What We've Been Listening To...Courting, White Flowers, Les Bods, Team Picture, Traams, Working Men's Club, Anorak Patch, Murmur, Corvus and the Morning Star
By Jon Milton
So the shops are back open on Monday and the prospects of going to a gig, and not just a socially distanced one seem tantalisingly close. I guess the problem now is fitting in all those new bands that have emerged over the last 12 months alongside existing commitments! Take Courting for example, who’ve just released their debut EP, Grand National. The Liverpool lads turned a few heads last year with a string of impressive singles and have now cemented their promise with these four tracks. Lead track Grand National is absolutely storming, Popshop! is super slick and shiny and the two remaining tracks ‘Crass’ and ‘Slow Burner’ reveal a darker side of the band, cleverly juxtaposed. The band have announced a UK wide tour for September, which unfortunately for me clashes with my trip to see Yard Act at the Lexington, otherwise I’d be snapping up a ticket in a flash.
Touring more immediately in May and June and presumably socially distanced are dream pop / shoegazers White Flowers, who have a debut album out next month and have just released a new single this week in ‘Help Me Help Myself’. As with the rest of their output its rather sublime, so we expect lots from the album. You can check out their gig dates here.
One band that I’ll be taking time out to see is Les Bods, who released their second single ‘Free Your Mind’ this week. These Brighton based guys draw a lot of inspiration from arguably the best rock and roll that the sixties and seventies had to offer, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zep, Sabbath and so on, with ‘Free Your Mind’ big on riffs and with a heavy nod towards Cream and Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. More tunes are planned for the rest of the year.
Also out this week is ‘phantom limb’ by Team Picture. They are a band I know very little about, but this is a class tune.
Last week saw the release of the imaginatively titled ‘4 Songs’ by Traams via Bandcamp, a collection of stand-alone tracks recorded over a handful of sessions with Theo Verney. If you haven’t picked up a copy already make sure you do, the EP features our song of the year ‘The Greyhound’, their other single from 2020 ‘IRW’, ‘A House on Fire’ and the unreleased ‘Karma Kat’ which you can’t get anywhere else. In other words, it’s got four fantastic tunes on it and is well worth the investment. Hopefully there may be more to come from them, but they’ve been worryingly silent. At the time of writing there's still some vinyl copies available which you can buy from here.
Other songs of note out last week included the magnificent ‘X’ by Working Men’s Club who are maturing very nicely, the excellent ‘Blue Jeans’ by Anorak Patch who continue to impress, ‘Shipman Blues’ the promising debut single from Corvus & the Morning Star, and 'I'm the Same' the blistering new single from Murmur. You can read our interview with Murmur by the way here.
By Jon Milton
Part of a the seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of talent residing in Brighton right now, Murmur grabbed our attention late last year with their excellent single ‘Shame’, which subsequently found its way in to our 'festive fifty' best of 2020 playlist. The band released their first single ‘Fragile’ in 2017, followed by ‘Cradle’ in 2019, and now come armed with a blistering new single ‘I’m the Same’ to be followed by EP released later this year.
I caught up with George from the band to talk about the band, the new single and their plans for the future…
Tell us about the band - who is in it, how did you come together, what brought you to Brighton?
The three of us grew up in the midlands, Ben and myself met in school, we’ve been in bands together since we were 15 and we later moved to Brighton in 2016 where we met Jack, who later joined the band in 2018. Ben and myself first met jack on a early Murmur recording session and from then on we started hanging out in similar social circles, when the bands line up changed in 2018 we asked him to join forming Murmur, as you know it today. I think one of the main reasons for us moving down was to be part of area that was renowned for it’s music scene. Previously being in bands in the midlands we would usually gig in cities like Brighton the more we did the more we had the urge to move and be a more permanent part of it.
I’m the same is about a person’s fear of becoming someone they’re not - does that stem from personal experience? What’s the context?
