my bedroom. We were both at school and we did this for fun. It wasn’t a job, you know? It’s funny how, if you listen to the other albums, you can get this sense of fun from them. I am so proud of the first few records, but I’m probably most proud of the new one.” 

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the new double LP, is M83’s most ambitious album to date and Gonzalez views it as a culmination of his life’s work to date. You can forgive him, then, a little ire over the album’s leaking. “This is, for me, a statement of how I used to buy music back in the day. This is my version of growing up and buying music in record stores. I’ve been dreaming of making a double record since I was a teenager, listening to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”

It isn’t just the format that has been in his intentions since his youth. The album’s content and concept have been with Gonzalez for even longer, only to be evoked recently by his change of environment. “Well, it’s mainly about dreams,” he explains. “When I moved to LA, I was in a new environment, a new city and I was lonely. I was remembering a lot of memories from my childhood, you know things I used to dream about as a kid, and I felt like I should write about them. When I was young, I dreamed about space a lot. There was a Japanese animation called Galaxy Express and I was obsessed with it. It’s the story of a young kid travelling through space on a train. As a kid, I dreamed that I was the captain of my own spaceship; like a space pirate, driving from planet to planet. This album is like the story of these adventures, in a way. This is the soundtrack of a movie that doesn’t exist. I hope that people listening to it can provide their own images, in their heads.”

Gonzalez, for all his globetrotting, still greets the release of a new album with the glee of a debutante. A conversation with him is like a breath of fresh air. He is charming, honest, funny and, even if he doesn’t think so, very French. The Skinny departs the dimly lit ambience of his hotel into the bustling Regent Street twilight, thankful that the forces of chance led a seven-year-old French kid to the dazzling lights of a Jean Michel Jarre show all those years ago, and reflecting on the ten years of brilliance that it helped to spark.

Written for The Skinny

“It was definitely chaotic”: Wilco’s Glenn Kotche talks Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot

Glenn Kotche is a busy man, as you might expect from the 41st best drummer of all time, as decided by Gigwise in 2008. If he isn’t jugging drumsticks and tambourines, it’s a three-year-old and a one-year-old. (“Either way, my hands are always full…”) When The Line of Best Fit calls him at his Chicago home, he’s buzzing. Wilco, the band he’s been a member of for a decade, are about to release their eighth album, and their fifth with Kotche at the helm. The Whole Lovewas recorded in Wilco’s own studio, on Wilco’s own label. Things have come a long way since he joined in January 2001.

What unraveled shortly after he replaced Ken Coomer as Wilco’s drummer is a part of rock and roll folklore. Kotche had recently played alongside frontman Jeff Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist and producer Jim O’Rourke in Loose Fur. Tweedy encouraged both to join his band, hoping to replicate the sound of his side project, and allowed O’Rourke to have free reign over the production of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the follow up to Summerteeth. O’Rourke’s inclusion led to a series of rows between Tweedy and Jay Bennett, the late, former guitarist, who was dismissed after the album was recorded. The band’s record label, Reprise, rejected the LP. Wilco were dropped, but retained the rights to the album, which they released through Nonesuch (ironically, like Reprise – a subsidiary of Warner Bros). The album’s recording was documented in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, one of the greatest rock and roll movies ever made. The album, Wilco’s most successful, has gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed of our lifetime.

Kotche’s memories are clear, if understated. “Yeah, it was definitely chaotic. The membership changes, the record label, the friction: it was pretty crazy, but in some respects, it was business as usual for me in that a lot of the bands I’d worked with at that point were troubled. Rarely do you find a perfectly healthy band that works really well together and all get along all the time. I remember just thinking that I would do my best and get the job done and hope things would turn out all right. Eventually, they did.”

“When I joined, they’d already recorded the record. I was brought in and redid all the drum parts, which made all the other parts a little different, so they were retracked and reconfigured. When Jim came in to mix it, though, he really turned things around. He stripped away layers and layers and layers. Man, did he do a job. People always say to me: ‘that must have been a crazy time?’ and I guess in some ways it was. Thankfully we’re in a better place now, though.”

