While we also interviewed Connie Lovatt in our 2022 issue of chickfactor (19), we interviewed her again just about Coconut Mirror, out Sept. 27 on our label, Enchanté Records (based in the U.S., not the one in Paris, France). Also read about the dream team who plays on it. Interview: Gail O’Hara
chickfactor:When did you start making Coconut Mirror? Talk us through the timeline. Connie Lovatt: When [my daughter] Hartley was around 1, we needed to get help with childcare. We didn’t have family in Los Angeles and both our moms had been so generous with their time, traveling out to care for Harts as we adjusted into being parents. But as she got older, I needed to get some structured help so I could take a break during the day. Her name was Diana, and she was incredible. Later Lucy [LaForge] took over and was amazing with Harts, too. During my breaks I discovered I didn’t even like to go anywhere in LA. I started to hang out in my garage and read and work on songs. I didn’t play guitar because the sound would tip off Harts that I was somewhere in the house, so I didn’t do anything with an instrument. I started making up melodies with some phrases. After a few months doing that off and on, I had 11 solid song ideas.
That was 10 years ago. So this was 2013. You can get into something for a little bit and then your kid gets sick and takes you out of it, or something happens, and I would put it away for a very long time. And years would go by, where like off on, off on, I gathered up melodies for each song. And then maybe three or four years ago (2019-2020), it was time to put chords to the melodies and see if the songs were indeed real. That’s kind of hard to do when you start with a vocal melody, to find the right chords and the flow. It was hard for me I mean, learning how to put chords to melodies that already existed because I’m not a great guitar player. And once I got that done, it took a couple years to figure out the directions of stuff. It was the first time I wanted every song to hold a sense of clear narration. I kept working on words all the time, and then when the pandemic hit, at some point, I would send lyrics to Bill [Callahan] and I’d say, “How’s this looking?” One day he gave the thumbs up, and I was galvanized!
Seven months after the pandemic started, we went to New Zealand. Ravi [my husband] got me this little digital four-track and I took it with me. We were there for six months, but two months before we were set to leave, I got it in my head that I had to get these down. I’d been sick for months with odd symptoms with what was eventually diagnosed as long COVID. We’d moved halfway across the world, and I wanted something to show for all this lost time. And it was time for me to face reality, to see how they sounded recorded. We were living in this pretty wood house right on the ocean. The weather in Wellington is extremely moody and beautiful. Almost every walk was challenging and wonderful. Every moment sheltered in the house was good. So, I started doing it, closing my bedroom door, and putting down the guitars and vocals. After months of being sick without any answers, it was incredible for me to hold in my hands something I’d made. It seemed impossible.
When we got back to Los Angeles, I found an engineer. He was a dad friend from our school. I’ve known him from the dozens of school events we went to with our daughters, and he was always helping with sound, at recitals or school plays etc. He’d been an engineer on tons of records from Veruca Salt to Barbara Streisand. His name is Joe Wohlmuth. So, I brought him all my files and I told him I wanted to work off these. I told him something magical happened in New Zealand and that my hands and vocals aren’t the best because of all these neuropathy issues but I want to build on what we have here. Then it took a little while longer to get other players. I was lucky enough to have beautiful Jim White secured but needed to wait for a break in his on-the-go schedule. Once we added Jim’s drums, I was able to send it to killers like James (McNew) and Rebecca (Cole) and Che (Chen) and slowly start building up everyone else’s tracks. Another person that helped me to build up confidence in these songs was Phoebe Gittins. She’s amazing and has an equally amazing mom, Philippa. Philippa was instrumental in helping us find the house we stayed in while in New Zealand, and she lived a couple houses down the road. She was the bestest next-door neighbor anyone could ask for. Her husband, Seth, had an acoustic guitar he generously lent to me while there. It sounds great and is mostly what I play on the record. When I met Phoebe, I learned she was a self-taught piano player. There was this piano in the house we were staying in and I had a couple songs down and I asked her to come by and put on headphones and play along to it and she sounded so beautiful. I kept those tracks, and they are on the album. She did so beautifully on those songs that when I eventually got back to LA, I sent her a couple more songs to work on. My friend Max Tepper lived close to us in Los Angeles, and I asked him to do some synthesizer stuff and he kindly wrote and handed over all sorts of cool sounds to work with. All the instruments, except for Lucy’s harmonica, were sent remotely. Joe and I would sit down and comp them in as they arrived and place them where we wanted, do little edits, and move things here or there to perfect the things we wanted. Then I re-sang everything except for some backing vocals that I kept from the New Zealand recordings. We rerecorded 3 guitar tracks, too.
You recorded this album next to the ocean. It’s hilarious that you went to New Zealand and made a Laurel Canyon record even though you were living in L.A. I didn’t know how it would all come together till New Zealand. Everyone that I’ve loved is in this record. Everyone that matters, women, men, they’re all in there somewhere. I wanted to show Hartley that after giving birth, that I could still make something. I wanted to make a record with acoustic guitar where I’m telling my daughter all the stories that mattered to me. My first few years in California, I listened to a lot of Neil Young and Judee Sill and some Stevie Nicks demos and Sandy Denny. I wanted their voices in my head as I got to know California. All the songs I had written with Fontaine [Toups] and Ed [Baluyut] (in Containe and the Pacific Ocean) were written so fast. They were immediate. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time on this. That I wanted to be certain of every word and note and it wasn’t rushed during the fun of hanging out with friends and trying to learn how to play or how to be in a band. I worked way, way faster then. Everything I did with people that was collaborative, the pace of that was not nearly as careful as I was now attempting. I’d never spent this much time writing one song, much less 11.
So, the recordings you made in New Zealand are these songs and you built on top of them, basically subtracting and adding after you got back. Yes. Almost all the acoustic guitar, lots of the backing vocals and a few of Phoebe’s piano tracks, all came from the work done on that little 4-track in New Zealand.
Who else plays on the record? Lucy, who helped us take care of Hartley in the beginning, she writes and performs and is a strong singer. She plays all sorts of instruments. She’s one of those people that can play a million things. So, she came in and did harmonica and some backing vocals on “Sisters.” James Baluyut plays pedal steel on “Sisters.” And I think that’s everybody. Yeah. Phoebe, James [McNew], Jim [White], the other James [Baluyut], Lucy, Max, Rebecca [Cole], and Che [Chen]. And Hartley’s screams of joy as she played video games with friends a world away are heard in the background on a couple songs.
Bill Callahan produced one of your previous albums (The Pacific Ocean’s So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm). You’ve known each other since then, right (2002)? Yeah. And then I played bass on his album A River Ain’t Too Much To Love.
Would you say that Bill was a consultant? He was a loyal champion. He would check in and ask how the songs were going. Just by being interested, he gave me strength. He knows what I’m trying to do or trying not to do. No matter if I’m successful in my attempts or not, he’s kind and honest so the courage to work on remains no matter the feedback. I’m lucky to have him there telling me, “This is working. This could be better.” Everyone should have Bill as a friend. The end of “Kid” is now perfect due to him.
What else informed the record and its process? Motherhood. Wifehood. My life changed course. I hadn’t touched an instrument for a couple years. When I started working on the melodies that would eventuality became the songs, I felt excited. I had so many happy moments playing in bands. I got curious if I could be happy trying this on my own. If the joys would still be there with just me in the room. I got really into it when I solved problems or things sort of elevated. I couldn’t quit caring about it. I wanted to finish this letter to my daughter, which is what it was becoming the more it came into view. You can’t give up on a letter to your kid! Sometimes I wish it hadn’t taken so long, that all those stops and starts and long gaps between stabs at the work hadn’t happened. But I was a different person in ways, compared to when I started, when I finally recorded it all. I’d became a bit of a perfectionist in that I no longer regarded impatience as a valid motivator to wrap it up. It had its own timeframe in my life and I was along for the ride. I finished when I finished and it felt good.
We love London and we love Girl Ray so it seemed like a no-brainer to ask them to tell us about the things they love to do in London, which include eating loads of pizza, karaoke, hanging with piglets, and mudlarking. Girl Ray—made up of singer-songwriter Poppy Hankin, bassist Sophie Moss and drummer Iris McConnell—seems like the kind of friend gang/band that everyone would love to join. Their third album, Prestige, came out in August on Moshi Moshi and it’s an ode to disco that was inspired by the TV show Pose about NYC’s queer ballroom scene in the ’80s. US and EU: You can pick up the LP from the band on tour this autumn. Meanwhile, read on and find out what Poppy, Iris and Sophie love to do in the great city of London! Images courtesy of Girl Ray
FOOD AND DRINK
Poppy: The first thing is something that I like to do, which is going around and eating loads of pizza because I used to be a pizza chef last year and I got kind of obsessed with pizza and just trying to find the best ones in London and there’s much debate. But yeah, I used to work at a place called Ace Pizza, which does really, really good pizza. It’s kind of like Napoli New York hybrid. They’re great. And then there’s a ton of other good ones, like Gordo’s, which is also in Hackney. And I’m forgetting every single pizza I’ve ever eaten. But there’s a ton of good pizza happening in London right now, so yeah.
Iris: We like a place called Gordon’s Wine Bar, which is a little bit touristy, but it lives up to the hype. It’s right next to Embankment station and it was made in 1890 and it’s in a little cellar and it does really, really tasty wines and a banging vegan cheese board. It’s a lovely little place to go after the theatre, you know we never do that, but it’s a classic spot.
Sophie: Something I and we like to do is go to a place called Tayyabs, which is in Whitechapel, East London. It’s right by my uni and I like to go by myself in between classes and eat lots of Punjabi food, but we like to go as a group as well.
Iris: They do really good like soft chickpeas.
Sophie: Yeah, really, really good stuff. Yeah.
Poppy: Next one is cosy pubs. The best thing about London in the winter or autumn is getting cozy in a pub and one of my favorite ones is the Southampton Arms, which is near Tufnell Park and Hampstead Heath. Super cozy small pub with a fireplace and it’s just very old, old vibes. And yeah, and it’s great. We also have a load of great locals near where we all live in Hackney, like the Prince George and Chesham Arms and the Duke of Wellington.
Iris: And where we grew up there’s a really crazy one called the famous Royal Oak, where Sophie used to work.
Sophie: I used to work there. Never work at your favorite places.
Poppy: Yeah, that’s actually the best rule in life. But yeah.
Sophie: Speaking of East London, we also like E Pellicci, this old Italian fry-up place. It’s been there since the 1800s I think. And it just does a delicious fry-up. Also, like, very lardy Italian foods and the vibe is just fantastic.
Poppy: Yeah, beware the fried bread because it will mean you can’t finish the fry-up. So when they ask you toasted or fried bread, just go “toasted” even though fried is delicious.
Iris: I disagree. Really good fish & chips all around London, but we probably like Micky’s fish & chips the most which is in Hackney and near Dalston. It’s near this really good pub called Army and Navy. They do darts and karaoke there. I’m rambling now.
Poppy: I also like to tell people coming to London to go and get a martini at Duke’s Bar, which is, yeah, it’s a bar at the bottom of a very fancy hotel in Mayfair. But it’s like a very London experience and you have to wait a little while to get a table, but you go in there and you should order a gin martini and the martinis are the strongest drinks you’ll ever have. I think they have about six shots of gin in them and there’s actually a two-drink limit. You can’t have more than two drinks. But the guys come up with a little cart and they make it right in front of you and it’s very delicious.
Sophie: Another one we like is Bar Italia in Soho—another very classic old Italian joint. But yeah, the drinks are great, it’s very open plan and people watching there is just excellent.
THINGS TO DO Iris: There’s a lovely little view from the top of the Oxo Tower. You can just walk up there for free, get that lift up or whatever and there’s just a great view from the Thames, get a little tap water and do some people watching.
