label spotlight: shelflife records

Ed at Toffee Club in Portland. (Photo: Gail O’Hara)

Shelflife Records
label head: Ed Mazzucco
location: Portland, Oregon

as part of a new series focusing on indie labels, we introduce (those who don’t already know him) y’all to Ed Shelflife! Not too surprisingly, he also has a day job, is a massive karaoke aficionado, is a soccer dad, cat lover and longtime vegan! Shelflife has put out loads of records that we adore. Meet Ed…

chickfactor: What year did you start a label? Where? Why? 
Ed Mazzucco: Shelflife started in 1995 from my bedroom in Southern California.  I was inspired by a lot of the great international bands I was discovering at the time and I really wanted to help get these bands a little more exposure in the US.  That was basically the label’s mission at the time and our first release (the Whirl-Wheels compilation) was the product of that.  

What has been the most fun bit about running a label? 
I love working with so many amazing artists and helping bring their visions to life.  I never grow tired of holding a brand new release in my hands for the first time. It’s a pretty magical experience working from start to finish with our artists to create a product together that will soon be shared and loved by our community.  I put a lot of time and energy into making each and every release the best it can be.

What have been the biggest challenges? 
Right now the vinyl production bottleneck is causing me quite a headache.  It’s all a bit insane, going from 3-4 month to 6-7 month turnaround times.  We are doing our best to navigate through it, but really hoping the plants can catch back up in 2022.  

What are the top sellers of all time on yr label? 
Off the top of my head, probably Airiel, The Radio Dept, and The Ocean Blue.   

What new stuff are you working on in the coming year? 
We just released wonderful new albums by The Catenary Wires (ex-Heavenly), Always You, and Pastel Coast.  We haven’t announced our fall releases just yet, but there are some really exciting things coming up.  

What labels have inspired you? 
Factory, Sarah, and Slumberland are the first to come to mind. Slumberland probably was the most influential for me in starting Shelflife.  I still remember writing letters to Mike asking for advice.  

How do you find new records (not on your label)? 
Usually word of mouth from friends or sometimes on Instagram.  

What are some great record stores and mail orders still operating? 
I have to give a shout out to My Vinyl Underground in Portland, OR.  Hands down the best indiepop shop around today.  

Ed DJing at the Indiepop Brunch, the Toffee Club in Portland a few years ago. Photo: Gail O’Hara

Can people get your releases outside your country? 
Yes, but sadly shipping costs and taxes are making it harder these days.  Our solution has been to work with an overseas partner label on most of our releases, so fans can have a local label to service them.  That helps a lot with keeping shipping costs down.  

What bands/records are you really excited about? 
I have been really into the new Lightning Bug “A Color Of The Sky” LP and Submotile’s “Sonic Day Codas” CD.  

What are you drinking, eating, listening to, reading, watching these days? 
drinking: Fort George 3-Way IPA
eating: Modern Times Crunchwrap
watching: Unsellable Houses on HGTV

Do you also play music? Tell us about it. 
Yes, I play guitar in Tears Run Rings.  We’re working on our 4th album right now. 

Anything else you would like to add!? 
Thanks Gail for the interview.  We miss you in Portland.  Go Timbers!

Ed loves futbol!

an interview with kevin alvir!

Photo courtesy of Kevin

He’s an indiepop guy (Kevin Hairs), an illustrator, a comic artist, an art teacher, and an apprentice spiritual medium! Meet Kevin Alvir, who lives in Brooklyn and is awesome. 

Chickfactor: How are you holding up during crazy COVIDtime? 
Kevin Alvir: Gail! I’m good—thanks for asking. I never thought I would handle a pandemic so calmly. I would say I’m an anxious sort definitely before 2020 and to live in times of turbulence… I seem to thrive. haha. Certainly last year (2020) was really bonkers and waking up to what an insane world this is…. that is quite sobering. 

art by Kevin Alvir

What did you learn about yourself during this time? 
I definitely thought about where my time and energy went to. The frantic commute energy, the workplace energy, the socialization energy. I’ve discovered my spiritual side, which surprises me. 

What kind of changes did you make to your home/workspace/etc?
Living in NY, at home I feel like a tourist. (paraphrase Gang of Four) So my apartment was pretty bare. Now that I’ve been living in it with my bf, we’ve spruced it up with artwork and plants. Comfier furniture. Better drawing desk in my office. It’s a real nice place to be. Now I love it. I do have a similar “frenetic commute energy” when I have to go to the next room for a zoom lesson.

art by Kevin Alvir

Tell us about your latest release on Bandcamp. Is it also on CD/vinyl/tape?
I just put out a new Kevin Hairs 3-song single called “Stay Mild, Man Child” and a couple months ago I put out an album called Dad of the Universe. It’s just digital. I’d rather not make more consumables with plastic and tapes and stuff. I don’t think I’m that kinda artist. I just like having music digital now. BUT… about the music, I felt like I had a shift in thought about making music. The songs I make kind of feel like my poems and cartoons with a janglepop background. They certainly retain my sense of humor. Some friends tell me that listening to my music makes them feel like they’re actually hanging out with me. So that’s kinda what my music is like. haha.

New! on Bandcamp

What are you missing the most during this time? 
I miss seeing so many friends. I miss restaurants. I miss the ease of going outside. There’s this layer of fear (a bigger one) added onto going out. I miss the community aspect of things. 

How differently do you see your home now that you’ve been spending more time there?
I love it. I would think about how in zoom calls, I am still able to retain my identity. To be more clear, like when I would go to work or see my therapist, I always felt like I would have to adapt to the workplace and or my shrink’s office. Always feeling at the mercy of other people. If that makes sense.

Where did you grow up? Where all have you lived?
I grew up in Northern Virginia suburb Annandale, close to Washington, D.C. I went to college in Richmond (VCU), lived in Philadelphia for a couple years, and then just loved being in Brooklyn for over a decade. 

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

What were you like as a teen?
As a teen, haha. I was definitely troubled. Repressed gay youth in the suburbs. Since I felt so alienated, I just got really into whatever turned me on (musically). So I was a total fanboy about music, starting with the local Arlington music scene — Teen-Beat, Simple Machines, Dischord. Teen-Beat really resonated with me. But you know, I think I dressed like a freak… and was kinda dour haha but also really funny and sarcastic…only to hide my anger/vulnerability. haha.

What was your first concert? 
Technically, the first concert I went to was Ocean Blue & Marshall Crenshaw. I appreciate both artists now. My oldest brother is a Crenshaw head. I just wanted to see the Ocean Blue bc they had a video on MTV at the time making the rounds. “Sublime.” Not exactly a fan although I toured with them a lil 10 years after that. 

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

First record you bought?
When I was 12 years old, I used my Xmas money to buy Julie (comedienne) Brown’s Trapped in the Body of a White Girl but what REALLY counted was Electropura by Yo La Tengo. I remember putting down $14 cash for that CD and how weird and esoteric it seemed. 

When did you write your first song and what was it about?
I was 19 I think. I wrote a song called “Pet Rock.” I was inspired by the Tall Dwarfs musically. Lyrically, I was inspired to speak from a POV of someone not wanting to be taken for a ride or abused… but it was cute.. and sounded … ehhh. I’d rather not hear it. haha.

What bands you have been in?
I always had a band… of some making. I had a band called the Lil Hospital, Knight School, The Hairs, and well now it’s my solo thing: Kevin Hairs. I’ve helped out in other bands: Sprites, Basic Plumbing (Patrick Doyle of Veronica Falls band), BMX Bandits (played 4 shows in the Bandits).

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

What is your day job?
My day job??? Hrrrm, kinda piecing it together. I was working for a tech company doing office manager stuff. Moonlighting doing my illustration work when it came in (sporadically). However, I got let go from said job at the start of the pandemic. But thankfully, I’ve had a lot of commissions to do: Logos, Spot Illustrations, Portraits, Pet Portraits, Album Covers, Animations. I also teach art to kids over Zoom, which I love and avoided doing for so long. I want more students. And this is kinda controversial, but I am an apprentice Spirit Medium. I’ve been taking classes and developing my ability. One hour of meditation a day. I talk to the dead and communicate messages to loved ones. Not everyone likes hearing about it. It scares people and it’s out there. But it’s very real to me. 

What neighborhood do you live in? Best and worst things about it? Top haunts?
I live in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Midland-Brooklyn. Best thing: the apartments are so spacious. I have so much room. The food is diverse in the neighborhood, which is great. The Ryerson is a restaurant down the street from me. Their food is the best and the music they play is always up my alley. Some jangle, fuzz jams. Bars are hard for me. I don’t really like to drink and bars are always so loud. 

What are the best bands in Brooklyn these days? 
Pale Lights / Love Burns, Jeanines, Nice Try / Racecar, Frankie Cosmos are my personal faves.

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

Tell us how Fanboy Memoirs came about?
Fanboy Memoirs started when I just did a lil’ cartoon of teenaged me watching Cat Power for my instagram. People responded and wanted me to do more of them. I have so many stories of talking to “so and so” before or after the show. I just wanted to be making music and living that life. But yeah, I met Stephin Merritt as a teen. He was flirty. David Berman was just the kindest soul. Jennifer Herrema was intimidating but sweet. 

Do you still do portraits by commission?  
I still do!! Yep. I advertise it on my socials. Mainly on that hellhole platform Facebook – but I’m always open. I feel like I’d do another one of you, Gail. I feel like I’ve gotten better at my portraits since. But people can follow me on Instagram and see my work and message me. 

Illustration by Kevin Alvir

Have you thought of cashing in on the NFT craze?
I did set up some NFTs with my friend Ivan. I have a mistrust of it. Get Rich Quick schemes really turn me off. But I did set some up. I haven’t heard anything about them. So still not *life-changingly rich* haha.

What’s your sign?
LIBRA through and through. haha.

Who do you have a crush on?
The woman who played Anathema Device in Good Omens. Comedians John Early & Kate Berlant, Any Australian in music is so charming (haha), Will Schwartz from Imperial Teen. Crushes went from “Oh I bet they’re into cool stuff” to… “Oh my god, there’s something about them that I just want to be their best friend.”

What are you reading/watching/eating?
Reading: a lot of Manga. Astro Boy & other works by Osamu Tezuka. Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Dolores Cannon (fringey mystic hypnotherapist). Spirit Medium books.

Watching: Barry (HBO), Search Party, Arrested Development, Ranma 1/2.

Eating: I am on the Keto diet now (like every gay guy in NYC). So I just eat cheese, salmon and salad. I feel great. But I miss donuts.

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

What can you not wait to do as soon as everything reopens? 
I am excited for small club shows. Music performances. But I also want to nurture all the online communities and friends I’ve made too. 