The initial urge to address this came from personal experience but also conversations I had about it. Addressing the defeatist thoughts of someone who is never satisfied with them selves. Realising the manipulation of media and its fatalistic nature and vocalising how it shapes the way one socially and physically perceives them selves. Lyrically the phrase ‘I’m the same’ is a fearful association with this toxic train of thought, at it’s root it’s a realisation that ones desire to become validated by strangers is diluting their identity and their ability to love themselves for who they truly are.
This will be the fourth single released in as many years, why the long gaps in between?
As I briefly mentioned before the line up changed back 2018, which took a minute to adapt to going from a four piece to a three piece. So for the majority of 2018 and 2019 we took time to write new material and gig it, evolving a new sound for the band, it’s not until recently I feel as if the band have gained a solid identity which carries through from the live shows to our recordings. With this confidence as a band, I feel as if we’re able to pursue narratives and sounds that ring true with the band.
Who are your influences, both musical and otherwise?
Musically we all draw from similar places, pulling from bands like Killing Joke, Interpol, Eagulls and Radiohead to name a few. Recently I’m listening to a lot of Model/Actriz and bdrmm, which all add to the mix. Generally speaking anything that gives me confidence to speak honestly and venerably is influential. Addressing experiences with social anxiety and self-reflection are significant when talking about influence personally and can often fuel a conversation worth talking about.
You have a new EP on the way, tell us about it?
Since the end of last year we have been writing in and out of the rehearsal space when we can. It has been little different to the usual process not gigging the songs before hand but I think this had brought a different quality to the songs, being recorded within a matter of weeks of them being written. Usually maintaining that initial excitement and spontaneity can be more difficult once you’ve sat on the songs for months but going about it in the way that we did I think has managed to capture this. As for the new songs, I feel as if they are some of the most sonically diverse and lyrically up front of anything to date, showing off a more melodic side to the band.
Outside of the EP, what are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
We are set to release ‘I’m the Same’ on April 2nd and we’re currently working on another two singles due out later this year. We have plans to be back in the studio in the coming months to record the next batch of songs, but for the moment we are still writing out of our rehearsal space. We’re looking forward to playing the new batch of songs live for our live stream show with Hot Box events on April 3rd and hope to share some live dates for later this year very soon.
'I'm the Same' is released on April 2nd.
Link to the Hot Box Live Event: https://hotboxlive.co.uk/event/murmur-hot-box/
By Mark Glenister, with questions from Ashley Tubb (Sugarhorse), John Newton (John x 2 and Total Wkts) and Crows band fan community!
Right Number 1
About 12 years ago, a colleague came into work wearing a hoodie, which across the front was written MOGWAI. ‘What, like the furry thing in Gremlins’ I questioned, he looked at me, rolled his eyes and said ‘No, you heathen, like the Scottish band’ he started rummaging in his bag and produced a CD, ‘here’ he said as he threw it towards me ‘Educate yourself’
I looked at the CD in my hands ‘Mogwai – Special Moves’ it said on the front.
‘it’s a live album, good introduction for you’ my colleague said as he sat down opposite me.
So, throughout the day, in between meetings and telephone calls, I listened to the album, eventually telephones calls being ignored because the music had me gripped and I knew I had a new passion.
‘So, no lyrics then really’ I said looking across the desk
‘With music that good, why would you want lyrics’ was the response, with an exaggerated tut to accompany it
‘Aye’ was my only response as I started the CD over again, and got back to attempting some work.
I am one of those people, who when they find a new band, must consume everything, CDs, interviews, YouTube videos, anything that mentioned Mogwai, I wanted to know about. The next few weeks were spent indulging in all the albums I had purchased so far. Journeys to and from work were filled with loud guitars, even louder silences, layer upon layer of guitar, each track brining out different emotions in me, and each passing moment realising that Mogwai were now part of my life.
Over the past few years since that introduction, I have seen Mogwai countless times and still get the same exhilaration when ‘Mogwai fear Satan’ goes quiet, because I know at some point in the next few minutes, the wall of sound will hit the audience as the track kicks back in, the noise filling your chest and forcing you backwards – never ever get bored of that sensation. As a side note, I want the full version of ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ played at my funeral, I want that beautiful noise to fill the room and scare the crap out of whatever mourners have bothered to turn up!
