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Roddy Woomble: Actively calm

Roddy Woomble has changed a great deal since the early days of Idlewild. Having watched one of the band’s final pre-hiatus shows back in May 2010, there was a real sense that the band were reaching backwards to find their heavier moments: a melancholy had descended, and the anger of the 100 Broken Windows/ Hope Is Important era seemed to be rocking on its last legs. What emerged from the wreckage is perhaps a better representation of Roddy’s true character. The man who was once a symbol of Scottish rock music now resides on a tiny Hebrides island, where he produced latest record The Impossible Song & Other Songs by drawing on the disconnected vibe and utilizing the assorted musicians who happened to pass through. The result is a distinctly folky album, downbeat and graceful, it has more in common with the likes of Laura Marling and Bob Dylan than the wrought, raw emotion of his angry earlier material.

“My influences come from all over the place these days”, Roddy tells us. “I listen to a lot of jazz and blues and music from the 60s and 70s, as well as a lot of contemporary music. Obviously living in the Inner Hebrides is going to give you a very different perspective to say living in New York. I go through phases with different writers, and that has an effect, too. I read a lot, and of course that seeps into my music. I don’t want to write protest anthems about pollution, or get involved in direct action or anything like that, but the sound really reflects where I live. The thought process behind my songs is like watching gulls swooping around in the sky.”

“The album was slowly constructed over the space of half a year”, Roddy explains, “it has a solid foundation of the same people, but then we got contributions from a handful of musicians who passed through. There are instruments that none of us can play, like saxophone. I always wanted to put saxophone on Idlewild records, but the rest of the guys didn’t go for it. It was creative in a way I’ve never tried before. Generally speaking I’ve always been in a band. Going solo is the chance to be very expressive. I’m a totally different person now. When we were young we were influenced by Black Flag, Nirvana and Fugazi, but my taste has evolved naturally, like many music fans’ tastes do. Folk records have definitely become important to me”.

Farewell Hideaway House

The end of an era in the Dublin DIY gig scene

“Yesterday I went in to tell my elderly next door neighbour that I’d be having another gig in the house. She asked me if I needed any chairs.”

Four years after he first opened up an unassuming Dublin semi to nights of DIY gig madness, The Hideaway House’s 20-year-old promoter Dylan Haskins is calling it quits and moving on. AU went along to the last ever gig – the line-up a tantalising secret – for a chat with Dylan, and to savour the place before it’s gone forever.

When AU rocks up outside a shabby suburban semi in Blackrock, South Dublin , there’s already a festival-like, summer sunshine vibe doing the rounds. Spiky-haired punks and flowery hippies drift about sharing nods and winks, whispering about possibilities for tonight’s secret line-up and sharing information on just how to track down a venue that’s something of a Dublin urban myth. It’s a Monday night, we’re 40 minutes from the Liffey and we have no idea who we’ve come out to see. This, according to founder Dylan Haskin, is life. “When you’re involved in a music scene for long enough, you experience these rare moments of raw passion and get this feeling, an affirmation that this is what it’s all about”. Welcome to The Hideaway House.

Interview: Girls

How many bands must there be around the world that are searching desperately for a record deal? If you think about it, you probably know at least one, but Girls – a quirky lo-fi rock duo who, despite the name, are 100% male – picked up an offer for debut album Album without even trying. Then again, when you have a history as interesting as Christopher Owens’, writing music must come incredibly easily. When State caught up with the songwriting half of Girls, he was preparing for the latest date on his European tour in Malmo, Sweden, and willing to discuss much more than your average well-prepped musician will delve into with the media. Read on, for a glance into the cult-influenced, drug taking world of a man who’s finally found his niche…

Your new record, Album, comes out next week. Tell us about it…
Well, it’s the first thing I ever wrote. I was in punk bands before as a guitarist, but this is the first piece of music I wrote myself. I didn’t actually write it with the intention of making an album; it was all just a bit of fun. We recorded it all in the early hours of the morning on broken recording equipment, while we were working full time jobs. Then it got a good reaction from our posting the songs on the Internet, and we’ve gone from there. It’s actually been quite a long time since we wrote the album, even though it’s only coming out now. But, as much as we’re happy with this, it was never our aim. We kind of fell into it.