Sophie: I’m looking at this list and I’m like, wow, I just do all these things by myself. OK. Genesis Cinema, again after university I like to go, sometimes they do 3-pound tickets for all the films that have come out like a few years ago, but they’re all the films that are super cheap and yeah, fantastic place.
Poppy: We also like to go to city farms, which are not unique to London, but it feels like quite a London thing where you get these, yeah, these small little farms in the middle of the city and you’ve got, you know, lots of lovely animals and …
Sophie: Ever heard of a farm?
Poppy: This is how a farm works. There are animals, but no, yeah, it’s a nice thing to do on the weekend, go and say hi to the piggies. They’re usually free.
Iris: You like to follow them on Instagram to see when there’s newborns.
Poppy: Yeah, exactly. But Hackney City Farm is my local and my favorite but there’s lots of good ones.
Iris: Vauxhall City Farm is great. Stepney Green. Yeah, there’s some real cute ones. There’s a wonderful little place called the Novelty Automation Museum. It’s a collection of homemade arcade machines. It’s right by Holborn and it’s just such a weird place and it’s just so strange. I love it there. It’s really fun. It’s like a work of art, but you get to play with it.
Poppy: Something I like to do as well, which is a bit random, is when the Thames is in its low tide, you can go onto the banks and find all kinds of crazy shit. There’s so many, like, there’s loads of bones, which I don’t touch obviously, but you can find little Victorian glass bottles and you can find clay pipes, like smoking pipes, loads of tiles, loads of stuff because basically for the past, like, however many 100 years, the Thames was basically just the bin for people, they just throw anything in it. So, there’s tons of stuff that washes up and it’s really fun to go and have a look and see if you can find anything.
Sophie: Um, it’s a bit dorky, but I quite like going on trains a lot, just for the sake of being on the train. And there’s a train line called the DLR [Docklands Light Rail], which was made in around 2012 for the Olympics and it goes across mostly East London, but it goes to central and South as well and it’s very like Blade Runner-y around the Canary Wharf and I find it quite relaxing to just sit on it and think about life.
Iris: And if you sit in the front, it feels like you’re driving the train.
Sophie: Yeah, there’s no drivers.
Iris: There’s great galleries everywhere around London, but particularly in Mayfair there’s some really fun commercial galleries that you can just wander around and they’re all free and the exhibitions change every few weeks and it’s very exciting. I mean, it’s incredibly wealthy around there, but it’s great for people watching also.
Poppy: I also really like a spot in Walthamstow in east London called the Walthamstow Trades Hall, which is like an old working man’s club. But recently they started doing some super fun nights, like there’s a good karaoke night, which is a lot of fun.
Sophie: We really like to go to car boot sales. We love knickknacks and there’s a car boot sale in Dalston called Princess May Car Boot, which is very, very good. And you’ll often see people you know, kind of setting up stores there because anyone could do it. Poppy’s done it.
Iris: And there’s a great one in Chiswick as well. If you drive, we recommend that. There’s a great vintage shop, probably my favorite in London called Blue 17 on Holloway Road. It’s very overwhelming but lots of fun. And I really like this toy shop in Archway fairly nearby called the Toy Project, which is kind of like a charity shop, but it just does toys and yes, it’s for children, but it’s just very fun to visit because everything’s really cheap and it’s run by a funny woman and her daughter. And it’s great for toy lovers.
FOOD AND DRINK Trying pizzas (Ace Pizza, Gordo’s etc.)
Gordon’s wine bar
E Pellicci fry-up
Great Turkish food on Kingsland Road (Somine)
Martini at Duke’s Bar
People watching from Bar Italia
Fish & chips at Micky’s Chippy, Dalston
THINGS TO DO Top of OXO
Novelty Automation Museum
Mudlarking by the Thames
Karaoke Night at Walthamstow Trades Hall
Walk on Hampstead Heath and swim in the ponds.
Going on trains/DLR line
SHOPPING Car boot sales, Princess May Car Boot in Dalston & Chiswick car boot sale
Blue 17 Vintage, Holloway Road
The Toy Project
When Pam Berry and I started chickfactor zine in 1992, you can be damn sure we were listening to both Heavenly and thePooh Sticks. We interviewed Heavenly for CF2 (Amelia Fletcher is on the cover with Bridget Cross from Unrest), but we never got to interview Hue Pooh, though we do remember a memorable show at Maxwell’s in 1992 or 1993. During pandemic lockdown times, Rob Pursey wrote some songs that were too punky for the Catenary Wires, so he and Amelia thought of Hue for a collaboration. So Swansea Sound was born—featuring Hue, Amelia, Rob (Skep Wax Records, The Catenary Wires), Bob Collins (the Dentists, the Treasures of Mexico), and Ian Button (who plays in too many bands to list)—and they’re about to release a fab new album, Twentieth Century (out Sept. 8), and go on tour (see dates down below). They need no introduction to you, reader, but we figured it would be fun to have Hue and Amelia interview each other after all this time! This is their conversation. Swansea Sound artwork by Catrin Saran James and Jon Safari.
Hue: What was the first song / record you can remember hearing, Amelia?
Amelia: I have no idea, but I do remember the first time I took a real interest. My parents had the Sgt. Pepper album and the sleeve had all the lyrics on it. I remember diligently learning all the words. I think I was 7. I more or less still know them all. How about you? And when did you first decide you wanted to make music yourself? Hue: Mine is Beatles as well. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da. Though it wasn’t a single in the U.K. so I reckon I’m remembering the version by Marmalade which was a No 1.
Although that was ’68 and I would’ve been three so whether or not this is a half-remembered memory or accurate I’m not quite sure.
I was in a band of sorts when I was 8 but I’m not sure if what we were doing was music. I played a pink glitter guitar which is impressive considering I can’t play guitar in the 21st century. We didn’t have a name though I have retrospectively named us the Swansea Bay City Rollers.
Can you remember what was the first song you wrote and were you already in a band? Amelia: The first song I wrote was called “Tissue Smiles”. I have no idea why! It had pretty terrible words, but a decent tune.
It was for my first band, which was called Splatter Babies. We were in sixth-form and practised in our drummer’s parents’ front room. Adam Franklin (latterly in Swervedriver) was the guitarist, and wrote most of the songs. At that point, I presume he thought it would be good to have a girl singer. Being in a band with me for a year obviously changed his mind! Hue: Ah splendid. I think I’ve seen a picture of you in Splatter Babies but not heard anything. We could / should cover ‘Tissue smiles’ if we get to that difficult third album with Swansea Sound!
Amelia: How did the idea for The Pooh Sticks come about, and what was the first Pooh Sticks song? Hue: The idea of the Pooh Sticks initially was just very much an idea. I came up with the name and the concept of forming ‘the ultimate ‘wimpy’ band’. I was stuck on Temple Meads train station in Bristol overnight with Steve from Fierce Records as we’d missed the last train to Swansea after a Primal Scream gig (jingle jangle version).
We then wrote ‘On Tape’ together with me coming up with the punchline and some other lyrics. Steve did the rest and we literally recorded it line by line as it was written. That was quickly followed by ‘Indie pop ain’t noise pollution‘ and ‘I know someone who knows someone who knows Alan McGee quite well‘.
Was Splatter Babies your only band before Talulah Gosh? How did TG get together and how quickly did the first songs and shows come about? Was the first gig in Oxford? Amelia: That was the only band before Talulah Gosh. (Other than “The Peedles”, the Beatles covers band I attempted to create with a couple of school friends when I was 7!) Hue: Ah so you were in a band at the same time as me doing the Swansea Bay City Rollers. The Peedles? I would buy a T shirt if you make one. Amelia: Not sure how big a market there would be for that one! Talulah Gosh came together remarkably quickly. The guitarist and drummer part was easy – I asked my boyfriend Pete and my brother Mathew. I met Elizabeth at a gig in November ’85 and invited her to join the band on the basis of her wearing a Pastels badge We then found Rob to play bass – he was auditioned not on the basis of his playing but the records he had on his wall!
And we played our first gig by March ’86. Just four months after meeting Elizabeth. We had already written some of our most well-known songs by the time of that show!
Hue: So Rob did play live and was in the very first incarnation of Talulah Gosh? Before he left to join an Italian prog rock band for a tour of Sweden?
Amelia: Yep, I think Rob left TG on the basis that we were all a little annoying to be with at that point. He relented later! (I think). Why on earth did you think of asking me to join The Pooh Sticks? Hue: A few reasons I guess.
We had been offered a Peel Session and felt that Steve Fierce singing parts a bit out of his comfort zone couldn’t last. We could see you found it hard to say no to an indie band when they came calling, so we thought it was worth a 5p coin in the local phone box. You did reply ‘aren’t you the band that take the piss out of indie’! We actually liked many of the C86 era bands, particularly the melodic ones as we were pop fans ostensibly. I had seen you play in Port Talbot in Dec ’87 I think, which was near the end of TG. The session was maybe the April of ’88 so we figured you had some spare hours. You were a good sport. But I can’t imagine either of us thought we’d be still singing / shouting at each other 35 years on.
The Gosh seemed to attract a whole bunch of press. Some gushing, some less pleasant. What’s the most memorable for you? Good and bad? Amelia: I think the most extreme press we got was actually in TG. On the plus side, we managed to get a whole page on page 3 of NME when we’d barely started. A rave from the Legend!, headlined “Do you remember fun? Talulah Gosh do!” Hue: Yes, I remember that article by Jerry Legend I think. Amelia: On the negative side, our very last press interview was also in NME but this time with Steven Wells. It was a big piece but he was totally horrible about us! He also referred to us as Aryan, which was pretty insensitive given I’m half-Jewish and huge numbers of my grandparents’ relatives died in the holocaust. The allegation seemed to be purely based on us having short bleached hair! Hue: I know Steven Wells isn’t about any more to defend himself but he was a showboating writer and that doesn’t read well now at all does it? I met him a few years later as he made a video for a band I was managing. He found out I was from the Pooh Sticks and I got the distinct impression he didn’t like us. The video he made was totally rubbish by the way. Amelia: We also got 1 out of 10 in NME for the second Heavenly album from guest reviewers Shampoo. But to be honest we were quite amused by that. Hue: Ha! Shampoo supported the Pooh Sticks once at the Garage in Highbury as they signed their mega record deal. This was around the time that every band who supported the Pooh Sticks seemed to be become very successful overnight like Pulp, the Cranberries, David Gray, etc!
Amelia: The Pooh Sticks had a good run. But I know you were actually up for trying to be famous (in a way that Heavenly never really had been). Were you ever pushed by your record label to do anything you were uncomfortable with? And how do you think you would have handled REAL fame? Hue: I’m not sure that I was trying to be famous at all, it’s just that I didn’t have anything better to do when a major label came calling. I was working as a tennis coach at the time which I kinda enjoyed, but the chance of doing music full-time for a while seemed to make sense.
I did think signing to a major at that time would be the beginning of the end unless we sold records which we obviously didn’t, but we felt the songs we had needed more time in the studio and that this was the only way to do that. That possibly wasn’t true.
The label wanted us on the road playing lots of shows though. Up until that point we’d only ever played a handful of shows, so that became a bit of a slog pretty quickly. I’d had enough by the time we did a (successful) tour of Japan and decided I didn’t want to be in the Pooh Sticks anymore. I did return to be on Optimistic Fool (our last LP) as long as I didn’t have to tour. I had started to manage a band and work as an A&R at that point so was a busy bod.
Real fame wasn’t going to visit us, but I think it looks like hard work. I’ve got a few friends who became ‘famous’ like Catatonia, Super Furries or even the actor Rhys Ifans and it looks like hard work to me! Amelia: Yep, I agree. Fame does looks like hard work. Stressful too! Fortunately, we got even less close than The Pooh Sticks!