Any other plans for the future? 
I’m doing a Young Adult graphic novel, and I’m so excited. It’s a definitive version of my Lisa Cheese webcomic with a bigger story. AND becoming a working Spirit Medium. I need to practice. So if anyone’s interested…
Thanks, Kevin! CF

Records Kevin cannot live without!
1) The Aislers Set, The Last Match
2) Sportsguitar, Married, 3 kids
3) Yo La Tengo, Electropura
4) Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
5) Apples in Stereo, Fun trick noisemaker
6) Television Personalities, And don’t the kids just love it
7) Pastels, Truckload of trouble
8) Bats, Daddy’s Highway
9) Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes
10) Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs
Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs
Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs
Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs
Drawing by Kevin Alvir, from Fanboy Memoirs

The Pacific Ocean: An Oral History

The Pacific Ocean was Edward Baluyut and Connie Lovatt; NYC, 1997. Photo: Gail O’Hara

The Pacific Ocean was a band that formed around 1996 and made music through the early 21st century, releasing one EP and two albums that remain criminally neglected and underrated. The brains, brawn and beauty (and heart and soul) of the band were Edward Baluyut (Versus) and Connie Lovatt (Containe, Alkaline), with Steve Pilgrim as a pretty regular member. As Enchanté and Teen-Beat both premiere their music on Bandcamp this Friday, we rounded up some friends, family and fans of the band to try to remember what was so great about them!

Why did you decide to form the Pacific Ocean? 
Connie Lovatt (The Pacific Ocean): 
Have you seen Ed play guitar or drums? He’s very thought out and precise. But he’s also really responsive and open. He’s also very supportive and patient. And I required patience. I didn’t know anything about playing instruments compared to him. We were friends for a while before we started playing together so I just remember it being really easy.

How did you meet?
Connie Lovatt: All things that involve me playing music start with Richard Baluyut. He introduced me to the songs of a million bands. I met Ed and Fontaine through Richard. I met Richard when I was a baby19. My first interaction with Ed was when he was on the phone with Richard, and I remembered he said something really crass about me and I liked him instantly. Or wanted him to like me. 

What was the biggest inspiration for the songs you wrote? 
Connie Lovatt: 
Love that righted me and love that wronged me.

How did you write and record songs? 
Connie Lovatt:
 Ed wrote ideas on guitar. If I could manage worthwhile vocals and bass, then we had enough to structure things. Ed was the captain. 

Poster by LD Beghtol

What was Ed like as a child? Were you guys all musical? 
James Baluyut (Versus, +/-): Ed was an overachiever as a kid. Super competitive with his older brother. Reading Tolkien in 4th grade. Advanced math. Honors student. He was even a football star in middle school. He had a considerable size advantage in eighth grade. He was the same height in eighth grade as he is now! Unfortunately, everyone else grew the following year and his future football career evaporated. Both Ed and Richard played organ from a young age and then stopped. My parents didn’t really push me into that though I kinda wish they had. We listened to classic rock radio a lot in the car. Detroit’s a good place for that. For some reason, our parents let us kids control the radio. Our older cousin had a guitar and a Marshall. He took us to see Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. That’s probably where it all started. The Abbey Theater 1-2-3.
Richard Baluyut (Versus): Ed is the classic middle child, innately driven to try to be better than his older brother, and occasionally succeeding; he is a much better drummer and basketball player than I am. And at organ. 

How long have you known the Baluyut Bros?  
Patrick Ramos (Versus, +/-{Plus Minus}: I have very few memories in my life of a time before I knew the Baluyut Bros. They aren’t in all of those memories but the ones in which they are, are all traumatic. Kidding! We lived about a mile apart from each other and our parents were friends, so our families pretty much grew up together. True story: I lent them my drumset and Casio keyboard for some of their earliest musical ventures.

Tell us about the ideas that went into making the records: 
Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying (Enchanté, 1997)
Edward Baluyut (The Pacific Ocean): We recorded the album spontaneously in basically 3 days. Nicholas Vernhes (Rare Book Room) was just starting to build his new studio and he recorded it and produced it for basically nothing as he was testing out his new equipment. Since he was doing us a favor, we did our takes very quickly without worrying about correcting small mistakes. Also, I had to come up with drum parts on the spot since we didn’t have a drummer yet. The result was a relatively raw-sounding record, but we were definitely proud of our first EP, and for me, it felt good to be a primary songwriter for the first time since, with Versus—as much as I enjoyed finding my “voice” as a drummer—I was playing more of a supporting role.
Connie Lovatt: This was our first time recording. It went quickly. Nicolas was trying out his new space and stuff. I was so happy to be getting the songs down and playing with Ed. I remember it being loose and easy. And the way Ed took my sense of melody seriously was a game changer for me. He was vocal about it in a way that still gives me a spine. We were with Nicolas. So it was comfortable. 

Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun (Enchanté, 1999)
Edward Baluyut: We spent more time on this album, which had a more polished feel. We had Alex Trajano, a real musician who went to music school, on drums, and we had James Baluyut come in to produce it. We sat on the recording for a while and then wrote three new ones a few months later with Steve Pilgrim on drums. These ended up being my favorite songs on the record: “Nothing Is Too Kind,” “Fantastic Trip” and “All the Better Luck.”
Connie Lovatt: We had more time and knowhow with this one. Things felt more cohesive yet spread out song wise in that we covered more ground. Ed is kind of a quiet workhorse. He just gets things done in a studio. The songs felt bigger this time. Jimmy was there! A lot of Thai food. And Steve Pilgrim was now in the band and he brings a barbed sweetness to things. He’s fun to record with. Again, we were with Nicolas and we all knew each other well enough by then so it was easy. 

What were you like back then? 
Connie Lovatt: 
According to Ed and Steve I was “a ball of emotion”. But adorable, obviously. 

Did you play with the Pacific Ocean? When? 
Patrick Ramos: The degree of my memory loss hadn’t really occurred to me until now but it came back to me that I played on TPO’s first album. I’m the drummer on “If I Could Fall” and “You’re Always Somewhere Else,” which is simultaneously thrilling to remember and depressing to have forgotten. 
Alan Licht: I don’t remember how it happened that they asked me to play on [So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm] but I really liked the songs, and it was nice to be in the studio with Bill Callahan, who I already had known for a while. We played a few shows around New York which were sort of low key but fun. Then we did a tour with Smog (can’t remember if it was still Smog or Bill was going under his real name yet) in the South, New Orleans, Texas. I remember being sort of stuck in New Orleans because Bill’s tour manager had misplaced a bunch of merch, or gear, and that was being sorted out. I also remember going to a hardcore show that was happening across the street when we were playing in Houston, because it was the same promoter for both shows, and that was intense—the audience was standing a mile away from the stage at our show, and they were swarming the band at the hardcore show. We wound up staying at someone’s house there, and I offhandedly said I’d like to see Rothko Chapel while I was town and they said, “It’s across the street from us”—it was true, the next morning I woke, crossed the street, and it was right there. It was a different drummer on that tour than Steve Pilgrim, who played on the record—Chris Deaner, who was amazing and I think went on to play with Kelly Clarkson.
Steve Pilgrim (The Pacific Ocean): It would have been 1997. I was looking for a band to play with, and actually Joey Sweeney said Ed had left Versus and they needed a drummer. So I looked Richard up in the literal phone book and cold called him. If I hadn’t known Joey, he probably would have hung up, but I ended up practicing a couple times with them to feel it out. They ended up going with Patrick as we know, but Richard said Ed had a good band and I should play with them. I met Connie and Ed at an Unsane show at Coney Island High, we got along, and the rest is world famous history. Actually the first TPO song I heard was when they played me the cassette of the Birds EP in Ed’s van. About 60 seconds into “Duet”, I was in. I’m a sucker for the trademark Baluyut majestic rock sound.
Richard Baluyut: I’ve played with TPO a few times, once playing the aforementioned organ, and then a few years ago filling in on bass so Connie could fully wield her star power.

Ed and Connie lying on the ground in Washington Square Park! NYC, 1997. Photo: Gail O’Hara

Do you remember the recording process of Less Than the Needle
Steve Pilgrim: I wish I could! It was mostly recorded by the time I joined. But we came up with some good new songs in practice, so we went in with Nicolas Vernhes to add “Nothing Is Too Kind”, “Fantastic Trip”, and “All the Better Luck,” which only took a day or two I think. 

Were you involved in the songwriting process at all? 
Steve Pilgrim: Only to the extent that songs were written in practice. Generally Ed and Connie would bring ideas, parts, fragments of songs, and we would play around with them until they turned into something. Sometimes they’d have a song almost fully written, but generally we felt our way there by playing. Coming up with drum parts to their ideas could be difficult, and there was a lot of soul searching in the practice room. Sometimes practice felt more like therapy, and I may have quit once or twice, but things always seemed to come together sooner or later.

You coproduced Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun with Nicolas. What was that process like? 
James Baluyut: Connie and Ed always liked to joke about my “no big deal” production. I’m about as far as you can get from an iron-fisted tyrant in the studio. I was there mainly to provide another perspective. The band knew what they wanted for the most part, and it was up to Nicolas and me to help them get it all on tape. I helped mainly with guitars and guitar sounds, and I tossed in a few production ideas. I played a little guitar, but I was treading lightly as I didn’t want to get in the way of what was already special.

What do you remember about making Less Than the Needle?
James Baluyut:
 Not much to be honest! I do remember sitting in the control room at Rare Book Room a lot. I sat with Nicolas while the band knocked the takes out in the live room. I remember it mostly being easy… and easy-going. It was a joy to hear the songs as they were being recorded. Also, I loved watching Alex Trajano and Steve Pilgrim drum.   

What was it like working with the Pacific Ocean?
Bill Callahan (producer, So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm): I was blown away by the distinct musicality of the group. The way Ed and Connie’s voices worked together to make an organic third voice. The way they played their instruments—the parts they came up with were unique to them. I asked them to do things and they usually knew what I meant and did them very well. I was never really sure how much the entire band wanted me there because they were accustomed to me not being there. 

What did the Pacific Ocean sound like? 
Heather Larimer (Corvair, Eux Autres):
 Connie’s voice has an intimacy and purity that reminds me of the ethereal singers of the ’70s but also a frankness that makes you feel like she’s telling you and only you something very directly. TPO feels like sitting in a San Francisco Inner Sunset apartment on a day that’s a duel between fog and sun and you’re making coffee and slightly high and wondering why you feel feelings so intensely and what that means for your ability to shape any sort of coherent future for yourself.
John Lindaman (True Love Always): Apart from basic genre descriptions and the level of quality of the work, both Containe and TPO had a similar uniqueness to them, which came from a successful combining of two distinct strong musical personalities. It’s pretty unusual for bands to be able to do that instead of “one of X’s songs, one of Y’s songs” or “Neil writes the lyrics but Geddy sings.” And maybe that’s how it actually was and it just didn’t come across that way—either way it worked!
Richard Baluyut: People were surprised at Ed’s guitar playing, but I wasn’t. Way before Versus, he always brought a unique tonality to the table in Flower. And Connie at that time was kinda just finding her voice, still had “beginner’s mind,” a state we all strive to get back to, and really expressive. So the two together just sounded different, and great. They had a song that was called something else originally, but became “Five”; that was my favorite. Also the one that gets loud, “I’m Part of Everything Again.”
James Baluyut: A moody collision of intellect, poetry and emotion with pop sensibility.“Fantastic Trip” is my favorite. Just so perfect and weird and catchy. I can’t imagine any other band coming up with that song.  
Patrick Ramos: I have a distinct memory of listening to an early copy of The Pacific Ocean’s Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying for the first time in the tour-van after an in-store show at Stinkweeds in Phoenix. Hearing “Duet,” then “Letter/Doctor,” then “Two Twenty,” and “Last Minute was like a series of gorgeous punches to the heart.

