YoYo a GoGo 1994 Oral History: 30 Years Later, Part 2

Photo by Brett Sandström

From July 12 to 16, 1994, the original YoYo a GoGo festival happened at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. It was organized by Yoyo Records’ Pat Maley, Michelle Noel, Kent Oiwa, along with Pat Castaldo, Diana Arens, Sara Lorimer, and others, and there were subsequent YoYos in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Carrying on from the great tradition of pop festivals like the International Pop Underground Convention (1991) and Lotsa Pop Losers (1991), it featured a ridiculous lineup that included superfeminist superstars Team Dresch and Mecca Normal, loud bands, quiet bands, punk bands, pop bands, see a full lineup later in the piece. This part features words and photos from organizers Pat Maley and Pat Castaldo, fan Bryce Edwards and fan/documenter Brett Sandström (special thanks to Jen Sbragia, Pat C and Brett for the images). Please note: not all of the photos below are from 1994 YYaGG.

Read Part 1 here (with Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Jen Sbragia (The Softies), Lois Maffeo, David Nichols (Blairmailer), Nikki McClure, Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed), and Sara Lund (Unwound).

YoYo punks in the Lakefair Parade. Photo: Pat Castaldo

chickfactor: How did the event come about? What do you remember about putting it together?
Pat Maley: The 1991, I had been running my recording studio (Yoyo) for about nine years, and by that time I had recorded many of the local bands, including lots of bands for K Records. So when I found out that K was putting on the International Pop Underground Convention (IPUC) at the Capitol Theater, I got very excited about the idea of recording all the shows, which happened, and was great fun and an album was made.

A couple years later, I asked my friends at K Records if they were going to do another IPUC; they said no. So I asked how they would feel if I put on something like it, which they must’ve been OK with because they were such a valuable source of information and support about what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. For me, wanting to record a festival was the gateway to wanting to organize one, but the feeling of a pre-Internet summertime party vibe punk rock/punk pop/multi-genre five-day music festival was the high I was seeking.

Michelle Noel. Photo by Pat Castaldo

I can’t remember how I met Michelle Noel, but I do know that asking her to help me organize this festival was the way I got to know her. I still thank my intuition for making that choice, because Michelle was masterful at organization, she was unwaveringly principled, and was able to stay connected with a sense of joy, which is what really made the festival feel alive. And I think that feeling alive-ness is ultimately why our four Yoyo A Go Gos were so successful. I remember that sometimes I would worry at how serious Michelle could become when the work got challenging, but what’s most memorable about her is how absolutely delighted and animated she would become about watching her favorite bands perform. We worked well together, and our musical tastes were complementary in that her tastes were more garage punk, and mine were more pop punk, with plenty of overlap. We don’t see each other often these days, but whenever we do, I know that I feel a great deal of love and admiration for her, and she tells me she feels the same.

In December 1993, I got a call from Calvin Johnson inviting me to go see “a couple of bands from Japan up at Evergreen…” we went to see Copass Grinderz and the Blood Thirsty Butchers, who put on such amazing shows that Calvin and I invited them to record the next day. I called in sick at work and was able to record two songs each. Two of those recordings, one from each band, are on the Periscope studio compilation, and both bands came back to perform at Yoyo A Go Go in 1994. I believe this is in part how I got to know Kent Oiwa who was a student at the Evergreen State College.

Kent Oiwa. Photo: Pat Castaldo (not necessarily from YYaGG)

When I first met Kent Oiwa, he had been working as a live sound engineer for backstage shows at the Capitol Theater. Initially he came to work with Michelle and I as an intern, as part of his learning contract at Evergreen, but quickly, he became the third organizer. I believe that my insecurity and immaturity at the time clouded my ability to see really Kent and his role as an organizer, but in retrospect, I am happy to know how clearly his presence, creativity, talents, contributions, and hard work were absolutely essential to the success of the festival as an artistic expression. Kento-san was for many years: an organizer of subsequent Yoyo festivals; a key to the functioning of the recording studio; he co-founded one of Olympia’s most original and creative musical exports, IQU; and he is still a dear friend. In 1996 invited me to travel to Japan and stay with his family. He took such great care of me on that trip, which is why for me it was trip was so ridiculously rich and memorable. When I think about Kent as a friend, I feel an abundance of gratitude, and some grief that at the time I wasn’t fully able to feel and express that gratitude as much as I feel it now.

Pat Castaldo. Photo courtesy Pat C

I think Michelle Noel first brought Pat Castaldo to my attention when I wondered something like “who’s the skinny kid who’s always enthusiastically working the ticket booth?” He was and is a quick wit, excitable, energetic, and there was something about his East Coast-ness that made me feel at home. Through the four festivals there were hundreds of hard-working, enthusiastic, lovable/adorable volunteers who were not only the heart of, but the cardiovascular system of whatever it was that made these festivals, unique and so enjoyable; and at the risk of using really clunky mixed metaphors, Pat Castaldo was the cream of the volunteers who rose to the top to be an organizer of the festivals after 1994. Which is to say that he was effectively an organizer during those five days in July 1994. For years after, he made the Yoyo recording label possible by being the primary graphics layout artist and worked closely with Tae Won Yu who created most of the artistic imagery for the festivals and live albums. These days, messaging, or getting to visit with Pat makes me very happy because I know that I am in for playfulness, brilliance, connection and warmth.

I have always marveled at the artistic vision of Tae Won Yu, who I met in 1991 in New York City. I had just finished playing a set with Lois Maffeo and was breaking down my drums on the stage at CBGB, when Tae handed me a cassette of his band Kicking Giant. Sometime after that, he and Rachel Carns moved to Olympia, and sometime after that, his artwork became the look of the visual introduction to the festival. The posters he made for the festivals were so beautiful and inviting. The poster itself felt to me like a summertime party.

Diana Arens. Photo: Pat Castaldo (not taken at YYaGG)

There are so many people to mention, and so many names I have forgotten. I feel a low level, subconscious grief about the loss of memory of people and their generosity. Here are names of friends who were there and helped in all the ways: Lois Maffeo, Candice Pedersen, Calvin Johnson, Nikki McClure, Sara Lorimer, Diana Arens, Brooks Martin, Sharon Franklin, Shigeki Nishimura.

There’s so much more I could say, so many stories and challenges and moments of joy. It’s also hard for me to convey how meaningful and deeply personal the festivals are, particularly the first one. I still feel so grateful and fortunate that with the help of so many friends, I was able to translate something I loved and felt passionate about into something so beautiful and rewarding.

Several summers ago, I was waiting in line to enter a show on the backstage of the Capitol Theater. It was a beautiful June evening, and I was about to see Jonathan Richman perform after having chatted with him earlier that day. I was thinking about his song “That Summer Feeling” and the line about how… “That summer feeling is going to haunt you one day in your life.” And I started thinking about all the years I’d spent in the theater I was about to walk into, and it definitely haunted me, and as if on cue, from inside the theater, Jonathan start strumming the chords of the song. And it reassured me that there’s magic like that happening all of the time, I just need to notice that it’s there.

Pat Castaldo: So I just showed up and started helping — I honestly didn’t realize at the time how big of an undertaking it was; I’m not even sure Michelle and Pat and Kento really did either. Apart from bands being on time and stuff, the biggest challenge for me front of house was just a sort of pre-screening, light crowd control — overall it’s an amazing and wonderful crowd, but there’s always a handful of folks — like five maybe out of a thousand? — who want to get drunk or cause a ruckus or something.

Being the person “in the lobby” every day, I got to deal with a lot of those folks.

Crabs. Photo: Pat Castaldo

Did you attend YoYo in 1994? In what capacity were you involved?
Pat Castaldo: I did — I went to pretty much everything at the Capitol Theater during the time, mostly as a volunteer. I would have wanted to see the bands already, but to me the community aspect was always the tops — just being in the theater, being part of something bigger than yourself was amazing.

So I showed up to volunteer and quickly ended up, as it was happening, running the front of house during the first Yoyo. Doing errands, managing volunteers and working the door and ticket booth.

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Crayon and the Softies had stayed at my house when they played a show in Philadelphia that spring, and I think they were the ones who first told me about it. They said that if I could get out to Olympia, I could stay where they were staying—at this guy Aaron’s parents’ house. (Thank you, Aaron! You were so nice and a year later, when I went off to college, sent me a copy of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.) There must have been 15 people staying there, and I have fond memories of everyone trying out the NordicTrak.

How did it feel different from other festivals at the time?
Pat Castaldo: I had gone to the first Lollapalooza in high school, but otherwise, I don’t think I really had ever gone to a festival before — I had walked by K’s IPU Convention when it was on, but didn’t know anything about it and was like “that looks cool, maybe I’ll go next year.”

I think the big thing that felt crazy and different to me at the time is how far folks were coming for it — people traveling to Olympia as a destination felt foreign to me then (and now, to be honest).

What impact did it have on the city of Olympia?
Pat Castaldo: I think IPU was the first big explosion and then the Yoyos were powerful echos — incredible and their own thing. For me, the literal do-it-yourself nature is what held into other things. To me so much of the Olympia DIY movement was a “we have to do it ourselves or no one else will” and I don’t think if I hadn’t been volunteering at the theater I would have ever learned how important that is.

I think folks moving to Olympia to make even more of a scene definitely happened after the first Yoyo.

Indie bands beget other Indie bands and it’s kinda wonderful.

I just read Kathleen’s memoir and found it an excellent time capsule of the time — and it captured the feeling of how sick people could get of Olympia at times; mostly because the scene was so incredibly small. I never found the “I want to get out of here” feeling, but completely understand how people could. If she hadn’t moved to DC, then Riot Grrrl might not have been brought back, and then that also that means Ladyfest and other even bigger things might not have ever happened.

Photo: Jen Sbragia

What was the Olympia/larger independent pop scene like in 1994 vs. 2024?
Pat Castaldo: I know nothing about the 2024 scene, but do think, that we had a special thing from like ’91-2005 or so, and after that things started to change a bit. How exactly is hard to pin down. I ended up leaving town in 2008 to move, like so many other Olympians did, to Portland.

What performances stand out in your memory?

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Some Velvet Sidewalk, Lois and surprise Courtney Love reunion, Blairmailer, Kicking Giant, Jad Fair, Team Dresch, Halo Benders, Excuse 17.

What was the vibe in general?

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): Maybe people who were older and wiser at the time saw a more complicated dynamic, but to me as a teenager, it was glorious. The lineup was ridiculous and people were just giddy with excitement. The Olympians were really generous to the out-of-towners—even though I kind of stumbled in, people fed me, let me sleep on their floor, took me swimming and berry-picking, etc. I babysat Stella Marrs and Al Larsen’s child even though they had never met me before. It was hard to be a starry-eyed fan and try to play it cool when suddenly you were surrounded by all these people whose music you loved so much. I definitely failed.

What other memories do you have? 

Lara Cohen (Runt zine): The organizers gave out yoyos and everyone rose to the occasion; I have all these photos of people trying to learn tricks. There was competition to win giant stuffed animals at the Lakefair carnival and gift them to other people who would then have to carry them around. Am I remembering correctly that it was very hot? I didn’t go to the parade, which I deeply regretted, and I think it was because the only clean shirt I had left was a thermal and I couldn’t take being outside in it. Later Tae Won Yu loaned me some shorts he’d worn as a child. David Nichols from the Cannanes and Blairmailer offered to walk me back to Aaron’s house after a party because “I bet there are some Australian drinking songs you don’t know.” But it was miles away, so instead Beck gave me a ride and we got lost in a housing development. It was totally surreal. I was in love with like 10 different people.

Pat Castaldo: It’s funny because it’s been so long ago, the album we made is the strongest musical memory I have left. Triple Vinyl! Tae and I did the cover together! I always regret how “red” people’s faces are on the back — it was one of my first every full-color albums, all the K stuff at the time was just two-color, and my crappy Mac monitor wasn’t up to the task.

But just reading the track listing I can smell the theater. I can picture Becca, Carrie and CJ (Excuse 17)  playing their set and just being blown away. I remember Corin Tucker (Heavens to Betsy) standing there so strong and playing Ax Men and thinking, “woah, that’s the girl who works at the camera shop in the mall!” To this day those two albums and those live shows are some of my favorite music from Olympia at the time.

I remember wondering “how is there this crazy Japanese band playing?” when Bloodthirsty Butchers came on (and later staying at one of their apartments when I went to Tokyo).

I remember Mikey being Mikey and just bringing so much energy to the Fitz of Depression set.

I remember Mary Lou Lord playing during the afternoon and being dumbstruck that it’s the same person I saw a few years before busking in a Boston subway. Just memorized how small of a world it was.

Lara Cohen (Runt zine) and Beck at Calvin’s house. Photo: Jen Sbragia

I remember giving Beck and his buddy Mario yo-yos that Pat had got and all of us trying to do tricks in the lobby (there’s a pic of this on my flickr).

I remember thinking Codeine was sublime and how had I never heard them before?

I remember loving to get to see Long Hind Legs followed by Some Velvet Sidewalk, and just basking in the glorious sonic diversity that was our tiny town.

And then, of course, Lois playing Strumpet — basically the unofficial anthem of everyone in town. We all kinda walked around like we owned it — because we did.

Hannah and Jen. Photo: Jen Sbragia

Brett Sandström (fan): Thinking about Bratmobile’s “Queenie”, I know it was a bit cliché how I found out about Yoyo-A-Gogo. I was flipping through the pages of my teenage girlfriend’s Sassy magazine. I ripped out the little advert/article and asked my parents for a check to mail off along with a passport photo a friend made me that same afternoon.

Summer now, and I was nervous about trying to find a way there. Luckily, I convinced a friend to drive the hour south in his 1969 emerald green Cadillac hearse. He dropped me off at Sylvester Park with my skateboard, a backpack with some clothes, and $100 cash. I was alone, and like a kid in a candy store, I immediately spent too much money on records at Positively 4th Street. Full from the excitement, I stowed everything away in a Greyhound locker.

It was noon on July 11 when I learned that the main events didn’t start until the next day. I keep myself busy skateboarding, loitering in the park, meeting new people, I even took in an action flick at the State Theatre, where I’m certain that Kathi Wilcox gave me a free pop! I also saw the documentary film The Band That Would Be King. I learned of a show later that night in the Back Stage called the Midnight-a-Gogo; it turned out to be Dub Narcotic Sound System. I danced and I met a woman there who invited me to stay in her hotel room.

Lakefair parade. Photo: Pat Castaldo

I was wearing contacts then and I woke up with some sort of allergic reaction where the light was blindingly bright. Even though I couldn’t really see, I managed to stumble my way past the Ribeye into downtown where I sat in front of the Capitol Theater to wait for the festivities to start. I stayed hours with my back against the beige walls of the theater, knees bent and my eyes buried in my lap. A woman named Brooke asked me if I was OK, and after telling her my woes, she invited me to hang out with her gang.

6PM – July 12– the shows started. I was truly excited to see all these bands I only knew from records, but I was thrilled that Tattle Tale was playing the first night. I had seen this amazing duo play dozens of times in the Seattle area, but this was on a big stage and I was excited for them. The Brentwoods were a hoot and Unwound’s bassy rumble to finish their set is something that still reverberates in my soul today.

