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TVAM interview: “I’m a natural introvert. I suppose that goes a long way to understanding my motivations”

Wigan’s TVAM is very much the bedroom producer. Joe Oxley’s brand new album ‘Psychic Data’ is the sum of years of work, showcasing a distinctive, intense style, a sprawling urban soundscape of spacey intensity. He’s lost, he says, in a deluge of pop-culture references and musical touch points.

I caught up with the fast-rising urban man ahead of his Dublin show this month…

So the album is just around the corner. How’s the process been, and what can we expect from it?

The tracks were written over the course of a couple of years but I got Dean Honer in to mix them. He helped glue them all together. I’ll never be happy with it (I’m not supposed to) but it’s a good representation of everything TVAM has been to me since the beginning. Distorted pop banger melts.

 You’ve put quite a few of the tracks from the album out ahead of its release. What are the themes that run through them in album form?

I think they sort of stack up on one another when you listen to them as an album. Each track has it’s own sound and theme but the effect is compounded when they’re dished out one after another. I think a lot of the album is about me coming to terms with my own sense of identity-based on feelings of nostalgia, rather than my actual memories. It’s about how completely lost it feels to be a child of pop culture influences.

 Recorded at home, orange vinyl, fruit on the cover. You like to make an impression, I take it?!

As dark as the music can sometimes be, it’s got a lot of colour to it. Orange, to be precise.

Superorganism: Music for the Internet Generation

When London-based Superorganism released their first single, some of them had never met. In fact, their lead vocalist, a Japanese girl living in the USA, had blended with a fading New Zealand indie act living in the UK, and another member from South Korea, but living in Australia. A geographically confused entity, then, they met through message boards and wrote entirely online.

Debut single ‘Something for your M.I.N.D’ changed everything. Its wacky eclectic pop sound threw Superorganism into the mainstream limelight almost overnight. Soon enough, rather than sharing memes and musical thoughts online, they were appearing surrounded by inflatable whales, using apples as instruments and singing about prawns on NPR’s memorable YouTube music channel ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’.

Bravely, the eight-piece moved in together, in London, and things suddenly became a little less virtual. “We never imagined this would end up with us touring and playing festivals,” backing vocalist Ruby tell us ahead of a show at Europavox Festival in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Frontwoman Orono Noguchi cuts across her immediately, joking “I did. Everything that’s happened, I saw coming.” She’s being tongue in cheek, but Noguchi relocated from Maine to London off the back of early successes to make Superorganism a reality. The band, in general, have shown no little faith in the concept.

“The idea was everything would be done over the internet. Even at the start some of us were living in a house together, but we did everything online,” Ruby explains. “There was quite a big time difference, but we’ve always done things that way. Even now, all in the same house, we do everything by sending it between our rooms.”

Superorganism’s music is knowingly weird. Their eponymous debut album, released in March, is like a trippy, fast-paced sugar-coated glance at the weirder corners of internet culture, all abstract escapism, and wacky asides. The early single won the band a contract with renowned label Domino Records, and the album’s weirder moments include unwater ode ‘The Prawn Song’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’, which walks a fine line between parody and a straight-faced reflection of the band’s origins.

The live show includes lots of synchronized dance, garish backdrop videos, and endless smiles. “We could release ten albums right now if we wanted to,” Noguchi tells us. “There’s a huge backlog of stuff we’re working on. There are so many ideas flying around.”

Nerina Pallot: Growing Up In Music

IN 2006, Nerina Pallot had a big, topical hit single with a perfect piece of peace-demanding pop, ‘Everybody’s Gone To War’. It was the aftermath of invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, both greeted with mass protests, and Pallot’s punchy, memorable hit was a throwback to the era of flowers and love. In context, the chirpy pop song made perfect sense.

The thing is, that’s not really who Pallot is. While many will forever tag her as that summer’s big protest-pop singer, that particular track was always a bit of an aside. Her modern-day music is very much deeper and more personal, a kind of soulful, vocally-led exploration of self, warts and all.

“I’ve got another audience now, especially in the UK,” she explains. “The people who bought that song probably aren’t my core fanbase, which is very supportive and much more long term. I’m really in a different part of my career, and I don’t often play ‘Everybody’s Gone To War’ live anymore. It’s not really representative of me as an artist, it just happened to resonate at the right political moment.”

‘Stay Lucky’, her latest LP, follows a string year of monthly EP releases. Pallot jokingly calls it the latest her “death and shagging” record: it’s got this Sunday-morning delicacy, a storytelling quality and quick-witted lyricism that makes it stand out. It’s very much a grown-up reincarnation: still supping wine, perhaps, but with a worldview that’s less quippy sloganeering and more gritty sensuality and storytelling. She’s evolved to be a far cry from her major label years.

“I did years with the majors, but no major label would touch the EPs,” Pallot laughs of her habit of putting out shorter, more experimental releases in recent years. “Majors are all about products and marketing, and I just wanted to do different things. After the fifth one I got a real block, and the sixth EP ended up being real bubblegum pop, but I did one every month for a year, and it was great fun.”