Hue: You’ve never really stopped making music whereas I’ve had plenty of time away from it. Which parts do you enjoy the most? Writing? Recording? Touring? Doing fanzine interviews?! Amelia: Fanzine interviews of course! Especially for Chickfactor, obviously!
But actually I probably like playing shows the most, although maybe because we’ve never done so many that they feel like a slog! For me, it isn’t necessarily the touring so much (although that can be good fun too) but the actually performing on stage. I’d like to say I just really like singing but it is probably just that I am an attention sponge!
I always enjoyed playing with The Pooh Sticks too—even if I quite often messed things up! Like that gig when I clean forgot I was supposed to be writing across your chest in lipstick and you were just standing there waiting with your torso exposed. Sorry again about that! I’m useless at rock antics!! Hue: You often mention the lipstick on torso thing as if I was hanging around for ten mins! I remember it all going smoothly and there’s photographic evidence to prove it happened. I think what you wrote on me was ‘Hearthrob’! We were playing with Ween in New York and in the pic we were packing a massive stack of Marshall amps. The one and only time that happened I think. Amelia: ‘Hearthrob!’ That’s funny. I bet I spent at least some of the time onstage wondering if there should be one or two “t”s in Hearthrob. That’s how rock n roll I ever was! Hue: I certainly wouldn’t get my top off onstage this days. Though there’d be plenty more space to scrawl on!
What is your favourite song from the many you’ve written and which do you think is the best if it’s not the same one? Amelia: Hmm. I think “P.U.N.K. Girl” is probably the best—mainly because it strikes a nerve but is not like anything else! But I think my favourite song might be “Memorabilia” by Tender Trap.
Partly because it was based on a silly song I invented to sing the kids when they were babies (I sang it while doing baby yoga on them to get rid of their wind!). Partly because it ended up being about memories of my brother. And partly because it’s just a good song.
So Iet’s move forward to Swansea Sound. I have very vivid memories of sending you that first song in Lockdown (“Angry Girl”), and then trying to figure out how to mix in the vocal you recorded in your kitchen on your phone! I’m still amazed at how well that worked!
But did you think at that stage that it would more than a couple of silly songs? When did you realise it could be something bigger? Hue: You had mentioned for a little while that Rob had a song that he thought was Pooh Sticky. I’d had some friends previously send me songs but it never went anywhere or felt right. At one point I think I even talked with Liz from The School about writing some songs, but when “Angry Girl” landed it was a good time in the sense that is was in the early days of the first lockdown so I had plenty of time.
It was an odd time as I was, if not exactly shielding, very much living solo, as I have quite bad asthma and have been hospitalised a few times with attacks. So I was living rurally in a village at the time, like you do, not knowing how it was all going to pan out.
I didn’t really think “Angry Girl” sounded like it would suit me necessarily, but I could hear it probably wasn’t a Catenary Wires song! Took me a while to figure out how to listen to the track on one phone and then sing/shout into my other one. I tried a couple of rooms in the house but ended up on my knees in the kitchen.
I listened back and it sounded horrible! I sent it not knowing how you could knock it into shape, but when you did ping it back I was amazed. It sounded so fully formed.
I guess I wasn’t sure what would happen next but I think Rob then sent ‘Corporate Indie Band’ and we immediately thought we should put it out even if it was low key and very limited.
I only realised it could be something bigger when Gideon Coe played it with much enthusiasm and Rob kept writing new songs almost to order. Then the first show we did at the Preston festival worked surprisingly well.
‘Live at the Rum Puncheon’ is a pretty remarkable LP considering how it was recorded. It also set things nicely for a follow up to sound like a step up simply by the fact we were actually in the same room together this time.
Amelia: Is there a plan for world domination, and if so, what’s the next step? Hue: World domination? We’ll keep socking it the squares and straights across as many continents as we can in the short to medium term. Really looking forward to playing the U.K. shows plus in Europe and obviously going back to Japan and then hopefully the States. I just hope my dodgy hip holds out! You’ve made/edited a few of the videos for Swansea Sound which has impressed me. Is music your only form of creativity or do you/would you write or paint? Amelia: I’ve enjoyed making the videos. Rob and I tend to come up with the ideas and then I edit them. We did the last few Catenary Wires ones too, and a recent new video for “C Is the Heavenly Option” by Heavenly.
I think video-making is the kind of art form that suits me as it requires lots of patience and technical ability and then just a good creative idea or two. I’d love to be good at proper art or writing but I’m honestly useless at both! It is constantly galling to me. But I’m also constantly impressed by people who are good at either!
What are you most excited about for the coming year? Here’s mine. Getting to play in the US and Japan again! How about you? Hue: Yes I’m very much looking forward to going back to Japan. I’ve been twice before once with the Pooh Sticks in ’93 which was so great I left the band for a while as I thought it would all be downhill from there. I did return for another LP but never played live again until reforming in 2010. I also went in ’96 with a band I was managing which was a very intense trip. We’d been to New Orleans and then LA for shows on the way so it’s only the time I’ve kinda circumnavigated the world.
The bass player didn’t sleep for four days and had an ‘episode’ at Tokyo airport with some armed guards so we had to miss the flight bless him. He wasn’t in a good way and insisted on being on a flight where he could smoke which wasn’t easy in ’96. We finally got a flight with chain smoke-loving Air France and he returned to Wales in a fug of fags and free champagne.
I’m also excited about hopefully just being alive for another year as I’ve lost two friends suddenly in the last week.
The lovely Michel Van de Woude who you obviously knew as well as the guitarist on three of the Pooh Sticks albums. Michel indeed did play hot licks and was in our line up at Reading festival when we were the best of all indie bands. I will miss him. Amelia: Yes, that was really sad news. Hue: Also my mate Tim passed very suddenly this week and was only 53. He was a gig buddy but also came to our shows. Very sad about that.
That puts everything into (a Spinal Tap) perspective.
So let’s indiepop (or rock) til we drop and enjoy what we have. Amelia: Cheers to that! CF
Swansea Sound dates Sept. 8: Twentieth Century Listening Party
Sept. 9: LIVE album launch at Rough Trade East
Sept. 14: Manchester, The Talleyrand
Sept. 15: Cardiff, Moon Club
Sept. 16: Carmarthen, Cwrw
Sept. 17: Bristol, Rough Trade (FREE)
Sept. 27: BBC6Music Riley/Coe studio session.
Sept. 29: St Leonards, The Piper
Sept. 30: Paris, Popfest
Oct. 13: Leeds, Wharf Chambers
Oct. 14: Newcastle-On-Tyne, Cumberland Arms
Oct. 27: Brighton/Hove, The Brunswick
Oct. 28: London, The Water Rats
You know Terry Banks from so many great bands! Tree Fort Angst played at our very first chickfactor party with live music in Sept. 1993, he played in glo-worm with chickfactor cofounder Pam Berry, Terry was featured in the zine with TheSaturday People, did time with St. Christopher, and currently plays with the poptastic D.C. band Dot Dash. We wanted to check in with him just before his band plays at D.C.’s Fort Reno on Monday, July 24. Read on, pop nerds! Interview by Gail / Images via Terry Banks
Chickfactor: When did you write your first song? What was it about? What was it called? Terry Banks: The first one I can remember was in a band in Richmond called Roy G. Biv. It was called “The Joy of Transportation.” It was just kind of jokey nonsense, a bit Housemartins-y, but that was our schtick. Were you musical as a child? I played saxophone for about two weeks as a fourth grader and that was it. A long time later, around age 19 or 20, I started playing guitar, but it was my roommate’s guitar. I didn’t get my own until summer 1986—an Ibanez Strat copy for a hundred bucks from a guy I knew.
Were you from a musical family? My dad played drums as a youth. We listened to a lot of music at home, but no one played an instrument. What were you like as a teen? I can’t really remember. I think I was kind of reserved. Around 16 I got very into, for lack of a better term, the ‘new wave’ music that was happening at the time. A friend of mine and I went to see Split Enz and we were sold. Then I got very, very into The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Clash, stuff like that. The first Echo and The Bunnymen album led me back to The Byrds and The Velvet Underground. I wore a long coat to school. Where all have you lived? I grew up in suburban Baltimore; went to college in Richmond; spent a few years in England and Australia. Everything else has been D.C. I wish I’d lived a few more places. Maybe there’s still time.
Please name all the bands you have been in that aren’t active. Roy G. Biv (we later changed our name to The Kickstands), The Knievels, Tree Fort Angst, St. Christopher, glo-worm, The Saturday People, Julie Ocean. Current bands? Dot Dash. Was guitar your first instrument? What kind do you play and why? Yes. I’ve always picked guitars by how they look. These days, I play a Vox Phantom. Before that I was playing a Vox Teardrop (the real name is Mark III.) I like the 60s vibe of these guitars but, equally (maybe even more so) I feel like there’s an early 80s post-punk thing going on, too – kind of Siouxsie or Robert Smith.
How did you first meet Pam Berry? It was right after I first moved to DC. I put an ad in the City Paper’s free classifieds in the music section saying I played guitar, liked Orange Juice and The Byrds, and wanted to form, or join, a band. Pam called my number, which was listed in the ad, and said “Who are you?” From that, I met her and Dan Searing and all those people. They were cool. What was it like being in glo-worm? It was good. I could never tell what Pam’s lyrics were until we recorded and then I always liked them. I think the album that came out, Glimmer, is really good and some of those songs — ‘Tilt-a-Whirl’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Travelogue’, and ‘Change of Heart’ all come to mind — sound (to me) like lost classics or something. Our gig-related claim to fame was that we opened for Radiohead once. I commented on them having Yoo-Hoo on their rider (there was a lot of it backstage) and the lead guitarist guy was like “Oh, do you know about Yoo-Hoo? It’s brilliant. It’s like chocolate milk, but fizzy”
What was it like being in The Saturday People? It was fun: a lot of humor, in-jokes, pseudonyms, and ongoing laughter. What’s Dot Dash up to these days? We had an album, called Madman in the Rain, come out at the end of 2022. Like all its predecessors it was released by Canadian indie label The Beautiful Music. Since lockdown ended, we’ve played about 15 shows in the past year and a bit with people like Bailterspace, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Richard Lloyd and a bunch of other rocking combos. It’s fun to be playing out again. We’re playing at Fort Reno in July.
What kind of pop scene does D.C. have going on? The Quarry House has a great vibe and is booking lots of stuff. The Black Cat and DC9 are still going strong. Comet does a lot of stuff. A place called Songbyrd started up a while back. We know these guys in a garage band called Apollo 66 who do a club night once a month in an American Legion hall in Silver Spring where they’ll have three indie-ish bands of varying sorts and that’s always fun. There’s also the Runaway, Slash Run and Jammin Java and I’m probably forgetting a few others. In terms of D.C. bands, Bad Moves are excellent and have a bunch of killer pop songs.
Do your kids play music? (How old now?) Do you like any of their music (if they like music)? The oldest is 24 and plays guitar and writes songs. The younger is 21 and dabbles with guitar. One of their shared faves is Taylor Swift, who I think is pretty great. (If you’re unconvinced, check out “All Too Well” – there’s something Joy Division-y about it.) What is on your turntable these days? I think the best new thing I’ve heard in a good while is The Reds, Pinks and Purples. That guy (Glenn) is super prolific and it’s all great.
What are you reading/watching? A bunch of music-related books. Some recent ones include Starman by Paul Trynka, Record Play Pause by Stephen Morris, My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn, Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns, and Playing Bass with Three Left Hands by Will Carruthers. There are always more piling up. What else is going on in your life? Day job? Pets? I do media relations for a renewable energy org. We have a cat named Fergus. He spends a lot of time outside, spying on passers-by. My phone can no longer save anything because it’s filled with photos of him.