Photo: Pat Castaldo

The rest of the week went by in a flash and so did the memories. I switched hands a couple more times. I was starstruck every few moments. Jean Smith walking through the crowd with everyone singing along, I walk alone! Seeing Tim Armstrong busk outside with Mary Lou Lord. Meeting my earliest teenage idol, Ian MacKaye. CALVIN! Seeing Beck play a whole different set than my suburban friends saw the next evening in Seattle. Lync, Slant 6, Kicking Giant… It was all too much!

In 1994, Yoyo-A-Gogo, for me, was an adventure – meeting so many new friends and seeing so many wonderful bands, it was a punk summer camp. And, what was it, like $50 bucks?! What a time!!!

Bryce Edwards (fan): Such a blur since it was 30 years ago but one thing I remember is sitting in The Apples in Stereo / Neutral Milk Hotel van with the bands (who I knew from Colorado) and the Apples were super psyched because someone cancelled and they ended up getting to play last minute. Robert and Hilarie from the Apples played as the NMH band along with Lisa from Secret Square on bass. I made zines at the time and handed out about 100 of them over the weekend. A few weeks before the festival, I met a skater lesbian on the street in NYC and she ended up road tripping with me back to Colorado and then to Olympia for the festival. I’m not even sure if she had a pass or not but we spent 2 months together on the road. Ahh youth.

Parade – Photo: Pat Castaldo
Via Lois Maffeo

YoYo a GoGo 1994 Oral History: 30 Years Later, Part 1

Glorious design work by the wonderful artist Tae Won Yu

From July 12 to 16, 1994, the original YoYo a GoGo festival happened at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. It was organized by Yoyo Records’ Pat Maley, Michelle Noel, Kent Oiwa, along with Pat Castaldo, Diana Arens, Sara Lorimer, and others, and there were subsequent YoYos in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Carrying on from the great tradition of pop festivals like the International Pop Underground Convention (1991) and Lotsa Pop Losers (1991), it featured a ridiculous lineup that included superfeminist superstars Team Dresch and Mecca Normal, loud bands, quiet bands, punk bands, pop bands, see a full lineup later in the piece. We asked some folks who played, attended and organized it to share memories including Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Jen Sbragia (The Softies), Lois Maffeo, David Nichols (Blairmailer), Nikki McClure, Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed), and Sara Lund (Unwound).
READ PART 2 HERE

Tae Won Yu design / Courtesy Lois Maffeo

Chickfactor: Did you attend YoYo in 1994? What made you want to go?

Jen Sbragia (The Softies): Yes! I’d never been to a festival like that and was very excited to be included and see a lot of bands.

Nikki McClure: Yes. It was across the street from where I lived.

Tracy Wilson (Dahlia Seed): Yes, I attended and played that year. The lineup was a dream come true and I can’t imagine any self-described indie rocker wouldn’t do whatever it took to be at this special event.

Gail CF: I sure did. I think I built my summer vacation around it, in the days when people had such a thing as paid vacation at their jobs.

Rose and Al – Photo: Jen Sbragia

In what capacity were you involved with YoYo a GoGo 1994?

Sara Lund (Unwound):  I played at YoYo a Go-go in 1994 with Unwound. I had been in the band for about 2 years and we had released our 2nd record (with me) New Plastic Ideas that spring. We did a lot of touring that year – I think we went on our longest ever tour. 10 weeks all over the US. I’m pretty sure the YoYo show we played front stage at the Capitol Theater was the biggest crowd we had played to at that point.

I had attended the 1991 International Pop Underground festival my first week in Olympia, before I knew anyone. This festival felt very different to me as I was now a 3-year resident of Olympia as well as being in one of the relatively better known bands in town.

Sara Lund / Photo: Pat Castaldo

It most definitely felt like the town was suddenly overrun with looky-loos, coming to see what all the buzz was about. It was so weird that Beck came and played! He had had a huge hit with “Loser” and it was like cognitive dissonance to have a pop star wandering around this very anti mainstream, major label pro DIY scene.

I also feel like this festival made a TON of people move to Olympia. People got the impression from the festival that Olympia was this super fun, hip playground all the time. What most people discovered when they moved there was that Olympia was just a small town with not a lot going on and locals that weren’t particularly welcoming to a rush of young hipsters, polluting the scene. That was not true for everyone, but I know a lot of people moved there and did not last long once they realized daily life was nothing like YoYo a GoGo.

Rose and Beck in Calvin’s backyard. Photo: Jen Sbragia

Jen: The Softies and Go Sailor were invited to play.

Nikki: I think I named it? I remember suggesting the name to Pat Maley. I also maybe led a Nature Punk Walk? Where we caught the #81 bus to some park? Maybe what is now Squaxin Park? I hope someone out there remembers this! My memory was more focused on the making of burritos and selling them outside the theater. I was down to my last $100 and spent it on burrito making supplies supplemented with greens and nasturtium flowers from my garden patch. I’d make the burritos and then run across the street to sell them then run back to make more. I wore a kids cowboy hat and strapped a small suitcase to me, open and full off “Burritos a Go Go”. Thankfully I keep a briefly noted calendar. I made $68 the first day, $24 the next due to the nature walk. $72 the next day. And somehow figured that I came out ahead? Fed myself and some others at $2 a burrito! I took Ian MacKaye to my garden to pick more greens for the Friday burritos. I also was the Punk Rock Janitor for the theater and would clean up the stage area and bathrooms…the things one does for free movies! It was a time of scraping by and making fun out of it!

Tracy: My band Dahlia Seed was scheduled to play, but a month before, the rest of the members told me they couldn’t afford to fly out, leaving me to scramble to find a way to play without them. Michelle Noel convinced me I needed to still play so I promised her I would. I am infamously terrible at playing guitar and singing at the same time, so my co-worker Michael from C/Z records AKA Snackboy stepped in at the last minute to help me out. I taught him how to play all the Dahlia Seed songs I had written on guitar, and we played together as a duo with me singing beside him on electric guitar.

Gail CF: I went as a fan, a zine editor, photographer, documenter.

Jean Smith (Mecca Normal): Mecca Normal performed. We were around for most of the festival and went to lots of shows.

Nikki McClure / photo: Pat Castaldo

How did it feel different from other festivals at the time?

Nikki: Scrappily ambitious. Yet also low-key and not ambitious at all. Now looking back and thinking of the paths everyone has gone on since then, it was a nurturing garden in full flower and then the seedpods all popped open and scattered far, really far. I also remember the mix of bands being selected on some mysterious connections that weren’t based on musical likeness. It was really a mix of everything from quiet whispers to loudest possible electric noise. Polished and raw all a jumble.

Jen: I’d never been to one! I was still in transition from hair metal to normal music to indie pop when the IPU happened.

Tracy: I was 22 and had not been to too many festivals before – other than giant things like Amnesty International events. In some ways it set me up for a lot of future disappointment. This event was so friendly, so easy to attend and play, that it would be a shock to learn how most other music would struggle to have that kind of talent pool, that kind of welcoming atmosphere, and such wonderful support from the folks running it. I remember walking around, a very new person to the northwest (I has just moved to Seattle) and feeling overwhelmed by how friendly attendees and other band people were. Everyone was sharing addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch like the last day of summer camp or high school. I was so nervous to play without my regular band members and so many people went out of their way to make sure I felt good/proud of the performance. And wow, the food and drinks were affordable, like starving artist affordable, something I can’t say about many other fests.

Gail CF: Most festivals at that time were kinda gross and mainstream, like Lollapalooza, corporate, dorky. Not as outrageously priced as today but more expensive than something like YoYo, which was very accessible. I am guessing these bands didn’t get flown in for this, but probably appreciated the exposure at the time. Looking back, festivals like IPU and YoYo were influential on the small fests CF has set up, but again, it is ever harder to make a profit in 2024 since tech platforms are siphoning off everything they can and extracting pennies they did nothing to earn.

Mecca Normal. Photo: Pat Blashill

Jean: Mecca Normal toured at least once in Europe that year, playing the Fast Forward Festival in Nijmegen, Holland with Smog, Dump, Sebadoh and other specifically lo-fi bands. Even though that was a small festival, it felt very formal in terms of being accommodated at a hotel somewhere else in the city and arriving at the venue in advance of our set. I don’t think we went to shows other than the one we played. Other festivals we’ve played on tour we basically just do a one-day stop with shows on either side of it in other towns. Sometimes, as a band, you wouldn’t necessarily notice you’re playing a festival. You arrive, do the show and leave.

Festivals in Olympia were special because so many of the performers were there for more than their show day, seeing a lot of bands over the duration of the event, which also meant that various bands were meeting each other, and fans were bumping into band members at other shows and in the street. There were so many opportunities to engage and form new connections. Having said that, it was sort of nerve wracking to be so noticeable and approachable any time we were out and about.

There were so many participants, both band and audience members, downtown that we’d see people we knew all over the place. I’d say that proximity and a very small downtown core were key factors that helped to extend Olympia festivals beyond the venues to restaurants and accommodation.

YoYo Festival was, by location and association, related to the IPU 3 years prior, so expectations and comparisons were palpable. For me, there was no way it came close to the wow factor of the IPU, but it definitely had its own excellent vibe. For those who missed the IPU, they likely experienced the same thrill factor of the IPU when the town was once again filled with idiosyncratic fans and bands who, in essence, expanded even the broadest description of punk.

Being a small city, distances between everything are short. For a touring band, Olympia is a very easy town to deal with in terms of navigating, getting parking, having everything you basically need close by. It wouldn’t be the first or best place you’d think of putting on a music festival though. The IPU provided a blueprint for YoYo. That Candice Pedersen, co-founder of K Records, was able to put the IPU together and pull it off, was an astounding feat. For Pat Maley, following a similar path would likely have been somewhat daunting, but he had a lot of things working for him, including the fact that his recording studio was in the Capitol Theater.

People in front of the Capitol Theater / Photo: Pat Castaldo

What impact did YoYo have on the city of Olympia?

Nikki: I always welcomed the focus on the Capitol Theater as the epicenter of life, instead of my town being overrun by the carnival festival of Lakefair. It was a cultural exchange: Japan! New York! DC! LA! Anacortes! The impact was of connections between all the people and places that continues today. Olympia finally has a city-owned arts center that is developing places for performances. The city also is able to fund events now with a sale tax levy. People seem creative and ambitious again. Punk Theater! Community Print! And there are plenty of show flyers in the window of Rainy Day Records. AND the Capitol Theater is turning 100 years old this year.

What did it feel like to play YoYo?

Jen: I was always terribly nervous.

Tracy: Dahlia Seed was still a relatively new band, on top of being my first serious band, so I had never played something so big before. I WAS TERRIFIED. To soften the blow of what Snackboy and I were certain would be a disastrous performance, we went to the Oly brewery and got these little beer cookies to throw out into the crowd. We spent an alarmingly long time throwing out cookies before we played, but it seemed like people were wildly excited about them. It was a nice way to ease into our less than perfect set as a brand new two piece trying to play the songs of what was typically a well practiced 5-piece band. We played the day that bands like Built To Spill, Lois, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lync, Halo Benders, and Versus played, so needless to say, as a kid who was buried up to their ears in an obsession with DIY/underground music, this was one of the best days of my young life. I will never forget the sound of a theater filled with people clapping after we played the first song. I had dreaded that moment for so many months because I was so new to performing. The anxiety leading up to our performance was all consuming. After we completed that first song, even with all its flaws, the audience gifted us the support to feel not just really heard, but appreciated.

Jean:
It was great to be on a giant stage in front of a big audience of people who were probably going to like us well enough. Because our friends were putting on the event, we felt supported in all ways. So having to assert ourselves as we likely would in regular clubs wasn’t an issue. Battling with typical soundmen in clubs tended to be tiresome after a long day of driving.

It was an honour to be included and, considering Olympia was like a second home to us, it was somewhat emotional to play a big show there. We’d already been around for 10 years at that point, so we wanted to represent our reason for becoming a band in terms of songs that meant something to people as well as playing new material.

I often think we give slightly better performances where there’s a sense of opposition, whereas, in a setting like YoYo, it may have seemed just slightly too friendly. Also, because I tend to look directly at people in the audience, I’m sure I would have been a bit distracted by seeing people I knew who I didn’t know would be there. While singing about various social injustices, seeing someone I like in the audience might set off a series of reactions in me that might not essentially fortify the performance. Wanting to jump off stage and hug someone was contrary to an angry song about a woman’s right to walk alone.

Jeff Cashvan and Richard Baluyut (Versus): Photo by Gail O‘Hara

What YoYo performances stand out in your memory?

Jen: I really remember seeing Unwound the most. I was right in the front with Linton from Go Sailor. I also loved KARP.

Lois: Versus sang “Frog.” My favorite band. My favorite song.

Nikki: Slant 6, Bloodthirsty Butchers, Had Fair, Gravel, Versus, Copass Grinderz, Mecca Normal

Tracy: I recall watching Built to Spill and being in absolute awe of how someone could ROCK but also be so vulnerable and tender at the same time. I was a massive Treepeople fan and Dug was so important to me. I seriously moved to Seattle to work at C/Z because I was such a big Treepeople fan. I didn’t think Dug’s new band would ever possibly be as good, and their Yoyo performance proved otherwise. I wonder if this is how Minor Threat fans felt when they saw Rites of Spring for the first time?

Gail CF: Team Dresch, Lois, The Softies, Heavens to Betsy, Spinanes, Mary Lou Lord, Excuse 17, Slant 6, Neutral Milk Hotel, Halo Benders…

New artists discovered?

Tracy: It wasn’t so much about discovering any artist for me. It was about seeing a lot of artists play live for the first time and out of those bands, Karp absolutely blew my mind. They were so tight and had the humor and energy I always wanted from The Melvins, but never quite got from their live shows during that time period.

Nikki: Copass Grinderz

Big Girl wall zine by Lois Maffeo and Margaret Doherty. Photos: Gail O’Hara

What was the vibe like at YoYo in general?

Jen: I felt like I was included in a beautiful weird secret.

Jean Smith: There can be a weird sort of alienation playing regular rock clubs in towns where you don’t know anyone, when you don’t actually know the other bands on the bill. In those cases, there may be an intensity of performance due to that anonymity. YoYo was the opposite of that.

Some Velvet Sidewalk / Photo: Pat Castaldo


Did Yo-Yo a Go-Go get national attention?
Tracy: I think because there were bands from so many other states performing, the DIY world who was connected through radio, zines, penpal packages, and record stores all seemed in the know. Does that count as national attention?

Jean Smith: This appeared in Rolling Stone. It seems like it’s a snippet from a longer piece: “Such innocence and enthusiasm are the guiding principles of the Olympia genre called love rock. At Yo Yo, bands throw candy to the audience, and the festival organizers hand out yo-yos. Homemade and vintage instruments proliferate, as do two-and three-piece groups, a minimalism exemplified by the Saturday night performances of Mecca Normal and Spinanes.” – Evelyn McDonnell, Rolling Stone

Love Evelyn, of course, but, in the mid-90s, I’m actually not sure if it would have been published in Rolling Stone if she’d reported that a number of bands performed songs about women’s rights etc.

When national media mentioned various scenes and festivals we participated in, I usually had the impression that the individual journalists may have been compelled to report differently, but maybe their editors dictated a requirement for content that wasn’t confrontational, possibly even especially about women in music.