The Pacific Ocean at Now Records in Arlington, VA, 2001. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Do you remember any live shows?
John Lindaman:
 I remember the TLA/TPO/Versus show we played in 1998 at The Point in Atlanta—TLA at that point were mostly vegetarian, and the Versus crew was naturally going to all the finest BBQ places, which meant we tagged along but denied ourselves the good food in front of us. We said, “Well, we’ll just eat at the club,” and when we got there the club was like “and the vegetarian’s delight—two bowls of freshly popped popcorn.” But the shows were great of course!
Bob Bannister (Fire in the Kitchen): I am sure I saw both bands live multiple times. I did appear as a guest guitarist at a show in the early 2000s, pretty sure it was at The Fez.
Gail O’Hara (Enchanté Records, chickfactor): I have fond memories of the Pacific Ocean at Tonic, just because I shot video and it blows me away to watch it now. Also the reunion they did at Union Pool in 2017, when they felt way too huge for the stage and room, and Connie had evolved into this superhero frontperson I always knew she was, backed by the foxy Baluyut Brothers™. They’re the only men on earth who can rock a man-bun. 
Steve Pilgrim: I remember the driving more than the shows, probably. We did a couple road trips, including a few shows on the west coast with the Magnetic Fields that we joked probably had the longest miles-traveled-to-shows ratio in history. Coming from New York, we played a show in Chicago, and then the next one was LA, and we went up the coast from there. But the trip, especially traversing the southwest, became its own whole experience. The three of us had a definite dysfunctional family dynamic, with Ed, the rhetorical master of the gentle cut, possibly holding the thing together in his wry and steady way. We laughed a lot, yelled a bit (mostly me), but I don’t know if any of it amounted to very tellable stories. I can say Connie would almost certainly never have heard Rush’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” without me on that trip, but I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad memory.

What are some of your fondest memories of shows you played? 
Connie Lovatt:
 The shows you really remember are the ones when something goes wrong. I won’t tell tales. Even on myself. The good memories become part of that thing that makes you want to be on stage with those people anytime.  
Edward Baluyut: My favorite shows were always the Chickfactor shows at the Fez. They always had a cool cabaret feel to them, and you could always count on sharing the stage with other great musicians. Gail O’Hara really knew how to curate a show!

What was it about “Last Minute” that made you want to cover it? 
James McNew:
 I loved that song from the first time I heard it. It’s effortlessly perfect and cryptic. I felt like I had to sing it, too.

What made you want to release the Pacific Ocean’s music? 
Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat Records): Mostly because the album they had recorded was (and still is) pretty incredible.
Gail O’Hara: It just evolved out of Containe, made sense. We are family. And they’re great.

Artwork for the Pacific Ocean’s So Beautiful and Safe and Warm (Teen-Beat Records) by Mark Robinson

The Pacific Ocean was often described (dismissed?) as a Versus side project. Did it seem like their records got enough attention at the time? 
Bill Callahan: I was surprised the record I helped with didn’t blow up. 
Alan Licht: It was always an underrated band—they had great songs. I wish it had lasted a bit longer. I don’t really think of other bands in relation to them. I think Steve Pilgrim called it “baroque folk pop” or something like that, which is sort of funny. Connie was close to David Berman so maybe there’s a little bit of a parallel in terms of an interest in poetry and how to apply that to writing songs; and I think at least one song on the Teen-Beat record is co-written with David.

Edward and Connie in NYC, 1997. Photo: Gail O’Hara

What was it like being in the Pacific Ocean as opposed to your other bands? 
Connie Lovatt: Well, there’s that famous Baluyut humor. Which involves psychological pointing and taunting. And Steve notices everything and is in no shortage of looks or comments. And I was a ball of emotion apparently. And both Ed and Steve are ceaselessly generous and kind. So it was great. 

How do those records sound to you now?
Bill Callahan:
I still have a lot of the songs in my head! 
Steve Pilgrim: They sound great—definitely of that late ’90s, early ’00s time and sound, but I believe they’ve weathered the years really well as a good example of that particular sound. Of course it’s nostalgic, listening to them, but Ed and Connie’s writing is just so good that those songs will always hold up. And I still don’t know what half the lyrics are, so that gives me a reason to go back and keep listening.

Tell us any other stories you remember about Connie and the Pacific Ocean. 
James Baluyut: I initially heard the first TPO EP while on tour with Versus. I remember we were all like, “Damn, that’s good.”
Bill Callahan: We had an afterparty on the last day of recording. Connie had two sips of vodka. I’d never seen her drink before and was worried after the second sip, which she drank as if it had a baby snake in it. We ended up having to pull over so she could hurl in the street. CF

Poster for CF25 by Tae Won Yu, 2017

Containe: An Oral History

Containe at the Old Town Bar, 1994. Photo: Gail O’Hara

All the way back in September 1993, chickfactor had its first ever live show at Under Acme. Something like 11 bands played (with a few others jumping on the mike), all sharing the backline. The show was $5. Versus were originally meant to play but couldn’t so I asked Fontaine Toups to play solo; she asked Connie Lovatt to join her and they played a few songs: Containe was born. I was so chuffed that I asked if I could put out their debut 7-inch. They were people I saw all the time, we all became friends, the rest is history. In honor of the band putting their records on Bandcamp this week, we asked a few friends, fans and collaborators to try to remember the details… —Gail O’Hara, Enchanté Records & chickfactor

When did you first meet each other?
Connie Lovatt (Containe, The Pacific Ocean):
In the early ’90s? We met through Richard. Her approach to awkward social situations and her humor are often wonderfully otherworldly so of course I liked her. 

Tell us about writing songs and recording. 
Fontaine Toups (Containe, Versus):
 It’s difficult to remember the details but what I can say is that writing music with Connie was inspiring and a lot of fun. She is one of the best lyricists I know. Our recording and writing process was done quickly. We never spent much time on either, at least this is what I remember. The less-is-more attitude was definitely at play. We will all have different versions of the same story and I’d love to hear Ed and Connie’s. If I could go back in time, I’d do the same thing all over again. 
Connie Lovatt: We both wrote songs in guitar and/or bass and shared them. The other would write bass or another guitar part and some vocals. Fontaine had a much stronger sense of what she wanted arrangement wise. 

Do you remember the first Containe show? What was it like?  
Fontaine Toups: Yes, terrifying and amusing. Where was it? You must have that answer because I certainly can’t remember. (September 10, 1993 at Under Acme)
Connie Lovatt: Gail put together our first show. Fontaine was going to play solo to fill in for Versus? Something like that. She asked me to join her. I remember it sounding really really good. It was memorable in that I was aware of every note and our voices and I loved it. 

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

What was the biggest inspiration for the songs you wrote? 
Connie Lovatt: Playing a guitar for the first time. It was a whole new thing. 

What do you remember about making the records?
Connie Lovatt:
We made I Want It All with Adam Lasus (Studio Red) and he was always up and always energetic. He added so much levity to the process. If anything went wrong his first instinct is to laugh which was a big help. It was just Fontaine, me and Dave Frank on drums. We were a low-key crew. Fontaine had more experience, so I followed her lead. But I remember being so happy to be doing a full record of just our songs. 
We made Cowards with Nicolas Vernhes (Rare Book Room) and a whole host of characters. We had a lot of supportive input around us. There was much more jumping around between instruments and sounds but Nicolas kept all the trains running. He was great. It had momentum. I remember Fontaine had a bunch of good songs ready to go so the sense of direction was strong. I love all her guitar playing on that record. Spike Priggen deserves a note here. He took time out to help record some songs I was working on and Cowards came out sounding good enough to put on the record. 

When did you first meet/see/hear Containe? The Pacific Ocean? 
Gail O’Hara (Enchanté Records, chickfactor): 
chickfactor used to have parties where we would give out our new issue. Versus was scheduled to play at our first ever party with live music, but Richard had to bail for some reason. I suggested to Fontaine that she just play anyway: She asked Connie and Containe was born. I loved them so much I suggested putting out a 7-inch single and then Enchanté was born. 
Patrick Ramos (Versus, +/-): I heard both bands for the first time in ’96 when I joined Versus on drums. I liked both bands immediately. 
Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat Records):
 I actually can’t remember. This was so long ago! I first met Fontaine and Ed at a Versus show when my band played with them in 1991. Chickfactor was one of the most important (THE most?) zines of that era, and Containe and TPO were covered pretty regularly, if not in the interviews/record reviews, then in the ads for their records, so I think pretty much every Chickfactor reader was pretty well informed about them.
John Lindaman (True Love Always): 
I can’t remember exactly when we met, but it was around when we joined the Teen-Beat cavalcade of stars in 1997. I never got to see Containe live, but we did a few Pacific Ocean/ TLA/Versus shows in 1998.
James McNew (Yo La Tengo/Dump):
 I honestly can’t remember. I just feel like I saw them whenever I could.
Bob Bannister (Fire in the Kitchen): Having been a fan of Versus since their early days (wearing out the demo cassette that preceded the first couple of 7″ singles), I can’t remember exactly when, but I surely heard of Containe almost as soon as they came into existence. Same for TPO.
Alan Licht:
 I don’t remember seeing Containe or the Pacific Ocean playing live (before I played with them). I knew Fontaine from Versus, and then Connie just socially from knowing those guys. I remember bumping into Connie and Fontaine in the elevator at the Music Building when I was on my way to Run On practice and they were going to Containe practice…if Containe played Chickfactor nights then I would have seen them then, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.
Heather Larimer (Corvair, Eux Autres):
 I saw Fontaine play for the first time with Versus at The Crocodile and I was so mesmerized and thought she was the coolest girl in the world. I was obsessed enough that I very much wanted to name my firstborn Fontaine but he was a boy so I had to name him Lewis instead. The first chickfactor I ever read had a bunch of quotes from Containe and I just thought they were impossibly cool. In all the photos they looked like they were having the best time and just didn’t give a shit about what anyone else was doing.

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Are you a fan? 
Patrick Ramos:
I am. And not only because I like all the members as people, though that does help. And no, they aren’t paying me to say this.
James McNew:
Oh yes.
John Lindaman: OMG YES.
Bob Bannister: Yes!

What made you want to cover “Shy Song”? 
John Lindaman: I love “Shy Song” so much. Sometimes when you hear a song you think, “I could really add something unique to this with the singular power of my artistry” and sometimes you think, “man that would be fun to play, and I can probably just coast on what a great song the original is.” This was definitely the latter! Also I thought it would be good as a man singing it to change the lyric from “I want to fuck you like you’ve never been before” to “I want to thank you like you’ve never been before” because that seems like a more realistic attitude for a guy in a pop band.

