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JAWS: “We have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice”

Birmingham dream-pop act JAWS were the source of a lot of local hype a few years ago when they burst onto the scene with a series of extremely enticing demos. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the band since, taking in the realities of moving out of home and getting jobs, as well as touring extensively and learning to be self-sufficient.

I talked to singer Connor Schofield about the journey so far…

You talked a bit around the release of the last record about how your situations had changed – growing up, essentially, and having to move out, get jobs, that kind of thing. That’s got to be a bit of a reality check in a sense. Do you think you can hear it in your music?

Kind of, the main thing that’s changed is time, we have less of it, but it also means we can be more patient and take our time with writing and making sure the songs work.

The Ceiling has been out a few months now. Are you happy with how it’s done?

Very very proud of it.

I’d imagine it can get quite complicated reproducing some of the texture of the record live. How do you deal with that?

It’s not as tricky as you’d think, we have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice.

Do you feel like the process of recording and reproducing records in a live setting helps you develop as musicians? How do you compare to the band who started out?

100%, with The Ceiling we learnt to play them together after recording which we’d never done before, we all learnt a lot from that, probably not to do it that way again, but still was an interesting way to do it.

Slowthai: “There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it”

‘There’s Nothing Great about Britain’ reads the title of Slowthai’s debut album, the cover of which features the man himself in a rustic wooden stockade, restrained naked before a large block of council houses as the occupants look on. 

If you know a little about the history of the Northampton rapper – a rising star of the increasingly pervasive and hard-hitting British hip-hop scene – it’s easy to see why such sentiments would appeal. Slowthai – Tyron Frampton to his friends – was brought up in a tough estate in the East Midlands, and struggled through early life. He’s determined to pay back those less fortunate.

“The 99p tour, it’s because that’s the price of an ice cream,” he laughs about his incredibly cheap recent UK tour. “I don’t want people to miss me because they can’t afford it, you know?”

There will be plenty of people fighting for tickets for the hard-hitting lyricist, a man who’s abrasive style has seen him come on stage in body bags, make videos featuring him wrapped naked around his girlfriend, and produce cutting lyrics dealing with how at one point in his life, drug dealing seemed like the only realistic career choice.

“I did some dumb stuff and I was going nowhere,” Frampton laughs. “I was doing some labouring and working in Next. I got in trouble for giving my friends the employee discount. It was a difficult life. There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it.”

Frampton found a way out, though, his almost skittishly varied music drawing the attention of the notorious tastemaker poll, BBC Sounds, where he was ranked fourth most likely in British music in 2018. “That was weird,” Slowthai says. “They just called me and told me I was on it. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve got a lot more attention since, I guess, but these things don’t really matter. I want to be a musician, I don’t really care about that stuff.”

Jamie Adam: “I didn’t write the record for anyone other than myself”

I love discovering people like Jamie Adam. I think its the intimacy that’s implicit in listening to an artist who made tracks that perhaps weren’t, at the time, really meant for the light of day. Most of Adam’s music was strung together in tiny gaps in his schedule during years of night work, and they have this kind of mellow, slightly fuzzy, heady fuzz that comes with the 3am spaced-out world.

His new album ‘Melodic Electronic’ has grabbed the attention of the likes of the BBC, as the Kells man emerges from his iPad and instrument cocoon as a complete entity, complete with tracks that sound fresh from the MGMT cutting room floor, with an added tinge of electro-weirdness thrown in. 

I had a chance to chat to Jamie about his debut record and the experience so far. Here’s what he had to say.

You sound like the ultimate bedroom music producer. How have you found stepping out of that zone in recent years?

My comfort zone is the bedroom/studio. It’s where I enjoy being the most. But I like being on stage, as well. The only feeling that rivals writing something new and exciting is the feeling you get when you play music with other people. That’s why I ultimately was looking at recreating everything from the album live with other people. I never wanted to do the whole DJ/ solo act thing live as I knew I would never get the same enjoyment from it. I do see myself doing more production work down the line. I love fleshing out ideas and developing a basic piece of work into something more whole and complete.

How inspired by the nocturnal post-party scene would you say the album is? Was it literally post-party? Was it a sober process?