Mainstream mentions were usually a bit cringe. We were amazed when anything from our ilk made it to a national level. It seemed a bit suspicious. One of the few times Rolling Stone wrote about us, they said we were Vancouver Washington (as opposed to Canada). I took everything they said about anyone with a few grains of salt.

Gail CF: I was an editor at a big rock mag then but all the bands I interviewed ended up in our zine.

Jason Traeger, Calvin Johnson and Beck. Photo: Jen Sbragia

What was the Olympia/larger independent pop scene like in 1994 vs. 2024?
Lois:
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been helping put together another Olympia-centric summer festival called Northern Sky happening in early September. I think there is still a spirit in Olympia to find a fun spot and a great reason to bring people together and just try to pull it off. There is absolutely no danger of any Olympia festival becoming like Coachella or Primavera. Go through the list! IPUC, Yoyo A Go Go, Homo A Go Go, Ladyfest, Helsing Junction Sleepover: all just homemade events. No sponsors, just DIY labor and love.

Gail CF: The 1990s were the last decade where we could live in the moment. No one had smartphones and no one held things up in front of other people or looked at phones while watching shows. You were just there for the show. Sure, people could be rude and talk over the bands but probably not here. The absence of constant device fondling made people more social I think? Also people bought albums/paid for music; not every independent label was paying out properly but there was more potential for bands to earn a living from touring and selling albums.

Tracy: It is so hard to answer this question as a middle-aged person. I would love to believe versions of this event are happening all over the place today, but I also know that in today’s climate, booking a festival is more complicated and expensive than ever. Renting spaces is no easy task (insurance, rental fees, and so on), booking talent is a nightmare since so many artists (especially those with booking agents) charge 10x their normal fee when the word festival is attached to it. I think social media also inherently puts pressure on events to be so much more than just great music and so many events get lost in the weeds trying to be all the things. In turn I think the fans have changed. I grew up having zero expectations from a fest other than music, and fans now are expecting a mini Coachella from every multi-day music event with all the bells and whistles. The closest thing I can think to Yoyo isn’t so much an indie pop thing, but Goner is an example of an event that I go to almost annually that reminds me of the same genuine spirit. For me the perfect fest is 40% about the music (thoughtfully curated) and 40% about the people (fans/musicians) I will be able to spend time with in person, and 20% a city I like (and can afford to spend a few days in).

What other memories do you have about YoYo?

Lois: Yoyo coincided with Lakefair, the Olympia town carnival that had (still has!) all the clichéd accoutrements of such things: pageant queens, outdoor concerts with 70s cover bands and a parade with marching bands and floats from other small towns in Washington featuring their pageant queens, waving. Yoyo staff put in the paperwork to have an entry in the parade and so many festival-goers showed up to march through downtown behind a spray painted Yoyo A Go Go banner! The crowds that lined the streets didn’t know what to make of it and hardly anyone cheered for this ragtag bunch. But one old guy sitting in a lawn chair along the parade route yelled out, “There go the future welfare rats of America!” (A photo of Nikki, Tae and Calvin in the parade adorns the back cover of the “yoyo a go go” LP.)

I ran up to Christina Billotte after Slant 6 tore through a furious set and said to her, “Great set! It was epic!” To which she replied, “It wasn’t great at all.  We played terrible. That’s the trouble with you Olympia people. You’ll clap for anything.” In my mind, that has become the best description of the Olympia music scene and the spirit that drives it. We’ll clap for anything! Thanks, Christina. (And btw, the set truly was great. What a band!)

Jen: If I knew his name, I can’t remember now what it was. Even though it was warm summer weather, he wore a ladies’ navy blue cardigan sweater, buttoned up to the top, with tight pants, low tops and a wide white belt. He had that short hair with the bangs cut straight across. I remember his nails painted with white out or white nail polish. Very emo. Before EMO existed. He didn’t say much and I liked that. I saw him every day at the festival. Eventually we spoke enough that I asked him to go for a walk around the block with me, and we briefly held hands. He wasn’t into me. I never saw him again.

Jean: We stayed at Calvin’s house. I think Dave slept in the basement in the recording studio and I slept in the backyard where I recall chit-chatting with Beck while I set up my tent.

I forget which festival it was when we bumped into each other, Gail. I also forget who you were walking with and what we all talked about briefly, but I think the conversation was in the actual street as opposed to on the sidewalk you’d just stepped off and we were aiming for. That is to say; it’s a very quiet town!

Tracy: Street busking! I think I saw Mary Lou Lord and the dude from Rancid perform like 3 other times, ha! I know I should be focusing on the bands that played, but my strongest memory is talking to so many different people from all over the country and making friends with people that I still know to this day.

David Nichols (Blairmailer): Pat Maley and Sara Lorimer came to Australia on holiday in I guess 1993. I was finishing my Arts degree at the University of Sydney but very occasionally making records with Michael under the name Blairmailer. Pat and Sara came to see Blairmailer play at the Richmond Club hotel in Melbourne. It was a well-attended show. I can’t remember who was in the band aside from Michael and me at that time, maybe it was just the two of us. Pat either got in touch later to say he was doing YoYo A Go Go or he was thinking and talking about it even while he was in Australia. Michael was very keen, I’m fairly sure that we recruited Bart and Andrew purely for the sake of the US tour, I mean aside from the fact that they were our friends and we liked them. We played a show in Melbourne with Stinky Fire Engine, The Cats Miaow were also on the bill.

Bart and Andrew were with the band for the rest of its existence, it didn’t last much longer. They were our two bass players, we had them play half a show each, which was probably about 5 songs apiece. They sat in the audience together and I think they saw almost everything and kept notes. At some time, before or after the actual Yo Yo show, we recorded an EP with Pat.

Blairmailer had two albums out by that stage, one was a cassette the other was an LP released on IMP records of Portland, a terrific label. Our show went pretty smoothly. We played a couple of other shows at the same time, one with Mocket, one with New Bad Things, both incredible.

YoYo Records’ Pat Maley / Photo: Pat Castaldo

The best shows I remember seeing were Versus, who I’d already seen elsewhere and who are one of my favourite bands, Copass Grinderz, Halo Benders, but I know there heaps more, of course. It’s a long time ago. Some Velvet Sidewalk were going through a really classic period, the Whirlpool album period. Don from SVS asked Bart, Michael and Andrew, kind of tentatively, ‘do you guys like… drinking beer?’ They did.

Meeting Beck and Ian MacKaye was a real privilege and we all walked together somewhere, sometime, after Blairmailer played.

The Stinkypuffs show was something everyone felt was a historic moment, I mean apart from being very touching. I recall being told at the time that Fred Astaire had performed at the Capitol theatre but I imagine everybody has.

I remember sitting in the audience with Rebecca Gates and Gilmore Tamny and Rebecca making some kind of joke, or observation, that included telling a young man ‘I knew your mom in high school’. None of us could have even been thirty by that stage.

I think this was the time I was in Olympia and there was some kind of parade in town? Am I wrong? Is that what’s on the back cover of the LP? If so, then this was the time when I saw a group of Olympia music people in the parade, and a woman asked a policeman who they were, and he said sardonically ‘the future welfare recipients of America’.

Pat Maley used to have a slight chip on his shoulder that he was shunned by the punks of Olympia somewhat, as a hippy, and it wasn’t until Calvin embraced him that he became really ‘acceptable’ to the more pretentious or fickle Olympia types. So I imagine that there was something a little bittersweet for him in running Yo Yo a Go Go but I am certainly glad he, Diana, Aaron and Sara put it on. He has tapes of everything, I remember him saying that one day a long time into the future he’d find a way to release it all, I guess the time is not yet ripe. 

Gail CF: We started our zine out of love for the East Coast (and UK) pop scene in the early ’90s. Yo-Yo was like a grand introduction to West Coast culture for me. I loved the supportive and slightly earnest West Coast people, meeting people like Stella Marrs and Nikki McClure and seeing the DIY ecosystem and “let’s create our own fun” style of putting together an event. It was world-shifting in a good way. One more memory was that Vicky Wheeler was supposed to pick me up and give me a ride to SeaTac but overslept so I missed my flight, spent the night in the Holiday Inn SeaTac but then got upgraded to first class flying home; Dave Grohl and Elliott Smith were on my flight.

READ PART 2 HERE

Nikki’s calendar, July 1994

The Softies Then and Now: Jen Sbragia on 30 Years Together

Happy 30th anniversary, Rose and Jen! Photo: Alicia J. Rose

Earlier this year, The Softies (two California girls / singer-songwriter-guitarists Rose Melberg + Jen Sbragia) celebrated 30 years as a band and as BFFs. They are not a band that just reformed after not doing anything since the 1990s! They have been playing shows here and there over the years (including chickfactor 20 and 25 shows in New York, London, SF and Portland), even as they lived in different PacNW towns, had kids, jobs, played music with others and so on. Still, as they just announced their brand-new album, The Bed I Made (on Father/Daughter Records and Lost Sound Tapes), upcoming tour and new single, we wanted to check in about how things were then versus how they are now! Read our post from yesterday about the new album, the vinyl reissues of their previous work and more, and then read on to hear from Jen about how things have changed. Interview by Gail

Jen in Portland, 2023. Photo: Gail O’Hara

CF: What are you up to today?
Jen Sbragia: Working on some freelance design stuff, making dinner, hopefully practicing guitar later
What would you have been up to on a day like this in 1994?
Very similar except I didn’t have Adobe Creative Suite!
Tell us about how your songwriting process worked in 1994 vs. 2024.
In the past, I would write and present a whole song of mine to Rose, she would then write a lead guitar part and a vocal harmony. For the new album, I had song ideas but also a few half-baked ideas and riffs, which we worked on together to make whole songs. It was pretty fun to do that, because Rose has studied the art of songwriting so much more than me. She inspires me to do better, all the time.
Both of you have been undergoing major life shifts in recent years; how did grief, loss, change play into the songs? How is that different from your trials and tribulations of 30 years ago?
I always used to write songs about unrequited love back in the day. This is still true for me! At this point in my life I have experienced more loss, so that is tied in too. But crushes not working out is my favorite songwriting topic, apparently.

Cover of The Bed I Made by Fumi Yanagimoto

What was a typical day in the studio like making The Bed I Made? And how does that differ from the 1990s sessions?
Analog is lovely and all, but recording digitally is fantastic. Rose and I used Garage Band to make demos for each other we could email back and forth. When it came time to record in the studio, we felt so lucky to work with Nich (Nicholas Wilbur). He has an amazing ear, is endlessly chill and patient, makes the perfect cappuccino, and belongs to the funniest and best dog, Cathy. I heard my first ever ghostly footsteps in the (haunted) studio! Rose and I slept there at night – it was a little spooky, which I loved.

Softies’ studio still-life, courtesy of Rose

What are some of your most important studio accoutrements? Snacks, tea, special instruments or accessories?
Lots of Juanita’s tortilla chips, peanut butter, strong coffee, maybe a touch of psilocybin. Anacortes Unknown has a vibraphone… it may make an appearance.
How long have you been working on this one?
I took a trip to Vancouver in January of 2023 and we ended up with the beginnings of 8 songs, and just excitedly continued from there, meeting every month or so. Sometimes we would meet in Seattle, sometimes I would make the full trek to Vancouver. I love long drives so it really didn’t seem too difficult.
How has the touring and show playing ecosystem changed from then to now?
Well, it is much better now that we don’t have to have an Atlas and a Thomas Guide! One time on tour we caravanned with walkie talkies.
We prefer that more days off need to be built in. We need ease and calm. The less stress, the better. There is a low key goal of being able to stay somewhere with a hot tub. Can we always have a hot tub? A girl can dream.

Jen in Portland. Photo: Gail O’Hara

What can fans to do help musicians have better lives?
Vote. Buy merch. Come to live shows.
Do you have a sense of how big your audience is now vs 1994? Do you hear from fans?
We used to get fan letters back in the day. I have a box of them. These days, it’s much quicker and easier with social media. But also it can feel overwhelming because everything is so immediate.
What about the vinyl reissues on K: are those all out now or coming soon?
Out now: Holiday in Rhode Island [KLP119]
Out July 26: Winter Pageant [KLP061]
Out Sept. 6: It’s Love [KLP043]

Where all will you be touring?
Glas Goes Pop festival on Friday, July 26.
Two record release shows at the end of August in Vancouver and Portland, followed by two more shows in early September in Anacortes and Seattle

East coast shows in late Sept/early October

California shows in late October

What else are you up to apart from the Softies?
Always trying to balance freelance design work, hoping for more hours but grateful when I have free time for music. I have some new song ideas for All Girl Summer Fun Band but we haven’t had time to work on them yet. I would like to get back into drawing comics and/or making prints of some kind.

What are you eating, cooking, watching, reading lately?
FOOD: I’m on a mission to sample every single non-dairy cream cheese on the market. I could eat the Moderno Bowl at Tacovore every day. Peanut butter filled chocolate covered pretzels from Trader Joe’s are my favorite food group.

COOKING: Lately I have been avoiding cooking as much as possible! I’m giving in to convenience whenever possible, although throwing a sweet potato in the oven is very easy and I love the edible sugar goo that comes out of them.

WATCHING: I’m re-watching Killing Eve because Jodie Comer is a goddess. Also watching the new season of Bridgerton. I will re-watch Broad City for the rest of my life. Listening to Rebel Girl by Kathleen Hanna. Reading Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. Books do tend to stack up and collect dust. I’m trying!

The cassette tape is on Lost Sound Tapes

Records Jen Cannot Live Without:

Tiger Trap – S/T & Sour Grass
Lightheaded – Good Good Great
Henry’s Dress – Bust ‘em Green
Girl Ray – Prestige
Pretenders – S/T
Fastbacks – Very, Very Powerful Motor
Young Guv – I, II, III, IIII (basically anything he does)
Dolly Mixture – Demonstration Tapes
Kids on a Crime Spree – Fall in Love Not in Line
Of Montreal – Cherry Peel
Best of 1994: Boyracer – More Songs About Frustration & Self Hate
Best of 2024: Lightheaded – Combustible Gems

Preorder the Softies’ The Bed I Made, out August 23 on vinyl/etc.

Preorder the Softies’ The Bed I Made, out August 23 on cassette tape.

Order/preorder all the vinyl reissues on K Records here

Check out All Girl Summer Fun Band here

Listen to other Rose Melberg music here

Listen to Knife Pleats here

The Softies. Photo: C. Doughty
Set list from the Softies’ June 2023 show at Polaris Hall.
Vinyl reissue out now on K Records
Vinyl reissue out July 26 on K Records
Vinyl reissue out Sept. 6 on K Records
Grab a ticket ASAP, Glasgow!

 

The Softies Announce New Album, Tour, Reissues

The Softies (Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia) have a new album, The Bed I Made, coming out on August 23!  Preorder the new album here on vinyl. Get the cassette tape here!