When we put The Softies on the cover of chickfactor 18 back in 2018, we had no idea they would be coming back together to MAKE A NEW ALBUM and TOUR! Just a few weeks before Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia set out to play a short Pacific Northwest tour with Tony Molina and All Girl Summer Fun Band and Mo Troper, we asked them a few questions about how this all came to happen. The split cassette tape in the images below features the Softies covering Tony’s entire album Dissed and Dismissed and Tony covering three Softies tunes, will be available at the upcoming shows and is being co-released by Slumberland Records and Alicia Vanden Heuvel’s (Poundsign, the Aislers Set) label Speakeasy Studios. Interview by Gail
Chickfactor: Why Tony Molina? Jen Sbragia: I first heard Dissed and Dismissed when Rose played it for me in her kitchen, in 2017. At the time I wasn’t listening to any new music really and was just focused on other stuff. I was blown away because of the genre-blending and was a little jealous I hadn’t thought of it first! I just thought it was a genius blend of my two favorite kinds of music—crunchy, squealy, distorted guitars and perfect pop. Not to be too dramatic, but that record changed my life. Rose Melberg: As Northern California natives, Jen and I both feel a deep connection to the California-ness of Tony’s music. It’s difficult to put a finger on what that means, it’s just a special kind of magic for us.
How did you guys and Tony M. know each other? Rose: We had been in touch as mutual fans of each other’s work but only met in person the first time when Tony played in Vancouver in 2019. He and his band stayed at my house and he and I stayed up talking until 5am on my porch talking about life, music, songs, etc. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise together to solidify a friendship forever Jen: We met in person at the Oakland Weekender, but had been texting each other about music and guitar stuff. I got his number from Mike Schulman, because Tony isn’t on any social media and I just wanted to introduce myself as a label mate, make that connection, and to gush about how much I loved his music. It was funny and weird that we were all big fans of each other. There were loose plans for me to sing with him at the Weekender during his secret/surprise set, but it didn’t work out. I joked that we should collaborate and release a split 7″ on Slumberland so we could “play this thing next year”. And weirdly, something very similar is happening.
How did this mini tour / new tape come about? Jen: He just texted me and asked if we wanted to play some PNW shows, simple as that. I wasn’t sure which band would work but then it became both Softies and AGSFB. The cassette was Mike and Alicia’s idea.
Please explain what the record is, what format, how people can get it, etc. Jen: It will be a cassette-only release, available at the merch table. Co-released by Slumberland and Speakeasy Studios.
If you are willing to say anything, what is going on with the Softies? Rose: We’re writing new songs and will be putting out a new album in 2024.
New recording? Record deal? Shows? Etc. Rose + Jen: All of the above!
How has your songwriting (style, content, tools, etc.) changed from the olden days? Jen: Attending the Oakland Weekender after so long in quarantine was huge for me. Not only just traveling again and seeing old friends and live bands, but the prep I put in beforehand of researching all the bands and listening to new music again so that I would know the songs and be extra excited to see them played live. After I came home, I felt such renewed excitement about playing music again for the first time in years and my creativity sort of exploded. I started playing guitar every day, writing little riffs and bits of lyrics and songs, and shared the more Softies-esque ones with Rose. She is the true mastermind IMHO. She took those ideas and we made whole songs. She’s writing too, of course. So these new songs are more collaborative than ever before.
We have had several songwriting trips over the past year where we traveled here and there to work on music. Often we would meet in Seattle because it’s a pretty good halfway point between Vancouver and Portland. We have been recording our new songs in demo format so we can each work remotely using Garageband, but we have time booked at Anacortes Unknown over the summer to record our new record.
Can we expect to hear new stuff at the shows? Jen: There are definitely some new ones on the set list.
What else is happening? Jen: Mostly practice! I agreed to do double duty, (which I have done before, Softies and AGSFB toured California 24-ish years ago) It never occurred to me that it might be too much for me presently—I was too excited. So now, that equals a LOT of practice. Practice is my middle name right now. But I couldn’t be happier. CF
chickfactor 18 with the Softies on the cover is still available in our shop as well as various other outlets including Quimby’s, K Recs, Jigsaw, My Vinyl Underground, Record Grouch, Main St. Beat, Grimey’s, Atomic Books, among others.
Since Portland’s All Girl Summer Fun Band originally formed just to be a band during the summer of 1998, it’s pretty incredible that they are playing live in the summer of 2023. Now playing together as a trio (bassist Ari Douangpanya left in 2005 to focus on raising her son), AGSFB is now OGs Jen Sbragia, Kathy Foster and Kim Baxter. During the pandemic, Jen and Kim started playing together for fun, while Kathy leads a band called Roseblood and plays with Hurry Up and Slang as well. Since they kind of formed thanks to a Softies show way back when, it’s so great that the two bands will be playing together in early June (see flier below) in the Pacific Northwest! We are so excited to present a brand-new interview with AGSFB, who were featured in chickfactor 15 (2002) and played at our 10th anniversary soiree at Fez the same year. Interview by Gail O’Hara / Photos courtesy of All Girl Summer Fun Band
Chickfactor: what years were All Girl Summer Fun Band in action back then? Jen Sbragia (she/her): Summer of 1998 until our most recent show – May of 2010 at the SF Popfest (thanks, SongKick… I had no idea) Kim Baxter (she/her): It’s so crazy that it’s been 13 years since we last played! When Kathy, Jen and I recently got together to practice for these upcoming shows, it felt like no time had passed at all. It was a pretty magical feeling, I didn’t realize just how much I had missed playing with them.
What is the current AGSFB lineup? Jen: Myself, Kathy, and Kim Kim: People have been asking us why Ari isn’t playing these shows. She actually left the band in 2005 to raise her son, so AGSFB has been a 3-piece band ever since then. We are all still very good friends with her!
What was the impetus for starting up again? Jen: Kim and I have been playing together over the pandemic, outside in her covered breezeway between her house and her practice space. We were just doing it for fun, to flex those old music muscles again and chat and just interact with each other in person while taking care not to give each other any possible germs. Then Tony Molina asked us to play in June. We were excited to ask Kathy to join us, she said yes and we all got back together to practice, in the actual practice space.
How long have you been secretly playing together in recent years? Jen: Not secretly! Just spending time together in person and playing some old tunes and writing some new stuff. Seeing what happens.
How did you guys originally meet? Jen: I met Kim when her band Cherry Ice Cream Smile played with the Softies at Thee O Cafe in Portland, June 1997. She gave me her band’s cassette. Rose and I listened to it a ton as we drove across the US and back. I was like, I gotta hang out with this person and start a band. Kim: I was a huge fan of the Softies so getting to play a show with them and being able to give them a tape of my band was a big deal. But then they actually called me from the road and left me a message on my answering machine saying that they loved the tape and that I should hang out with Jen when she gets back from tour. I was over the moon! I actually still have the microcassette with that message from my answering machine. Jen & I instantly became good friends. A year later, Kathy moved to Portland from California, and we hit it off right away. The two of us recorded a couple of songs on my four track which eventually became two of the first AGSFB songs, “Broken Crown” and “Will I See You.” Ari and I both grew up in Albuquerque, NM, but didn’t become friends until she moved to Portland. I asked the 3 of them if they wanted to be in a band for the summer of 1998 and described it as an all-girl-summer-fun-band. No pressure, just a goofy & fun band. I was leaving to go to school in Russia that fall and figured it would be a project just for the summer. But we all decided to continue playing when I got home, and here we are, 85 years later, still a band! Ha! Kathy Foster (she/her): Yes Kim brought us all together. She was one of the very first people I met (and stayed with) when I moved to Portland in May of 1998. I knew her then-boyfriend/now-husband from the Bay Area. We clicked right away and became friends. Soon after, we started AGSFB. As I remember it, Kim told me I was in a new band with her, Jen and Ari. Haha. And I said OK! I, too was a huge Softies fan and was stoked to play with Jen. Even though I had just met the three of them, we all had so much fun together right from the start!
What were some highlights and memories from the old days? Jen: Spending half of practice just standing around with instruments plugged in and ready to go but then we’re just catching up, chatting, laughing. Getting to tour Europe! Kim: I love chatting at practice! We talk about anything and everything and sometimes we play a little music too. I loved all of our past shows, tours, and I absolutely love spending time in the studio with AGSFB. Kathy: Same! I always thought it was so cool and special that we could talk, laugh and be ourselves so comfortably at practice. (It’s the same now, too!) There was no pressure, no agenda, no one dominating the conversation or creative process, no egos. Just a fun, creative, supportive atmosphere, which carried through everything we did together – playing shows, recording, touring. Recording and touring were always fun adventures.
I love looking at the old photos from the first AGSFB era—lots of red, pale blue, gingham, pigtails/bunches. Did you guys have rules about stagewear? Jen: We tried to come up with color themes. We did all have gingham tops or outfits, so that happened at our first show. One time I found some deadstock Women’s uniforms in sort of an orangey color at thrift store somewhere and we wore those, I think? Also, we played a Halloween show where we all wore vintage prom dresses with zombie makeup. It was fun but then we stopped doing it after a while. It was nice to just wear whatever. Kim: Kathy is so good at doing zombie makeovers! I want to play another Halloween show just so she can do zombie makeup for us! Kathy: I love doing zombie makeup! Yeah, at first we tried to come up with a dress theme for every show. We also did a monochrome theme where we each wore a different color. Jen just posted some old show footage where we’re all wearing baseball tees. Mostly, though, we all kinda had a similar style that looked good together.
Any good stories from tour in the early days? Kim: We would often go on spring break tours down to California which I always loved because we had a lot of friends living in the Bay Area. It was also fun touring in Europe and of course we loved playing the Chickfactor show in NY in 2002. So many great memories.
Tour nightmares? Kim: Well, one night Jen, Kathy and I were driving home after playing a show in Tacoma, WA and we ran out of gas. These creepy guys pulled over and were shining lights in our van to see what we had. Luckily they didn’t try to steal anything and they finally just drove away but it was so flippin’ scary! Kathy: That was so scary! I still think about that when I drive past that area of I-5, and feel so relieved that nothing bad happened. There was also the tour down to California in my VW Vanagon where we had van trouble, and found out the van had a small gas leak. We got a fire extinguisher for the van and crossed our fingers that we’d make it back to Portland in one piece. I believe it was that same tour that Ari and I got tattoos at the parlor next door to the venue in San Pedro, CA.
What bands are you in these days? Jen: As always, The Softies and AGSFB, but also—over the quarantine times I started recording little weird outbursts or jingle-type “songs” on my phone. It was just stupid stuff like me singing Go Brush Your Teeth to my kids and stuff like that. Rose and her husband Jon heard them when we were together during a Softies songwriting sesh and they encouraged me to release them as a weird solo project. So I have a Bandcamp for it called Yreka Bakery. It’s just a handful of weirdness mostly about my cat. Kim: AGSFB & I’m also recording songs for another solo album (Kim Baxter Band) plus writing new songs with Jen but we’re not sure what they will be yet. Maybe a new project, maybe a new AGSFB album, maybe both! Kathy: AGSFB (I wanna write new stuff!), Slang, Hurry Up. I’m working on releasing a solo album under the name Roseblood.
How did the pandemic change you? How did it change Portland? Jen: Like many people, I was scared at first, then scared and bored, then scared and sick of living with my family all on top of each other. Online school was abysmal for my kids. Part of me kind of liked being a hermit. I grew a little garden, we painted rocks, I made overalls. I still wear masks a lot, but I’m dipping a toe back in here and there. Portland definitely seems different now, so many businesses that have closed. So many camps. It seems like this everywhere though. Not good.