I think the Nocturnal post-party scene would be accurate for only a snippet of the album! It was a very busy period in 2016 when I committed to writing Melodic Electronic. I was still at college and we were required to be present quite often. I was also working a night shift job in hospitals at the weekends just to have enough money for living expenses. So I would write whenever I had the chance really. Whether it be an hour in my bedroom in the evening after a day of college or a half hour in some random hospital canteen at 4am on a Saturday night. I ended up not really going out for about three months while I was writing Melodic Electronic, there was just too much going on!

The Lee Harveys: Protest Punk.

AS THEIR NAME might suggest, Dublin punks The Lee Harveys – made up of musicians who have been hanging around the Irish punk scene since the early 80s – were originally very much about American political protest songs. An odd niche for a Dublin-based band, perhaps, if one most punks would agree offers fertile ground.

The band are angry, firing off two-minute, politically potent tracks on themes like Israel and Palestine, gun crime and a certain Donald Trump. Their latest EP, due shortly, is entitled ‘Resistance is Not Terrorism’, and – amongst other themes – rounds on Eurovision’s visit to Israel with an ‘alternative Eurovision’ track.

“One of things that I loved about the Dead Kennedy’s was the sense of mischief they had, and that’s what we’re doing here, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons,” guitarist Peter Jones says of the song. “It’s not against the Eurovision, it’s in support of Palestine.”

“We’re not against the Israeli people, we’re against what’s happening over there. I think it’s like holding the Eurovision on the Shankill Road in the middle of the troubles,” Bitzy Fitzgerald explains.

“We have submitted the track to RTE, but we haven’t had a response. I’m not sure we really wanted one. But the whole thing was to make a point about it, really, a bit of subversion and a bit of craic.”

There’s a real punk ethos to the way the Lee Harveys release their music, too, with circumstances seeing the band cram their new ‘EP’ with old classics because they can.

The Once: High on Harmonies

WITH DUBLIN TRADFEST heading into town in the coming week, the chance to explore folk scenes from outside our own borders is one that looms large. Newfoundland is an unlikely hotbed, and one of their hottest properties, The Once, are one of the acts from outside our own shores that will be dropping into Dublin.

Those Newfoundland origins are at the forefront of the band’s very existence, too. “Most of the people that came before us are immigrants that came from France or Ireland to Newfoundland,” Geraldine Hollett, one of the band’s vocal trio, explains.

“They brought the music with them. In the 90s there was a ‘Celtic Revival’ and that music is definitely influenced by the Irish. We even sound like you in certain communities. When we hit Wexford, we can find people that look like us.”

Their connections, especially on most recent album ‘Time Enough’, come not just from the music, but from a haunting, minimalist approach to lyrics.

“It’s a conscious choice, especially for this album,” Hollett says of the toned-down approach. “We wanted to make an intimate album. We wanted the meaning of the words to get into your head to haunt and then to comfort.”

“Mostly they were written for anyone who has experienced love, loss, anxiety, low self worth and apathy. So, everyone. It was difficult, yes. Stripping things bare leaves us so exposed. We aren’t that comfortable running around naked these days. But we know how important it is to be real. You do really question if it’s good enough. You have to trust that if it comes from a real and honest place, it will reach those it was intended for and not be hurt by the ones it wasn’t.”

Joshua Radin: From TV to Your Radio

Joshua Radin is one of those singers that a lot of people know without realising they do. A sentimental, storytelling singer-songwriter known for his living-room-like stage setup and soulful themes, Radin’s found a niche in TV music: the background to heartfelt scenes in medical dramas ranging from House to Grey’s Anatomy, and summer teen outings like One Tree Hill.

The Cleveland, Ohio Native’s biggest album came in 2008. Smash hit second LP ‘Simple Times’, sold close to half a million copies, and he’s been living on the same simple premise ever since.

“All my songs are pretty much journal entries set to music,” Radin tells us. “I think that’s why people respond to them. Because if you’re making yourself vulnerable as a writer, you connect to more human beings”

“I pretty much listen to my dad’s old vinyl collection. A lot of Beatles, Paul Simon, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison. My style hasn’t really changed so much over the years. I am who I am. I don’t have plans to change.”

The TV show appearances have drawn in much of Radin’s audience, and come almost out of the blue, perhaps attracted by the emotional and self-examining content of his music. This pours out in tracks like ‘I’d Rather Be With You’, the video for which was directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff, or the Sunday-morning happy buzz of album tracks like ‘Friend Like You’.