When, 4 years ago, my depression and anxiety reached its peak, and I was finally diagnosed, it was the music of Mogwai that I turned to, it was my comfort blanket, this wall of sound that would wrap its loving arms around me and assure me that everything would be ok. They are still the band I turn to now when I have my dark days, no lyrics as such to add to the confusion already in my head, just layers of guitars, keyboard and drums to help me focus and drown out the sound of the demons battling for control of my life.
…….. Now, once the Arab Strap story was told, I should have checked about recording. But A, I was chatting with a musical hero so totally forgot the purpose of this chat and B, I’m an idiot who didn’t check that the interview was recording, it wasn’t.
In the build-up to speaking with Stuart, I had approached friend’s and some musicians who I know love the band to get questions from them. I had read recent interviews and tried to pick out questions that he had been asked recently. The album had made No 1 so there was a lot of press about the band and lots of soundbites from Stuart. We started off chatting about being No1 and how amazing that was, especially for a band like Mogwai. We discussed song titles, why the band was started, The enjoyment of doing soundtracks, how more famous than Stuart are his 2 dogs (Prince & Lyra), why Lyra was currently banned from the living room, noise restrictions in Switzerland, urban myths about venues collapsing whilst the band played them, trashing hire cars, Skateboard heroes, a song he wish he has written, and how a Horse sized Cat would be a frightening prospect.
Alas, I have none of the real answers to this to hand, no they are lost in the annals of time and my capacity at being an idiot. It was a lovely interview, Stuart is engaging, funny and answered all my questions even the slightly odd ones, It felt like chatting with someone I have known for a while, which I guess is true as their music has been part of my life for some time now.
Once I stopped crying at the fact the interview didn’t record, I then resigned myself to the fact I had had a nice chat and I should be thankful for that. But over the past week or so, its been nagging at me, was there a way to salvage something from the interview, I remembered some of his answers so perhaps I could work a piece around that. I then came upon the idea of using a Mogwai track title as the interview title, and looking through their albums, this one stood out straight away. So this interview or article is the story of 2 rights making 1 wrong.
Below are the questions and answers that I can remember, I hope Stuart reads this, and understands what a total amateur he was dealing with – Thank you for your time Stuart, it was and will always be appreciated, hopefully when you do tour I can meet you and have another chat, one which I will definitely record!!
So, the Stuart Braithwaite interview in all its glory, well the bits I can remember, and some of those might be abridged and I have only included the ones I can remember most of the answer to . . . . .
ASHLEY TUBB (Sugarhorse)
Ask him about the NYC show where they played My Father My King and they had to evacuate the building’ cause pieces of the ceiling started falling down...
Urban myth, remembers gigs where bits of the ceiling have fallen, but have never had to evacuate venue
You should also ask him what it was like when Alan McGee was managing them.
Great, really nice guy, managed us for a couple of years. Must be hard being him as everywhere he goes, people give him music because they want to be the next Oasis
Ask him how they go about playing Switzerland. The country very famously has an incredibly strict 100db limit, how do they get past that?
It’s a an average reading, so we just played songs that have quiet bits in them or make the quieter bits longer in a track like ‘mogwai fear satan’ so over an entire gig the average is 100db
They were pretty notorious for going from incredibly quiet to incredibly loud in a millisecond on their first few records, but kinda dropped that particular move afterwards. Their new album has a couple of occasions where they pull this move out the bag again (first track had one of those moments). Ask him why they originally sacked it off and why they decided to bring it back?
We became conscious that we might get known for being that band, so we did try to not do it, but its certainly not been a conscious decision to bring it back.
He may have been asked this before but has he ever thought of doing a greatest hits album all of their tracks in the style of black or death metal and calling it Gremlin? If not why not?
Nice concept, but no, too old to be doing death metal, will leave that to someone else.
