very early on on a very hungover sunday morning during that working holidays no sleep-lotsa drink weekend, I had the pleasure of phoning, international style, stephen and aggi of the fabulous pastels. sure I was scared. how many people that you’ve been ga-ga over for so many years do you actually get to talk to in your lifetime? ok, but how many of them live in scotland? a coupla years ago I was in a band that recorded a crush song about stephen, the title of which spoke a sad demise for aggi, purely for pro-stephen crush emphasis purposes. I didn’t mean anything malicious by it, I swear! I was scared nonetheless: with the aid of fiber optics, would aggi bust me stone cold over the international line for demising her in a song title? I gave her plenty of chances and she did not nibble. she was too nice. as you would suppose, both of them were quite friendly and ultrachamrming, a joy to chat with, everything you would think the pastels are! here’s some stuff we yapped about that day.
CHATTING WITH STEPHEN
chickfactor: saw this video a while back called “a bit of the other,” a compilation of pastels songs and talking. was that released as a regular vid or did some fan of yours put that together?
stephen: no, it was released by glass, and they were just low budget films that we made with one of our friends, mark, who plays in the mctells. at the time there seemed to be more point to making videos in this country because there were more outlets for them, but the past few years we haven’t made any films of ourselves because there’s just so few outlets. I think we might make some. there’s only really mtv, it just doesn’t seem that worth it in our situation.
cf: the first time I ever saw a pastels video was on snub tv. we used to get it through a late night video show here. they showed just amazing stuff that you don’t ever see over here.
stephen: snub was really good. the people who ran it were really sharp, and they knew most of the important stuff and they covered it really well. a lot of the bands that didn’t even have money to make their own low budget films, snub would make a film for them, so it was really good.
cf: are you going to tour the u.s. any time soon to support this seed record (truckload of trouble)?
stephen: no, we’re not going to come for this, it really depends. we’d really like to play the east coast of america, maybe play cmj or something. it really depends on us having a u.s. label that we feel really confident with and is ambitious enough for us that they’ll pay us to go there and that we won’t lose money on it (note: since this interview, the pastels have signed to up records in seattle). in this country with us switching labels between paperhouse and creation meant seed didn’t know if they would have our next record or not. I don’t think they felt they could make the commitment on the basis of the record that they were putting out. I mean I think they felt that they couldn’t even…well, the cd booklet, you know everywhere else it’s kind of really nice, the seed one’s kind of really small, so I think if they felt they couldn’t do a full scale booklet for us that they probably felt they couldn’t give us airplane tickets either. we’d really like to be in the same situation as stereolab. we have a high level of control over our stuff in this country and are licensing it out to an american label. I just find the more we make records the more protective I feel of them and the closer I like to have them and I like to feel really good about every label it comes out on, because we just take so much care making the record that we get really upset if anything goes wrong. we really want to feel really good about where the records are coming out. it’s even slightly uncertain in this country because the person at creation, dave barker, that we went back to work with has now left creation, and we’re making an lp, and I really couldn’t say what label it’ll be on. it’ll be ready in march (1995) and may well come out on creation, but…
cf: you say in your cd booklet for truckload of trouble “please don’t think of us as an indie band as it was never meant to be a genre.” there’s this japanese magazine, the magazine of superdeformed world, which contains a pretty indie glasgow discography and you guy are smack in the middle. everything else juts off as extensions of the pastels. what’s the time span? how did it all happen?
stephen: we certainly weren’t the first. the first really good band that issued records independently in glasgow was orange juice, and that was about 1979-1980. the original lineup of orange juice, the real good one with james kirk, had split up by the time the pastels started. we started putting records out about 1982 and I think people just felt encouraged by us because we’ve always tried to be as honest as we can in our music and uncontrived and also really tried to demystify the aspect of being in a band that’s got a record due… I think bands like bmx bandits and the vaselines were kind of encouraged by us and we were in a position to help those bands and it was a natural think to do. and a band like teenage fanclub has obviously reached many more people than the pastels, it’s a band I really love and you know, their music really deserves to be heard, so when norman was starting a band with raymond after the boy hairdressers I really tried to help them.
cf: who started 53rd and 3rd?