Describe any memories you have of Containe, especially any live show experiences. 
Stephin Merritt: 
Yes! Containe is the worst band name in history, and The Pacific Ocean is the best band name in history!
James McNew:
 I saw Containe at Brownie’s (?) early on and was blown away. It was amazing to see Fontaine, a goddamn powerhouse, in such a vulnerable light. Connie seemed freaked out to be onstage in front of people, but once the music would start she had this instantly soothing, wise presence. The onstage banter between them was pretty priceless, too.
Gail O’Hara: I loved the East Coast tour we did in summer 1995; they had a great show at the Middle East. Also Stevie Jackson from Belle and Sebastian was a Containe fan, and B&S invited them to open on some shows in 1998. Georgia Hubley came along on drums. Seeing Containe, who were by this point my BFFs, open for Belle & Sebastian at Town Hall was a dream. Then hearing Belle & Sebastian play “chickfactor” live for the first time that night, well, I was in heaven. 
Richard Baluyut (Versus): All three bands did a set together at CF21. I was thrilled to finally get to join the club!
Patrick Ramos: I have a vague memory of playing drums for Containe and looking up from behind the drum set at Connie and Fontaine stage right and left, but maybe that was just a wishful dream.
James Baluyut: The only times I saw Containe live, I was in the band. Does that count? I think it only happened a couple times. At any rate, the first time, in particular, I was thrilled, not only because Containe was excellent, but also because we were opening for Belle & Sebastian on one of their super early tours. It was super fun. I wish I’d taken some photos.

How would you describe Containe? 
James Baluyut: Effervescent, hooky and brilliant—what you want to hear on a spring day.
Richard Baluyut: To me, Containe is all about the confluence/collision of Fontaine and Connie’s beautiful voices and quirks (they’re both kinda weird). 
Bob Bannister: Some bands mostly write the songs together in their rehearsals while Containe sounds more like Fontaine and Connie wrote them at home with just guitars and voices and then fleshed out the other parts in rehearsals or recordings. (Of course, I don’t really know their working methods.) Connie started adding keyboard parts on the second Containe record, which was a great addition. Containe songs remind me of Marine Girls, early Tracey Thorn solo, and late ’80s New Zealand bands like Look Blue Go Purple and The Bats (and I’d be surprised if they weren’t fans of those bands). One thing that strikes me relistening to Containe is the number of different vocal approaches Connie and Fontaine used. Sometimes they’d do straight harmonies (different notes, same syllable, same beat), sometimes they’d have one holding sustained oohs and ahhs, while other sang the main melody, sometimes (and I think this is underrated in general), they sang in unison, which gives a really rich timbre. Finally, there is whatever they are doing on “Say Please,” which sounds like two people singing four parts without doing it via overdubs. Although Ed Baluyut contributed to the Containe records, I’m thinking his role as a leader in the Pacific Ocean brought a more art-rock sound: more dropped beats, angular guitar parts, etc.
James McNew: Kinda like Fleetwood Mac with Peter Prescott on drums, or like 100 Flowers led by two Denise Roughans.
Gail O’Hara: The sound of a dozen exes being exorcised. Perfectly balanced: Fontaine is pop. Connie is art. Loud, quiet. Containe was tailor made for fans of Helium, Cat Power, the Spinanes, Barbara Manning, Scrawl, etc. 
John Lindaman: Apart from basic genre descriptions and the level of quality of the work, both Containe and TPO had a similar uniqueness to them, which came from a successful combining of two distinct strong musical personalities. It’s pretty unusual for bands to be able to do that instead of “one of X’s songs, one of Y’s songs” or “Neil writes the lyrics but Geddy sings.” And maybe that’s how it actually was and it just didn’t come across that way—either way it worked!

Containe in NYC, 1994. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Containe and the Pacific Ocean were often described (dismissed?) as a Versus side project. Do you think they should have been bigger? 
James McNew: Everybody in that band is so talented, how could that be a bad thing. I wish they would/ could have released more music and played out more. 
John Lindaman: Both Containe and TPO were bands that should have been as big as whatever the biggest bands were at the time—the music was just light years ahead of what other people were doing. And the music is so different from Versus that I don’t see it as a valid point of comparison.

How are they different from Versus?
James McNew:
Similar in some ways, but it gave me an even finer appreciation for Fontaine’s perspective, as well as her power and creativity. Also, they cuss more in their songs, and cut down the guitar solos.
Gail O’Hara: More lyrically raw. They were playful and fun but also heartbreaking, devastating. Connie and Fontaine seemed to revel in the freedom to be in charge of their own thing. 

Is there a particular Containe/The Pacific Ocean song/album/era that resonated with you? 
John Lindaman: Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards is really one of the most perfect records of that decade, and really achieved what a lot of people were going for but failed to come close to! But those four records together represent a real body of work, and I’m glad to see them being brought back out together.
James McNew: The feelings that are bluntly revealed on those first EPs make them pretty magical. You sort of hear the sound of them deciding to be a band, or if they even want to bother with that route.
Gail O’Hara: For me it’s the second records from both: Containe really kills it on “Say Please” and “Summer”—I feel like it’s the most fully realized version of them. My favorite TPO songs are on Less Than the Needle: “Five” and “All the Better Luck.” All of these songs should have been on the Clueless soundtrack or in some teen film. 
Richard Baluyut: I’m terrible at song titles, so I’ll have to default to the hit, “Shy Song.” Surprising and joyous.
Mark Robinson: My favorite Containe song is probably “Shy Song”. It’s a hit and it has a bad word in it, which was oddly not super common at the time.
Bob Bannister: It has been a couple of years since I listened to the records, but returning to Only Cowards… over the weekend, I was reminded just how much I listened to it at the time. There was probably no mixtape I made in that era that did not include “Say Please,” “Why Why Why” or your “Your Brother’s a Star.” The same was true a few years later with “All the Better Luck” on the second Pacific Ocean record.

How do you see these records and the bands’ legacies at this point? 
Patrick Ramos: Both bands are grossly underappreciated. The songs are complex, catchy, honest and still refreshing to listen to 20+ years on. FYI:  I’ve added them both to my Spring 2021 Playlist. I want to believe that one day they’ll both get their due credit in the lineage of rock history but who decides these things? Cleveland?
John Lindaman: I don’t know how much of a legacy anyone has at this point, but if you heard them then you tried to rip them off, and if you hear them now for the first time you’ll understand where some other bands you liked were getting their ideas from!

What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Containe? And the Pacific Ocean? 
James McNew:
I think fans of music from New Zealand in the ’80s and or NYC/Chicago/ Louisville etc. in the ’90s would be moved by it. I don’t really see them fitting squarely into anything or any time, which I think is a plus. They were able to be themselves, together.

Tell us any other stories you remember about Containe and the Pacific Ocean. 
James McNew:
I remember they were really nice people who made special music together. I consider myself lucky to have seen them play.
Patrick Ramos: Versus, Containe and the Pacific Ocean when not playing the same shows were always at each other’s shows so we had a lot of fun together. The problem again—and I’m really not trying to make this about me—is that all of the details and nuance of those times that make for a good story and should have been put to paper are now lost to me. But answering these questions made me dig out the CDs and I’m blasting them now. If I remember anything, it’s that it feels just as compelling and exciting as it did when I first heard them, like the gift someone gives you that you didn’t realize you really needed.

What was it like being on Enchanté?
Connie Lovatt:
Being on Enchanté is exactly what you think being on it would be like. Gail is a fierce defender of artists. And once we became great friends, it also felt like famIly. And a place I could cook. And a place I could sleep. CF

Enchanté!

We are super-excited to announce that our catalog will be on Bandcamp starting Friday, April 2. Enchanté Records released five records from 1994 to 2002 and they are all up there (with a few songs missing from the comp). Plus, we are going to eventually find the CDs and make those available too. (No Spotify, no Amazon, just Bandcamp, the most artist-friendly platform!). We will also be releasing new music in the coming months and years. Check the site on Friday for more information!

1. Containe, I Want It All (Enchanté 1, 1994)

2. Containe, Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards (Enchanté 2, 1996)

3. The Pacific Ocean, Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying (Enchanté 3, 1997)

4. The Pacific Ocean, Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun (Enchanté 4, 2000)

5. Various Artists, All’s Fair in Love and chickfactor: cf mixtape 1 (Enchanté 5, 2002)

an interview with corvair’s heather larimer

Heather and Brian = Corvair

Last month Portland, Oregon’s Corvair released their wonderful debut album on the very fine WIAIWYA label out of London. The band is couple Brian Naubert and Heather Larimer, along with drummer Eric Eagle on the album. CF folks know Heather from her (John Peel approved!) band Eux Autres, whose music was used in TV shows and commercials as well. She’s also played on other folks’ record, including the Minus Five and Stephen Malkmus. Brian has played in loads of bands including Tube Top, the Service Providers and (solo as) Hoffabus. They’ve also created jingles! We caught up with Heather to see how she and Brian have been faring during this very weird era. 
Interview by Gail O’Hara

Heather on drums in Eux Autres

Chickfactor: How have you guys been holding up during COVIDtime? 
Heather Larimer: We are doing really well, actually. We had already basic tracked our record so once we went into lockdown, we were able to focus a ton on building up the record and playing around with ideas. We went through a lot of wine and candles trying to make quarantining a little less apocalyptic feeling. Having a project was so good for us. We would have lost our shit otherwise. 

When did Corvair begin? 
We started writing the record about two years ago, not knowing exactly what the project was, just that we were collaborating. It’s funny how obvious it seems to us now—and it’s weird we didn’t try it a lot earlier.

Tell us about your nautical theme / water obsession on the new one.
I guess there’s the obvious Jungian stuff, water as the unconscious. And then I think because Brian and I imprinted on each other when we were very young and then went our separate ways and reconnected, it’s really made both of us question what is volition and what is much deeper or older than our superficial daily “choices.” So this record is in so many ways Brian and I retrieving stuff from the deep—including our own painful early history together and the dark time that ensued when we tried to build lives apart that kind of collapsed. And then, his family is old-school Northwest people. S’Klallam tribe from Port Townsend and early settlers of the port town of Tacoma. But then there’s just the more associative and light parts, which were that we rented a cabin in Oceanside Oregon to go write songs and everything came together. We found all these sea creatures, which ended up being our album art. And we wrote a song about hope and added the words “Oceansided” at the end, because what does that even mean? And then we drove to “Cape Disappointment,” which is the best place name ever because some of the most instructive times in my life were when I miraculously got what I wanted and blam!—be careful what you wish for. This idea about finding land and with it, salvation and then…oh shit. So, we were both really feeling the symbolism and murky depth of the water stuff and we just ran with it. Plus, for videos it was pandemic-friendly—all we needed was a car and a camera. 

The wee Heather with her violin; photograph courtesy of Heather

How old were you when you started playing music? 
I started playing Sukuzi violin when I was about 6 and played until I was 14, and then I dabbled very lightly in bass and tambourine (haha!) and then when I was 28 I learned to play the drums and my brother and I started a band about a year later. I thought I was too old to start a band at the time. Ridiculous.