Wilco have had the same line-up for six years; an unprecedented period of harmony. The band are growing old together, gracefully. Kotche thinks they’ve come to appreciate each other and to treasure their individual talents. “We have different musical personalities, for sure. Some of us are coming more from the left, some of us from a more traditional angle, but we all respect each other, meet in the middle and bring it to the band. We all have different side projects, so anytime we have a break, we go off and do our own things and when we reconvene we bring something from those experiences to the table.”

The dynamics of the band have changed, too. So much so, that they’re unrecognisable from the anxious figures portrayed in Sam Jones’ documentary. “Things have changed drastically since I joined the band,” Kotche says. “We’ve had membership changes and every time you have that, you have a completely different dynamic. This is the longest line-up we’ve had and there’s a certain comfort, but also trust that comes with that. There’s no asshole in the band. We all get along and really trust each other musically. This was the first record that I‘ve been a part of that there’s been no huge drama. There was no major event and we’re all the happier for that.”

The latest album, The Whole Love, is Wilco’s most challenging for a while. After the  soothing, AM-friendly Sky Blue Skyand disappointment of the self-titled follow up, it’s good to have them back on form and Kotche says the recording of the album was the most enjoyable to date. “On this record,” he explains, “I get to hear a little better what I already knew about the guys in the band. I think there was a little more ambiguity or openness on this record. Jeff’s very generous and it’s obviously his band, but he listens to everyone and that’s how the songs have developed on this record.

“It’s different every time we get to the studio. On Sky Blue Sky, for example, we all made it together. The last time, a lot of the songs were finished when Jeff brought them in. We just fleshed out the arrangement. With this one, there’s a good balance. For certain tunes, Jeff had written lyrics and chord changes. We recorded it and then someone else had an idea, they wanted to try something different. Then I weighed in with a different drum pattern and the song was getting pulled all over the place. We just started over and redid the whole tune. There were a few tunes like that, where we flipped them upside down until we had something that resonated with us. We’re all super excited and happy with this one.”

If he isn’t recording or touring with Wilco, you might find Glenn popping up on an album by Phil Selway (Radiohead), Andrew Bird or Seven Worlds Collide (with the members of Crowded House and Split Enz). On the off chance, when he’s not performing as a member of Loose Fur or On Fillmore (another Wilco spin-off), he just might be composing jazz or classical music with Kronos Quartet or John Luther Adams, or penning essays on Steve Reich for Do It Yourself Percussion. He’s a chameleon of a percussionist, constantly flitting between projects. But Glenn Kotche, the conversationalist, is polite, measured and articulate. He’s happy to talk about any one of his endeavours and grateful that The Line Of Best Fit is able to hold its own in dialogue about them each.

Classically trained and intellectually motivated, he’s an anomaly in the hedonistic world of rock and roll tub-thumpers. He’s big enough to laugh at the irony of being sandwiched between Tommy Lee, from Mötley Crüe and D.J. Fontana, Elvis Presley’s sticksman, the world’s 40th and42nd best drummers, respectively. But right now, he has more important things to occupy his thoughts. Those nappies aren’t going to change themselves, you know.

The Whole Love is available now through dBpm Records.

Who said nice guys finish last? I Meet The Avett Brothers

In an industry as fickle as the music business, you almost certainly don’t have to be nice to succeed. In fact (to paraphrase a cliché), it might help if you’re not. Like every rule, though, there are exceptions and sitting down for a chat with the Avett Brothers is a welcome reminder of this. In a dressing room buried deep inside the cavernous, Edwardian chambers of Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Scott and Seth Avett, Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon greet TLOBF like an old friend. They laugh at our jokes and remember our name. They even do their best to sound interested in questions they’ve no doubt been asked dozens of times. They exude politeness, warmth and courtesy that feels alien in the hard-boiled world of rock and roll, one that leaves you glowing for the rest of the evening. No, the Avett Brothers aren’t like most bands: they’re like four big, hairy bowls of Ready Brek.

Even more startling is that the band have managed to maintain this manner after ten years of recording and touring together, almost incessantly. “We have to take time for ourselves on the road”, explains Bob Crawford, the upright bassist, when asked about their genial demeanour. “Having alone time when you’re with anyone so much is very important. We’ve always done a good job at hanging out together, but we’re also very good at disappearing and going to our own places.”

“We’ve also worked out our touring schedule over the past couple of years which allows for more family time, which is extremely important. It’s always a tightrope walk, it feels like, but these days we’re successfully balancing our families and careers and being able to do that allows us to continue to be successful in what we do, enjoy it and appreciate our relationships with each other.”