Watch the video here “I Said What I Said”

Read our 2023 interview with the Softies

Read our 2023 interview with All Girl Summer Fun Band

Get a copy of chickfactor 18, 2018, with a massive interview filled with memories and great photos

Read our 1993 interview with Tiger Trap here

Order the reissues of their first three albums on K Records here

The Softies by Alicia Rose

Tour dates: BUY TICKETS

July 27: Glas Goes Pop (Glasgow)
August 23: Record Release Show at Fox Cabaret, Vancouver BC (with Lake, Adrian Teacher)
August 24: Record Release Show at Polaris Hall, Portland OR (with Phone Voice + New Issue)
September 6: Record Release Show at Fremont Abbey, Seattle (with Seapony + Lisa Prank)
September 7: Record Release Show at Unknown, Anacortes (with New Issue)
Sept. 29: AS220, Providence, RI (with Zowy + Courtney & Brad + In Glove With Bach)
Sept 30: Crystal Ballroom, Boston, MA (with Jeanines + Zowy)
Oct. 2: Public Records, Brooklyn (with Rebecca Schiffman)
Oct. 3: PhilaMOCA, Philly (with Lightheaded + 22″ Halo)
Oct. 4: Songbyrd, Washington, D.C. (with Linda Smith + Emotional World)
Oct. 24: The Starlet Room, Sacramento, CA (with Anna Hillburg)
Oct. 25: Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, CA (with Anna Hillburg + Stephen Steinbrink)
Oct. 28: Vine, Long Beach, CA (with Barbara Manning)
Oct. 29: Scribble, Los Angeles, CA (with Badlands + Rebecca Schiffman)
Oct. 30: SubRosa, Santa Cruz, CA (with Eve’s Peach)

Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, out Sept. 6
Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, out July 26
Freshly reissued on vinyl by K Records, available now

The Aislers Set Talk About Their Peel Session, Out in June

The Aislers Set Peel Session Is Out June 8 on Precious Recordings of London. Order yours here now. 

We caught up with Alicia Vanden Heuvel and Linton from the Aislers Set and Nick from Precious Recordings of London (the label putting out the EP) to find out more about their 2001 Peel Session! Images courtesy of the band

How did the Peel Session come about?
Linton: Sean Price of Fortuna Pop arranged it. I’m pretty certain of that.

How did it feel to record a session?
Linton: Was wild. I’d never recorded Aislers out of the garage before—given up studio control, mixing, etc. The engineers were kind and very attentive. They even tuned Yoshi’s drums and let us do some forbidden overdubs when the singing was terrible. It was amazing to be in that studio, with its history, obviously, and it was interesting to just play and not be at the helm using the studio tools creatively. cool experience and a complete honor, of course. I still feel incredibly lucky to have had that opportunity.

What do you remember about the man himself?
Linton: I only met him once and many years before. He wasn’t there for the session, which I think is typical? I met him in a bar in Leeds around ’94 and we talked about our shared experience of living in the desert. I recall him talking about having lived in Texas as an insurance salesman and travelling the southwest in the ’60s.  I wrote a few lines about that on the back of the record sleeve.

The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

What was the studio like?
Alicia: The fact that we would be in a studio where all of these legendary, great bands had recorded was mind blowing. Arriving in London and taking the Tube to the studio that morning, we were all full of nerves and excitement. We had been rehearsing intensely and Linton had written a new song just for the session, “Mission Bells.”  We get there, coffees in hand, and enter the studio. Linton, Wyatt, and I had recording equipment at home and we couldn’t wait to see the studio and gear… the Aislers Set had never recorded in a studio, before or since…. were just in awe at the mixing console, the beautiful room. The real jaw-dropping moment was when the engineers showed us the Microphone Closet, showing us various ones that were literally invented and built by engineers at the BBC. And WE got to have them mic’d on our drums, on our equipment. It was literally one of the best days of our lives as a band. BBC engineers, a huge Hammond organ for Jen to play, the welcome from John Peel. In this magic and sacred musical space. The day spent laying down those songs was joyful, the engineers were so kind, we just felt on top of the world.

Linton: Equipped!

The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

What are you guys up to these days, music or otherwise?
Alicia: I’m still recording bands and playing in bands. I have a record label/ recording studio called Speakeasy Studios SF. It’s still the same Otari 8 track and Soundcraft board that we used for The Red Door and a few other songs back in the day, and both Poundsign records. Now I can mix into digital though, which saves a lot of sleepless nights. I’m currently recording the new Telephone Numbers record and working with my husband Tony Molina on his next record. I still work my day job (that I’ve had since 1997) at La Med restaurant in SF, because life as a musician just doesn’t pay the bills, ha ha. But I love my work, feeding people and being around people is my jam. My daughter is graduating from high school now and life goes on!

Linton: I’m not playing music. very rarely, anyway, but i do think about it. I do make some noise now and again but I wouldn’t call it music—more collage/feedback/harmonic control and texture experiments with zero melody. Mostly I’m making visual art and furniture as well as teaching sculpture and “sonic” arts at CalArts in southern california. Pretty nourishing gig.

The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

Will the Aislers Set play at CF35 (should it happen)?
Alicia: I would like to very much, yes!

Linton: Only if an entirely new batch of songs is written. I can’t physically sing most of the old ones anymore and I’m not writing music at the moment… so… I am hoping to write performable music sometime, eventually. dunno if it would be Aislers music or in time for CF35 but keep you posted!

Linton from the Aislers Set on CF13, Y2K (lower right). Photo: Gail O’Hara with design help from LD Beghtol
The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

How did this come together? Any particular challenges or hurdles? 

Nick from Precious Recordings of London: The Aislers Set were one of the artists I thought of when I started Precious Recordings of London a few years ago during COVID. As I hunkered down in Putney, West London, I looked through an old box of cassettes I’d retrieved when my mum died a couple of years earlier and found all these bootlegs and sessions I had taped from BBC Radio 1‑John Peel and Janice Long, none of them ever released.

So I just asked the few friends I knew if they’d be willing to let me loose releasing their sessions on vinyl. You can get them on YouTube but, well, I wanted it to be special.

Somehow I found the right person to pay for a licence from the BBC and off we went. But as I say, these were old friends like Jim from the Jasmine Minks, Duglas from BMX Bandits and Amelia from Heavenly–from the late 1980s, the C86-era, when I was more active!

Of course, I did not know anybody from The Aislers Set, added to which they were on the other side of the Atlantic. And they did not hail from the late ’80s music scene. So why would they want me to release a prized session?

But I am a big fan, which is the ultimate criteria when I want to release a record, and this particular session has legendary status among The Aislers Set cognoscenti. Moreover, the esteemed editor of this august organ put me in touch with Alicia. (You’re welcome! –Editor)

But the thing is that was maybe three or four years ago, and The Aislers Set were originally down with a catalogue number PRE 008. Through nobody’s fault, really, it is finally seeing the light of day as PRE 038–and even that is a little misleading, as we’re up to PRE 042!

Precious started out releasing gatefold 7-inch singles of BBC sessions on vinyl with a set of postcards included in the package. Now we’re doing ten-inchers–a 60% rise in manufacturing costs during COVID forced that change, but I love the tens anyway–and even the postcards have been replaced by printed inners!

The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

Frankly, I don’t know why it has been so long. Getting pictures and sleeve notes always takes a while–and everybody is so busy. But we kept in touch via email … things kept bobbling along quietly until I heard from Linton, and they were happy with the idea.

Sean Price of their UK LP Fortuna Pop! is a good friend of mine, and Mike at Slumberland also gave his blessing–and I had both scurrying about looking for images. Plus, Alicia had some great pics of the day of recording itself at the famed BBC Studios – Sean was there, it turned out.

So slowly, slowly, we got there, and I am so excited about this session. It’s everything I wanted when I started this project–not only do I love the band, of course, and this is a FAB session–but also the holy grail of a previously unreleased session with a totally song on there–the cover of Joy Division’s ‘Walked in Line’, and Linton actually wrote ‘Mission Bells’ specifically for the session recording.

I always hoped to release sessions that had never been out before in any form, or at least not on vinyl … as it happens, both these ideals have, er, been compromised, but at least I hope I am keeping up the standard of releasing records that I would want to buy myself as a fan, with all the extras, unseen pics etc.

The cherry on the cake with The Aislers Set came when I found out how much the session meant to them. Of course, John Peel is a legendary figure over here and I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me they prefer the session version of various songs, often because they feel ‘fresher’ than overproduced later versions. Not that that was a problem with The Aislers Set, of course, but Alicia told me the session was “literally the highlight of our career as a band”.

Linton has also supplied some wonderful sleeve notes–the band heard the first broadcast in a Glasgow pub on a tinny transistor radio alongside their friends from Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura! What a great story.

I’m so happy–can I say ‘privileged’ without sounding too ‘gushy’?–to be able to release this session. It means a lot. I also think it means a lot to The Aislers Set, so I’m so grateful they’ve trusted me not to mess things up. Let’s hope I haven’t!

The Aislers Set Peel Session / Photos by Alicia Vanden Heuvel

Interview: Birdie Gets Ready to Reissue Some Dusty 25 Years Later

Paul, Jon, Debsey. Photo: Jimmy Young

Back in Y2K (the year 2000 for you youngsters), I rolled into Fez in NYC after work one evening and tried to interview BIRDIE on the spot. Not always a good plan! Even though I have interviewed each of the primary band members,  Paul Kelly and Debsey Wykes from Birdie (and East Village, Dolly Mixture and Saint Etienne), I had not interviewed them together until summer/fall 2023 when I was enlisted to write liner notes for the reissue of Some Dusty. We are all happy to share the interview with you now and announce the global international pop news of Slumberland Records reissuing this most excellent and under-appreciated album!

ORDER THE RECORD ALREADY! (Out July 26)
(UK folks: Monorail)
Read our 2022 Paul Kelly interview
Read our 2006 Debsey Wykes interview

Get tickets for London July 24
Get tickets for Oxford July 28

Slumberland Records is reissuing Some Dusty.

Gail O’Hara: You met each other when you were both part of Saint Etienne’s live setup in 1992–1993?
Paul Kelly: We met at a Saint Etienne rehearsal in Kentish Town December 1992. Following the demise of my band East Village in 1991, Bob (Stanley) and Pete (Wiggs) had asked Spencer (Smith, East Village drummer) and me to join the Saint Etienne live set-up. For the first few shows we had Siobhan Brookes of Denim singing backing vocals but I don’t think Lawrence was happy with her playing in another band and so she left and Debsey was drafted in, and that’s when we first met, at a rehearsal room in Leighton Place, Kentish Town. Bob and Pete had been big Dolly Mixture fans and had just recorded Debsey singing “Who Do You Think You Are” for a proposed single on their Ice Rink label. I think McGee or Jeff Barrett heard it and felt that it could be a big hit and so it ended up being a Saint Etienne single instead. The record did end up as a duet with Debsey and Sarah of course but she never ended up releasing anything on Ice Rink which is a shame, I thought that was a great little label.
Debsey Wykes: I had joined St. Etienne on backing vocals for their fan club Christmas party in London in 1992. At the rehearsals I met Paul along with the others in the live band. I thought he was very funny. I ended up doing backing vocals on their tours and festival dates over the next couple of years, playing the UK, America, Europe and Iceland. We were also the first band televised live from Glastonbury in 1994. We became best friends and would wander around places all night ending up with a breakfast beer and being called the terrible twins by Sarah.

And then you got together as a couple after forming Birdie?
Paul: We had become very good friends over the two years we had been with Saint Etienne and had been talking about doing a band together. Saint Etienne stopped playing live at the end of 1994 and so we began recording songs on a little Fostex 4-track at Debsey’s flat. I think a lot of people thought our talk of a band was just a cover so that we could hang out together and I think it was a bit of a shock to our friends when we actually started making records together.
Debsey: We had come up with the idea of doing a band together in the summer of 1994 as we started to get a bit frustrated about not doing our own music and so Paul would heave his guitar amp up to London to my flat every so often and we would go over bits and pieces of music that we’d both made up—and then go to the pub. By the beginning of 1995 we had borrowed a Portastudio from Bob and recorded a handful of songs on cassette. We got together as a couple in the March, we just wanted to be together all the time.

Photo: Paul Kelly

What pubs were your regular haunts during this time period?
Paul: When we were first together, we were both signing on the dole and our (fortnightly) payments were on alternate weeks. We would head down to the post office together, cash the relevant cheque and head straight to the Old Red Lion theatre pub at the Angel for a quick lunchtime half. This would inevitably end up with us both falling out of the pub smashed and penniless by closing time. I don’t know how we survived to be honest, we had so little money. When we eventually got our record deal we felt like millionaires and the first thing we did was buy a car. We spent a lot of time in pubs when we first got together, we were still relatively young and having a laugh, it was a good time to be in London then. I have very fond memories of touring the pubs of Islington during our courtship and into the mid ’90s.
Debsey: When we were first together, we went to The Old Red Lion in Islington which is very old with a small theatre upstairs. There was a strange mix in the bar with the pool players, locals and the theatre crowd which is a great thing. We frequented most pubs in the vicinity of the flat and I have a memory of ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles and ‘Venus as a Boy’ by Bjork stalking us on juke boxes wherever we went. We would often head into the west end and see who was in The Ship in Wardour St. as it was the haunt of the Heavenly Records entourage.

What was the idea behind Birdie?
Paul: It was great fun playing with Saint Etienne but we obviously had little creative input. We were really lucky to get the chance to tour the world and play the main stage at Glastonbury and things like that but we still wanted to make our own music, after all, that’s why we started playing in bands in the first place. We used to sit on the tour bus and imagine what our band could be like, so we had a lot of time to think about how it would work and what it would sound like. I think we generally liked the same music and it was obviously going to be based around Debsey’s singing and so it just came about very naturally.
Debsey: I don’t remember there being a particular idea behind Birdie at first. It was just me and Paul being us, I imagined it would be sixties orientated and hoped that it would be quite ‘cool’. The important thing was to write great songs first. We must have thought our combined force would produce something special!

Birdie. Photo: Aude Prieur

The late ’90s seemed like a golden time when things were pretty great in both the US and the UK, internet bubble hadn’t burst yet, end of the century energy. What do you recall about that time when you were writing and recording Some Dusty?
Paul: We started making records with Birdie in the aftermath of Britpop, things in the UK had stagnated and so it certainly didn’t feel like a golden period at the time. I think we were too hung up on the UK NME music scene and I can see looking back that was pointless as we were never going to connect with the UK music press at that point. I wish we had been more aware of what was happening overseas, particularly in Spain,Japan and the US.
Debsey: There was still a lot of energy in London, in 1995 we went out a lot especially to Heavenly related events where I danced a lot to soul music, hip hop, house, big beat, every kind of wonderful tuneful groovy track. We decided to have a child in ’96 and so I started to stay in a bit more. Paul had started a company making films and designing artwork with a friend of ours to make a living and be a responsible father to be—and was out quite a lot, probably in pubs!

Photo courtesy of Birdie

How was Some Dusty received by the fans and press?
Paul: I was so pleased with the LP. It was the first time I had been involved in a record that I could actually enjoy listening to. I thought it was perfect and sounded exactly as we had envisaged it. It’s such a great feeling to make music that you really love. Looking back, I can now listen to other things I had recorded before that point and appreciate them but with Birdie I knew it was good as we were making it.