I hope you won’t be offended if we say Album is quite a raw LP, perhaps because of the way it was written. Is there anything you’ll do differently on your next effort?
We won’t be changing our values, but we will be going for a slightly more mature sound. There were things we weren’t able to do with this album, because of how it was recorded. I’ve already written about fifty more songs since, and our live set now is made up of a 50/50 mix of songs from Album and other stuff. We don’t know what will be on the next album yet, but we plan on touring a lot until about spring or summer next year, and then making another album.

You had quite an unusual upbringing. Is that something that comes out in your music?
Not really. I mean it’s a big part of me; I was born into a cult, and escaped when I was 16 and went to live with my sister, who escaped before me. But my time playing punk was more a reaction to that, to the anger. Obviously I’ll never forget it. This album is more about my life now. But the cult’s still going. It’s been through about five different names since then, and changed a lot. I was a second-generation child, and most of us left, though the older members would tell us it’s the worst decision of our lives, and that we’d go to hell for it. Shortly after I left everyone started leaving. There were murders, suicides and all sorts after I left because of kids leaving. In the end the group were forced to go back on their beliefs, and I’ve heard things are different now, though I don’t have any contact with them anymore.

You took a lot of drugs when you were writing the album, right?
(laughs) Can you hear it in the music? Yeah, we just did it to relax, really. We don’t do it as much now that we’re touring, but we’ve had a few gigs where fans who’ve read about the drugs come along afterwards, and I wake up the next afternoon and have to scramble to the next venue. But the rest of the band isn’t really into it, and for me it’s pretty normal. It’s not really exciting.

If that’s not exciting, what is an exciting tour story for Girls?
I prefer just meeting people. On our first US tour with The Smith Westerns we got really close, and became best friends. We still keep in touch by email all the time now, set each other up with gigs, stuff like that. There have been quite a few crazy things happening, but not as many as you might expect, mainly because I’m so scared of failure.

What’s the dynamic like between yourself and JR?
We have a really good relationship. I think it works well because we need each other. I write the songs, but I can’t do the production. He’s really good at that.

Laura and Lauren Marie (song titles from Album), are they real people?
Yeah, Laura’s a friend. Actually she’s an old girlfriend’s best friend, who became jealous about her friend spending more time with me than her. The song’s about trying to clear the air with her. Lauren Marie is a girl I met at a party that I kind of liked, but it never really worked out. They know who they are; it’s a really tight knit group in San Francisco. Everyone knows what everyone’s doing all the time.

Do you think San Francisco is an important part of your music?
I think it probably is, but it’s not intentional. Bands usually sound like where they’re from; it’s natural.

The album manages to be quite upbeat despite being about quite negative things…
Yeah, a lot of our lyrics are quite downbeat, but the music’s about me trying to be positive and look at things in a good way. When you have a background like mine you can’t concentrate on the negative all the time, so even when the subjects aren’t so positive, I wanted to keep a positive feel.

Will we be seeing you in Ireland soon?
I hope so. I’d love to come to Ireland; one of the first band I bought all the albums by when I escaped from the cult was The Cranberries. But we’re still at a stage where budget is a major restriction on where our tours can go, we have to go where we can afford to. We’re doing a UK tour in February, so hopefully we’ll make it over then.

As published in State Magazine, September 2009. Click here for original.

Interview: A Certain Ratio

1978, Manchester. A Certain Ratio – along with another bunch of newcomers, ‘Warsaw’ – had come up with something musically unique: what’s now known as post-punk. Warsaw were renamed Joy Division, both bands signed for Factory Records, and the rest – as they say – is history. A Certain Ratio is still going strong today, with European tours, the unforgettable ‘Madchester’ scene and gigs with Madonna as support all behind them. Franz Ferdinand, Radio 4 and LCD Soundsystem are amongst the reams of modern day artists that list them as a major influence. March the 28th sees A Certain Ratio return to Dublin for only the 3rd time, for a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the now iconic Factory Records. State caught up with guitarist Martin Moscrop to talk it all over.

Factory Records were tiny when you started out. How did you end up with them?

We started as part of the Manchester musicians collective, with Warsaw and the Fall, and we used to play at ‘band on the wall’ every fortnight. Warsaw’s manager thought we sounded like a Manchester version of the Velvet Underground, and he asked us to make a record. Our first single was the second – or maybe the third – record on Factory in 1979. We did a lot of Factory Gigs around the UK with Joy Division. We were like a touring show. It was just a line up, sometimes we’d play to 70 people.

You’ve influenced a lot of people yourselves, but who influenced you?