“The TV stuff comes about when I release an album and then get contacted by someone who wants to use a song in something,” Radin explains. “It’s great exposure for someone like me who is completely independent, because I don’t have the label machine pushing my songs on to the radio.”

The Ten Best Acts I Saw at Boomtown Fair 2018

Wow, what a festival! I’m hoping to get to a full review of the madness that was Boomtown 2018 later (because a review would only be at most half about music, which is a great sign for a festival in my view), but for now I’m going with what’s become the traditional ‘best bands’ post, which, to be honest, I write as much for the benefit of my ailing memory as anything else.

As you’ll probably gather from the below, I’m not someone who was drawn to Boomtown by its massive beat-driven lineup, though I did enjoy a few non-descript DJs later in the evenings. I found the glory in it to lie largely elsewhere, from obscure tents where 40 people watched gorgeous jazz sets, to comedy guitar northerners playing to mud-splattered courtyards. In fact, I approached this in a different way to almost any other festival I’ve ever been to.

We skipped out on Gorillaz after two tracks, as we couldn’t get close enough to the main stage to hear them at a decent volume (perhaps the festival’s only major flaw aside from uncontrollable weather was the main stage sound). I only saw three acts that appear on the top five lines of the line-up poster (see right). But this was all kind of epic. Here are my highlights, from the obvious to the less so…

Sleaford Mods

Sure, I’m probably telling you nothing with this one – the secret’s long since out – but what a band, despite one of the two of them basically spending the whole set pressing play on  Macbook. Charisma by the bucketload, controlled anger and viciously brilliant lyrics that forcefully takedown culture’s ills. I could watch Sleaford Mods running commentary on British culture unfold for an age, an hour wasn’t enough…

Capdown

I used to watch Capdown play tiny pub back room stages in Salisbury as a teenager and bounce like an idiot, so I headed along to their set on Saturday night largely for the nostalgia trip. Little did I know they’d grown wings, converted the always excellent buzz track Ska Wars (below) into a real belter, and were now able to fill a really quite chunky stage with manic fans. It went off. Class.

Abner Browns: The Little Barbershop that Can

A Face in the Crowd

AN UNLIKELY and in many ways unintended success story in the heart of Rathmines, Abner Browns Barbershop – opened just five years ago – has become a fairytale at the heart Dublin music.

Today, the venue is hosting regular bring-your-own-beer events and expanding into festivals, documentaries and more sizeable venues, but the musically-themed barbers started out as owner Dave Judge’s post-crash last resort.

“I’d been a businessman for 20 years, and I lost everything in the crash,” he said. “Everything except the shop. I didn’t have a penny, and I picked up some records on sale in a local shop in Rathmines, hung a guitar above an old couch, and opened up the barbers.”

“The first gig happened really quickly. It was a Canadian singer called Blair Packham, who came in for a hair cut, talked about his music and we decided he’d play sat on the couch the next Saturday. Another guy saw him, and came in the next week. Within four weeks, I had people in every weekend playing music. It started so fast, and to this day I’ve never asked anyone to play. They always come to me.”

Judge himself used to play in bands, but describes himself as “a general businessman” who left music behind years ago. “I’m organised and good with people,” he explains. “A lot of musicians aren’t, their brains work in different ways, so we fit well together. People say I’m one of those people who gets stuff done.”

The process has been entirely organic – “it’s great marketing,” Judge admits, “but that’s not why I do it. I love it. Almost every gig someone will come up to me with an idea about monetising the shows, but it’s a community thing. I don’t want to turn it into something else.”

In the few years that it’s been going, Abner’s – currently temporarily shifted a few doors down from its normal location on Rathgar Road for the duration of a roof replacement on what Judge jokingly calls “the mouldy green room” – has had some serious highs. Michael Stipe of REM dropped in a couple of years ago having heard about the place, while Northern Irish pop-rockers Ash are amongst the acts to have played for free on a floor cleared of its hairdressing equipment.

A film about the barbers entitled ‘More Than A Barbershop’ – actually the third to be released, alongside regular footage of in-house gigs – is currently doing the rounds at film festivals ahead of public release next year, and Judge’s influence is quickly growing beyond his own walls.

Ash. In a barber shop. Unreal.

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