Also can you ask him what happened to Steve Gullick’s hire car at Tarbox Studios when they were making Rock Action ( amazing album)?
Ah, hmmm, not sure I should tell this story . . . oh what the hell, we were big fans back in the day of the Jackass type stuff where they would hire a car, pay the damage excess and then just trash it. So we thought we would do this to Steve’s car, in hindsight it wasn’t the greatest moment of our career. I think Steve has photos of it, we might add them to the re-issue of Rock Action if we do one
JOHN NEWTON (JOHN/Total Wkts)
How conscious are you of changing your sound for each album?
We aren’t really, Barry (Keyboard) might well introduce a different sound with a new piece of kit he has, but as a band we try to stick to what we have done for the past 26 years
CROWS BAND FAN COMMUNITY
Which non Mogwai song does he wish they had written?
Probably ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath
Is there a venue they haven’t yet played but want to?
Probably some of the iconic New York venues, like Radio City or Carnegie, one day maybe
Album that inspired him?
Psycho Candy by Jesus and the Mary Chain, I think it was an album that inspired the entire band
How did they get involved in the ZeroZeroZero soundtrack
The music producer for the series was the same guy who was on the Les Revenants series. We got sent clips from the show, but without dialog, so sometimes we just had to go on the sense of anger or doom that the clip showed us
Who are his favourite skaters from back in the day and who are his current favourites?
He still skates on a weekly basis, and mentioned loads of names, none of which I can remember …. Sorry!
Where do they get all the song titles from?
We have a book full of them, so have plenty left for a few more albums although we did nearly name a track on the ZeroZeroZero soundtrack which we had already used on another album, so we have to be careful sometimes. Titles come from everywhere, stories that we have been told, or people mispronouncing things
On stage, you seem to be in a trance sometimes, as if becoming part of the music, is that how it feels?
Sometimes, yes very much so, other times its more a look of panic as something has gone wrong, or I am trying to remember which pedal to press in the track
Both your Dogs have a very strong following on Instagram (Prince of Glasgow), do they get noticed more than you do when you are out?
Definitely, I’ll get noticed when I am on my own maybe once or twice every couple of months, but they get recognized every time we go out without fail
Favourite guitar to practice on or write with?
It depends what’s lying around the flat, I’ve recently been given a Fender Jazz master, and used that for quite a bit of the last album. When we started the band I never realised that people like Fender would send you guitars to play, that’s definitely been a plus point being in a band. Thank you Fender
And finally, a Horse Sized Cat or a Dozen cat sized horses?
Ooh, a Horse Sized cat would be terrifying, that’s bigger than a lion, definitely a dozen cat sized horses.
By Jon Milton
Sometimes music just makes you go ‘wow’ doesn’t it? Hearing a song that just arrests you, makes you stop what you’re doing and just sit back and listen is a rare and wonderful thing, and something that should be cherished. Midlight’s new single ‘Emergency Song’ is one of those songs.
The band brought their first single ‘Sink to the Level’ out in the middle of last year and followed it up with ‘Pandemonium’ a few months later. And listening to ‘Emergency Song’ alongside its predecessors you kind of get the feeling that the band might be on to something special.
There is space and depth to their music akin to the artists that influence them, notably Radiohead and Talk Talk. As with contemporaries like Squid and Do Nothing, they seemed destined to make great albums, and with this in mind I chatted to George and Isaac from the band about how they make music, the background to ‘Emergency Song’ and more.
Tell us about Midlight – how did you all get together, how did you meet?
George: Isaac was the first person to get everything going. We all went to the same school in Brighton, and Isaac was making music with a few different people. Myself and Ollie in the band did an end of year performance at assembly, and Isaac came up to me and said ‘we need a singer’ and we got together at Owen the drummer’s house, just rehearsing two or three times a week after school
Isaac: we’ve been together since 2009 and we’ve been through a lot of stages to get to where we are now. We’ve gone through different names, made sort of different types of music at times, albeit always in the same world as the music we make now. I think we’ve got to a place now where we’re making the music we want to make.