We had Mick Houghton as our press agent and Scott Piering was our radio plugger. Mick had worked with Echo and the Bunnymen and the KLF and Scott had worked with Pulp and the Smiths. I think Scott genuinely loved the record but I’m not sure that Mick did. We did get played on the radio quite a lot but the UK music press were not interested at all. Despite this, I think the record sold quite well because we had our option to make a second LP picked up straight away, but the only fan mail we got was from the US and Japan. I think the record made a connection there, but in the UK we could barely get a gig or review. We never had an agent or a manager and couldn’t really make any progress with the live side of things. There was talk of a Japanese tour which would have been great. We had been there with St Etienne in the early ’90s and I think we would have been well received, but there was a financial crash in Japan around that time which scuppered the trip.

Photo: Paul Kelly

How did Birdie’s songwriting process work?
Paul: One of us will generally start a song, me on guitar or Debsey on a piano. Maybe just a few chords and a melody and then we would both develop it together. Whoever starts the song will usually write the words but that’s not always the case—but the words always come last and always late.

Debsey: We wrote separately a lot and then would add things to each other’s ‘creations’. Neither of us particularly liked writing words but we persevered, sometimes if you were lucky the words just happened. Sometimes I would give up and hand over a tune and Paul would fit words to it. He wrote a lot of the words to his own tunes, I never knew what they were about and just made up my own meaning.

What music was inspiring you back then?
Paul: I think we were mainly listening to older records, Acid Folk stuff, and Soft Rock or Sunshine Pop. We were going out clubbing but not really listening to so much dance music at home. We loved Stereolab and Broadcast and I guess they had a big influence on the kind of records we listened to even if it’s not apparent. Laura Nyro was a big influence on the LP and we went to see one of her last shows together at the Union Chapel in Islington which was incredible.

Debsey: I loved St. Etienne of course. My inspiration came from the sixties songs that I had always loved and all the sixties music that Paul introduced to me that I’d never heard. I also heard a lot of great music hanging out with Saint Etienne and everyone around Heavenly Records and the Social, not any particular group.

Image courtesy of Birdie

Jason Reynolds put out your first single, yes?
Paul: Jason had released an LP of East Village B-Sides and out-takes on his Summershine label in Australia in about 1990 and I think we had even had a minor radio hit over there. By the mid ’90s he was at working at Sub Pop in the US but still putting out the odd thing on his own label. He was visiting London and staying at the Holiday Inn in Clerkenwell near us when I met up with him and asked if he would put out a couple of songs that we had recorded at Bark Studios with Brian O’Shaughnessy. One side was a demo we had done for Creation and the other side a demo for Heavenly. I don’t think Jeff or Alan McGee were really interested in the band, but they had funded some studio time—probably to get me off their backs. Anyway, we had these two songs and Jason put them out as a single and that’s how we eventually got the deal with Tris Penna at It Records. I think Jason was winding down the label and so there was never any talk of doing an album for Summershine.

How did having children impact your work with Birdie?
Paul: At that time the band was just Debsey and me, we did manage to get our friend (and neighbour) Wildcat Will to play drums on the record but everything else apart from the strings we played ourselves. Will had been the drummer in the Sandals and was by that time playing with Beth Orton. When we began recording Some Dusty, our daughter Sadie was about 18 months old and we had to take her to the studio with us most days as we couldn’t afford a babysitter. We had periods where she would sleep for a couple of hours but when she woke up either Debsey or me would have to wheel her around Walthamstow in her push chair. There was a sweet factory nearby the studio and all I can remember is this really sickly sweet smell outside that was so strong that it would give you a headache. I think the record only took about ten days to make and that was mainly due to the fact that we had to work so quickly. We did all the backing tracks in two days. It was great, no time to overthink what we were doing. I went in a couple of times on my own to do guitar parts and mixing while Debsey stayed at home looking after Sadie but we were generally there together, baby and all. I don’t think she’s ever listened to the finished record though, definitely not her bag. When we actually signed the recording contract at the label offices in Covent Garden, the only people there were Debsey, Me, Bob, Tris (our label manager) and bizarrely, Vicki Wickham (producer of Ready Steady Go) and Nona Hendryx! It was amazing and we celebrated by cracking open a bottle of Champagne from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wine vault, amazing!
Debsey: We only played a handful of gigs before we had our daughter. One was in Covent Garden and we went to it on the bus, it was just Paul on guitar and me singing. The same for our second in Camden, an afternoon affair when I was about six months pregnant. Later on in the year I heard from Paul that Jason Reynolds was interested in putting out a single which was great, I still think of that single (Spiral Staircase) as being very precious and having the purest Birdie sound. When we got to the point where we were talking about a record deal and going for meetings, we always had to find a babysitter and that wasn’t easy.

Paul told chickfactor “I think Sadie our daughter saw the guitar as competition and would inevitably start crying as soon as either of us picked it up. Debs would have to hide away in another room to write on the piano whenever Sadie was asleep. It was really rare for us to be able to sit together and play as we had done when we first started.”
Debsey:
It’s all true. She was obviously very attached to me and was used to me answering her every need which I wanted to do, but it did make it difficult to write and to rehearse ideas. She was part of it though as well and Birdie ultimately wouldn’t have been the same without having had her.

Describe the feeling, the vibe, the scene at Bark Studios in the summer 1998. What do you remember about the sessions?
Paul: It was all done very quickly, ten days, but it was very enjoyable, I loved taking home the rough mixes and listening to what we had done. It was really exciting to have a deal and to actually be making a record. We would sit up late at night and work out the parts we needed to record the next day.
Debsey: I remember feeling very lucky and excited to have the chance to record our songs properly. Our drummer on Some Dusty was Will Blanchard (Wildcat Will as everyone knows him) and he was around for as long as it took to record all the drums, maybe two or three days. He was exceedingly relaxed, lovely to be with and quietly witty. It was when I got closer to Brian as well and I found him very easy to be with, to chat and laugh with, he was very individual but it totally worked between us all.

We must have got a babysitter for some of the recording part of it, although I may be wrong, maybe Sadie was asleep a lot of the time, she was only one and a half, still needing naps. We were almost recording it as demos because the agreement seemed to be that if Tris Penna at It Records (they were paying for this) liked the album’s worth of songs he would put it out. It was a good approach because we didn’t take too long to do anything, saving us deliberating for too long. Paul stayed on extra days to mix it with Brian and would come home with mixes and I loved it.

Image courtesy of Birdie

How did you end up working with Brian O’Shaughnessy? He seems to be the go-to for many of my favorite bands. What is it about him?
Paul: When East Village split up 1991, we had an unfinished LP that we had recorded the previous year with Ian Caple at The Stone Room in Acton, West London. It was all recorded but not mixed. Jeff at Heavenly suggested that we finish the record and release it. He felt it would be good to mix it with Brian O’Shaughnessy at Bark Studios. Jeff knew Brian through working with Andrew Weatherall and Primal Scream who had recently recorded Loaded there. A couple of other Heavenly bands and My Bloody Valentine had also worked at Bark. Anyway, the mixing went really well, I loved the sound Brian was able to get and when we came to do our demos that’s where we wanted to go. Making the LP was the obvious next step as the demos sounded so good. It’s a really small tatty looking studio with an old MCI desk just like the one Abba used. You would never believe how many great records have come out that place if you saw it. The Clientele and Lawrence still make records there and it looks exactly the same as it did when we recorded Some Dusty.

Sean O’Hagan seems like an ideal fit for Birdie. What was it like working with him?
Paul: I didn’t know Sean at all but I really liked Microdisney and the High Llamas and he was also working with Stereolab which swung it. We had finished the bulk of the recording and wanted to add some strings. I sent him all of the songs to listen to and make some suggestions for string arrangements. He picked out three songs he liked and we said, great, whatever you reckon. I went down to the session which took only about an hour or so and that was it, job done! The next time I saw him was when we played in Madrid for an Elefant records event a few months later. I went over to say hello but don’t think he knew who I was to be honest.

Photo: Tom Sheehan

How does the record sound to you now?
Paul: For this release we went back to the original masters. We had the tapes baked and transferred for re-mastering and when I first listened back I nearly cried, I couldn’t believe that we had made this record. How did we do it? It’s far more complex than I had ever realised. I guess we were just brimming with ideas and enthusiasm at the time. We were also fairly young still and very much in love and I can really hear that when I listen to the record.
Debsey: I think the record sounds better now than it did then, in fact I’m surprised by it, pleasantly surprised that we had it in us!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about making the album?
Paul: I think Debsey and I are both good at coming up with melodies and harmonies but neither of us like writing lyrics. That was always the hard bit, staying up all night trying to finish the words because we had to record the vocals the next day.
Debsey: I played a Mellotron for the first time, it was very challenging but satisfying because it sounded so wonderful. It was a huge thing that took three guys to bring it into Brian’s control room. We also had another Stevie Wonder sounding keyboard (Clavinet) that I played on, I loved coming up with those extra bits and pieces on any strange instruments we could get hold of, I even played the harmonica I’d got for my 19th birthday which had been waiting another 19 years for this moment. For me the album was quite inward looking. I don’t know if Paul would say the same, but we spent so much time together and had started a family so for me it’s not so surprising that I feel it was about us.

Image courtesy of Birdie
Image courtesy of Birdie
Birdie’s set list from CF30 at the Lexington in London, 2022.
Image courtesy of Birdie

Kendall Jane Meade and Jon DeRosa Talk John Prine, Songwriting and Other Stuff

Los Angeles musicians Jon DeRosa and Kendall Jane Meade. Photo: Amanda Hamm

We don’t talk enough about the people we lost to COVID, and that ends now: One of the biggest losses in the music universe was John Prine, which inspired the L.A.-based musician Jon DeRosa (Aarktica, Flare) and producer Charles Newman (Magnetic Fields, Flare, Mother West Records) to start work on Prine Songs EP, which was released in December with singer-songwriter Kendall Jane Meade (Mascott, Juicy, the Spinanes, Helium). It started out as just a way to pass pandemic time, but Jon says: “I just wanted to pay tribute to a songwriter who meant so much to me.” Jon and Kendall were part of the New York City independent music scene that chickfactor participated in in the 1990s and early 2000s, and they both played at our parties (and collaborated with Stephin Merritt and the late LD Beghtol, who also died in 2020), so it made sense for the two of them to get together and talk about their Prine Songs EP and Prine himself, along with their musical pasts and songwriting in general. Images courtesy of Kendall and Jon

Jon: So Kendall, do you remember how we met in the first place?
Kendall: I remember seeing you play guitar with Flare or with Dudley (Klute) at a Chickfactor night at the Fez. You had on your uniform of the time, which was either a white T-shirt or a white tank top and you had long-ish kind of combed back black hair.
Jon: Not much has changed.
Kendall: I thought you were a great guitarist, and I don’t know exactly how it happened, but you and I later ended up hanging out. We took a walk around Washington Square Park and we had lunch at Dojo. I think it was the late nineties, around the time my first Mascott EP was released. Does this sound familiar to you?
Jon: It all sounds familiar. I think LD (Beghtol) was trying to get us … together? Or at least to work on music together. LD was a matchmaker of all kinds, and he wanted his friends to make art together. I was probably a year or two in at NYU, barely 20 years old. The first Aarktica record No Solace and Sleep came out in ’99. This would’ve been a little bit after that, probably, or right around that same time. I joined Flare right around that time so that’s when I met LD and Charles Newman, who was producer/engineer and Flare keyboardist.
Kendall: How did you get the Flare gig?
Jon: I had just moved to New York in the Fall of 1997. I was really young and just looking to play music and meet people. I was on the Indie Pop email list, and LD put out a call looking for musicians. I don’t think it was for Flare, I think he was doing some solo shows. And this was right as 69 Love Songs was coming out, which he of course sang on.  From what I remember, Flare was in a bit of a transition with a guitarist vacancy perhaps, and LD had a solo show or two lined up that he needed some backup for. I answered. I remember rehearsing with him at his office, his art design office, after hours. I picked up everything really quickly, and we did a show at CB’s Gallery. Somewhere in there I got asked to join Flare. That was how it worked. I had also just become an intern at Fez, under Time Cafe, so I was the assistant to the assistant booking manager. I spent A LOT of time in and around Fez where a lot of our friends were playing, and I got to see a lot of free shows. They fed me and treated me really well (I still remember Hiram the manager, what a sweet guy). And if I was lucky I got to work the door and make, I think 10 bucks an hour, which was a lot of money back then. 
Kendall: I love that.

Prine EP Sessions with Doug Pettibone and Jon. Photo: Charles Newman

Jon: And how long had you been in New York at that time? What brought you there?
Kendall: I moved to New York in 1994 because two of the women in my band at the time, Juicy, moved to New York. So I followed suit. Juicy was my college band at Boston University. We all eventually moved to New York, and I stayed for a few years, leaving briefly after that band broke up. I moved back home to Detroit for about a year and then started hopping on tours and playing in bands. I played keyboards with Helium and then right after that, I played bass and keyboards for The Spinanes and then keyboard and bass in Sparklehorse. I was traveling for quite a bit during that time, so when I met you I was likely off tour from The Spinanes and starting to really actively work on my solo project Mascott. My first Mascott records were released on Matt Jacobsen’s label Le Grand Magistery, which was a label that Flare was also on. So that’s how I met LD and Charles, and then you.
Jon: At that time, I had just signed to Darla Records with Aarktica, and Le Grand Magistery was being distributed by Darla. So we were all kind of pursuing our individual projects and it wasn’t uncommon to collaborate or sing on someone’s record or pop in the studio and play a guitar riff. I remember playing on records where I was just stopping by to say hi and ended up playing on something. So several years later, I was making the Aarktica record Matchless Years for Darla and that was the first time you and I got to collaborate in the studio. You sang on several songs on that album, and we did that with Charles at his studio Mother West.
Kendall: That was probably my first time recording at Mother West.  I remember really loving the songs and also that we never got to sing them together in a live setting.


Jon: I moved to California to work at Darla Records right as that album was coming out in 2007. I lasted about a year there before packing it up and moving back to the East Coast. What were some of the other things that we did together musically?
Kendall: We both were on the Stephin Merritt Showtunes record on Nonesuch. I played on a song called “Ukulele Me” with many other people singing and playing ukulele at the same time.
Jon: I definitely remember that wild session. So many ukes, so many characters. And then I got to do some duets with Shirley (Simms) on that album, which was great.
Kendall: We both collaborated a lot with LD, too, so we would appear on the same LD albums. LD and the New Criticism albums, Flare Acoustic Arts League, and Acoustic Arts Ensemble. We definitely shared some album space together without perhaps singing with each other. So I feel like we’ve always been orbiting around each other a bit as friends and musical peers. A few years ago we ran into each other at a Magnetic Fields show here in LA and reconnected. And that’s what started this journey together leading us toward the Prine Songs ep.
Jon: Right. I moved back to LA in January 2014, so I’d been out here a while by that point. And then Charles actually came back out here as well, several years later. He actually had been living in the apartment that I vacated in Brooklyn. So it all is quite intertwined. Anyway, now we’re here 10, 15 years later making music again.