Kim: It forced me to prioritize the things that mean the most to me, like playing music. I didn’t have a lot of energy to put toward music for a couple of years though because I was so stressed and worried most of the time. But we are lucky because we have a studio in our garage, so when I did have energy to get out there and play music, it helped me feel more grounded, nostalgic, and positive about something. ¶ Portland has been growing at a very fast pace which was already causing some issues, especially around housing. But then the pandemic hit, and it really exacerbated those problems. I’m hopeful that some positive solutions are found soon. I still love it here, but we have had our car stolen 4 times now and that just gets old after a while.
Kathy: Like Kim, I didn’t have much energy to put toward music or writing, which was disappointing. I saw a post on Instagram that stuck with me that said: the pandemic is not a residency. Even though I wasn’t working, and I was fortunately getting unemployment, it wasn’t a relaxing or productive time. It was stressful not knowing what was happening or how long it would go on. I put energy toward working on a vegetable garden which I hadn’t done much of in the past, and just dealing. I also learned a few bike maintenance skills and fixed up a few things on my bike. I’m pretty introverted, which may sound weird since I’ve played tons of shows. The pandemic made me a bit more socially anxious but I’m starting to come out of that. Portland’s problems got really magnified during the pandemic—homelessness, drugs, mental health problems all got way worse and we’re still dealing with it today and trying to figure out solutions.
What does Portland’s music scene feel like these days? Top acts? Kathy: I guess I’m the one who’s gone to shows the most in the last several years, but I still feel like I’m out of it. I don’t go to as many shows as I used to, that’s for sure, so I wouldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse. It still feels pretty much as vibrant as ever. We definitely need more all ages venues. Portland seems to have always struggled with that. There seem to be more country influenced bands these days, and not in any cheesy way. Bands I like are The Barbaras, Roselit Bone, Silver Triplets of the Rio Hondo, Fronjentress, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, and the legend Toody Cole still plays. There are still tons of great pop and folk bands like Sunbathe, Arch Cape, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Terre Haunt; and great punk bands like The Ghost Ease, HELP, Dials, Divers, Dommengang, Love in Hell, Yuvees. A few of my top fave punk bands that are now broken up were Lithics, Mr. Wrong, and Ex-Kids. There are synth, noise, jazz and hip hop scenes too! Too many great acts to list.
What else are you guys up to in 2023? Kids, pets, jobs, etc? Jen: My other job is freelance graphic design. My kids are tweens and doing good. We have the same ancient cat (long may she reign!) and a newly adopted bearded dragon we call Tobias Jordan. Kim: My husband and I own a small film production company. We have a teenage son who is so awesome, and I love spending time with him! I’ve been trying to spend more time sewing and making art. I also play a lot of futsal and I’ve been getting into bouldering. Kathy: I’m a part-time bookkeeper. I’m the only AGSFB member without human children, but I have a dog daughter named Ronette (Ronnie) who I adore. She’s two. I’m currently in the mastering phase of my solo album (Roseblood). Slang will probably be playing more later this year. Janet Weiss, who is in Slang, has been touring a lot the last few months with Quasi but they’ll be home soon. I’m starting to DJ a little more (DJ KM Fizzy). I DJed regularly and had a radio show (Strange Babes on XRAY FM) before the pandemic but have only DJed a couple times since. I also like to sew, make beaded jewelry, and I’ve been reading more this year.
If you do have kids, what kind of music are they into? Do they know about your music past/present? What do they think? Jen: My kids’ music preferences are a mystery; they listen to and view stuff on YouTube mostly. They know how vinyl records work and how to hold ’em by the edges, so my work is done. (ha) My daughter wants me to pay for Spotify, but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on that. They got to see me play a secret Softies set in Seattle (with the Umbrellas, who they loved) a few months back and they were so sweet. After each song I glanced over and they were waving and cheering, so sweet. Kim: My son loves EDM and records his own music. He’s supportive of my music but I know it’s not his favorite style. When he was 3, we brought him with us on a European tour for my solo album. Since my husband and I both play music, it’s always just been a part of his life. Kathy: Ronnie gets really relaxed when I sing to her or play music. 🙂
Got any crushes? Jen: I fall in love with people who make music I love. Always have. Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason could get it. Kim: I have crushes on everyone finding time to make music and art after being so mentally exhausted by the pandemic and the craziness of the world. I see you and I’m cheering for you all! Oh, and I also totally have a crush on Diego Luna. Kathy: Pedro Pascal like everyone else.
What are you watching? Jen: Just finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to my kids and now we are watching the 2015 miniseries. Also burning through Succession and Perry Mason. Kim: I’m re-watching My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. Kathy: The last show I was excited about was The Last of Us (hence the crush). I’m excited for the second season.
What are you reading? Jen: Just started the His Dark Materials series with the kids. Kim: I’ve been on a big Steinbeck kick lately. I read 8 Steinbeck novels back to back. I recently switched gears though and now I’m reading the Mötley Crüe book, The Dirt. Kathy: I recently read two books by Kristin Hannah – The Four Winds and The Great Alone. Both were incredible. She was recommended to me by a friend. She has a long bibliography so I’m excited to read more by her. I’m currently reading Good Neighbors by Sarah Lanagan. I like it so far.
What are you eating? Fave food carts? Jen: Just started going out for food again, so EVERYTHING is exciting. Our fave sushi is Kashiwagi PDX. I didn’t get the appeal of La Croix for the longest time but now I’m fully in the cult. Also I love diet coke. Kim: There’s a food cart by my house that makes delicious food from Guam. It’s so good but they’re rarely open. Kathy: I get overwhelmed by the amount of food carts in Portland. There are so many that it’s hard to choose so I just freeze. Plus, I don’t eat out a ton. There’s a good Mexican & Yucatecan cart near me called Loncheria Los Mayas. I also go to the taqueria down the street from there called Santo Domingo. I’ve been on a protein smoothie kick lately. I make one most mornings. Other than, it’s kind of all over the place. I love all kinds of food.
What are you most excited about doing on the upcoming tour? Jen: I hope I smile so much my face hurts. I miss playing shows so much! Kim: Spending time with Jen & Kathy, seeing old friends, making new friends, putting smiles on other people’s faces. Kathy: Yeah, same. Just playing again, hanging out together, having fun, seeing friends, lots of smiles all around, and seeing The Softies! Omg.
Any special gear you are using these days to record? Learning new tricks? Jen: I got an EVO 4 interface so that I can record straight into an iPad using Garage Band. It’s been really helpful writing music remotely. I also got a BOSS loop pedal for experimenting with, and a Blues Driver pedal that seems perfect for beefing up those old clean-guitar songs a bit. Kim: I recently got the Data Corruptor pedal from Earthquaker for bass. I’m still learning to use it, it’s a beast. I currently just step on it at random moments during practice to make Jen & Kathy laugh. I also have been recording songs using a Poly D Analog Synth which I love! Kathy: I been recording with Logic for the past few years. I recorded the Roseblood demos and album in Logic. When I made the demos, I was new to Logic and I found it to be a cool tool for songwriting. It helped me write songs in new ways by being able to mess around with all the different sounds it comes with – amps, instruments, effects and beats.
What can we expect at the upcoming shows? Jen: Maybe matching WILDFANG coveralls? And some new pedals. A mix of old songs. Not sure we have the time to get anything new together in time. Kim: Giggles, nerves & pure happiness! Kathy: What Kim said!
Please tell us about what music you are recording / making / practicing / selling for this tour. Jen: Kim and I were writing some new songs when it was just the two of us. Now that Kathy is practicing with us, those songs might become new AGSFB songs. Mostly we are just trying to practice a set list of established songs, but who knows? Mike Schulman from Slumberland and Alicia Vanden Heuvel from Speakeasy Studios were talking about co-releasing a cassette of Tony and the Softies covering a few of each other’s songs just for this tour. A fun little limited edition gem. Well, Rose loves doing covers (if you haven’t heard her September cassette it’s incredible). So she learned ALL the songs on Tony’s Dissed and Dismissed. She laid down the guitar tracks and her vocals on her own, we recorded my vocals together during one of our many practice sessions, and then I did my guitar parts in my little office with my iPad. Tony did three Softies songs. We put so much of our hearts into covering his songs because we love him so much. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Kim: I think we are close to finalizing our set for the upcoming shows. The bulk of it consists of songs from our album, 2. Plus some from the s/t album, some from “Looking Into It”, and maybe one from our first 7-inch. Kathy: Not music, but we’ll have new t-shirts and buttons!
What’s on the turntable, er, bandcamp right now? Jen: The Lost Days – In The Store Chime School – s/t Lisa Prank – Perfect Love Song Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, The Water, The Sky OVENS – s/t Weedrat – The Rat Cometh Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Kathy: Ribbon Stage – Hit With The Most Various artists – Strange World (compilation of “cosmic and earthly Doo Wop and R and B from America and Jamaica released by Mississippi Records) Quasi – Breaking The Balls Of History Dateline podcast Tig & Cheryl: True Story podcast
Like this zine’s founders, Richard Houghton knows a thing or two about being a fan of the Wedding Present. Published last Friday, The Wedding Present: All the Songs Sound the Same collects more than 300 stories from fans, friends and current/former members of TWP, all of whom discuss favorite recordings, along with loads of previously unseen images from bandleader David Gedge’s archive. Gedge even coedited the 336-page hardcover book along with Houghton.
Gedge says: ‘When I’m asked to choose my favourite of the songs I’ve written, I never know what to say. It’s like asking who your favourite child is! How could I pick just one? However, I did think it would be interesting to see which songs fans would select, and why. There’s quite a few from which to choose … When an audience member requests one of the 280-plus songs that we haven’t rehearsed for that particular evening’s set I usually sympathise with them by saying, “I know, I know… there are just too many classics, aren’t there?!”’
The songs are discussed, explicated and championed by all the superfans in the book, including Sir Keir Starmer, Peter Solowka, and Mark Beaumont, along with CF editor me (Gail), who discusses the origins of the Pavement Boy comic (it’s Wedding Present related) and road trips to NYC with Pam Berry, Mike Slumberland and Dan Searing where we were listening to Seamonsters. We asked Richard a few questions about the new book.
How did this book come about? David Gedge and I worked together on a book called Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said which was published in 2017. That was fans talking about seeing The Wedding Present in concert. But lots of people mentioned songs that were favourites of theirs, and I thought a book of people writing about their favourite Wedding Present songs would be a fun idea. I pitched it to David and he agreed to give it a go.
How long has it taken to get made? I started compiling the book in 2018, so it’s been five years. It took a while to gather together all the material. I also had access to David’s personal archive and scanning in images and getting clearance to use some of those (including David deciding which ones he was happy to see in print) also took a while. And then we had to find a slot in David’s busy schedule, as he’s been publishing his autobiography in comic strip form, and we needed to avoid launching the book when it might clash with the release of one of those volumes.
Where can people get it? In the US? Europe/rest of world? The book is available in hardback via Amazon and also via Spenwood Books (who ship worldwide). The hardback is also available in the UK and Ireland via your local bookshop, although you may have to ask them to order it in for you. But the book is also available in paperback via Barnes & Noble in the US, meaning fans only have to pay domestic shipping.
Will there be any book events? David and his bass player, Melanie Howard, are doing a semi-acoustic gig at Resident Music in Brighton on Friday May 5 at 6.30pm BST. More details are available here:
All The Songs Sound The Same is published on 28 April 2023 and available to order now from Spenwood Books.
David Lewis Gedge lives in Brighton and is the founding member, lead singer and guitarist for the semi-legendary indie band The Wedding Present, who were founded in 1985, and his ‘other’ band, Cinerama. He is also the author of several books, including two volumes (so far) of his illustrated autobiography, Tales from the Wedding Present.