When did you write your first song? What was it about? 
Weirdly, Brian hung the lyrics to my first song on the wall of our studio.  When I was 4, my dad typed up my song lyrics and later framed them once I was making music. I had forgotten all about it until Brian found them in the basement. The song is called “She’ll Never Let Me Play” and it’s about my mom, and my friendship with squirrels. It seems all cute at first but then it turns into a Steve Miller time-traveling diss track.   

Early song lyrics by Heather

What were you like as a teenager? 
Very confused. I loved punk rock music like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements but I also hot-rolled my hair and wore, like, striped turtlenecks and scrunchies. It makes me laugh that I was too scared to play in a band or be in drama, because it’s obviously where I would have been happiest. I always sang in school even though I was never picked for the elite singing groups because I wasn’t showy or polished enough. I just cried bitterly into my scrunchie. But I’m like a cockroach. I come crawling BACK stronger!

Do you have kids or pets? 
I have two young sons, which is a trip, but they’re unbelievably sweet and weird. And a boy dog, a disturbingly muscular lab. Plus, Brian my husband slash bandmate. My house is a total sausage fest.

What else do you guys like to do besides making music? 
I like to write and read. And power lift. And travel. And snuggle the shit out of the kids and have movie nights. And then, Brian is one of the most well-traveled people I know, a great photographer and he loves to garden. That is the one activity I will never join him in. To me, gardening is a nightmare trifecta of tedium, dirt, and solar irradiation. 

Heather on drums; photograph by Joey Hippopotamus

Your previous band was inducted into the Indiepop Hall of Fame recently. Tell us about that. 
That was such a thrill. I love that Eux Autres still matters to people. And that the song was “Other Girls,” which was the first or second song that Nick and I wrote together. We got to pick a location for our virtual commemorative plaque, and we chose Omaha’s Sokol Hall, which was an amazing place in our hometown that hosted bingo, gymnastics, polka lessons and all-ages punk-rock shows. I love Omaha so much.

via @IndieHallOfFame on Twitter!

Can you cook? What is your specialty? What’s in the fridge? 
I am a pretty dang good cook but I’m not very improvisational. I get uptight about the recipe. My best friend is the best cook I’ve ever known—she’s a food entrepreneur—so I always feel like a fool next to her. But she’s taught me some great stuff, just by virtue of the fact that she’s been feeding me for decades. And my mom and sister-in-law are also killer cooks. There’s always a lot of asparagus in our fridge for some reason. It’s so easy and toothsome. And pork. It’s the Other White Meat. Brian cooks a lot of brown rice and vegetable stir-fries that are great healthy staples; he’s a bold weekday improviser. I take us to the dark side of the fridge on the weekends.

Brian and Heather; photograph courtesy of Corvair

What are your favorite Portland food carts and other spots? 
We are utterly obsessed with Robo Taco’s al pastor anything. Before COVID, it was our Friday night jam. We also love this place called Master Kong. And then Tusk is amazing, and all of Jon Taboada and Giovanna Parolari’s places—Navarre, Luce and Angel Face. Our hot date is always Laurelhurst Market because we like sitting at the bar and eating steak.

What else is in the pipeline? 
We are going to record again in May, and we are so excited and nervous now that we have actual expectations, as opposed to last time when we were making it up as we went along. 

What is Portland looking like at the moment? 
Portland is pretty devastated all around. The houselessness is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There’s graffiti on every surface city wide. And I’m so worried about the restaurant and food community, they are the heart of Portland. I have no idea what this city will look like in 12 months, but we are committed to staying here for a while. CF

10 Records Heather Cannot Live Without
Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes
Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
The Replacements, Let It Be
The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society
The Cars, The Cars
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy
Built to Spill, Perfect from Now On
The Bee Gees 1st
New Order, Substance
Cat Power, Moon Pix

Corvair
A Corvair!

We chat with DJ Gaylord Fields about the WFMU Marathon and other stuff

Gaylord in his natural habitat in 2012. Photo: Gail O’Hara

It’s that time of year again, friends! Time to open your wallets and throw some cash at WFMU to keep the best radio station ever fully operating! This coming Saturday, March 13, join Gaylord Fields and Todd Abramson when they host Yo La Tengo, who show up once a year to play your requests on demand (when you make a pledge of course!) We have known the sharply dressed, smart, funny Gaylord since the mid-1990s, when we met and realized we both had the best (kinda similar) taste in music and we were both copy editors! In recent years he’s been a regular MC at many chickfactor events and we love his radio show on WFMU. We caught up with him to see how he’s been handling COVIDtime and got the scoop. Interview by Gail O’Hara

chickfactor: How are you holding up? 
gaylord fields: I’m shocked at how my typical non-Pollyanna brand of optimism has been tested but has withstood the ordeals we’ve been through both with the pandemic and the sociopolitical reckonings of 2020–21, both in the US and throughout the world. If I can survive the worst year I ever lived through, with 2016–19 taking the other four spaces in that ignominious top five, with my head aloft, I can count myself fortunate.

How has your life changed during the COVID time? 
Between the forced-upon-me sedentary lifestyle and my recovery from the major back surgery I had last year to correct a crippling spinal disorder that left me bedridden for two months, I underwent a drastic redistribution of my body mass. So now I have a personal trainer who tortures me via Zoom. My brain is slowly learning to accept exercise as not being futile, but it isn’t doing it quickly enough for my liking.

Also, I learned that if you’re going to be stuck in bed for months at a time, it’s best to do it when there is literally nothing going on to get all FOMO about. 

Have you been vaxxed? 
Yesterday I received my second dose of the Moderna — a.k.a. the Dolly Parton — vaccine. Here on day two, I thought I had escaped any adverse side effects, but an hour ago I was shivering under a duvet, a flannel sheet, and an Irish knit sweater! And now I’m sweating and fanning myself from the heat! I could not be happier.

Photo by Petra Houbova

What music/film/art/books/snacks have gotten you through the pandemic? 
My current “wow” group is Sault, a mysterious Afrocentric British R&B collective that released two of my favorite albums of 2020, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise)

The last film I watched was Coming 2 America, which was pleasant enough for revisiting characters I liked in the original, mostly the secondary ones played by Eddie Murphy under pounds of latex. The last film I thoroughly enjoyed was during a socially distant trip to a Pennsylvania drive-in this past summer to view Rock ’n’ Roll High School. Worth the price of admission alone just to see Joey Ramone invent mumblecore. Fun fact: PJ Soles, who starred as high school student Riff Randell, was older than three of the four Ramones. 

As for art, I allowed myself a rare museum trip to the Whitney, where I marveled at the video of Alexander Calder at play gleefully manipulating his magical Cirque Calder. There’s also a Calder exhibition opening at MoMA at just the time when I’ll be pronounced 100% vaccinated. 

I just started reading Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, because I’m fascinated by an American Black upper class I knew practically nothing about as a product of the Black working class. 

You didn’t ask about TV, but I watch a lot of 1960s and ’70s detective shows, such as Naked City and Cannon, respectively, because there is no story arc or even a B-story to be found. 

Thanks to the fine people at the employee-owned King Arthur Baking Company, I got into baking doughnuts, until my carb loading while doing the opposite of running a marathon made my blood sugar levels rise — hence the dreaded Zoom personal trainer.

Gaylord’s radio show homepage illustration by Greg Harrison

How long have you been at WFMU? How did you get involved? 
I did my first program in August of 1992, so my 29th year will be swiftly approaching. I’m trying to reckon if perhaps 30 years is enough, but I have made no concrete decision about my radio future either way. I got my start early in ’92, when I was discovered by the WFMU music director at the time, David Newgarden, whilst I was DJing a show at Maxwell’s at the request of headliners Yo La Tengo. I guess I was making some oddball musical choices, because several WFMU DJs that night recognized me as one of them, just like in the movie Freaks, but to an arguably more positive and definitely less tar-and-feathery outcome.

How important is the marathon to keeping the station going? 
The two-week-long WFMU Fundraising Marathon is by far the primary source of the station’s operating budget, as we steadfastly maintain our stance of airing no commercials or underwriting, and accepting no money with strings attached. We’ve seen too many other stations compromise their way to irrelevance once they began answering to anything but their own individual tastes and whims. We refuse to put on such a straitjacket. I think that’s a thing worthy of support.

What are your favorite shows on the station right now? And in the past? 
There are way too many favorites for me to list, especially now that we have three Web-only streams as well as the broadcast station proper. Also, I wouldn’t feel comfortable singling out some of those favorite shows and colleagues while slighting others. But to name just one out of many fabulous former programs that I enjoyed in the past, I really miss The Radio Thrift Shop, a country-leaning show hosted by the lovely and talented singer-songwriter and chickfactor 25 performer Laura Cantrell. 

Check here to buy this!

Tell us how long Yo La Tengo has been doing their marathon duties? What are some of the most memorable performances/covers of theirs? 
I had a thought that the band’s first appearance might have been 1997, but I recently checked with Ira Kaplan, who makes the persuasive case that it was 1996. If I take his word as gospel, that marks this year as the 25th anniversary of this wonderful WFMU tradition. For the past few years, former Maxwell’s impresario Todd Abramson, a.k.a. WFMU DJ Todd-o-phonic Todd, has been hosting them, and me, on his three-hour show instead of the band being forced to curtail their appearance during my inadequate for the task two-hour program. This also makes it a bit of a homecoming, as Todd, Ira, Georgia Hubley, and I shared a Hoboken home during the late ’80s and early ’90s. 

In a quarter century, there have been too many renditions to recall, but I swooned mightily a couple of years ago when James lent his golden high tenor to bring forth a gorgeous version of Lois’s “Shy Town.” And they also memorably performed “Outdoor Miner,” by Wire, which is a shade less than three minutes — or less than two if you prefer the LP version — of left-field pop bliss.

You can own this too.

How long have you known them? In what capacity? 
I knew who Georgia and Ira were from seeing Yo La Tengo perform here and there, and from the copy of Ride the Tiger I picked up at Pier Platters, but we didn’t become actual friends until early 1987, when I was invited by Todd to take over the biggest bedroom in the house the three of them lived in, and they are to this day three of my favorite people ever. Much later, I met James McNew when he completed the trio, and what’s not to love about him?

Can you tell us any stories from the early days of Maxwell’s? 
One of the first times I went to Maxwell’s, in the early ’80s, the band A Worrying Thing opened for the group I actually wanted to see, namely the Cyclones. I preferred that first band in their later incarnation when they renamed themselves after an apocryphal tale concerning the 1962 New York Mets and a three-word Spanish phrase. I also once saw rockabilly behemoth Sleepy La Beef go into the kitchen and chug-a-lug a carafe of hot black coffee, then clamber onstage to play his oversized heart out for hours. 