“Then I went on to ‘The Sound and The Fury’, which was very political, but also quite personal. Social media was relentless around Trump and all that stuff, and I was very despondent. This real bitterness became the new normal and I really just wanted to go out and clear my garden, I suppose. Trump is such an attention junkie and people just keep on encouraging him.” Pallot got her anger out of her system, and stepped away.

Planning Objection: Mill Street Student Development Public Access

This week I lodged a formal objection to a planning application aimed at closing off the Mill Street (Dublin) student accommodation block from public access. I thought I’d share it below, in case anyone wants to borrow it (or parts of it) to do the same (note: the deadline for this is Wednesday, October 25). It costs €20 at Dublin City Council’s offices in Wood Quay, after which they’re obliged to tell you of their decision and the reason for it, and you have the right to appeal.

There are a lot of blocks like this being built in our part of Dublin city (I live just south of Cork Street, Dublin 8), and many of them talk a very good game about integrating into the community. Of course, students are a little transient by nature. That’s not their fault, I remember living my university years almost totally cut off from the community I lived in, and most of the time I wasn’t in blocks like these ones, which seem still more shut off.

That said, I think the developers could help integrate the students in a small way by opening up some of these vast complexes to public access, and that’s exactly what this particular block promised in their planning permission. I think this was a key factor in getting such a massive project past local objections.

I was particularly frustrated, then, that when the block opened they immediately shut off all access, including a planned through road, via a huge metal gate (the gate crosses the entrance shown in the pre-build design image, shown above). This has since been protested and highlighted locally, and the current request to change the planning conditions from the owners seems most likely to be a response to those protests. Essentially, the owners are trying to bring the rules back to their position, rather than comply with the rules that got them very recent planning permission. They cite ‘safety’ in a fast-improving area that is, if anything, better than the time of their original application.

I think this is a complete spoof: get the plans past the public (they weren’t popular at the time) by promising to participate in the community, and totally go back on that once you’ve got your highly-priced student accommodation blocks in place.

You can read more about the issues in a Dublin Inquirer article published earlier this week, here.

The objection I have lodged on behalf of myself and my wife (whose name I have removed from the version I’ve put up here) is below. It goes without saying I wave copyright on the below if anyone wants to use it to lodge a further objection themselves.

SUUNS: “In the Age of Selling Records, Nobody Would Have Signed Us to Begin With”

Canadian indie band Suuns are an experimental, aesthetic-led bunch who formed part of a wave of impressive music from Montreal emerging around the turn of the last decade. Their brand of quirky minimalism explores soundscapes, lurching between melodies in this kind of disparate, dismembered approach to music.

It’s not the most accessible of sounds, then, though things have got a little easier to connect with over recent albums. Instead, the four-piece delve down dark alleyways of texture and nuance as they look to indulge… Well, mainly themselves. But a lot of the best music is a slave to no one, right?

I asked singer and guitarist Ben Shemie all about the decade-long journey so far…

It’s been six months since the release of ‘Felt’. How do you see the album now you have a bit of space from it? Have you got used to people calling it ‘happy’?

I still kind of feel the same about it. To be honest, I haven’t listened to it. It’s probably our most concise work, our most mature and complete work to date. don’t get the ‘happy’ thing too much, but mostly it’s because I meet people at our shows and our show is a different thing. It’s looser and more unpredictable.

The general consensus seems to be it’s the most accessible record in a while. Do you care about that kind of thing when you’re writing?

Not really. I think it’s more about making something that resonates with you, and that you feel represents yourself and what you are going for. After that, it’s really out of your hands if people get into it or not. I think it’s nice to be completely uncompromising in our vision and still make a record that is our most accessible to date. I think that’s quite an achievement.

CONIFA: Football For The Forgotten – An Update

Karpatalya v Northern Cyprus, CONIFA Final at Enfield Town FC

Hi everyone,

So I’ve had a couple of people get in touch about my forthcoming book, CONIFA: Football For The Forgotten. A few things have changed over the last few months, perhaps inevitably, so I just want to fill in anyone who might be interested on the detail, especially those of you who have kindly pre-ordered the book (which you can still do here, if you’d like, though as circumstances change – see below – I might have to stop taking those orders – I will make it clear on the page if I do so).

Thank you to all those that have helped out in any way so far, from the dozens I’ve interviewed to those who’ve financially supported this – you’ve really made it a whole, whole lot easier.

First of all, I recognize some of you might not want a big long-winded update, so here it is all summed up in a couple of paragraphs…

In short: My plan was always to self-publish this book. However, I’ve been approached by a very reputable literary agent about working with me to get hold of a publisher. Her previous work includes Rio Ferdinand’s autobiography and a couple of books by Lee Price which explore similar areas of football to CONIFA. The submission process to publishers will inevitably slow down production, so while I’m all but done with my end, I’m going to hold off on publication for now.

The agent and I have agreed that if there are no takers on the book by late November, I will go ahead with self-publishing, ideally in time for Christmas. I appreciate that I had planned to publish in late September, and some of you might have considered that a factor when you bought a copy. This is too good an opportunity to pass up for me, so while I’m sorry for the delay, I have decided to go with it regardless. With that in mind, if you pre-ordered, and would prefer a refund to waiting for a later publication date, I completely respect that. Just get in touch, and it will have your money back with you within a couple of working days. You should also have received an update email from me.