Kendall Jane Meade with Jenny Ryan and Martin Olson singing Prine (with Prine in the background) at Dash The Henge in London. Photographer: Shelby Meade

Kendall: What have you done musically in the 10-15 years where I didn’t see you?
Jon: I was making music as Aarktica, releasing several different albums on a few different labels, most recently Projekt Records and even a recent album We Will Find the Light on Darla Records, after a really nice reunion with them. I also put out several records under my own name, which were… stylistically quite a bit different than Aarktica, more of an orchestral, dark chamber pop sort of sound. Much more vocally focused.  In recent times, I’ve been moonlighting as vocalist for Black Tape for a Blue Girl, who were actually one of my favorite bands growing up. That project is headed by Sam (Rosenthal) who also runs Projekt Records. I’ve also done some soundtrack work with Charles, which I enjoy quite a lot.  I’m a little all over the place at times, but it’s only because… I’ve tried to become more conscious of creating whatever thing feels like what I want to do at the moment. It’s a discipline in being undisciplined maybe. In a way, it kind of brings us to how we ended up reconnecting in the present. Because during the pandemic, I was sort of feeling a little bit stagnant, and I didn’t really feel very inspired to be writing my own material. I was extremely depressed, but I was trying to find a way to not let it stifle me completely. So Charles and I came up with this idea to record some John Prine songs. Charles lives like 10 minutes from me in Encino, so it’s kind of nice that even though now we find ourselves both out in LA, we’re still neighbors.

Jon with Mama the cat.

Kendall: What inspired you to record John Prine songs specifically?
Jon: During the Pandemic, I had been just recording covers at my house and posting them on Facebook. I was doing it to keep my sanity, and I was doing it to boost the spirits of my friends that I wasn’t getting to see, my family on the East Coast, and I was recording all manner of songs. I did a version of “Clay Pigeons,” which is actually a Blaze Foley song, but it was kind of made famous by John Prine and just felt really good. I was a casual fan of John Prine, but in that pandemic era, I was taking really long walks during which I’d delve deeply into artist catalogs that I had only scratched the surface of up until then. And John Prine was one of them where I was like, I knew him, I knew his music, I knew his hits, I loved what I knew of him, but I realized that I had only just scratched the surface of his catalog. And as I got deeper and deeper into it, it felt more familiar to me. It felt more special to me, and I wanted to get to know him more and more through that. Sadly, he was one of the first celebrities who passed away from COVID during that time. And we had already kind of made this decision to start making this record when that had happened. I don’t think we had the intention of releasing it, I personally just intended to keep the recordings in our back pocket for whatever down the road. I think that kind of helped keep it really loose.  And that brings us to when you and I reconnected, and it turned out that we were looking for someone to sing some of the female vocal parts, and you appeared.

Kendall: I appeared. I remember Charles asking me if I wanted to sing on “In Spite of Ourselves.” It’s an honor to sing that part, Iris Dement’s original part. At first I didn’t know if I was right for it because she’s got such a spirited vocal. The lyrics are a little naughty. But once I started listening to it and hearing your take on it, I knew I could fit right in. And so that was really fun, and I loved singing on it, and then you guys asked me to sing back up on a couple more songs, which was wonderful. I realized, once again, how our voices fit together. It’s very natural. It’s very familiar to me, and I think you’re such a great singer.
Jon: In a way, you coming in to sing on “In Spite of Ourselves” was an inspiration to finish the record, because it was like a missing piece, and then everything started to make sense. It also inspired Charles to make the record more of a priority in terms of getting it done, because it was the difference between it being an unfinished album and being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Jon with Alan Sparhawk setting up the mic while recording the first Pale Horse and Rider album. Photo: Jessica Bailiff

Kendall: Then you guys asked me to sing lead on a Prine song, which was an honor and also a tough decision about which song I wanted to do. Once I heard “I Remember Everything” it was just a no-brainer, that was the one for me because I connected with it on so many levels. I was going through a tough time in my personal life, and I related to it deeply but probably differently than Prine’s intent when he wrote it. I found out it was the last song that he wrote and recorded before he passed away. So it was truly him looking back on his life through the eyes of love. The song means a lot to me.
Jon: I can’t think of too many other songwriters who write in an observational way that doesn’t include a judgment about his characters. There’s inherent wisdom in the words without a condescension or without a posturing. When I listen to John Prine, I feel like I know the characters that he’s writing about. His song “Hello In There”, is a song about getting older and basically becoming invisible in the world. And I remember listening to that song probably about a hundred times.  He brings such an empathy and sensitivity to a type of person that doesn’t normally get treated with that level of respect.

Mascott (Margaret White, Sadie Seely, KM, Clint Newman, Ben Lord) Photo by Craig Chin
Mascott (Kendall, Jud Ehrbar, Margaret White) Photo by Ian Smile

Kendall: That’s a beautiful observation. I also think that he has such a range, even if you just look at the songs on our EP. “Sailin’ Around”, which I think flexes the power of repetition in a really cool way. “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” is a really universal theme, but very uplifting. “One Red Rose” is also stunning to me. Why did you choose that one?
Jon: I felt compositionally that that was a song that was stylistically something I would’ve written. The other songs were a departure for me stylistically. The way we recorded “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” felt very Springsteen-esque, which I don’t think of myself as that type of singer. “One Red Rose” to me sounded like it could have been a Nick Cave ballad or something. And so I think I felt like there was a familiarity there, but there were a lot of songs that we had to kind of trim it down. And there were songs that I wish we could have done. “Linda Goes to Mars” comes to mind…  I know you’re in the midst of working on a new record right now. Are there any sort of similarities in terms of what you’ve learned from John Prine that you use in your own songwriting or something maybe you aspire to?

Kendall’s band Juicy. Photo: Lauren Glatzer

Kendall: A lot of what I like about Prine is a lot of what I like about Neil Young. He’s not afraid to rhyme, yet there aren’t a lot of throwaway lines. You can tell that writing is how he processes his emotions. I think he’s very evocative in his choice of words, but everything sounds like it comes really naturally to him. It’s very conversational, and that’s what I really relate to. What I hope to do is create sort of an image and a feeling that you could perhaps put yourself in and feel the same emotions. That’s what his songs do for me, and I think that’s why they were so effortless to cover, because they are universal. I also admire the fact that he was writing up until his last days, I hope to be doing the same thing. What about you? How does his songwriting relate to your approach?
Jon: I feel like, to be a good songwriter requires an ability to connect with people. It’s an ability to understand the plight of people and to be on the level of other people. It becomes very apparent very quickly as a songwriter if you are faking it in that way. When you’re writing in a way like John Prine, there’s a knowing because you get the sense he experienced it himself and has probably taken the time to make those connections with other people to hear stories. And I’ll be honest, I’ve always had a really hard time intimately making those connections. Those connections require revealing a lot of oneself, not only listening to what others are going through. And so as I’ve gotten older and more aware of that, I’ve tried to make more conscious efforts to make those connections with others because I am starting to understand that it’s a two-way street in terms of how we express emotions and how we understand emotions. I think John Prine is the master at that. And I also think that he’s able to tell stories through these voices and through these characters in a way that is very poignant and very non-judgmental. It’s almost like he gives a listener the privilege of coming up with an interpretation for themselves without leading them too much.. So I think that that’s a real gift that songwriters and their listeners have, and it’s what makes his songs timeless. And I think it is what makes his songs timeless. People will be listening to and discovering John Prine a hundred years from now.
Kendall: I played some shows in Sweden and one in London a few months ago, and we released the EP exclusively on Bandcamp before the tour so I could spread the word about it. It was kind of amazing to see how John Prine has touched the hearts of people all over. We played at a record store in London called Dash the Henge. They’re huge Prine fans and projected a video of Prine in the background while we were playing. It made me realize that what we were doing is something a little bigger than just a small project that you and Charles started in the pandemic. It was really bringing  a new twist to these beloved songs that people were excited to hear.

Jon and LD Beghtol. Photo: Catherine Lewis

Jon: We should also make a note that we had some really great musicians playing with us on the EP, including Doug Pettibone and Butch Norton. Both of them have either played with or shared gigs with Prine. When you play with guys like that, it kind of just elevates what you’re doing because their musicianship is just so good. And the fact that they’re really nice guys is just a bonus there, too.
Kendall: This is probably our biggest collaboration to date, and I have to say I think LD would be really excited to know that it was happening. He would really love the way it sounded and the fact that Charles recorded it, it’s all coming full circle to LD. And also it’s exciting to be able to talk about this here on Chickfactor because Gail has been in the center of this musical community for so long. She knows all of us and has always championed our music.

Aarktica. Photo: Jasper Coolidge

Jon: When I joined Flare, and I was also working at Fez, Fez was where those early Chickfactor shows were being held. And so for a 19-year-old kid who was new to New York City and didn’t really have a ton of friends and was still looking for my community, that was a big deal. I was still getting my legs as a performer. I was a young kid, and Gail was very gracious in inviting me to play on those Chickfactor shows. It made me feel so good to share the stage with people who I looked up to, people that I cared about, people who I viewed as very successful, purely in the sense of being extremely creative and doing amazing things in New York City. So it was inspiring. It made me feel part of something, and it was incredibly validating that I was maybe doing the right thing. I was maybe on the right path. There was something to this music thing.
Kendall: What do you have coming up next?
Jon: That’s the eternal question. I’m always working on something. I’m writing new music but it’s so early, I have no idea what to say about it yet. And how about you? What’s the plan for the new record?
Kendall: It’s not going to be a Mascott record, it’s going to be put out under my own name, so it will be my first official singer-songwriter record.
Jon: We should also mention that we both are working on tracks for an LD tribute album that’s being spearheaded by the wonderful Linda Smith and that it’s going to be something fabulous. 

Clockwise from top left: Jon at Fez, Connie at CFHQ, LD and Dudley at Fez, Jon and Dudley. Photo by Gail O, taken with the Nickelodeon PhotoBlaster

Other Prine Covers Kendall and Jon Love

Johnny Cash – “Paradise” (from Bootleg V.1: Personal File)
Jon:
“Paradise” appeared on Prine’s 1971 debut and over the years became kind of a country standard. I can think of a dozen artists from John Denver to Dwight Yoakam to Sturgill Simpson who have covered it. Cash covered it on one of his lackluster (sorry, it’s true) early ’80s albums where the hokey production made it sound phoned in and formulaic. But the Cash version from his Bootleg V.1 album, with just his voice and guitar, is minimalistic and sublime. He’s at his best with just voice and guitar, making it his own and delivering it in the masterful way only he can.
Kendall: I love this style of song, looking back on your hometown of origin. It’s why “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn has always been so compelling to me. It’s stunning how Cash holds your attention and moves the story forward with just his voice and a guitar.

10,000 Maniacs – “Hello in There”
Jon: Kendall, I didn’t grow up listening to 10,000 Maniacs and I didn’t know about this cover until recently. Were you a fan? I wonder how it was received in 1989? Maybe it turned some young kids onto Prine? It definitely harkens back to a time where an indie band could record an upbeat version of a heavy outside-of-genre tune to throw on a B-side in a tastemaker, IYKYK kinda way. Does that still happen? Do we miss that a little?
Kendall: Yes, I’m a fan for sure and I love Natalie Merchant’s voice on this. She and the band make it their own—so breezy and upbeat. However, they bring it down and make it a bit more contemplative when the lyrics almost demand it.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings  – “Hello in There”
Jon: Well, you know, it’s all kind of magical, like everything they do. Gillian brings the perfect combination of fragility and frankness in her delivery, and David’s quiet harmonies and plaintive guitar work are beautiful. There’s also a bit of a sweetness and lightness that helps with the heaviness of the lyrical content.
Kendall: This cover was meant to be. They wear it like a cashmere sweater and I could listen to this on repeat and do nothing else but listen to every word and note.

Lambchop – “Six O’Clock News”
Jon:
I confess, I’d listened to the original (from Prine’s 1971 debut) for a long time before I explored the lyrics and… yeah, it’s really pretty dark. It also speaks to Prine’s ability to touch on some pretty strange subject matter in an understated way. Sometimes you really aren’t sure what you’re singing along to. I love Kurt Wagner’s voice and delivery, and the slightly funky groove brings a bit of levity to the subject.
Kendall: No one sounds like Kurt Wagner, and he sounds particularly robotic on this one until you get to the line “spend the night with me”. That’s what Prine does so well, he can cut through to your heart immediately with a lyric that triggers a universal feeling or longing.

Kurt Vile – “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
Jon: I was prepared not to like this for some reason — maybe because the original is special to me — but you know, this is actually kinda great. The brushwork on the snare is very Tennessee Three and the vocals are really quite intimate, just the perfect amount of reverb. Brings to mind Flying Burrito Brothers, right? I don’t know what else to say but it sounds breezy and beautiful and I wanna turn it up, and roll the windows down in my pickup truck while I ride through the Valley this summer.
Kendall: I didn’t see this cover coming, to be honest, but once you hear it it makes so much sense that Vile would choose this Prine song to sing. I agree that it has an easy Flying Burrito Brothers energy. I hear so many harmonies, and appreciate the restraint to keep it one singular POV. Kurt, if you ever need your Emmylou to re-record this in a different way, call me.

Jimmy Buffett – “It’s a Big Goofy Old World (Live)”
Jon: I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about this but, full disclosure…I’m kind of a Parrothead. I’m not sure Buffett and the Coral Reefers ever recorded this in the studio, but man this is such a great version. As I get older, I begin to appreciate tunes like this that are just written to put smiles on faces. I just wanna sip a (virgin) rum drink of some kind and shout it out from the back row.
Kendall: This is a revelation, as I think you know that Jimmy Buffett is a huge part of my life. He is my Dad’s favorite artist next to Bob Seger. Every summer we would go see Buffett perform, and I have always had an affinity for his vibe and his lighthearted yet universal approach to songwriting. My college band, Juicy, was an all girl band. We named our first album For The Ladies based on something that I heard Jimmy Buffett say from the stage before he sang his super-romantic tune “Come Monday”. He said “This one’s for the ladies” and all the ladies in the front rows swooned. As a young feminist, I wanted to reclaim that statement to empower women, not just fall at a man’s feet. Still, I have so much admiration for Buffett and the community that he built. I agree, all in the spirit of enjoying life and seeing beauty in moments surrounding the mundane. It’s no surprise that he chose this song to cover. I love the imagery of two normal people just having fun and dancing, oblivious to others around them. They’re just having fun in this big ol goofy world.

Phoebe Bridgers – “Summer’s End”
Jon: I kinda didn’t want to like this because it seems like everyone in the world loves Phoebe Bridgers, and I can be very contrarian when it comes to things like that. But this is sweet and fragile and frankly, quite honest and real, and I think it’s gorgeous.
Kendall: I think she is kind of incapable of not adding depth and beauty to her work. She used to curate a Sirius XM show and it was a delight to hear her speak about the songs she chose for her set. She has great taste, so it’s no surprise to me that she found her way to John Prine. The kids are alright.

Aarktica – “Christmas in Prison”
Jon: This was technically the first track we worked on for the Prine project, and this one ended up released a year earlier and credited to Aarktica because we did the big guitars and ambient production, which was a bit of a different direction than we were going with the rest of the Prine Songs EP. I like the way it shaped up. Kendall, you sang beautifully on it. Destined to be a Christmas classic?….
Kendall: Prine, but make it shoegaze. I loved being part of this cover, and I think it’s one of the first times I liked hearing my voice with effects on it. It works so well, and I felt like I was able to support your lead vocal in a subtle but effective way.