Family is a word that peppers conversation with the Avett Brothers. Like most bands containing the familial denotation, they aren’t all related, but having been together for over a decade, there’s a sense that their usage of the term transcends bloodlines. Their vernacular is laced with utopian values whilst talking to and about one another. Words like respect, kindness, balance and care all roll off their tongues and if further evidence of the worth they place on interpersonal relationships were needed, then their music helpfully provides it. Tracks like ‘Murder in the City’ (Second Gleam, 2008), ‘Laundry Room’ (I and Love and You, 2009) and ‘Salvation Song’ (Mignonette, 2004) all tackle the issue head on and show that it’s been with them throughout their career. I suggest that they are a little more wholesome than your average indie scruffs. They nod, smile and put it down, in part, to their North Carolinian heritage.

“Being from North Carolina definitely shaped us a lot,” says Scott Avett. “The people we grew up around had real honest values that I think we’ve inherited. Work ethic, for one, was one of the admirable priorities in people. It wasn’t “who’s the best?” it was “who is the hardest worker?” That’s how respect was built for a man. That’s how we viewed our father and how he viewed the people around him. So we inherited this do it yourself work ethic, which is the reason why we went the first seven years without a label (not that they were coming to us). But we just rolled up our sleeves and got on with it. In that area, the rural North Carolina setting, where everybody’s kind of labour handed, labour orientated, your work ethic was as important as how well you played your instrument or how well you dressed.”

The Avett Brothers, incidentally, are dressed immaculately. They play their instruments pretty well too, as the night’s sold out show in the ‘Empire testifies. But the sentiment prevails and the brothers share it unashamedly. They conjure Walton-esque imagery when they talk and TLOBF is compelled to question them about their childhood.

“Our rearing definitely affected the journey we’ve taken,” Seth Avett admits. “Our family didn’t really push music but definitely let us know that the arts were important as part of a well-rounded education. We heard music in the living room, where there was always a record player and a bunch of records. We would generally hear a lot of popular country music of the time, 70s and early 80s. Dad would always be playing an old guitar and we absorbed a lot of music when we went to church.”

Whilst certainly not unique in having strong views on religion, the band’s spirituality is another element that helps detach them from their peers. Their grandfather was a Methodist minister and faith has always had a “special place” in their lives. “We talk about it (spirituality) a lot,” says Scott, nodding, before correcting himself: “We talk about those labels a lot.”

“There’s plenty to go in that section… there’s a lifelong conversation there. But to answer it shortly, we don’t really know how to take it away from ourselves. It’s a huge part of us and it’s always present. To take it away would be very dangerous. It needs to be at the top of the list of guides for us. It would be impossible to be here without spirituality, it’s just… there.”

The ‘here’ Scott talks about is a place the Avett Brothers have worked hard to get. Incrementally, their audiences on both sides of the pond have been growing for years. They’ve had hit albums and are finally seeing the fruits of their labour. Their last album, I and Love and You, was their first for a major label and their first with a “proper” producer in Rick Rubin and the band feel that both moves were in the right direction.

“It felt, even during the process, that we were taking a step,” Seth explains. “There were times that it was not easy. We had to really expand on our efforts. Overall there was a willingness for everyone to take their time whilst making the record and not try to rush. We had an attitude that we wouldn’t stop working on the record until we all agreed that it was great. If anybody didn’t agree that it’s great, they didn’t have the opportunity to look at it like we do. But we made sure that we thought it was great before we brought it out.”

The fabled pressures of delivering for a major label are exactly that, the band explain. They assure me that they had full freedom to record what they wanted, how they wanted, a fact that’s supported by the lack of new material since 2009. The Avett Brothers have traditionally been an ‘album a year’ band and their first lull in activity has coincided with their move to Columbia. Bob Crawford explains that the process has changed slightly and that whilst they haven’t released anything of late, they’re as prolific as ever.

“Rick (Rubin) is working with us more as an administrator at the moment. We’re based in North Carolina and he’s in California. We’re spending more time working things out at home and then meeting with him afterwards. We’re taking notes, making suggestions and then going back to the drawing board. There’s more back and forth with that. We’re recording quite a bit more material than we’ve ever recorded for a record so there’s more to choose from and it’ll also turn into more of a heartbreaking process if it turns out we can’t release all of it, but we’d really love to have an album to release next year.”