Richard Houghton lives in Manchester and is the author of 20 music books, including authorised titles on The Wedding Present, The Stranglers, Simple Minds, OMD, Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention. His People’s History series of music books is published by Spenwood Books.
When I first listened to I Am Not There Anymore, the brand-new The Clientele LP coming out July 28, 2023, on Merge worldwide, I was a bit shocked. As you probably know by now, it feels different. The strings, the spooky goth vibe, the odd beats. It may not have the flow of a cohesive album, but the pop lovers among us will have more than enough to fall in love with, despite the dark undertones. In case that makes no sense, I’ll just say it: I love this album but it took a few go-rounds to get used to it all. I mean, it’s not that radical. It sounds like a band taking their time and flexing their creative muscles in the recording process. It sounds like one of the greatest living bands because it is. We caught up with Alasdair about what was going through their minds making the record. Scroll down for their U.S. tour dates; and hopefully more countries too since the UK seems to have finally noticed that these pop gods walk among them.
The album was recorded at Bark, Snap and Klank Studios, London from 2019–2022 with assistance from Brian O’Shaughnessy, Marco Pasquariello and Simon Nelson. All time greats Alasdair MacLean on vocals, guitars, tapes, beats, bouzouki, Mellotron, organ; James Hornsey on bass, piano; and Mark Keen on drums, percussion, piano, celesta. Additional parts played by Daniel Evans – extra drums on ‘Blue Over Blue’; Sarah Field – trumpet; Dave Oxley – horn; Ruth Elder – violin; Non Peters – violin; Stella Page – viola; Sebastian Millett – cello. The strings and horns were arranged by Alasdair MacLean and Mark Keen; ‘Through the Roses’ arranged by James Hornsey and Alicia Macanás, who also cowrote and sings on the lead track, ‘Fables of the Silverlink.’ That’s Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods doing the English spoken bits as well. Interview by Gail O’Hara / Thanks to James Clientele for the studio shots (even tho he didn’t take any of Mark Keen)
Chickfactor: How long has this one been in the making? Alasdair MacLean: Three centuries.
If this one has a theme, what is it? Beautiful complexities (I hope). Above all, the feeling of not being real, of being outside yourself. I like to think of it as a kind of emotional autobiography set to music, but where all the details have been blurred and edited out, there’s just fragments and moods.
The first time I listened, it felt *different* from previous stuff. What kind of record did you want to make here? We always tried different stuff in the studio before, but it was always a catastrophe. We tried to make a dub version of ‘House on Fire’ in a studio in rural Kent once, it was one of the most embarrassing episodes of my life. We did some jungle/drum and bass recordings with a live drummer when we were recording ‘Suburban Light’ but I had no idea what to add to them – it ended up with backwards tenor recorder and tritone chords on the guitar – horrible.
This time round we had a computer, so we could record in a studio and take tracks away to edit and add to, then bring back again, and slowly I worked out ideas which could bring in things I loved – flamenco rhythms, modal scales etc. which didn’t feel awful. It wasn’t like there was a band and a producer sitting there, looking at their watches and saying “er, where are you going with this?”
I joked that this was a goth record; but it is spooky and vintage sounding at times. What mood were you trying to conjure with Mark’s Radials and Alicia and Jessica? Mark has been writing spooky piano tunes for us since 2001 I think. So that’s nothing new – we got him a celesta to play on this time, which is an innately spooky instrument. Alicia sang notes I couldn’t reach in the Phrygian mode, and Jessica has such a lovely speaking voice. I was so glad when she agreed to help – it was like her voice was another of the instruments we could put together in harmony.
How is what you listen to informing what you do? I like some electronic music and jazz and Spanish guitar music. I love this small group of artists from California, they are mostly released on the Cold Blue Music label. At the moment I’ve been playing Phillip Schroeder – ‘Passage through a Dream’ loads – it sounds a bit like Mark’s Radial pieces.
Where does the songwriting process begin? Somewhere I have no access to.
How do you capture lyrics? A pen? A smart phone app? It always used to be a pen and a piece of paper. I’ve now changed to notes on iphone. Tragically, I also use a Trello board to swap things around and see if they look different in a different order. Quite often ideas come from quotes or images from books I read, so I take photos of the page too.
Is your lyric book still available? I think there are a few left, somewhere at the back of my storage lockup.
How did the pandemic change The Clientele? How did it change London? It didn’t really change the band; in some ways it made London better, less crowded. But it probably finished the arc which started in the late ’90s, where small businesses were made uneconomical, and everything became a chain store. Now the chain stores are going bust too.
You seem bigger in the UK than you were; true/false? True, among gentlemen of a certain age.
Brexit WTF? I’m tired of thinking about it, but I expect in some future time we’ll look back and realise just how truly sinister the consortium of people who took over the country were.
If any good comes of it, it will be a general awareness of the obscenity of class privilege. Boris Johnson is a useful idiot in this regard – a very public symbol of unjust rewards.
How is fatherhood impacting the music-making process? It changes month by month. I’m happy to sit back and learn.
If London has a sound/smell/taste, what is it? Fermented fruit on the top deck of buses.
What is nature giving you that you desperately need? At the moment, mud.
Who are the 5 most underappreciated musicians in London? Musicians can’t afford to live in London anymore.
Got any recurring dreams you want us to explicate? Not of my own – I enjoyed reading one of T.H. White’s recently though – in the dream he was very anxious to hide his shotgun in the trunk of his mother’s car to avoid it being struck by lightning. It made me laugh a lot.
Best pub in town? I like the Flask in Highgate, or the Swimmer at the Grafton Arms in Holloway. The Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey is a perennial favourite.
If you have to make food for friends, what is your star dish? Tortilla soup
What’s wrong with 2023? Music streaming, newspaper owners
Who is the comedian in the band? Mark and James are both naturally funny, I have to try harder. I’m sort of the annoying one who tries to get a quip in every sentence, which is why I tend to dominate the interviews.
Do you have any band rules? Dress code? Absolutely no ukuleles under any circumstances.
What are you reading? I love Anne Serre and Marie N’Diaye
‘26 views of the Starburst World’ by Ross Gibson is a wonderful, reflective book, it was recommended to me by Anwen Crawford who also wrote a beautiful book last year called ‘No Document’
There’s a forgotten English writer from the early 20th century called Mary Webb who I’m tracking down slowly.
Perhaps because I’m getting old, I’m revisiting a lot of classic British children’s literature: The Dark is Rising, The Box of Delights, Ursula LeGuin and Diana Wynne Jones
What are you watching? I haven’t been watching much of anything. I need film recommendations.
What is your advice to fans when it comes to supporting you? Buy records, use bandcamp, book tickets.
On behalf of all CLIENTELE fans, why can’t you just put out one album per year? We used to put them out once every 2 years, and that nearly killed us. We were told we had to, or people would forget us. But when we stopped, we got more popular! I guess there are enough records in the world already without releasing more just for the sake of it.
What’s on the turntable these days? Pharaoh Sanders- Floating Points Arthur Verocai Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids Jimmy Campbell – Half Baked I’ve also been listening to a lot of Tom Verlaine since he died. A lot of what he did beyond the guitar playing – the approaches he took – really fascinates me.
btw, of course we interviewed the Clientele in our paper zine chickfactor 13, Y2K, still available in our shop. Get the new album here.
Certain artists take up too much space in the world, and some don’t take up enough. Baltimore’s Linda Smith falls into the latter camp. Keeping a low profile for decades, she started experimenting with a 4-track and putting down gentle home recordings in the early 1980s. Despite being on Slumberland, Shrimper, Feel Good All Over and Harriet, she didn’t capture (enough of) the public’s attention until releasing a comp called Till Another Time (1988-1996) on Captured Tracks in 2021. She’s also played in Silly Pillows and the Woods and was closely associated with the Magnetic Fields 30 years ago.
Folks who document discographies suggest she occupies similar territory to the Cannanes, Dump, Sentridoh, and the Marine Girls, so yeah, her music is right up (y)our alley. Now she has a great new record out with her old friend Nancy Andrews titled A Passing Cloud (2023). We caught up with her recently to see what’s happening in Charm City these days. (Listen to her music here.) Interview by Gail O / Images courtesy of Linda
chickfactor: How did your life change during the pandemic/lockdown? Linda Smith: I had a year off of work. During this time, Captured Tracks released “Till Another Time”, a compilation of my old songs. I also started recording again after many years. How did Baltimore change? Like most cities, it became very quiet and deserted, with very little traffic on the streets. What kind of impact did The Wire have on the city? Good or bad? I never watched The Wire but it seems that people outside the city were influenced by it and took it as a realistic portrayal of the city. It reminds me of how people used to think of Baltimore as being like a John Waters movie. Certainly, there are aspects of truth in both but neither gives a complete picture. How long have you lived there? Where else have you lived? I was born here but I did live in NY City for 3 ½ years in the 1980s. When I moved to NY, it seemed to provide more action and excitement than Baltimore did. When I moved back, though, I was glad for the relative lack of excitement. Were you musical as a child? No, but after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I wanted to be.
Were you from a musical family? No, but we heard records frequently and I was given a transistor radio at the height of the 60’s pop music era. What were you like as a teen? I spent most of that phase listening to classical music and watching old movies, waiting for high school to end. While I loved AM radio in the 60’s, most of the music of the early 70’s seemed lackluster in comparison. It wasn’t until the late 70’s punk and New Wave period that I wanted to listen to rock and pop again. I think I first heard your music on a cassette comp in about 1993 made by Keith Darcy. When did you first start making music? Probably around 1979-80. I was buying a lot of records and became inspired by the Raincoats and Young Marble Giants, among others. I decided I wanted to be in a band like that and put an ad in the local free paper seeking other unschooled players. Many of those I met came from the art school (MICA), of course!
What have you learned about recording over the years? How has your process changed? There are lots of technical aspects of recording that I have no idea about, but I learned enough to get individual tracks down on tape. For me, it was about keeping things simple. The recording process changed most recently when I started recording on my laptop. I thought it would be more difficult but it’s actually easier! In this case, I use the simplest program, Audacity. What was the Baltimore music scene like when you were making music in the ’90s? And what’s it like now? The music scene back then was more live performance and rock based, not so much about releasing recordings. These days, the scene is far more diverse. Musicians still play live but recorded music is very important to what they do. Bandcamp has allowed that to happen. A couple of years ago I put together a selection of current Baltimore music for The Lot radio in Brooklyn. There is so much going on that I wanted to include but couldn’t get everything in. It can be heard here: Listen to Baltimore to Brooklyn: Captured Tracks with Linda Smith @ The Lot Radio 06 – 17 – 2021 by The Lot Radio on #SoundCloud You were working in the art world, yes? What is the art world like in Baltimore? I worked in the security dept at the Baltimore Museum of Art for 15 years. The art world of the museum is a bit different from the art world on the outside of it. I was more involved with the former than the latter. In the security dept. one is somewhat invisible on a certain level but also privy to many things others never see. I could write a book.
Can you tell us some good stories about events that happened at the 14 Carat Cabaret? Back in the 90’s, the 14K Cabaret was THE art scene in Baltimore. I did sound there for a year and saw many of the early shows. Laure Drogoul ran the Cabaret and always scheduled a mix of performance, music, and film. She booked many local artists as well as groups like Beat Happening, Scrawl, and the Magnetic Fields. The one night that really sticks out in my memory is the Annie Sprinkle performance. Packed house.