stephen: it was david keegan and myself. david’s favorite band is the ramones, so that’s where the name came from. we were approached by this person sandy mclaine at fast and so I got involved with it mainly so that bands like the bmx bandits or the vaselines could make records, I just got them signed to the label. it wasn’t really an ongoing thing. it was never a very satisfactory set-up. I mean, there was no kind of administrative accountancy, you know, typical kind of independent label. it ended up it was friends who were putting records out and they weren’t being paid royalties, so I couldn’t really take anything to do with it. I started to feel bad about it and I left the label and it kind of petered out after a while.
cf: where did (the fabulous) chin-chin come from?
stephen: they were a swiss band and they played with the shop assistants when the shop assistants were touring europe. they were just massive shop assistants fans and they really just wanted to be on the same label as the shop assistants, and they just sent over their tape.
cf: is david actually in the band now, or is he just playing on stuff?
stephen: the pastels, well, me and aggi and katrina do most of the day-to-day stuff but david’s been playing on pretty much all of our recordings and we think of him as a member of the band. He contributes songs and everything. david lives like maybe 130 miles north of here and we really try to accommodate him because we really like his playing. this lineup is the happiest we’ve ever had, it’s just exciting for us to play together, and I think our new record will really surprise people because we’re just advancing rapidly.
cf: where did you find katrina?
stephen: katrina was just someone we met who liked the bands. katrina and pat did songs and they came out as melody dog. katrina and pat played me their songs and I really, really liked them. I thought calvin would like these songs and so we sent calvin a rough tape to see if he would put out a melody dog single with k, and calvin was quite enthusiastic about it, so we went ahead and made it. they also put out a single with seminal twang which had a cover of primal scream’s moving on up. it was a kind of ongoing thing, but then katrina joined the pastels and when we split up with martin and bernice I wanted to try and get people that were very close to us in terms of their musical idea. katrina really fit the bill so she started playing with us about 1991 and then aggi started playing bass. we didn’t have a drummer. for a while we were using francis from the bmx bandits. he left and we wanted a permanent drummer and katrina decided she would learn drums. it’s worked out really well.
cf: tribute records mostly suck, but if you could do one, what would be your band of choice?
stephen: I don’t like the idea of tribute records. some guy in spain was doing a tribute record to galaxie 500 and they were like one of my very favorite bands, but I thought, how could you improve on a galaxie 500 song? yesterday we did teenage fanclub’s “guiding star” for a record for a women’s refuge center and jerry love played guitar on it. it’s a really nice version. katrina sung on it. it’s quite a bit different from their version.
cf: how did you hook up with jad fair?
stephen: half japanese was a band I really loved and they always seemed kind of exotic to us because their records were so hard to find. I managed to have quite a lot of them but I was getting really frustrated because I wanted to have all their records so I thought I would just chance it and I sent jad some pastels records and asked if there would be any chance of him sending me the ones of his I didn’t have. he wrote back and he did send back most of the records that I needed and said that he really liked the pastels. and half japanese were playing in europe, in amsterdam, and me and aggi and katrina just…it just seemed like it would be a band I would never ever see, it’s hard to explain what kind of exotic fruit this seemed to us here. we didn’t have much money but we just decided to go to amsterdam to see them. we met jad and we got on really well with him and decided it would be nice if we would make a record together. so we said, why don’t you come to britain after your tour is finished cause teenage fanclub had just gotten back, and they’re massive half japanese fans, too, so jad came and me and aggi and katrina, cause we live in glasgow, and norman and jerry from the fanclub were there and we just started making some music. they were quite spontaneous, but we’ve made two records with jad so far and I hope we can make some more.
cf: have you seen that half japanese movie the band that would be king?
stephen: I’ve seen an unedited version of it, it looks really good. they’re an incredible band. I kinda wish they could sell a few more records so that jad can make a better living out of it.
cf: do you have to work or are you supported by the pastels?
stephen: we work part-time. I’m working in a bookshop a few days a week, and aggi’s an illustrator. katrina does the pastels full-time. she runs everything like the friends of the pastels and all that. we have to have someone full-time and katrina’s good enough to be the one.
cf: do you get a lot of weird fan letters and great stuff through the mail?
stephen: because we’re not a really massive band, most of the people that do like us have had to make a bit of an effort to find out about our music generally, so it tends to be really good people.
cf: lois tells us she got to sing the everly brothers’ “classic dream” with you, and that it was the high point of her career. was that a monster tour of fun or what?