In the early days were very into the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk. Punk had died a death, and we just didn’t want to listen to anything like that. Very quickly after that we got into James Brown, Miles Davis, George Clinton, stuff like that. We started trying to play funk, but because we couldn’t play our instruments very well it came out the other end sounding quite unique, especially with the moodiness on top of it. It was all we could play. It was just how it turned out. In those days bands strived not to sound like anyone else, especially in Manchester. If you sounded similar to someone else it was time to give up.

When did it feel like ‘Madchester’ was going to take off?

It never really felt like that to us. The music press were always very interested, and all the gigs we did used to get pretty good reviews, and so did the records. Joy Division releasing ‘Unknown Pleasures’ sort of catapulted Factory into the bigger league. A Certain Ratio’s first album did well sales wise, too. We had no problem selling 35,000 albums, which for an Indie label is a hell of a lot of records.

How important were Factory Records in getting you out there?

They were important, but we were also very original, and anybody who’s playing something original and believes in what they’re doing is going to make it in some way or other. A lot of people would say A Certain Ratio didn’t really make it, but we were professional and made a living out of it from 1980 to 1995, so that’s 15 years of making a living out of our music. That’s not bad. We’ve released 12 albums and 60 singles. For me, success is making the best music you can and getting it out there.

People often say you were before your time…

We knew we were before our time. Tony Wilson (Factory records) always used to tell us we were too ahead of our time. Our first single ‘All Night Party’ is a gothic, moody tune, and then a year later ‘Shack Ups’ was released. The change in the band in the space of twelve months was enormous. We were always striving to do things differently. The press slated our first two albums. They said ‘what are they playing this crap for?’ and when the records were re-released twenty, thirty years later the press were saying ‘this is amazing, how did they do this so far back then, they were the first band to fuse this kind of music’. The original press hated it. It would have been nice at the time to be recognised, but we only did it for ourselves. We didn’t give a sh*t what anyone else thought, you know?

When was it that you felt like A Certain Ratio were coming back?

It was when I DJ’d in New York in 2001 or 2002. Some of Radio 4 was there; a lot of the people who were involved in the early punk funk movement were at that gig, because someone from A Certain Ratio was DJing. That’s when I realised that sort of post punk thing was getting popular in New York with all the young trendy things.

It’s been 30 years now, how much longer will you keep going?

Until we can’t gain access to venues without zimmer frames. We’ll get those electric cars and drive round on them. We really enjoy playing, and the resurgence of interest in us. We only do gigs that we know are going to be good, ones that are put on properly.

How do you feel about the changes in the record industry over the past 30 years?

I think anything that beats record companies stubbornness in ignoring the Internet and holding onto the physical sales, just because they’ve been screwing people for years with the amount of profit they make on them, is a good thing. They were so stubborn that any act or artist that comes up with good ideas that messes with greedy record companies is good to me. You don’t have to rely on a label now like you used to.

Why should people come out and see you?

Well we don’t do many gigs. We do perhaps eight a year, and when people do come down to see us they’re always very impressed. It’s a show that’s different – don’t expect to just see old A Certain Ratio tracks – you’ll be seeing something that’s quite unique for now.

A Certain Ratio play the Button Factory, Dublin on March 28th

As published in State Magazine, March 2009.

Link: this article on the State Magazine website

Musical Tourism: The UK, past and present.

Past: Camden Town

In Camden town, you can do anything you want to (Suggs – Camden Town)

Quirky, colorful Camden Town is still Britain’s most well known alternative centre. A bustling market district, Camden revolves around a new style of down and out grunge – one that appears in a range of vivid Technicolor. You can still visit the infamous old venues, buy dubious substances on nearly every street corner and wear tie dye and facial piercings in public without being considered an outcast. ‘Koko’ is still one of London’s most fashionable venues: even on an average night, expect serious difficulties getting in. The Underworld and Camden Palace are also amongst the most well known mid-sized venues the UK has to offer: the kind of place where if you pick the right night that Superstar just might make an unannounced appearance.

It all started in the late 60s. In the early days Camden Roundhouse was the place to be: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors all put in early appearances. More recently Camden became the self proclaimed home of Britpop, as the home of star artists from bands including Oasis, Blur and Pulp. The fame resulted in MTV music and major record label Creation taking up residence in Camden Lock, where they remain to this day. Musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, REM, The Ramones and Blondie also all claim some connection to Camden in their past.

It’s the old school ‘scene’ feel of Camden which is the real draw though. It’s a place where ‘alternative’ is normal: you’ll never feel so out of place walking around in jeans and a t-shirt. The market stalls sell everything you’ve never seen before and the venues all cater to the organic, the vegan and the international. Buildings are cartoon like, plastered in bright oversized signs and painted up like a large scale jester convention.