George: It’s only been in the last couple of years as Midlight that things have clicked. When we were young, we were always concerned about what people wanted to hear.
How would you describe your music?
Isaac: We always struggle to describe ourselves! We’ve landed on a genre in alternative rock which describes the instruments in the band and roughly what it sounds like, and we take a lot of influence from Radiohead in the way that we sound, and in the song-writing as well. We also take a lot of influence from Talk Talk. We love all kinds of music which feeds in, and we’re big fans of electronic music, although I’m not sure if that reflects itself in the music we make...
George: I think we have a simplicity in our songs that comes from electronic music, in terms of building grooves. Recent bands that resonate with us – we really love Another Sky who’ve just started breaking out.
How does the writing process work for you?
George: It changes from song to song. Our releases have only come out in the last year, and they’ve come out in way that I might have an idea which then gets sent out to the band. A lot of the time it starts with me and the guitar and sending a verse and a chorus, sometimes it’s a four-minute song. This (Emergency Song) song is a year old and it happened quite quickly, as everyone was quite clear on the sound. Sometimes it can be quick and sometimes painfully slow. Without being able to play live we’ve had to trust ourselves, as we’ve not had other people saying, ‘that doesn’t work’, or ‘that’s no good’.
Isaac: With this song George came up with the seed and when we all got together playing in the studio it was pretty organic. The song emerged quite quickly and when It does that it helps to bring out the Midlight sound – what we sound like rather then what we’re trying to sound like.
Will that process change post lockdown?
George: We’ve had to do it this year predominantly, but we’ve always been sending stuff to each other. Our first single ‘Sink to the level’ was part of 30 songs that we took into the studio but the thing that came out was a total jam essentially, revolving around a bass idea. It changes all the time and there’s no set way.
Isaac: We’ve been doing music for twelve years, through school in Owen’s attic but then at college and uni where we weren’t all in the same place and had to evolve our writing and rehearsing process. At that point some of these patterns started to emerge, ie George writing ideas and sending them to us, and us taking them and playing around with them. When we were able to get together then it would be very intense, high octane rehearsals as we didn’t have much time, and that has helped us in this period and had an influence on the way we write songs as well. We all benefit from being in the same place, testing each other and pushing each other and being honest with each other when we’re writing altogether, and I think that dynamic we have makes us sound like us, although however hard you try to do things remotely it’s never the same. We could never sit in four different corners of the world and send each other stuff over the internet, and have it come out sounding like when we’re all together. That’s been a big challenge during lockdown.
Tell us about Emergency Song?
George: Emergency Song was written in March last year as lockdown happened. At the time I wasn’t quite comfortable with how I felt with everything happening, so I intentionally chose to put myself in the someone else’s shoes in the narrative of the song. The idea is of someone in a position of power, working in say, a financial role being obsessed with how life was, and with how things have come to a halt. Instead of embracing everything stopping, they’re missing being surrounded by the dog eat dog-ness. Over time it’s become an opportunity to look at how everything has become a bit mental. It’s the idea of chaos, which it was at the time of writing (and still is now) in the spirit of the song.
Isaac: I guess it’s (the pandemic) been dominating most people lives, and it’s been a difficult thing to reflect on once you’re inside it, but I think we’ll see a lot of people reflecting on it once things go back to normality for quite a long time as its been such a significant step change. That shift in the way things are makes the way that things were more visible, and that’s how I see this song. That change in society has shed a light on so many things that we took for granted that were part and parcel of modern life that were pretty backward. I think it’s important to take time to reflect on that. I don’t think we’ve written anything profound or create a revelation, and that’s not the point of it, it’s just an emotional response. We haven’t spoken about the vinyl we’re bringing out, but on the B-side of the vinyl, there is a a song which is just George and an acoustic guitar, that shows the other side of the coin. It’s the same story told from a different angle, a more hopeful perspective looking forwards rather than backwards.
George: That song is a lot more recent, and it reflects me being a lot more comfortable with where I am, with an end in sight.
How did the link with the record company come about?