Do you have any favorite memories of their Hanukkah shows? 
Forgive me for making this first memory about my own participation, but one of my happiest moments on a stage ever was sharing the one at Maxwell’s with Lois to perform an unrehearsed comic deconstruction of “Je T’aime (Moi Non Plus)” as an encore. Performing with her was a dream I never imagined would become real. Also, I must say that any time the Sun Ra Arkestra, featuring the ageless Marshall Allen, are part of the onstage Hanukkah celebration, as they were last in 2019 at the Bowery Ballroom, it’s a transcendental moment. Next would be seeing the late and great Neil Innes perform Rutles songs, backed by a worshipful Yo La Tengo in the roles of Dirk, Stig, and Barry, again at Maxwell’s.

Do you have any beloved memories from chickfactor shows? 
Every chickfactor show has been a reunion of sorts of lovely people I have not seen in a long time, sometimes in decades. It thrills me that the chickfactor community is not something people age out of, although many of us started off not quite fully formed when we entered this special world. 

As for a personal MC memory, I recall at the Bell House in Brooklyn when I divided the audience as well as the performers into two gangs: One group I dubbed Team Horizontal Stripes, and the other was Team Gingham Checks (my own posse, membership duly marked by the lilac gingham shirt I was sporting). I may have had Lois on my ginghamed side, but we were up against the striped likes of Small Factory’s Phoebe Summersquash. No one was harmed, all were delighted. It was a chickfactor event, after all.

Gaylord with Sukhdev and Tae at Bell House, 2017. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Another was when Sukhdev Sandhu, Tae Won Yu, and I held a meeting of what I cheekily called the “chickfactor men of color” in the Bell House’s automatic photo booth.

Then there was the London chickfactor 25 show at the lovely Lexington in my home away from home, Islington, when Cathy Rogers of Heavenly, Marine Research, and, evidently, Junkyard Wars fame, approached me after one of my typically freewheeling and off-the-cuff announcements and said, “I never have any idea where you’re going with these introductions, and somehow you pull it all together at the end!” I told Cathy that if I’ve learned anything from watching gymnasts, it’s that you can perform any sort of mad gyrations and twists and turns, as long as you stick the landing at the end. 

What were your most treasured purchases from Pier Platters or Other Music? 
Thanks to recommendations by my longtime dear friend Katie Gentile, who was working her way through grad school as a Pier Platters clerk, I own all the early Bus Stop Label 45s, mostly seemingly recorded by different permutations of Ric Menck and Paul Chastain. I also did all of my Sarah shopping there, whenever one of those precious discs would somehow wend its way from Bristol to Hoboken. I also have many, many cherished releases put out by Flying Nun, such as the three Look Blue Go Purple EPs, as Pier Platters — where I was later a clerk myself — had the most comprehensive New Zealand indie collection on the East Coast, and possibly in all of North America. But the most valuable thing I have from Pier Platters is its distinctive handmade swirly open/closed sign, which Bill the store proprietor let me take home on the store’s final day.

I had such good luck in the cheap 45 bins at Other Music that it mentally allowed me to go extravagant on some of the store’s pricier imports, such as the Tom Zé reissues imported from Brazil.

Do you have a current favorite record store? Online one? 
I rarely visited local record stores, even pre-lockdown, as the pickings are slim in New York, and my usual vacation forays into shops have obviously been curtailed. But the last local record store I visited pre-lockdown was the Greenpoint, Brooklyn, outpost of Academy Records. I will correct my lack of local shopping once I’m comfortable to do so again, and look forward to crossing two rivers to get to such Brooklyn shops as Earwax, Rebel Rouser, and Captured Tracks, to name just a few.

Online, I use Discogs to find mostly old and rare 45s, and I still patronize Dusty Groove, especially for my Brazilian musical needs.

Do you listen to any podcasts? 
When I actually went into an office pre-lockdown, I used to walk to the train station listening to John McWhorter’s Lexicon Valley language podcast — love his linguistics work; not as big a fan of his politics, but they never intrude. I guess I could consider him the William Safire of the 21st century in that regard. Nowadays, the only podcast I listen to is called Nothing Is Real, and you can guess by the name that it’s Beatles-related. The two Irish hosts go deep into the Fab Four’s careers, both as a group and solo, yet in a way that isn’t old hat or slobberingly hagiographical.

What is a Melody Dad? 
My late friend Trevor Jenkins, who was a composer of production music in his native London, referred to me as such with regard to my show’s embrace of melodic components, and it is an honor I wear proudly. I was quite chuffed that someone who wrote melodies as a career thought I had a keen ear for picking out and combining indelible ones for interesting effect. I always listen to my air checks post-show, but I have yet to re-listen to the one I programmed in his memory a couple of years ago. It’s still too soon, too raw.

I know your wife is involved in helping animals. Is there a place folks can donate to help her out?
Kathleen is the director of community cat education for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, which recently partnered with the longtime animal welfare nonprofit Bideawee. So if you would like to support community cats by donating to help fund programs such as Trap-Neuter-Return and shelter-building seminars, here is the place to do it.

It’s a mocktail, kids. Photo by Vicky Sweat 

What are you going to do when we are all vaxxed and are given a green light to be free? 
Because I’m now set up to work remotely, once it’s absolutely safe to do so, I plan to couch surf in L.A. for a few weeks and get caught up with all my friends on that coast. A side trip to my beloved Palm Springs may also be in the offing.

I’d also like to visit the chickfactor editrix now that she lives in the same time zone as I do.

Any other news about you or WFMU? 
WFMU is unparalleled in its diversity of programming, but recently we had a bit of a reckoning about its somewhat less diverse roster of actual programmers. As such, we’ve enacted internal programs to make the station more inviting to BIPOC and other marginalized groups. Within the past year, the on-air staff has become more representative of our community and our nation than ever, but we can’t rest on our laurels, as this is an ongoing struggle.

Also, this past summer I joined the station’s board of directors, and as proud as I am to take on such an important role for a radio station I love and believe in, I never saw myself as boardroom material beforehand. Mind you, WFMU is far from corporate, but this is real grownup stuff nonetheless. I promise to take on this role with the utmost seriousness, whatever that word means relative to WFMU.

Will you MC some shows at chickfactor 30 (gasp!) in 2022? 
Try and stop me, Gail! I have a travel budget burning a hole in my Venmo account! Have quirky MCing style, will travel!

Thank you, Gail, for interviewing me, and I hope to see everyone everywhere during chickfactor 30.

Thank you, Gaylord! 

Tune in to WFMU on Saturday, March 13 at 3 pm EST to hear Gaylord, Todd and Yo La Tengo!

Gaylord prefers crisp plaid shirts and cardigans. Photo by Matt Fiveash

catching up with daily song generator jessica griffin from the would-be-goods

Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods in London, 2001. Taken by Gail O’Hara

chickfactor 13 (2000) published an interview with Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods 21 years ago conducted by Peter Momtchiloff, who ended up joining her band, which also features Deborah Greensmith and Andy Warren. I took a lot of photographs of them while I lived in London (2001 and 2004) that have ended up on their album covers, and the WBGs have played at many chickfactor parties. While some of us haven’t been able to focus or achieve our creative potential during COVIDtime, Jessica has become rather prolific. We checked in with her about how it’s going. Interview by Gail O’Hara

chickfactor: how are you holding up? 
jessica griffin: Fairly well, although my dreams are much more vivid than usual which must mean I’m more stressed out than I think. 

How different is your life under lockdown than it was before?
In some ways, very different. Peter (my partner and fellow Would-be-good) has been staying with me since it all began, and I’ve got into a different routine, cooking twice a day (except at weekends) and writing and recording songs daily.

What has been getting you through this time? Books, food, etc. 
Peter’s company, Zoom chats with friends and songwriting. I’m too restless to read much these days, although when I’m feeling anxious I devour 20th-century detective fiction. We’ve been watching the short Cocktails with a Curator talks from the Frick Collection and old black-and-white British films, e.g. Spring In Park Lane, Cast A Dark Shadow. I’ve always cooked regularly but food seems much more important now. We have a proper lunch every day which is quite old-fashioned (and French!) and I’ve expanded my repertoire quite a bit.
I find cooking very calming.

Jessica performing at the Luminaire; photo courtesy of Jessica

What do you miss most about beforetimes? 
Friends and family. I haven’t seen my (grown-up) daughter for over a year as she lives in another city. She’s very Victorian and doesn’t do FaceTime/Zoom. And I really miss my almost-daily lunches at a wonderful local cookery bookshop/café run by an eccentric Frenchman. 

How has London changed since this happened? For better or worse.
I haven’t been further than a mile from home since March 2020 so I can only talk about my own part of west London. In the first lockdown, with almost no traffic and very few people around, you could smell the grass and flowers in the gardens and parks. 

Seeing so many local shops, restaurants and cafés go out of business is heartbreaking, though. 

Can Brexit be reversed? 
Probably not in our generation. I think it’s a huge mistake.

Let’s talk about your new songs! When did you start writing one song per day? And how many are you up to now?
2 October 2020. I thought it would be good to have a creative project as I was slowly turning into my grandmother. I’ve written 157 songs so far. 

How has Peter been involved in the process if at all? 
My idea was to treat songwriting like a game or challenge, so I asked Peter to give me a title every evening. I would write and record the song the following day and play him the result. It’s worked for me in the way nothing else has. Sitting around waiting for the muse never got me anywhere. I should say that Peter doesn’t have any preconception of what the song should be about, or how it should sound. He just gives me a title and that’s it. Sometimes I will change the title retrospectively if I think it suits the song better.

Otherwise it’s a solo project — I do all the singing, play all the instruments (apart from bass on a few songs) and recording.  

What have you learned about yourself as a songwriter, a musician and a home-recorder since you started doing this? 
I’ve learned not to be so precious about songwriting and to treat it like a job that I have to get on with every day, whether I feel like it or not. It’s helped me to override my perfectionist tendencies as I have to finish the song by the end of the day and play it to Peter even if I’m not happy with it. And I’ve learned that I can’t trust my own judgement, at least my first impressions. Sometimes I’ll think a song I’ve just written is rubbish but when I listen to it again a few days later I like it. And vice versa. My singing, guitar and keyboard playing were quite rusty at the beginning but they’re improving. And being in charge of the recording process means I can do as many retakes as I want, which has helped me to sort out some things I didn’t like about my singing. 

Jessica and Peter in London, 2001. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Can you give us some details about some of the songs? Titles/subject/etc. 
“Ouija Board Romance” is set in a provincial English town in the 1920s and is about a housemaid being invited to join a séance hosted by her employer, and the unexpected result. “The Magic Hour” is about a suicide pact between a spoiled young man and an older courtesan in a hotel in Khartoum in the siege of 1884. “The Wind Will Change” is about a drifter in 1940s America, written from the perspective of a woman or girl who loves him but knows he’s not going to be around for very long. “Demon Lover” is the story of the ‘damsel with the dulcimer’ in Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” who is outraged that she’s been spirited away from her loom in rural Devon and abandoned in the dark cavern of the poet’s imagination. And finally, “Cavanagh, Cody and Byrne” is about a mysterious vaudeville act that might actually be something much bigger.