The rest of the band smile enthusiastically and TLOBF can’t help but feel that our thirty minutes together have been positively cleansing. Remarkably, the qualities they project within close quarters are palpable as they take the stage in front of two thousand fans later that night. They are earnest, endearing and excited. They seem genuinely grateful to have such an audience for their material and happily give them what they want, unconcerned with people’s perceptions of ‘cool’. You’ll have to go a long way to encounter a more refreshing bunch than the Avett Brothers and in the cynical, sneering times in which we live, a band that engender smiles at every turn should be treasured.

Written for The Line of Best Fit

Instinct is everything: A conversation with King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

Cozy, amicable, friendly, warm, funny: all adjectives that can be rightly ascribed to the patter of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins as well as their music. Having tickled the eardrums of anyone who encountered it, their collaboration record Diamond Mine has been one of the best received releases of 2011. The effortless combination of the latter’s electronic nous and the former’s folksy, meandering story telling is simply beautiful. In a recent online chat with The Line of Best Fit, both parties explained how the record came into being and what it symbolizes. Naturally, then, the conversation turned to roots, methodology and, of course, Fife.

Firstly, great album… my favourite new album of 2011 to date. Jon has collaborated in the past with Fencers… how did this particular collaboration come about?

KC: ‘Your Own Spell’, to my knowledge, is the first collaboration that I know of between Jon and a Fencer, it just took a few years to complete the project we started back then. If there’s an earlier collaboration, I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT – he’s MY friend, dammit!

Jon: Thanks, glad you like it. I met Kenny back in 2004. I instantly loved his voice and as I began to get familiar with his massive, bulging back catalogue, I started having ideas for new ways to present certain of my favourite songs. I approached Kenny for a vocal stem back then and my remix of the track ‘Vice Like Gist’ Of It was what came out. We then tried recording a few more, without thinking what the purpose was – versions of ‘And The Racket They Made’, and ‘Your Own Spell’. The former ended up on Bombshell, the latter on Diamond Mine. We were happy with the results so we just carried on recording when we had time and were in the same city.

What were you aiming for when you entered into the project? Did you have a particular outcome or sound in mind?

Jon: I didn’t consciously aim for anything, just to make something that moved both of us, and hopefully other people too.

How did the recording process work? The recording seems subtle, more subtle than, say, Silver Columns (also great). Was this a conscious thing?

KC: Jon keeps tabs on most of my King Creosote output, whether on Fence or other labels, and chooses the songs, or vocal performances, he likes. I then painstakingly rearrange my vocal chords to the configuration they were in before the fags and booze took their toll, pitch up at Cafe Music in Bow, and the rest is down to the power of Auto Tune.

Jon: I never make conscious decisions about how something should sound – at the risk of sounding like a wanker, I only ever work on instinct and these songs just totally dictated how the productions and arrangements should go. The aim was that the instrumentation and the non-vocal sections would augment the stories and melodies of the songs – once we had recorded the vocals, everything else just grew around them. The recording process was simple – I spent a few days with Kenny back in May 2009, putting down the vocals and acoustic guitars for the songs that we hadn’t already started, and then I built up the tracks around them whenever possible. Kenny sent me some amazing samples and field recordings that he had made over the years, and I combined these with field recordings we made up in Fife to give the record a real sense of place and to try and keep it from having a flat “studio” sound.

What does each contributor bring to the studio, in terms of attitude and expertise?

KC: Because I live miles and miles from London, I only pop in and out of the studio at Jon’s behest. It’s usually just to sit in the best studio atmosphere I know of, and sing songs into microphones. Jon asks me for a CDR of noises and loops now and again. It’s a complete mystery how it comes out sounding as good as it does. I’m essentially a one-take Jake.

The songs were already in existence prior to Diamond Mine. How did you decide on which ones to use?

KC: Once Jon got started on this thing, he already had certain songs in mind, or definitely certain themes. ‘John Taylor (’s Month Away)’ and ‘Bats (in the Attic)’ are peppered with Fife character(s) and place names, so it was a no-brainer to put those forward. There were a few others that didn’t make the grade, including the song that gave us the album title. Jon directed the songs pretty much.