Michael Cera  – “Clay Pigeons”
Jon:
First, yes, I realize that this is a Blaze Foley song, but Prine did the best recorded version of it. That said, I had no idea that Michael Cera sang or that he had albums out. To me, it sounds a lot like Paul Simon, singing lo-fi bedroom folk. It’s got some pretty harmonies and could be soundtrack-worthy for a twee teenage movie love affair…
Kendall: I’m a huge fan of this cover, and I too was surprised to learn about Cera as a musician and singer. It’s so heavenly to listen to, so beautifully twee. I hear the Paul Simon timbre in his voice, too.

Viagra Boys w/ Amy Taylor – “In Spite of Ourselves”
Jon:
I’m not familiar with these guys. Kendall, you brought this one to the table, and…I’m learning a lot about you lately…. It’s a bit deadpan and unhinged, and the video looks like it could be outtakes from Harmony Korine’s Gummo. I do like that they throw a minor chord in the progression and it derails the entire vibe of the original.
Kendall: When I was playing some shows in Sweden and London a few months back I wanted to play “In Spite of Ourselves”. You weren’t with me, so my guitarist on the tour (and good friend) Martin Olson offered to step in. I’m very exacting with harmonies, and we must have rehearsed about 25 times before he jokingly was like “maybe we should sing it this way” and sent me a link to this YouTube video. Martin is Swedish-American, so he knew about this version from Swedish punk band Viagra Boys, which is incredible. It should have been on the soundtrack of True Romance. Prine’s songs are so beloved globally, and this is such a perfect example of his reach.

Prine Songs is available everywhere music is streamed, or support directly by heading to Bandcamp. 

Linda Smith Interviews the Smashing Times

From left:  Thee Jasmine Monk, Alex Florence, Britta Leijonflycht, Blake Douglas, Linda Smith, and Paul Krolian. Photograph by Rupert Wondolowski, who runs Normals Books and Records, outside the shop after we played there.

This Sporting Life: An Interview with The Smashing Times by Linda Smith
It’s 2024 and all over the world people are once again picking up their guitars, keyboards, and drumsticks in pursuit of the heavenly pop hit for those who still want it. One such group of people is called The Smashing Times. Based in Baltimore, MD, The Smashing Times have released two albums (on Meritorio and K Records) and several singles of infectious Rickenbacker driven songs that evoke the sights and sounds of swinging ’60s London. They also tour as time permits. Thee Jasmine Monk writes the songs, sings, and plays 12 string; Alex sings and plays recorder; Blake sings and plays guitar; Britta sings and plays bass; Paul plays drums. Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany the band on a short east coast tour and had a smashing time (especially in Philadelphia). Below, Jaz and Alex answer some of my burning questions. —Linda Smith (whose Nothing Else Matters and I So Liked Spring were reissued/made available on vinyl/streaming platforms in March)

Linda Smith: English Breakfast or Earl Grey? (Or something else?)
JAZ: The’ Au Jasmine! And I like Rooibos, it tastes to me how pipe tobacco smells. But nothing pretentious, just stuff off the supermarket shelf. English Breakfast, Earl Grey, I like those too. Teas all seem good to me.
ALEX: Coffee and biscuits in the morning and then herbal tea all day long!

Do your parents support your musical activities?
JAZ: They did but never really financially. Though I had some piano lessons when I was a young sprout.
ALEX: My parents don’t believe I’m in a band. They want photo proof.

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Are The Smashing Times a “jangle pop” band? What do you think of that category?
JAZ: We are a freakbeat band. I like some of the jangly Cleaners stuff. I’m not sure what bands fall into that category. I like the Beatles and I also like The Creation. We’ve gotten references to the Byrds—I like them but they aren’t a band that I would consider an influence. That guitar player rips but he’s a little bit annoying. Gene Clark is cool. So handsome … have you heard the band Now? Their singer Young William gives me a bit of a Gene Clark vibe. Nice fellow, bought us drinks last time we were down there. I recommend that readers dig up a copy of And Blue Space is Burning Noon.
ALEX: Jangle away! I love the category.

I’m interested in The Smashing Times’ home recording process. Do you all play together live or do you record each track separately? Where do you record? Would you consider going into a so-called recording studio?
JAZ: I have a sort of indeterminacy that I apply to all factors of my life. I try not to apply intent to anything. Thus what many people probably hear as lo-fi is really just a result of my gross incompetence and lack of interest in developing technical skill. I have some SM57s that I plug into whatever computer is around and use free software to record. It’s mostly plug and play. I don’t document anything and I try to ignore any advice I’m given. Paul, Alex and I each played drums on the record we just wrapped up. Usually I play most of the other instruments but everyone in the band is there somewhere. I’d like to include everyone, rehearse and go into a studio but we all have jobs and there simply isn’t time. If that took a week then that is a week that we could not tour that year. I am very grateful and very fortunate that such fine people have chosen to come along on the journey but I’m not sure why? What is their motivation, Linda? It certainly can’t be financial. We get along so well, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ll miss them terribly when they eventually do get fed up with me.
ALEX: We record in our basement that we’ve painted in psychedelic colors and has a mural like Granny Takes a Trip mural…pink, blue, yellow, and then some. We have a lava lamp that’s been used so much it turned into a weird wax-like goo and doesn’t work anymore. There’s plastic ivy and string lights hung up on the ceiling pipes. When Jaz is in serious recording mode, we can’t use the sink or flush the toilet anywhere in the house because the water in the pipes will pick up on the track.

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world? Do you think that you have a spiritual home where you would feel more at home than where you are?
JAZ: Japan! I want to be buried there, anywhere, even outside a 7-11.
ALEX: Fantasize about living in a cabin in the woods.

What and/or who inspires your songs?
JAZ: Squire, Merton Parkas, Mark E Smith, Martin Newell, The Beatles, The Zombies, Bert Jansch and Pentangle. They will never read this so its ok, I usually don’t tote contemporaries, but the Children Maybe Later album is splendid and definitely inspired me on the record we just finished.
ALEX: Ditto and also Elton John.

When did you write your first song and what was it about?
JAZ: When I was a young they, I can recall composing a blistering trumpet track ala Louis Armstrong while I was in the shower. My sister recorded me singing and the family loved to ridicule me by playing it in social situations around strangers. I’ll admit, it set me back.

When did you buy your first instrument? What was it?
JAZ: I bought a bass! It was a Rickenbacker copy and the brand was Lotus.
ALEX: My first instrument was a keyboard my parents bought in 1999 so I could take piano lessons and practice with. I moved away and left it and Jaz got it from my brother, then we moved in together and I still have that keyboard. I think it’s in the studio. I can’t get rid of it!

Did you always want to be in a band? Who is your main musical inspiration?
JAZ: Always. My current inspiration comes mostly from Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent. But growing up it was at various times Paul, John, George, Cher and Bronski Beat.
ALEX: Girls in bands were always so cool to me! Of course I wanted to be in a band but this came about more organically then, like, joining a band for the sake of that. Jaz and I got a set of drums and set them up in our old apartment and I got started learning! I did not see myself being a singer, but it’s really fun.

Do you prefer recording to playing live? What do you enjoy most about each?
JAZ: They both seem to cause existential dread for me and yet I keep doing it.
ALEX: Both have their moments. Recording is so fun because I can be a goof and we can scat and put in so many doo-doo-doo’s and la-la-la’s and I’m laughing the whole time. Playing live makes me too nervous to enjoy it the same.

What is your favorite British film?
JAZ: Bridget Jones Diary! Err um I mean… I keep watching Alfie over and over. For a while it was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning then Billy Liar…I think If I had to identify with a character, it would be Billy Liar.
ALEX: Bridget Jones 1-3.

Did you like school or did you hate it?
JAZ: Hated it. All the way through grad school. The more I’ve learned about what is really going on the more bitter I’ve become. I had such a sense of wonder when I was young!
ALEX: I have a love/hate relationship with school. I did too much of it!  But I liked the punishment. The best part is when you finally get a winter break or summer break, or the feeling after taking a huge stressful test, or finally being done with your least favorite class! Jaz and I used to take separate evening classes, then meet up afterwards and stop by our fave bodega to pick up 2 packs of heat nuts and 2 big cheap beers for the walk home to Chinatown.

What do you like about Baltimore? Were you born here? If not, where?
JAZ: I like to see old buildings that are covered in Ivy and left to deteriorate. I also like the culture here, you can be a proper dandy and people will celebrate you. I love to get hollered at from a car window for my extravagant dressings. I’m from Seattle. It used to be cool but it’s basically a company town for the online delivery service Amazon now. There’s also nothing old there and no sun. Good riddance!
ALEX: Baltimore has so much sunshine. I need the vitamin D. Also from Seattle where it rains 9 months of every year.

Zombies or Left Banke? 😄
JAZ: Haha ZOMBIES! I have been listening to the second Left Banke record lately and I am falling in love with it. This stems from our conversation, I assume, about how my next goal is to write a baroque pop album? 😉 It’s a good goal, you should do it too!

What was the best band of the ’90s? (If you have a favorite.)
JAZ: The ’90s were horrid! Probably the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Did the Third Rail Power Trip come out in the ’90s? I like that.
ALEX: BJM!

Do you have a favorite chord progression?
JAZ: C maj, A minor, D minor, G maj and anything with a 7th chord.

(The following 3 questions refer to songs on The Smashing Times’ latest album, THIS SPORTING LIFE.)
Who is Wes?
JAZ: Weston! An old friend, he’s been an expat for a long time and some of the social awakening that has happened here has passed him by.
ALEX: Once in Tokyo we met him for pizza and he flirted with my friend the whole time. It was charming but strange. Pizza was so delicious. I think it might have had bonito flakes on top?

Who is Petey?
JAZ: That’s Paul’s dog. We needed a name for the instrumental and after Paul and I finished tracking drums he was on the phone talking to someone about something and he said “poor Petey” so I named the file that, and it stuck. Incidental but not terribly nostalgic for me.

Who is Rowan Morrison?
JAZ: I think you mean WHERE is Rowan Morrison? it’s a character from The Wicker Man. Actually I think that might be my favorite British film. Alex and I are huge Hammer and folk horror fans.

I love the use of the recorder in the songs. Where or who did that idea come from?
JAZ: I saw Britta playing one in an online video and I had to have one. Alex and I have been discussing getting some flutes for a while but this was much more interesting and accessible I think. Alex found them at a junk shop. We accumulate things like that and then while recording they get involved spontaneously. I have a djembe drum that a neighbor left on the porch when they moved. It’s all over the records.
ALEX: My ultimate goal is to learn to play the flute, but we don’t have one yet. I’m looking for a nicely priced used one. In the meantime, using the recorder is really fun and gives a haunting melody on a few tracks. 

The Smashing Times / Photo: Kevin Daniel

Do you think music is the greatest art form?
JAZ: I quite like books. Music is pretty hit or miss. I used to read under my desk in school. The first book I read was The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander but in the last fifteen years I’ve been devoted to Japanese literature. I like Shiga Naoya, Masuji Ibuse, Kenzaburo Oe, Yu Miri, Yoko Ogawa. lots of writers. I love that Japanese literature is not as tied to predictable conventions. There’s no Chekhov’s Gun assumption and it doesn’t necessarily have to be allegorical or resolve. I have become a devoted acolyte of the poet Santoka Taneda in the last couple of years. I also like that I can enjoy it as an outsider—I don’t consider myself a writer so I’m not trying to get anything out of it from a research standpoint. I can take it at face value as long as it does not have distinguishable patterns or tropes, if it does, it flies across the room and back in the Library sack!
ALEX: Like apples and oranges. I find enjoyment in scissors and paper and glue and crayons, too. I like to paint and sew clothes for me and Jaz and friends. Recently we were coloring the cassette covers with colored pencil and that was super satisfying. To me, that sort of art is the best, when it feels good, and it’s not necessarily planned out, and it just flows, like glorified doodling.

How did everyone in the band meet each other?
JAZ: I met Alex through her brother who I used to make avant-garde organ music with – he has since drifted into a life of Northface Jackets, Subaru cars and respectable kayaking. Paul and Blake came to see The Smashing Times in an earlier incarnation and Britta reached out to us at some point. I’m quite glad. Britta has a band named Children Maybe Later that is quite good. I think Paul and Blake have a project going but it does not have a name yet. I’ve heard some of it, I think people are going to like it. I’m jealous already!
ALEX: First time I met Paul and Blake was at a pizza place. Britta might be a character in The Wicker Man, she’s a legend.

What jobs do you have? How flexible are they in allowing time for music?
JAZ: I don’t like to go to work, and I don’t like my job. To me it’s a place where my surplus labor is taken and used for the gains of others. It takes me away from my partner and children and it makes me too tired to focus on worthwhile endeavors. But on the other hand—maybe it’s the catalyst for all this escapism?

I worked at several movie theaters when I was younger. It was amazing working on the opening night of a movie. Once everyone sits down to Harry Potter 17 or whatever, all of a sudden you are alone in this giant space. I used to eat candy off the ground to save money. And I can recall turning cartwheels and playing badminton in the lobby. My dream job is to buy a Chevy Love, learn how to drive, get a license, then drive to Los Angeles and deliver Pizza. After that I would replace Bruce Campbell as the champion of B-movie horror.
ALEX: Music is the weekend job! It’s way better than the midweek job. 

The Smashing Times. Photo: Kevin Daniel

What has been your favorite venue to play so far?
JAZ: I like the small venues where nothing is mic’d. The shows we played on that tour together were great for this.
ALEX: I agree, I like the small venues best. We had a mythic show in Pamplona, Spain last year that was like a dance party all night long; also I can think of a certain Philly show that might go into the scrapbook, too. 

What is your next recording project?
JAZ: I’d really like to make a baroque pop album. But specifically a baroque pop album that sounds like The Zombies and The Bee Gees’ 1st. I’ll probably be less prolific for a bit but I feel like I’d like to take some time to work on this one. For a while the goal has been to make things as slapdash as possible – the fear is always that if you spend too much time on it the painting will be overworked. The songs are for me and the records are for you. I try to remind myself of that and when I get upset about mixes and so on and so forth, I just shrug and say “well, I think it’s a disaster but maybe someone will find it endearing.”

Go see The Smashing Times: 
May 9 Charleston Pour House Charleston, SC
May 10 Tuffy’s Music Box Sanford, FL
June 6 Thee Stork Club Oakland, CA
June 8 Permanent Records Roadhouse Los Angeles (LA), CA
June 9 GONZO! Carlsbad, CA
June 13 PhilaMOCA Philadelphia, PA
June 14 The Broadway Brooklyn, NY

Listen to their records
Listen to Linda Smith’s records
Read our interview with Linda Smith! 

Heavenly + Swansea Sound Share Their Best Coast Faves, Add West Coast Dates

We are here to inform you that—OH HELL YEAH!—legendary UK indiepop band Heavenly and indie supergroup Swansea Sound are coming to play shows in the USA! So we asked the band members to come up with lists of their favorite West Coast things and memories. (Photos courtesy of the bands)

Heavenly + Swansea Sound in NYC: 
May 31-June 1 in Brooklyn: shows are sold out
June 1: Heavenly daytime event

Swansea Sound East Coast: 
June 2: Queens, NYC, TransPecos
June 5: Washington DC, Quarry House Tavern
June 6: Providence, RI, Alchemy
June 7: Boston, MA, O’Brien’s
June 8: New York, NY, Knitting Factory
June 9: Philadelphia, PA, Johnny Brenda’s

Heavenly + Swansea Sound West Coast: 
Oct. 15: Seattle, Tractor Tavern (with Tullycraft)
Oct. 16: Portland, Mississippi Studios (with All Girl Summer Fun Band)
Oct. 18: San Francisco, Rickshaw Stop
Oct. 22-23: Los Angeles, Zebulon.