I don’t know where these ideas and characters come from. I always wanted to be a writer or film director so maybe these are the novels I would have written or the films I’d have made, compressed into song form. I can picture the characters and their settings in detail and I know who would play the couple in “The Magic Hour” – Omar Sharif and Jeanne Moreau. I’ve also written some songs about universal experiences and situations with quite simple lyrics which aren’t like anything I’ve written before. 

And some songs in recognisable styles but from a female perspective, like “In The Mirror” which sounds like an angsty early Who song but is about being a young woman, having to be what other people want you to be and being able to be yourself only when you’re alone.

Do you have any rituals or unusual holidays that you celebrate? 
My daughter said at age six that she thought it was unfair that we had Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no Daughter’s Day so we instituted it and I send her a hand-made card and a little present every year.

What are you reading? 
I started reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Rachel Cusk’s Transit but am finding I can’t concentrate for long.

What is in your fridge? What is your specialty to make?
The usual stuff, plus Thai green curry paste, tahini, fresh ginger, kefir. We’re eating very healthily—everything cooked from scratch, lots of vegetables, etc., but possibly a little too much of everything. Irish soda bread (Darina Allen’s recipe) is my lockdown speciality. I make it with spelt flour which gives it a kind of soft sweetness like English scones.   

If you were running the country (or the world), what would you do first?
I would absolutely hate to be in a position of power and can’t even imagine it. Being the mother of a small child was challenging enough.

What is your sign? 
Cancer.

What is your spirit animal?
A rather small and motheaten bear. 

When we’re allowed total freedom, what will you do first?
Meet up with my sister and take her for the birthday lunch we had to cancel last year because of lockdown.

Any other future plans? Where and when will you release some tunes? 
I’ve just set up a page on Bandcamp where I’ll release some of my new songs very soon. Beyond that, I hope to finish the Would-be-goods album we were working on before lockdown and to start doing live shows again (if there are any venues left).

Thank you, Jessica

Pete Paphides talks about Broken Greek one year after publication

We’ve been big fans of Pete Paphides since the 1990s when both of us worked for the Time Out media family. One year ago today he published a memoir called Broken Greek — a warm, funny, relatable and charming tale. It captures the thrill of discovery for a young record shopper, the brutality and wonder of childhood, the split identity people from two different cultures often feel, and the euphoria of great pop songs in general. If you haven’t read it, now would be a good time to burrow back in time to Birmingham 1982, where Pete fumbled his way into adulthood to a mighty mighty soundtrack. We caught up with him again(!) to chat about the book. (You can also follow him on Twitter and listen to his Soho Radio show

chickfactor: so how did it feel to put yourself out there?
pete paphides: it didn’t really feel like that. First of all, I started writing the book without knowing if I would finish it. Secondly, when I finished it, I had no idea if it would find a publisher. And then, when we found a publisher, I didn’t know if anyone would want to buy it. So those are three pretty big provisos! The amount of green lights required for me to get to a position where I’m “putting myself out there” was quite a lot. It was only when the book was finally out and I read the reviews that I realised what I’d done was quite exposing. But by then, it was too late. And because the reviews were nice, that softened the impact. The worst thing would be to reveal something personal about your life and for total strangers to say, “This has no real value”… that would have been a bit embarrassing.

Tell us about the process – how long it took to write, were your editors heavy or light, any sort of details about where you write/how you best go about focusing on writing? 
I started work on Broken Greek at the beginning of 2017. I wanted to write a book that felt as much like a history of music during a particular period as it did a memoir – and the connecting tissue between those two things was the way that music gave me an identity that was different to that of my parents. They were Greek and Greek-Cypriot, but I could never wholly identify as Greek because I was born in England. And pop was the engine of that realisation.

There were no editors, because I didn’t show it to any until it was finished. My friend Bob Stanley was invaluable throughout this time – he read every chapter, and when it started to become clear that this was going to be a lengthy book, he told me to hold my nerve and believe that it needed to be this long. And he was right. We only showed the book to one publisher – Katy Follain at Quercus, who first approached me about 20 years ago, when I was still at Time Out. She asked me if I had any ideas for a book. I told her that I was probably never going to write a book. And she just said, “Well, I hope you don’t mind me calling you up once every couple of years, because I think that one day you might – and when you do, I’d love to see it.” So, after all these years, I thought it was only correct that if I did write a book, Katy should be the first editor who sees it. That said, imagine how embarrassing it would have been if she thought it was awful…

Pete in London, 2012. Photo by Gail O’Hara

The book was mostly written in cafés in North London. I find that the best place to write is in a café, surrounded by the everyday background bustle of people going about their business. At the beginning of the process, I’d drop my youngest daughter off at school in Golders Green (about five miles from our house) and make a short walk to a café called Bar Linda, which is right next to the tube station and coach terminus. It was pretty perfect in there: large windows, plenty of light and clay-coloured tea, poured out of huge stainless-steel teapots for tube train and coach drivers on their lunch breaks. I wrote the section about Sound Affects by The Jam in there; and at Bar Linda, I also wrote the early section where I heard The Rubettes’ Sugar Baby Love for the first time. Most of the final half of the book though, was written in another cafe The Palace (now renamed The Breakfast Hub) in Crouch End. It’s run by a young Turkish guy called Efe – they were so good to me in there. Ida who works there is Lithuanian. Every morning I’d go straight into the Palace from the YMCA gym across the road and, without even having to ask me, Ida would deposit a frothy coffee on my table. Nescafé on formica in a bustling caff – that’s my happy place. When the first hardbacks were ready, I went straight to the Palace and handed one to Efe and Ida. It’s now sitting on a shelf above the chilled display counter. 

Efe and Ida at the Breakfast Hub in Crouch End

What kind of response did the book get from your family and friends?
Generally, lovely. It seemed to affect my mother quite deeply. I think it made her feel like someone had borne witness to some of the unpleasant things that had happened to her. And that in turn made me realise that, as you get older, it does help you to achieve some measure of closure to have gone through some sort of adversity and feel like someone was watching as was able to help tell your story. Some of the most touching responses have been from musicians whose records I love – some of whom were even featured in the book: Helen O’Hara and Billy Adams from Dexys were both so lovely. Two of my favourite bands, Crowded House and The Trashcan Sinatras, made videos for singles and deliberately placed the book in background shots without telling me. Even when I watched them, I somehow didn’t notice – other fans had to pointed them out to me! I interviewed Elton John for a Record Collectorfeature and he had been reading the book in the days preceding the interview – he said that me in the book reminded him of himself at that age. Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens was lovely about it too. You can imagine how that felt – I was 15 when I bought my first Go-Betweens single (“Bachelor Kisses,” swiftly followed by “Part Company”). I love that band so much.

And from strangers? 
Way, way, way beyond my wildest expectations. I get messages via Twitter every day – people from all sorts of backgrounds who saw something of their own childhoods reflected in the book.

And the critics? 
Again, just great. The first review to appear was by the former Labour MP Alan Johnson in The New Statesman. I’ve never met him; I had no idea he’d even been given the book. 

Pete’s parents Chris and Victoria at the Great Western

Was your family upset by it at all? Did they read it in advance? 
I didn’t show them the book in advance because I wanted them to read everything in its correct context. My dad is a complex character and you can’t really sugar-coat that. But if he didn’t also come across as a loving, conscientious father to his kids, then I haven’t done my job properly. That said my parents’ marriage isn’t what you would call – by the modern expectations – a harmonious one. I think we forget the degree to which notions of duty and expedience were once soaked into the definition of marriage. People didn’t expect their marriages to be like the fairytale idea of marriage. That’s why I wanted to mention Fiddler On The Roof in the book – because in some ways, that corresponds more closely to my parents’ notion of what a marriage might be. I think it was a bit of a shock for my dad to see how much I had remembered and to read about how his marriage had seemed to me as a child observing it. I didn’t think my mum and dad were particularly well-suited to each other, and those differences were compounded by their decision to leave behind their support systems, their extended families and run a succession of fish and chip shop in Birmingham for 25 years. I still feel that way, but I have to respect their belief in the sanctity of marriage to the exclusion of almost all other considerations. I don’t quite see it that way. A successful marriage can last for five years if those five years are happy ones. And conversely, if marriage lasts a lifetime, that alone doesn’t make it a success. So, yes, some of the details about their marriage would have been upsetting for him to read, but if I’d chosen not to include them, there would have been a gaping vacuum in the book. He wasn’t always the easiest person to be around, but he was under a lot of pressure, trying to keep a business going in a country that he only stayed in because his kids wanted to be here – and I wouldn’t have swapped him for any of the other Cypriot dads. And I have to say, after the initial surprise, he’s been great about it. We phone each other every couple of days. In fact, the first thing I’ll probably do after this is call him.

What did your daughters think of it? 
They’re too busy creating source material for their own memoirs to read mine!

What is the funniest response about the book that you got? 
I stopped reading the Amazon reviews quite early, but one of the first negative ones suggested that I might be autistic. It was the combination of disdain for the book and concern for my well-being that stuck in my memory.

Tell us a bit about the launch. When was it? Who attended? 
March 6, 2020 – the day of publication, a fortnight before lockdown. One of the most surreal days of my life. The basement of the Heavenly Social in central London. On the ground floor, Cornershop were hosting the launch party for their album England Is A Garden. I arranged for a ‘house’ band of some friends to play a few songs – covers of songs that were mentioned in the book. That came about after my friend Mike Batt (who was the guy behind the Wombles records in the early 70s) offered to play a couple of songs at the launch. Obviously, when Mike Batt offers to play at your launch, you bite his hand off. Then after that, things snowballed. Mike and I are both friends with David Arnold and Eos Counsell. David is, of course, a brilliant soundtrack composer and all-round lovely human; his partner is Eos who is a member of the popular classical quartet Bond, and a brilliant funny human being. Then David said, “I do a pretty good version of E.L.O.’s Livin’ Thing, on which Eos can play violin. Then somewhere along the way, Helen O’Hara from Dexys Midnight Runners, Sean Read (Dexys, The Rockingbirds), Dan Gillespie Sells (The Feeling), Kate St. John (The Dream Academy), Andy Lewis (Paul Weller, Pimlico) and James Walbourne (The Rails, The Pretenders) got involved. What James didn’t tell me was that, for the version of “Back On The Chain Gang,” he asked Chrissie Hynde if she fancied coming along and taking the lead. So suddenly, I’m at my own launch party watching Chrissie Hynde singing my favourite Pretenders song, and one of my favourite songs of all time. Then, a few minutes later, there’s Darren Hayman a.k.a. the world’s biggest Wombles fan, losing his mind because his childhood hero is up there doing “Remember You’re A Womble.” Being an exceptionally lovely man, Mike then offered to appear at the Rough Trade event to perform two songs with Stevie Jackson – who had primarily agreed to come along for the reading. Instead of my reading out extracts from Orange Juice songs, I figured it’d be much more fun to have Stevie actually singing and playing them in person. He also did a magnificent version of “Silver Lady” by David Soul. You know how much I adore Belle & Sebastian, so imagine how it felt to have him agree to do that, and to be up there on stage next to him.