stephen: we used to have friends of the pastels nights. sometimes we would sing a few songs. and if teenage fanclub were there they would sing some and the bandits, if they were there, and maybe eugene, and then the best ever jad show I saw was in katrina’s kitchen. calvin also did this show when he was over. and when lois was over, one of our friends who really loves lois’ music got lois to sing some songs and we all sang.
cf: are the reasons that you started the band a long time ago the reasons that you keep playing today?
stephen: it’s pretty much the same reasons — for communication, an outlet for ideas we have and want to express. our band doesn’t really do things in easy ways and for the people that work with us it’s sometimes hard for them to understand us. for instance, creation think that we’re not as ambitious as we should be, and alan mcgee gets frustrated with us sometimes and thinks that we’re kind of underachievers and happy being underachievers, but for us, we’re just trying to… we’re getting better all the time. because all the people in the band are really kind of focused in what we’re doing and have similar ideas, the music’s just getting so much closer to what we want it to be. there are pressures on us to do things in an easier way, and people think we’re crazy because we don’t have a manager, but for us, the way we do it is really the only way that we can, and we wouldn’t do it if it was unsatisfactory for us on any level. we get inspired… a band like stereolab is really inspiring for us cause they’re doing what they want to do and they’ve got their own vision and they’re quite uncompromising too, and they’re being successful. people like them, and people like calvin. it was really inspiring for us to meet calvin, because he was so single-minded.
CHATTING WITH AGGI
cf: since there are so many bands living in the same area, do you pretty much have parties and play music all the time?
aggi: I’m not sure how true that one is. pretty well everyone we know is in a band, i suppose. but all of our friends that we see day-to-day are not bmx bandits and eugenius. you know, we don’t all hang out together all the time. and actually for a while glasgow hasn’t had any very very good new bands to play with but it’s a bit better now, it’s a bit more enthusiastic now.
cf: who are some of the new bands around that you like, in glasgow and otherwise? do you collect records?
aggi: I’m not the sort of person that feels like I have to have everything out. I do feel that I have to know everything, but I don’t feel that I’ve got to have it myself. I mean I’ve got quite a few records. most of the newer bands in glasgow haven’t got records out. bands like police cat, and… a lot of them even haven’t got names yet.
cf: what was playing the international pop underground like? what was your lineup?
aggi: it was really good. we’re really glad that we went, we’re just sad that we didn’t take our best lineup there, cause it was quite an unhappy lineup. it was with brian still playing guitar and francis from the bmx bandits playing drums and me and stephen and katrina.
cf: if you had a rider, what would be in it?
cf: you know you’ve made it big time when bands reference you. I’ve heard a song or two that are about you as a band.
aggi: I don’t know that that’s making it big time. I think that means you’re obscure.
cf: there’s that song on the mind the gap tape called “that’s why I like the pastels.” It’s pretty shambly and I can’t make out any of the words except the part where they say “that’s why I like the pastels.”
aggi: I don’t know that one. sometimes it’s really good that people refer to us and it’s really flattering but often they like us for things that we don’t see as the most important things about us.
cf: like what?
aggi: well certainly a while ago a lot of people thought if they played jangly guitars with kind of cutie sort of lyrics and out of tune singing that meant it was like the pastels, but it’s really wrong.
cf: do you have the grrrl scene going on at all?
aggi: for a long time it seemed there wasn’t anything happening here at all in that way, but I think in the past year it got a lot better, it’s more interesting. there’s a really good riot grrrl fanzine called violet that’s a girl in glasgow and a lot events being organized and a lot of enthusiasm and I think that’s the reason a lot of people have started being in bands that have been talking about it for a long time. it’s quite healthy.
thanks muchly aggi and stephen!
records the pastels cannot live without
sonic youth daydream nation
pavement crooked rain, crooked rain
jimmy cliff the harder they come
stax singles box set 1959-68
galaxie 500 on fire
the modern lovers the modern lovers
stereolab lo boob oscillator
jad fair and the pastels no.2
billy taylor trio i wish I knew how it would feel to be free
phil spector back to mono
the pastels up for a bit with the pastels
pianosaurus groovy neighborhood
orange juice ostrich churchyard
teenage fanclub bandwagonesque
moe tucker moejadkatebarry
ramones end of the century
beach boys pet sounds
galaxie 500 today
teenage fanclub a catholic education
various artists out of the floor
elvis presley memphis record
half japanese charmed life
sonic youth sister
miles davis kind of blue