A world of oddities to be discovered then, and that’s without even touching on the extensive art and photography scene, propensity for oddly flavored lolly pops and numerous great drinking establishments. Is Camden the ultimate rock and roll tourist destination? It just might be.

Present: The Yorkshire Scene – Sheffield and Leeds.

Yeah, I’d love to tell you all my problem, You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham, So get off the bandwagon… (The Arctic Monkeys making Yorkshire cool in ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’).

If red is the new black, and miniskirts are the new winter range then Yorkshire is definitely the new Manchester. The regional accent ‘thing’ is back, and this time it’s the dour realism of the Yorkshire man that’s all the rage. Much to Londoner’s dismay, Sheffield is dead centre of the UK Indie scene now. The home of Pulp has recently spawned a huge range of chart bothering acts, most notably the Artic Monkeys. The heavily-hyped, accent-based act’s music is heavily Sheffield influenced, with multiple references to the city falling into almost every one of the teenager’s songs. Venues such as the Leadmill and Mojo Club have acquired a big national reputation.

Much of the rest of the Yorkshire scene is based around Leeds – a city with a growing reputation as the UK’s party- hard student capital. With bands as prominent as the Kaiser Chiefs, Pigeon Detectives and Corinne Bailey Rae leading the charge, and their very own rock festival, perhaps the scale of the Leeds scene is less shocking then the level to which the rest of the UK have taken it to heart: a night out in Leeds has become something of a musical pilgrimage.

This looks like a scene set to last: in 04/05 simply having guitars and a Yorkshire accent was enough to provoke a gamble from most record labels, but the scene seems to have leveled off instead of peaked. Of course, most of the bands are still shrouded in a fog of obscurity, but despite the commercial scramble the scene lives on. Sheffield and Leeds are still the places to be for music.  Quite a change from the days of the infamous Monty Python sketch that depicts ‘the third world: Yorkshire’, then.

As published in Rokon Magazine, February 2008.

Radiohead: High and Dry on an Incheon Stage.

Rokon are delighted to announce that Radiohead – that’s right, Radiohead – will be one of the headliners at this years Pentaport music festival. We’re happier than a celibate nun who’s stumbled across a desolate cucumber field, and are already in the process of lining up a complex on-sale-day routine to ensure we all get one of the highly prized tickets.

Radiohead may not match the likes of Coldplay or U2 when it comes to CD sales, but in terms of political influence and melancholic lyrics the four bookworms from the literary middle class of Oxford, UK are rocks modern-day revolutionary point men. They are punk for the modern generation: Radiohead speak their mind, making forceful political statements in their music and backing them up with an impressive range of social activism. They even manage all this without destroying their kit every gig, after all, this would go against their ‘green’ message.

Radiohead appear to have made only one early compromise: they were renamed at the request of record company EMI – after a Talking Heads album track – from high school name ‘On a Friday’. From then on they haven’t given an inch: from Amnesiac’s unsubtle sarcasm about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to a heavy corporate, anti-globalization stance, Thom Yorke’s boys have always called it how they saw it. They even went out on a limb last year as the first major artist to release a solely online album, allowing the buyer to choose how much they want to pay: a move that no doubt cost millions but fits in perfectly with their political beliefs. Respect.

The politics, of course, would all be the irrelevant ramblings of another ineffective bunch of activists if it wasn’t for the stunning musical accompaniment, and Radiohead’s music truly is sublime. Having graced many a moving Hollywood moment – the use of ‘Talk Show Host’ in Romeo and Juliet being a particular stand out – often leaves uninitiated audiences scouring the credits. Slowly but surely Radiohead have become the kind of act people will still talk about years from now. The five high school friends are now as important as anyone in world music. Whether they’re strumming through the self depreciating heart break of ‘Creep’ or the falsetto complexities ‘High and Dry’ all the tracks have one thing in common: they are invariably deeply meaningful and stunningly beautiful.

Pentaport really couldn’t have pulled a more exciting headliner out of the bag this year. Radiohead’s appearance will be a musical high point for everyone involved in the Korean music scene, and no doubt will be an emphatically emotional experience for all of us. Expect ‘Lucky’ and ‘No Surprises’ to cause grown men to shed tears on the arid Incheon airport soil. Let the ticket scramble begin…

As published in Rokon Magazine, May 2008.