Isaac: The record company Airdriver is very young, and we know them through Brighton connections. Some of the guys on the label are in a band called Hive Society that we’ve played with we’re friends with a couple of them. They’ve been doing music as a band for a while and they decided that they wanted to try and build a community around their music and that sound, and we’re sonically not a million miles away from them.
Then we played a gig together it felt like we were bringing a community together, and they wanted to take that a bit further than just two bands playing gigs together, so they set up this label. We’re the first band on their roster other than their own band. It’s a bit of a learning curve at the moment as this is our first release with them, a bit of a test, but so far it’s been great working with them
How pleased have you been with the response to Pandemonium and Sink to the Level?
George: Very. The response from our immediate circle was good which means a lot. In between our second and first single we did a live stream for Oxfam (Oxjam) and Shaun Keavney who was presenting the gig had a comment on our music which was really cool, essentially! Four days after he done that, we were getting messages from our friends saying we were getting played on 6 Music at 4 in the afternoon, which was like the ‘what the ___ is going on!’. That’s the first time we’ve had any major player show an interest, and we had a good press run as well with a proper write up done about those songs. I am trying not to read press however, as I do have an overthink session whenever someone doesn’t like something!
Isaac: I read everything and I have enough confidence in what we’re doing to not be bothered by people not liking it, and because I know that the reason we’re doing it is because there’s not much we could do that we could do differently. There’s always an audience for what we do and not everyone’s going to like it.
Given the Radiohead and Talk Talk influences, can you see your music exploring long form tracks and the more experimental areas that those bands have pursued?
George: Yes. The first song that was eye-opening from (Talk Talk)’s Laughing Stock was ‘After the Flood’ and that while over 7 minutes the idea that not a lot changes, but those little changes keep your interest. The first draft of songs that we do are a lot of the time north of 5 minutes, and we’d be happy doing 7 minute songs but then there is that unfortunate battle to fit in with the way that people consume stuff that is very short form, and we have to try and build our way into earning the right to do a 7 minute song.
Isaac: I think that process that we have of taking a longer version of a song and condensing it is a healthy process for a lot of songs, in that what you end up doing is taking away some of the unnecessary bits and you end up with a concentrated version that is the essence of what you want to do. That is often better than the other version. However, sometimes that doesn’t work, and when that doesn’t work, we keep it as it is, but we haven’t released any of those yet! We do look forward to when we can express in that way, on say an EP.
George: We haven’t released a body of work, and people around us have said that we really suit a body of work. I know that to you, and people reading this may not have any context to that, but I like to think that the music that you have heard sounds like it would suit an EP or an album. We’re just not necessarily at the point where we’ve built up the demand to release a body of work with a couple of 7-minute songs in it, but its definitely ready and waiting!
Do you have a 3-year plan?
George: One of the first things that we want to do is get on a support slot on a tour, and branch out into an audience who have no idea we exist. There’s no point in me saying who that is because it depends on a lot of stuff, but there are bands like Another Sky that we really believe have a fan base that would give a lot of attention to our music, and they are obviously at that level above us. So getting a support slot with a band that are a couple of levels above us, releasing a body of work, probably an EP first…
Isaac: As soon as we can get out there gigging and building a momentum, building a core of fans who engage with our releases, come to our gigs, support us, that’s something that we’ve never done uninterrupted and so that’s going to be really important for us I think. Obviously we want to keep evolving and pushing ourselves to make better and cooler and more interesting music, that will always be part of the plan.
George: Sitting here now, in three years I really want to achieve, and for us it would be amazing, to be doing this as a full-time job. To be able to put the hours in and focus on it is a real goal for the next 3 years, and the steps that I talked about then are what we need to get to that.