Jon: All the songs are in existence on King Creosote albums that are already out there, apart from (opening track) ‘First Watch’,  a piano piece I wrote specifically to introduce ‘John Taylor’s Month Away’. Kenny kindly allowed me to pick which songs we would record. It was a massive privilege to have free reign over a back catalogue with that many amazing songs in it.

Was there anyone else involved in the recording? There are some delightful harmonies!

KC: There are some hefty talents on this record – Lisa Lindley-Jones on vocal duties, Mark on drums, Leo Abrahams on various stringed instruments, and Emma Smith on violin. I’ve met and kissed all four. There might be others Jon’s kissed for me.

Jon: Yes we brought in Lisa Elle from the band Dark Horses to sing harmonies, Leo Abrahams (who has played on most things i’ve worked on, including Bombshell) to play banjo, the drummer Phil Wilkinson, and the Elysian Quartet’s Emma Smith to play violin. Lisa’s harmonies particularly are massively important to the record. Lisa also contributed harmonies on Bombshell and I became addicted to the combination of her voice and Kenny’s.

The production seems to intentionally extenuate Kenny’s vocals throughout. Jon, is this something you worked on and consciously did?

Jon: I was very keen to do that as I reckon Kenny’s voice is one of the most distinctive and beautiful voices out there. The vocals are the heart of the record. I never wanted the productions to overwhelm the voice, hence the relative simplicity of the sound, and the lack of the random experimental electronic elements I tend to use in my own stuff.

John Taylor’s Month Away’ is one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve heard in a long time. What is the story behind it? Do you know the character?

KC: I live in Crail, a picturesque fishing village in North East Fife, and until a few years back I thought only my gran and I lived on the main road down to the harbour. Fishermen are very few and far between. One day there was a commotion out in Shoregate, so I popped outside to find I had, in fact, a neighbour, and that he’d fallen asleep pissed and set his couch on fire. I doubt I’d have met him otherwise. We got talking, and he soon quashed any romantic notions I’d had about a life at sea.

You can guess his name I’m sure.

How does this collaboration differ from those you’ve both previously been involved in?

Jon: It was different for me in that we weren’t together for more than a few days of it. But over the years I think we’ve probably talked about it a lot, and for me, every visit to the area was massively inspiring.

KC: My collaborations with the Fence Collective basically amount to two things – here are my songs, play what you like on them, or give me a vocal track and I’ll do what I like to it. Taking the latter example, Jon is like a genius version of me, working with a vocal from me.

Do you have any plans to work together in the future?

Jon: No specific plans time-wise but I’d say this is definitely going to be an ongoing collaboration.

KC: I do. Jon let me hear some new off-kilter drum beats he’s working on, and I’m the man to confuse those further. I think of Jon as being in my band anyway.

What are your favourite musical collaborations and what are, in your opinion, the most ill-conceived?

Jon: I love the Brian Eno/Harold Budd records. And the Kieran Hebden/Steve Reid thing witnessed live was massively euphoric. I didn’t like it when Pat And Mick teamed up. Nor was I a fan of Hoddle and Waddle.

KC: I liked ‘Under Pressure’ by David Bowie and Queen. I thought this would be enough for me to then become a fan of Queen, but it wasn’t. Some people discovered Queen via EastEnders’ Anita Dobson, and they were better impressed. Bowie’s good though. He made a grand job of that Christmas hit with Paul Daniels.

That 4AD one The Moon and the Melodies with Harold Budd, I had a tape of that.

Jon, you mentioned on Twitter that you had been trying to think of a way to play the album live. Has there been any progression on that front?

Jon: Did I? no, not yet, but luckily we have Leo, Lisa and Emma joining us on stage at the Union Chapel gig in May, which will mean that it can’t be ENTIRELY shit.

Finally, was there any single theme you wanted the album to convey, musically or lyrically?

Jon: Musically I wanted to recreate the feelings I had personally had in visiting Fife for the Homegame the first few times, and in particular to try and conjure that kind of dreamy, emotional feeling that you are sometimes left with after drinking a particularly large amount and meeting lots of amazing people.

KC: For me, it’s a Fife record. The songs are rooted here, and it is as charmed an existence as Jon makes it sound.

Written for The Line of Best Fit

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine is out now via Domino Recordings. Stream the album in full below.