In a little more detail: To be honest, I always anticipated this being an indie book. CONIFA might be growing, and articles are now appearing around tournaments in mainstream publications, but I wasn’t convinced the market was there to go to publishers, and I’m still not, entirely. People have been incredibly open with me, though, both from within CONIFA, and in terms of producing stories around the teams for the book. I think what I have is a genuinely fascinating insight into the organization. It might be a little sports-nerdy and quite political at times, but it also has some unbelievable stories behind it all.

The latest draft is about 65,000 words in length, and has some details that have really surprised me: I’ve learned a huge, huge amount as I’ve gone along. I’m not going to spill it all here, for obvious reasons, but I thought there’s no harm in telling you a bit about what I’m covering.

Punching Up: The Left-Wing Folk of Grace Petrie

Grace Petrie by www.ellylucas.co.uk

BRITISH POLITICS, if we may make an observation across the Irish Sea for a moment, is in turmoil. Barely a day passes without the latest minor movement on Brexit making front-page headlines. The cultural reaction from the arts has been, dare we say, slightly disappointing.

But there are exceptions to every rule. Grace Petrie, like her similarly positioned comrade in arms Billy Bragg, is one of them. Having come around from a very vocal protest against what she saw as Labour centrism a few years ago, Petrie has a lot of love for Jeremy Corbyn and rejects Brexit, her music espousing socially progressive views, and exploring how they relate to her own life.

“It is a thing with being a protest singer, that the situation is always changing,” Petrie explains. “I wrote a song a few years ago about Labour, essentially asking people not to vote for them. I was sick of the way Tony Blair did things. Obviously, I’ve changed my mind on Labour. I’ve quietly retired that song.”

“There is a risk I’m preaching to the converted, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to do something,” she continues. “I learnt a lot from touring with comedians, which is not something I ever really planned, but it kind of happened, one after the other, for years. That’s helped me adapt to playing for an audience. Not everyone’s going to like it, but I throw in a few stories, some jokes and some anecdotes, and that helps get people onside. If they don’t like my views, at least they’re hearing a different voice.”

Petrie’s latest (and, incredibly, eighth) album ‘Queer As Folk’ has seen the Leicester singer-songwriter’s perceptive music dive headfirst into the issues. She tells personal stories and weighs her tracks with emotion, but she’s not above a comic quip, with the Iraq War, austerity and a lack of funding for the NHS all given a thorough going over.

“It’s a little bit strange watching Ireland now, things seem to be going so well over there, it’s all moving in a good, positive direction,” Petrie says, referencing the Repeal the 8th Campaign and gay marriage vote. “Over here, we seem to be slipping backwards.”

“This will be the first time I’ll play in Dublin, and as a gay woman, I feel very welcome now. I’ve been singing songs about girls since I was a teenager. That’s natural to me, but for some people my entire existence and way of life is political, so I guess it’s easy for me to be to be a very political person.”

The She Street Band: “We have this running joke that we are the seven faces of Bruce”

The She Street Band

A few weeks ago, a tongue in cheek ‘event’ went viral on Facebook,  an ‘ad’ for a gig starring a mash-up band mixing Joy Division and Boyzone. The band were called Boyz Division, and naturally, don’t actually exist. I think it was popular, comedy aside, because people love this kind of stuff. Who doesn’t want to find out, live, what ‘Love Will Tear Me Apart For A Reason’ might sound like.

The She Street Band (who will definitely thank for me that introduction), are only loosely linked to such silly comedy, but there is a common ground to be explored. Like the posited Boyz Division, they take songs and twist them. In this case those songs belong to Bruce Springsteen, and are immaculately reconstructed in a kind of loose-fitting, fiery, female image of the Boss. In their role as ‘the world’s only all-female Bruce Springsteen cover band’, they variously rock, croon, and soar their way through a host of instantly-recognizable but cleverly altered classics.

They’re about to set off on their first one-off tour, having already grabbed a whole load of media love, and they’re dropping in on Dublin. I got on the email machine and asked the seven-piece’s resident Irishwoman, glock player Clare McGrath, about the early life of her London-based band…

How did this project come about?

It came about after Jody (our bassist and one of the vocalists) saw Springsteen at Wembley in London. She was so buzzed after the show that she immediately called some pals and said I have this crazy idea… and the band was born!

How difficult is the process of changing Bruce’s songs – to suit your vocals, or musicality, for example?

It’s actually really fun. It’s quite an experimental process. We don’t aim to sound exactly like Bruce or cover his songs to the note, but more embody his energy and good vibes!

How closely matched is the band to E Street?

It’s the same in the sense that we play the same core instruments, but there is no one Bruce. We each take the lead on different songs and make them our own. We’re all about the band as a whole group rather than one front-woman.

In what way do you most want to be like Bruce?

That ENERGY! He’s famous for how he can just play for hours and hours. Regardless of curfews at venues he just loves his audience and gives them the best night. We want people to leave our gigs with that buzzed feeling!