Emergency Song is released on Tuesday 16th March. Please pre-save via the following link:
You can listen to the band's last single 'Pandemonium' below:
By Mark Glenister
One could hardly accuse John Newton of sitting on his laurels during the past few lockdowns, not only have he and his bandmate Johnny Healey recorded a new JOHN album (to be released later this year), and bought out various new merch – John himself has been busy writing not one but two solo albums under the guise of Total Wkts. The first album ‘Running Tracks’ was written and recorded at his parents’ house during Lockdown Part 1, it is an album full of distorted vocals, snatched pieces of conversation and a variety of influences ranging from haunting charm to industrial grit coursing through its veins. It felt as far removed from the hot sweaty noise that JOHN produce, yet at the same time felt very comfortable and somehow familiar.
As the first single ‘Odermatt’ from the new Total Wkts album ‘No Holiday’ is released, I sat down with John, albeit virtually to talk all things Total Wkts.
So, Total Wkts album number 2 is on the horizon, having listened to it, there is a marked difference between ‘No Holiday’ and ‘Running Tracks’. Was this down to the change in location for recording, or was down to your confidence in doing a solo project?
I was aware that it had changed location, and obviously the first one was me trying to digest being in the sealed off environment where I grew up in the countryside. I think like with any music I am trying to make, I am trying to create some form of visual in the audio and whether that’s signposting of lyrics to direct people’s thoughts, that’s kind of what you do when you write songs. So, I was aware that it was a change of location, and therefore the images kind of change. Now, whether you realise that is a different matter, although there are tangible audible changes, whereby I have sampled things from certain things, that might be a neighbour singing in a nearby building that I managed to record and resample as a backing vocal. And that was purely incidental, trying it out and realising that it fitted perfectly with the song.
Do you think some of that was because you had moved to Brighton for a while?
Some were certainly informed because of coming down here last summer. But it’s not really like a distinct location concept album, I didn’t want it to be like that, there is nice difference and also you just start playing with a song – the thing with Total Wkts its always supposed to have been that the song grows as I progress through it. So, you literally rather than writing a song and recording a song, it’s very much like making a song through the process of making a song. So I’ll start with something, and then I’ll maybe think Ok we’ll move from this part to this part, so it grows more in a sort of call and response to the things I already have. Rather than the JOHN stuff where I have written with Johnny in a room, and then we sort of progress it from there. So it does have a different process for sure, and I guess it’s like trying to follow different interests at the time. It is hard to say why the 2nd album sounds like it does, and why the 1st album sounded like it did. It could literally be down to certain moods or what I am listening to at the time.
Certainly to me it sounds quite industrial, it has a harsher edge to it perhaps than the first album
I think it does, there is louder stuff on it, and maybe that was me progressing. I had some loud moments on the first album, and a few more experimental dreamy tracks. The second album still pushes in that direction but there is definitely a more industrial feel to it, and maybe that is from being in the city, or perhaps its just a posthumous kind of reading – its too easy to say oh that’s more industrial because he is back in the city, maybe.
There are at least one or two tracks that wouldn’t look out of place on a JOHN album, what are your thoughts on that?
I think I am always going to like loud energetic music, it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision to kind of like ”oh he has made a quiet album, from his background in a loud band’ It was never my intention to deliberately cast off my interests and make an acoustic album.
Which a lot of artists tend to do, when they release a solo project it can be so far away from their normal sound
Exactly, I think I like what I like, and I wouldn’t want to stray from a sense of energy, again I want to make what excites me. I like high tempo music, I’m not sure why, but I do. The first one certainly wasn’t an attempt to make a quiet album, that’s not how I write, it was literally a case of this organic growth. So, coming up with a little line, responding to that, then that moves into a chorus, just enjoying that methodical adventure of a song. So, being really present inside a song, expanding that and enjoying that process. I think I mention it in the press release, you spend too long thinking about perfection, especially when you record how something should be, how it should fall in a finished context. But with this stuff, it’s my attempt to fuck that off really, and just be really in the moment with it, and just enjoy it and the residue of that process is the song. Obviously, I wouldn’t put something out that I’m not proud of, but I trust myself to get to a point where I am happy to put something out.
On to one of the tracks ‘Office Dream’, how did that come about? as its quite creepy and unsettling, has a feel of a Hitchcock movie to it, and it did slightly freak me out listening to it late at night !