If I came to Baltimore for the day, what should I absolutely do? Visit the art museums! Also, don’t miss Normals Books and Records for your music and literature needs. For small locally run shops and restaurants, I suggest Hampden. Do you see John Waters around town much? Not in general, but the museum where I worked had a show of his work a few years ago. We got to see him quite a bit then. How does your songwriting process happen? Where do you write? What tools do you use? My process is very tied to the recording process. Songs are often created while laying down tracks rather than fully written out beforehand. I’ve gotten more into making instrumental music, too. Writing lyrics has been of less interest to me recently but that could be old age. Do you perform live much these days? I’ve never performed all that often over the years but recently have received more requests to do so. With the release of my new album with Nancy Andrews, “A Passing Cloud” (Grapefruit/Gertude co-release), I’m thinking of becoming more involved in that aspect of music. We did a show last week at Normals Red Room, which was actually fun and not too nerve wracking!
Please tell us about the LD tribute record you have been working on. One of the recording projects I started during the pandemic was prompted by LD Beghtol not long before he died suddenly. Though I did not know LD as well as those at Chickfactor (and elsewhere), we had communicated off and on since the 90’s, always with the idea of working on this or that project. In 2018, he created the cover for the Lost Sound Tapes Linda Smith tribute cassette, and also recorded a wonderful version of my song “Brightside”. When the shutdown happened in 2020, we were again in touch, this time about having me record one of his songs. He chose “Lack of Better”. I did my recording, which he was to add a vocal and acoustic guitar to but did not get the chance to do. Since then, the idea of an LD Beghtol tribute album has been germinating. He made so many connections with other musicians and wrote so many great songs, that it seems the best way to honor him. Many of the artists with whom he worked will be contributing tracks and Charles Newman at Motherwest is helping to organize it. (Thanks to Gail for the inside connections!) What’s in your fridge? Can you cook? What is your specialty? I like food that can be easily microwaved. 365 Plant based nuggets are a favorite. Other than that, I prefer to eat in restaurants but that gets expensive. Do you have pets? Hobbies? Day job? No pets, no day job (retired). Painting might be considered my hobby at this point; it has taken a back seat to music these days. I can only do one thing at a time, it seems.
What are you reading? Watching? Too many books lying around here that need to be read but I just finished Celia Paul’s “Letters to Gwen John”, a collection of messages from a living painter to a long dead one. As for watching, I really like a good disaster movie, among other things. ☺ What’s on the turntable these days? Since restarting my long dormant vinyl habit, there are brand new records along with interesting reissues of old music. *Dottie Holmberg: Sometimes Happy Times (Sundazed) *Wheatie Mattiasich: Old Glow (Open Mouth Records) *Doug McKechnie: San Francisco Moog 1968-1972 (VG+ Records) *The Smashing Times: Bloom (Meritorio Records) *Tetsu Mineta: Early Scenes (Ditch Lily/Unread/Union Pole/Almost Halloween Time) *Andre Previn: Dead Ringer Soundtrack (Warner Bros) *Twink, The Best of: You Reached for the Stars (Sundazed) *Josephine Foster: Godmother (Fire Records) *Sarah La Puerta: Strange Paradise (Perpetual Doom)
Anything else you’d like to tell us about? Besides the LD Beghtol tribute, I hope to do a vinyl re-release of the 1998 album I did with Paul Baroody, “Domesticated” (great pop songs with memorable melodies!), and a new album of poems by Baltimore writers set to music. Coming in 2023, there will be a full length album of old recordings by The Woods, my NY band in the 80’s, on Dot Matrix (a subsidiary of Sundazed/Modern Harmonic). In addition, Shrimper will be re-releasing my old Woods bandmate Brian Bendlin’s 1987 album, “13 Groves”, with artwork by me. Along the way, there are other various collaborations possible.
Records Linda Smith cannot live without *The Dionne Warwick Collection (Rhino) *Lesley Gore: It’s My Party, The Mercury Anthology *Sam Phillips: Martinis and Bikinis *Brenda Holloway: The Motown Anthology *The Shangri-Las: Shangri-Las 65 *Game Theory: Lolita Nation *Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth *Four Tops Anthology *Dolly Mixture Demo Tapes *Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Collection
chickfactor: Tell us about your childhood and teen years. What music sources were you finding back then? Jude Rogers: I was a big pop fan when I was really little, graduating to being a bit of an indie kid essentially at the exclusion of everything else for a while like a typical teenager, before I fell in love with all kinds of electronic music, back in love with pop, then in love with folk, et cetera et cetera. My first favorite band were R.E.M., who I talk about in very—what’s the word I’m looking for?—gushing teenage detail. From when I first bought Out of Time, that little trip to a huge Virgin Megastore and seeing this prized object on the shelves, and unfurling the concertina of liner notes, to my absolute love of Michael Stipe, I loved writing about that journey of fandom, when you’re watching videos and replaying them and listening to songs and the lyrics are just for you. How you’re sort of controlling that narrative in a way and the power that you have is really interesting, especially for teenage girls. You’re accessing other worlds and shaping your future along with that.
I found a lot of music through TV when I was a young kid, through Saturday morning British television and pop stars that would appear there for interviews, people like Adam Ant, George Michael, Neneh Cherry—who I found through Top of the Pops, the big British Top 40 chart show—and Kylie Minogue. I grew up in the ’80s, which was the time when the pop video became obviously gargantuan in its importance, its relevance, its budgets. Then in the ’90s, I fell forradio, which I write about with much love in my book too. Taping off the radio, especially taping cassettes off my friend Dan, whose Scottish sailor dad got a job parking ships in the United Arab Emirates, of all things, after he left the navy, and he’d bring us back dodgy pirate copies of PJ Harvey albums, Tori Amos albums, loads of stuff. I was quite into CDs in the mid-’90s too. Any way I could find music I’d find it. Oh, and buying 7-inches from Sullivans Record Shop in Gorseinon, the tiny town next to the village where I lived—it was my local tiny record shop, where I bought loads of singles and albums. I remember buying Come on, Feel the Lemonheads there and Elastica’s first album the week they came out and being very excited.
Tell us about the book. The book is out just in the US and published by Hachette. It came out in November in the U.S. It’s been out in the UK since April. Yeah, it’s got some really great press. Ann Powers loves it, hurray! And lots of other American people too, which is cool. It’s about how songs shape our lives in so many ways, taking me through the story of my life, from my first memory to the death of my father when I was five, through childhood, adolescence, crushes, falling in love, becoming a journalist, parenthood, grief and growing up—all soundtracked by songs. I speak to neuroscientists, psychologists, fandom experts and so many other people to find out why songs shape us so intrinsically, comforting us, enthralling us, propelling us back to the distant past, and into different future lives.
Tell us about the teenage brain on music (or your teenage brain on music). Which pop stars stayed with you and are you still fans of today? I talk about this in detail in my book with the amazing neuroscientist Catherine Loveday. I love the part where she talks about another neuroscientist who went into an fMRI scanner to see what happened to her brain when she had an orgasm—she made herself have an orgasm—and the same bits of the brain get activated when we listen to our favorite parts of music. I think that says a lot! We really respond to music in that way when we’re teenagers because our brain is developing at this incredible rate—and we still remember that intensity when we’re older. I can listen to Automatic for the People and I’m in some sort of mad, beautiful reverie still. I love it.
What is the essence of the relationship between musician and fan? It can be all kinds of things, but at its best it can be a love story, can’t it? You fall in love with a band or artist’s way of expressing themselves, their delivery, their lyrics, the way they craft music. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s not really with them as a person, it’s with this abstract but incredibly concrete thing that they have created. To share that with people is quite something. It’s funny having written a book and I’ve had lots of people at festivals come up to me and say, “God, I loved your book, it was great” and that’s wonderful, but it is weird thinking that people get really moved by something that you’ve made. What must that be like for a massive musician or somebody who’s engaged with a larger community of fans? And music works differently to words—it activates more parts of the brain and it encourages your sense of personal identity aside from your family, as well as your social sense when you’re interacting with others. Music is very strange and magical because our reaction to it is emotional and it’s profound and worth sharing. It’s the stuff of life for people. It’s intense. The essence of the relationship between music and fan, musician and fan, is intensity.
What is your favorite anecdote or quote from a scientist you interviewed in your book? Definitely the orgasm one, although I still love the experiment about “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the chapter about babies in utero and how some babies remembered specific versions of the song after they were born. For my UK launch party for the book back in April, the amazing DJ and musician Richard Norris—who I interview in the book elsewhere about music and healing and how music can comfort us in times of trauma—did this amazing mix of me reading a part of the book with versions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the background. I also did a reading from the last chapter about “I Trawl the Megahertz” against an instrumental mix of the song that was structured the way that the rises and falls of the song could have met with my chapters. It was magical doing that. I really want to do that again. Richard and I are thinking we might record it actually, cause it just works so perfectly.
I had a relative with Alzheimer’s years ago who seemed to respond to music more than anything else. What did you learn about how music stimulates memory? I love the chapter about music in later life, in which my main interviewees are two of my best friends, for whom music and memory is hugely important. One is the wonderful writer Kat Lister, who wrote an amazing book called The Elements about being her first year being a widow. She was married to the wonderful music writer Pat Long, who many chickfactor readers will know from the NME and other places. Wonderful guy. I talked to her about music and funerals. Pat knew he was dying, he had cancer, and he chose the songs for his funeral. In that chapter I interviewed her along with my friend Jess George, one of my very best friends, who works in dementia care as an occupational therapist—she talked to me about her working experience of music and memory with her patients, how music is absolutely one of the last things to go from your mind. And I also talked to an amazing palliative care doctor called Mark Taubert, who in 2016 wrote this amazing letter to David Bowie after David Bowie’s death thanking Bowie for his album, Black Star, which stimulated conversations in his palliative care practice with patients. A song kind of gets timestamped really into a lot of other sensory information in our heads. My chapter about “Only You” performed by the Flying Pickets talks about this as well. I wanted to know how and why it is that when I hear that song, I don’t just remember my father, I remember the last time I saw my father, where we were, the doorway, our whole world—and I do a lot of digging into research and doing interviews to find out why.
How did you start out as a music writer? Who are some other folks you learned from along the way? Literally? I used to pick up the Top 40 charts from a shop called Woolworths in Llanelli, the small Welsh town nearest to where I grew up, where I used to work at the weekly newspaper on Saturday mornings. I was in my mid-teens and one of my tasks was to go to Woolworths, pick up the charts and type it up. So, if that counts as music writing, then there! Otherwise, it was through starting a fanzine when I was 24 with a friend of mine I had got to know through going to gigs—a guy called Matt Haynes, who I’m sure indie fans and chickfactor readers know. Matt was one of the cofounders of Sarah Records and later Shinkansen. I’d become a fan of a Shinkansen compilation, Lights on a Darkening Shore, not long after moving to London in my early 20s, met Matt at a gig at a merch table and started chatting about my new hometown. I was new to London and a bit obsessed with weird little secret stories about the city and he was born in London and knew lots of odd, geeky things. We thought, let’s make a fanzine about London (Smoke)—like a love-letter to it—and we did that in 2003, and it ran for years. I sent a copy to a music, film and books magazine called Word, where it was featured, then they asked me if I wanted to write for them, and six months later, in September 2003, I’d given up my horrible job, taken a pay cut of half my salary to go make tea, open envelopes, and hang around in the Word offices. I quickly got loads of reviewing work and started learning a bit more, but yeah, that’s how it started. I was with these amazing journalists, UK editors Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, who had been TV hosts in Britain of Live Aid and used to present a show called the Old Grey Whistle Test. They’re a really funny double act. There was an amazing guy called Andrew Harrison, still a really good friend, who is one of the best editors I’ve ever had. He was editor of the brilliant Select magazine in the UK in the mid-1990s, my period of reading it, and at Word he was my features editor. I couldn’t quite believe it. Paul Du Noyer, who I write a lot about in my book, was the reviews editor, an amazing quiet, clever, incredibly funny Liverpudlian who mentored me. Plus, lots of other great colleagues including the art director Bad Keith and ’70s Mike, the production editor. There were all these characters. It was amazing.