You clearly have met some of the pop titans from your childhood via being a music writer – can you tell us a bit more about who/when/how it went? 
I met The Bee Gees in 1997, when I was still working for Time Out. That was a big deal for me, because these were people who I adored from a distance, watching them on TV when I was still in my pre-teens. They were promoting the release of their album Still Waters, and the three of them were gathered in Barry Gibb’s house, which was a mansion a short drive outside London. I walked into Barry’s house and he was on the phone to someone from The Brit Awards, where The Bee Gees were shortly due to receive a lifetime achievement award. He was berating them for suggesting that they receive their award from Jarvis Cocker. Barry objected on the basis that, during the previous year’s ceremony, Jarvis had “invaded” the stage during Michael Jackson’s performance of “Earth Song” – he’d been unamused by that. Anyway, the interview – once it had gotten underway – went so well that, at the very end, I summoned up the courage to ask the Bee Gees if they might be willing to sing an outgoing answerphone message to the tune of “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You.” I asked them if they could sing, “If you want to leave a message for Pete/Hold on, hold on/Leave your name and number after the beep/Hold on, hold on.” To my amazement, they did it – two attempts to get it as good as they wanted it to be! When I got home and played it to my then-girlfriend Caitlin, she dropped to the floor in amazement. Twenty-four years later, she still insists that’s the thing that made her decide that we should be married.

The Bruce Forsyth pose at Pete’s 8th bday party

This is clearly the first chunk of your life. Are there various other sequels to come, in a Tracey Thorn sort of way? 
Too early to say. I work pretty slowly – even more so while lockdown is ongoing and there are no cafés to work in…

What are the plans for putting Broken Greek on the screen? 
It’s been optioned for TV by Andrew Eaton (The Crown, 24-Hour Party People) and we’ve found a writer to adapt it, but whether it’ll ultimately happen, who knows? Lots of things get optioned but never made.

What other autobiographies have you loved to bits? 
Julian Cope: Head On/Repossessed; Robert Forster: Grant & I; Chrissie Hynde: Reckless; Katie Puckrik: Shooting From The Lip. Those are the four standouts for me.

Whose autobiography that hasn’t been written yet do you long to read? 
Linda Thompson. 

What music from the book do you still play a ton? 
Loads. When I’m writing, I tend to listen to music that I know inside-out, so any MOR, soul, disco, New Wave and synth-pop megahits from the late 70s will serve that purpose.

What is your favorite Greek music of all time? 
Manos Hadjidakis’s work runs the gamut of soundtracks, pop, popular folk songs and classical. I listen to his music a lot. Nikos Xylouris is someone I mention in the book – he was a Cretan singer who rose to become something of a folk hero in the late ’60s and ’70s up to the time of his death in 1980. My parents reacted to his death the way most people of their age reacted to John Lennon’s death.

What snacks from your childhood are the most comforting in 2021? 
Primula Cheese Spread that comes straight out of a tube – that’s been a dramatic rediscovery for me lately. Also McVities Ginger Cake: thirty seconds in the microwave with a blob of tinned custard added to it. A bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with hot milk just before bedtime is pretty hard to beat. 

Do you know what’s become of the characters from your book apart from your family and rockstars? 
One of my teachers has been in touch – my German teacher. For legal reasons, I had to change most of the names in the book. His real name was Mr Thomas, but I didn’t try too hard to change his name. I just removed the ‘a’ and called him Mr Thoms because he was tall and had a moustache, just like Peter Thoms, the keyboard player and trombonist from Landscape, who had a hit in 1981 with a song called “Einstein A-Go-Go.” When Mr Thomas got in touch after reading the book, he thought it might have been a typo. One name I didn’t change was that of Ged, the older girl who lived next door because we’re still in touch—she’s a librarian these days—so she was able to give her approval. In fact, one of the nicest things about the response to the book has been the affection that people feel for Ged—she’s like the surrogate older sister that everyone would like to have had. When we hosted one of Tim Burgess’s Twitter Listening Parties for a Broken Greek–themed playlist, I got to introduce everyone to Ged. I can’t tell you how surreal it felt to have Tim Burgess from The Charlatans tweeting Ged because he knew her from the book.

Here is a little promo film we made for the book. We didn’t have an advertising budget, so I got my friend Johnny Daukes to record a version of Brotherhood Of Man’s 1976 hit Save Your Kisses For Me (the winning song in the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest and mentioned extensively in the book) in the style of Subterranean’s Homesick Blues. Johnny is a genius. Not only did he record the song, but he made the video. 

What films/TV/music/whatnot have gotten you thru the past year? Or the past four or five for that matter? 
Caitlin and I hadn’t watched The Sopranos prior to December 2020. We can now concur with the popular view that it’s the all-time greatest televised work of fiction. We also binge-watch any programmes hosted by Cornish TV chef Rick Stein. We’re strangely comforted by what an awkwardly on-camera presence he has. He also doesn’t know how to end and on-screen conversation. The forced smile at the end of the exchange is almost unbearable. And yet also, as a participant in that moment of awfulness, I feel like I’ve been propelled to the essence of something of great existential significance. So much of life feels like that moment fleetingly captured in Rick’s pained grimace. Obviously, Seinfeld and Cheers FOREVER. We’re also big fans of Best Home Cook. Claudia Winkleman can do no wrong in my book. The fact that, ultimately, none of this really matters is the complicit unsayable bond between her and the viewer. Finally, can I also mention Queer Eye, which is the one show that will never fail to envelope our family in feelings of warmth and well-being? We encounter way too much wanton cruelty in our everyday lives, and so it’s more important than ever – to misquote The Chills – look for the good in others so that they can see the good in you. If we were all a bit more like Jonathan, Karamo, Antoni, Bobby and Tan, the world would be a much healthier place.

Can Brexit be reversed? 
I think so. But not the damage to the lives of all the small businesspeople who were duped into believing the lies on which it was predicated. This country – or, more specifically, the level of political discourse – needs to grow up a little.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do once we’re all allowed total freedom? 
My local YMCA gym – in particular, the perfumed hair and body wash that comes out of the pump-action dispenser in the shower. Working in cafés. Record shops. All of these things, in any order.

Do you have any future plans/books/etc.? 
I co-run a small reissue label called Needle Mythology. We’ve put out records by Stephen Duffy, Ian Broudie, Tanita Tikaram, Bernard Butler & Catherine Anne Davies and Robert Forster. They sound as brilliant as they look, and we’re putting out some more this year, by Whipping Boy, Neil & Tim Finn and Butcher Boy. We’re also about to put out our first brand-new album, The Obvious I, by Ed Dowie. I don’t know if there’ll be a sequel to Broken Greek. I’m proceeding slowly, much as I did with the first one. And if it turns out to be a book, then great. If not, well I’ve still written one more than I ever thought I would.

Thanks for chatting with us, Pete!! 
Thank you. It’s a continuing honour to have the chickfactor stamp of approval. 

Read these two excerpts from Pete’s book here and here.

agony uncle stephin merritt is here to dole out romantic advice for your plague year holiday

AS AN ERSTWHILE ASTROLOGER I AM EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO GIVE ADVICE. THE BAD NEWS IS, MERCURY IS IN RETROGRADE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY. THE GOOD NEWS? THERE ISN’T ANY. 

Selfie courtesy of Stephin Merritt

We met during COVID, talked/texted for a few months and finally decided to just meet in person last September. She’s great, my age (mid-40s), goth (like me, although I might be more of a mod), smart, funny, likes good music, all the things. But she’s cripplingly insecure, in a way that I don’t know how to deal with? I’m divorced, was married 10 years. She’s the first person I’ve dated since getting divorced in 2018. I’m not a “rebound” kinda guy, I like real relationships. But due to her own bad experiences with past relationships, she has so many trust issues, even though it should be obvious that I don’t have a wandering eye and am totally into her. What can I do? How do I make her see that I’m not like her exes? — TVPs Fan
SM: WOMEN CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT TRUST MEN. GET USED TO IT. ALSO, IF YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’RE A GOTH OR A MOD, YOU SHOULD BE SEEING A COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPIST. 

I met someone online during COVID and we’ve never met in person. Should I propose? — Lockdown Princess
SM: NO! PEOPLE ONLINE AREN’T REAL. GO TO A BAR, LIKE AN ADULT. MOST HAVE OUTDOOR SEATING. WEAR A UNION SUIT. 

I have a Valentine’s Day date but the forecast is going to be 28º and cloudy so a bit chilly to eat outdoors. Should I invite them back to mine? Should I risk being exposed to someone else’s droplets and bodily fluids so we can have sex indoors? — Sweetheart of the Rodeo 
SM: WEAR A UNION SUIT. 
DO NOT MAKE A PLAN FOR AFTER DINNER, IT’S PRESUMPTUOUS AND GAUCHE.

My BF is addicted to Facebook. Even when we’re in bed he’s gazing into some left-wing FBK group and making snarky comments. Is there any hope for us? — Device addict’s BF 
SM: ONLY HAVE SEX OUT OF BED, ALWAYS, AND THEN YOU WON’T CARE WHAT HE DOES IN BED. 

Is perfume passé? —Unscented 
SM: YES, IT’S HORRIBLE. ANYONE WEARING PERFUME IN AN ELEVATOR SHOULD BE ASKED TO LEAVE AT THE NEXT FLOOR. 

We are stuck in our house with three children this Valentine’s Day. Do you have any advice on how we can find romance in spite of them? How can we keep them away from us so we can be intimate? — Spouse House
SM: HAVE SEX OUTSIDE, LIKE ADULTS. PARKS ARE GOOD, CARS ARE GREAT. PUBLIC BATHROOMS ARE GOOD FOR A QUICKIE. GARAGES ARE AWESOME. 

I want to make my beloved a meal full of aphrodisiacs. What should I make? (We’re vegan) —Hungry for Love 
SM: CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE, AND MORE CHOCOLATE. 

I’m a lifelong commitment-phobe who seems to attract other commitment-phobes. How can I stop the madness? —Pattern Breaker 
SM: YOU MAY NEED TO DECLINE TO DISCUSS YOUR RELATIONSHIP HISTORY, SAYING YOU’RE NOT PROUD OF IT BUT YOU HAVE CHANGED YOUR PRIORITIES. 

I have a crush on someone whose musical taste could be improved. How can I “help” them improve it? Should I make a mixtape? What should I put on it? —Ear Candy 
SM: MIXTAPES ARE GREAT, BUT MAKE SURE YOUR CRUSH KNOWS THAT THE LYRICS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE LITERAL MESSAGES. (OTHERWISE IT WOULD TAKE FIVE YEARS TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES.) ALSO, BE OPEN TO LEARNING WHY THEY LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE…WITHIN REASON!
I ONCE DECLINED TO DATE AN OTHERWISE WONDERFUL GUY BECAUSE HE WAS INTO JAMIROQUAI, AND I DO NOT REGRET THAT DECISION. 

I’ve basically been living in slankets and shackets for a year. What should I wear on V-day? —Athleisure Annie 

SM: NOTHING! 

The Magnetic Fields’ latest release, Quickies, is out now. 

Selfie courtesy of Stephin Merritt