Wow, that’s great, that’s a really nice response! You know my interest in creating something a bit more cinematic, and to have achieved some kind of effect in music is some sort of goal.
The truth of it is, because I had 2 dream tracks on the first album, I wanted to have some sort of continuity with the second. I has had this dream one night of an office or studio that I used to work in, and next morning I thought it would be good to record what I could remember of that dream. So, I had literally just woken up, the dream was still fresh so I just said it as it was, you can hear the mistakes in it still. Having then worked on the music, and listened to the song, the main thing being that the song matched the retelling, so its as long as the retelling is. I was listening to the words and I always say ‘ur’ a lot in these type of interviews and I get really self-conscious of it. So, the idea was just to put a single piano note or key note on every ‘ur’, that’s why the song is subtitled 13 urs. It becomes then a diagrammatic style of writing, my intention was that you are dictated by that mistake.
Also, with the way the story is told, that must dictate the music around it, you couldnt have that track as a jolly happy pop song
(Laughing) I probably just don’t write chord patterns that are jolly, maybe I’ve indoctrinated myself into misery. Its interesting the historic association of certain chord patterns, as in why do some sound happy and some sound sad. I guess I was thinking of making something that felt a certain way, so there are certain choices with the chords.
Going to back to solo projects, this is far from vanity project, this feels like something you are very proud of – would that be correct?
In some ways I was really surprised at this coming out (first album) and becoming something, because that was never the intention. I got a random email from a guy called Graham who runs record label in Cumbria, its quite a diverse roster and a popular small label. He approached me to do something that whilst talking we realised with the confines of lockdown, we wouldn’t be able to do. However, whilst talking, I said I had a track I wanted him to listen to – His initial response to it was encouraging, and he actually took it onto Soho Radio as he was doing a guest slot at the time. The fact I got some confidence from this, some form of validation made me realise well this is good enough to live out in the world. So once I had the album ready I did the same thing, this time through a distributor of the JOHN stuff, and he really liked the whole thing and agreed to help me out. It was all very organic, but I have loved it and its great that people have wanted to invest in it. In terms of a vanity project, I don’t think it can be one if you don’t expect it to go out into the world.
Has Johnny Heard it?
I have sent him a link to it, and he has heard some of the tracks – its on our own label Pets Care, so as a co-owner I ran it past him before looking to release it. I think he is in to it, I wouldn’t want to presume but he is very supportive.
That would be a cheap tour, Total Wkts supporting JOHN, you’d be exhausted though!
God knows how I would set that up, I have had people who are far more technically proficient than me offering to help programme it. But, I am just happy to focus on it, it being something that I have made and released. We have enough JOHN plans to fill the time.
I think people who like JOHN will love this and get behind it, as I said to you the other day, I think this album will blow people away, it is such a step up from the first one.
Thank you, that’s so kind. It’s a funny one because I just carried on making these songs after the first release. I think I had about the bare bones of two tracks when the first album was being released on vinyl. So, I just carried on and ended up with 8 songs, similar process I sent them to people and they really liked it – I was surprised at myself for making another 8 songs that people enjoyed. So now it was key that it came out before any other JOHN plans, we’ve already dropped the hint that there is new JOHN stuff coming this year. So, it was key to get this out before all of that. I think people have still been locked away, so its nice to release something when people are looking for something to listen to and I think it provides a service for those people.
And with that our conversation turns to JOHN, and well, we will save that chat for another time.
In the meantime, John Newton has produced another slice of joy, and should spark the interest of people beyond the initial JOHN fanbase. In the weeks where we have had Mogwai go to No1 for a similar slice of cinematic noise, the new Total Wkts album stands next to that and is just as valid and important for these times.
The first single ‘Odermatt’ is out now, and the album ‘No Holiday’ is available on pre order now, with a April 2nd physical release date. Further details can be found at:
John Newton is also an Ambassador for Mental Health Charity My Black Dog – Further details can be found here: www.myblackdog.co