What are some funny stories from interviewing musicians or engaging with music you’re writing about or seeing live? Lady Gaga once danced over my lap in her pants, bra and leather jacket while filling my glass with whisky—this was backstage in the London O2 Arena in 2010, and she was previewing her new album to me and a few other broadsheet journalists like Caitlin Moran. The next day I was working as a lecturer, and the kids couldn’t believe where I’d been! When I interviewed Kylie Minogue, I asked her about her Welsh roots—I’m from Wales—and we ended up talking about her grandma who still lived in the Welsh valleys, and Kylie tried to say this incredibly long place name in Wales from North Wales, which I won’t say into the tape, but she did it brilliantly. That was funny. Then there was the whole meeting your heroes, not sleeping before the interview scenario that I had with Michael Stipe, my teenage hero. That’s chapter five of my book! Did it go horribly wrong? It didn’t go horribly wrong, but the buildup to it was absolutely terrifying. I loved writing about that. ¶ I didn’t write in the book about my crowdsurfing fingernail-down-the-arm injury that lasted for 10 years after seeing Sonic Youth at Reading 1996 but maybe that’s one for the US paperback!
Did you ever receive a mixtape from someone and spend hours deciphering its meaning?Of course. I’m a woman who grew up in the ’90s!
Was there a time when you had a demystification moment, where you saw a musician you admired turn out to be a not-great person? Do tell. This isn’t quite what you’re asking, but before I was a journalist, when I saw Michael Stipe live on a stage and he was a human being—which I also write about in the book—that was such a weird thing to me. It also didn’t help that this was R.E.M. in the Monster album phase, which did not fit in really with my love of the mysterious R.E.M. of Automatic for the People! Also my hero was being shared with lots of other people—but he’s mine!—and there were those people there just singing and not really listening … that was a weird demystification moment. Meeting people, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, to be honest, most of the time. I guess I haven’t met anybody who’s that unpleasant. Marianne Faithfull was as amazing as you’d hope she’d be, quite formidable, but also quite wonderful. Chrissie Hynde is somebody I thought was fantastic. I was a bit scared beforehand, but we got on really well and she did a painting of me! And at the end, she just took me into her little studio in her surprisingly modest home in a not particularly lovely part of London. And yeah, she did a painting of me, which is now on the side of my office behind some books because I don’t know what to do with it! My husband keeps saying I should have it like behind my desk like a big boss in a film—you know, like an oil painting of a tyrant! He’s joking, obviously. But it’ll probably end up, you know, in the loo, where it will have to be stared at people while they’re having some downtime!
I didn’t have a great time interviewing Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, who wasn’t having a great day—so much so that I told him off. He clearly didn’t want to be interviewed—I was speaking to him for the NME—and the interview ended with me saying, “Alex, come on, you know, you didn’t have to do this interview.” I gave him a proper Welsh mum dressing down, told him off! But it’s probably not great being interviewed by 10,000 music journalists every day when you’re having a bad day, is it? I’m getting more sympathetic in my dotage.
You grew up when the internet was changing the way we interacted with music as fans. How do you see kids (your own?) now engaging in new ways that are completely different from your experience as a young fan? I sent my first e-mail when I was 18 and didn’t get an e-mail address until I was 20, so I’m probably in the last age group of Western people to have a childhood and adolescence without the internet. I’m fascinated by how kids engage in new ways with music today. My son is 8 1/2. I write about him a lot in my book. Being his mom made me think about music in lots of new ways and very much inspired writing this book in many respects. But he’s now at the age where he has his own playlist—it’s called “110% best ever songs,” which I love. And I’m just profoundly jealous that he can hear the radio and say “put this on my playlist” and instantly any piece of music from the past 50, 60, 70 years he can put on it. If you told me that when I was 8, it would have just been the most space age cosmic idea. His favorite song is “Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners—not encouraged by me although I do love that song—which he heard on the radio, and there’s stuff like Dr. Feelgood’s “Roxette” next to Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers”, Olivia Rodrigo and loads of modern pop. I’ve been quite enjoying getting into chart pop with him now. We now listen to Radio 1, the UK’s chart pop station. It’s been really fun. But yeah, just talking to him about the way I’d spend loads of money to get music when I was young makes me feel so ancient. CDs were like 15 pounds when I was at university. That’s where my student loans went! But kids still engage with music—just in a much more instant way. I know anecdotally from friends with older kids that many of them aren’t as tied to albums as we used to be. But if the world of music was at your fingertips, I’m not surprised!
What are the tools you use now to engage with or find new music? Apps or analog? I do a lot of rummaging around Bandcamp and SoundCloud to find stuff, which especially helps me write my folk music column for the Guardian. I also have friends who make playlists. My best friend Dan Cuthill, who I mentioned earlier, still has a playlist of new stuff that he updates all the time and I dip into that. My friend Kathryn who I mention in the Prefab Sprout chapter who does the same. And my friend Ian Wade, who I used to DJ with … you know, trusted friends are my guides. But reading The Guardian, Pitchfork, specialist sites like Tradfolk, blogs, listening to Radio 1 and Radio 6/BBC 6 Music over here is what I usually do. And Radio 3, which is classical and newer classical plus experimental as well.
What are some reactions or stories you got from people who read your book and wanted to share their tales with you? I was very excited by getting responses from people saying, yes, I get this, I understand this! I’ll get the famous people out of the way first. Ian Rankin, the thriller writer, loved it and was very moved by my chapter when I talk about my miscarriage. That part seems to have affected a lot of people, especially when I talk about literally where it happened and how it started to happen when I was just about to interview Paul McCartney, the biggest interviewee of my life. And also there’s an actor over here and brilliant writer Ruth Jones. I don’t know if the show Gavin & Stacey has got any traction in the US but it was a massive sitcom here in the UK. She’s a brilliant screenwriter and has written lots of stuff for TV. She sent me a long message with all the things that the book reminded her of from her life, including a Kate Bush obsession in her early teens. That was wonderful.
I’ve also had lots of emails from people I’ve never known who’ve somehow found my address or sent me tweets. I had a man in his 70s, a retired head teacher who had read the book and didn’t know much of the music but was very moved by the experiences and identified with how music shaped his childhood and adolescence and adult years and later life, just from his different experience of being into classical music and different kinds of music. I found that very affecting. Also, recently I had an amazing message from somebody who had gone on holiday with some old friends. This was a bunch of people in their 60s and they all read and enjoyed my book and had made playlists for their holiday based on ideas from my book. And then they sent me the spreadsheet!
Tell us about some songs not in the book that you have strong feelings about. What I haven’t put in and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t put it in the paperback is a song called “The Scarecrow” by Mike Waterson, which is an amazing song from 1972. Mike was one of the Waterson family, this amazing British folk-singing family from the northeast of England who had these tough, stark voices and learned lots of songs from their grandmother who brought them up when they were little because their parents died when they were all quite small. “The Scarecrow” is from an album called Bright Phoebus, and it was written by Lal, but adapted by Mike. I’ve written a huge piece about the Watersons recently for the Quietus website, and I talk in detail about “The Scarecrow” there. I’ll leave you to read that! It’s such an amazing song.
Is there a song you can’t listen to ever again? I think I’ve got past that stage. There was a long period where I used to find “Fairytale of New York” very tough because it reminded me of a boy that I’d dumped at a bus station shortly before Christmas in 1998 who for a while thought I shouldn’t have dumped! And that song always took me back to him for a while. It doesn’t anymore. And obviously “Only You” by the Flying Pickets is a song that I have found difficult over the years because it takes me back to my last moments with my dad, which I talk about my book. My dad asked me, age 5, to find out—just before going to the hospital to have a hip operation—what was No. 1 and it had been “Only You.” Originally it was a song by Yazoo, who were called Yaz in the states (Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke), but it was covered by a Welsh band called the Flying Pickets. They had been No. 1 over Christmas 1983, then my dad went into hospital in early January. The No. 1 became “Pipes of Peace” by Paul McCartney, but I never had a chance to tell my dad because my dad died in hospital. And I used to find it very hard hearing “Only You,” especially as it was a Christmas No. 1, so a song that generally just pops up once a year at Christmas, and caught me unawares in quite a sudden, shocking way. I haven’t heard it yet this year.
What’s something that makes you jump up to dance? Recently, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston randomly came on the radio, and that is the ultimate, isn’t it? What a song! In my teens, I started to kind of sneer the things I’d liked when I was a bit younger – hating the high notes of Whitney Houston, and the melisma of Mariah Carey. Fantasy, that’s another one! What an idiot I was. I soon grew out of that. I love dancing to “Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, which I write about in the context of love songs in my book, that was the second song at my and my husband’s wedding party. Oh and “The Night” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is such a fantastic song to dance to with friends, although that’s an interesting song for me now because it reminds me of the first COVID lockdown in 2020—it’s the song that really got me through the early days of that. It makes me feel quite sad hearing it now, but hopefully that will pass.
If you were a song, what song would you be? Probably something ridiculous. You know, I would like to be “Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas or “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama or “Venus” by Shocking Blue, but I’d probably be something far less cool.
What is the best TV or movie soundtrack ever made? Twin Peaks, probably. I’m probably just saying that because Angela Badalamenti just died but that had a massive effect on me when I was 12. I watched that on a black and white television—a tiny television—in my room and didn’t see it in color until the DVD reissue. It was quite scary seeing scary Bob in black and white! But that music is so incredible. Other movie soundtracks…does West Side Story count? Probably not, but I’m having it! Those songs are so beautifully structured. I studied music at school until I was 18 and I’d love to look at the score and pick apart the movement of the melodies and harmonies.
What are some other music books you have loved in recent years? There’s so many. There’s been such an explosion. From this year, I really love Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop Bad Pop and Cosey Fanni Tutti’s book, Re-Sisters, but there’s been so many more. PP Arnold’s book I found really interesting about growing up and becoming a backing singer for the Ikettes in the ’60s with a background of a terrible marriage. There’s a Pauline Oliveros reissue I adored too. In recent years, I’ve loved Tracey Thorn’s books, which are wonderful. One of hers that’s less talked about is Naked at the Albert Hall, which is a great book about singing. I loved Viv Albertine’s book like every right-minded person, but I’ve also started this year doing a podcast called Songbook, where I explore great music books with my guests and there’s all sorts in that. For example, I revisited Fred & Judy Vermorel’s Starlust with Brett Anderson, a book of filthy fan letters, which was lots of fun, especially as I’ve been a fan of Suede since my teens. I discovered a great slim academic book called The Folk by a guy called Ross Coles thanks to the brilliant broadcaster Zakia Sewell, and got Vashti Bunyan to read Marianne Faithfull’s memoir, and went to Shirley Collins’ house to talk about her old boyfriend Alan Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began. I often review books too. I love so many!
What are your plans for the book over here? Events? No events yet. But I would absolutely love to do stuff over the US at some point. If you want me out there, get me out there. I’ve got friends in LA and extended family in Colorado and New York. I’ll get a mattress on the floor, a sleeping bag. I’ll be out there.
What are five or ten records you cannot live without? The 12 tracks that make up my chapters of the book are my way of trying to do this, I guess, but there are some songs toward the end of it which I include which I’d missed out. In recent years there are songs like “You Forever” by Self Esteem, I can’t imagine living without that. She is so brilliant. I can’t imagine living without “Freedom” by Wham!, who I managed to sneak into Chapter 3. The ones that make up my book, though, I think it would be them, because they’re the ones I chose to tell my story and they’ve got even deeper meaning for me now. When you pick records about your life, like the Desert Island Discs radio show here in the UK, you don’t think just about the songs. You think about all the places those songs take you to, the people they take you to, the worlds wrapped up in that. So, I’d have to go with them. I think the 12 of my book are a pretty good soundtrack to my life.