What Heavenly and Swansea Sound Love About the West Coast


Cathy Rogers (Heavenly, Marine Research, Gilroy)
1.
Driving through trees for hours and hours between Portland and SF or is it Oly and Portland? America does everything on a scale so big for us Brits
2. The Original Pantry in LA, my first experience of a cafe open 365 and 24/7, the door constantly swinging
3. The unbelievable smell of Gilroy. Everyone says oh you’ll smell it miles before you get there and you think they’re exaggerating then you smell that they’re not
4. Monterey aquarium and the whole feeling of Monterey and canning and those pummelling words
5. Swap meets in San Luis Obispo, getting up in the middle of the night to rummage around in other people’s drawers of kitchen utensils to find just the right shaped thing you don’t know what to do with
6. Lovely Olympia people. The indie punk memories of the US all centre around or connect in some way with Olympia
7. Snorkelling in kelp off Catalina island. A 90degree change in the angle of your head is all it takes to enter a parallel universe
8. Staying in an airstream by the river in Kernville. I co-owned an airstream when I lived in LA and went up to stay in it at weekends and float in giant tractor tyres down the river
9. Jumping kangaroo rats and cactuses in Joshua Tree National Park. Shame U2 appropriated its name.
10. Pie. The whole west coast. And east coast, and middle. Whole shops, whole restaurants, whole lives committed to pie.

Amelia and Hue, image courtesy of the artists

Hue Williams (Swansea Sound, the Pooh Sticks)
1. City Lights bookstore
2. Meeting Johnny Guitar Watson the first time I visited LA who invited me to swim in his guitar shaped pool
3. Sky Saxon and the Seeds
4. The Griffith Observatory
5. Meeting Brian May at Universal Studios
6. San Francisco 49ers
7. Arthur Lee and Love
8. Linda Perhacs
9. Attending the world premiere of the Beavis and Butthead movie at the Chinese theatre and the aftershow party with Tarantino where Issac Hayes was the star guest
10. The Six Million Dollar Man

Photograph by Yvonne Chen

Amelia Fletcher (Heavenly, Swansea Sound, the Catenary Wires, Marine Research, Tender Trap, Talulah Gosh, Skep Wax Records)
1. Olympia: Our US home from home.
2. Riot grrrl: A global phenomenon but Olympia was where it started and also where we first discovered it. Heavenly weren’t exactly a riot grrrl band, but it had a big influence on us.
3. Heavenly’s show with Tiger Trap in Sacramento: One of my all time favourite shows. I seem to remember it was in someone’s basement without their parents’ knowing. Tiger Trap were on roller skates. It was everything a show should be.
4. The competition between K Records and Kill Rock Stars to be the best label in Olympia/the world at that time. They both won.
5. Slumberland Records: So good for such a prolonged period. Current faves include The Umbrellas and Lightheaded.
6. Gidget: Both the book and the film. I have no idea why I love this, as I have zero interest in surfing; it just got to me.
7. The long-time liberal attitudes to sexuality and gender on the West Coast. Yep, had to say it. Important.
8. Silicon Valley: For giving Swansea Sound so much lyrical source material.
9. The Aislers Set: Such an amazing way with a tune. Linton = ❤️.
10. Beat Happening: The music I want played at my funeral. The music we did play at my brother’s.

Ian recording with Thrashing Doves at Rumbo Recorders in LA ‘86

Ian Button (Heavenly, Swansea Sound, Death In Vegas)
1. Little Richard winding down his limo window to say hello in the car park of the Hyatt.
2. Anthony Perkins stepping out of the lift at The Hollywood Roosevelt.
3. Seeing The Replacements at Santa Barbara ’87.
4. Waking up from an earth tremor.
5. A strawberry next to your eggs and bacon.
6. “What are grits, please?” “You English? You won’t like ’em!”
7. Death In Vegas @ Bimbos 365 SF ’97.
8. Surplus store near Ripley’s Odditorium – proper raw denim Levi’s
9. Hearing Todd R. ‘Hello It’s Me’ for the first time, on the radio, driving along Sunset Blvd., top down.
10. Hot apple cider in Seattle in November.

Peter in the Capitol Theatre, Olympia

Peter Momtchiloff (Heavenly, the Would-Be-Goods, Tufthunter, Marine Research, Talulah Gosh, many more)
North to South:
1. Sylvia Hotel, Stanley Park, Vancouver
2. Bellingham summer philosophy conference
3. Anacortes IPA
4. Roasted Olympia oysters
5. All Freakin’ Night at Olympia film fest
6. Olympia pet parade
7. The decor at the Brotherhood Lounge, Oly
8. Dumpster Values, Oly
9. Sprung dance floor at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland
10. Chez Panisse
11. Hummingbirds in Golden Gate Park
12. Midnight tour of historic downtown LA

Rob and Calvin (“P.U.N.K. Girl” video shoot)

Rob Pursey (Heavenly, Swansea Sound, The Catenary Wires, Skep Wax Records, Talulah Gosh, Marine Research)
1. Filming a video for “P.U.N.K. Girl” in the Capitol Theatre, Olympia
2. ‘Would you like that covered and smothered?’
3. Cinnamon-scented garbage
4. ‘That sounded totally SWEDISH’ (San Diego promoter, of our soundcheck, approvingly)
5. Vaginal Davis hosting the Marine Research show in LA
6. Tiger Trap
7. Hanging with Candice and Calvin at K Records HQ
8. Visiting Kill Rock Stars HQ, just down the street from K. (I just realised that this list is very Olympia-centric)
9. The Microphones
10. Driving for 8 hours and nothing happening

Swansea Sound (Bob in center)

Bob Collins (Swansea Sound, the Treasures of Mexico, the Dentists)
1. Monterey Pop
2. Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass
3. Laurel and Hardy driving in LA with a record player under the hood
4. Ray Manzarek’s almost certainly made-up story about meeting Jim Morrison on Venice Beach and forming the Doors
5. The geographical absurdity of Point Roberts
6. The fact that the members of Love all lived in a house called The Castle.
7. The day that Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark went to the movies in LA to see A Hard Day’s Night
8. Mulholland Drive

READ: Hue and Amelia Interview Each Other (Swansea Sound)
READ: Heavenly in the USA 
READ: The Catenary Wires Interview
READ: Our All Girl Summer Fun Band Interview

LA show is October 23, 2024!!!
From the archive
Eddie Vedder and Cathy Heavenly (she didn’t know who he was!)
“P.U.N.K. Girl” video shoot
Cathy watching Lois in San Jose

Checking in with Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian

Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian (with her pal Beryl)

Of course we interviewed the smart, wonderful, luminous Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian in Glasgow in 1997 when the band rarely did interviews and barely even shared photos of themselves! She is on the cover of CF11 along with Isobel Campbell. But we wanted to check in with her as she makes her way across the U.S. while on tour about the band, dogs, food, and her other life as someone who works on the Revelator! Interview by Gail / Photographs courtesy of Sarah

Get tickets here / Buy merch here

B&S in Chicago / Photograph by Sarah Martin

chickfactor: What are you up to today? Where are you?
Sarah Martin: I’m in Brooklyn, on a bus, moving at a fraction of walking pace towards today’s venue.

And now I’m in Chicago in an unusually comfortable backstage situation, listening to the rain, with our call to the stage coming in a couple of minutes. The sky looked pretty Glasgow-ish earlier, a downpour was brewing.

What are the best things about touring the U.S.? And the most unpleasant things?
One of my favourite things is getting to see friends who I never do the rest of the time. Getting to sit in kitchens across America, especially if the kitchen comes with a dog I can roll about with. Even cats will do. I had high hopes of meeting a pet squirrel in New York, but it didn’t quite happen.

The unpleasant things … well I’m relieved this time to be avoiding the stretch of absurdly high temperatures we had a couple of summers ago, from Pioneertown through Phoenix, Austin, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe. I went to Taliesin West on the day off in Phoenix which was incredible—definitely a highlight of all my visits to North America—but it makes much more sense in the context of being Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter residence—I’m sure it’s lovelier then.

Favorite places to eat or visit while on tour?
Sweetgreen, Tender Greens, Tacombi

What are some of your most memorable shows?
There was one at the zoo in Portland which I remember you were at; the elephants were having a wander around watching the primates and the lights – I loved it.

The first Coachella, the second Benicassim. Iceland in 2006 was amazing.

Photograph by Stephen Skrynka

Tell us about the Revelator. What is it? How did you get involved? What do you do there? Is it a job? A hobby?
The Revelator is my magical, otherworldly other world. It takes the form of a Wall of Death (a wooden cylinder for a motorbike riding display) but it is so much more besides: a theatre, cinema, art space, and an artwork in its own right. When I first saw pictures, it was a wooden skeleton and I knew I had to touch it. By the time I met it in real life, late in 2021, it was a big drum. There was still a lot of work to do, but Stephen Skrynka, the artist whose idea it all was, had already held a group art show inside, and was showing a series of films over one of the weekends during COP26. I went along for a short film called Lambing, and I was the only person who showed up; by the time I left I had offered to help with the build for a couple of weeks over Christmas and new year before touring geared up. But then Covid laid waste to the tours, so I stuck around. It became like another band, seven people with a common purpose. It became a home.

It’s not a job, and it’s not a hobby. It’s work but it’s also play. It can be anything we want it to be. We have built it tucked in the corner of a huge shipyard building on Red Clydeside, in the great tradition of the work-in, the sense of purpose is our reward.

As for the work itself, it can be anything. The build is more or less finished, but my first task was grinding sharp corners and excess weld off steel brackets. There’s been lots of woodwork, obviously. Being the projectionist, singing, getting a meal on the table, entertaining the dog. Sometimes the jobs are menial, but sometimes they are matters of life and death.

Two Sarahs and a Stephen, fitting the balustrades / artwork by Annabel Wright

Tell us about the community you found there, and how that is different from your musical one.
Soon after I became a part of it, I realised there are more similarities with the band than differences really. It is a creative endeavour after all, and we solve problems together and generally do what we can to make things happen. Having been a part of both is a privilege I don’t take for granted.

The Revelator-in-Chief is Stephen (pictured below), an artist, who built the wall having learned to ride it the hard way. I do music and sewing; there is an oncologist, a theatre designer, a production manager from a local music venue, a property developer in the core team, and various others who come and go. Half of us aren’t even into motorbikes. We really are a community though, far greater than the sum of our parts.

The other day before the show in Royal Oak, MI, we accepted an invitation to have a tour of the pressing plant at Third Man Records in Detroit, and obviously that was quite an amazing place, but I also recognised the same sort of collective pride that we have at the Revelator, and ways that it is symbolised in the space the machines inhabit. It felt like a functional work of art, which is a familiar thing. That can go down as another memorable highlight from touring in the US.

The late Lottie and Stephen / Photograph by Sarah Martin

You seem like a dog person. Are there any special mutts in your life right now?
If I never had to go on tour again I think I would have a special dog of my own again, but for now there’s a young poodle called Beryl who calls the Revelator one of her homes – she’s about 7 months old, and I miss having her bouncing round the neighbourhood with me at the other end of her lead. The original Revelator dog Lottie was a very special girl; she died last September and is much missed. And Frank the lurcher who is getting on a bit is another wonderful dog friend.

What’s a typical day like in the B&S recording studio or rehearsal space?
In late 2020 / throughout 2021 it was unpredictable but brilliant, while we were recording the last couple of albums – often there would only be Stuart, Chris and me around, but we’d get the others in to do their parts on songs when they could fit it in. Since we set the rehearsal space up for recording, we’ve tended to record songs as they come together, rather than rehearsing them in advance.

When we’re rehearsing for tour, I must admit it’s fairly workmanlike! We come in at 10ish usually, try to remember a couple of songs, then we form a line at the microwave with our tubs of ready meals and leftovers from home. Lunch always stretches out longer than planned, and most of the dads head off to collect their offspring from school so we don’t go too late into the afternoon.

Work in progress quilt, on show with others in the set, in June at the Revelator / Photograph by Stephen Skrynka

If I come to Glasgow this summer, what should I do there?
If you come in August, come to the B&S weekender at SWG3 – we’ll be playing in the yard, both nights, watching the trains go over the viaduct – it’s such a great place, some other great bands playing too, including the Tenementals who I will also be singing with. If you come in June, come to the Revelator’s salon des refusés “Feed The Hand That Bites You” – I’ll be showing a series of quilts I’m making as part of that, but each day there’ll be something different from an artist or group whose proposal was rejected by Glasgow International. Eat at Sugo and Ka Pao! Maybe we could go to the seaside, chips and ice cream? Visit the Alasdair Gray Archive. Go for a sunset swim at Gourock Pool on a Wednesday night.

Who is the comedian in the band?
Bob’s the funniest

Does everyone meditate on the road?
No! Only Stuart, I think.

The Tenementals (Sarah on far right) / Photo by Stephen Skrynka

How did the pandemic change the band?
I think it has left most of us more firmly rooted to home, to be honest. I feel sure the effects are still emerging, so we’ll see what else…

For a couple of us, the fact that being a working band became more difficult, opened up space in our lives for other creative projects which have become equally important, so there are competing demands on our attention.

What was it like being on The Simpsons
Being asked to do a song for The Simpsons was a real shot in the arm for the band, to be honest – and to have been animated into the episode was particularly special. On my birthday everyone wore pin badges of my Simpsons character… it was a bit like Being John Malkovich at the go-karting!

What are you eating, cooking, reading, watching these days?
I binged Ripley with Andrew Scott the other week, which was amazing. Rewatched Fleabag series 2 after that… I also started rewatching Humans, which was on Channel 4 in the UK maybe 10 years ago, and it is very good. I don’t watch much telly though really. I saw – and loved – Poor Things, at the cinema.

A friend gave me Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn for my birthday which I’ve been reading on tour.

Cooking—it’s been a while, for one reason or another, but a while ago I was regularly making Ukrainian stuffed cabbage rolls, with veggie haggis, mushrooms, rice and lots of herbs. Really good! If I’m at home, and eating out, it’ll often be at Sugo, or Ka Pao, or Lotus in Scotstoun for Lebanese food as good as any I’ve ever had, or Suissi for vegan Asian food.

16mm film screening at the Revelator / Photograph by Sarah Martin

Records Sarah cannot live without

The Partisan – Leonard Cohen

Come ‘Round Here (I’m The One You Need) by the Miracles, in mono on a 7”. It just isn’t the same on any other format I have heard.

Somebody – Depeche Mode

The Story of a Soldier – Ennio Morricone

On Battleship Hill – PJ Harvey

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Them

Stoned Love – the Supremes

That Summer Feeling – Jonathan Richman

Tip Toe – Sault

They Don’t Know – Kirsty MacColl

Photograph by Sarah Martin
Photograph by Sarah Martin